All posts by Mark Shead

Interview: What Would You Miss Most

If you had to leave Mexico and go back to your old lifestyle what would you miss most?

If I had to go back to the USA, I would most miss the ability to “livein the moment” and the gentility and kindness of the people.
Barbara Eckrote from babsofsanmiguel.blogspot

I moved back to a rural area of the US, so people are generally pretty friendly, but still not as friendly as where we were in Mexico.

The friendliness of the people and their acceptance of us, the weather, the lower cost of living.
Brenda from Brenda and Roy Going to Mexico

I don’t know if it was just the novelty of some gringos who couldn’t speak Spanish or what, but the children seemed much more friendly than in the US.

I would miss the lovely tropical weather, I would miss sleeping year-round with the windows open and wearing sandals all the time. I would also miss my friends. I would miss my veterinarian and my dentist. I would miss being able to buy cheap limes.
RiverGirl from RiverGirl

When we left Mexico we discovered that we missed the limes and avocados. We also became frustrated with the US veterinarian compared with the one we had in Mexico. I don’t know about the dentist–we fortunately didn’t need to visit one, but the doctor we had in Mexico was wonderful.

I would miss the weather (minus the major hurricanes, Wilma was enough!), the beautiful beaches and most importantly, the bonds I’ve made with friends here. Other things that aren’t as important but still nice: the sense of freedom you feel when living here as there aren’t so many rules and regulations, how cheap it is to get your car fixed here, how great and cheap Mexican food is, how easy it is to pick up prescriptions at the drug store, how the cost of living is significantly cheaper, cheap taxis, and how easy it is to get around since it’s such a small city.
Elizabeth from Mexico “Way”

My experience in Durango at trying to get my car fixed was a little different. It was going to be very expensive, so I took care of it myself–but it may depend on where you live and knowing the right places to go.

I did find it very interesting that there were a lot fewer rules. Mexico seems to be setup for smart people. There aren’t a bunch of laws to keep you from doing something stupid and hurting yourself.

1. The warmth and kindliness of the people
2. The weather
3. The lower cost of living
Rosana Hart from Mexico with Heart

I think the warmth of the people is related to their easy going approach to life. It is a lot easier to be friendly to strangers when you aren’t constantly in a hurry to get somewhere and do something.

John Bokma from Johnbokma

I liked how Mexico hadn’t been as commercialized. There were a lot more places where you could go enjoy nature without a lot of rules of “don’t go here” or “don’t go there”.

I would miss: Low cost of living, specifically in property taxes, utility costs, and real estate costs. The health-care system here is far superior too. And those agreeable women. I married one.
Michael Dickson from La vida bougainvillea

It is pretty amazing how much property taxes are in the US. The houses we saw for sale in Mexico weren’t what I’d consider cheap, but still much less expensive than something similar in the US.

The warm smiles of our neighbors and their wonderful sense of humor and their ability to enjoy life despite having very little wealth or material possessions.
Jim and Mindy from Jim and Mindy in Rural Veracruz

People did seem much more friendly–especially when compared to a large city in the US. I think that had we been in a rural area in Mexico we would have noticed the difference even more.

If I had to leave Mexico I would not return to the United States. I would go south. But assuming what will not pass, living on the beach. I could never afford to live on a beach anywhere in the United States.
Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson from Tijuana Bible

If we go back to Mexico we will be looking for a beach town. 🙂

The people. A more welcoming, genuine, friendly and fun bunch of people you’d be hard to find. I was welcomed into many homes, shown so many local events, foods, drinks, sights. Everyone has ideas of what to see, where to go and also show an interest in where you’re from and your own culture. I already had a few good Tapatian (from Guadalajara) friends when I arrived, but met many new people who still keep in regular contact 5 months after we left, offering us places to stay on our next visit (hopefully soon).
I also miss pay-as-you-go cell phones… you buy your fichas (credits), use them, recharge them. The way things should be… None of this dollar a day, use it or not malarkey…
Gwyn Fisher from Gwyn’s Blog

It is interesting to see how Mexico has built models for selling cell phones that is entirely different than what goes on in the US. It is very much built around the payment infrastructure that is in place and the Mexican mindset.

Leaving Mexico is simply not on the agenda. It’s not an option.
Jennifer J. Rose fromStaring at Strangers

I suppose that Jennifer would just miss everything far to much. 🙂

Interview: Biggest Adjustment

This is the second in our four part series of interviewing people who are living or have recently lived in Mexico.

What was the biggest thing you had to adjust to in Mexico?

The biggest adjustment was learning the processes for accomplishing bill paying, garbage pickup, phone repair. Daily things that you don’t encounter when you’re traveling in Mexico.
Barbara Eckrote from Babs of San Miguel.blogspot

When we were in Mexico it was very interesting to see how bills were paid. In the US, you get mailed a bill. If you don’t pay it the service gets shutoff and you have to pay some type of expensive fee to get the service turned back on again in addition to paying the bill. This fee recognizes that it is expensive for the telephone, electric or cable company to turn your service off and back on again. Mexico’s infrastructure is built so it is not expensive to turn things on and off. Sometimes you would get a paper bill, but often you would need to just remember to go down and pay whatever you owe. If you didn’t that service would get cut off so you’d know to go pay it.

Probably the language difference.
Brenda from Brenda And Roy Going To Mexico

This was a challenge for us as well. We picked up quite a bit while we were there, but not nearly as much as we would have liked.

The inefficiency and corruption in government were hard for me to adjust to. I also had trouble with how poor service can be, at all levels. The concept that the customer is always right is not known in this part of Mexico.
RiverGirl from RiverGirl

The corruption was something that we didn’t have to deal with specifically, but it was very different. There is just a different attitude about being on the police force. While I’m sure that some officers have great integrity it appears that the standards of what is acceptable is much lower. Part of this comes from not paying high enough wages to police officers and expecting them to supplement their income through bribes. I’ve heard of some cases where a policeman is given his job, but with the condition that he pay the person who hired him a certain amount each month for the privilege of being employed.

I’ve had to become more patient with the way things work around here and had to try and let go of my strong feelings with regards to the way things “should work”. There are a lot of extra annoyances and stresses about living in Mexico. Generally those annoyances can be pretty funny and interesting when you first move here. But after a while, when you get into a routine of things and try to live a regular “real” life from day to day, they can be more and more annoying and stressful. So when the repairman says he’ll show up at 6 and never does, but decides to show up a week later unannounced, you have to really learn to roll with it. Sometimes I do….sometimes…. not so much! LOL!
Elizabeth from Mexico “Way”

We ran into this as well. At first it seemed obvious that if people would just do stuff the way we expected things would work out much better. Of course we didn’t tell anyone this, but you get use to the way things work in the States and assume everyone should follow the same protocol. After we had been there for awhile, more of the things that were different made sense.

For example, in Durango they have free trash pickup twice each day, but most of the streets don’t have signs.  I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t make people pay for the trash and invest in street signs.  However after being there for a while it makes sense.  People can still find their way around, but a lot of people wouldn’t want to pay extra for trash pickup, so it would just end up in the streets.

Easy. The traffic. Still haven’t adjusted.
Rosana Hart from Mexico with Heart

We generally avoided driving. The taxi service was good and we felt much safer with someone who knew how to avoid the other drivers. Once I was out driving with my friend and he warned me that I should yield to traffic at the next intersection. I didn’t see any signs so I asked how he knew that. He said “Everyone knows that the other street has the right of way.” He said it was probably on some map or something in the city records. For me that was a little scary and good reason to avoid driving more than necessary.

Can’t think of anything right now other than learning the language.
John Bokma from Johnbokma

John evidently had a very easy time adjusting. 🙂

Rudeness of people, especially in traffic. Inconsideration in general that manifests itself in countless ways.
Michael Dickson from La vida bougainvillea

When we were there we found things that seemed rude, but as we got to understand the culture better, we realized that some of the things we were doing seemed very rude to the Mexicans.

The traffic is a big issue. Coming from the US there is a very different standard of what is acceptable and it is difficult to get use to.

Learning Spanish – of course we knew we were just beginners but it was a significant stress not being able to communicate well and understanding so little of what people said despite studying Spanish six months before our trip and daily once we got to Mexico.
Jim and Mindy from Jim and Mindy in Rural Veracruz

I found that much of my study of Spanish was useless in real conversations. Either my accent was wrong or I was using a correct synonym that was so uncommon they had no idea what I was talking about. I became very good at charades however.

The increasing militarization of Mexico has been difficult. I have still not completely adjusted to having to pass through military roadblocks almost wherever I go.
Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson from Tijuana Bible

I wasn’t sure whether the military checkpoints should make me feel safer or more nervous. The only ones I remember going through were with our friends and were no big deal. It still seemed odd to see people with machine guns waving you over.

To be honest, I feel just as comfortable in Mexico as where I grew up in the UK or have lived in the US, if not more so. It’s actually quite hard to think of anything that really needed adjusting to. 

Witnessing levels of poverty absent or hidden in other countries, like kids of 7 selling chewing gum on the streets or flowers in bars late at night is something you never fully get used to and there are constant reminders of the huge divides and contrasts of a modern Mexican city like Guadalajara. That would be the major thing, and everyone has their own way of assuaging their first-world guilt.

On a more prosaic level though, some people take a while to get used to the food, I never had any problems and ate food from street vendors almost every day (the trick is to look for places with queues of locals). Drinking bottled water was new to me and having the water guy deliver gallon bottles every few days was odd at first but it’s not exactly life-changing. Driving can be tricky at major intersections, but despite Guadalajara’s ever rising levels of traffic, it’s still nowhere near as dangerous/ frustrating as it is getting from A to B in the SF Bay Area. Paying tolls to use decent motorways does take some adjusting though. If you’re planning a long journey you’ll need a lot of cash handy to pay the tolls for the extremely modern, well-equipped roads. However you can plan ahead with a handy new web tool from the Transport Department’s website that tells you how much the charges will be.

Gwyn Fisher from Gwyn’s Blog

We had reasonably good success with the food. I got really sick once and we aren’t really sure why. Bottled water was a little bit of an annoyance especially when you go out to eat. I generally drink a lot of water with spicy foods so I can easily spend as much on water as on the meal itself.

Looking back, there was really no major adjustment, because I was already sufficiently familiar with the country and knew what to expect.
Jennifer J. Rose from Staring at Strangers

Interview: Why Mexico?

Since we are back in the United States, I thought it would be interesting to do some interviews with people who are living or have lived in Mexico. This is the first of a four part series where we contacted a number of people and asked what it is like moving to Mexico.

What prompted you to move to Mexico?

I came to Mexico because I have loved the country for over 40 years and wanted to live in this culture.
Barbara Eckrote from Babs of San Miguel.blogspot

It is hard to underestimate the experience of living in a culture you love.

We were originally just coming to Mexico for one winter to escape our cold Alberta, Canada winter.  We fell in love with the area that we live in now and decided to retire early and move here.  I guess the main reason was the weather.
Brenda from Brenda and Roy Going to Mexico 

One of the advantages of Mexico is the ability to retire for less than you can in other countries. When we were in Durango the winters were cold, but nothing like Canada. However, the houses were all made to stay cool, so it seemed pretty cold even thought it wasn’t that bad.

My husband is Mexican, and we always planned to live in Mexico for at?least a few years.  We’ve been here almost 5 years.
RiverGirl from River Girl 

When we were in Mexico we met quite a few people who had moved there with their Mexican spouse. Marrying someone from Mexico can make it easier to adjust in some way. On the other hand you don’t necessarily get to go through culture shock together

I had taken my first vacation to Cancun, Mexico with a group of friends and upon my return I could not get Mexico off the brain.  During a discussion with a friend I made an off handed comment about how I should just move to Mexico.   His response was that I couldn’t do it and that I wouldn’t do it so I thought to myself, “Why not?”.  I promptly decided to move to Mexico for 3 months as a sort of “trial run” and when I returned back home, I decided I would pay off my debts, network, do more research, learn Spanish and wait for the right time and opportunity to move back for the long haul.  The time and opportunity showed up and I’ve been living in Cancun, Mexico for the last 5-1/2 years.
Elizabeth from Mexico “Way”

So basically Elizabeth moved to Mexico on a dare. 🙂 Well it makes for a great story.

We had spent a lot of time in Mexico and knew we liked it. Thought it would be fun. And mostly it is!
Rosana Hart from Mexico with Heart

One common theme I see with people who have moved to Mexico permanently is that they spent a lot of time there ahead deciding to move. This is probably a wise move.

I fell in love with a girl from Xalapa on-line. Her brother introduced us, and after 4 months I decided to move to Xalapa to see if things would work out for us. (We’re now married and have a daughter).
John Bokma from Johnbokma / MexIT

Nothing like love to encourage you to move countries. I have a friend who did something similar, but in the end he and his girlfriend moved back to the US.

Cheap living and agreeable women.
Michael Dickson from La vida bougainvillea

When we were in Mexico it seemed odd what was cheap. Things that we thought would be expensive were very inexpensive–like healthcare. Things that we thought would be cheap were expensive–like fruits and vegetables. I guess some might depend on where you live–Durango doesn’t grow a lot of their own food. Some of the fruit we were buying was actually imported from the US.

Poor health and financial pressures…
Jim and Mindy from Jim and Mindy in Rural Veracruz

The financial advantage of living in Mexico can be tremendous–especially if you can find a rural area and learn to take advantage of the things that are inexpensive in Mexico. Jim and MIndy seem to have done this well.

A thousand things. The immediate cause was retirement and the ability to do so. First among other things was a complete disgust with a lifetime of U.S. imperialism and the increase of fascism and militarization inside the United States itself. Secondarily Mexico attracts through the warmth of its people and what I perceive as a much healthier social atmosphere.
Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson from Tijuana Bible

In Mexico where we were at it was routine to find military roadblocks with soldiers armed with machine guns. I have seen less militarization in the US than in Mexico, but perhaps I was living in a place with an unusual amount of military activity. I would agree that many components of Mexican society seem to be healthier than in the US.

My wife’s a sociology grad student and is writing her PhD dissertation on “How Tequila became Mexico’s national drink”. Her research naturally led us to Jalisco, Mexico, home of Tequila and also the place we met 10 years ago when I was studying as part of my undergraduate degree in Spanish. We thought we’d only be there for a year but managed to extend the stay after she won various grants and scholarships.
Gwyn Fisher from Gwyn’s Blog

This has got to the be the most unique reason I’ve ever heard for someone to move to Mexico! That is quite a dissertation topic. My topic seems quite boring after reading yours.

There was no single precipitating factor, because the move was a natural progression for me.  When people ask why I moved to Mexico, my response is “Because I could.”
Jennifer J. Rose from Staring at Strangers

Hiring Someone In Mexico

While in Mexico, one of the things I was very interested in was the opportunities for bringing work to Mexico. There are a lot of companies who are moving certain business functions to India. Mexico would have a lot of advantages because it is closer to the US and has the strong advantage of being in the same timezone.

I talked with several people about the pay rates in Mexico and it sounded like someone with a law degree or accounting degree would be very happy to get a salary of $5,000 per year. In fact it sounded like many younger accountants and lawyers were having a very difficult time making even half of that in Durango.

I didn’t get the chance to really explore the educational system in Durango, Mexico. Superficially, it appears that most of the degrees from universities are similar in scope to a degree from a Junior College in the US, but it may vary depending on where you go. Law and accounting seemed to be very popular fields of study. In Mexico there are fewer regulations, so it is significantly easier to become a lawyer. In fact I think all you really need to do is say that you are a lawyer.

When we decided to come back to the US, we needed to get our stuff back from Durango. Based on the idea that most people were struggling to make less than $500 per month, we asked our friends if they knew of anyone who would be interested in driving our stuff up to the border at Laredo for $300 US. Our friends couldn’t find anyone who was trust worthy, had a vehicle and would be willing to do it. (We ended up getting our stuff when the pastor of the church had to come back to the border to renew his vehicle permit.)

The difficulty might have been more related to the lack of vehicles, but I was still surprised. While we were in Durango, it seemed like there were a lot of people looking for work.

A few months later, we were talking with our friends who were setting up a tamale stand. They had a recipe, some people to cook and a cart, but couldn’t find anyone willing to do the actual selling. They ran it for a few weeks themselves and it made very good money, but no one was willing to work on a commission basis.

This also seemed strange because a job on commission seems like a better option than no job at all–especially one where someone was already running it and had proved it could make a lot of money. Our friends tried to find people by setting up base salary plus commission, but still couldn’t find anyone willing to work.

During one of Mexico’s revolutions, there seems to have been a backlash against business owners. I think this was because there was practically no middle class. Most of the businesses were owned by the government or the very rich. Because of this, there are many laws designed to be very much in favor of the employees that make things difficult for the employer. It can be difficult to fire someone because you are required to pay them a substantial (compared with their salary) amount of money as severance.

By contrast, the American War for Independence was pushed primarily by business men and the middle class. Much of the difficulties with England impacted middle class business men much more than the lone farmer. As a result, US law seems to be setup to encourage business growth more than the laws in Mexico.

I still think there are some great opportunities for hiring people in Mexico. India and the Philippines have companies where people will work as your full time personal assistant for $500 to $2,000 per month. Mexico would be the ideal place to hire people for this type of work because of their location geographically. However, finding the employees would probably be very difficult. It might be a little easier around Mexico City or other larger populations centers.

If Mexico would really make a push to teach students English, give them a basic technology education and establish the same mindset that seems prevalent in India, I think individuals working from their homes using the internet could bring in billions of dollars into Mexico over the next 10 years.

Buying on Demand

In our experience, people in Mexico don’t stock up on items like they do in the US. There are several reasons for this. First the refrigerators are much smaller than they are in the US. Second their approach to money is usually to buy just what is needed for the moment. Third, there are small corner shops making it easy to run across the street to buy something you need. Fourth, there isn’t always an advantage to buying in bulk–1/2 gallons of milk is exactly half the cost of a full gallon.

The place where buying on demand is most noticeable is when you look at how the locals approach phone and cable services. It seems like many of them pay for the service and use it until it gets shut off. Then they pay again and are good to go for another month.

That wouldn’t work in the US because of the additional fees of getting service re-instated, but at least in Durango it seems to be very common.

I suppose the low cost of labor helps feed this. Also if everyone does it, it would be difficult for the phone company and cable company to start permanently blocking customers who don’t pay on time without losing a lot of their business. Another thing to consider is the poor mail service. You often won’t get a bill in the mail, so turning off service is the companies way of letting you know it is time to pay.

Cell Phone Plans for Mexico Travel

Using a cell phone in Mexico can be pretty expensive if you aren’t careful. This page gives you a summary of what we learned when trying to take our phones to Mexico. At the bottom you’ll find an overview of the services offered by some of the major carriers in the US and how they work in Mexico.

Enabling International Usage

Most carriers don’t give you international roaming capability automatically. You’ll usually have to call and request that they turn it on. This can’t always be done right away, so be sure to do this a few days ahead of when you are planing on going to Mexico.

Some carriers will have to ask you a bunch of questions to verify your identity. The last time this happened they asked me about the banks I paid for former mortgages. Since it had been quite a while and all my payments were done automatically, I had a hard time answering their questions, but eventually I was able to convince them of my identity.

Call Forwarding

When you are in Mexico, you may not want your phone to ring. The carriers will usually charge you for any call that touches their network–even if you don’t pick it up. You can forward your phone to keep the calls from even touching their network, but you’ll have to use a “hard” forward not a “soft” forward.

Hard and Soft Cell Phone Forwarding

A hard forward is handled by your cell phone company. That means the call doesn’t even make it down to the Mexico network. You can usually do this from your phone, but it is best to call in before crossing the border and asking your cell phone company how to do it on your particular phone model. (You can usually reach your phone company by dialing 611 while you are in the US).

A soft forward is one that is handled by the phone itself. If your forwarding lets certain calls through and sends others to voice mail, it is probably a soft forward.

Cell Phone Forwarding Fees

Make sure you understand the charges for call forwarding. Some companies like T-mobile include a small number of minutes of call forwarding. Others like Cingular charge you a per minute fee for every minute a call is being forwarded. Usually any of these charges will be miniscule compared to the cost of using the Mexican cell network.

You have to come up with a good place to forward the calls. You can forward them directly to voicemail as long you have a good way to check the messages from Mexico. (If you aren’t going to be in Mexico for more than a week or two at a time this may be sufficient.) If you use Skype or Vonage you can probably call in and check your voicemail without paying Mexican cell phone airtime fees. Usually you do this by calling your cell phone number and pushing * when your voicemail answers.

Personally I prefer to forward my calls to a service that will send me any incoming voicemail messages as an attachment in an email. I usually just forward them to Vonage (which gives me the voicemail as an email attachment), plus if my Vonage phone is hooked up I can answer the calls directly.

Other Forwarding Services

There are other services that can handle forwarding your phone for you. I’ve used CallWave before and they can forward your phones for a low monthly fee. CallWave can also handle your voicemail, by sending you messages as email attachments when they come in.

SIM Cards

If you need to make a bunch of local calls from Mexico, you may want to consider getting a local Mexican SIM card. By swapping your US SIM card with a Mexican SIM card your phone will become a Mexican cell phone.

Getting a SIM Card

In Mexico most people seem to use pre-paid cell phone service. You should be able to get a prepaid SIM from a TelCel store. In Durango these stores were very common and you can find them ever few blocks in the downtown area.

You can also sign up for a plan like you would in the US. This seems to be less common. I think you can get a slightly better deal this way if you are using a bunch of minutes.

Unlocking your US Cell Phone

To use a SIM card from another carrier, you may need to unlock your cell phone. Most US carriers give phones away (or charge a very low price) and make up the cost over the next few years that you use their service. To keep you from getting a cheap phone and then switching to another service, they lock the phones so they will only work with their SIM. That way you can’t get a really good deal on a phone from Cingular and then switch to a cheaper plan with Verizon.

I know T-Mobile will give you the unlock codes for your phone if you’ve been a customer for a certain period of time. Usually you just follow the instructions to unlock the phone. Some phones require you to hook them up to a computer to unlock them.

You can also buy unlock codes online. The prices vary depending on how popular the phone is, but many times you can get an unlock code for about $30.

Troubleshooting Cell Phone Problems from Mexico

If you are having problems with your cell phone in Mexico, calling your cell phone company using your cell phone is probably the last thing you want to do. You’ll be paying high per minute fees to troubleshoot the problem and chances are they will have you restart the phone anyway.

When traveling to Mexico, make sure you take a contact number to call your cell phone carrier. In the US you can usually just dial 611, but if you try that from Mexico, you’ll likely get Telcel or MoviStar who won’t be able to help you much.

When I ran into some connection problems in Durango, I called T-mobile’s 800 number from my Vonage phone (a phone that has a US number, but connects through a cable modem connection). That way I could work on my phone without paying $1.49.

One of the common problems in Mexico is connecting to the wrong network. In the US, phones generally jump back and forth to the best network, but that doesn’t always happen in Mexico. You may need to manually tell your phone to connect to TelCel or MobiStar (the two Mexican cellular carriers). This is particularly true if you are trying to use a Blackberry. Voice seems to have an easier time than the data connection in finding the best network to use.

T-mobile in Mexico

T-mobile has one of the highest rates for voice and one of the lowest rates for Blackberry email. Voice calls are $1.49, but international email only Blackberry service is around $40.

When we used T-mobile, we had decent coverage and the Blackberry email made it easy to let people in the US know where we were without spending a fortune on calling out. We forwarded our number to our Vonage line, so we wouldn’t miss any important calls.

If you are looking at using T-mobile for Blackberry service, you can get a Blackberry only plan, where voice calls are charged $0.20 per minute in the US. This works well if you need the phone mainly for email, but want to be able to place and receive calls while you are North of the border.

Cingular in Mexico

Cingular charges more for international Blackberry usage ($69), but for an additional $6 per month, you can roam in Mexico for $0.69 per minute. It sill isn’t cheap, but if you plan on making calls from Mexico, this can save you a lot of money.

One of the big advantages of using Cingular is the rollover minutes. If you spend a lot of time in and out of Mexico and don’t use your cell phone much while South of the border, you’ll have a lot of months where you are paying for minutes that don’t get used. Cingular lets you “bank” those minutes toward future months when you go over your allocated minutes.

Rollover minutes do eventually drop off. Roll over minutes from 1/1/2007 will disappear if not used before 1/1/2008 and rollover minutes are only used once you’ve used all of the minutes for your current month. However if you spend a month with no usage and then a few months with heavy usage, this can be a good way to save by order a less expensive plan and letting the rollover minutes even out the high and low usages months.

Verizon in Mexico

I have heard the Verizon has a 1300 minute plan for $100 that will let you roam all of North America (Mexico, USA, Canada) with no additional charges. If you need to do a lot of voice communication this sounds like the ideal solution. Unfortunately I’ve also heard that their Blackberry service has a lot of trouble connecting–even in Mexico City. This might have been because of phone configuration issues, so it might work out well for others.

Sprint in Mexico

Sprint/Nextel has been doing a big push into Mexico–particularly in Durango where we were.  I’m not sure what type of rate they have available, but it might be worth checking out.  In particular the nextel service has direct connect which in some cases could be a very good deal–depending on what you need.


Hopefully these notes will save you some time in traveling to Mexico. Make sure you confirm what your rates will be with your carrier before trying to use your phone in Mexico. Take notes on what they say and get the name of the person you spoke to. If there are any problems they are likely to be very big problems and having a good record of what you were told could save you several hundred dollars (or more) in fees.

It is also a good idea to ask the same question of several different people just to make sure they all say the same thing. Many of the cell phone representatives in the US aren’t familiar with international roaming and may give you incorrect information. If you can get ahold of a representative outside of the US, you are likely to get more correct answers. For example, Sunday evenings, T-Mobile sends their calls to customer support representatives in Great Britain. Since your average resident of Great Britain is statistically more likely to deal with international travel than the average resident of the US, the customer support representatives over there will probably be more familiar with international issues than customer support out of Wichita, Kansas.

Change of Plans

We had a change of plans. Instead of going back to Mexico to have our baby, we decided to stay in the US. We really liked the doctor down in Mexico, but our Spanish didn’t improve as rapidly as we had hoped. With the doctor, this wasn’t a problem because he spoke enough English that we could communicate. The nurses were quite a bit more difficult for us to communicate with.

Trying to set up an appointment was a very big challenge. We knew what to say, but once they strayed from the script we had mentally prepared, we were lost. To top it off, Haley isn’t a name many people in Mexico have ever heard so it was pretty difficult just to get them to understand that Haley was a name.

Also, our friends who graciously helped us with our many language problems were going to be gone around the time we were expecting the baby to be born. All in all, we were just a lot more comfortable with having the baby in the US.

Anyway, we’ll be staying in Kansas for at least the next six months. We were able to find a nice little apartment without any scorpions.

Dryers are Scarce

In Durango clothes dryers seem to be fairly rare. You can buy them, but they seem pretty expensive. One reason they aren’t used much is because of the way electricity is sold.

In Mexico you pay a basic rate for electricity. Once you go over a certain amount of electric use they bump you to a higher rate–not just for the overage, but for your entire bill. Worse still, once you trigger the higher rate, you stay at that rate for several months. I don’t know what the exact amount of the higher rate is, but from the people I’ve talked to it sounds like it is a pretty drastic increase.

It makes sense why people wouldn’t want to use an electric dryer because it would have a high chance of pushing your bill over into the extremely high usage bracket. Gas dryers would quickly empty the small tanks that most people use to power their water heater.

The constant sun makes it easy to dry clothes on a line. As long as they get direct sunlight they will dry very quickly. However everything ends up with a slight “crispy” feel. Mexicans try to compensate with vast amounts of laundry softener.

Getting a Ticket in Mexico

In the U.S. if a policeman gives you a ticket, it is generally a very simple process. They give you the ticket and you can mail in your payment. The state keeps track of you on the computer, so if you do not pay, they will issue a warrant for your arrest. In Mexico it works a bit differently.

In Mexico if they gave you a ticket and just let you go, they would assume you’d never come back to pay it. Based on my experience down there, this is probably a very correct assumption. So to make sure you pay your fine, they will take your license until you come to the station to pay the fine.

Sounds simple enough, but keep in mind if you go to the police station, your license may still be with the policeman who gave you the ticket. This brings us to a discussion about bribes. Most people in the U.S. have heard about bribes in Mexico. In practice, Mexico is doing a very good job of getting rid of corruption in the police force. However there are still some police who may try to get a bribe from you.

Generally if the policeman wants a bribe, they will tell you about how much of a hassle it is going to be for you to go to the police station and how long it is going to take. They will go on for quite awhile about how inconvenient it is going to be and how much trouble you are going to be in. This is code language asking for a bribe. If you don’t want to bribe the police (which is illegal by the way), just insist that they go ahead and take your license to the police station so you can pay your fine.

The police can make things difficult for you by not taking the license to the station until they get off their shift. I’ve heard of people driving through Mexico who had to wait all day without going anywhere because the police were trying to make things difficult because they didn’t pay a bribe. The police chief kept calling the policemen who had the license telling them to come back in, but they didn’t until 9pm when they finished with their shift.

If you do want to pay a bribe (and I’m not suggesting that this is a good idea), you wait until they start telling you how much trouble it is going to be to go to the police station and you ask “Is there anything else we can do?” or better yet “Can I just pay you the fine and get my license now?” This can possibly get you off without temporarily losing your license, but you may end up paying a lot more than the normal amount of the fine. Sometimes you may end up paying just a fraction of what the fine would be.

If you want to try this, make sure you phrase it that you are paying them the fine. If you misunderstand and they really aren’t asking for a bribe, you may be talking to an honest policeman. Offering them a bribe is illegal, so it could get you in more trouble. Offering to pay them the fine directly helps keep you out of trouble.

Sometimes if they are trying to get a bribe, they will tell you that your fine is going to be much higher. If you go to the police station you will be charged the correct amount. In the better police stations, if you mention that you were told the fine would be for a higher amount, it will help them get rid of corrupt policemen.

If you don’t want to deal with paying bribes, but you also don’t want to be stuck all day in a little town waiting for your license to make it to the police station, there are a few things you can do. First of all you can get an international drivers license. You can get these in the U.S. at AAA. They cost around $20 with the photo. Technically they aren’t a legal drivers license without your real license, but you can start out by giving it to the police when they ask for your license instead of your real license.

They might ask to see your real license as well, but there is a pretty good chance that they will just take the international license. You’ll still probably want to get it back and if you have been given a ticket. I don’t suggest trying to get by without paying it. However, if someone is trying to cause trouble, you are much better off giving a copy of a license that you can replace at any AAA than your actual divers license.

I have also heard people suggest making a few laminated color photo copies of your state drivers license. That way if the police lose it or it never makes its way back to the police station, you aren’t stuck in a foreign country without a license.

I believe that your ticket serves as your drivers license if your real license has been taken by the police, but I don’t know how long it is valid.

This information is based on talking to a lot of people who have driven through Mexico and a brief personal encounter with the police. Laws change and any of this information could be outdated by the time you read it.