How To Survive Mexican Bureaucracy.

One of the hardest things you’ll probably experience living in Mexico will be dealing with any government agency in Mexico. You can ask any expat who has lived in Mexico for 2 months or 20 years- and they can all agree that Mexican bureaucracy is not only frustrating it can be inefficient.

It does not matter if it is on the municipal, state, or federal level. Even local Mexicans can agree that the red tape you have to get navigate can be complicated and defeating. And a lot of the problem has to do with a developing country’s infrastructure trying to compete in a first-world economy. 

Living in Mexico Will Test Your Patience

If you’re coming from the U.S. Canada or any developed country in this electronic age, we are used to doing most things online and having that instant gratification of “mission accomplished”.  Don’t get me wrong, you will love Mexico for the most part. And it has made great progress over the past few years updating old cumbersome manual systems. Unfortunately, all these new systems don’t always roll out as planned. 

Many of these new websites are complicated to navigate and seem to forget that there are a lot of foreign residents trying to use them as well. This is why so many of them have no option to change their language, or they leave out so many of you that are moving to Mexico and aren’t considered “nationals”.

You may hear the word “paciencia” from time to time. And living in Mexico you will truly understand its meaning. Patience.

Because one of the first things you’ll have to do is learn how to be patient. Everything here takes longer. No matter how simple the task. 

If you arrive in Mexico with ten suitcases, and three contain your worldly possessions, the other seven should be full of patience. You will thank yourself for doing a great job at preparing later on. Be prepared to wait in long lines, wait for bank approvals, medical procedure approvals from your insurance, and for someone in authority to come back from lunch to make a decision. Not to mention office closings due to holidays which you don’t normally celebrate- these are just a few inconveniences you will need to get used to.  

Why Is Mexican Burucreacy This Way?

One of the largest reasons for so much red tape is the vast resource of people. And when you have a lot of people, you need to find them jobs. The more paperwork you require, the more people you must employ to handle it. 

Multi-tasking major offices would be the most efficient way to handle this, but it is not in the Mexican Culture or in the Mexican constitution. Which is written very similar to Spain’s- so you know it is very antiquated.

Each person fulfills a small part of the big picture.

Corruption is also a contributing factor. We all know corruption is prevalent in Mexico. And unfortunately, if there is a way to make a little or a lot of money because there isn’t a check and balance, someone will find a way. This happens in every government in every country. Mexico is not unique. However, Mexico is somewhat unique in that many people look the other way.

The two most obvious are expediting documents and making appointments for government services. Seems like everyone has an uncle or friend in the business and can get it done faster for a price. Unfortunately, bureaucracy can leave you vulnerable to scams. We’ve seen dozens of people get fake residency cards because they were promised they would not have to follow certain standard procedures. And after spending thousands of dollars, they found out the hard way those residency cards were fully fake!

But don’t assume that scams only happen to foreigners. Or that the only people scamming others are Mexicans. Scams happen to everyone and are done by everyone. There are a lot of con artists out there, and most of them don’t even speak Spanish.

Not All Government Offices Work Under One Agency

Another frustrating point is that every agency acts independently and may have different requirements for exactly what documents you need from one office to another. 

Much like the United States, Mexico has individual states. And each state has its own governing laws. And yes, they vary from state to state. Just because has x y z requirements to register a vehicle doesn’t mean all of Mexico is the same.

Another great example of this is how Mexican Consulates operate abroad. If you have recently applied for residency in Mexico, you know all too well that every Mexican consulate requires something different to obtain the same residency visa.  

It seems the only constant in Mexico is inconsistency! 

Add in the language factor. Legally, all official business in Mexico must be conducted in the national language- Espanol.

And even when you feel like you know enough basic Spanish to do most things on a day-to-day, there are levels of Spanish you will continue learning. For example, when you have to deal with health, banking, government, legal, and even a simple visit to the grocery store requires a whole new vocabulary that Spanish classes don’t usually teach.

Now add Apostilles and certified translations, and bureaucracy goes to an entirely different level.

This isn’t meant to discourage you from moving to Mexico. And it isn’t meant to discourage you from learning at least the basic Espanol. The point here is that you should be prepared to have patience and not get frustrated with yourself or give up. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, hates bureaucracy in Mexico. I may even go as far as saying that even government employees agree that it can be dysfunctional and frustrating.

But luckily, there are people who can help.

Hire The Experts To Help You Out

Many transactions, or tramites as they are called here in Mexico, seem simple enough.  Getting a consulate appointment, obtaining an apostille, going through the residency process, opening a bank account, registering your car, getting a driver’s license, renting a house, and even setting up utilities can be challenging in Mexico.

If you were back home, you would not even give these things a second thought, but here in Mexico, the opposite is the norm.  

If you are a do-it-yourself type of person, take the challenge! 

Nothing beats the satisfaction of saying I DID IT! 

But be honest with yourself and know your limitations. Even if you are beyond basic in Spanish, you just might not possess the vocabulary, especially in banking and legal terms.  And even if you are willing to take on the challenge, you may not have the time because you can count on a process in Mexico to take you longer than someone who has done it a million times to do it for you.

Some tramites can be life-changing especially dealing with your residency status, health, taxes, and housing. When we don’t quite understand something being explained to us in Spanish, we often say si or yes when we have no clue what was just said. 

It’s human nature. Just make sure you fully understand what you just agreed to!

If you are uncomfortable doing these things alone, you should seriously consider hiring a facilitator.

They do the heavy lifting, wait in the long lines, handle the paperwork, translate, and guide you through the red tape. Yes, they charge a fee. But that money will be the best investment for buying back your time. All you need to do is show up for the final product.

Keep in mind, Facilitators cannot do everything just because you pay them. Sometimes, you must be physically present to finalize the process especially when photos or fingerprints are involved. But even in these cases, they can save you weeks of time. And that is priceless.

How To Survive The Bureaucracy?

Take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I can do this”. 

Do your homework and understand the nature of the legal process you are about to obtain. There is a lot of information in the COMPLETE Mexico Relocation Guide to help you come up with a plan and to help you understand what legal documents you will need when living in Mexico. And because experts in each field co-write it, you can count on the information being accurate and current.

We have covered a variety of topics like

  • A complete look into residency visas in Mexico
  • Documents you’ll need before moving to Mexico
  • Legal documents needed in some rental agreements
  • Why you need an RFC in Mexico, and when you don’t
  • And even the proper documents to gather if you were to do your estate planning in Mexico.
  • Plus more

Having a plan is the best way to avoid surprises and costly mistakes.

The easiest and best way to prepare for any legal process in Mexico is to have your documents ready. Create a binder with pockets to have multiple copies of all your documents always at hand. We always recommend coming overprepared when applying for anything in Mexico. It is always best to bring more information than what they tell you is required. It will save you time and maybe even some pesos by being prepared. 

Always remember most documents must be presented in their original form, and all copies should be in black and white, especially your passport and residency card. 

Brush up on your Spanish vocabulary regarding the process you are going in for. If you’re applying for a driver’s license, learn a few words regarding that “tramite”.

If you’re opening a bank account, learn the different words for the account types. And so on and so forth.

Know your signature. Believe it or not, penmanship is a matter of law and part of the bureaucratic process. 

Don’t be surprised if you are asked to re-sign a document or practice your signature first because the agent doesn’t think it matches. Signatures must match the document presented for identification, usually your passport. Mexicans have the most elaborate and unique signatures that they duplicate without flaw. It may seem insignificant to you, but even the ink color in your pen has bureaucratic significance.

Always use BLUE ink. Black ink is reserved for Notaries and Lawyers. And unfortunately, documents sometimes get rejected for this.

Below are the basic documents you should always have for the presentation.

The documents listed in red are sometimes required depending on which agency you are dealing with. Other documents may be required depending on the type of tramite but these will get you in the door. 

Remember, Mexico is a paper-loving culture. Come prepared with originals and a few extra copies.

Mariana Lange

Mariana Lima-Lange was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child. She spent every summer visiting family throughout Mexico and is very knowledgeable about Mexican culture, lifestyle, and traditions. She is fluent in both Spanish and English.

Reader Interactions


  1. Debra Perfitt says

    While traveling the world on our sailboat you learn that each country has different laws pertaining to who and how visitors are permitted in their country. If a generous host country allows you to enter their country the one should be a congenial guest by following the laws of that country and not look for loopholes or try to circumvent the laws.
    The information here will be a great tool for us looking to make Mexico our new home. Thank you.

  2. John Laughlin says

    So would a facilitator sit in on appointments and help with translations?

    • Mariana Lange says


  3. Joanne Romano says

    Another superb article thank you very much

    • Mariana Lange says

      My pleasure

  4. jamie says

    When would you use a lawyer instead of a facilitator?

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