Home Expat Blogs Moving in Mexico Can Be a Daunting Experience

Moving in Mexico Can Be a Daunting Experience

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Mother and daughter stacking boxes
Credit: Jupiterimages | Thinkstock

Moving in Mexico can be a daunting experience, or in any other country for that matter. There’s all the stuff you have to get rid of first so you’re not just taking trash with you to the new place, and then you have to organize. When you get to the new place and start unpacking, you inevitably find a box (or five) that looks like the contents of your junk drawer in the original house and think, “Didn’t I get rid of/organize you? What are you doing here?”

I moved to a new house last week. It’s more centrally-located, and I have quite a few friends and family members within walking distance to me now. The owner of my old house had been wanting to sell for some time and was doubling-down on her efforts, so I decided to jump ship once I found a place I liked.

If you’re going to move to a different house in Mexico, there are quite a few things to sort out that might not feel very intuitive. Let’s start by looking at the culture surrounding moving.

I think it’s safe to say that Mexicans don’t move nearly as often as their neighbors to the north. Most people over 50 have owned their homes for quite a while now, and many children keep on living with their families until they decide to get married and have families of their own. If they do go to another city for college, they often rent a small room or mini-apartment and keep the bare minimum of material possessions.

When I lived in the States, I could easily furnish an entire two-bedroom apartment, and fairly nicely at that, through dumpster- diving in college towns at the end of the semester. Carpets, futons, lamps, chairs…they’re all there for the taking.

In Mexico, I’ve never discovered anything worthy of taking into my home in the trash. I’ve even found myself watching in disbelief as families move, literally, trash bags full of junk rather than sort through them to get rid of things. Just imagine what Marie Kondo would say! Most people hold on to their sofas and tables until they’re literally falling apart, and then instead of buying new ones, they have them refurbished (hey, thanks, cheap labor!).

So, let that be the first lesson. You probably won’t find anything cool “for free,” and not many people are likely to have any extra furniture just lying around that they’ll give you, either. (Likewise, if you lend any piece of furniture out, you will not likely get it back.) While you can find shops and market stands that sell obviously used things, the much-more-expensive-than-you’d-expect prices will likely shock you. You might as well just buy new if you don’t have something you’ll need for the new place.

When it comes to boxes for packing, there’s no U-Haul store to go to stock up (not in my city, anyway), though I suppose you could find some pricey boxes and bubble wrap at a place like Office Depot. I personally had a lot of luck asking at my local semillero and other local tienditas, as well as fruit and vegetable stands. They would sell me boxes for between 3 and 8 pesos. Other things were packed in boxes and plastic containers I already had at home, and I put a lot of breakable things among clothes in suitcases.

I put off hiring movers until several days before I was planning on getting everything to the new place. Miraculously, but not surprisingly, I faced no negative consequences for waiting that long, and even had some backup guys ready to go just in case!

The process starts out like it might in the States, in which you get recommendations and talk to different movers about how much they’d charge. The most important part of this, above all, is the recommendation. Most moving “companies” are pretty informal and don’t have a price list to show you based on volume or weight. You tell them what you have, and they give you a price. Once they do that, ask locals what they think, as it’s very possible that they’ll quote a price imagining (rightly) that you may not see it as high at all but that is actually far above what they’d normally charge.

Another note on cost: they should be able to give you a price for the entire move, and if you’re moving to a place within the same city, the number of trips should not be relevant. One mover quoted me 1,800 pesos, which sounded great, but then repeated about thirty times that he didn’t think everything would fit on just one trip, and that it would cost 1,800 per trip! Having seen the size of the truck myself I strongly disagreed, but he seemed determined. Driving the 10 minutes from the first to second house is literally the easiest part of all of it, so I quickly gave up on negotiating with him.

I ended up paying about 2,000 pesos. There were three cheerful and hard-working men that got everything to the new house in three trips in an old pick-up truck from the 1990s. The boss’ wife took care of arranging pricing and logistics.

Moving heavy furniture is dangerous. And I have a lot of heavy, solid-wood, rustic-style furniture. Both houses had a lot of stairs, and rather than twisting things up and down narrow staircases, they got out the rope and hoisted things up and down from tall balconies. Nobody got hurt, and good thing: it is not common for these small moving businesses to be insured.

The only casualties of the move were a couple scratches on my table and a broken foot of a side table. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I honestly consider it a relatively minor setback considering all the work these guys did.

I’ve now officially been in my new house for a week. The movers were nice enough to set up the stove, as anything having to do with gas scares me (sometimes a gringa-damsel-in-distress display is very effective). A friend set up the washing machine, and another friend of the family who helps us with our large appliance repairs – because you know we don’t throw those appliances away – came and literally fabricated a new tube so the clothes dryer could have gas. All of that together only set me back around 500 pesos.

Two days ago, I handed in the keys to my old house. While I did fill-in nail holes and touch up on the paint, I don’t have much hope regarding my deposit. This is anecdotal of course, but I’ve never known anyone in Mexico to get their deposits back without quite a huge fight. And honestly, I’d rather just let the owner keep it and not break my back trying to scrub every inch of the old house after an intense period of packing and moving. If the deposit is something that’s important to you, make sure you get in writing exactly what they expect when you move out.

Happy moving, and feel free to comment with any unaddressed questions you may have.

2 COMMENTS

  1. We have just completed a move from Mérida to México City. This is the 29th address I have had in 64 years, so I have moved a lot. After extensive research we decided to use Seymi Moving and Storage of Guadalajara, and I must say it was one of the smoothest moves ever! Although their truck broke down twice on the way to Mérida, an ominous enough start, once they arrived they packed up everything in our very large house and loaded it in the truck. It took three days all told, and three days after that they were at the door of our apartment building in Colonia Cuauhtemoc.

    A bit of a setback occured when the police asked for a mordida to allow the truck to park in front of the building. We stayed out of the negotiations, and the crew got it down to a reasonable sum. They clearly knew how this operated.

    Our biggest challenge was moving my musical instruments, including two harpsichords, one a nine foot English double manual harpsichord, into a penthouse whose elevator and rooms have narrow doors and low ceiling height. The crew called in another workman to remove windows and the seven man crew hoisted this very heavy (not to mention rare and valuable) instrument up the seven floors in a breathtakingly efficient manner, and without the use of pulleys. (We could not hoist it over the front balcony, even though there are wide sliding doors there, because the lower apartments do not have balconies, and it would have been a risk to their windows.) You can see photos of this amazing operation on my Facebook page!

    By the end of the day everything was safely in the apartment with not a single item broken or damaged. The harpsichords have been moved five times in twenty years, and the is the first time they have not been damaged in the process! The crew unpacked everything and removed the trash. Ther website says they move all over México as well as abroad. This was just one more example of the innovative and “can-do” attitude we have so often encountered in México.

    On the other hand, we won’t go into the horrendous eight months of experiences we had trying to purchase this apartment. Real estate in México City is stranger and more difficult to deal with than anywhere I have ever lived. (It was far more transparent and easier in Mérida.) But a warning to people living in the restricted zone: fideicomisos can be a nightmare when you go to close, depending on the bank. Scotiabank right now has a backlog of as many as six months to close or transfer a fideicomiso! Caveat emptor…

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Keith! I’m so glad your move went well.

      I’ve often marveled at how such big objects have found their ways into spaces with such tiny openings, sailboat-model-in-glass-jugs-style. Movers are basically genius creatives, I think.

      I haven’t had any experience in buying property here, but can easily imagine the difficulty of all the “tramites”. Congrats on your new apartment! 🙂

      Sarah

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