Living in Mexico. EVERYTHING you need to know (and then some)
getting around while living in mexico, your common transportation options
April 23, 2021
Living in Mexico, anywhere in Mexico, is sometimes easier if you have a car. And I say sometimes because it’s not always easier to have a vehicle here. In the more popular areas, for example, most people chose to live centrally, which means easy access to almost everything.
Living centrally or in a near-central location means you will be able to easily utilize government agencies and services, public transportation, grocery stores, medical facilities and shopping areas including modern plazas and traditional street-side markets.
Due to Mexico’s generally unplanned city and town structuring, streets are narrow, sidewalks are rare and roadway shoulders are non-existent. I lived in Playa del Carmen for nine years before the city finally painted their first crosswalks. The roads are still without the white driving divider dashes. That’s normal here.
Another issue. The central neighborhoods are full. There is barely enough room for residential cars and public transport buses to pass on these narrow streets, and unless you have experience driving in this type of (often) unregulated environment, I do not suggest you rush out to do it.
Live in your city or town for at least six months first to get a feel for several things such as if owning a bicycle is enough or riding public transport is sufficient for you to get around. Taxis are always an option as well. Mexico has advanced enough that it is possible to request the same taxi driver over and over.
I’ve had neighbors who, via What’s App, always request the same taxi diver to their homes. Over time, they form a good bond. The driver is always on time and charges the same fare. My neighbors are comfortable riding with them because they speak a bit of English and treat them well.
Whether you have a car or not while living here also depends a lot on your location. Not all states allow nonresidents to have cars. You can buy them, but not legally register them. That makes driving them illegal and insuring them impossible.
If you chose to go car-less, there is an endless supply of public transportation. For my first eight years here I rode the public combis (vans) and buses. Since I was on a budget, taking a taxi was rare.
The public transport options do not run on a schedule. This is not your home town where things are structured. This is Mexico where things happen when they happen…or not.
If you want to hop on a bus or combi, you need to make yourself physically visible along a route and hail it down with your hand, similar to what you would do to hail a taxi. If you’re unsure what to do, watch the locals.
You will pay in exact cash (around 8 to 10 peso) to the driver as you get on and then sit down. You will need to speak a bit of Spanish and know your route in order to stop the combi or bus to get off. Sometimes the buses will have a buzzer at the back door to let you off, other times not. Combis never do. The only time public transport units actually stop is when someone requests it. To request it without a buzzer, you will need to tell them — yelling from your seat is how its done.
In larger metropolitan places like Mexico City, as an example, they have a structured public transportation system of both buses and an underground metro. These will operate very differently since they cater to millions of people each day. There will be a schedule. Your tolls will be paid to a machine rather than to a driver and the units will automatically stop along the marked routes eliminating the need to yell at anyone.
The combi vans, known as collectivos, also run from town to town. They are not only inner city vans, but also hit the highway. A majority of people here do not own cars, so these public transport options are very popular. You will learn the difference between inner city and town-to-town vans by their colors. Also, vans that run out of town do not drive inner city routes.
In Playa del Carmen, for example, there is a central area filled with these vans. They leave every 15 minutes and head to different places. Written on their windshield are the places they will stop. To use one, simply loiter around the van until a driver comes or just get on. The doors are freely open. The driver will collect from you before departing. These vans are very inexpensive, only 50 or 60 peso, to get to the next town and are usually air conditioned.
Modern buses are also available. They cost quite a bit more, a few hundred peso depending on where you are going, but offer air conditioning, reclining seats, television and WiFi.
Scooter and bicycles are also options to getting around regardless of where you live. The biggest problem with these two forms of personal transportation is theft. Most people who buy a new bike don’t have it longer than a month. If it doesn’t get stolen from your property, then it will go missing outside a store.
Scooters are not much different since they are also a preference for thieves. Since scooters are stolen so often, scooter drivers are frequently stopped by police to prove ownership. Not a problem if you have the receipt, but a hassle if you don’t.