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Things to know before going to Mexico

Mexico is a fantastic country to visit but there are a few things to know before going there!


In this article, I have summarized everything you need to know before traveling to Mexico.


  1. Entry Requirements

  2. Currency

  3. Safety

  4. Time Zone

  5. Language

  6. Tipping

  7. Getting Around

  8. Best time to visit

  9. Can I drink tap water in Mexico?

  10. How spicy is spicy?

  11. Adapter Type

  12. Drone Restrictions

Visa and Entry Requirements

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Depending on your nationality, you might need a visa. Citizens from the USA, Canada, Australia, and Europe do not need visas. Tourists can stay in Mexico for 180 days. If you will want to extend your trip you will need to obtain a special permit.


Supposedly, upon arrival by air, you are given a Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM), often referred to as a tourist card, which you need to keep and return upon departure. I was aware of it but never received it and was never asked for it.


You are not required any specific vaccines to enter Mexico but for precaution consider vaccinations for hepatitis A and typhoid.

Currency

The official currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN). While some places, especially tourist destinations, might accept US dollars, it's often cheaper to use pesos.


You can exchange your currency for pesos at banks, exchange bureaus, or even at the airport. However, be mindful that airports might offer less favorable rates. It's often best to withdraw pesos directly from ATMs for better rates, but ensure you use ATMs affiliated with well-known banks for safety. We were charged at all ATMs ranging from 30 - 90 MXN (~$2-5) depending on if we were in a very touristy location or not.


In major tourist destinations like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, many businesses may accept U.S. dollars. However, the exchange rate they offer might not be as favorable as at official exchange outlets.


The same goes for cards. You can use cards in most tourist places but they all will charge you extra fees for using the card! The more remote you travel the less possibility to use your card.

Safety

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Like many countries, some regions in Mexico are safer than others. But please please please be not discouraged to visit Mexico because of that! I traveled around Mexico for 2 months and I think as long as you have common sense, you research the areas and do not go alone in late hours in questionable places, you will be completely fine! Avoid late hours, and always ensure you stay within crowds. In big cities watch your bag. As long as you stick with the touristic destinations and routes there won't be any real danger.


If you are concerned about safety, the 2 safest destinations I can recommend from research and local recommendations are Merida and Mexico City!

Time Zone

This fact was actually the biggest surprise for me before I traveled there! - Mexico spans 4 different time zones! So ensure you set your watch accordingly, especially if crossing over different regions.


These are the 4 timezones in Mexico:

  1. Pacific Standard Time (PST): This zone is primarily associated with Baja California.

  2. Mountain Standard Time (MST): As you move eastward from Baja California, the next time zone is the Mountain Standard Time. This includes states like Sonora, Chihuahua, and Sinaloa. Baja California Sur also falls under MST.

  3. Central Standard Time (CST): The largest chunk of Mexico operates under CST. This zone includes states such as Jalisco, Guanajuato, Puebla, Mexico City, and many others.

  4. Eastern Standard Time (EST): Quintana Roo, home to the famous tourist hotspot of Cancun, operates on Eastern Standard Time.

This I think will be very important for those who travel through Cancun airport which is in Quintana Roo state and then go to Merida or any other place in Yucatan state which is above Quintana Roo. You don't want to be confused by an hour and miss your flight!

Language

It is hard for me to comment on this section because I do speak basic Spanish and I always highly recommend learning some basics as it just so much improves your visit! But I want to assure you that in all the tourist areas people do speak and understand English so I don't think you will have an issue with communication. Of course, the more remote you go the harder the communication will be if you do not speak Spanish.

Tipping

This might not be unusual for my American readers but for all those from Europe - be ready to always tip, as the service fee is 'mandatory'. They won't offer you to tip or not to tip, they will just ask, will you tip 10%, 15%, or 20%. The average appropriate tip is around 15%.


Service workers often rely on tips as a significant part of their income.

Getting Around

Buses are a popular way to get around, ranging from simple and cheap "colectivos" to luxury long-distance buses. Colectivos are basically minivans where you share the ride with other people.


When traveling between farther cities check out domestic flights - you might find some very cheap ones. I flew for $50 from Oaxaca to Cancun!


In regards to, getting around the cities, I would only recommend Uber. Because you will have driver's data and you will know what you pay. I haven't heard any good feedback from other travelers using local taxis. They always overcharge. And I would use a local taxi only if I am 100% sure that that is the legit taxi of that city - usually, they all are in one specific color and the registration certificate has to be displayed in a visible place.


I used Uber throughout my travels in Mexico and have only positive feedback!

Best Time to Visit

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The best time to visit Mexico regarding the weather is from November to April. These months are considered the dry season and are perfect for sunbathing, water activities, and city exploration as the weather is warm, the skies are clear, and there's minimal rainfall.


Hurricane Caution: If you're traveling to coastal regions, especially the Yucatán Peninsula and other parts of eastern Mexico, it's essential to be aware of the hurricane season, which runs from June to November. While hurricanes don't hit every year, it's a good idea to monitor weather updates if you plan to visit during these months.


To find out packing tips and tricks for Mexico make sure to check out my Central America Packing List article!

Also, I think an amazing time of the year when to visit Mexico is from October 31st to November 2nd due to the Day of the Dead festival! It's a vibrant and reverent occasion where families remember and honor their deceased loved ones. The Day of the Dead is one of Mexico's most iconic and deeply-rooted traditions. Many towns and cities in Mexico, especially Oaxaca and Michoacán, host parades and festivals. Participants dress in costumes, paint their faces with skull designs, and dance in the streets. The cultural significance of the Day of the Dead has garnered international attention. In 2008, UNESCO recognized it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is truly such a unique experience to have!


At the same time, you have to note that the accommodations will be more expensive on those dates. And you probably need to book in advance.

Tap Water

It's generally advised not to drink tap water. Stick to bottled water, and be cautious with ice in your drinks!


How spicy is spicy?

If they say 'not spicy' it means a bit spicy and if they say spicy...you better have water with you! If you are not good with spicy food like me, order mild, because trust, it will still be spicy!


Be careful with the sauces they give to you next to your meal...they are separate from the food for a reason. I tried some and regretted it very quickly!

Adapter Type

Mexico uses the same as the US - type A or B which has two flat parallel pins.

Drone Restrictions

I just want to comment a bit on the drone restriction for all my fellow content creators as they are quite strict! You as a foreigner can't fly or film with a drone in Mexico! Unless you apply for special permits in advance. These permits are granted by the Mexican Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC). The process can be quite stringent and often requires detailed documentation, including the purpose of the drone flight, specific locations, dates, and times.


Even with a permit, certain areas in Mexico are off-limits. This includes near airports, military installations, government buildings, and some archaeological sites. It's crucial to research and respect these no-fly zones to avoid heavy penalties.



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