Monday, June 17, 2024

Renting in Mexico: Do I have to keep everything the same?

So, you’ve decided to give Mexico a whirl. First off, I think you’re going to love it here. Congratulations!

At the top of your list will be, of course, finding a place to live (and if you’re like me, making your Mexican home your own as quickly as possible).

Add some lamps to your decor to make your space warmer. (Unsplash)

Common wisdom if you’re considering a permanent move to Mexico is that it’s better to rent first and buy later. This is true in any new place, really, but especially in a country like Mexico where online information about particular neighborhoods and amenities can be limited.

This means that while you might fall in love with the country immediately, you might also be itching to get out of your temporary space fairly quickly. 

But as I’m sure you’ve found in your research, getting things moving can be a slow process.

Rental properties can be a mixed bag, as it’s pretty difficult to know what a particular dwelling and neighborhood are like until you’re physically there. For longer stays, renting a place for six months to a year is typically the more economical choice, something that many people do while they hunt for a more permanent place.

But a long stay doesn’t mean you’ll need to grin and bear it in a dark, damp place that didn’t turn out to be exactly like it was in the pictures.

As someone who’s been renting in Mexico for over 20 years now, I’ve picked up my share of tips and tricks along the way for making a place as comfortable and lovely as it can be, from two-room concrete boxes with the sink outside and no door to the bathroom to veritable palaces. 

Framing paintings is cheaper in Mexico than in the U.S. (Unsplash)

Here are some things I’ve found to make a big difference:

1. Change the lightbulbs. This one might seem a little silly, but it makes a big difference. I’ve often found “blue light” (called “daylight”) lightbulbs in overheard spaces; to me, nothing makes a place look more dreary. Find some that say “luz cálida” (I’d recommend the energy-saving kind) and switch them out. Just be sure to save the original lightbulbs as the owner might be looking for them when you move out!

2. Get some lamps. Lighting, people. It makes a big difference! That said, they’re not always easy to come by. Options in department stores tend to be quite pricey, but a lamp or light fixtures store might have some cheaper options. Most of the ones I have were ordered online or found in artisan markets, and my own house is usually lit with them (rather than the glaring overhead lights) when the sun goes down. And remember: warm-light lightbulbs are what you want for that cozy feel, and blue lights can be used for workspaces.

3. Get some plants. Really. Get as many as you want! You have my express permission.
Plants at greenhouses (viveros in Spanish) are plentiful and cheap, and the staff are typically very well-informed about them. Just be sure to get ones that are appropriate for the amount of light you have, picking low-light (plantas de sombra) ones if you’ve got some dark corners you want to brighten up. Pots (macetas) can usually be found there as well, as well as at most grocery stores … and remember, they can be painted!

4. Get some shelves. If the amount of storage space in your rental just won’t do, consider adding your own. Bookshelves can usually be got pretty cheaply at carpenter shops or markets, and you can usually ask them to varnish them (barnizar) for a slight price increase, as well.

Another option — if you’re hardcore like me — is having some shelving installed, typically mostly needed in the bathroom and kitchen. If you go this route, be sure to check in with your landlord to make sure they’re okay with it. If they are, decide as well if they will leave with you when you move or stay, in which case you may be able to get the landlord to credit you for it (a cuenta de la renta).

Don’t forget the curtains! (Unsplash)

5. Hang some stuff up (just be sure to check with your landlord that you can; if not, command hooks can be ordered or bought locally. All holes in walls, mind you, are easily fixable, so don’t be afraid when a hunk of concrete and paint comes off around the nail or even tape). Some people are perfectly fine with nothing on the walls. I myself am not one of those people, “go big or go home” being my general attitude toward decor. If you want some things on your wall too, consider these options:
A. Buy posters of art you like in your home community before you come and bring them along! Having things framed is wildly cheaper in my experience here than in the U.S., for example, and I have several framed pieces of art that have come with me from place to place for years.

B. Buy some local art or even textiles that can go up on the wall, with an eye for pieces you love that can travel with you to the next place you live.

C. Get some wall hangings (a personal favorite). These can be ordered online, and deliver a big punch for a very economical price. Plus, they’re light and take up very little space when it’s time to pack up!

6. Bring some sheets, and maybe some curtains. If you’re a textile snob like me, be sure to bring your own sheets especially. Good quality sheets are quite expensive here, and there are limited options. Full-size beds (matrimonial) are the most common size in Mexico, especially for small bedrooms.

Remember, too, not to count on blinds or curtains in rentals, though some will have them. Even when mine do, I hang up my own anyway, because having them up in colors and patterns I love just makes me feel more at home. You can also have curtains made at the fabric store!

7. Bonus idea: mosquito netting and carbon monoxide detectors. Mosquito nets and screens on windows are — strangely if you ask me — uncommon in Mexico, where dengue, unfortunately, is common (and can be dangerous). Custom-sized netting can be ordered online, and most hardware stores (and even, perhaps, fabric stores) will have the raw, unsewn netting.

I have not had a carbon monoxide detector myself (I keep meaning to get one, I swear!) but have heard some horror stories about poisonings since we live much closer to gas down here in general. If you can, throw one or two in your suitcase or order them.

So remember, my fellow paisanos and foreigners: A rental doesn’t have to be dreary and uncomfortable, even when it’s not what you expected. Happy decorating!

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

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