I was born and raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, the eastern terminal of the Pony Express, that daring 1860 experiment in “fast” mail delivery. Mexico’s postal service sometimes feels like the Pony Express, but it’s part of the charm of life in Mexico. My guest blog tackles the subject of how to send and receive mail in Ajijic, my hometown for the past 11 years.
When my wife and I first arrived in Ajijic on the northwest shore of Lake Chapala in 2007, we discovered two main options were available for receiving our mail. We had a local Mexican Post Office in Ajijic Centro that offered postal boxes for rent. There also was an alternative service called MailBox Etc., now iShop Mail, which offered a U.S. mailing address in Laredo, Texas and a private courier delivery from Laredo to a postal box rented at their Ajijic office.
Catherine and I weighed the options and realized we had become more dependent on our e-mail address than using postal mail. From prior vacation trips here and the time frame between renting our home and actually moving to Ajijic, we had discovered that we could handle and pay urgent/time-sensitive monthly expenses by bank debit or payment through our Visa card account. Prompt mail delivery would not be a necessary priority.
There was no consistent delivery time for mail from the United States to Lake Chapala, but experienced residents said it was three to four weeks for First Class and often up to eight weeks for lesser class mail. Their initial prediction proved to be fairly accurate for the Mexican Postal System. The private mail service offered mail delivery in 5-8 days from Laredo. For some expats, that was seemingly important and the higher box rental fee insignificant to them for the better service.
Outgoing mail to the United States had different options to consider. The Mexican Post Office would sell you stamps and accept your mail. Reliable sources said a letter from Ajijic to the United States would take 2 – 3 weeks. The private mailbox service would accept outgoing mail and it was delivered to Laredo in 5-7 days, we were told. It carried not only the expense of U.S. postage stamps, but a service fee, too. From Laredo, it was then deposited into the U.S. Postal Service system.
A very convenient option was a membership in the Lake Chapala Society here in Ajijic, which gave you access to the U.S. mailbox in the LCS Service Office and other services and programs. You could buy U.S. stamps there too, at a slight premium over face value. Mail would be collected and bagged and members traveling to the United States became your private courier service, taking mail by auto or in their suitcase on the plane or bus to the first U.S. locale they reached. It was then deposited into the U.S. mail system. For me, the LCS mail option in itself was worth the membership fee. I would find myself as one of those mail couriers sometimes when we traveled north and it was simple and convenient.
Some expats, though, saw the Mexican Postal Service as too slow and the use of private couriers from LCS too risky for their mail.
Today, if you use the Mexican Post Office, you should know that box rentals are done in January and you pay the rental fee for the calendar year. In addition to the fee, you are required to have a photocopy of both the face-page of your passport and a recent utility bill showing your street address to verify your residency.
A yearly box rental is $300 pesos, or about US$15. Another Mexican Post Office option is home delivery, which delivers your mail to your gate at no charge. It’s not a daily service, but is based on the mail volume to the area you live in and the amount of time the clerks have to deliver the mail. Mail is passed over or through your gate, which can be problematic considering weather conditions and theft issues.
You could also use the iShop Mail service located in San Antonio Tlayacapan. You get a U.S. mailing address, and mail delivery either direction takes about 7 – 10 days. If you don’t rent a P.O. box from them, the cost for a standard 1 ounce letter to the U.S. is about US$3. To receive mail from the U.S. you have to rent a P.O. box from them. Boxes rent for US$30 a month. If you take an annual contract, it’s less costly than paying monthly.
A few words of caution and advice now on mailing packages, especially across the border. It is less expensive with the Mexican Post Office, but apparently quicker and safer with a parcel service like FedEx, UPS or DHL. In either direction at the border, it will be subject to Customs inspection, which reportedly can take up to a week to clear, and the imposition of Customs Duty if determined appropriate.
Many expats have been surprised to discover how much an imposed duty tax adds to the expense of an item, even a well-intended gift shipped by a friend or family member. Parcels have also ‘mysteriously’ disappeared in shipment. During our 11 years of residency in Mexico we have found it best to advise family and friends not to ship gifts or parcels across the border. Many expats in Mexico find it more convenient and safer to transport gifts in their suitcase when traveling north, and arrange with a friend or family member to receive parcels for you so you can bring them home in your suitcase when you return.
After over a decade of living in Mexico we can provide you with a few tips that experience has taught us can improve mail service:
- If you use the Mexican Post Office, get to know the head clerk. A little courtesy and first name recognition seems to help. Speaking Spanish is not required, but certainly some basic Spanish is helpful and they appreciate your effort.
- Remember Mexican Postman’s Day on November 12th with a small cash gift that says you appreciate their service and it allows them to celebrate with a small party or meal.
- If you use a private mail service, establish a good relationship with the office personnel. It might just expedite a delivery if they call and tell you that there is mail or a parcel for you to pick up, or save you a trip when it hasn’t arrived.
- If you use the Lake Chapala Society mailbox for your outgoing mail, consider buying a few stamps at the U.S. Post Office when visiting the United States. Those stamps will save you mailing expense.
- Offer to be an LCS team member and serve as a mail courier when you are making a trip to the U.S. A bag or two of mail can fit nicely in your car or suitcase.