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Oaxaca, Mexico: an Expatriate Life
Stan Gotlieb

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Stan likes to solve puzzles, like the wire rompecabeza (headbuster) he is working on here, but he hates doing the same ones over and over, so check out the FAQ's below before asking your questions.

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San Diego Immigration Attorney - Changes in Immigration Procedure in Mexico Mexico's National Migration Institute published its Manual of Criteria and Migration Procedures. The Manual will be enforced as of 5/1/10 throughout the 32 delegations of the National Migration Institute in Mexico. Courtesy of AILA member Enrique Arellano.

The intention of the National Migration Institute is to clarify, streamline and simplify processing requirements for each immigration category. Applications currently being processed and those filed before May 1, 2010 will be analyzed and processed based on current policies, practices and procedures. Some of the most relevant aspects of the Manual are the following:

Posted On: February 16, 2010 by Jacob Sapochnick


Some folks opt for the "Estrella Roja" bus to Puebla, in order to avoid the cross-town taxi ride. These buses leave every half hour, alternating between the main bus terminal (CAPU), which is on the outskirts of Puebla, and a terminal much closer to the center of town. Which you choose will probably depend on whether or not you want to overnight in Puebla: all the buses for Oaxaca from Puebla leave from the CAPU.

For those of you that choose to go "directly" to Oaxaca: There is a new international arrivals building at Benito Juarez airport. When you exit the customs area and enter the main hall, look around, and you will see signs directing you to "Official" taxis. Tell the ticket seller you want to go to TAPO (pronounced TAH-po). Follow the arrows for the stand.

When you get to the taxi stand, a "starter" will ask you where you are going, and point to the taxi you must take. It should be white and yellow, and have a silouette of an airplane on the fender or door. Don't accept offers from unofficial taxi drivers. The official taxi fares are low, so consider a tip, espcially if you have a lot of luggage.

When you exit the taxi, take the ramp to the interior of the building. Look for the waiting room labeled ADO. ADO are the initials for the bus line that has the most frequent deartures for Oaxaca. Inside the waiting room, you will find a row of ticket booths. Tell the ticket seller you want a ticket to Oaxaca, "por cuota", on the next bus. (buses run pretty much every hour, between about 5 a.m. and midnight, and take about 6 hours; all "cuota" buses are first class).

The more luxurious "GL" bus has its own window, furthest to the left. The super deluxe UNO has its own waiting room with ticket booth, nearby. There is also the "Plus" bus, with tickets available inside the "Cristobal Colon" waiting room, to the right as you exit the ADO space.

Different terminals (there are many) in Mexico City host buses to different destinations: for example, for Taxco you go to the Tasqueño terminal.


Written by: Mexico Insight

Published: Monday, August 24, 2009

In February of this year, Mexican law-makers rushed a bill through Congress that requires mobile phone operators in Mexico to track and store all customer details, calls, voicemails and text messages. The new law also requires people acquiring a new pre pay mobile phone to provide official identification at the point of purchase. The purchase of a "pre pay" mobile phone in Mexico required no proof of identification before this law was passed. Law-makers, citing criminal's use of mobile phones for extortion and other illicit activities, insisted that this law needed to be ratified in short order.

In response to the new legislation, mobile phone operators have been sending text messages to their customers over the last few weeks, asking them to register their phone by visiting a web site, or using a special number to text their name, date of birth, and the state in which they born. These details are matched against the country's existing resident and citizen databases, known as CURP (Clave Unica de Registro de Poblacion), to match the registration of the cell phone number with a specific individual. The procedure takes a few minutes and, if successful, the system returns a text message confirming the registration.

Any cell phones not registered by April 1, 2010 will be automatically de-activated from the network. If you are a foreigner visiting Mexico and don't have a CURP, but currently use a local Mexican mobile phone, you cannot register your existing cell phone online or by text message. Instead, you need to visit your mobile operator's customer service center and present your passport as identification. The attendant will take your personal details and you will also be fingerprinted as part of the procedure. Mexicans and foreign residents are routinely fingerprinted here; for example, finger prints are already on file for all Mexican citizens under the CURP scheme.

Although the exercise will serve to `register' all of Mexico's cell phone numbers to an individual, the assertion that this law and its stipulations will serve to reduce crime, trace criminals, or deter criminals from using mobile phones for illicit purposes is moot. For example, as more than one phone may be registered to single indivudual, a person with criminal intent can register a mobile phone in someone else's name by text message if they know their name, date of birth and the Mexican state they were born in. It's also unclear whether a deceased or missing person's details may be employed to register a cell phone.

Furthermore, international mobile phones work on Mexico's networks as part of global roaming agreements, so cell phones purchased outside of Mexico, in countries where formal registration is not required, as well as phones stolen outside of Mexico, may be used here without the authorities being able to trace its usage to a specific person (or the correct person). Notwithstanding these issues, if your Mexican mobile phone is lost or stolen, it's important that you report this to your phone operator and the local police at once, as any subsequent criminal use of a phone registered in your name may be traced back to your person; this reporting procedure prevents any potential legal proceedings being brought against you.


[The following is exerpted from a longer series of articles posted to Mexico Connect in the spring of 2004.]

Every foreigner is allowed to enter Mexico with a vehicle, which is not Mexican plated (e.g. US or Canadian), as long as you have the following: Mexican Insurance, an FMT, FM2, or FM3, registration/ownership in your name, and a credit card or cash to cover a bond for the vehicle. The Mexican government will charge your credit card for $25, or you have to put up the cash for a percentage of what the car is worth, and the type of car it is.

The government will then provide you with a temporary importation permit, and a sticker for the windshield. Remember to turn this registration and sticker into customs when leaving Mexico with your vehicle. If you enter Mexico by vehicle on a Tourist Visa (FMT), you must drive out the vehicle you came in with. It is illegal to leave the vehicle that you entered Mexico with, here in Mexico, with unless you obtain an FM2 or FM3 while you're here.

Does an individual who entered Mexico on an FMT (tourist visa) and then applied and received an FM3 have to go to the border to re-register the vehicle under the FM3? No. As long as your migratory status (other than an FMT) is current the vehicle remains legal even if the permit is expired. When an individual finishes one five year FM3, then receives a new book renewal, does this person need to return to the border to renew the permit? No, the same rules apply; just keep your migratory status current. These same rules apply to FM2 holders as well. This is all stated in Article 106 of the Customs Law. Can an individual who has been granted Inmigrado status in Mexico drive a foreign plated vehicle? No, he or she must take their foreign plated vehicle out of Mexico.

Another major concern with the foreign community is what papers are necessary to carry in the vehicle. Aduana said to carry only copies of all pertinent papers concerning your migratory status and the vehicle. For example, have a copy of your passport, your migratory status with the current renewal date, the car importation permit, your title, registration, and insurance papers. Never leave originals in the car in case the car is stolen. You will need those originals if the vehicle is ever stolen.

According to Customs, you are not allowed to have more than one foreign plated car registered in Mexico. You may have heard that some people do, but normally Customs does not allow it. Also, it is illegal to sell your foreign plated vehicle in Mexico. The only legal way to do this is to legalize it in Mexico (e.g. get Mexican plates for it), which is extremely difficult if not impossible. If you do sell your vehicle here you will be fined next time you enter Mexico with another vehicle. Also, if the vehicle you've sold here is in an accident two years down the road, and the person you sold it to walks away, you can be held liable for that accident.

Another topic that goes along with what we've been discussing is theft of your vehicle while you're here. If your car is stolen, and reported to the police, and to your insurance company, and even if you have received a return from your insurance company, you may still be fined once you return to Mexico with another vehicle. We recommend you do not mention the stolen vehicle when entering Mexico with a replacement vehicle. If they do notice, you will have to pay the fine if you want to bring the new vehicle in. You can petition the government later for the fine and get your money back, but you will have to put up the money to begin with.

You are now asking why would I have to pay this fine? Well, it's actually quite simple. In the past couple of years the Mexican government has found out that a number of imported vehicles had actually been reported stolen in the States and Canada. People were driving their cars down, and flew back to the States, reported them stolen, claimed insurance, and now use them down here and never bring them north of the border again.

Adriana Perez Flores is an Attorney at Law based in Ajijic, Jalisco,for legal and immigration services throughout Mexico. This information is exerpted from an article first published on Mexico Connect.


A long-term resident friend who raised three marvelous children here, contributes the following information:

There are many schools in Oaxaca now, many more options than when my children were growing up, a growing population in general, and higher expectations, especially from the Mexico City professional influx. I am sure that all of them can be accessed on the internet. The ones I know about and recommend are: Vista del Valle (bilingual and in Xoxocotlán), Lasalle, Instituto San Felipe, and Instituto Carlos Gracida (where my kids studied). All of these go from K through 9th grade, and the Carlos Gracida through 12th. Another good high school is the Blaise Pascal.

There are also Montessori and more “creative” schools for younger children, such as the Teizcalli, but I don´t know that much about them. By the way, all the schools I have mentioned are private. The fees are modest by US standards. I can´t recommend any pulbic schools unless you are intent on a village experience.


Germán Osorio Girón is our attorney. We use him when things get a little too complicated for us. While we don't use anyone for renewing our FM-3, for example, many of our fellow expatriates who are less comfortable dealing with the bureaucracy do, and are glad to do so. I recommend his services highly. To contact him, click


[The following list, posted to the Mexico Connect (www.mexconnect.com) forum on September 11, 1999, was composed by Jennifer Rose, an attorney in Morelia and the Forum moderator. As with all "rules" in Mexico, it is subject to change and the capricious interpretation of whatever official you run into in real life.]

Under the FMT (tourist visa) you may bring in:

FM3 (temporary resident)


I pass along a response from an artist friend of mine:

"There are art stores here--among others, Frieda Khalo--where one can buy canvases, papers, turpentine, brushes, paints, etc. However, they do not sell top brands of paint, such as Winsor&Newton.

"W&N paints, as well as Rembrandt brushes, can be ordered at a small store, Grana y Añil, on Colon. Linen canvases are not available, but linen can be stretched here. How long does the person anticipate staying??

"I would suggest that she bring with her a supply of her preferred brands of oil paint or watercolors and sable brushes if she uses them. There is a Sera art supply store in Mexico City, which carries some but not all W&N colors and perhaps some colors in U.S. brands. Having paints, etc., sent from the U.S. by Fed-Ex is extremely expensive and not to be advised."


Mexican national health insurance is available through Instituto Mexicana del Seguro Sociál (IMSS). You do not have to be a Mexican national to join. In fact, anyone can be a member. There has been some talk about excluding people on tourist visas, but at least in Oaxaca where I live, this has not yet come to pass.

In order to join, you must apply in either January/February or July/August. There is no physical examination, and no application fee. You must go personally to an IMSS office and fill out an application form, which includes a complete health history. Bring three "juventil" size photos with you. The last time I applied, the paper work was processed on the spot, and I paid the cashier immediately. The whole process took half an hour.

Sometimes there may be a few days' delay, depending on how busy they are. There may be a little more running around, for example to get your personal identification and record booklet registered at your clinic, but really the process is pretty simple and pretty transparent.

If you have been accepted, you must pay a one year premium. The 2002 premium was about NP$3,400 for an individual or a couple. The coverage commences immediately. All examinations, lab work, drugs and prostheses are free. However, the clinic to which you are assigned may not be supplied with certain drugs, lab chemicals, etc., and if so you may be required to obtain those drugs or analyses privately or you may be provided with a chit to take to an "authorized" lab or drugstore.

If you do not speak Spanish, it may be very difficult to get appropriate treatment, as the system -- by its nature, not by design -- is difficult to maneuver through. I used to be a member of IMSS, but dropped it in 2002.

Below are some comments by readers.

Jim Hardy:

From what I know about IMSS here in Guadalajara, I'd spend a little more money and get a private insurance policy -- they are still a lot cheaper than what you'd pay for health insurance in the U.S.

My roommate of three to four years worked in IMSS and I have a friend who is a surgical resident so I'm fairly familiar with the system. Why bother with it when private doctors and labs are so cheap? I can make a same day appointment with most any specialist here in Guadalajara for $20 to $25 dollars.

As you mention in your article [see Is There A Doctor In the House? ], the quality of doctors varies, and with IMSS you have no choice of doctors, you have long waits to see your GP, you need his permission to see a specialist or get lab tests done or get drugs, all of which can be got on a walk-in basis without a doctor's order at private facilities. IMSS also tends to run out of a lot of drugs, reagents for lab tests, etc. If you have any kind of an income in dollars from the U.S. you're much better off buying private insurance and paying for routine expenses out-of-pocket.

There are several private insurance companies in Mexico, including Seguros Comercial America, Seguros Tepeyac, Seguros Monterrey Aetna (which Aetna in the U.S. has a part interest in), and the largest, Grupo Nacional Provincial. There are also several others. The quotes I got for a male age 42 all were around $400/year for a policy with coverage in Mexico only (but including emergency coverage if you're travelling outside the country when you get sick). The one exception was Seguros Tepeyac, which cost a little over $200/year. Seguros Monterrey Aetna and Nacional Provincial also sell policies that allow you to go anywhere in the world for treatment, which cost around $1,000/year with a deductible of around $500 per illness (not per year) if I remember right. The deductibles on the Mexico-only policies are much lower.

With most companies, after two years they can't cancel the policy; with Nacional Provincial it's after one year. I think with all the companies you have to be under 65 to take out a policy but once you have it they'll cover you until you're at least 75 or older, depending on the company.

As for whether private care in general is better than IMSS, that's a hard question to answer because there all sorts of doctors in private practice and much variability throughout the country, but the issue is can you find private care that is better than IMSS, and at least here in Guadalajara the answer is definitely yes, and at much lower cost than in the U.S. Because my roommate worked at IMSS, he had coverage there, and during a prolonged illness he had we saw his doctor both at IMSS and in his private practice, and the quality of attention was much better when we saw him privately, and at the time he charged $20 for a consultation (150 pesos) which is a lot if your income's in pesos but very inexpensive if you're income's in dollars; and as I said earlier, you can get into see almost any doctor with a same day or at most next day appointment.

My family doctor here charges 150 pesos and even with minor problems I rarely spend less than half an hour with him; from my experience with IMSS you'd be lucky to get five minutes. Just as an example of the cost compared with the U.S., I consulted a doctor in Wisconsin in the same specialty as my roommate's doctor here in Guadalajara and the clinic's fee was $200 for a fifteen minute appointment (it was a clinic associated with a medical college). To put in a good word for U.S. doctors, when he realized I had come to consult about my friend's case he didn't charge me anything and spent more like half an hour with me, but the normal fee at that clinic was $200 per fifteen minute appointment.

Chris Stewart:

You can now report views of private health-care facilities in Mexico as mixed, too. Case in point: my brother-in-law (a citizen of Mexico) recently had a run-in with one of the ritzier private hospitals in the Polanco-cased neighborhood of Mexico City. He had a skin sample taken at one of Mexico's public hospitals, and rather than wait the probable two weeks for results, we decided to get the results done at a private hospital. So the day after the doctor gave us the skin sample preserved in a baby-food jar of formol, my wife, her sister, and I went downtown to drop off the sample at the private hospital.

I had to stay outside while they went into the hospital to drop off the skin sample and pay for the analysis (blond hair and fair skin often causes prices to go through the roof at some private medical centers). Meanwhile, my wife and her sister leave the sample, get a receipt and go to pay the N$750 bill. Turns out the cashiers want to charge them N$1000 pesos for the service (we believe N$750 for the analysis and N$250 for the cashiers), and they have to protest to bring the bill down to the level shown on the receipt - the cashiers leave for a few minutes to talk to their supervisors and finally return to accept the correct payment.

Once payment is rendered, we are told to return in two days for the results (the tests being run typically take this amount of time to complete - anything extra is bureaucracy). Two days later, we return and are told that we have to we have to wait another day for the results. After two more days, we return and are told that the doctor went on vacation and was not available to do the work, so we had to wait another week. In the end, it took us the same two weeks to get service from the private hospital that it would have taken us to get service from the public hospital, and the price was not cheap, particularly since my wife's family doesn't earn their money in dollars (as some overly-pretentious folks do).

I know its bad to generalize from a single experience, but adding my own several years of experience in Mexico to the mix, I can only conclude the following: private services exist only for people who have the money to pay for them, and in Mexico, private health services are outrageously expensive. Unless of course, you are wealthy enough that you cash your paychecks in dollars.


There you have it: two widely differing opinions each of which almost certainly has some of the truth. As in all things Mexican, you will have to discover your own truth for yourself.


The brief answer is "yes", but that comes with a lot of qualifications. So-called "restricted" drugs, ranging from opiates to amphetamines to tranquilizers, generally require a prescription. My druggist maintains a register, and casts a jaundiced eye on addictive substances. However, tranquilizers, diet pills, and feel-good pills like Prozac, are easily obtainable from doctors with only the briefest examination. This is due to the way many Mexican doctors practice medicine: chemically; not because they are more venal or corrupt than US practitioners.

Also available are drugs that are "prohibited" in the U.S., particularly those that have not (and some that have) been examined by the FDA. Alleged palliatives for AIDS, arthritis, and other fatal and chronic deseases, if approved in other countries, are generally deemed to have been adequately tested, and therefore are available for purchase here. Also available over the counter: antibiotics, blood pressure medicines and superstrong antihistamines (although currently, both Seudafed and Actifed are restricted).

Many US citizens, looking for lower prices and/or impatient with FDA procedures, come to Mexico to buy pharmaceuticals and smuggle them back into the US. A cottage industry has sprung up along the border to service their desires: runners, doctors, druggists. Starting in mid-1998, there have been some arrests of foreigners purchasing large amounts of drugs, although the vast majority of buyers seem to go unchallenged. In early 2002, U.S. customs agents began confiscating drugs bought at specific pharmacies thought to be laundering drug money for bigshots in the Tijuana cartel.

I have chosen not to get involved. I don't answer questions about specific drugs or offer any contact services.


No. There is no IRA-type terrorism in Mexico. Both the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) are publicly committed to recognizing the rights and lives of foreign nationals, a committment they have adhered to until now (January, 2004). The EZLN is currently in a "holding pattern" militarily, while peace talks with the government remain suspended, and is not attacking anyone, period. The
EPR has split into many groups, some of which are active, targeting military and police units only. They rob banks and kidnap -- but very rich Mexicans only.

Mexico (with the possible exception of Mexico City) is much safer than any medium or large US city. As long as you follow the minimum precautions like not wearing a lot of expensive jewelry or flashing money or walking in areas where no-one else seems to want to stroll, you should be fine. Mugging is virtually unheard of in Oaxaca.


It depends. Our first apartment (we left it in 1997), one of the nicer ones in the center of Oaxaca, cost us about $200/mo. US dollars -- but it was in an old building, with an old fashioned bathroom (the shower stuck out of the wall next to the toilet: no stall at all), and we rented by the year. Most of the furnishings (with the exception of the stove, frig, and large pieces of furniture) were ours. We had to buy our own phone. Diana had lived in this building for four years, in much less desirable apartments, before that one opened up.

Later, we moved to a small semi-detached house, in the center of town, with two bedrooms, a private patio and telephone. It took us a year to find it and move in (we got it through friends), and as of August, 2003, it cost us about $400 u.s.d. a month, plus utilities, on a yearly lease. We have since heard that the present tenant (June 2004) is paying about $450.

In September, 2003, we moved into a house with a garden and a place to park a car,just north of the center. It costs us another $100/mo on a yearly lease. Still, compared to what other friends are paying in similar accommodations, $500 a month is not too bad, and while we have to pay our own utilities, the additional cost is minimal.

Friends rent a two-bedroom bungalow in a complex about 20 minutes' walk further out. Their place is modern and the phone is furnished. They pay about $600/mo on a yearly lease. Some folks who only want to be here for a month or less pay from $550/mo. to as much as $1,100/mo. It is possible to drop $3,800 for a month in a colonial hacienda complete with servants and four bedrooms.

Buying is even trickier. The hacienda just went for eight hundred thousand (US). Someone we know is dickering on a one-bedroom box for $17,000. Land (and therefore housing) is cheaper the further out you go. But you may have to drill a well (which is expensive), or get electricity brought in (which in addition to being expensive can drive you nuts).


Probably. The question is, do you want to? While there are a few good jobs available for English teachers, the people who have them tend to hang on. The highest paying positions tend to be in Mexico City (where I wouldn't live on a bet, never mind that 22 million people seem to prefer it). In Oaxaca, there are a few decently-paid openings in the public secondary schools, but the hours are long and the pay is often delayed.

The college-level schools and the private academies pay very poorly for the most part, ranging from the University language school ($2.75/hr in 2002) to the private "American" schools ($6/hr -- but often with only two or three hours a day). Berlitz (see Language Schools, below) also pays comparatively well. In August, 2003, we met a couple who are earning almost $400/mo. each teaching 6 hrs/day at Cambridge - definitely top dollar for Oaxaca.

Most of the yonquis that I know that teach English are either starving or tutoring on the side. Since everyone wants to get tutoring gigs (they pay more), the competition is heavy for the few students that are out there.


Absolutely. There are five major schools, and many others equally good, each with slightly different philosophies and course compositions. They also vary in price and number of hours offered. I list them here without further comment: it is simply too complex to explain all the options. You may contact them directly.

Editor's note: If you have properly configured your browser for return email, simply click on the email address.

  1. Instituto Cultural Oaxaca: inscuoax@spersaoaxaca.com.mx / fax 515-3728;
  2. Amigos del Sol: amisol@oaxacanews.com / fax 514-3484;
  3. Instituto de Comunicación y Cultura: info@iccoax.com / fax 516-3443;
  4. Centro de Idiomas: ilhui@uabjo.cu.uabjo.mx / fax 516-5922;
  5. Sol y Tierra: soltierr@spersaoaxaca.com.mx / fax 515-1225;
  6. Becari Language School: becari@becari.com / fax 514-6076;
  7. Berlitz: berlitz@berlitzoax.com.mx / phone 513-3977.
  8. School of Spanish and Culture: contact@escuelaespanolycultura.com
  9. Oaxaca Spanish Magic: oaxacaspanishmagic@yahoo.com
There are also tutors available at reasonable rates. Check the bulletin board at the English language Circulating Library when you arrive.


The only sure way to local access from anywhere with a phone is to buy a U.S. or Mexican service with a Mexican 800 number. Remember, though, that if you are using a public "larga distancia" booth, there will be some charge per phone call, 800 or not. Compuserve appears at present to have such a service, but rumor has it that they charge for access (I have heard as high as $15/hr). As to national services with lots of local access numbers, AOL is moving in big time, as is ATT; and TELMEX, the national phone monopoly, has an ISP, "Prodigy", for a reasonable monthly rate and a very reasonable pay-in-advance yearly rate, but you MUST have a phone number, for billing purposes. Check with the individual U.S. based services to get rate information, before you leave.

There are individual services with local access numbers in all large cities, but you have to be staying long enough to amortize the up-front subscription and installation charges. Expect local connect rates of from $15 to $50 usd per month for anywhere from 10 to unlimited hours of service. Since the servers are all fairly new, virtually all support 56kb modems.

We did (January 2004) subscribe to TELMEX's "Prodigy" service, with connections almost always at 44kbs and sometimes as high as 50. Monthly rate is 189 pesos; yearly 1,495 pesos. Now we use roadband, available for about 450 p/mo, DSL modem included, but you must sign a 3-year contract. . Cable modems and hookups are now (Feb. '05) available for about the same price. Add 15% for taxes.


For up-to-the-minute accounts of the Mexican political scene, search for "Zapatista", "El Barzon", or "Popular Revolutionary Army" in your favorite search engine. There are also many fine resources available from the
Institute For Global Communication (IGC) , a low cost internet service provider that only allows newsgroup access to its members, but does post (free) headline news regularly. You can also subscribe to the Profmexis group of newsletters, among which are Mexico94 and Chiapas-L . One word of warning: these sites are not for the "sound bite" oriented. They produce a ton of information.

For those who want the real inside story, delivered to your computer twenty times a month, there is also the "Oaxaca / Mexico Newsletter", a sample of which can be seen Here.


The best place to start is with
Trace. Follow the strings from there. Get your up-to-date Peso quotations from Xenon Labs' Currency Converter.

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