Here’s what expats wish they’d known before moving to Mexico.
Because you’ve been dreaming of moving to Mexico for as long as you can remember, you don’t want anything to mess it up, right?
After reading this post, you’ll know nine common mistakes that expats make when moving to Mexico plus tips and advice for how you can avoid them yourself.
Mistakes Expats Make When Moving to Mexico
Some of these mistakes are ones I have personally made and others are ones I have seen scores of people moving to Mexico make.
My dad always said that the smartest people are the ones who can learn from other people’s mistakes without having to make them themselves.
Mistake #1: Not realizing how big Mexico is
I’ll shoulder some of the blame for this one.
When you read blog post after blog post about “moving to Mexico”, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about it as one place—a single destination.
But in reality, Mexico is huge.
It’s the 13th largest country in the world by area. From climates to cultures, it is incredibly diverse.
In the comments here and over on my YouTube channel, readers and subscribers will sometimes ask me to compare two popular places to live in Mexico (for example, Querétaro and Mérida).
While I want to be a good little expat blogger and help you out, I would have an easier time comparing manzanas (apples) and naranjas (oranges).
Mistake #2: Moving to Mexico without visiting first
Trust me, this one happens a lot more than you’d think.
People sell their house, sell all their stuff and book a one-way ticket to Mexico with estrellas (stars) in their eyes.
Then they get here and they realize Mexico’s just not for them…
They hate it.
One of the advantages of having a U.S. or a Canadian passport is that you can try out life in Mexico on a tourist visa.
Please take advantage of that.
Even if you’ve visited Mexico before, keep in mind that vacationing somewhere is a lot different than actually living there.
Before you commit your time, money and sanity to the residency process in Mexico, give living in Mexico a trial run.
Pick out a few different places that interest you and plan to spend a few weeks or a month in each to see what’s the right fit for you.
Mistake #3: Renting an apartment in Mexico before seeing it
As fun as it is to scroll through apartment listings while you’re supposed to be working, pictures can be deceiving and online descriptions rarely tell the full story.
It’s scary to move to a new city and not know where you’re going to live, but it’s even scarier to show up to the furnished apartment that you thought sounded ~*perfect*~ and when you ask the landlord about the stained mattress, they just tell you to flip it over.
Yep, that little gem is a true story from when I was apartment hunting in Mexico.
Another reason it’s important to be on the ground and seeing places in person is that you’ll never really know what it’s like to live in a neighborhood until you’ve actually lived there.
At the very least, you need to try to visit at various times throughout the day.
You’ll be grateful you made the extra effort to walk by your potential new place on a Friday at 10 p.m. because noise can be a big issue in Mexico.
You might love the idea of living in the charming historic city center until you hear fireworks going off at all hours of the night.
Plus in my experience, a lot of the best places aren’t even listed online.
That’s why one of my apartment hunting tips in the free Move to Mexico Quickstart Guide is to use whatever Spanish you have to talk to anyone and everyone. Let the world know that you’re looking for an apartment.
I found my home of going on four years now after striking up a conversation with a bartender.
Mistake #4: Not outlining Mexico must-haves
The internet is full of blog posts and YouTube videos with titles like:
- Why I hate living in Mexico
- Reasons I regret moving to Mexico
- What I dislike about life in Mexico
More often than not, the situations that lead to people “hating Mexico” were totally preventable.
Okay, one more time for the people in the back…
The situations that lead to people “hating Mexico” were totally preventable.
All the negativity, bad feelings and, in some cases, money wasted could have been avoided had they taken the time to list out their must-haves for their new home.
In this video about five questions to ask yourself before moving to Mexico, question number four is:
What compromises am I willing to make and not willing to make?
In order to have a successful move to Mexico, you need to know exactly what you have to have in order to be happy.
For example, if you work online and know that you need a high-speed reliable internet connection, then don’t move to a tiny pueblo in the middle of nowhere.
Whether you need a Costco nearby or want an established expat community to plug into, know your must-haves before moving to Mexico.
Mistake #5: Relying (only) on expat forums for advice
When you’re preparing for something as big as moving to Mexico, it can feel overwhelming to wade through all the information and navigate the process on your own.
Maybe you don’t have the money to hire a lawyer or a consultant. That’s something I totally understand as someone who moved to Mexico on a very small budget.
Expat forums, Facebook groups, blogs and YouTube videos are all valuable resources. They’re especially important for people moving to Mexico without a lot of money.
While I would never tell you not to gather as much information as you possibly can, I just want to encourage you to keep the source of that information in mind. Take what people are saying online with a grain of salt.
I doubt anyone would intentionally try to lead you astray. But, I caution you against basing your decisions on a single person’s experiences.
Consume all the information that you possibly can, but don’t take Bob from MexPats R Us’s advice as gospel.
Know that your situation could be different.
Here’s what I like to use expat forumss for:
- Connecting with other foreigners
- Learning what life in your specific city will be like
Mistake #6: Not doing everything possible to learn Spanish
Depending on where you’re planning on moving to in Mexico, there will likely be people who speak English.
But, don’t expect people to speak English.
You’re the foreigner and the onus is on you to learn Spanish.
Maybe you’re thinking: Alex, of course, I plan on learning Spanish. I’m just waiting until I get down there to start.
Please don’t wait.
The first few months after you move to Mexico is one of the most critical times for knowing Spanish. From apartment hunting to navigating the residency process, the more Spanish you know, the smoother settling into life in Mexico is going to be for you.
These 21 tips for learning Spanish as an adult are a great place to start. I wouldn’t be where I am today without tip #9.
Once you’re settled into life in Mexico, keep making an effort with your Spanish.
Just because you’re living in Mexico doesn’t mean you’re going to pick up Spanish. You need to be proactive.
Mistake #7: Keeping a U.S. cell phone plan
There are a few things a miss about living in the U.S. (my mom, Triscuits and—wow, I wanted to come up with three things but can’t think of anything else).
Astronomical cell phone bills with contracts that make you sign away your first-born definitely don’t make the very short list of things I miss.
When you move to Mexico, don’t bother trying to negotiate an international cell phone plan with your blood-thirsty service provider.
Just make sure to bring an unlocked cell phone, and when you get here, purchase a Mexican SIM card.
I have a pay-as-you-go plan with AT&T and for $200 MXN (around $10 USD) per month, I get three gigabytes of data and unlimited calls both within Mexico as well as to and from the U.S. and Canada.
If you need a U.S. number for work, check out Google Voice.
Mistake #8: Not having a plan to access money in Mexico
This is a mistake I personally made.
While it didn’t seem like a big deal at first, the costs really added up quickly.
When I first moved to Mexico, I thought I’d be able to open a bank account. But when I went to do so, multiple banks told me that, according to Mexican law, they are no longer allowed to let foreigners open bank accounts on tourist visas.
Unable to open a Mexican bank account, I wasted a lot of money on ATM fees until I opened an account with Charles Schwab.
When you open a checking account with Charles Schwab, they reimburse you for all ATM fees including foreign transactions at the end of each month. There’s no minimum account balance, and the app makes transfers between accounts easy.
Have multiple ways to access your money since things do happen. Consider opening two checking accounts with two separate debit cards.
This is a good idea because it’s difficult to order a replacement card while outside of your home country.
In addition to having a plan for your money, this checklist for first-time expats has other important things to take care of before moving to Mexico.
Mistake #9: Not being flexible
When you move to Mexico, not everything will go just as you planned.
Some things will take longer than you ever thought possible, so you need to be patient and willing to adjust.
Be careful about constantly comparing the way things are done in Mexico to the way things are done in your home country. This only serves to work you up.
When I start to go down that road, I remind myself that if I wanted things to be exactly like they are in the U.S. then I should have stayed in the U.S.
That usually shuts up the complaining part of my brain.
Mexico is just different. Roll with it.
More Posts about Expats Moving to Mexico
- How to Move to Another Country & Start Over: 18 Expat Tips
- 9 Good Reasons to Move to Mexico: My Story + Expat Advice
- An Expat’s Guide for Living in Querétaro, Mexico
Final Thoughts on Mistakes Expats Make When Moving to Mexico
Especially if your move to Mexico is your first time moving to another country, reading about all these mistakes might make you second-guess your decision.
Don’t let it.
The fact that you’re researching other expats mistakes in hopes of avoiding them yourself means you have what it takes to have successful move to Mexico.
A little self-awareness goes a long way.
For many people planning a future move to Mexico, the part of the process that freaks them out the most is finding a place to live in Mexico.
If the thought of apartment hunting in Mexico keeps you up at night, click here to download the free Move to Mexico Quickstart Guide.
The 25-page guide has my top tips for apartment hunting in Mexico plus a renting in Spanish cheat sheet with the exact phrases to Whatsapp a potential landlord when inquiring about a property.
Got questions about moving to Mexico? Feel free to ask away in the comments.