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Visiting Mexico for business can be confusing and challenging. Though Mexico is just across the US southern border, US culture and business norms are far from the way Latin Americans do things. Add into the mix visa requirements and travel regulations (and perhaps tourist destinations if time permits), and you just might find the process downright overwhelming.
However, business travel in Mexico is absolutely essential for executives overseeing manufacturing operations in the country known for its low-cost assembly and high-skilled manufacturing offerings to US firms. And since Mexico travel is unavoidable for competitive manufacturers leveraging these assets south of the border, you might as well go informed and prepared, right?
To that end, let us explore some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when travelling to Mexico for business purposes. We’ll learn about safety, etiquette, culture, and documentation, and more – to make your business trip effortless, safe, and enjoyable.
In Mexico, there are several differences in business etiquette from that in the US. For example, Mexican meals typically revolve around the midday meal or “comida.” This would be akin to the US business lunch, but it is a much more involved and drawn-out affair. It typically takes place during midafternoon and can last two hours or more.
While it varies from region to region, and places like Baja California can be more casual, early-midafternoon is generally reserved for the midday meal. This meal can last as much as two hours or more. And if you must mix business with lunch, don’t expect the business lunch to be all business. Mexican etiquette dictates that business come after much small talk, and the meal may involve smoking and alcoholic beverages. Remember the Mexican adage, friends first and business second. Expect to spend at least half an hour getting to know one another before discussing business topics.
Time etiquette is also very different in Mexico. When on business travel in Mexico, expect their times to be much more flexible than in the US. While punctuality is generally expected for business events, attendees can sometimes be up to an hour late without cause for alarm. The business day does not usually begin until around 8:00am, but may last until 6:00pm in Baja California.
Formality is stressed more in Mexican business. These meetings will also last longer than in the US, but casual wear must never be worn in such settings. Business suits are expected for official meetings with dignitaries, but business casual is acceptable in all other occasions. Do not negotiate aggressively, as this is considered rude. Likewise, you will notice Mexican businessmen do not typically say “no,” but rather say “yes” in vague and general ways to indicate “no.” Mexican professionals are very keen to not offend or be too direct.
Businesses usually follow national holidays strictly, and may often turn them into extended weekends like in the US. Do not expect anyone to conduct business during these periods. Some of the more popular national holidays include:
If your business travel in Mexico is limited to the border region, you may find it preferrable to drive into Mexico. This area is known as the Mexico Free Zone, and requires no special permits or visas. You may use your US car with its US registration (and possibly insurance) without hassle.
However, you may choose to fly in from your US location. Most major US cities offer direct flights to major Mexican cities. Some of the airlines that fly direct include JetBlue, Southwest, Delta, and American.
For getting to your Mexican location from the airport, Uber and taxis are available. Use only registered sitio taxi lines for safety, not independent taxi operators. Some major cities in Mexico also offer a standard fare to any location within the city. Most in-city fares range 250-350 pesos.
The first question that comes to mind for most executives is, Is travelling to Mexico safe? There’s no denying the high crime rate in some of Mexico’s cities. However, some states are worse than others. Travelling to Mexico has risk but is safe with some precautions.
The US State Department recommends not visiting the Mexican states of Michoacán, Guerrero, and Sinaloa. But in other areas, the ranking typically calls for caution. Most crime is associated with either involvement in the illegal drug trade or lack of caution. Some rules of thumb include:
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy, so the saying goes. You’re in Mexico! Take some time to enjoy the visit and explore cultural heritage sites, tourist attractions, or soak in the local cuisine. Business travel in Mexico is expected to include at least some attention to tourism and leisure.
Most of Mexico’s major tourist attractions are located in the central or southern part of the country. But if your business travel only takes you to the border region, there are experiences to enjoy there, too. Some of Mexico’s greatest attractions include:
Due to the COVID situation, business travel in Mexico is subject to changes and additional restrictions at the border. Currently, the land border is effectively closed to non-essential travel. However, most business travel and shipments are permitted. Consult the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requirements for specifics.
Passengers and vehicles are freely entering the Mexican border, and airlines carry passengers in and out of the country. Travelling by air, freight rail, or open sea is virtually unrestricted. However, airlines typically require masking on board.
Essential documents for travelling in Mexico, as per usual, include: