Traveling to Mexico for your first time is a big deal, especially if it’s your first time traveling abroad. I understand the many questions and concerns that may cross your mind when planning your first trip to Mexico, but guess what? We all go through the same thing – I want you to understand you are not alone in this.
That’s why I am here to help you. I was once in the exact same situation you are in RIGHT NOW. If it weren’t for my wife, I would have had no one to turn to for answers. I am lucky to have her share her Mexico travel tips with me.
There are tons of things to look out for when traveling to Mexico. For example, when you arrive in Mexico, there are probably many things you will want to buy. Whether it be food, souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, or little handmade trinkets, a lot will catch your eye. However, you should approach purchasing things in Mexico in a few different ways. Many of these tips for traveling to Mexico will also save you a lot of money, not to mention stress.
There are so many things you can watch for that will help ensure your first trip to Mexico is the best. I have learned all these travel tips for Mexico through personal experience, and now I’m here to pass them on to you so you can spend less time worrying and more time enjoying your Mexican vacation.
Here Are My Top Mexico Travel Tips
Travel Tip #1 – What You Need Before You Go To Mexico
Here are some important tips to know before traveling to Mexico. There are some bare essentials you need to make sure you have covered before you even book your flight.
This is what you MUST have before you go to Mexico:
- Valid Passport Book (if flying) or Passport Card (only valid for land and sea travel)
- Entry Permit (FMM) – Receive this on your flight, or print it out ahead of time (do note: there have been some recent changes to this policy – check out the U.S. Embassy notice here – make sure you find out from your airline as to what the latest steps are.
Having a good travel insurance policy set up before you head off is a smart idea. This could help cover those unforeseen costs, which can be hefty if you’re unlucky. Again, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Read my guide on whether Mexican travel insurance is worth getting to understand better what I’m talking about.
Once you confirm that you have the above essential items, you can officially travel to Mexico, but that’s not all you’ll want to pack. I feel like I over-prepare for my trips to Mexico nowadays, but I’d rather be over-prepared than not prepared at all.
Finding something you need may be difficult at short notice, depending on which part of Mexico you are traveling to. So make sure you cover all your bases before leaving on your trip.
Here are some other items you may want to consider adding to your luggage, all of which can be easily purchased on Amazon:
- Reef-Friendly Sunscreen (most excursions require a “reef-friendly” sunscreen)
- Insect Repellent (insects enjoy munching on foreigners)
- Sunglasses (it’s incredibly bright in Mexico)
- Water Shoes (for the hot beach and most excursions and tours)
- Filtered Water Bottle (don’t drink tap water in Mexico)
- Extremely Bright Flashlight (for those late-night adventures)
- Quality Portable Phone Charger (you’ll be taking a lot of photos)
- Waterproof Phone Pouch (if you plan on being anywhere near the water)
Although these items aren’t required for entry into Mexico (obviously), I think they come in very handy. You’d be crazy not to carry around sunscreen or insect repellent when visiting Mexico. Trust me, this is coming from someone who has traveled to Mexico without most of these items, and if you were wondering, I regretted it…
Aside from these essential items, make sure to pack proper clothing. If you’re traveling to a scorching hot area in Mexico such as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, or Cabo for example, you will want to pack a mix of short and long-sleeved shirts, swimsuits, comfortable walking shoes, and a hat that provides some shade for your face.
Alright, so your bags are packed, and you’re ready to go – now it’s time for the fun part. Are you ready?! You’re about to travel to Mexico for the first time! Here we go!
Travel Tip #2 – Visit Mexico With An Open Mind!
I remember asking my wife what I should expect the first time when I travel to Mexico. Oh Boy! I was in for a surprise!
Your first time in Mexico is the best – expect to see many people offering to sell you things, food and drinks available everywhere, people whistling and yelling at you to get your attention, and an overall fun and welcoming atmosphere.
It’s essential to keep an open mind when you’re there. Things can be pretty different from what you’re used to.
Appreciate how different Mexico is from what you’re used to, appreciate the diversity of people, sights and sounds, and truly savor your time there.
First off, though, you must board your flight if you plan on making it to Mexico. For the most part, your flight will be the same as any other flight you have experienced, whether domestic or international.
Travel Tip #3 – Save On Flight Bookings!
My first time booking flights to Mexico was somewhat confusing due to a few issues I was unaware of, but after booking many flights to Mexico, I uncovered all the flight booking tips and tricks.
Have you ever searched for flights online to realize the price you saw 5 minutes ago suddenly jumped significantly and is now more than before? This is due to dynamic pricing.
Dynamic pricing, also known as surge pricing, is a pricing strategy businesses use by setting flexible prices for products or services, which increase or decrease based on market demand. So if you’re constantly searching for plane tickets, sites will recognize this behavior and adjust the pricing accordingly.
Here are some flight booking tips that may help you significantly reduce the cost of your tickets (these have worked for me in the past, but not necessarily every time).
- Tip 1: Use Private Browsing mode on your device, and if possible, download a Virtual Private Network (VPN), such as this free option on ProtonVPN.com. Using a VPN makes your online activity virtually untraceable, possibly avoiding surge pricing.
- Tip 2: Whether you download a VPN or not, make sure to clear your browser history and cookies before enabling private browsing mode. Then you go ahead and search for your flights.
- Tip 3: Book your flight on a weekday, preferably on Tuesday or Wednesday. Most airlines release their new sales early on Tuesday, which forces all airlines to adjust their pricing to match the current standard. Book your flight Tuesday afternoon or early Wednesday and save even more money.
- Tip 4: If you don’t mind a layover or two, book a flight with a few short layovers; these flights are generally cheaper than a direct flight.
Travel Tip #4 – What To Expect On The Flight To Mexico
Depending on where you fly out of, you may have a direct flight or possibly a couple of layovers. Since I always fly out of Boise, Idaho, I usually end up in either Salt Lake City, UT, Phoenix, AZ or even Denver, CO. Regardless of where you end up, this part of your flight is pretty standard.
When you arrive in the city where you will depart from and head to Mexico, this is where things will be slightly more interesting.
Fill Out The Customs Declaration Form
On the flight headed to Mexico, this is where you will fill out your Entry Permit (FMM) if you haven’t already printed one out ahead of time. In addition to your Entry Permit, you must fill out a Customs Declaration Form.
The Customs Declaration Form is per family. So if you are traveling with three other family members living in the same household, only one person must fill out the form. However, you will need to know each household member’s first and last names (hopefully you do…).
The Declaration form will ask you to fill in particular information pertaining to the number of family members traveling with you, your means of transportation, and anything you may need to declare, such as:
- Live animals, meats, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, dangerous materials
- Disease agents; live/dead cultures
- Weapons or cartridges
- Professional working equipment
- Merchandise (over your baggage and duty-free exemption) for which you must pay import duties
- Soil or if you have visited a farm, ranch or prairie and have been in contact with livestock
It’s all elementary stuff, and most of it will be a yes or no answer, so there is no need to worry.
Once you have filled out your entry permit and customs declaration, tuck them away somewhere safe and easily accessible so you can get to them once you arrive at customs in Mexico. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of your flight.
Travel Tip #5 – Going Through Customs In Mexico
When you land in Mexico, you will file out of the plane, similar to a herd of sheep, making your way to the customs area. Once at the customs area, you must scan your passport on the machine and have your picture taken as well. If you are wearing a hat and/or sunglasses, removing them is a good idea; otherwise, a customs agent will ask you to anyway.
Once you have scanned your passport, you will hop in line and slowly inch toward the customs counter. Here, you will be asked some very basic questions, such as; where you are going, why you are going there, and how long you are staying. Easy enough.
Some of the custom agents aren’t the friendliest people. You need to remember they are doing their job and make sure to treat them with kindness and respect, even if you don’t receive the same in return.
When you finally make it through customs, you can grab your luggage that may be waiting for you, and then you are on your way out the door and ready to hop in your cab or Uber.
Pro Mexico Travel Tip:
If you land in a tourist city such as Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Tulum, etc., you will be hollered and whistled at and likely even approached by people trying to sell your insurance, transportation, or even time-shares. If you aren’t interested, keep walking straight ahead. No need to even mumble a word.
If you are interested in any of these services, feel free to stop and see what they have to offer, but beware, most services provided in the airport will be overpriced.
Travel Tip #6 – Airport Transportation In Mexico
Don’t stress if you need to arrange for a transfer out of the airport, and did not schedule any ahead of time, don’t stress. There is always an abundance of taxis and shuttles waiting outside, ready to take you wherever you want to go. You can always ask for the price before accepting the ride. Then jump in and enjoy the ride.
If the city you are in offers Uber, it is very likely that an Uber won’t be allowed to enter the airport’s property. If you have your heart set on taking an Uber, you may have to walk off of the airport’s property so they can pick you up. I’ve done this multiple times in Puerto Vallarta. It’s very simple.
Here is a list of popular Mexican cities and their Uber Pickup availability at the airport:
|City||Uber In Operation|
|Cancun||YES (not available at the airport)|
|Cabo San Lucas||YES (not available at the airport)|
|Guadalajara||YES (exit the building by national arrivals for pickup)|
|Mazatlan||YES (not available at the airport)|
|Mexico City||YES (exit on the arrivals level at the airport for pickup)|
|Puerto Vallarta||YES (not available at the airport. Exit the airport on the left, cross the bridge, and they will meet you across the street)|
Travel Tip #7 – What NOT To Do When Traveling To Mexico
Although Mexico is a friendly and inviting place, there are bad people in all parts of the world. Even though most things seem like common sense, you’d be surprised how doing or not doing some of these simple things can ruin your trip.
There are many things ❌ you should NOT DO ❌ when traveling to Mexico, such as:
- Wear fancy or expensive jewelry
- Expose your money or tell someone how much money you have
- Leave any personal items out in the open
- Leave your drink unattended or accept a drink from someone you don’t know
- Drink tap water
- Cause a scene or uproar
- Walk around at night by yourself
- Walk around with a lot of money
As I said, this is all just common sense, right? WRONG. I have seen visitors to Mexico do most of these things, and it’s scary, to say the least.
In my experience, use your head, be aware of your surroundings, and you will be alright.
My wife and I explored the entire city of Puerto Vallarta at night, and we had no problems. Carrying an extremely bright flashlight if you plan on night exploring can help tremendously.
That being said, I don’t recommend venturing around every city in Mexico after the sun has gone down. You’ll have to use your personal judgment to determine whether a city is safe or not.
Pro Mexico Travel Tip:
If you want to explore a city at night, carry a flashlight, don’t wander alone, and try to stay in the tourist-populated areas. Traveling outside of the tourist zones may put you in a position where there are fewer people and where fewer people are likely to help.
Travel Tip #8 – Pay in Pesos, Avoid Dollars
Before even thinking about shopping anywhere in Mexico, you must use the proper currency. If you don’t have Mexican pesos, you must get some immediately! Unless you prefer overpaying for everything and potentially getting ripped off.
The only reason I say this is because, in Mexico, the U.S. dollar to Peso conversion rate is constantly fluctuating. When you enter a shop with U.S. dollars or other currency that isn’t Mexican Pesos, you leave the conversation to the store employee. Do not put yourself in this situation.
It is much simpler to pay in Pesos because that is how everything is priced in Mexico. If you were to pay in dollars or another currency, you would have to convert on the spot, and you are leaving room for error.
Send Yourself Some Pesos
There are many ways to go about converting your money into Pesos. However, I think the best way to convert your money to pesos is by using a service such as WorldRemit.com to send the money, then pick it up locally. In my experience, it’s the most simple and secure option and one of the quickest ways to convert your money. Your money will be available for pickup within minutes.
Moreover, you receive the best conversion rate with very minimal fees (only a few dollars). This is as opposed to an ATM where you pay multiple fees, plus you risk being out in the open when receiving your cash, exposing yourself to thieves who may be waiting for the right moment to steal your hard-earned cash. NOT ON MY WATCH!
If you want to know how I send money to myself while in Mexico, just read this excellent article: Best Ways To Send Money To Mexico. This will show you the exact steps to take to send yourself money, which automatically converts your cash to pesos at the touch of a button. I know it sounds so easy, but that’s because it is.
Use A Travel Debit Card
You could also opt to transfer some money to a debit card with a smaller amount of money in it. Wise is a good option to do this. This way, you also avoid carrying too much cash on hand.
- Always shop with Pesos.
- Convert your money using a money transfer app instead of an ATM or conversion station.
- Send yourself the Pesos beforehand or use a travel debit card.
Travel Tip #9 – Practice Your Bargaining Skills
Don’t Feel Pressured To Buy Anything
The local markets, which are often found in almost every city in Mexico, are fantastic. There’s so much to look at, and much is happening. Many vendors will be very aggressive (not physically, but they want to get you into their shop).
My advice is don’t listen to them and don’t feel bad if you don’t want to enter their shop. Even if you enter their store, that does not mean you are required to purchase anything. They will say anything to try and make you feel bad or even say they have the best deal, but this is usually untrue.
Mexicans are excellent salespeople and have learned many tactics through years of selling. It’s not uncommon to see kids working at their local family shop, starting to learn from a very young age. It’s pretty awesome to see.
Know How To Bargain
If you are shopping for something specific or find an item you like, the seller is almost always willing to bargain with you. So put on your bargaining hat and buckle down. Things are about to get heated (not really).
Bargaining is really simple. You find something you like, you browse a few different shops and look at the average price for that item (most shops will have the exact same or similar items), then you set the absolute highest price you are willing to pay for that item, then get to bargaining.
You may have to return to shops you have already been to if you can’t get the price you want at one shop. This is usually to your advantage. You can say, “Well, that shop offered it to me for this price. Can you do it for cheaper?”
Eventually, you find which shop will bargain the most, ultimately finding the best deal. Some shops are just not willing to budge on price. This is usually because they are the only shop with that exact item, or maybe they don’t want to bargain. It’s up to you to determine whether you want the item.
The more expensive an item (such as a handmade blanket), the more room there is for bargaining. I remember buying one of my blankets for about 500 pesos cheaper than what they were asking. It took a few different shop visits and a lot of holding my ground, but I eventually ended up with the best deal, and both the seller and my wife were happy with the outcome.
The more you bargain, the better you get. It’s honestly quite enjoyable. The sellers expect you to bargain, so they set high prices. So, good luck!
- Don’t feel forced to buy anything
- Always pay in pesos
- Never let anyone know how much money you have
- Bargain for the best deal
- Speaking Spanish is a HUGE bonus
Travel Tip #10 – Try Less Touristy Food Options
Look For Budget Friendly Dining Options
There are many options when it comes to food in Mexico, and there are a lot of different price ranges you may end up paying as well. Of course, it ultimately comes down to what food you like and what you or your family are willing to try.
You can’t necessarily bargain when you are buying food, but I still have some words of wisdom when it comes down to saving money on food.
When you are searching for a place to eat, expect restaurants to be more expensive than street food in Mexico (obviously). But even then, it’s all about location. If you visit a restaurant smack-dab in the middle of a tourist area, expect to pay a premium price for your food. If you want to save some money, though, it may take a bit more exploring the city to find those hole-in-the-wall treasures.
Look For Local Options
There are a few ways to find these hidden treasures. Your first option is to explore the city. Try heading towards more local parts of the town. You will most likely find some inexpensive and authentic food. Most restaurants will have an English and Spanish menu, even if you are in a more localized spot. If you have difficulty reading Spanish, download an app like Google Translate, which will convert any Spanish words on the menu into English, or your language of choice. How awesome is that?
Besides eating at a restaurant, try eating at a local vendor or food cart that is usually found on a busy street or an area that receives a lot of foot traffic.
One of the simplest ways to find the cheapest dining option is to search on Google.com. I tend to lean towards the best-ranked options first, then I click to find out exactly where the restaurant is located, and I make a judgment call from there. If the location is in the middle of the city, away from tourist attractions, the prices will most likely be fair, and the food will taste outstanding.
Travel Tip #11 – Make Smart Food Choices – Look Out For These Cues
Besides searching for reviews on Google, there are some signs you should watch for to ensure your food choice is good and safe to eat.
Here are some simple signals to look for to ensure your food choice is the right choice:
- Look for restaurants and food carts/stands that are busy. This clearly indicates that the food has a good reputation and is a trustworthy source.
- Make sure the person handling the money isn’t the one who’s serving your food. This may be a direct sign that the place is unsanitary.
- Ensure the food looks fresh and that it hasn’t been sitting out all day. If it smells bad, it’s probably bad.
I haven’t experienced any terrible food while visiting Mexico, although my stomach has been upset several times. I couldn’t say for sure if this were due to food poisoning or, more likely, it was just travelers’ diarrhea. The food in Mexico is a bit different than in the States, and those with a sensitive stomach (me) may take some adjusting before going all-out.
To help with stomach pain caused by excess gas, diarrhea, or indigestion, I suggest taking activated charcoal supplements such as this one on Amazon or buying some at your local health food store before your trip. You’ll thank me later…
Travel Tip #12 – Don’t Forget To Tip At Restaurants
Just like anywhere else, you are expected to tip if you received good service when dining out. How much you tip is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is to tip at least 10% of the total bill. For example, if your bill is a total of $10.00, leave at least $1.00.
I know this doesn’t seem like much, but your server will appreciate it. If you feel the service was exceptional and you have the means to tip a little extra, then feel free to leave a 20-30% tip.
- Explore local dining options rather than touristy restaurants.
- Search for the best/cheapest food options using Google as your guide.
- Look for busy food spots. This is a positive indicator of good food and service.
- Make sure the food handler and money grabber are not the same people.
- Use an activated charcoal supplement to help with stomach pain and cramps.
Travel Tip #13 – Know Your Transportation Options Around Mexico
We all need to get around town, especially if we are trying to explore the entire city or enjoy some excursions. But what are the best money-saving options when it comes to transportation?
When trying to save money on transportation, walking is your cheapest option. Second would be the local bus, the third is an Uber (where available), and lastly would be a taxi or private shuttle.
I’ve found that cities such as Puerto Vallarta or Mazatlan, for example, are very easy to explore simply by walking. While walking, you get to experience the city in a completely different way than if you were in a vehicle. The sounds, smells, and sights of the city become slightly skewed when you’re locked behind the windows of a bus or cab.
If walking is not quite an option, then in my experience, your next most inexpensive option is to hop on the local bus. Bus rides are generally less than $1.00 and will take you anywhere you need to go within city limits.
I highly recommend riding a bus if you feel comfortable (most likely with no air conditioning). It’s cheap, gets you where you need to go, and all you have to say is “Baja” (I want off), and the bus driver will stop as soon as possible to let you off.
Grab an Uber
Maybe the local bus isn’t for you. In that case, my next choice would be an Uber. Uber is available in most cities in Mexico and is a convenient and cheap alternative. I like Uber because you can see where you are going, how long it will take, and how much the ride will be. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Taxi or Personal Shuttle
My last choice of transportation would be a taxi or personal shuttle. Generally, you will pay anywhere from 2-4 times the amount an Uber would cost when choosing to ride in a cab. Most cities will have a set price for specific areas, which is nice, plus taxis are found on every street corner, making them one of the most convenient options, but be prepared to pay a premium for convenience.
Rent a Car in Mexico
If you’re more adventurous, you may also opt to drive in Mexico. This will give you the freedom to travel all around Mexico. Mexico is a huge country, so you could certainly cover more ground this way.
Ensure you rent a car from a reputable dealer. Alternatively, you could drive your own car across the border. Either way, you MUST have an appropriate car insurance policy. Ensure you read my guide before driving a car in Mexico so that you know what to expect.
- Walking is the cheapest/ best option for experiencing the city.
- Busses are very inexpensive and will take you anywhere within city limits.
- Ubers are convenient and cheap while maintaining a certain level of privacy and security.
- Taxis are the most expensive. However, they are incredibly convenient and ready to take you anywhere.
Travel Tip #14 – Staying Safe In Mexico – Practical Safety Tips
We have all heard rumors about Mexico being a violent and scary place. While some of these rumors are true, most likely, you will never experience any serious safety concerns while visiting Mexico, especially if you know what to watch out for and stay aware of your surroundings.
It’s relatively simple to take extra precautions and remain vigilant while exploring Mexico, do it enough, and it will become second nature to you.
Here are some simple safety tips you can implement immediately and see instant results:
- Carry a bright flashlight with you wherever you go.
- Wear a hidden wallet or sew a secret pocket in your clothes to hide valuables such as money, passports, and credit/debit cards.
- Avoid wandering alone if possible. If you are exploring by yourself, avoid areas that are out of sight of public view.
- Bring older, worn-out clothes when traveling to Mexico, and avoid bringing your nice clothes so you don’t draw attention to yourself. If you must, bring a pair of nice clothes that you will only wear for a formal outing
- Always communicate with your travel partners wear you are going, when, and for how long. That way, everyone is on the same page regarding your whereabouts and your well-being.
- Make sure your phone is always on you and fully charged. Consider always carrying a quality portable phone charger to avoid a possible dead battery.
- Opt for a local sim card if you don’t have roaming. Picking one up before you leave the airport might be convenient.
- Carry a camera around (you may be thinking why). In my experience, a camera seems to keep people astray. They don’t want to be on camera, especially if they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing.
Those Are My Mexico Travel Tips – Enjoy Mexico!
I know it’s a lot to consider, but these are all tips I personally employ anytime I am in Mexico. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of something terrible happening; instead, I want to be prepared if something happens. Remember, it’s better to be over-prepared than not prepared at all.
There is a lot that has been covered here. I will leave you with the last words of advice: don’t overthink everything. Sometimes you need to go with the flow, that’s how I travel to Mexico nowadays, and it works out great.
If there’s something you want to try, don’t shy away. Get out there and have fun! You’re in a foreign country anyways. It’s not like anyone knows who you are or will likely ever see you again.