Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The street where you live: decoding your new Mexican address

There are the things you know, the things you don’t know, and the things you don’t know that you don’t know.

When you’re in a new country, that last category can cause some issues. Today’s column, then, and like a few subsequent ones, aims to get ahead of a few of them.

Today, we’re talking about all things regarding understanding your new Mexican home address.

A Mexican postal service explainer on how to correctly address mail in Mexico City.

In Mexico, there are two things to remember when it comes to the street address: first, the street name comes before the house number and your address’ particular word for “street” (e.g. calle, avenida, privada — more on this in a minute) comes before either of those two things.

So if your house number is 55 and you live on Miguel Hidalgo street, then your address would be “Calle Miguel Hidalgo 55”. Note: whether your street name has a calle (street), avenida (avenue), privada (usually a dead-end street), or something else to define it, include it; you’ll see why it’s a good idea below.

If you live in an apartment, then the apartment number goes below that, and is sometimes written as Interior or abbreviated as Int. And if you live out in the country and don’t actually have a house number — it happens! — then “S/N” – sin número (no number) should be listed after the street name instead of a house number — and you’d better be prepared to give whoever’s delivering your stuff some visual references.

Another thing to remember is that the colonia, (neighborhood), which goes right below the street address, is all-important (it’s unclear how important the zip code actually is, though it will need to be included for any official address forms and presumably the post office uses them). Also, you may need to include your municipio (municipality), which may be different from the town you live in if you live somewhere small.

Why is listing this stuff so important? Because it’s very possible for there to be multiple streets with the same name in the same city (…I know). Proof positive: we actually wound up at the wrong address for a birthday party the other week because whoever made the invitation put the wrong colonia on it!  

Due to this potential for confusion, many people, when wanting directions to your place, will ask to be sent your ubicación (location), using your phone’s GPS system. This is usually somewhat accurate depending on the last time Google maps updated things and how accurate they were at putting in street names in the first place. But it doesn’t always work; I’d recommend sending the address as well, with maybe even a picture of the front of where you want them to go.

Finally, stores with delivery services, including Amazon, will often ask you to fill in entre que calles (between what streets) your house is located, so be sure to learn the names of the next street over to you in both directions. 

Now let’s talk about the difference between colonias and fraccionamientos. This one is a bit confusing and something that I’ll admit I only recently thought about and made sense of because of my own new address. 

Colonia, again, is the neighborhood, and this is how cities and towns in Mexico identify certain areas of their city. Colonias can be anywhere from a few square blocks to areas of a size that resemble suburbs. Each colonia has a name and is a pretty defined area — perhaps not like what you might be used to in your country or origin, where neighborhoods are an unofficial notion open to interpretation. It’s the way that most people get an idea of where they are and where they’re going within a city.  

A fraccionamiento is a housing development, usually of houses that were all built together. That said, I supposedly live in a fraccionamiento, but these houses definitely do not all look like they came up at the same time. A fraccionamiento can either be the name of a colonia if it’s very large (so you might write, for example, Fraccionamiento El Porvenir in the space for colonia), or it can be a development within a larger colonia

My own address is a very tiny fraccionamiento (in name only, if you ask me), and if I say that name rather than the larger colonia’s name, taxi drivers aren’t quite sure what I’m talking about. As for what goes on your official address forms, use whatever was on previous bills – more on that below.

So what about providing proof of your address? This is where the comprobante de domicilio becomes important.

To get pretty much any kind of paperwork done in Mexico, you’ll need  the comprobante de domicilio, which basically means “proof of address.” The actual definition, however, is much narrower than you’d probably imagine.

A few months ago, for example, some translation clients were surprised to learn that a signed letter from their landlord from whom they were renting at their current address, complete with copies of the landlord’s INE card, was not going to fit the bill: they needed a water bill, an electricity bill, or an internet bill.

One important thing to remember about a comprobante de domicilio is that in most cases, it doesn’t necessarily need to have your name on it. And really, it won’t have your name on it unless you’ve built the house, are the first buyers, or are subsequent buyers and have already gone to the trouble of changing the titular (the primary name) on all the bills. Unlike in some other countries, it’s rare for a landlord to expect tenants to put utility bills like electricity or water in their own name — or pay the bill themselves; it’s often factored into the rent. This is a known fact, and most of the time, whoever’s asking for a comprobante de domicilio won’t worry if your name’s not on it.

If you do need an official bill in your name, an internet bill will usually do the trick. But if you don’t have any of that, I’ve learned to keep a scanned copy of my rental agreement stored on my cell phone lest I need to print it out to prove where I live, like I had to do when I got my first COVID vaccine (they wanted to make very sure I actually lived here and wouldn’t be taking away someone else’s place).

By the way, a domicilio means “home delivery,” so if you ask for something, it means you want it delivered to your house. This applies to everything from packages to furniture to that pizza you’re ordering.

Domiciliar, on the other hand, is not exactly what it sounds like. This means that you give permission to an institution, usually something like internet or Netflix that’s the same price every month, to automatically withdraw an amount from your bank account each pay period. If you agree to domiciliar sus pagos, expect steady withdrawals!

Next time: gas and water! 

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com

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