Home Expat Blogs How to Be a Grown-up in Mexico Part One

How to Be a Grown-up in Mexico Part One

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Credit: Brian Jackson | Thinkstock

This blog is the first in a series of how to get day-to-day stuff done in Mexico. It made sense to me to do it because, well, a lot of you may need it. So, the title “How to Be a Grown-up in Mexico Part One” aptly describes what I will be writing about in the months to come.

I made my first “adult” move to Mexico earlier in this century when I came to Mexico permanently to live with my boyfriend (now husband). Though I was fluent in Spanish by then, I found there were many things that I had absolutely no idea how to take care of. The way of doing nearly everything was so different!

I can now proudly state that I am competent in at least 85 percent of all adult activities. For those areas in which I’m not (what was that again about water “subiendo”?), I’ve at least gotten good at convincing others to help me, which is perhaps the number one most important life skill to have as an ex-pat.

Getting things done as an adult in Mexico isn’t always easy, and the methods for doing them aren’t always obvious. Whereas you’re likely used to many things being automatic, or at least remotely controllable in the U.S., Canada or wherever you’re from, there are plenty of duties here for which you’ll actually need to leave the house and talk to people, call someone on the phone or talk to someone who shows up to make a delivery, all in Spanish. ¡Que horror!

Let’s run through a few of the most important basics:

Learn What Kind of Gas You Have and How You Will Get It.

This is one of those things that never even occurred to me before moving here. Most stoves, even if you’re told they’re “electric” – by that they usually just mean that they have a switch so you don’t have to use a match or a lighter – run on gas, as do the water boilers, which you’ll also need to turn on (more on that later). The same goes for clothes dryers, an expensive item that I highly recommend investing in if you live in a cool, humid climate unless you love the sight of your entire wardrobe forever drying on every available surface inside your home.

“Gas Estacionario” means that you have a large tank on the premises, most likely the roof, that will need to be periodically filled up. There will probably be several companies to choose from, and it could unfortunately mean a bit of waiting for them to show up and hook up the hose. You’ll tell them how much you want in pesos when they get there. For me personally, 1,000 pesos worth of gas is usually good for about 3-4 months, and they’ll give you a receipt that you’ll pay right after they do it. It pays to be nice to the people who finally do show up, as you might be able to get someone on the delivery truck to give you their phone number so you can message them directly the next time and bypass the operator.

If the property uses “cilindros” of LP (liquid propane), then there should be one or two cylinders on the property that will be switched out. Here too, you’ll need to call a number to have them delivered, and they’ll simply switch them out and hook up the new ones for you. Alternatively, if you hear the gas song that the truck plays as it’s driving around, you can run out of your house to flag them down – for real. Be sure to find out how many liters fit in each cylinder (20 liter ones are typical), and learn how to feel the weight of an almost-empty one so you don’t get stuck on a Sunday morning with no hot water or ability to cook.

Finally, there are cities and/or areas of cities that are simply hooked up to gas (they’ll say the property uses “gas natural”) and you get a bill for it just like you would for water or electricity.

Figure Out the Water Boiier.

The water boiler (or hot water tank) is, to me, one of the scarier aspects of home occupancy in Mexico, so I feel the need to warn you about this. Most boilers in the U.S. and Canada are things that we don’t have to mess with regularly and can usually forget about, but not so here.

While there are some newer and fancier ones that are (supposedly) automatic and won’t need to be attended to regularly, most are large and intimidating metal contraptions that must be lit, relit and adjusted throughout your time in the home. Instructions on the boiler are of course in Spanish, so if you’re unsure of what you’re doing at first, definitely get help. I had a friend singe off her eyebrows the first time she tried to light the pilot.

The pilot light is something that will need to stay on so that you can turn on and turn off the hot water for showers. It’s basically a little flame that stays lit at the base inside.

For most, the water needs at least 10-15 minutes to heat up, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Keep in mind, too, that the hot water isn’t always hooked up to the hot water handles in the the sinks in the house, and that it might take a couple of minutes for the water that’s been heated to start coming out, depending on how far it has to travel.

If you have a “calentador de paso” (instant on), it’s supposed to heat up automatically when you turn on the hot water, without having to adjust anything on the boiler first. I’ve not had much experience with successful ones, and most have needed to be fixed or calibrated.

Good luck, and happy showering and cooking. More Mexico adulting lessons ahead!


  1. You may not have made this mistake yet so let me warn you in advance. If you have an appliance, such as a clothes dryer, that is specified as “gas natural” and you move it to another location that uses “gas LP”, it will promptly overheat, need repairs and a conversion kit.
    Enjoyed the article.


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