Traveling to a foreign country can be an exciting and stressful experience whether you have gone every year of your life or if this is your first time. Mexico is one of the closest countries Americans can travel to and here is how to travel in Mexico like a local.
When driving into Mexico, you need to know what the laws are to enter that port of entry. A few years ago a law passed that you had to have a passport to enter any foreign country. This law hurt the Mexican economy as a lot of Americans just don’t get passports as readily as their European counterparts. In Europe, everyone travels to foreign countries; in the US it is not a commonplace occurrence. Recently, you can now cross into Mexico without a passport but if they give you a red light when crossing you must stop to answer questions. If you are carrying more than $10,000 in cash or goods be prepared to pay a tariff. Also, before hitting the border know if there are any special regulations going on at that time like when they won’t let you bring beef in if there is an outbreak of some sort. Doing a little Google research beforehand should answer any of these questions. If not, you might sadly have to hand over that steak to the border patrol agent!
When in Mexico, the dress is casual and suits and ties are only for church on Sunday. If you are staying at a hotel or resort, dress in resort casual or beach casual. If you head off the resort into town, tone it down a notch and leave your fancy watch at home and grab a straw hat instead. The easiest way to spot a tourist in Mexico is to look for the guys wearing nothing but Hawaiian shirts!
Most places in Mexico accept the US dollar but they will have to use a calculator to do the correct calculations. Just note that your change will normally not be in US currency but in Mexican pesos. It is best to exchange a small amount of money at either the airport or once you drive across the border into pesos. As of March 2014, the exchange rate is 13:1. That means it takes 13 pesos to make $1.
If you are out shopping at a street market, it is ok to haggle with the merchant over the price, but don’t continue on if the shopkeeper says no. Remember in Mexico, most families make less than $50 a week and that it is still a very depressed economy! I’m often surprised how inexpensive items are and if they give me a good price right off the bat I often will just pay it knowing sometimes they need that extra dollar more than I need to haggle over it. Lastly, the people bagging your groceries or watching your car are only paid in tips, so make sure to tip at least a $1 if using any services.
In the Mexican culture, respect goes a long way. So does a smile! To fit in like a local in Mexico, know the local customs and traditions. Typically, most stores are closed on Sundays and on all major Mexican holidays including religious observances. They are a friendly, hard-working culture and will go out of their way to make you feel welcome often sharing what they have with you including tamales and beer (if you are lucky).
English is taught in Mexican schools and most people are bilingual. To fit in like a local, try out your Spanish and see how you do. If you really struggle most will start speaking in English and you can sigh in relief! Enjoy your time south of the border and travel to Mexico like a local.