General Info about Mexico

The currency used is the Mexican peso and it is denoted by the symbol N$ which means peso nuevo or new peso. This is the currency which was introduced in the country in 1993. While there are still some old peso notes and coins in circulation, these are becoming increasingly rare. Notes for the new currency are in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 N$ and the coins in use are 1, 2, 5 and 10 N$.

The principal language spoken in Mexico is Spanish and in the more remote areas it can be extremely difficult to find somebody who understands any other language. In regions more accustomed to tourism, however, you will usually be able to find an English speaker.

Mexico has been graced with an unusually temperate climate year-round. The most important thing to remember is that the Mexican summer is also the rainy season, although the rain rarely lasts more than a few hours, and typically arrives in the late afternoon. Extremes are present only in the North and in Baja, both of which have deserts where the temperature leaps above 100F. Mexico City has a year-round temperature in the high 80s, while the coasts usually stay in the mid-90s. Night-time temperatures fall somewhat, but rarely below a comfortable 60F.

Time Zone
The majority of the country observes Central Standard Time which is six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Some areas including the west coast states are on Mountain Standard Time which is another hour behind and others still are on Pacific Time which is two hours behind Central Standard Time. It is also worth noting that the entire country observes daylight saving time which means that the clocks go one hour forward between October and March.

Opening Hours
As a rule most businesses in the larger cities are open from 9.00am until 7.00pm from Monday to Saturday. In smaller towns and villages they tend to close between 2.00pm and 4.00pm. Most businesses still remain closed on Sundays although some of the bigger stores and those in tourist areas are gradually beginning to move towards Sunday trading. Banks are generally open from 9.00am until 5.00pm from Monday to Friday although many are now also open for a half-day on Saturdays. Finally, the main post offices are open between 9.00am and 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 9.00am until midday on Saturdays.

Electricity in Mexico operates on 110V, 60 cycles AC.

There is a value added tax of between ten and fifteen per cent value on goods and services in most of the country. It varies from region to region so you do need to check an area before you travel to clarify what the tax there is. It should always be included in the marked price of a particular item, but again you do need to check to avoid confusion or embarrassment when it comes to payment.

Visa Requirements
Residents of most western countries excluding France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to enter Mexico if they are staying for a period of less than thirty days. You will need a valid passport and a tourist card which you can pick up on the plane or from the airline before you leave your home country. If you do intend staying for a period which exceeds ninety days or have any doubts as to whether or not you may need a visa, you should contact the Mexican consulate in your home country.

Currency Exchange
You really should shop around when looking to exchange money. The best rates are generally found in the official bureaux de change or casa de cambio. If you can’t find any of these use the larger Mexican banks such as Banames or Bancomer. Try to avoid changing cash in your hotel or hostel as the rates are usually extremely poor. Some shops and restaurants will also accept US dollars but again, you should really check the exchange rate beforehand.

All major credit cards are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops but in smaller businesses or the more remote areas you may have difficulty using this facility. You can also use bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks such as Plus or Cirrus in the larger towns and cities where the ATM states that they are acceptable.

The country code for Mexico is 52 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 52, the local area code and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. Area codes for different parts of the country are being changed all the time but you will hear a courtesy recording telling you the correct number if you do not have it already.

Public telephones are usually pretty easy to come by in the larger towns and cities. Most take coins or cards but those that accept coins are becoming increasingly rare. Cards can be purchased in most shops and newsagents as well as in post offices and they come in denominations of $20, $30 or $50. When you travel further afield, however, you will probably have to avail of telephones in shops, hotels, restaurants etc.

To make a call from one city to another you will need to dial 91, followed by the city code and the local number. Most public phones will allow you to make a direct long distance call and to confirm that this is the case, look for the Ladatel symbol. If this facility is not available,however, you can still make a long distance call but you will need to dial through the operator, 02 for calls within the country or 09 for international calls.

Because Mexico is not a particularly rich country, the locals generally expect a tip for their service. You should be aware, however, that ten to fifteen per cent of the bill is sufficient in restaurants, ten per cent for taxi drivers. Another thing that you do need to watch out for are unfamiliar coins in your change. As stated above Mexico did change currency some years ago so keep an eye out for people trying to take advantage of this fact by giving you the old currency instead of the new one because while it is still legal tender, it is worth a great deal less than the new one.

Public Holidays
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Mexico they take place on January 1st, February 5th, March 21st, Good Friday, May 1st and 5th, September 15th and 16th, October 12th, November 1st, 2nd and 20th and December 12th, 24th, 25th and 31st. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.

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