The Digital Nomads Guide to Living and Working in México: Part 2

Safety Concerns, Visas, and Getting Connected in the Land of Aztecs, Coca-Cola, and Mezcal

During the month of December there are a ton of events celebrating little baby Jesus and his Mom. From a weeklong series of parties called ‘posadas’ to Christmas Eve where the stroke of 12 comes with the eating of 12 grapes and circling the block with a suitcase full of clothes.

The biggest of these festivities happens to be the Virgin Mary’s Birthday, which falls on December 12th. Not only is this holiday celebrated throughout the country, but it’s celebrated to such an extent that it’s not uncommon to see interstate highways filled with pilgrims, running, crawling and walking from their hometown to either Mexico City or some other holy site.

The picture in the headline was taken in San Cristobal de las Casas. A small mountainous town situated about an hour east of Chiapas’ capitol of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. I really don’t follow holidays in Mexico so I get caught with surprises every year with days off work, or massive amounts of traffic. My week leading up to December 12th was filled with the white sand beaches of Oaxaca’s Puerto Escondido. Getting drunk with a group of Aussie’s who have gotten rid of the phrase “let’s stop drinking” from their speech patterns.

My journey to San Cristóbal began from Puerto’s ADO bus station and had an estimated 8am arrival time. 10 hours of being on the road that goes from a hot humid to a cold humid. Some time during the 10 hour journey I woke up and saw people running with torches, and a lead truck giving them pace making sure they weren’t going to be run over in the dead of night. I thought it strange since who runs at 2am on a super dark road in the mountains of Chiapas? I wake up several more times before our arrival and witnessed multiple groups running. Some with a few cars leading their way and music playing to keep them awake, and others with the bare essentials: shoes and a large framed picture of the Virgin Mary.

When I first arrived in Mexico I bought into its media backed reputation. That all of Mexico was dangerous and one should be wary of even stepping foot on its soil. You’re obviously going to get kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery my friends joked. Narcos and Sicarios hang out at the local Starbucks before picking their next target in a sea of would-be victims.
Sure, that stuff happens, but unless you’re hanging out in the border towns where most of the violence is concentrated to, or are part of the shady underground that cultivates this sort of violence then nothing is going to happen to you as a tourist or nomad. Not only is this evidenced by the gringo trail, but these very pilgrims. These groups of people literally go through weeks of traveling by foot to get to their mecca. The few who don’t make it probably didn’t stretch before deciding to run barefoot through 6 states.

During some of my research here I found several advisories towards Mexico. Here’s one issued by the New Zealand Government and here’s another by the US Government. They both state that there are some risks flying into the country of tequila, which is true. Most of the border is marred with violence that drives up Mexico’s crime statistics. Now here’s the funny thing, Mexico isn’t the only one that has these warnings. Here are the NZ Governments advisory for Germany and Japan, they’re either on par with Mexico’s or far more elevated.

What this tells me is that every country has its ups and downs. Mexico City alone is so massive that I’d advise not stepping foot in certain colonias, but I’d tell you to hang out all night in others. If you’re a traveler then you’re used to being a bit on the safe side just because you’re in a new land and it’d be dumb of you to go about like it was Disneyland. I usually look up the country’s subreddit and ask the inhabitants of the city I’ll be traveling to for the 411 on what to do, where to avoid, and where to stay. Some others have used TripAdvisor, which I guess is a good resource with an established community.

S o you’ve finally decided to take the plunge. Mexico seems like the perfect choice to flex that USD buying power. A great choice actually considering that the current exchange rate is 1USD = ~16MXN, and all projections state that it’ll only get stronger.

Now if you’re a constant traveler then I don’t think the visa situation will be too much of a problem since you’re on the go every couple of months or so, but if you’re a slow traveler such as myself and like to visit cities and towns for a month or two then this bit is for you.

The standard Mexican Tourist Visa is 180 days that’s renewable upon re-entry, which means that most of the expats that I’ve met down here stay for 6 months and take a quick trip to either the US, Guatemala, or Belize in order to get their visa renewed. However, I have heard stories of travelers that have trouble re-entering Mexico from the Guate side the same day, so I’d make it a weekend trip in order to not raise any eyebrows.

If you’re interested in getting a visa that gives you residency then you want to look into the FM3 Visa, which is given to foreigners in order for them to establish themselves here permanently. The main way to get this done is to get sponsored by a job, which if you’re tenacious enough shouldn’t be a problem. I had 2 French friends who were able to receive sponsorship within the first 3 months of their arrival to MXC. Do realize though that once you become part of the Mexican system then you also inherit all of the bureaucratic nightmare that comes with it, so my recommendation is to stick with the tourist visa.

Stamped passport in tow you finally arrive at the airport, whether it be Cancún’s or Mexico City’s you have finally landed on Mexican soil. You’ve booked your first few days in a well reviewed hotel or hostel and have converted those sweet greenbacks into what looks like Monopoly money. What to do next? Well obviously you’ve figured out how to get to your place of accommodation. You’ve also figured out whether there’s Uber in the city you’ve landed in — no one likes haggling with taxi drivers..
Current Mexico Cities with Uber Service: MXC, Guadalajara, Queretaro, Monterrey, and Puebla.

If you’re like me then you take a week to take in the sights and get acclimated. If you’re coming from sea level and happen to land in Mexico City then you’ll need that time to acclimate since altitude sickness is a real problem alongside traveler’s diarrhea, so don’t take on too much your first week or two. In later installments I’ll talk in-depth about a select few cities. From the general way of life to the standard of living you can expect; taking into consideration: transportation, rent, food costs, and entertainment, but for now we need to get you online! Your journey from your starter city to your destination city has not only left you a backlog of missed emails and phone calls, but lost time with looming deadlines ahead. So let’s get you connected.

Mexico has several telecom companies to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. Packages ranging from 1gb of data for $250/month to free Whatsapp (the de-facto messaging service). With AT&T’s acquisition of 2 telecom companies here you’re left with fewer choices.
You can go with:

Telcel — Largest and most expensive. Best coverage.
AT&T — Formerly Iusacell and Unefon. Offers decent coverage to cost ratio.
Movistar — Great promos that you’re reminded of daily. Okay coverage.
Virgin Mobile — Second newest provider. Decent promos.

Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons to each plan and have decided upon a company then you can either go to an official store and ask for a ‘chip’ aka SIM card, or you can go to any of the thousand stands and shops you’ll find dedicated to phones and their accessories — you’ll want the stands if you have a locked phone. They’ll unlock it for a fee. Chips will usually go for around 80 pesos. Go to any official store and save the hassle of haggling.

Once you buy and setup your phone with your new ‘chip’ then it’s time to top up. You can either do this at the store, online, or any: OXXO, 7–11, Circle K, or Extra (convenience stores). All you need to do is head to the register with your phone number in hand and ask for a ‘recarga’. They’ll ask what company to which you’ll reply with _____, and then they’ll ask for how much you’d like to deposit. $100 pesos should unlock whatever ‘saldo de regalo’ (gift balance) they’ve given you with your new chip.
BOOM! You’re done. You can now give out your number freely and surf the web. Whenever you meet someone new you’ll always be asked for your Whatsapp, which is just your regular number, so make sure to download that app ASAP.

So there you have it, folks. Your simple guide to arriving in Mexico and getting started with the basics. You’ve read up on the violence that’s easily avoidable, the visa situation, and finally how to get a working phone number. In the next installment I’ll be talking about some of the towns you might want to hang your hat. Starting in Mexico City, land of los Chilang@s, and ending down south in the Mexican Caribbean.

If this piece made you smirk in mild amusement then feel free to hit that little ♥ and do me a solid by following me. There’s more to come and I don’t want you to miss out!