Teach English in Mexico: Living in Mexico

Teaching English in Mexico: Living in Mexico

Teaching English in Mexico allows ESL teachers the option of teaching in a new and culturally-rich country, but remain relatively close to home.

Living and Teaching in Mexico
Mexico: At a Glance
Mexico: Living in Mexico
Mexico: Teaching ESL in Mexico
Mexico: Financial Snapshot

Why Teach in Mexico
What to Know About Living in Mexico

Transportation in Mexico
Etiquette in Mexico
Language in Mexico
Eating in Mexico
Climate in Mexico
Holidays in Mexico

Why Teach in Mexico

Many ESL teachers find themselves south of the American border in Mexico. ESL Teachers are often attracted to the idea of working in a new and culturally-rich country, while remaining relatively close to home. Mexico is one of the most visited nations in the world, with many world-class resorts and some of the most beautiful beaches and scenery the world has to offer.

Before Columbus crossed the Atlantic, the Aztecs and Mayans ruled the land which would become Mexico. The influence of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic civilizations can still be witnessed today, from sampling a dish of world-famous Mexican food, to paying a visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichén-Itzá - one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Mexico has become the new home to many Canadians, Americans, and Brits, as they are choosing to retire to warmer climates. It is estimated there are over one million Americans that now call Mexico home. The Mexican economy continues to grow since the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

What to Know About Living in Mexico


There is a wide range of teaching jobs in Mexico and an equally wide range of paycheques and perks offered to English teachers working in the country. Many schools will offer their English teachers accommodations, but some will not. Even if a school does not provide their teachers with housing, they will often assist in the search of an apartment. English teachers working in Mexico will find that rent is generally cheaper than home, but utility bills can often be more expensive. English teachers can expect to pay for electricity, water, and other monthly utility costs. In some areas, finding an apartment can be as simple as taking a look in a local English newspaper; however, in more popular areas, it may be almost impossible. It is possible to find shared accommodations; this is a great way to save some money. The size of a Mexican apartment is usually a lot smaller than that of a Canadian apartment. Furnished apartments may be a good option for English teachers because they eliminate the need to ship items from home.


There are some schools that do offer to cover some or all of their teacher's airfare, but these job offers are rare and it is more likely that new ESL teachers will be paying for their own airfare. One advantage to teaching in Mexico compared to other popular ESL markets is the fact that an airplane ticket to Mexico will be much cheaper than one to Europe or Asia. The Internet is usually the best way to get a good price on an airplane ticket. Another option is to speak to a travel agent specializing in Mexican travel.

Land Travel to Mexico

Mexico is one of the few ESL destinations that English teachers can travel to by land. Driving and riding the bus are travel options for many ESL teachers if time is not an issue. There are more than 40 different commercial border crossings between Mexico and the United States. English teachers entering Mexico must present a valid passport, or a piece of government issued ID (driver’s licence).

It is recommended that all ESL teachers who want to drive in Mexico purchase local auto insurance. It is now mandatory for drivers to have third party automobile liability insurance, and problems will result if there were ever an accident, as Mexican authorities will not view foreign policies as valid auto insurance. Although the laws are a little more lax than in the past, being in a car accident while in Mexico is technically an illegal act. There have been people jailed and criminally charged after being in an accident. Having Mexican auto insurance will decrease the likelihood of legal consequences occurring after an accident.

Health Benefits

Mexico does not have any agreements with other nations exchanging health benefits for their citizens. Unless they are teaching for a public institution, ESL teachers are not entitled to use the Mexican public health system. Therefore it is highly recommended to purchase private health insurance before leaving home.

Alternatively, Mexico has a plethora of insurance companies that, for a monthly premium, will also provide you with private health coverage. In addition, Mexico's Banks offer health insurance products as part of their service portfolios, although you should check the small print for any limitations.

Some ESL teachers decide to pay out-of-pocket for any medical expenses. This is an option, as many minor medical issues can be solved for a relatively small amount of money, but it is far better to have insurance. There have been some ESL teachers who have assumed that the medical coverage they already own will protect them during their time in Mexico, only to find out that their policy is not valid. Half of all Mexicans also live with no health insurance, causing the death rates from prolonged exposure to poor air quality to rise, particularly in urban areas. Mexico City is well known for its difficulties with pollution; therefore any ESL teachers considering Mexico would do well to ensure full health insurance coverage.

Retirement Age

There is no mandatory retirement age for Mexican workers, but the typical age that people start to receive their pensions is 65. Early retirement can be taken at the age of 60. While being a member of the workforce, Mexican workers put a portion of their paycheques in the pension system. ESL teachers are not expected to contribute to the Mexico pension plan, unless they are teaching for a public institution.

Technology and Advancement

The nation of Mexico is not noticed by many technology enthusiasts. ESL teachers working in most urban areas of Mexico will have access to many of the modern technologies they have at home, such as DSL Internet, digital television, cell phone service, DVD rentals, and other services. It should be noted that access to these services is sometimes fairly expensive and can be draining on a teacher’s bank account. Internet can be accessed at home by subscribing to an online service provider. Urban areas usually have Internet cafés which allow ESL teachers the ability to go online at any time.

Mexico is home to the world's largest single-dish steerable millimetre-wavelength telescope, the Gran Telescopio Milimétrico (Large Millimetre Telescope). The telescope sits atop an inactive volcano, one of Mexico’s highest peaks, picking up data that other devices are not able to gain. This could a great place to visit while teaching in Mexico and could potentially be an interesting place to bring students.

Transportation in Mexico

The goal of the Mexican transportation system is to provide citizens with reliable and convenient transportation for a very affordable price. The primary way to get around Mexico is on buses, which are known for being very large; sometimes the size of a subway train.

Teachers driving in Mexico will likely be impressed with the 116,000 km of paved roadways and the relatively easy process of getting a Mexican driver's licence. Canadian and American vehicle insurance is not valid in Mexico, so drivers will need to purchase Mexican insurance at the border.

Mexican commuters may also use trains both above ground and underground to get around.

Public Transportation

  • Taxi

    Riding in a taxi is one of the easiest ways to get around in a Mexican city. The final cost of riding a taxi is determined by the distance travelled and baggage handled; the tip is included in the total. Public taxi cars are regulated: white with a red stripe or gold and red. They must have four doors, and usually the front seat of the car is removed. They can be found at a taxi rank. These cabs charge a flat fee when a customer gets into a car and then charge per kilometer.

    English teachers should be aware of private taxis posing as public cabs. A common sign of an illegal taxi is a brown-coloured license, as this is the type of plate a private vehicle would have. It is recommended that English teachers try to avoid these cars due to the fact that they are unregulated and the drivers are unlikely to speak any form of English.

    If money is not a concern, the best way to travel around is by hiring a luxury private taxi. One of the most expensive rides in Mexico, a licensed private taxi driver can usually be found around luxury hotels.

  • Train

    In 1848, Mexico was the first Latin American nation to develop its own railway system with the creation of a rail line joining Veracruz to Mexico City. The Mexican railway system can take English teachers to various cities across Mexico for an affordable price. In addition to carrying passengers, most rail traffic is generated by the carrying of goods across the Mexican landscape and abroad. A large portion of the Mexican railroad is owned and operated by Kansas City Southern de México (KCSM). Rates vary depending on the length of a commute; in-city train rides typically cost around $10 MXN.

  • Subway

    The Ferrocarril Suburbano de la Zona Metropolitana de México (Suburban Railway of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area), Mexico's first subway, was opened for business on June 1, 2008. English teachers can ride the subway system for fares starting at $5 MXN. English teachers should be aware that metro cars in Mexico City are often crowded with commuters. The system is one of the busiest metros in the world, with almost one and a half billion commuters a year.

  • Bus

    The bus is an excellent way to get around a Mexican city or to travel long distances. There are many long distance bus companies that are able to offer rides to customers. English teachers travelling to a Mexican city have the option of purchasing a ticket on a bus that does not make stops along the route for a higher price tag. A luxury ticket will ensure that it takes less time to get to a destination; a great option for English teachers in a rush. ESL teachers can expect to pay from $1 MXN per kilometre for long distance bus trips, with prices increasing about 20% for 1st class seats and deluxe buses costing an additional 20% above 1st class.

    While in the city, there are a lot of options for buses to get around in. Some people have converted vans and school buses which they use to give people rides around town. These buses are usually very inexpensive but do not have a set schedule. It is often hard to find a bus when living outside a popular area of the city. Teachers can also get rides on luxury buses which offer comforts like air conditioning, limited stops, and comfortable seating. Tracking down a bus is achieved by walking on the street and sticking an arm out as a bus approaches. Luxury buses will often not stop with this method. It is best to call the bus company ahead of time if looking for a luxury ticket.

Other Modes of Transportation

  • Bicycle

    With the heavy traffic, riding a bike in a large Mexican city will require strict attention, but it is an excellent mode of transportation and is good for the environment. This is an important factor if living in Mexico City because it is a member of the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, and is committed to the decrease of carbon emissions.

  • Motor Vehicles

    While some may find driving in a Mexican city to be an exciting task, Mexican drivers are known for being aggressive and city streets are usually lined with traffic. A solution to the high amount of traffic in Mexico City was to make a law that a vehicle owner can only drive their vehicle on certain days of the week.

    When crossing the American border into Mexico, visitors are required to purchase a Mexico Vehicle Permit. In order to get this permit, a teacher will need to present the vehicle's ownership and registration. If the vehicle does not belong to the driver, they will need to present a letter stating that the owner offers permission of the vehicle's usage, and offer a valid passport. Canadian and American driver's licences are valid in Mexico.

Etiquette in Mexico

Understanding a nation's etiquette is a very important element in achieving career success and the ability to make new friends.

General Etiquette

  • Mexicans usually greet one another with a handshake or a pat on the back.
  • Women should do their best to not be insulted if a Mexican man makes an inappropriate comment to her. Mexican men are sometimes known for having too much machismo.
  • Do not use someone's first name until you have been asked to do so.
  • Gift-giving plays a large role in Mexican culture.

Business Etiquette

  • Mexicans are known for talking about personal lives during business meetings; be prepared to talk about family and background.
  • Business people in Mexico are not known for staring at the clock. For the most part, time and deadlines are simply guidelines.
  • It may be okay for others to be late for an appointment, but those new to Mexico should not be late.
  • While conducting business, dress professionally and conservatively.
  • It will often take multiple meetings before an important business deal is struck. Many Mexicans will discourage the use of the phone or email in the communication process and will prefer meeting in person.
  • Business cards are important in Mexico and are usually handed out in the early stages of a business conversation. It is recommended to feature both Spanish and English on business cards and ensure the Spanish text is facing the recipient.

Mexican Eating Etiquette

  • When dining with a small group, it is up to the host to do the introductions. It is acceptable to offer introductions if there is a large group getting together.
  • It is considered polite to leave some food on a plate after completing a meal.
  • Try to keep hands visible to others at all times during a meal. It is rude to place hands underneath a table.

Language in Mexico

Below are some commonly used Spanish words and phrases that will be useful during an ESL teacher's first days in Mexico:

  • Hello
  • Thank you
  • How much?
  • English
  • Where's the bathroom?
    ¿Dónde está el baño?
  • Please write it down
    ¿Puede escribirlo, por favor?
  • Excuse me
  • Good morning
    Buenos días
  • My name is _____
    Me llamo _____
  • How do you say _____ in Spanish?
    ¿Cómo se dice _____ en español? 

Eating in Mexico

Many would be surprised to find out what common household ingredients stored in their pantries originate from Pre-Columbian Mexico. Food staples such as chocolate, maize, vanilla, and peanuts were in the diets of the ancient Mexican peoples. It is fair to say that Mexico has left a fingerprint on the cuisine of most nations around the globe. Today's Mexican food is a hybrid between European Spanish cuisine and the food of the Mayan, Aztec, and various other indigenous peoples.

There are many different dishes for English teachers to sample. Cuisine in the northern regions of Mexico often consists of more meat-based dishes featuring beef and goat. Dishes from the central region of the country have a combination of flavours from both the north and south. The southern regions of Mexico often incorporate a lot of chicken with spicy vegetables into their meals. Not to be forgotten, cities along the coast usually offer healthy helpings of seafood. In recent years, Mexican cuisine has become a favourite of the international culinary arts scene and is highly regarded by some of the world's top chefs.

Some of Mexico's more popular dishes include:

  • Tortilla - The staple of Mexican food is the tortilla. This corn-based flat bread predates European explorers and has been enjoyed throughout modern Latin America. Tortillas can be made from corn or flour. Modern times have meant that tortillas are mostly produced in factories and shipped to grocery stores in Mexico and abroad. Adventurous teachers can find locals who still prefer to sell their tortillas made in the traditional fashion.
  • Guacamole - One of Mexico's staple appetizers, guacamole is a dip made of avocado used for corn chips and tortillas that has its origin traced back to the days of the Aztecs.
  • Salsa - Salsa is served in red or green varieties and can be found on any Mexican restaurant's menu, as well as on the shelf of any supermarket around the world. The word "salsa" litreally translates to the word "sauce". It comes in many varieties but always features tomatoes and various vegetables, herbs, and spices. The wide array of ingredients allows for salsa to be both mild and hot.

Climate in Mexico

Mexico is not only a popular destination for English teachers, it is also one of the world’s most popular tourism hot spots. Part of the reason why so many people travel to Mexico is to experience the nation’s weather. The climate in Mexico is fairly diverse; winters in the North feature cooler temperatures, whereas the South is known for having tropical weather with little seasonal change. Many tourists make their way to southern Mexico from October to May; these months are usually the less humid times of the year.

Natural Disasters in Mexico

The overall risk of natural disasters in Mexico is similar to many regions of the North America. Mexico has experienced hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. The 1985 Mexico City earthquake was arguably one of the worst quakes in North American history; it could even be felt by residents of Los Angeles. Building technology improved greatly in post-quake Mexico: buildings and structures have since been constructed to better outlast a major earthquake. Cities now also have disaster plans in case of another major quake.


Mexico City is surrounded by mountains on three sides of the city. These mountains treat citizens of the city to a nice view, but they also help make Mexico City one of the most polluted cities in the world. Much of the pollution generated by the over 21 million inhabitants in the sprawling city gets trapped by the surrounding mountains. There have been multiple environmental programs created to curb the issue since the ‘80s, but pollution is still a concern for many living in Mexico. English teachers should therefore be cautious of the effects of air pollution, especially in summer months. However, air pollution will be less of an issue for those living in smaller towns or rural areas.

Holidays in Mexico

Mexicans are known as fun-loving people and this is displayed during Mexican holidays. Most holidays in Mexico result in celebrations which include tasty feasts and spending time with family and loved ones. Mexico offers a wide variety of holidays for English teachers, both religious events and celebrations of important moments in Mexican history.

National Holidays in Mexico

  • January 1st - New Year's Day (Año nuevo) is a holiday that celebrates the first day of the calendar year.
  • January 6th - Day of the Holy Kings (Dia de los Santos Reyes) is a Christian holiday celebrating the arrival of the Three Wise Men.
  • February 5th - Constitution Day (Dia de la Constitucion) celebrates the anniversary of the Mexican constitution in 1917.
  • February 24th - Flag Day (Día de la Bandera) is a day of pride for Mexicans, not only for their flag but for their national identity.
  • March 21st - Benito Juárez's birthday (Natalicio de Benito Juárez) marks the birthday of Mexican President Benito Juárez, who was born on this day in 1806.
  • April 30th - Children's Day (Día del Niño) is, like many nations around the world, a holiday that serves as a day to pay tribute to the children of the country. Some also view this holiday as a religious event.
  • May 1st - Labour Day (Día del Trabajo) is a day set aside to recognize the accomplishments of Mexican workers.
  • May 5th - Cinco de Mayo (Batalla de Puebla) commemorates the 1862 Mexican forces defeat of the French in a legendary battle in Puebla. The anniversary of this victory is celebrated nation-wide, but is only an official holiday in the state of Puebla.
  • May 15th - Teacher's Day (Día del Maestro) is when students across Mexico pay tribute to the nation's teachers through gifts, cards, and by giving thanks.
  • May 23rd - Student's Day (Día del estudiante) pays tribute to the nation's students.
  • September 13th - Boy Heroes Day (Día de los Niños Heroes) marks the anniversary of an important battle in the War of Mexico that was fought against the United States. The holiday is entitled Boy Heroes as a tribute to the six teenage cadets who lost their lives during the battle.
  • September 15th - Cry of Dolores (Grito de Dolores) is a day marked to pay tribute to Mexican independence. The holiday celebrates the night prior to Mexicans declaring a war for independence against the Spanish in 1810.
  • September 16th - Independence Day (Día de la Independencia) celebrates the anniversary of the first day of the Mexican War of Independence against the Spanish in 1810.
  • Second Monday in October - Columbus Day (Día de la Raza): There is arguably no other day as influential on Mexican history as the day Columbus discovered America in 1492. The Mexican people take this day to remember an important day in the nation's history.
  • November 1st - All Saints' Day (Dia de todos los Santos) is a time when Mexicans traditionally honour loved ones who have passed away with candles, food, and other offerings.
  • Third Monday of November - Revolution Day (Día de la Revolución) marks the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution in 1910.
  • December 1st - Change of Federal Government (Transmisión del Poder Ejecutivo Federal): every six years a new President of Mexico is sworn in on this holiday.
  • December 12th - Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe) is a religious holiday which celebrates the day Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican Virgin Mary) appeared on Tepeyac hill.
  • December 12th to December 24th - The Inns (Las Posadas): Some Mexicans prepare for Christmas by celebrating Las Posadas, a biblical holiday that recalls the search that Joseph and Mary made for shelter in the story of the Nativity.
  • December 24th - Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) is a night of celebration. Family and friends gather and sample foods such as tamales and break piñatas.
  • December 25th - Christmas (Navidad)
  • December 28th - Day of the Innocents (Dia de los Santos Inocentes) is much like the holiday of April Fools Day. Mexicans play jokes and pranks on one another.



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