Mexico Expat Health Insurance Guide
These days Mexico is perhaps best known for guaranteed sunshine, white sandy beaches and package holidays. However Mexico is so much more than just a summer holiday destination.
It offers a huge diversity of natural wonders, and more historical sites than virtually anywhere else in the world. Combine that with the friendly locals and their rich family values and the end result is that Mexico one of the most fascinating and colourful countries of all to visit.
That said, there are many differences between living in Mexico and many of the wealthier countries around the world that potential expats and travellers alike should be aware of. Far from being of concern, one might reasonably argue that it is these differences that can make Mexico so intriguing and appealing to visitors from around the world.
While it’s tempting to just label Mexico as simply “hot and sunny” this would be doing a disservice to the diversity seen in Mexico’s geography. Mexico is a huge country and stretches from hot barren desert in the northernmost areas down to moist jungle in the south where it connects the USA to Central America.
It’s true that generally speaking Mexico’s climate is warm – especially so in the Northern provinces – though the range of altitudes means that some areas are far moister and cooler than others. In these more mountainous areas temperature can also vary considerably throughout the year.
Therefore irrespective of your personal tastes there is almost certain to be an area of Mexico that suits you well. The trick is to do your research in advance to ensure you visit the areas where the weather best matches your requirements.
Note that due its proximity to the equator, Mexico tends not to experience “summer” and “winter” seasons; instead it benefits from a rotating system of dry and wet seasons. Therefore tourists should concern themselves with avoiding hurricane season (June – November) wherever possible. In addition the dry season tends to be most conducive to sight-seeing and is also generally the best time of year for wildlife as they are forced to visit the limited remaining drinking areas.
Mexico is a largely traditional country where the vast majority of Mexicans are fiercely religious. Catholicism is the most popular religion by far in Mexico and if you are to integrate smoothly you should make yourself aware of the religious aspects so as to avoid any accidental offence.
That said, the long history of religion brought over with the Spanish Conquistadors means not only a wealth of fascinating annual religious festivals but also numerous cathedrals and other religious buildings that are ripe for exploration in a respectful manner.
This traditionalism can have a darker side however; “machismo” is still prevalent here and lone female visitors may still experience some unwanted attention from male Mexican suitors. In more rural areas this is more likely while visitors to the larger cities often find equality a little closer to Western standards.
Mexicans speak the Latin-American version of Spanish which, even to the uninitiated, can be reasonably easy to pick up. As with so many countries, in the more tourist-driven areas like Playa del Carmen you’re far more likely to experience fluent English speakers. Outside of these areas however English is less regularly spoken. It is advisable for expats visiting Mexico to at least have some understanding of Spanish if you are to make the most of your experience.
Transportation in and around Mexico can cause problems for expats and travellers alike. While it is possible to hire or buy a car to drive in Mexico – which can be done legally on a UK license or an International Driving Permit – the roads are often poor. Uninsured drivers are also common in Mexico who could land you with a sizeable bill in the case of an accident.
Furthermore drivers may find themselves exposed to crime; violent car jacking’s have been experienced even along the Pacific Highway. To minimize the risks drivers should keep doors and windows locked at all times and avoid driving after dark. In addition it is recommended that you take paid toll roads when available, as these are generally considered much safer than the free roads.
A common alternative to driving in Mexico is the network of buses. That said, theft on public buses is sadly rather common so care should be taken with personal belongings. A safer alternative is to travel on first-class buses which, while more expensive, typically take safer routers and maintain a better level of security.
Lastly, taxis may be taken in Mexico but be sure to choose a licensed, regulated operator. In the past, visitors have found themselves in deep water after taking a private taxi. Muggings by unregistered taxi drivers are not unusual.
While the overall theme may seem rather negative, there are always solutions to the problems. Many thousands of tourists travel around Mexico each year without incident; it’s just important that you are aware of the risks. If in doubt, take the (slightly) more expensive option and you’ll generally find yourself transported safely to your destination.
Mexico does not maintain reciprocal health care agreements with any countries so expat or travel insurance is essential. Be aware that this is especially so because healthcare in Mexico is not considered as advanced as many Western nations, especially in more rural areas.
Additionally, traveller should be aware that some hospitals will not deal directly with insurance providers. Instead you will be expected to pay for your treatment in cash, and then claim back the costs of this treatment from your insurance provider. As a result, travellers should ensure that they have suitable funds on arriving in Mexico and, should payments be necessary, that all receipts are kept.
In Mexico there are a number of common health pitfalls. The drinking water, for example, is generally not safe and may cause serious stomach upsets. If in doubt, buy only bottled water and check the cap is properly secured before drinking. Also, try to avoid ice in drinks for the same reason.
The official currency in Mexico is the Nuevo Peso (normally simply known as the “peso”). Frequently a dollar sign ($) will be used to represent prices in Mexico though payment should be made in pesos not dollars.
Credit cards are regularly accepted around the country and ATMs are common in major towns and cities. Be aware that tourists have been robbed at ATMs in the past when withdrawing cash so it is best to use those within banks or shops and certainly to avoid external ATMs after dark.
Unsurprisingly, most schools in Mexico teach in Spanish. Therefore unless your children speak fluent Spanish it may be necessary to step away from the public school system. That said, as only Mexican-born children receive free tuition in public schools, expats will end having to pay to educate their children one way or another.
Private schools frequently offer higher educational standards and as a result are typically preferred by the expat community. Another benefit of attending a private school is the possibility of rubbing shoulders with other children from your home country. In addition private schools can be an excellent way to learn Spanish, as some lessons may be taught in English and others in Spanish.
Alternatively, larger cities such as Mexico City and Monterrey offer a number of very good quality international schools which are taught entirely in English.
Food & Drink
Mexican food is nothing new to most visitors; it is typically a mixture of corn-based foods like tortillas together with a range of beans and vegetables. Meat is frequently included though is considered of mediocre quality by many gourmands. Typically the food in Mexico is far less spicy than you may have experienced at home in Mexican restaurants and of course is far better value.
Mexican food is available very reasonably for a range of restaurants and street stalls. Many of these may be found in major towns and cities or at public transport hubs. That said, be careful of sellers in public areas as hygiene may not be up to the usual standards and cause stomach upsets. If in doubt, avoid street sellers and instead rely on more civilized restaurants.
Mexico is well-known for its crime rates; violence, kid napping and thefts are still commonplace. However these are most common between warring groups of Mexicans, fighting for supremacy in the drug supply chain, and most commonly in the Northern provinces.
That said, tourists and expats are not immune from crime, especially if they are keen to flash around expensive equipment like cameras, cell phones and computers. Acapulco, for example, has experienced armed crime while thefts, muggings and kidnappings can occur almost anywhere in the country.
In Mexico, therefore, care should always be taken to blend in, avoid dark alleys and to secure your personal property at all times.
Generally speaking the Mexican government does its best to protect the more popular tourist areas though petty crime may still be experienced even here.
Places to Visit
Mexico offers so many world-class sites that it can be hard to narrow down the list to the very best places worth seeing. This be regarded as a good thing; expats planning to move to Mexico have so many sites to see that it is possible to spend months here and only just scratch the very surface of the experiences on offer.
For nature lovers the Copper Canyon is sure to inspire. Named after the colour of the rock around here, nature lovers will find breath-taking views, one of the largest waterfalls in all of Mexico and miles of walking trails.
Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is in many ways the classic beach destination of postcard fame. It offers white sandy beaches nestling up against lush green palm trees and deep blue seas; Playa del Carmen is arguably the perfect place to top up the tan, play in the water or learn to dive.
San Miguel de Allende
This tempting glimpse of Mexico in years-gone-by offers visitors 17th century cathedrals rich in history, narrow streets lined with handicraft shops and even a botanical gardens. In short, San Miguel is the perfect destination for anyone looking to experience historical Mexico. It’s also an expat-hotspot so can be a great place to meet and chat with fellow expatriates over a coffee.
The area of Yucatan includes many world-famous heritage sites such as Merida and Chicken Itza. Come to marvel at some of the best-preserved Mayan buildings anywhere and learn a little more about the history of these amazing peoples.
For more information on moving abroad visit www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo.
Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to Peru please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.