Ventanas Mexico

Resources for full- or part-time life in Mexico

Provides a blog promoting living in Mexico and promotes books on learning Spanish and how to rent in Mexico.

Sixteen Surprising Things You Need for an Extended Stay in Mexico

 

Updated 2018

Three to six months in Mexico differs from a resort stay. Things that you barely miss over a week-long stay emerge as more important than you anticipated. Sure, eventually you might find most of what you need there (and Amazon show great promise!), but doing without until you find will get on your nerves

You’re going to be busy with logistics. Every shopping trip will mean new discoveries of what is and isn't available in stores, often to your amazement. You probably will have to determine if the internet is realiable enough not to drive you crazy and work out bugs in communicating via Skype and phone with people back home.

Every rental kitchen is different. Once it took three days before I realized my place didn't have an oven.  If you felt hiring someone to stock your frig (highly recommended) was too self-indulgent, you have worry about feeding yourself when you don't feel like going to a restaurant, or get tired of Mexican food.

Living in Mexico for six months or more a year at a time, I’ve learned which things improve my quality of life most while I'm in Mexico. While a few of the items are admittedly girly, most apply to even guys (especially if the guy cares about his feet). 

1. Spices, oven thermometer - If you are staying more than a week, you’ll be doing some cooking. Cooking healthy food you like, once that first flush of enthusiasm over Mexican cuisine is over, will be challenging.  

Most spices, including fennel, dill, oregano, cayenne pepper, coriander, ginger, rosemary may not be available at all and I guarantee availability will be erratic at best, -even if you know what they are called in Spanish.  Spices also look different (Sage looks like a baggie of twigs and broken bay leaves.) Have a few recipes with you and the spices that go with them. I bring an apple corer and small meat mallet (beef is tough in Mexico).

Consider bringing an oven thermometer. I haven't lived in a place yet that has an oven with a regular temperature gauge. Some are just fire coils in a tin box.

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2.  An electronic reader and a library card to your local U.S. library. Hauling books is not practical and the availability of English language materials is sporadic, even in most popular expat areas. Don’t forget your library card to your own U.S. city library since many libraries provide books online, and will send them directly to your Kindle.

3. A money belt - When you are arrive to a foreign country, your balance will be off at first.  People who have never lost a credit card in their lives have told me about lost cards the first few weeks of a stay.  

So much new information; sights, smells, different currency and even the new energy of a place bombard your senses. You'll be distracted. A money belt can carry a key to where you’re staying, $500 pesos, a copy of your I.D, and a debit card.

For you women, I highly suggest going to a sports-gear store rather than a travel store and check around for one. I'm wild about my new one, marketed as a "hand-free" belt for runners rather than a money belt. It's a black nylon cloth belt you step in to. It's thin and wide, rather than looking like a maxi-pad.

4. Sound speakers for your computer or phone - Sound speakers are so compact now that I can't imagine not carrying them.   If your surroundings don't quite meet your expectations,  quality music sound will transcend those conditions.  With your music with you, you will be home no matter where you are.  Before you leave home, take the time to pour yourself a glass of wine some evening and download new music. You won't regret it.

5. Extra debit and credit cards - Debit cards from two separate banks has saved the neck of many an expat. Access problems with pin numbers or a lost debit card can be terrifying, and debit cards are inconvenient to replace in a foreign country.

Getting a new debit card mailed to you is a process fraught with anxiety in many foreign countries. Americans take for granted the luxury of a secure postal service (a Mexican boyfriend once told me it was the only thing he admired about America). It can take weeks to get new one and you have to trust the address/person it’s being sent to. Banks no longer will allow you to use them for receiving new cards like they used to.

6. An extra “wallet’ containing a copy of your passport and an alternate photo I.D. and  birth certificate,  along with international bank customer service numbers.

These need to be kept separate from your primary wallet.  Make sure you know your credit card PIN, which is different from your debit card PIN. The code will be required if you need to draw emergency cash from a credit card. Your face and passport will not do it at a bank.

7. A tablet or laptop (two laptops is an excellent idea if you plan on working) -  Be careful to lock your technology in a safe where you stay if the place is new to you.  If you have an old laptop, take that, unless you want to buy a more costly laptop with a Spanish keyboard should something happen to yours.

 Do not be the least bit embarrassed to demand a safe in which to lock up valuables, even if your place appears to have a secure door.  If you can't lock them up, at least hide anything very valuable to the greatest extent possible no matter how upscale the place appears to be. 

8, A book dictionary - Many a time I wished I had my pocket dictionary with me after starting up a conversation with a stranger.  In the States I had gotten used to looking up words on my phone.  At times, you may not want to carry your cell phone in Mexico. Same goes for taking an old fashioned calculator rather than your expensive phone as a calculator into busy marketplaces.  Sure,  all the Mexicans around you are carrying them, but they won't have the hassles you will have if they lose their phone.

9. A small umbrella  - You are way down south here and the sun is nuclear.  Natives often use umbrellas. If you see Mexicans doing something, there is a darn good reason for it. You won’t always want to wear a hat.  Travel umbrellas fall into the category of things you might happen to see in a store right away, but maybe not.

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10. Consider a small set of great sheets. If you love your 800-thread sheets, bring a set of single flat sheets. Only the nicest hotels have them in Mexico and they are impossible to find in stores. For day-to-day luxury over the long haul, nice sheets give me far more pleasure than extra clothes do.

11. House shoes, long sleeved cotton shirt, sewing kit, extra reading glasses -  Most everywhere you stay will have tile floors. They thrash your feet quickly and are hard on the back. Take an extra pair of reading glasses if you use them. Travel sewing kits and a pair of scissors are on many people's list.  Make sure your "house shoes" have grippy soles. Those tile floors are treacherous when wet. A very thin long-sleeved button-down cotton shirt, even for coastal areas, is a must as the for air-conditionering can be breezy.

12. A protective cell phone case - For some reason, everyone in Mexico seems to have a cracked phone screen... must be the tile floors.

13. Extra make-up or toiletries - Your favorite brands will probably not be available. You might be far more attached to a brand than you realize. Same goes for your suntan lotions.  Think about all the kinds we use; SPF 30, 50, 100 for face or body or sunless, zinc oxide. Endless choices. Even in resort towns, that selection is not going to be vast, and is more expensive (people will actually steal fancy sun-screens from towels at the beach).

Even if they have your brands, you may not know if you have the right product if your Spanish isn’t great.  I used Pond’s “Crema C” as body lotion (vitamin C, right?)  for a week until I finally looked up the Spanish word “limpiadora” in English (which translates "cleansing." 

14. A fold up yoga mat -  If you practice yoga regularly, you will find beautiful places that inspire your practice. Moreover, yoga mats have many functionalities that are useful because of those same hard tile floors that tear up your feet.  You can buy flat ones that fold for travel rather than the rolled version.

Girl with mexican fan

Fans are still quite popular in Mexico and Spain.

You can stretch on a yoga mat after a day of walking.  You can do floor exercises in small quarters. You can fold them into a sitting cushion.  You may even run into a real yoga class - a great way to mingle with the locals.

15. Your meds - carefully calculate what you will need and see your doctor about the re-fills you'll need a few months before you go. Doctors can surprise you about how many months prescriptions they are willing to give you. They might even decide that this of all times is the time to change a medication. They can get ornery about it so plan ahead.

16. Extra chargers - This is a big one. It can be extremely difficult to find chargers for your electronics. Even phone chargers sold in Walmarts or larger stores are second market.  If you use an iphone, the chargers will not be “ Apple certified” and frequently will not work reliably after a few days regardless of what the packages say about compatibility.  Spend the extra money and buy extra chargers before you leave. 

Take as little clothing as necessary. If you are staying here for several months, you will find it easier and much more fun to pick up a few items in the local stalls or stores than taking multiple sets of dresses, shoes and jackets.  I bring three outfits and buy three outfits in Mexico.  That takes me though the season. Before leaving, I give away three outfits.

Unfortunately, American women in Mexico tend to dress like they’re visiting a nice campground. Men lean toward Tommy Bahama. Neither is a good choice. Here's my post on how to dress in more detail.

Well-dressed Mexican women may not dress expensively, but you don't catch them in khakis either. Mexican women dress is very feminine, with lots of inexpensive jewelry. They do like make-up. Once you are here awhile, you may begin to notice some very attractive characteristics about the way Mexican women and men dress and become interested in fitting in a little.

Why not? Didn’t you leave the States to try another side of you? Part of the fun of living a “double life” and spending extended time every year in another country is exploring your edges.

Shopping around in Mexico for a piece of art, jewelry or Mexican clothing is fun.  Running around frantically trying to find a particular type of sunblock or a phone charger is not.  Take the right things with you and spend your time enjoying the more interesting shopping experiences every Mexican town has to offer.

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About the author, Kerry Baker

I'm a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering full or part-time expat life in Mexico, include "If Only I Had a Place," a renting system for the aspiring expat.

I am also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web.  The Guide provides the means to unique lesson plans every day. Never get bored. Get the most out of expat life by learning Spanish now.