How to survive/thrive in Mexico City
September 26, 2005 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Advice on moving to Mexico City.

Background: I’m leaving at the end of October to move to el Distrito Federal for a job. I expect to be there for one to two years. I speak Spanish well though I’m not a native speaker (and my accent marks me pretty easily as a foreigner who spent time in Spain). I’m not looking for travel tips, which is all a search of AskMe dug up (although I won’t turn down any recommendations). More precisely, I need advice on how to live well and safely while I’m there.

1. Housing. My research so far suggests that the Condesa neighborhood would be a good fit for my tastes (cafes, art galleries, restaurants, etc.). It’s also pretty close to my workplace, which is central (on Reforma, near the Monumento de Indepencia). Any experience with this neighborhood, or nearby Roma? Other recommendations? How much should I expect to pay per month for a smallish one-bedroom apartment, preferrably furnished and with a terraza or some other outdoor space? Strategies for finding a place (Craigslist Mexico City exists but in a still-sucky version).

2. General Living. Any advice on banking, cell phones, Internet, what kind of clothing/goods to bring, & what to buty, etc.?

3. Safety. For better or worse, Mexico City has a certain, erm, reputation. In summer 2004, in another big Latin American capital, I had a violent and very unpleasant encounter that I’d very much like not to repeat. While I know on a rational level that this kind of thing can happen anywhere -- or nowhere, if you’re lucky -- the prospect of returning to Latin America to live has me a little unsettled. The last two weeks I’ve started having dreams again about being assaulted. This thread from July was helpful re: coping, etc. But I’d like to go down there prepared, both for my own peace of mind and simply to avoid any nastiness. What are good ways to avoid being a target? How to dress? (I should say that I’m rather tall and definitely on the rubio side, so it’s unlikely that I’ll “blend in.” What should I walk around with in my wallet? How to take taxis & metro safely? And so on.

That’s a lot of questions; feel free to chime in on whatever little piece you want. Thanks!
posted by donpedro to Travel & Transportation around Mexico City, Mexico (7 answers total)
You've lived in South America, you know that business dress and customs are more conservative than we are used to, in Canada or in the US.

And you've worked in South America before, so you know that no matter how long you live in Mexico, you will never be 'one of them' - ever the outsider.

I worked in Mexico DF for weeks at a time, thankfully returning to Vancouver inbetween stints. The city air is ***very*** polluted, to the point that, when I would remove my dark blazer at the end of the day, and looked at my white blouse in the mirror, there was a dark V where the blouse had shown from underneath the jacket. You want to live as far away from the downtown core as possible, where most pollution is concentrated.The air cleanliness index is on the same scale as we use in the US or Canada, and I've seen values in the 400s.

Pollution in Mexico DF is so bad, that (in the days that I was a frequent visitor) the Canadian Embassy personnel would put their youngsters in private boarding schools back home or elsewhere - they were not allowed to move them to Mexico City with them, the air was so sketchy. Note, in other parts of Mexico the air pollution is not as pronounced, but given the Distrito Federal's location in a bowl, surrounded by volcanoes, the foul air is trapped - and the millions of cars on the streets don't help matters.

Bring clothes that are conservative. Remember the afternoon rains, particularly in some seasons - you can almost set your watch. Remember the air quality (best on weekends, worst during the week). Summer is hot, winter less - but because Mexico City is at such altitude, it's not as terribly hot as in other areas of the country. Evenings can be surprisingly cool.

How to find a place, banking cell phones etc... Have you thought to ask the people who have hired you, for help in those matters? Asking, making friends, soliciting advice is a good way to begin a good working relationship. I am certain that your Mexican colleagues, and your ex-pat colleagues, will offer a hand.

And speaking of which - you may find that business associations or simply a visit to the local consulate and embassy may also ensure a smoother transition to your new life in Mexico City.

Having said all this, Mexico City is a beautiful, vibrant, historic, creative, energetic city. I wish you all the best in your new venture there.
posted by seawallrunner at 4:35 PM on September 26, 2005

Mexico City is not so bad. My wife and I ran around all through there this past summer and felt safe. Zona Risa (sp?) is a very safe and nice area to hang out in.

There are many hotspots in the DF for you to hook up in (starbucks, italian coffee company, etc).

We are moving to Puebla, MX in June for a few years. If you would like, we can put you in touch with some people who live down there and could point you in the right direction for your banking/insurance/housing needs. Please feel free to email me at:

scott.thigpen A T gmail D O T com
posted by Hands of Manos at 9:04 PM on September 26, 2005

When my partner and I move countries, we are amply supported by the company. Relocation consultants help us find where to live and deal with local customs and red tape. We are coached on security issues.

The fact that such consultants exist tells me this is not an uncommon benefit, and you should ask, or even demand, it be included in your package.
posted by Goofyy at 4:11 AM on September 27, 2005

For housing, here is a link to the classifieds in one of Mexico City's main newspapers. At least, you'll find links or numbers for Real Estate Agencies.

Also, you could probably call one of your local Re/Max or Century21 offices and ask for the address of their Mexico City offices.

For cellphones, you can get one with prepaid cards almost anywhere or you could sign a contract with one of the companies (the two largest are Telcel and Iusacell), but it's usually a forced 18 month contract. If you have an unlocked GSM phone you can buy a chip with Telcel for about $20 and use prepaid cards.

If you do get a contract, consider that you only pay for outgoing calls, incoming calls are paid by the caller.
posted by Penks at 9:39 AM on September 27, 2005

Response by poster: Just wanted to pop back in here and say thanks for the responses. I will certainly have the advantage of advice from the folks I'll be working with, but I thought it would be good to go down there knowing at least a little. This is the first time I will have worked for the firm, so there's nothing available to me in the way of relocation compensation. (I'll ask about the consultants, though -- thanks!) I'm lucky in that the company will put me up in a hotel next to the office until I find a place to live. A huge relief to know I don't have to arrange everything from here.

seawallrunner: What years were you in DF? (Someone told me the air quality has actually improved in the last decade or so. Maybe something to do with switching to unleaded gas? I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm really hoping that's the case.)
posted by donpedro at 1:44 PM on September 27, 2005

Response by poster: (seawallrunner: If you're still reading this, that is. And say hi to Vancouver for me! Tied with Montreal for my favorite city in Canada.)
posted by donpedro at 1:47 PM on September 27, 2005

donpedro - I was in Mexico City between 1991 and 1997. If the air quality has improved that's wonderful!

On the very first day that I arrived there, I looked outside the window in the conference room and saw what looked like whispy transparent brown smoke. I asked the people I was with, whether there was a fire nearby? "Oh no, that's just the smog" they replied. I counted the days until my departure...

The air quality is MUCH better on weekends (when most of the car traffic stays home) but it's nasty during the week. If unleaded gas is in fact law (more or less) now, then you will not have to experience pollution as I did

All the best to you!
posted by seawallrunner at 6:51 PM on September 30, 2005

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