What to Take to Mexico for an Extended Stay Off-Season
One of my favorite things about summers in Mexico
There are a variety of darn-good reasons to come to Mexico in the summer if you are considering ever living here in the future. In fact, you must, as it is critically important that you know what a locale is like under its least tolerable conditions. I know plenty of people who have moved to Mexico only to find they cannot bear their chosen city in the summer, forcing them to abandon their plan (and sell houses at a loss) after a few years.
I actually prefer the summers. It’s much cheaper. The locals have time for you and are more approachable. You are not surrounded by Anglos in every restaurant and supermarket. The summer’s tropical storms are almost sexual. Mexican businesses are more anxious to please you, just like at home in off-season. Here an easy checklist to get you started on an extended stay off-season.
Required: Passport (If entering by air) - allow three-six months if applying for one. Passports should be secured in a safe place during you stay. Make copies to carry with you (but not colored copies).
Insurance - Buy health-only travel insurance. It will cost less than $100 and will cover medical emergencies (yes, they can happen to you.)
Upon arrival, purchase a taxi ride only from official kiosks only. You should be able to exchange some money for pesos there.
Once settled, you’ll need to go to an ATM or bank. Go during the day until you get more familiar with your surroundings.
Go to ATMS that are inside the building where you can close the door behind you..Try to find ATMs that are attached to banks. Having a ATM not return your card is a possibility and having the bank mail you a new one difficult as mail service is not reliable in Mexico for receiving a replacement.
Always travel with two ATM cards, each from a separate bank. Having accounts between two banks and linking them to enable transfers will provide real peace of mind. ATM cards which on occasion can be sucked down by an ATM, and are a real hassle to replace. You probably are not familiar with banking holidays in Mexico. ATMS sometimes run out of money during a holiday or paydays. Always have a cushion of emergency cash that will carry you two-three days.
Apply for credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Carry more cash than you think you will need, and extra 500 pesos maybe. Money looks different and the denominations and exchange can sometimes make you feel like you have more money than you do. Mexico is still a cash country while in the US we use cash less and less, hence we have lost touch with it in the physical sense.
Suggested items checklist
Stylish huaraches are for both men and women
3-4 hand washable soft, thin cotton shirts
One dinner outfit. In general, Mexicans dress up more when they go out
Sleeping mask for plane and lodging
A money belt - Rather than the ugly travel ones, look for athletic-wear ones that fit flush against your skin. These are less expensive too.
Extra bathing suits if you swim or go to beach. They are expensive in Mexico. Sun and salt take an additional toll. Carry one for every month you will be there if staying in coastal area.
Travel umbrella (for the sun - It’s nuclear and cooler than wearing a hat).
2 pairs of sunglasses, at least one of good quality (polarized)
1 pair of nice, longer shorts (for inside at home) or loose pants.
Lightweight cotton robe, even in hot areas you will want one after showering.
Walking sandals or shoes (Try some huaraches ! The are practical and good-looking. Break them in before your trip)
House slippers (almost everywhere you stay will be ceramic floors. Tough on the back and feet)
One pair closed-toed shoes (to wear at open markets and after rain. Foot infections are common). Sidewalk conditions can be pretty yucky after a storm.
Light jacket or pull-over if you intend on any travel to Mexico City or upper elevations.
Prescriptions (No, you cannot buy anything in a pharmacy and sometimes drugs are MORE expensive here)
Extra of any brand-name make up or hair product for each month of stay
Extra sunscreen (sunscreen is expensive in Mexico and most stores do not have a wide variety to choose from) - keep an eye on it at the beach. Some expensive ones are quite coveted.
Small printed Spanish dictionary (internet not usually available and there will be many times you may not want to carry your Iphone.
At least credit cards set up for cash withdrawals (Don’t forget to set up pin number before you leave.)
Secure place/booklet where pin numbers are written (even experienced expats have confessed to going blank in unfamiliar, stressful surroundings
Billfold for extra debit card, copy of passport, credit card and mad money in both currencies. Keep safe.
Extra chargers - Chargers sold in Mexico are aftermarket and are often defective.
A small sewing kit
Extra reading glasses. Extra supply of contact lenses and prescription glasses
Bug spray (an absolute) - bug bites can be very serious affairs in Mexico.
Items to Consider/Items that make a real difference for a long-term stay.
I consider many of these, like sound speakers and ereaders, absolutely necessary.
Portable sound speakers for phone (Aventree has a soundbar for less than $70).
Nice headphones and an arm sleeve band for your Iphone to listen quietly to music or podcasts no matter where you are staying. Ear plugs are a good idea too.
Mio (a concentrated, sugarless water flavoring in a tiny bottle) - remember water in Mexico is frequently not potable. Drink bottled water. A flavoring like Mio is small and makes it easier to stay hydrated.
Foldable yoga mat (if you exercise, these can be invaluable on the hard tile floors of Mexico for all kinds of exercise and stretching after a day of walking).
Kindle/e-reader - Remember to research and preload your books, playlists and podcasts. I highly recommend you get a Spotify account to enable you to listen without internet.
Hair dryer and the like (they often are not provided in condos or casitas.
Any small unusual kitchen item you use all the time (I carry a hand-held juicer and apple-corer). Favorite spice rubs.
Flat sheets - I know this one is a little crazy. Unless you are staying at a really expensive place, you will find sheets very rough. This just might be the one weird item to bring that will help you sleep no matter the room, especially if you are used to a high thread count.
Extra laptop - If you are working, bring your old laptop. Any type of computer issue make take much longer to resolve unless you are in a major metropolitan area. New laptops and many electronics are prohibitively expensive. At the very least (if you aren’t working) have an ereader, as these can function as a computer for a variety of tasks should something happen to your laptop.
What you can buy very inexpensively here and should not pack (save room for better things)
Hats, fun sunglasses, nice sandals, jewelry for going out, outer beach wear, hand-held Mexican fans (yes, women still carry them and they’re awesome).
Make sure you visit your carrier’s store before you leave and find out if you should suspend your account or otherwise modify it while you are in Mexico. You might save money by switching to a plan that emphasizes data over minutes while you are in Mexico. You might consider setting your phone in plane-mode most the time to guard against roaming charges.
Telcel phones -. What many people do is buy an inexpensive Telcel phone at their store and buy minutes for it until they decide what there needs will be. The phone costs about $30. Buy at least 200 pesos worth of minutes. Stay in the Telcel store and get assistance to set the voice mail, etc up for you. When you run out of minutes, they can be purchased at many pharmacies and XOXO, their convenience store chain. When purchasing more minutes, stay in the store and check to make sure you received them, because sometimes they are accidentally credited to the wrong number.
You will want to load the phone immediately with critical contact information. These phones are a stop gap measure only, while you determine your needs.
You will want to experience all the types of transportation available in Mexico. In many cities, the public bus transportation system is excellent. The information below applies to cities and towns other than Mexico City, where you will need to follow more precautions and have other options. Uber is widely available.
Buses range from luxurious to “very interesting”
You will receive a receipt from the bus driver. Keep it. The ticket is used to prove you were on the bus in the unlikely event something happens to you for which the city could be held liable.
Buses in Mexico will usually stop when they can no matter where you are hailing them from. They are not restricted to stopping at bus stops. Have your change ready when you board. If you have a need to be in bus terminals, take extra caution against pick pockets.
Unlike the U.S. you can use a cash option and drivers prefer it. They do not have identifying stickers - they flash their lights. Like in the U.S. always confirm the drivers name before getting into the car. Text them identifying information and markers (Estoy enfrente de Mega Store, Llevo una camisa blanca).
Taxis are plentiful and reasonable. Those, Uber and bench trucks not only get you around but give you opportunities to practice the language and live in the culture. Ask the fare first before getting into the cab.. If you don’t speak any Spanish at all, be prepared with a map to indicate where you’re going.
Question anything over 100 pesos unless it is an airport run, across town or late at night. The average fare is usually between 50-80 pesos, cash.
Uber driver in Mexico
Licenced taxis vary in color by city. One tip offered by Mexperience.com is to check the tires for an indication of car’s upkeep. Always check for your things carefully when exiting. At night it is very easy to miss a darker item like sunglasses.
It is helpful to know where the nearest busy taxi stands are, for example those near big hotels. Once you find taxi drivers you like, get names and phone numbers so you can call for a pick up if you want. They do not charge more for a personal pick up.
Water Taxis and Ferries
By all means, experience these! Near bays and inlets, you will undoubtedly encounter water ferries and taxis and boats to islands. They are self-explanatory. Some have kiosks but many are free, although it’s nice to tip the ferryman (around five pesos).
Always carry loads of five peso coins as you will be tipping anyone who provides a small service such as watching your parking place, guiding you into tight parking places, helping you unload a taxi of groceries, bagging your groceries, personal services and of course in restaurants where 5-10% is considered the norm for a tip.
Have any more items you’d like to add? Email me! at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related: A more detailed look at why you have to go to Mexico off-season if considering expat life.
Most recent: My new book, The Mexico Solution, will be available in a few months. Pre-order for the best price!
About the author, Kerry Baker
Hola, I am the the author of three books and this blog. My books are The Interactive Guide for Learning Spanish Free Online, a curation of the best language tools on the web, organized by level and skill. The second book is “If I Only Had a Place” on renting.
With the passing of time and after reading other books on Mexico, I am even more convinced that those moving to Mexico really have no idea how different renting in Mexico is (unless you want to pay a lot more money). This book covers cultural facts you should be aware of. My recent book, The Mexico Solution, is a manual for part-time expat life, as well as many subjects relative to being a full-time expat.