"Oaxaca, Mexico: An

Expatriate Life"

Writing by Stan Gotlieb

Photos by Diana Ricci

 

Frequently asked Questions

 

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.


Table of Contents (revised November 2011)


WHAT ABOUT HOUSEHOLD INSURANCE?

[This article and the one on car insurance, the Migración changes, and others appropriated from time to time, relies on information first published on Oaxaca Streets. Oscar Padilla Ins, Inc provided the following information to them. Remember that the details may change from time to time, and check with whatever carrier you decide upon to make sure your information is current.]

Mexico Homeowner's Insurance:

Just like in the U.S, if you own a home or a condo in Mexico it is wise to obtain insurance.Homeowners insurance in Mexico is virtually the same as homeowners insurance in the states. A basic policy will afford you financial protection in case of damage to your home and belongings and liability coverage in case someone is injured on your property or if you cause damages to someone else's property. It's important to make sure the policy provides you adequate coverage, particularly in cases of natural disaster, such as hurricane and earthquake. Many "attractive", low cost homeowner insurance policies in Mexico do not.

Our homeowners policies are underwritten by Seguros Atlas who automatically include Earthquake and Hurricane coverage in every policy we sell (unless a weather-related moratorium is imposed – more on this later.*)

Policy highlights:

(The following policy highlights apply to our Seguros Atlas policy. It's important you check with your agent for a profile of your policy's highlights.) Hurricane Coverage Earthquake Insurance Fire and Extended Coverage Fire and Extended Coverage for Contents Theft and/or Breaking & Entering Volcanic Eruption, Lightning, and Explosion Smoke Damage and Soot Damage Natural Flood and Water Damage Caused By Pipelines Accidental Glass Breakage Civil Liability Electronic Equipment and Appliances Debris Removal Extraordinary Expenses Legal Assistance Rental Liability

* Some coverages on new business are subject to underwriting moratorium at the discretion of the program's Mexico insurance carrier, Seguros Atlas, S.A.. Advisories to this effect will be posted on the policy enrollment page in advance of acquiring coverage. More clearly stated, from time to time, for example, the "Hurricane" clause is suspended on new business if a weather forecast is cause for concern. Not to be confused, for example, with existing policies that carry Hurricane coverage. The moratorium does not suspend those policy's Hurricane insurance coverage.

Deductible:

For every claim due to physical damage caused by the covered risks, the Insured will always be liable for certain amount as deductible. Our Seguros Atlas policy carries a deductible equal to 1% of the covered risks. There is no deductible for fire, lightning, or explosion.

Insurance can be a maze of information, often times overwhelming. I hope this has been helpful.


ARE ART SUPPLIES READILY AVAILABLE IN OAXACA?

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."

THE IMMIGRATION RULES AND REGULATIONS HAVE CHANGED

The National Immigration Institute (INM) has issued new laws covering requirements for various types of immigration status. As of this writing (September, 2014), it has become simpler and more difficult to become a temporary or permanent resident. For instance, you can't switch from a tourist visa to a temporary residence visa while in Mexico. You must apply for temporary residency at a consulate *in your home country*; and while the forms are much clearer and the INM offices are much more helpful, the minimum amount of income you must have has increased significantly.

Applying for permanent residency follows pretty much the same guidelines as does temporary residency. Check with your nearest Mexican consular office for details.

WHAT ABOUT REGISTERING MY VEHICLE IN MEXICO?

[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, a valid Mexican visa, 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, depending on the type of vehicle 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 in to customs when leaving Mexico with your vehicle. If you enter Mexico by vehicle on a Tourist Visa (FMT), you must drive out in the vehicle you came in with. It is illegal to leave your vehicle here in Mexico after your tourist visa expires.  If the vehicle is undrivable, it is possible to give it up and obtain papers from Hacienda (the Mexican equivalent of the Treasury department).

Anyone can drive your car as long as you are in it. If you let a Mexican citizen drive it by themselves, your vehicle is subject to possible confiscation.

Another major concern with the foreign community is what papers are necessary to carry in the vehicle. Aduana (customs) 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, in which case you will need the originals to get the vehicle removed from your name.

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 officially "import" it into Mexico (e.g. get Mexican plates for it), which is complex. If you do sell your vehicle here illegally, you will not be allowed to enter Mexico with another vehicle.  The data on importations is fully computerized and will be checked before you are issued a new sticker.  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. Do not be fooled by "I have a cousin in the DMV, and he can handle it". If the cousin can't get the Hacienda to remove your name from the permit, nothing has changed.

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 refused once you return to Mexico with another vehicle. If this happens, you can't have too much paperwork, so be sure to get something from Hacienda testifying to the theft BEFORE you leave.

A number of imported vehicles have been fraudulently 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.  If you do this and are caught, you could be reported under agreements between the U.S. and Mexican governments, and prosecuted for fraud in the U.S.

 

WHAT ABOUT AUTO INSURANCE?

Reprinted from "Mexican Auto Insurance-Know Before You Go" by P.J. Padilla, Owner-Oscar Padilla Ins, Inc.

Although it accounts for how I support my family and, dating back to 1951, how my father supported us, I'm also the first to admit that a blog about insurance might be as riveting as paint drying! That said, though, the importance of insurance can't be overlooked, particularly when in a foreign country, which is where this begins………

* Why is Mexican insurance necessary? Mexico has traffic laws very similar to the United States. The application of their laws is what accounts for the differences, and the reasons for needing Mexican insurance. The law in Mexico is based on the Napoleonic Code where guilt prevails over the assumption of innocence. In the U.S., the law is based on the English Common Law where innocence prevails over the assumption of guilt. Mexico does not have compulsory automobile insurance. The basic difference between Mexico's and United States financial responsibility law is that anyone involved in an accident in Mexico must have the means to respond to damages or injuries for which they may be responsible....which in Mexico would be in the form of either cash or a Mexican insurance policy.

* Can my U.S. insurance help me? Before leaving home, you should inquire if your U.S. insurance policy will cover damage suffered by your vehicle in Mexico. If so, ask if the policy has restrictions or limitations in this regard, such as miles from the border, or number of days in Mexico. Once you've familiarized yourself with your own auto policy and the extent of it's coverage in Mexico, you can then proceed to make a more qualified decision towards your Mexican insurance needs. IMPORTANT NOTE: Whether or not U.S. insurance policy extends coverage into Mexico, you should always, at least, buy LIABILITY insurance. The Liability coverage on your U.S., or any other non-Mexican insurance policy, is not recognized by authorities in Mexico. Only a Mexican automobile liability policy is acceptable evidence of financial responsibility.

* What does Mexican insurance cost? It varies slightly throughout the industry. First rule of thumb, which represents a significant savings, is get a 6 Month or One Year policy if you spend more than three weeks a year in Mexico. Second rule of thumb is don't jump at the lowest priced one….a lesson we learned all too well ten years ago when we agreed to market a Mexican insurance company's Auto program that offered very competitive rates. A year later the CEO of the Mexican insurance company was missing, along with premiums we had been remitting to the company. There are fine companies in Mexico with many years of credibility. We, as an example, continue to be proudly associated with two companies for several years, Seguros Atlas and Qualitas Seguros, who represent a combined 86 years in business.

*Will I go to jail if I have an accident? If serious injury has not occurred, a Mexican insurance policy might help reduce red tape and allow the motorist to be on his way sooner rather than later, but the policy should not be construed as your "ticket out of jail". Some visitors to Mexico are unable to understand why motorists are temporarily incarcerated in Mexico following an automobile accident where injuries or deaths occurred. In the first place, serious injuries or deaths have been committed against innocent persons due to someone's negligence. It is up to Mexican authorities to determine who is the negligent person. While that investigation is in motion, all drivers involved in the accident must be detained. Any person involved in the commission of a crime (and, as previously stated, an automobile accident in Mexico is considered, in principle, to be a penal offense) must be detained in a secure place to prevent their escape. The only secure place is the police station and, therefore, the motorist finds himself detained awaiting the investigation of his involvement. A visitor, if allowed to remain free, may likely flee for the border.

* This `n that….... The policy only covers foreign-plated vehicles. It does not cover a vehicle with a Mexico license plate. The policy is null and void if driver responsible for the accident was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Policy is null and void if driver does not have a valid drivers license. A towed vehicle must be described on the policy, otherwise it voids all coverage in case of an accident. Should a claim be presented, the insured must declare the existence of any other insurance with another company covering the same risk. All claims must be reported in Mexico before insured returns to U.S. Failing to do so subjects the claim to a denial by the Mexican insurance company.

[note: Padilla, of good repute, is one of many companies supplying Mexican travel insurance for foreign-plated vehicles. Another is Lewis and Lewis.

Purchase you insurance in the U.S. before you enter Mexico. Insurance, once you have entered the country, is a good deal more expensive.]

WHAT ABOUT SCHOOLS FOR MY KIDS?

A long-term resident friend who raised four 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.

HOW DO I GET FROM THE MEXICO CITY AIRPORT TO OAXACA BY BUS?

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. There are only a few Puebla / Oaxaca buses, so plan your trip by consulting the bus schedules on www.ticketbus.com.mx

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" taxi kiosks where you buy your ticket.. 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. 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 been bought by ADO, and relabeled "Platino". Platino tickets are sold at the GL window. 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. For more information on this, click here

If you are looking for transportation from Mexico City proper, and prefer to take a van, consider the Wyak van

A LAWYER IN OAXACA?

Germán Osorio Girón is our attorney. He is not a Notorio Publico (Mexico's highest level of attorney), but he knows which are good, and will refer you to one if one is needed (for example, you can't buy or sell land without one). We use him when things get a little too complicated for us. For example, he helped us buy (and then later sell) a used car. While I don't use anyone for dealing with Migracion, many of our fellow expatriates who are less comfortable dealing with the bureaucracy do, and are glad they did. To contact him, click HERE

A TRANSLATOR

At this moment, there is no "official translator" in Oaxaca.  However, there are people who do translations for a living, including German Osorio, and the secretary at the office of the U.S. special consul.  Depending on the document, and the purpose it serves, you may have to get the translation notarized by a Notario Publico. The consulate no longer issues a statement saying you are "known to be competent" to translate your own documents. Some years, the INM will not accept your un-notarized translations, and some years they will. The INM can't seem to make up its mind, so ask before you commit to an expensive official translation, you may not need one .

There are many private translators, including Kurt Hackbarth.

A COMPUTER PERSON

Jesus "Chucho" Morales Gutierrez has been servicing our computers - and mastering our web pages - for years. He's a friend and, often, a savior. Email him by clicking HERE.

WHAT CAN I BRING WITH ME?

[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:

·         Articles for your personal use, such as clothing, footwear, grooming and toiletry articles in reasonable amounts.

·         Photographic, movie or video camera including its power source, and 12 rolls of film.

·         Sports equipment for one person, provided it can be carried by one person.

·         Up to 20 books and/or magazines.

·         Valises, suitcases etc. to carry the goods.

·         If of legal age, 20 packs of cigarettes, 20 cigars or 200 grams of tobacco, 3 liters of alcoholic beverage.

·         Various objects worth up to $300 USD.

·         One set of binoculars.

·         A T.V., screen size up to 12".

·         One portable radio apparatus for recording or playing, or both.

·         Up to 20 Laser disks, Compact disks or cassette tapes.

·         A typewriter or laptop/portable/notebook computer and power source.

·         A musical instrument that is easily portable.

·         One tent and camping equipment.

·         A maximum of 5 childrens' toys.

·         One set of fishing tackle, one pair of skis, 2 tennis racquets.

·         A water glider, with or without sail.

·         A video recorder/playback machine.

Additionally, you may possess $300 USD in one or various articles, if by air, and $50 USD if by land.

The general rule for importation of articles by temporary or permanent residents is "one of everything", brought in within so many days of receiving your visa. These articles do not have to be in your possession: some folks ship their goods to one of the gulf ports, and either pick it up or arrange to have it shipped to them.

For more specific information, contact the nearest Mexican Consulate.

IS MEXICAN NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE A GOOD DEAL?

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 with a temporary or permanent visa is eligible. People over 70 are excluded, as they are from most private insurance schemes.

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 2008 premium was about NP$13,000 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 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 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.

[ Stan: 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. ]


IS IT TRUE THAT PRESCRIPTION DRUGS ARE EASILY OBTAINED IN MEXICO?

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, prescription drugs such as tranquilizers, diet pills, and feel-good pills like Prozac, are easily obtainable from doctors with only the briefest examination; and many anti-depressives are dispensed over the counter.. 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: blood pressure medicines, anti-inflamatories, and some antihistamines (although currently, both Seudafed and Actifed are restricted due to a clampdown on the "speed" industry).

In the summer of 2010, a law was passed prohibiting over-the-counter dispensing of anti-biotics without a doctor's prescription.

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.


HAVE GUERRILLAS MADE MEXICO LESS SAFE FOR TOURISTS?

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 (September, 2014). 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 - particularly of tourists - is rare in Oaxaca.


WHAT DOES HOUSING COST?

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, fridge, 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 (March 2010) is paying about $700.

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 were paying in similar accommodations, $500 a month was not too bad, and while we had to pay our own utilities, the additional cost was minimal.

In June, 2006, we moved into our present dwelling. In the center of town, our "lower duplex" 3-bedroom apartment rents unfurnished (there was a hot water heater, bathroom fixtures, and a kitchen sink/counter) for about $400 a month. It is, by everyone's testimony, a bargain. We ended up putting a bit of money into the place to have it to our liking (screens, electric outlets, etc.), but we think it was worth it. Our complex includes a pleasant mix of apartments and semi-detached houses rented by a combination of Oaxacans and foreigners.

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 on a colonial hacienda complete with servants and four bedrooms.

For the more frugal visitor, there are some unfurnished and semi-furnished studio and one-bedroom apartments available in the $300 to $350 range.

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).


CAN I GET A JOB TEACHING ENGLISH?

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 were 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.


ARE THERE GOOD SPANISH LANGUAGE SCHOOLS IN OAXACA?

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 email, simply click on the email address.

1.     Instituto Cultural Oaxaca: info@icomexico.com / fax 515-3728;

2.     Amigos del Sol: institutoamigosdelsol@gmail.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.     Vinigulaza: info@vinigulaza.com / fax 515-1225;

6.     Becari Language School: becari@becari.com / fax 514-6076;

7.     Berlitz: berlitz@berlitzoax.com.mx / phone 513-3977.

8.     Oaxaca International: oaxaca@oaxacainternational.com

9.     Oaxaca Spanish Magic: http://oaxacaspanishmagic.com/contact_us.html

9.     Solexico: oaxaca@solexico.com

There are also tutors available at reasonable rates. Check the bulletin board at the English language Circulating Library when you arrive.


WHAT ABOUT INTERNET CONNECTIONS?

There is a cybercafé on just about every block in the center, and rates are incredibly low (from 8 pesos an hour). Some come equipped with webcams and headsets, and many have wireless connections.

High-speed DSL (available from phone monopoly TELMEX and CableMas) is available, for about $30/mo. "Infinitum", the phone company's service, appears as an item on your bill if you have a phone. "Cablemas", the cable monopoly, will gladly sign you up for a month-to-month contract, but you will have to go to a bank or their offices every month to pay your bill: they are very quick to shut off service.

The Oaxaca Lending Library offers wireless on the premises to their members. Guests pay 10 pesos per hour.


WHAT'S HAPPENING POLITICALLY?

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.

I rely a lot on Narco News, and read Noticias (Oaxaca, daily) and La Jornada (National, daily).

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


WHAT ABOUT INTERNAL AIRLINES?

In May, 2008, the online publication SF Gate published a list of "no-frills" domestic Mexican airlines.  While neither complete nor completely accurate, it is a good place to start looking.  Remember that many of these carriers serve very limited markets, and some may not even exist anymore, while others not on the list may have sprung up since then. To view the list, just click HERE


THE NEW LAW ABOUT REGISTERING YOUR CELL PHONE

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, and all foreign residents are fingerprinted as part of their visa application procedure..

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 distributor 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.

Update: 

A reader responds:

"I bought my first and only cell phone here in Oaxaca in Feb of 2009. I used it
in my research of apartment rental options here in Oaxaca and then, having had
the phone 'unlocked', in Quetzaltenango,in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

When I arrived back here in Oaxaca just now, I reinstalled the Telcel sim card,
but when I turned it on, I got a message that said something like 'Registration
Failed'. Having read your FAQ regarding the new registration requirement, I
assumed that that was what was my problem. So, I stopped by a cell phone shop
but they apparently couldn't do it there. They pulled out a big map of Oaxaca,
and directed me to one of two places that I would be able to register the phone.
One was at Plaza del Valle, and the other was on Caldaza Porfirio Diaz. They
were busy, and they didn't speak any english, and my spanish skills are pretty
rudimentary, so I just jotted down those general location names, then went
to the internet to better zero in on just where these places were.

Here's the link to the Telcel webpage with the full address of the Telcel
customer service center on Porfirio Diaz:

Calzada Porfirio Díaz No. 241, Col. Reforma, C.P. 68050, Oaxaca, Oax.
http://www.telcel.com/portal/contactanos/cacs/begin.do?mid=7100 "

As it turned out, part of my problem was that since my Telcel sim card had had
no unused pre-paid time on it for a couple of years, that card had been
deactivated, and the phone number associated with it had been reassigned. So, I
bought a new sim card, (140 MP), and got a new phone number. The customer
service clerk did make a photocopy of my passport in the process, but they
didn't do any fingerprinting.

Apparently, the whole insanity about registering cell phones under the excuse that it will prevent organized criminals from using them is now clearly debunked. It is not clear to me why the passport was copied. As personal testimony, I offer in evidence my own recent cellphone purchase, in which - while my name was asked - no identification was required, either written or physical.

[Stan: as far as I can tell, the whole issue has been thrown into the bit bucket...]


VOLUNTEERING

A recent visitor wrote an interesting article in which he named several progressive ngo's operating in the area. It's a good start. Remember, that most such organizations require a few-month commitment, and reasonable fluency in Spanish. To read the article, click here.

COOKING TERMS:

I stole a list of English translations for cooking terms and food names from the "Oaxaca Streets and Shops" Yahoo user group, added a few items of my own, and made it available to you. To see it, just click here.

HOW DO I KEEP UP WITH THE PESO, AND OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS?

Get your up-to-date Peso quotations from Xenon Labs' Currency Converter.

 

[Read a selection of "Letters From Oaxaca, Mexico"]

[Read a sample "Oaxaca / Mexico Newsletter"]