International mail sent to an address in Mexico will take a minimum of six weeks to arrive, if it arrives at all. Sometimes letters and packages from the U.S. are left sitting at the local post office for days or weeks after arrival, with no explanation. And stories abound of newly issued credit cards getting “lost” in the mail, only to be used by a thief. Packages may be confiscated at the border on the way down, for a host of reasons: duties owed or prohibited contents, including such innocuous items as vitamins and supplements, for example.
If you plan to stay in Mexico for three months or more, you’ll want to make arrangements with a mail forwarding service. There are plenty of options if you’re coming from the U.S. and fewer if you’re coming from Canada, Europe or Asia. This article focuses on what I know most about, which is mail between the U.S. and Mexico.
To find a U.S.-based forwarding service, do a quick online search for “u.s. mail forwarding to mexico” and you’ll get a list of companies to consider. Most services charge a monthly fee which you can get at a discount if you pay on an annual basis. On top of that, you’ll pay a piece rate for each letter or package sent to you in Mexico. Those rates vary depending on how you want the service to handle your mail: you can have letters opened, scanned and sent via email to save on postage; you can exclude handling of junk mail; and some services offer consolidation of packages. Finally, you’ll pay the applicable import tax on purchases and even a nominal amount on the value of your own stuff that someone sends to you.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration, as of August 19, 2020, “the IVA (value-added tax) rate is 16 percent for all of Mexico. Basic products, such as food and drugs and some services, are exempt from the IVA. A special tax on production and services (IEPS) is assessed on the importation of alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and cigars.”
These same duties will apply if you carry items across the border by car or bring them into the country by air, but by transporting goods yourself, you get the benefit of a per-person duty-free allowance, as follows:
- Passengers entering Mexico by land are allowed to import merchandise valued up to $300 USD in addition to their baggage.
- Residents of the northern border states in Mexico are allowed to import merchandise valued up to $150 USD.
- During holiday periods—Easter, summer, Christmas, New Year—passengers may import merchandise valued up to $500 USD per person in addition to their baggage.
- Passengers entering Mexico by air or a maritime port may import up to $500 USD in merchandise duty-free.
Most cities in Mexico where expats are likely to settle have at least one local forwarding service that collects U.S. mail at a sorting facility in Texas, California, or another border state, handles the payment of duties, and brings the mail and packages to a local drop site or storefront. Costs tend to be comparable—you’ll pay an annual membership fee of $100-$200 USD, plus IVA (may be marked up from 16% to 17% or more) and an additional fee based on the size and/or weight of packages.
Should I choose a U.S.-based or Mexico-based forwarding service?
Your Delivery SMA is a package forwarding service (not for regular mail) based in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and serving all of Mexico. They’ll deliver prescription medications (not all services will do this) and have a good reputation. Instead of an annual fee, Your Delivery SMA charges a minimum delivery fee of $200 pesos per package under 2.5 lbs plus $80 pesos per pound, plus 10% of the value of the contents over $300 USD. For insurance covering loss or damage during the trip to San Miguel from Donna, Texas, add 15% of the total value of the contents.
Another well-reputed San Miguel service is Mini Express Service Uniendo Fronteras (no website; for information or to create an account, email firstname.lastname@example.org). They handle both mail and packages for an annual fee of $100 USD, or you can pay $10 USD per month during a short-term stay. Shipments arrive in San Miguel three times a week, and you can have packages delivered or pick up at their facility in Colonia Allende. To receive a package costs 17% of the value plus $1 USD per box for insurance, and $50 pesos per pound.
What about mailing from Mexico to the U.S.?
While a locally-based forwarding service is more likely to provide for mail headed north than is a U.S.-based service, you are better off using an international express delivery service such as DHL, Fedex, or UPS. Yes, it’s expensive, and you won’t get pickup at your door the way you can in the U.S., but it’s the only way to ensure that your mail and packages arrive unless you “mule” them up with someone who’s flying or driving.
For flat mail from Mexico to the U.S., such as birthday and holiday cards, I use the postal mail service, Mexpost, only when I can purchase colorful stamps instead of the generic postage meter strip. To keep in touch with family, friends and clients day to day, I use electronic tools (email, WhatsApp or Messenger). But I do like to send handwritten notes and cards occasionally, and I always scan or make copies before sending in case the letter never arrives, in which case I can send the copy attached to an email.
Note that I would never trust Mexpost for packages. Between the government corruption, lax work ethic, and the tendency for “mistakes” and outright theft to happen, I would not send anything of value through the national mail even if they offered insurance. Even when I sent a care package within Mexico, from San Miguel de Allende to a friend in San Luis Potosí, I opted for the domestic express service Estafeta, which costs a bit more but will get it there.
For tax returns and other official documents, I use electronic filing and mailing when I can (a free WeTransfer account lets you transfer files up to 2GB and you can get a pro subscription for sending up to 1TB of data). I filed a paper tax return a couple of times via Fedex at a cost of $65 USD. My parents collected my mail for me one time and sent a few small packages along, all packed into a medium-size Fedex box, and it was $95 USD. Enough of that!
My preferred means of sending mail and packages northward is to send with a friend who’s going up. If you have a VPN to make your internet service provider appear to be in the U.S., you can buy printable post-paid labels online and attach them to the package so it’s ready to drop in the mail as soon as your courier crosses the border. Otherwise, you can look up the postage by weight, volume and package type, using the mail-to ZIP code and the one for your courier’s destination, and give that amount in cash or via PayPal to your friend. I try to get the postage taken care of so all my courier has to do is drop the package in the mail or call for a Fedex pickup from their hotel or home (I have a Fedex account that bills me later, which is handy when using the reasonably priced 2-day service within the U.S.).
Another type of service to check out is international movers. Some of them, like ZOOMALO Moving & Storage in San Miguel de Allende, offer service both ways and will take mail and packages along or deliver them to you in Mexico when you have them shipped to the mover’s Stateside warehouse.
My advice: use a mail forwarding service for the first few years, then quit
Waiting for mail and packages from the U.S. and paying fees and duties on them once they arrive can be a stressful part of moving to Mexico, but it doesn’t need to be. The forwarding services make it easy to go online and change your address with the U.S. Postal Service.
I am one of many expats who used a mail forwarding service for the first few years, then grew out of the need for it. Over the years I’ve made changes:
- First and foremost, after 12 years of residency in San Miguel de Allende, I’ve learned where to find almost everything we need locally, from kitchenware and other household items to high quality vitamins and herbal supplements, to English-language books and magazines. There’s much less “need” to order from the U.S. now.
- Mercado Libre is the Mexican eBay, at Mexican prices. Get a membership, learn to pay for online purchases the way the Mexicans do, which is to say you will deposit the cash to the seller’s bank account either directly or at an Oxxo or a farmacia, or use a Mexican-issued Visa or Mastercard, or transfer to the seller’s bank if you have an account at the same institution. If you do it the cash way, you’ll take a photo of the deposit receipt with your cell phone and send it to the seller as proof of purchase, and a day or two later, your item will show up at your door.
- Instead of ordering from Amazon in the U.S., I pay for Amazon Prime service in Mexico (it costs less than its U.S. counterpart) and I can get almost everything I might need that’s not available locally, plus we get their excellent movies and TV series free.
- If I absolutely must have certain items, such as prescription medications or a certain brand of cosmetics that you can’t get in Mexico, or Tom’s of Maine propolis & myrrh toothpaste or the particular bass guitar strings my partner uses, I’ll tap into friends making the trip and order my stuff sent to their house so they can toss it into their suitcase. I try to keep any such orders small and flat.
- We have Costco and Sam’s Club here now.
- We also have access to international clothing brands and to the fashions of local designers, but all of that tends to be out of my price range, so I don’t buy clothes until I go to the States, where quality and affordability are the rule.
- I use my parents’ U.S. address as my mailing address for the few-and-far-between instances where mail is necessary, such as for driver’s license renewal (though I’ve stopped doing that, too) or a credit card approval (why do the issuers still insist on sending paper mail for things like that?). Dad will open everything, toss the junk, and scan whatever he thinks I might need, so I can review it via email and ask him to keep, toss, or forward. When they get past the point of being able to help me this way, I’ll think about using a forwarding service but seriously, no one in my life is unaware that I’ve been living in Mexico for over a decade, so I’m very unlikely to receive mail at my parents’ address anyway.
- As mentioned above, to send local artisan gifts to friends and family in the States, I send it up with a friend or splurge on DHL or Fedex. (DHL is reportedly better, by the way. The only reason I use Fedex is because I’ve got a longstanding account with them, and they bill me, so I don’t need to stand in line at the DHL office and pay cash.)
Another reason I no longer use a forwarding service is that I’ve been burned. While I stand by the San Miguel-based services for which I’ve provided links in this article, there are “legacy” outfits in this city that I cannot endorse because of the frequency of “errors” designed to pad their profits when the customer isn’t watching closely, and because of other issues with their service. For example, I was once told that three magazines would cost me $27 USD in import duties and fees, and when I argued, three staff members gathered behind the desk in an offensive line to argue back. I told them to enjoy the magazines and walked away.
Our mail connects us to “the old country”—to cultural norms from the U.S. that may seem comforting in Mexico—so it’s understandable if you are thinking, “Arggg! My U.S. clients pay by check…my tax refund and Social Security come by check…I still have bills or a mortgage to pay in the U.S.” But all of this can be handled electronically and you’ll be saving trees if you get used to that. Most banks have “bank by mail” addresses where your clients can send checks. And you’ll get everything much faster when you opt for one of the U.S.-based forwarders that will scan and send vs. putting more paper in the mail.
If you’re having trouble or just feeling sad for lack of mail, leave a comment and I’ll help you with specifics (or commiserate, if that’s what will help, because I do understand…I miss handwritten letters, too!).