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Frequently asked questions

Stan Gotlieb

Before you send me an EMail, check here to see if your question has already been answered.

Since going on the World Wide Web, I have received many letters from readers requesting specific information about living, visiting or working in Mexico. The answers given below are updated frequently. To find the answer, simply click on the question, below.

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WHAT CAN I BRING WITH ME?[The following list, posted to the Mexico Connect ( forum on September 11, 1999, was composed by Jennifer Rose, an attorney in Morelia and the Forum moderator. As with all "rules" in Mexico, it is subject to change and the capricious interpretation of whatever official you run into in real life.]

Under the FMT you can bring in:

  • Articles for your personal use, such as clothing, footwear, grooming and toiletry articles in reasonable amounts.
  • Photographic, movie or video camera including its power source, and 12 rolls of film.
  • Sports equipment for one person, provided it can be carried by one person.
  • Up to 20 books and/or magazines.
  • Valises, suitcases etc. to carry the goods.
  • If of legal age, 20 packs of cigarettes, 20 cigars or 200 grams of tobacco, 3 liters of alcoholic beverage.
  • Various objects worth up to $300 USD.
  • One set of binoculars. (*)
  • A T.V., screen size up to 12". (*)
  • One portable radio apparatus for recording or playing, or both. (*)
  • Up to 20 Laser disks, Compact disks or cassette tapes. (*)
  • A typewriter or laptop/portable/notebook computer and power source. (*)
  • A musical instrument that is easily portable. (*)
  • One tent and camping equipment. (*)
  • A maximum of 5 childrens' toys. (*)
  • One set of fishing tackle, one pair of skis, 2 tennis racquets. (*)
  • A water glider, with or without sail. (*)
  • A video recorder/playback machine. (*)

FM3 (temporary resident)

Under the FM3, you can bring in what is approved under the temporary importation list approved by a Mexican Consul.

Otherwise, you can only bring in those things NOT (*)ed in the above list for FMT.

Additionally, $300 USD in one or various articles, if by air, and $50 USD if by land.


Mexican national health insurance is available through Instituto Mexicana del Seguro Sociál (IMSS). You do not have to be a Mexican national to join. In fact, anyone can be a member. There has been some talk about limiting excluding people on tourist visas. In order to join, you must apply in either January/February or July/August. There is no physical examination, and no application fee. You must go personally to an IMSS office and fill out an application form, which includes a complete health history. Bring three "juventil" size photos with you. The last time I applied, they processed the paperwork on the spot, and I paid my fee immediately. Sometimes there may be a few days' delay, depending on how busy they are. There may be a little more running around, for example to get your personal identification and record booklet registered at your clinic, but really the process is pretty simple and pretty transparent.

If you have been accepted, you must pay a one year premium. The 1998 premium was approximately 230 u.s.d for an individual, more for a family. The coverage commences immediately. All examinations, lab work, drugs and prostheses are free. However, the clinic to which you are assigned may not be supplied with certain drugs, lab chemicals, etc., and if so you may be required to obtain those drugs or analyses privately.

If you do not speak Spanish, it may be very difficult to get appropriate treatment, as the system -- by its nature, not by design -- is difficult to maneuver through. Below are some comments by readers.

Jim Hardy:

From what I know about IMSS here in Guadalajara, I'd spend a little more money and get a private insurance policy -- they are still a lot cheaper than what you'd pay for health insurance in the U.S.

My roommate of three to four years worked in IMSS and I have a friend who is a surgical resident so I'm fairly familiar with the system. Why bother with it when private doctors and labs are so cheap? I can make a same day appointment with most any specialist here in Guadalajara for $20 to $25 dollars.

As you mention in your article [see Is There A Doctor In the House?], the quality of doctors varies, and with IMSS you have no choice of doctors, you have long waits to see your GP, you need his permission to see a specialist or get lab tests done or get drugs, all of which can be got on a walk-in basis without a doctor's order at private facilities. IMSS also tends to run out of a lot of drugs, reagents for lab tests, etc. If you have any kind of an income in dollars from the U.S. you're much better off buying private insurance and paying for routine expenses out-of-pocket.

There are several private insurance companies in Mexico, including Seguros Comercial America, Seguros Tepeyac, Seguros Monterrey Aetna (which Aetna in the U.S. has a part interest in), and the largest, Grupo Nacional Provincial. There are also several others. The quotes I got for a male age 42 all were around $400/year for a policy with coverage in Mexico only (but including emergency coverage if you're travelling outside the country when you get sick). The one exception was Seguros Tepeyac, which cost a little over $200/year. Seguros Monterrey Aetna and Nacional Provincial also sell policies that allow you to go anywhere in the world for treatment, which cost around $1,000/year with a deductible of around $500 per illness (not per year) if I remember right. The deductibles on the Mexico-only policies are much lower.

With most companies, after two years they can't cancel the policy; with Nacional Provincial it's after one year. I think with all the companies you have to be under 65 to take out a policy but once you have it they'll cover you until you're at least 75 or older, depending on the company.

As for whether private care in general is better than IMSS, that's a hard question to answer because there all sorts of doctors in private practice and much variability throughout the country, but the issue is can you find private care that is better than IMSS, and at least here in Guadalajara the answer is definitely yes, and at much lower cost than in the U.S. Because my roommate worked at IMSS, he had coverage there, and during a prolonged illness he had we saw his doctor both at IMSS and in his private practice, and the quality of attention was much better when we saw him privately, and at the time he charged $20 for a consultation (150 pesos) which is a lot if your income's in pesos but very inexpensive if you're income's in dollars; and as I said earlier, you can get into see almost any doctor with a same day or at most next day appointment.

My family doctor here charges 100 pesos and even with minor problems I rarely spend less than half an hour with him; from my experience with IMSS you'd be lucky to get five minutes. Just as an example of the cost compared with the U.S., I consulted a doctor in Wisconsin in the same specialty as my roommate's doctor here in Guadalajara and the clinic's fee was $200 for a fifteen minute appointment (it was a clinic associated with a medical college). To put in a good word for U.S. doctors, when he realized I had come to consult about my friend's case he didn't charge me anything and spent more like half an hour with me, but the normal fee at that clinic was $200 per fifteen minute appointment.

Chris Stewart:

You can now report views of private health-care facilities in Mexico as mixed, too. Case in point: my brother-in-law (a citizen of Mexico) recently had a run-in with one of the ritzier private hospitals in the Polanco-cased neighborhood of Mexico City. He had a skin sample taken at one of Mexico's public hospitals, and rather than wait the probable two weeks for results, we decided to get the results done at a private hospital. So the day after the doctor gave us the skin sample preserved in a baby-food jar of formol, my wife, her sister, and I went downtown to drop off the sample at the private hospital.

I had to stay outside while they went into the hospital to drop off the skin sample and pay for the analysis (blond hair and fair skin often causes prices to go through the roof at some private medical centers). Meanwhile, my wife and her sister leave the sample, get a receipt and go to pay the N$750 bill. Turns out the cashiers want to charge them N$1000 pesos for the service (we believe N$750 for the analysis and N$250 for the cashiers), and they have to protest to bring the bill down to the level shown on the receipt - the cashiers leave for a few minutes to talk to their supervisors and finally return to accept the correct payment.

Once payment is rendered, we are told to return in two days for the results (the tests being run typically take this amount of time to complete - anything extra is bureaucracy). Two days later, we return and are told that we have to we have to wait another day for the results. After two more days, we return and are told that the doctor went on vacation and was not available to do the work, so we had to wait another week. In the end, it took us the same two weeks to get service from the private hospital that it would have taken us to get service from the public hospital, and the price was not cheap, particularly since my wife's family doesn't earn their money in dollars (as some overly-pretentious folks do).

I know its bad to generalize from a single experience, but adding my own several years of experience in Mexico to the mix, I can only conclude the following: private services exist only for people who have the money to pay for them, and in Mexico, private health services are outrageously expensive. Unless of course, you are wealthy enough that you cash your paychecks in dollars.


There you have it: two widely differing opinions each of which almost certainly has some of the truth. As in all things Mexican, you will have to discover your own truth for yourself.


The brief answer is "yes", but that comes with a lot of qualifications. So-called "restricted" drugs, ranging from opiates to amphetamines to tranquilizers, generally require a prescription. My druggist maintains a register, and casts a jaundiced eye on addictive substances. However, tranquilizers, diet pills, and feel-good pills like Prozac, are easily obtainable from doctors with only the briefest examination. This is due to the way many Mexican doctors practice medicine: chemically; not because they are more venal or corrupt than US practitioners.

Also available are drugs that are "prohibited" in the U.S., particularly those that have not (and some that have) been examined by the FDA. Alleged palliatives for AIDS, arthritis, and other fatal and chronic deseases, if approved in other countries, are generally deemed to have been adequately tested, and therefore are available for purchase here. Also available over the counter: antibiotics, blood pressure medicines and superstrong antihistamines (although currently, both Seudafed and Actifed are restricted).

Many US citizens, looking for lower prices and/or impatient with FDA procedures, come to Mexico to buy pharmaceuticals and smuggle them back into the US. A cottage industry has sprung up along the border to service their desires: runners, doctors, druggists. Starting in mid-1998, there have been some arrests of foreigners purchasing large amounts of drugs, although the vast majority of buyers seem to go unchallenged. I have chosen not to get involved. I don't answer questions about specific drugs or offer any contact services.


No. There is no IRA-type terrorism in Mexico. Both the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) are publicly committed to recognizing the rights and lives of foreign nationals. The EZLN is currently in a "holding pattern" while peace talks with the government drag on, and is not attacking anyone, period. The EPR is on the attack, but targets military and police units only. They rob banks and kidnap -- but very rich Mexicans only.

Mexico (with the possible exception of Mexico City) is much safer than any medium or large US city. As long as you follow the minimum precautions like not wearing a lot of expensive jewelry or flashing money or walking in areas where no-one else seems to want to stroll, you should be fine.


It depends. Our old apartment, one of the nicer ones in the center of Oaxaca, cost us about $200/mo. US dollars -- but it was in an old building, with an old fashioned bathroom (the shower stuck out of the wall next to the toilet: no stall at all), and we rented by the year. Most of the furnishings (with the exception of the stove, frig, and large pieces of furniture) were ours. We had to buy our own phone. Diana lived in this building for four years, in much less desirable apartments, before that one opened up.

Now, we have a small house, in the center of town, with two bedrooms, a private patio and telephone. It took us a year to find it and move in (we got it through friends), and as of April 1999, it costs us about $325 u.s.d. a month, plus utilities, on a yearly lease.

Friends rent a two-bedroom bungalow in a complex about 20 minutes' walk further out. Their place is modern and the phone is furnished. They pay about $400/mo on a yearly lease. Some folks who only want to be here for a month or less pay as much as $750/mo. It is possible to drop $3,000 on a month in a colonial hacienda complete with servants and four bedrooms.

Buying is even trickier. The hacienda just went for a quarter million (US). Someone we know is dickering on a one-bedroom box for $17,000. Land (and therefore housing) is cheaper the further out you go. But you may have to drill a well (which is expensive), or get electricity brought in (which in addition to being expensive can drive you nuts).


Probably. The question is, do you want to? While there are a few good jobs available for English teachers, the people who have them tend to hang on. The highest paying positions tend to be in Mexico City (where I wouldn't live on a bet, never mind that 22 million people seem to prefer it). In Oaxaca, there are a few decently-paid openings in the public secondary schools, but the hours are long and the pay is often delayed. The college-level schools and the private academies pay very poorly for the most part, ranging from the University language school ($2/hr) to the private "American" schools ($6/hr -- but often with only two or three hours a day).

Most of the yonkees that I know that teach English are either starving or tutoring on the side. Since everyone wants to get tutoring gigs (they pay more), the competition is heavy for the few students that are out there.


Absolutely. There are five major schools, and many others equally good, each with slightly different philosophies and course compositions. They also vary in price and number of hours offered. I list them here without further comment: it is simply too complex to explain all the options. You may contact them directly.

Editor's note: If you have properly configured your browser for return email, simply click on the email address.

  1. Instituto Cultural Oaxaca: / fax 5-37-28;
  2. Instituto de Comunicación y Cultura: / fax 6-34-43;
  3. Centro de Idiomas: / fax 6-59-22;
  4. Sol y Tierra: / fax 5-12-25;
  5. Becari Language School: / fax 4-60-76.

There are also tutors available at reasonable rates. Check the bulletin board at the English language Circulating Library when you arrive.


The only sure way to local access from anywhere with a phone at present is to buy a U.S. service with a Mexican 800 number. Remember, though, that if you are using a public "larga distancia" booth, there will be some charge per phone call, 800 or not. Compuserve appears at present to have such a service, but rumor has it that they charge for access (I have heard as high as $15/hr). Check with the individual services to get rate information, before you leave. There are individual services with local access numbers in most large cities, but you have to be staying long enough to amortize the up-front subscription and installation charges. There are a couple of national networks, but most local services will not have national affiliations -- although that is changing daily as more locals affiliate. Rumors had it that after January 1 1997 MCI and AT&T would blitzkreig Mexico with vastly cheaper rates, but as of now (April 1999) their rates are only marginally lower than Telmex. Speaking of TelMex, they now have`a national ISP available to their telephone subscribers, at a rate of about $25/month, all you can use. Expect local connect rates of from $15 to $50 usd per month for anywhere from 10 to unlimited hours of service. Since the servers are all fairly new, virtually all support 28.8 modems or faster.

We use a local service that provides 100 hours a month for six months at a cost of about 110 u.s.d. and connects at up to 33.6 bps.


For up-to-the-minute accounts of the Mexican political scene, search for "Zapatista", "El Barzon", or "Popular Revolutionary Army" in your favorite search engine. There are also many fine resources available from the Institute For Global Communication (IGC), a low cost internet service provider that only allows newsgroup access to its members, but does post (free) headline news regularly. You can also subscribe to the Profmexis group of newsletters, among which are Mexico94 and Chiapas-L. One word of warning: these sites are not for the "sound bite" oriented. They produce a ton of information.


The best place to start is with Trace. Follow the strings from there. Also pay attention to Latino Link, and get your up-to-date Peso quotations from Xenon Labs' Currency Converter.

If you have comments or suggestions for Stan, you can contact him at:

Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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