Mexico: Things to know before you go

Before you embark on your journey to any part of Mexico, please make sure to read the following for a survival guide in Mexico.
Visa Situation: If you are not a citizen of countries exempt from a Mexican tourist visa, please make sure to have your visa stamped in the passport. For an Indian living/working in the US with a valid US visa, you do not need a Mexican visa if you intend to stay for less than 60 days. Make sure you have more than 3 months of visa validity. This applies to B1, F1, H1, L1, J1, and other popular visa categories.
Language: Spanish is the main language in many areas, but English is well understood in most places. In Quintana Roo (especially Cancun area), due to the large number of US visitors, English is spoken and understood relatively well. In Mexico City and other rural areas, however, you will find it easier to navigate and taste the local culture better if you have at least some level of comfort with Spanish. Definitely use Google Translate app on your smartphone if needed.
 Currency: As of early 2016, Mexico has stopped accepting USD bills as a currency for transactions. Before this, most parts of the country would happily accept USD albeit at a higher conversion rate (often arbitrary). International credit cards are widely accepted though. We always order foreign currency beforehand from our bank (Bank of America), and found that is by far the most efficient way of reducing hassle. Many banks (e.g. Banco Santander) have affiliation with US banks and may waive the ATM fee, but we have seen banks charge a foreign transaction fee of ~$5 per transaction if you withdraw cash from ATMs outside US. Mexican Pesos to USD conversion rates vary widely too, and we have seen it go from 9.5 to 20 within 2 years (2014-16). Also try to avoid airport currency exchanges as they offer extremely low rates.
 Local Guides: Offline apps with travel guides and maps are useful in foreign lands since data roaming is expensive. We have had great experiences with an iPhone app called Mexico City Travel Guide with Offline Street and Metro Maps by eTips.
 Getting Around: We always prefer to rent cars because of the flexibility and impulsive journeys we frequently partake. Driving in Mexico though has its drawbacks. Rental cars are cheap, but always try to stick to well known American brands like Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, etc. Always buy the liability insurance unless your credit card covers loss and damage protection. Try carrying a GPS device from the US with Mexico maps, as using your phone data will be expensive and unreliable. And, beware of the police as there is a ton of corruption and rental cars are easy prey since the license plates are marked in red making it easy to spot. Never leave anything visible in the car.
Driving: Driving in Mexico, especially in the cities can be difficult for a tourist, but if you have driven in any third world country, navigating here won’t be that cumbersome. Just need to remember a rule – do not expect anyone else to follow rules. 🙂 Also, in Mexico City, the police cars always seemed to have the blinking lights ON, so do not be alarmed if a cop car flashes light behind you. Keep driving following the rules you know. If they have to stop you, they will speak out in the loudspeakers.
– Costs: Last but not the least, expenses in your trip to Mexico in American standards will be pretty low. Plus with the strong USD, the total costs in your trip are likely going to be much lower than a domestic trip. Food is cheap, and in most places you will find decent local options. We love trying out local restaurants and bars everywhere we go, and have had a ton of fun finding local joints, street food, even food from roadside huts in Mexico. Yelp and Tripadvisor works well in most parts of the country making it easy to find options. In general, on a 5 day trip, average cost per day with travel, tickets to attractions, food, and sundry should not exceed $50 per person.

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