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  • Michaela

Culture Shock In Lake Chapala?

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

Vino Blanco from Eve's Restaurant, Ajijijc, Mexico

How different is life in Ajijic compared to where you are from in the U.S or Canada? Is it possible for you to adapt to the unusual bureaucracy, driving, language, food and general overall lifestyle of the Mexican people? Depending on where you come from you might find that living in Ajijic is a little like living in the wild west. Laws are often only a suggestion and people do what they want to do. That's part of the reason why many like it here so much but it can also be a bit daunting for the newcomer or even the long time expat. So how different is it? What can you expect when you make the leap to live here permanently and call Lake Chapala your home?


Whether you are dealing with TelMex, CFE, the municipality, registering a car, or even going through the visa process, you will find that Mexico has it's own way of doing things. Much of it my seem redundant or backwards but it has to be accepted that that is the way things are and not fight it otherwise you will not be a happy expat.

I have a number of stories from my own personal experiences but I will pick just one as an example. A couple years ago I received three photo radar tickets in the mail. Two of the photos were taken on the same day and the other a week later. All of the tickets were received in our mailbox well past the payment date where you can pay with a discount. I tried paying at the local OXO but they wouldn't do it because it was past due. I went to the office in Chapala and tried to pay there. They would accept payment but demanded 500 pesos more per ticket over the full ticket price. Since I didn't want to do that they said I could pay at the Motor Vehicle office in Guadalajara. So off I went to Guadalajara and managed to find the boss in charge of sending out tickets. Yes, they admitted that during that period that they caught me on photo radar they had problems with their system and all of the tickets went out late. “Well, that's okay” I said but I would like to pay the full ticket price now. “No, I could not do that” she told me. They were going to send out another set of tickets as a replacement with new dates so just ignore the tickets you have in your hand and wait for the new set. Of course the new tickets never showed up and when it came time to pay the yearly tax on the car the tickets were still listed as being owed. If I wanted to pay the tax I would first have to settle the tickets. So another trip had to be made to the office in Guadalajara and we paid the tickets. (The very same tickets that the boss said we could not pay last time we were there). We waited in line at one office where the tickets were stamped and put into the computer. Then we were then sent to another window where we waited again to pay but first photocopies had to be made which I did at the very busy public photocopy machine and then we were sent to yet another window where I made the final payment. Finally!


During my first while here I found the driving to be different and a little crazy. There are so many pedestrians, dogs and crazy antics that you hardly know where to look. Guadalajara is much worse and much wilder and as fast and furious as any driving I did in New York City but like anything you get used to it to some degree.


While not a critical issue in Lake Chapala, the language barrier can be a factor to some. I recently gave a tour to a lady who was surprised that the girls in Wal-Mart did not speak any English. She had some complicating factors when her debit card was swallowed by the bank machine in the store and she could not find anyone to help her or even speak to her in English. She called me to help with translation and with what to do next but unfortunately the machine is put there by the bank and she had to go to the bank branch on Monday to sort it all out.


Mexico isn't really Mexico anymore, but international. There are many well off Mexicans and they demand food other than your typical Mexican fare of tacos and burritos. So things have changed. You can get food in Ajijic and Guadalajara of every ethnicity. So no matter what you like, or even if you are vegan, you'll be happy living in Ajijic or Guadalajara or any other major Mexican city for that matter.

Lifestyle & Culture

I keep saying that Ajijic is one of those rare places where the expat population is big enough and has been here long enough to make moving and living here easy. Everything you used to do back home (okay not snow skiing) is here, plus so much more, so you'll feel right at home. If you want more Mexican culture, it's close and easy to find by driving 10 minutes to Chapala or San Juan Cosala. If you are the type of person to be freaked out by a poor Mexican child asking for a peso or an elderly amputee begging on the sidewalk, then maybe it's not for you. Although this is not a common occurrence, there is some begging. But then again, there is some begging in every city in the world.

Dealing with the transito (traffic) police, regular police, and the bureaucracy in general can by challenging. Remember that this is a foreign country and things are different here.

So give yourself plenty of time to adjust. Stay a few months and make sure you like it. No, let me rephrase that, not just like it, but love it! If you find yourself re-thinking your decision to relocate, don’t beat yourself up. Lakeside is not for everyone and you should not feel ashamed if you come to that conclusion. Happily, most Lakeside expats make the transition successfully and enjoy living their best life ever in Lake Chapala.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog! It is my hope and wish that I can help you on your expat journey and make it the most successful transition of your life! Contact me today!

Michaela & Ricardo are your FULL SERVICE Real Estate Agents. Along with our Retirement Seminars, our over 20 years of combined experience Lakeside, and our network of area Professionals, we help guide you to from beginning to forever in your Retirement Journey to Lake Chapala, Mexico.

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