America's neighbor to the south is a popular vacation destination. In fact, a report by the National Travel & Tourism Office revealed that the number of U.S. travelers visiting Mexico rose 10 percent between February 2015 and February 2016.
Many tourists wind up on sandy beaches in one of the country’s many cities and resort towns, like Cancun — which experienced a 42.1 percent increase in visitors in 2014, according to Euromonitor International — Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas and even Tulum, which TripAdvisor ranked as the No. 1 destination on the rise.
Mexico’s popularity as a vacation spot is largely driven by the affordability and convenience of its warm, sunny beaches, according to Michelle Weller a travel agent with Travel Leaders.
“With the influx of more and more luxury properties, Mexico has progressively seen an increase in price,” said Weller. “However, it is still one of the best value vacations, especially for families.”
Still, there are hidden expenses that can mellow any budget traveler’s pre-vacation buzz. Watch out for these hidden fees and costs that might catch you off guard on your vacation to Mexico.
1. Airport Transportation
It’s a good idea to book your airport transportation ahead of time, travel agents say.
While many U.S. airports have designated taxi stands to ensure travelers get into licensed cabs, agents warn that not all airports in Mexico follow this custom. The practice can leave tourists navigating a sea of untrustworthy transportation offerings from individuals who often look and act like airport employees or representatives from hotels. Throw in a language barrier, and you might find yourself paying way too much for airport transport.
“On my last trip to Cabo, I met a person who said they got into a taxi only to be driven around for an hour and [asked for] $300,” Weller said, adding that buses and shuttles can be far more affordable.
2. Tourist Card
A FMM, or tourist card, carries a fee of roughly $20, according to various Mexico travel websites. But, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Consumer Affairs states that it's typically included in your airfare.
Keep in mind that you should always carry a photocopy of your passport data page and FMM when traveling in Mexico, advises the Bureau.
3. Hidden Resort Fees
Resort fees are extra expenses that hotel guests pay for amenities and services, such as pool use, gym and towel access, WiFi and newspapers, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The catch is that these fees are mandatory and often not part of the advertised room rates.
The average resort fee, according to traveler advocacy group Travelers United, was nearly $25 in October 2015. Although not every hotel charges these fees, many do. Luckily, you can find out which ones cost extra by searching ResortFeeChecker.com before your trip. And if you're booking an all-inclusive stay, you typically don’t have to worry about hidden fees.
4. Tipping at Restaurants
As is true in the U.S., people in Mexico tend to tip more for better service. However, according to Matthew Karsten, founder of Expert Vagabond and frequent traveler to Mexico, the standard restaurant tip in Mexico is 10 percent, which is slightly lower than the U.S. norm.
“A common tactic in tourist towns is for even smaller restaurants to add a ‘suggested tip’ line to the bill, usually 20 percent. That doesn't mean you have to pay 20 percent though,” he said. “They are just hoping that, as a tourist, you don't know the difference. Local tipping practice is to pay 10 percent at these smaller places.”
Another mistake commonly made by American travelers is tipping at an all-inclusive resort, where gratuities are often included in the cost. Read the fine print of your package before handing over your valuable pesos.
“As far as local tipping customs, our documents provide clients with common local practices," said Weller. "Since [many] resorts are all-inclusive in Mexico, that means tipping is included. Use your judgement, but remember that, as in the U.S., the better you tip, the more VIP service you are likely to receive. Tipping the bartender at a crowded pool bar is not required, but he is more likely to remember your favorite drink.”
5. Tipping When Getting Gas
Unlike Americans, Mexicans typically tip their gas station attendants.
“When getting gas at a Pemex — Mexico's nationalized gas station — for a rental car, it is expected to tip the guys (or gals) pumping the gas,” said Craig Zabransky from Stay Adventurous, a travel blog focusing on Mexico. “I might ask for 180 or 190 pesos in gas and then give them a 200 pesos bill. You don't need to give a big tip, but don't give less than 10 pesos."
"Also," he added, "make sure you watch them. I find Mexico an honest and trustworthy country, but I've heard stories at the pump of not getting all the gas.”
6. The Departure Tax
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), you will have to pay a departure tax on international flights leaving Mexico. Depending on the airport, the cost could range from $18 to $29, according to IATA. However, travelers should check their tickets, as this tax might already be included in their fares.
7. Cellphone Charges
Depending on your cellphone carrier and plan, you could face a hefty fee if you text, call or use data while vacationing. Luckily, some major U.S. carriers also operate in Mexico, and you might even have a plan that allows you to use your phone there without incurring roaming charges — such as the AT&T 15GB or higher Mobile Share Value plan.
8. Unmetered Taxis
Many cabs operating in Mexico's provincial towns do not have meters or published fares. While this is common, experts strongly recommend that you agree on a price ahead of time, so there are no surprises waiting when you arrive at your destination.
“I’ve never heard of someone having a problem if the price is agreed upon ahead of time,” said Sara Butruff, a travel agent with Travel Leaders in Minnesota. “It’s when they don’t agree that problems crop up… Be wary around tourist hotspots or fancy restaurants, as there is often an additional charge to take customers from these places, up to 150 pesos more. Always ask before getting in, and try to keep smaller bills on you for paying the fare, as sometimes drivers won't have change (or will pretend not to).”
9. Changing Dollars to Pesos
ATMs are often the way to go if you want to buy pesos, even though you'll likely pay a service fee. Mexico’s official tourism site says ATMs tend to provide better exchange rates. The site also states that your credit card might provide good exchange rates.
10. Bottled Drinking Water
If you’ve ever traveled to Mexico, you’ve probably heard of the dreaded “Montezuma's revenge.” Mexico's drinking water has a reputation for making tourists ill, so many visitors opt to drink sealed, bottled water only.
While bottled water can actually cost less in Mexico — approximately 48 cents for an 11.2-ounce bottle versus $1.38 in the U.S., according to Numbeo — some resorts might upcharge you. Butruff said that, in resort areas, most bottles of water cost as much as beers, or about $2.50 to $4.
While some resorts offer their own bottled water for all-inclusive guests, Butruff only trusts the filtration practices of the five-star resorts.
If you’re hoping to play a few holes on your Mexico vacation, bear in mind that it might cost a little extra, even if you booked an all-inclusive resort with golfing. Often, you will have to pay extra to rent a cart and book a caddy, said Butruff; the fees run about $25 each, and unfortunately there are few ways around them.
12. Resort Credits
Many resorts offer credits, which guests receive when they arrive on the property. These credits can be used for spa treatments, bottles of wine and even room upgrades.
However, travelers should always read the fine print on credits, said Beth Baran, an Ohio travel agent with Travel Leaders. You might have to pay taxes or service fees.