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Mexico is one of the most exciting countries in the Americas, and in 2021 millions of U.S. and Canadian citizens visited their southern neighbor to enjoy an affordable vacation only a few hours away by plane. This article covers 15 essential tips for traveling to Mexico, especially if it’s your first time!
Whether you’re going to see Maya ruins in Yucatán, go snorkeling in Puerto Vallarta, or taste world-famous cuisine in Mexico City, you’ll experience many incredible activities in Mexico.
Mexico Travel Tips
1. Stay updated on pandemic-era travel requirements.
Due to the global pandemic, Mexico is struggling with Covid-19 like the rest of the world.
The government regularly updates a color-coded advisory from green (you can participate in everyday activities) to red (do not go out unless it’s essential). Most states are green or yellow. You can see the latest updates here.
Before traveling to Mexico, public health experts recommend full vaccination and even a booster.
In addition, Mexico is open to all non-essential travelers, with no need to take a COVID test or quarantine on arrival, though your airline may require a test or proof of vaccine.
All passengers need to fill out a health questionnaire before entering Mexico, and your temperature will likely be checked on arrival.
If you’re flying home to the U.S. or Canada, you’ll need a negative COVID-19 test, regardless of your vaccination status.
2. Prepare yourself by reading the latest travel advisories.
Like all countries, Mexico has safer and less safe locations, which can be confusing for most first-time visitors who may have preconceived ideas about the country’s safety.
The U.S. State Department’s current travel advisories (updated as of December 8, 2021) are one to look at. The U.S. government has a four-level advisory, with Level 1 and 2 areas having the least crime.
The Canadian government also lists travel advisories for Mexico by state, though they only list do-not-travel destinations. In comparison, the U.S. is more permissive, asking travelers to “exercise increased caution” in some destinations.
3. Know if you’ll need a visa.
Mexico welcomes tourism, and it is a country where visitors from Canada, the U.S., Japan, and most European countries will be issued a visa on arrival.
Make sure your trip meets the no-visa parameters, such as traveling for less than 180 days as a tourist.
As of late, many travelers are reporting that Mexico is becoming more strict with the length of visa they are giving tourists on arrival and 180 days is no longer guaranteed.
The most important thing you need to know is to keep the small, white piece of paper you get at the border. That’s the Multiple Migratory Form (FMM), and it is the most important paper you’ll carry while in Mexico.
You’ll need it to exit the country, and if you don’t have it, you’ll have to pay to get a new one from immigration which can take a few hours (this happened to me). Keep it safely, next to your passport.
4. Read local English-language newspapers.
Though it is predominantly Spanish-speaking, many English-speaking U.S. and Canadian citizens have immigrated to Mexico and created local newspapers.
Facebook groups are also a great source of information and an excellent way to connect with others in the area, particularly if you are traveling solo and want to ask questions about your destination. Many expats and digital nomads live in Mexico year-round or for the majority of the year and are open to answering questions from a first-timer.
5. Speak Spanish, even if it’s not good.
Many travelers to Mexico are lulled by the many English-speaking staff at tourist destinations and believe they don’t need to speak Spanish. However, speaking Spanish is safer for finding your way in a new country and more respectful.
If nothing else, say hola (hello), gracias (thank you), and Buenos días / Buenas tardes (good day or good afternoon, depending on the time of day). Mexico is often a welcoming country, and people will warm up more when you speak the language.
Even if you’ve studied Spanish, download these smartphone apps: Duolingo to practice, SpanishDict for an offline dictionary, and Google Translate to translate in-country.
Finally, remember that Spanish is only one of many languages spoken in Mexico, an ethnically and linguistically diverse country. Many Native people speak Nahuatl, Maya, and other languages. So there’s a good chance that the Mexican you talk to is not only speaking English as a second language – they may also be a non-native Spanish language speaker. Speaking Spanish will nonetheless be a kind, thoughtful gesture.
6. Pay in Mexican pesos.
While you can pay in U.S. or Canadian dollars in some border towns, it is wiser for you to exchange your money ahead of your trip and pay in Mexican pesos, known as “MXN.” You can exchange your money at many local banks or an airport exchange counter.
By the way, Mexican pesos are listed with the dollar sign too, which can be confusing. Sometimes local rates are written as “M$” or “MX$.” Also, many touristy spots will list their prices in U.S. dollars. So, ask for the prices in pesos first and know your exchange rate.
As of early December 2021, the exchange rate for $1 USD is MX $20, whereas $1 CAD is MX $16.
7. Expect many types of weather.
Mexico’s most visited cities are on the beach, so, understandably, you expect most of the country to be warm and sunny. However, Mexico is as diverse in climate zones as is the U.S. There are seven climate zones in Mexico, from arid deserts to tropical coasts.
When you’re visiting a new city, check the weather forecast for several days, note the humidity, and pack your clothing accordingly.
For instance, Mexico City is tropical, and weather can change quickly, such as sudden thunderstorms and flash flooding. While Puerto Vallarta is a warm destination year-round, you may end up taking a day trip to San Sebastian Del Oste (one of the pueblos magicos in Jalisco), where the climate is much cooler!
8. Get travel insurance for Mexico.
It’s important to have travel insurance anywhere you go, and Mexico is no exception!
Travel insurance will protect you against unexpected illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. And trust me, things do go wrong when you travel. I never travel without insurance as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
There are many insurance providers out there, but one of the best for travelers is SafetyWing.
They offer both short-term and long-term coverage, which is perfect if you’re working remotely in Mexico for an extended period. It’s a subscription based service that offers $250,000 worth of coverage for only $42/month.
9. Don’t drink the tap water.
Unforunately the tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink so don’t make this mistake.
However instead of buying plastic bottles of water, I recommend using a water filtration system such as LifeStraw. Better for the environment, cheaper for you.
10. Get a local SIM.
To make your life easier traveling around Mexico, get a local SIM card with data. It’s cheap and will likely cost less then what your roaming charges would be (especially if you are coming from Canada).
This will make your life so much easier navigating around the country, and it’s also useful to stay in touch with your family and friends.
The best network is Telcel. You can buy a SIM at any Oxxo (conveinent store). I paid $25 for 8g of data, which lasted me over a month as most social apps are unlimited.
11. Protect your data with a VPN.
When you’re traveling through Mexico you will likely be using public Wi-Fi networks which leaves you vulnerable to having your information stolen (such as bank account details). To avoid this, protect your data by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
I use and love NordVPN which only costs a few dollars a month. It’s extremely easy to activate on my phone and web browser, giving me peace of mind that my data is protected no matter where I am in the world! Plus, it allows you to watch Netflix from any country. That’s SO many more TV shows!
12. Join Facebook groups.
If you’re a solo traveler in Mexico or just looking to get up-to-date information about traveling in Mexico, Facebook groups are a wealth of information. Here are some groups to check out:
Mexico Digital Nomads – ideal for connecting with other nomads in Mexico, finding out best places for digital nomads to live in Mexico
Mexico Travel Community – General group about traveling in Mexico where you can ask just about anything
Cancun & Riviera Maya – Specfic travel information about visiting Cancun and Riviera Maya region
Tulum Travel Tips – Specific information about Tulum
13. Protect yourself from the sun.
This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many tourists I see in Mexico with terrible sunburns!
The sun is strong here. If you’re coming from the North and don’t have a good tan, you need to seriously layer on the sunscreen or you’re going to end up with a painful sunburn. It’s so easy here to forget about sun protection, especially if you’re drinking. I’ve done it!
Make sure to cover up with at least SPF 30+, as well as wear a sun hat and sun glasses.
14. Restroom doors marked with M are for women, not men!
This one can be confusing. Many tourists think that the restroom doors marked with an ‘M’ are for men, but t’s actually for women as the Spanish word for women is “mujeres.”
So if you’re a guy, look instead for a door marked with an “H” (for “hombres”) or a “C” (for “caballeros”) to avoid embarrassment.
15. Be patient.
Time in Mexico does not work the same as time in the rest of North America. For example, restaurant service may be much slower then what you are used to, and bus delays are common.
Don’t expect things to run exactly on time when booking tours and transportation or you’ll drive yourself crazy. Be patient if delays happen, and learn to go with the flow.
As you prepare for your first trip to Mexico, know that it likely won’t be your last. This remarkable country is as likely to steal your heart the way it has for millions of other visitors worldwide.
¡Buen Viaje! May your travels be safe!
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