Business Hours -- Most businesses in larger cities are open between 9am and 7pm; in smaller towns they may close between 2 and 4pm. Many close on Sunday. In resort areas, stores commonly open in the mornings on Sunday, and shops stay open late, until 8 or even 10pm. Bank hours are Monday through Friday from 9 or 9:30am to anywhere between 3 and 7pm. Banks open on Saturday for at least a half-day.
Doctors -- Any embassy or consulate staff in Mexico from an English-speaking country can provide a list of area doctors who speak English. If you get sick in Mexico, consider asking your hotel concierge to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own. Some hotels even have in-house medical personnel. You can also try the emergency room at a local hospital or urgent care facility. Mexican doctors may not always have access to the latest technologies, and the quality of medical facilities varies, but they usually spend considerable time with patients and charge much less than their North American counterparts. Before choosing a doctor, you can ask for his or her qualifications and where he or she was trained.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18; however, asking for ID or denying purchase is extremely rare. Grocery stores sell everything from beer and wine to national and imported liquors. You can buy liquor 24 hours a day, but during major elections, dry laws often are enacted by as much as 72 hours in advance of the election -- and they apply to tourists as well as local residents. Mexico does not have laws that apply to transporting liquor in cars, but authorities are beginning to target drunk drivers more aggressively. It's a good idea to drive defensively.
It's illegal to drink in the street; but many tourists do. If you are getting drunk, you shouldn't drink in the street, because you are more likely to get stopped by the police.
Electricity -- The electrical system in Mexico is 110 volts AC (60 cycles), as in the United States and Canada. In reality, however, it may cycle more slowly and overheat your appliances. To compensate, select a medium or low speed on hair dryers. Many older hotels still have electrical outlets for flat two-prong plugs; you'll need an adapter for any plug with an enlarged end on one prong or with three prongs. Adapters are available in most Mexican electronics stores. Many better hotels have three-hole outlets (trifásicos in Spanish). Those that don't may loan adapters, but to be sure, it's always better to carry your own.
Embassies & Consulates -- Citizen services provided by country missions include passports, notaries, lists of doctors and lawyers, regulations concerning marriages in Mexico, emergency preparedness information, and other valuable assistance. Contrary to popular belief, your embassy cannot get you out of jail, provide postal or banking services, or fly you home if you run out of money. Consular officers provide advice on most matters and problems, however. Most countries have an embassy in Mexico City, and many have consular offices or representatives in the provinces.
It is a good idea to register with your embassy or consulate when visiting Mexico. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. STEP allows them to enter information about their upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist them in an emergency, and also allows Americans residing abroad to obtain routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Visit https://travelregistration.state.gov.
The Embassy of Australia in Mexico City is at Rubén Darío 55, Col. Polanco (tel. 55/1101-2200; www.mexico.embassy.gov.au). It's open Monday through Thursday from 9:30am to noon.
The Embassy of Canada in Mexico City is at Schiller 529, in Polanco (tel. 55/5724-7900, or for emergencies 01-800/706-2900; http://mexico.gc.ca); it's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm. The website above also lists consulates and consular agencies in Mexico.
The Embassy of Ireland in Mexico City is at Cda. Bl. Manuel Avila Camacho 76, 3rd floor, Col. Lomas de Chapultepec (tel. 55/5520-5803; www.irishembassy.com.mx). It's open Monday through Thursday from 8:30am to 5pm, and Friday from 8:30am to 1:30pm.
The Embassy of New Zealand in Mexico City is at Jaime Balmes 8, 4th Floor, Col. Los Morales, Polanco (tel. 55/5283-9460; www.nzembassy.com/mexico). It's open Monday through Thursday from 8:30am to 2pm and 3 to 5:30pm, and Friday from 8:30am to 2pm.
The Embassy of the United Kingdom in Mexico City is at Río Lerma 71, Col. Cuauhtémoc (tel. 55/1670-3200; http://ukinmexico.fco.gov.uk/en). It's open Monday through Thursday from 8am to 4pm and Friday from 8am to 1:30pm.
The Embassy of the United States in Mexico City is at Paseo de la Reforma 305, next to the Hotel María Isabel Sheraton at the corner of Río Danubio (tel. 55/5080-2000); hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:30pm. Visit http://mexico.usembassy.gov for information related to U.S. Embassy services. A U.S. consulate is at Calle 60 No. 338 K x 29 y 31, Col. Acala Martin, Mérida (tel. 999/942-5700). In addition, there are consular agencies in Cancún (tel. 998/883-0272) and Cozumel (tel. 987/872-4574).
Emergencies -- In case of emergency, dial tel. 066 from any phone within Mexico. Dial tel. 065 for the Red Cross. The 24-hour Tourist Help Line in Mexico City is tel. 01-800/987-8224 in Mexico, or 55/5089-7500, or simply dial tel. 078. The operators don't always speak English, but they are always willing to help.
Hospitals -- Many hospitals have walk-in clinics for emergency cases that are not life-threatening; you may not get immediate attention, but you won't pay emergency room prices. The quality varies, but is often quite high, especially in resort towns.
Insurance -- For travel to Mexico, you may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later. Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance.
For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Language -- Spanish is the official language in Mexico. English is spoken and understood to some degree in most tourist areas. Mexicans are very accommodating with foreigners who try to speak Spanish, even in broken sentences.
Legal Aid -- Embassies and consulates can often provide a list of respected lawyers in the area who speak English.
Mail -- Postage for a postcard or letter varies by destination; it may take from a few weeks to over a month to arrive. The price for registered letters and packages depends on the weight. The recommended way to send a package or important mail is through FedEx, DHL, UPS, or another reputable international mail service.
Newspapers & Magazines -- The Miami Herald is published in conjunction with El Universal. You can find it at most newsstands. The News is a new English-language daily with Mexico-specific news, published in Mexico City. Newspaper kiosks in larger cities also carry a selection of English-language magazines.
Packing -- In general, Mexico is an easy destination to pack for, as weather is consistent and predictable, and the style is casual and accepting. Check forecasts before you go and bring something for cool nights. For more helpful information on packing for your trip, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.
Police -- Several cities, including Cancún, have a special corps of English-speaking Tourist Police to assist with directions, guidance, and more. In case of emergency, dial tel. 060 or 066 from any phone within Mexico.
Smoking -- In early 2008, the Mexican president signed into law a nationwide smoking ban in workplaces and public buildings, and on public transportation. Under this ground-breaking law, private businesses are permitted to allow public smoking only in enclosed ventilated areas. Hotels may maintain up to 25% of guest rooms for smokers. Violators face stiff fines, and smokers refusing to comply could receive up to 36-hour jail sentences. The law places Mexico -- where a significant percentage of the population smokes -- at the forefront of efforts to curb smoking and improve public health in Latin America. So before you light up, be sure to ask about the application of local laws in Mexican public places and businesses you visit.
Taxes -- Mexico has a value-added tax of 16% (Impuesto de Valor Agregado, or IVA; pronounced Ee-bah) on most everything, including restaurant meals, bus tickets, and souvenirs. (Exceptions are in Cancún, Cozumel, and Los Cabos, where the IVA is 11%; as ports of entry, they receive a break on taxes.) Hotels charge the usual 16% IVA, plus a locally administered bed tax of 3% (in most areas), for a total of 19%. In Cancún, Cozumel, and Los Cabos, hotels charge the 11% IVA plus 3% room tax, for a total of 14%. The prices quoted by hotels and restaurants do not necessarily include IVA. You may find that upper-end properties (three or more stars) often quote prices without IVA included, while lower-priced hotels include IVA. Ask to see a printed price sheet and ask if the tax is included.
Time -- Central Time prevails throughout most of Mexico, including the Yucatán, Tabasco, and Chiapas. The states of Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, Nayarit, Sinaloa, and Sonora fall in the Mountain Time Zone, while Baja California uses Pacific Time. All of Mexico observes daylight saving time.
Tipping -- Most service employees in Mexico count on tips for the majority of their income, and this is especially true for bellboys and waiters. Bellboys should receive the equivalent of 5 to 15 pesos per bag; waiters generally receive 10% to 15%, depending on the level of service. It is not customary to tip taxi drivers, unless they are hired by the hour or provide touring or other special services.
Toilets -- Public toilets are not common in Mexico, but an increasing number are available, especially at fast-food restaurants and Pemex gas stations. These facilities and restaurant and club restrooms commonly have attendants, who expect a small tip (about 5 pesos).
Water -- Tap water in Mexico is generally not potable and it is safest to drink purified bottled water. Some hotels and restaurants purify water, but you should ask rather than assume this is the case. Use ice with caution as it may also come from tap water.