Traveling To Mexico Your First Time (Top Tips To Optimize Your Trip)

Traveling to Mexico for your first time is a big deal, especially if it’s your first time traveling abroad period. I understand the amount of 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 have once been 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. So lets get to it!

What Do You Need Before Traveling To Mexico

Before traveling to Mexico, there are some basic essentials you need to make sure you have covered before you even book your flight.

This is what you NEED to have before traveling to Mexico:

  • Valid Passport Book (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

Once you confirm that you have those two essential items, you can officially travel to Mexico, but that’s not all you’re going to want to pack. I feel like nowadays I over prepare for my trips to Mexico, but I’d rather be over-prepared than not prepared at all.

Depending which part of Mexico you are traveling to, it may be difficult finding something you need, especially if it’s something you need immediately. 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 located on Amazon:

Although these items aren’t required for entry into Mexico obviously, they should be. 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…

If you are interested in some other goods that you may want to pack for your trip, just checkout the Recommended Travel Gear page. You’ll find some pretty cool and very useful stuff here.

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, swim suits, comfortable walking shoes, and a hat that provides some shade for your face.

Alright, so you have your bag 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 your first time! Here we go!

What To Expect Your First Time Traveling To Mexico

I remember asking my wife what I should expect my first time traveling to Mexico, here is what I experienced my first trip.

Your first time traveling to 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.

First thing’s first, you have to 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.

Mexico Flight Booking Tips

My first time booking flights to Mexico was rather 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 just to realize the price you just saw 5 minutes ago, suddenly jumped up a significant amount and is now more than it was 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 product or services, which increase or decrease based on market demands. So if you’re constantly searching for plane tickets, sites will recognize this behavior and adjust pricing accordingly.

Here are some flight booking tips that may help you reduce the cost of your tickets significantly;

Tip 1: Use Private Browsing mode on your device, and if possible, download a Virtual Private Network (VPN), such this free option on Using a VPN makes your online activity virtually untraceable, keeping your ticket prices as low as possible.

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 may 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 that has a couple of short layovers, these flights are generally cheaper apposed to a direct flight.

What To Expect On The Flight To Mexico

Depending where you fly out of, you may have a direct flight, or possibly a couple layovers. In my case 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 normal as usual.

When you arrive in the city where you will depart from and head to Mexico, this is where things will be slightly different than you may be use to.

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 will be required to fill out a Customs Declaration Form.

The Customs Declaration Form is per family. So if you are traveling with 3 other family members who live in the same household, only one person needs to fill out the form however, you will need to know the first and last name of each member of your household (hopefully you do).

The Declaration form will ask you to fill in certain information pertaining to the amount of family members traveling with you, your means of transportation, and anything you made need to declare such as:

  • Live animals, meats, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, dangerous materials etc
  • Disease agents; live/dead cultures
  • Weapons or cartridges
  • Samples
  • Professional working equipment
  • Merchandise (additional to your baggage and duty-free exemption) for which you must pay import duties
  • Soil or, if applies please declare, I (we) have visited a farm, ranch or prairie; I was (we were) in contact with manipulating live stock

It’s all very basic stuff, and most of it will be a yes or no answer, so 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.

Going Through Customs In Mexico

Going through customs in Puerto Vallarta.

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 will need to scan your passport on the machine, and have your picture taken as well. If you are wearing a hat and/or sunglasses, it’s a good idea to remove these items, otherwise a customs agent will ask you to anyways.

Once you have scanned your passport, you will hop in line and slowly inch towards the custom’s counter. Here, you will be asked some very basic questions such as; where are you going, why are you going there, and how long are you staying. Easy enough.

Some of the custom agents aren’t the friendliest people, you just need to remember they are doing their job, 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 will be able to grab any of 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.

TRAVELER TIP: If you land in a tourist city such as Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta 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, just keep walking straight ahead, no need to even mumble a word.
If you are interested in any of theses services, feel free to stop and see what they have to offer, but be aware, most services offered in the airport will be overpriced.

Airport Transportation In Mexico

If you are in need of transportation and you 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 what the price is before accepting the ride, otherwise jump in and enjoy the ride.

If the city you are in offers Uber transportation, it is very likely Uber will not be able to enter airport property. If you have your heart set on taking an Uber, you may have to walk off of airport 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:

CityUber In Operation
CancunYES (not available at airport)
Cabo San LucasYES (not available at airport)
GuadalajaraYES (exit the building by national arrivals for pickup)
MazatlanYES (not available at airport)
Mexico CityYES (exit on the arrivals level at the airport for pickup)
Puerto VallartaYES (not available at airport, exit airport left, cross the bridge, they will meet you across the street)

What NOT To Do When Traveling To Mexico

Although Mexico is an overall friendly and inviting place, there are bad people in all parts of the world. Even though most things may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised how doing, or rather not doing some of these simple things can affect your entire 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

Like I said, this is all just common sense right? WRONG. I have seen people do most of these things, and it’s scary to say the least.

In my experience, just use your head, stay aware, and you will be alright.

My wife an I have explored the entire city of Puerto Vallarta at night, and we didn’t have any problems. Carrying and 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 judgement to determine whether a city is safe or not.

TRAVELER TIP: If you want to explore a city at night time, 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 less people who are likely to help.

General Tips and Tricks To Save Money And Have The Best Experience

When you arrive in Mexico, there’s probably many things you will want to buy. Whether it be food, souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, little handmade trinkets, there’s a lot that will catch your eye.

However, there are a few different ways you should approach purchasing things in Mexico, many of these tips and tricks will end up saving you a bunch of money, and not to mention stress.

As well, there are so many things you can watch for that will help ensure your first trip to Mexico is the best one. I have learned all these tips and tricks through personal experience, now I’m here to pass them onto you so you can spend less time worrying, and more time enjoying your Mexican vacation.

Without further ado, here are some general tips and money saving tricks you can use your first time traveling to Mexico.

Tip 1: Use The Correct Currency

Before even thinking about shopping anywhere in Mexico, you first need to ensure you are using the proper currency. If you don’t have Mexican pesos, you need to 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 any other currency that isn’t Mexican Pesos, you are leaving the converting up 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 have to convert on the spot, and you are leaving room for error.

There are many ways to go about converting your money into Pesos however, I personally think the best way to convert your money to pesos is by using a service such as to send yourself the money, then pick it up locally. In my experience it’s the most simple and secure option, as well as one of the quickest ways to convert your money (available for pickup within minutes).

Moreover, you receive the best conversion rate with very minimal fees (only a few dollars). As apposed to an ATM where you pay multiple fees, plus you risk being out in the open when receiving your cash, exposing yourself 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 awesome 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, that’s because it is.


  • Always shop with Pesos
  • Convert your money using a money sending app as apposed to an ATM or conversion station

Tip 2: Shopping At Local Markets

The local markets which are often found in almost every city in Mexico are amazing. There’s so much too look at, and there’s a lot going on. Many vendors will be very aggressive (not physically, but they want to get you into their shop).

My words of advice, don’t listen to them, and don’t feel bad if you don’t want to enter their shop. Even if you end up entering 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 not true.

Mexicans are excellent sales people and have learned many tactics through years of selling. It’s not uncommon to see kids working a their local family shop, starting to learn from a very young age. It’s pretty awesome to see.

If you are shopping for somethings specific, or you find an item you like, the shop employee 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 your absolute highest price you are willing to pay for that item, then get to bargaining.

You may have to go back to shops you have already been in 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 is willing to 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 just don’t want to bargain. It’s up to you to determine if you really want the item or not.

I find that the more expensive an item is (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 eventually ended up with the best deal, and both the store employee and my wife were happy with the outcome.

The more you bargain, the better you get. It’s honestly quite enjoyable, the store employees expect you to bargain, this is why they set their prices so high. 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

Tip 3: Eating Out

Tacos. YUM.

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. Now 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 or 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 (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 you 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.

There are a few ways you can find these hidden treasures, your first option is to just 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 a difficult time reading Spanish, download an app like Google Translate, which will then 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 are usually found on a busy street or an area that receives a lot of foot traffic.

One of the most simple ways to find the cheapest dining option is to just search on 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.

How To Tell If The Food Is Good

Crowd standing next to some food stands.

Besides searching for reviews on Google, there are some signs you should watch for to ensure your food choice is not only good, but also 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 is a clear indicator 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 is bad.

I haven’t personally experienced any terrible food while visiting Mexico although, my stomach has been upset on a few separate occasions. I couldn’t say for sure if this was 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 being able to go all-out.

To help with stomach pain caused by excess gas, diarrhea, or indigestion, I suggest taking some sort of activated charcoal supplement such as this one found on Amazon, or buy some at your local health food store before your trip. You’ll thank me later…

Tipping 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

Tip 4: Transportation In Mexico

Riding the local bus in Puerto Vallarta

We all need to get around town, especially if we are trying to explore the entire city or enjoy some excursions however, 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, 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 sight of the city become slightly skewed when you’re locked behind the windows of a bus or cab.

I understand if a vehicle is necessary though, some folks don’t enjoy walking, and others may not even have that option. 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.

If you feel comfortable riding a bus (most likely with no air conditioning), I highly recommend it. 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.

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 they are not only convenient, but also another cheap option. I like Uber because you can see where you are going, how long it’s going to take, and how much the ride will be. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

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 certain 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 when it comes to convenience.


  • 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 still maintaining a certain level of privacy and security
  • Taxis are the most expensive however, they are extremely convenient and ready to take you anywhere

Tip 5: Staying Safe In Mexico

Local Mexican National Guard enjoying the ocean view.

We have all heard the 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 rather 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 somewhere 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, 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 of your whereabouts and your well-being
  • Assuming you have a cellphone, make sure it’s always on you and fully charged, consider carrying a quality portable phone charger on you at all times to avoid a possible dead battery
  • Carry a camera around (you may be thinking why), in my experience a camera seems to keep people astray, my thought behind this is they don’t want to be on camera, especially if they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing

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 bad happening, but rather I want to be prepared if something does happen. Remember, it’s better to be over-prepared than not prepared at all.

There is a lot that has been covered here, my last words of advice I will leave you with are don’t overthink everything, sometimes you just 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, just 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.

Looking For More Mexico Travel Tips?

Looking For A Specific Destination?

Alex Gomez

Alex Gomez is a professional writer, travel enthusiast, and the creator of Mexico Travel Buddy. His favorite destination is anywhere in Mexico. Having ventured to Mexico numerous times, he enjoys sharing valuable tips, tricks, and insights he's gathered along the way.

Recent Posts