Dates are in the form DD/MM/YYYY. It takes a while to adjust to seeing them that way, especially when you’re dealing with the first 12 days of the month. June 10, 2012 is written as “10/6/2012,” which still, at first glance to me, appears to be October 6, 2012.
Decimals and commas in numbers are reversed, too. The number, “45,012.66,” American-style is written as “45.012,66” Mexican-style.
Money in pesos is designated with a leading “$,” which immediately makes it look like a dollar amount. If the amount seems very high, or it is not followed by “USD,” then the price is likely in pesos, but it’s smart to make sure!
Numbers, dates and money are small things, but can cause confusion and misunderstandings, so it’s important to be aware of the differences, and to take a second look to be sure you’ve understood it correctly. I had a friend who waited until June to discover that her visa had expired in May, not on August 5th, like she had thought – 8/5/2012 (Mexican style) versus 8/5/2012 (US/Canadian style).
How to find a city address
In metro areas, the secret is in understanding “Colonias,”or “Fraccionamientos.” Colonias (to be used to include both names) are neighborhood areas. If there are eight colonias within a city, there can be eight separate 20th Streets. It’s a drill-down effort – first the state, then the city, the colonia (or fraccionamiento) and, finally, the street and address number within the colonia. Most addresses contain a designation after the street and address number, on the same line, that tells you which two streets the address number falls between (this is helpful, although, it may seem superfluous to gringos at first).
Mexican metro addresses are listed something like:
Calle 20 #47, x 15th y 17th
City, PC (postal, aka zip, code), State, Mexico
This interprets for gringos to:
(Building) #47 20th Street (between 15th and 17th Streets)
“Hidalgo” Neighborhood (area)
City, State, Mexico Postal Code
Because one-way streets are plentiful and frequently found parallel to one another going in the same direction, you often have to “circle around” an address to get to it. If you don’t know the neighborhood and which streets go which way, this can be a daunting mission. Getting a detailed city map that shows what direction you can drive on a given street (or, downloading directions from Google Maps), will save your sanity and preclude a stress alert.
How to find a country address
There are no addresses in the “country,” so there is no mail delivery. But, if you need to give someone directions to your home, then your address will look something like:
Casa Mar Azul
KM 21, MX Carreterra 27
City, PC, State
Casa Mar Azul (“Name” – or, what will be found on the sign at the driveway turn-off)
At (or, very near) Kilometer marker 21 on Mexico Hwy 27
City, PC, State
Proof of Address
If you’re going to stay in Mexico long-term, a “proof of address” is essential for opening cell, cable, satellite, or bank accounts!!
Because landlords in Mexico tend to keep utilities in their own names, the easiest way you can do this, is to open a bank account at a Mexican bank. They will require a utility bill with the address on it, but the bill doesn’t have to be in your name (go figger). You can take your landlord’s electric bill to the bank (along with your passport and visa – they want to know that you’re legal) and they will use the address on the electric bill to send your statements to. Once you receive the first bank statement, you have your “proof of address.”
You can also get a local bill of some kind in your name and mailed to you, but if you’re renting, the utilities are normally in the landlord’s name, and the landlord will want to keep it that way. A “proof of address” guarantees that you will have fewer problems registering your visa, your car, and that you have an address identity for other services.
You can also use a notarized, signed copy of your lease agreement as a proof of address – but, a notarization costs in the neighborhood of a month’s rent. Notarizations are done only by a type of lawyer called a notario, and the fees charged for them are lawyer fees.
Getting a local PO Box
You can buy a PO Box at the local Post Office, but first you have to receive mail at the “Post Office’s address” in this form:
Lista de Correos
City, PC, State
To arrange this, go to the local Post Office and asked to be added to the Lista de Correos. After you’ve received mail, you’re legitimate and can purchase a PO Box. You should be aware, though, that a “PO Box contract” always begins in January and will cost you the same for one, six, or 12 months. If you get one in January, July, or December, you pay for the whole year whether you’ve used it or not.
Paying in Pesos versus Dollars
The Mexican economy is cash-based, like the US economy in the 50s and 60s. Yes, you can use your credit/debit cards in the large, internationally-based stores. For paying regular bills, you have a decision to make. With the constant fluctuation between currencies, you can count on the cost in pesos being the same from month-to-month. If your recurring cost, like rent, is in dollars, then you have to pay at whatever the current exchange rate on the due date is. This means the cost in pesos will go up and down, and need to be refigured at every payment.
However, if the dollar is up against the peso, it’s cheaper for you to pay in dollars. Obviously, the opposite is true if the dollar is down.
Paper – DON’T flush it
The use of toilet paper and paper towels is a “given” in the American culture. They are convenient, disposable and recycle well. And, we use them hugely. But, unless you had a home with a septic tank, you are not likely to appreciate how insidious they are to the Mexican waste disposal system.
It is very rare in Mexico that you will not be asked to use toilet paper, and then put it into a garbage can that is conveniently located next to the toilet. In other words, you DON’T flush it. This requires some personal habit-breaking, but after you’ve don’t this for a while, it becomes rote (exactly like flushing it did).
Paper products in Mexico – toilet paper, paper towels and paper napkins – will disappoint you in the beginning because they will seem flimsy. Although they don’t seem different initially, they are more likely to dissolve than the products you are used to. It will take more paper towels to mop up a mess. And, napkins will seem positively ethereal, as will toilet paper. You will just have to accept this difference and adjust to it. And, in the end, you may begin to wonder why, the US hasn’t adopted this “paper” product standard.
Utilities – they don’t bill the same way
Water, especially if you live in the “country-side,” is worth its weight in gold. While, it costs somewhat less than in Mexico than it does in the US, it is not as readily available. Unless you’re in a metropolitan area, you will likely have to call the “water” man to come fill your cistern every month, or so. This is, by no means difficult, but it can mean that you wait without water, at times.
Electricity is fairly expensive!! No way around it. Unless, you have budgeted a large amount (equal to, or possibly more than, you paid in the US) for electricity, you will have to be very careful in your use of electricity. Costs are scaled the opposite of the way they are in most of the United States – i.e., the more you use, the higher the rate per kilowatt.
Gas, on the other hand, is fairly cheap and easy to come by. But, like with water, if you only have one source (tank) and you run completely out, you will have to do without it till the gas man cometh. Many houses are equipped with a double-tank system that lets you flip a valve and start the gas flow from the second tank. This is a built-in back-up system so you won’t have to change your dinner plans for the day – just remember to get the empty replaced as soon as possible.
The upside to this is that all those conservation efforts that they hound you to practice in the US will become second-nature in Mexico because of the detrimental effect on your pocketbook.
Making Telephone Calls – it’s confusing
It is more complicated than in the US and Canada. Check out the information on “How to make calls in Mexico” on our website at http://www.gringosinparadise.com.mx/wp-admin/post.php?post=4292&action=edit.
On the personal side:
Patience is NOT a virtue, it’s a necessity
It’s best not to do your banking on the first business day of the month. It can be done, but bring a good book, because you’ll spend some serious time in line. In fact, your best bet is to figure waiting in line at least two times to accomplish anything (except banking).
In the Mexican culture, personal relationships are very important and, for instance, a landlord will take a renter who has been given a personal recommendation over one from an agent. A recommendation from someone who is a friend of the owner, or who is established in the gringo community, can be invaluable. With a personal recommendation, you can also deal with the owner directly and establish your own rental parameters (i.e., no deposit, month-to-month basis, utilities included, etc.), rather than the property manager’s established policies.
It is also important to have the name, number and address for a local personal reference. It can be a friend, neighbor, property manager or mechanic, but it can’t be Aunt Bessie in Iowa. You’ll find it useful for getting services such as Sky Satellite or Telmex phone/DSL services.
Tip often and tip well
It is my personal experience that tipping well, in any country including the US, gets you remembered fondly, and being remembered fondly gets you the best service. The youngsters bagging your groceries are high-school kids trying to help the family eat, and if you give them ten pesos, instead of the standard five-six pesos, they remember you. While they may be limited in how much service they can offer bagging your groceries, they have family and friends.
Sometime you may need a mechanic. If the mechanic’s son happens to be your regular “bagger,” it will probably get you in faster and cost you less for repairs. Personal relationships matter a great deal in Mexico, and that mechanic is definitely going to factor into his service and invoice, the fact that you are good to his high-school son.