- Download our Moving to Mexico Guide (PDF)
Expats will undoubtedly experience some degree of culture shock in Mexico. This North American country’s rich and varied way of life can seem mysterious at first, and the frustrations that come from the challenges of adaptation are often compounded for those who don’t understand Spanish.
Studying some of the nuances of the culture and accepting certain realities can help ease culture shock in Mexico. Of course, the low cost of living may help smooth over some of the initial trepidation expats might experience in their new country.
Time in Mexico
The laid-back pace that makes Mexico an ideal holiday and retirement spot also makes it a challenging place to tackle the simple tasks demanded by relocation. It can take forever to complete errands that may otherwise be quick and easy in an expat's home country, and it is frequently impossible to work to a rigid schedule.
Dinner times and bedtimes are later in Mexico, and social gatherings may start and run later than expats may be used to.
Language barrier in Mexico
Mexico is a Spanish-speaking country and while some Mexicans, especially in the cities and tourist hubs, speak English, many do not. Expats living in Mexico may get on reasonably well only knowing a few key Spanish words, but knowing the language makes things such as looking for employment, arranging accommodation, and day-to-day tasks that much easier.
Greeting in Mexico
Expats in Mexico will quickly notice that a kiss on the cheek is a common casual greeting. For foreigners, trying to figure out when to engage in this charming custom can be confusing, and even those who are familiar with kiss greeting in other cultures may find that Mexican cheek kissing has its own set of rules.
Greeting with a kiss does not apply in business or professional settings or with strangers, and shaking hands is the preferred method.
Dining in Mexico
When dining at a restaurant, it isn't unusual for strangers to say 'provecho' (enjoy your meal) to other diners as they leave the restaurant. This open, friendly communication is common in Mexico and it’s an excellent example of the culture’s polite congeniality.
If unsure of how to respond, expats should remember that replying with a simple 'gracias' (thank you) is always appropriate.
Religion in Mexico
Mexicans are generally tolerant of other religions and lifestyles, and it’s not uncommon for locals to belong to more than one church. In large cities, a wide range of religions can be found. As a result, expats living in Mexico have the freedom to celebrate and embrace their faith without fear of reprisal from others.
Nevertheless, it is predominantly a Roman Catholic culture, as evidenced by the sheer number of local Catholic holidays, fiestas and songs, as well as the ubiquitous Catholic artworks, nativity scenes and altars on government property.
Religious festivities are common and anyone can join in. In fact, participating can help expats familiarise themselves with Mexican culture, and is a great way to make local friends. Expats should note that these festivities can often cause inconveniences and traffic jams.
Communication in Mexico
Somewhat similar to many Asian cultures, when Mexicans communicate, they make an extended effort to be polite and not disappoint. It is common to be told that things are possible when they are not, that something will happen which never does, and to be given an answer even when one is unknown.
While this is less of a problem with Mexicans who have lived in the United States or are accustomed to doing business with foreigners, expats should be wary of 'yeses' that come too quickly, and should get multiple opinions on matters of importance.
Bureaucracy in Mexico
Mexico is a country of bureaucracy. Whether opening a bank account, buying property, dealing with visas or sorting out any legality, the sheer number of documents and signatures required can feel overwhelming and senseless.
Every piece of paperwork must be saved because it's likely to be needed at a later date, and many documents must include an official stamp or signature or else it isn't legal.
Family in Mexico
Family is of the utmost importance in Mexican culture, and family obligations often take precedence over work responsibility. Families can seem confusing in their extended complexity and, although things are changing, it is common for large families to live together.
At some point, expats may feel excluded by the sheer size and closeness of Mexican families. They love to be together, and even call their friends 'hermanos' (brothers) and 'hermanitas' (sisters) in affection, making it difficult to figure out who is truly related.
Traditionally, young lovers move in with their in-laws and have children at a young age. Only later on would they finally move out of their parents’ homes. That said, modern households are evolving, with extended families living in separate households.
Gender issues in Mexico
Mexican society is traditionally patriarchal. This is changing over time with progress in gender equality, but gender-based discrimination remains an issue in social and business settings.
What do expats say about the Mexican culture?
"No real culture shock. Puerto Vallarta is pretty Americanised, I mean, we have Costco, Walmart, and Office Depot here. If we can’t find it here, we always have Amazon. I have more culture shock going back to the US." See our interview with Kirsten for more on moving to Mexico.
"Enjoy Mexican culture – there is a reason you came to Mexico and it wasn’t just the beach (I hope!)." Read our interview with Marcia for some great tips on dealing with culture shock and settling in.
"...international expat population, generous and welcoming Yucatan population, more cultural events than anyone can go to, lots of music, dancing, beautiful architecture..." Ellen and Jim list what they love about their home in Mexico – read about it in our interview.
►For information about staying safe in the country have a look at our Safety in Mexico page
Are you an expat living in Mexico?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Mexico. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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