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The Secret Life of the Mexican Worker

What it is like to work in Mexico

The people of Playa Del Carmen

Most people come to Mexico to relax on vacation and don’t really think about all the people providing services, everything from cleaning the rooms or managing the hotels. What most people don’t know is what life is like for people working here. What are the wages in Mexico? What is the minimum salary? What are working conditions like? It may be of interest to get a look into what it is like to live in paradise but also to work here.

You will notice that most people are happy here and smiles abound. Even when people come on vacation here and look forward to the one week of being here, it is supposed to be the most magical time. But imagine the people that are there everyday, the guest are so energized but for them it is work. Most people do an exceptional job of smiling and being happy that you would never think what is it like to wake up each day and do the same things and match the energy of the guest. Just because it is sunny with palm trees and the beach nearby does not mean people get tired like you do at your job.

Here are several issues Mexican workers have to deal with that you may of never thought about.

Wages in Mexico

As you might imagine, wages in Mexico are low. There are minimum wage standards which are less then $6 USD a day but in reality very few make just that. Here are some general averages for what people make to give you an idea. These wages are for the Riviera Maya which in general is more than what people make in other parts of Mexico.

*Keeping in mind the pesos fluctuates in value and wages do not really line up with inflation nor do they change quickly.

  • Housekeeper 5000 pesos a month plus tips.
  • Construction worker 300 pesos a day.
  • Hotel front desk 11,000 pesos a month plus any commisions if they sell things like tours.
  • Waiter at nice restaurant on 5th Avenue 900 pesos a day, mostly tips.
  • Corner store cashier in a neighborhood 120 pesos a day.
  • Laundrymat worker 200 pesos a day.
  • Office worker 9000 pesos a month.
  • Nightclub waiter in Playa Del Carmen 500-1000 a night depending on season but often it is 10 hour shifts.
  • Entertainer at hotel 13,000 pesos a month.

Where do these ages go?

Where do these wages go? Well this is where you can see that what most people make, most people spend every month. Most people live month to month off money earned. This is the reason why people line up on the 1st and 15th of the month at bank machines to withdraw their money. Almost everyone in Mexico is paid twice a month on the 1st. and 15th.

Some resorts offer houseing and some meals to staff. This can be great for young people just starting out and for people moving from other parts of Mexico to work in the Riviera Maya. Many however prefer to live in Playa Del Carmen where they can easily access the gym, grocery store, laudry and hang out with friends. This means renting in Playa Del Carmen.

Many people can only afford a room to rent in Playa Del Carmen. These rooms are just a room with a bathroom and maybe a mini stove top and mini fridge, these rooms are not in houses, just a building with small hotel like rooms. Rooms can start around 1000 pesos a month but most near the center of Playa Del Carmen are 3000 pesos to 4500 pesos.  The average for a two bedroom apartment is about 5000-7000 in areas when most workers would look.

Basic apartment in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

This and the photo below are what many people can afford to rent. These rooms come with a bathroom and very basic cooking spaces. The rent ranges from 1000-3500 pesos a month, about $60-200 USD.

Sharing a living space is on the best ways to save money in Mexico and is why most do it even if you are in your 20’s and 30’s. This means that most people spend 30-45% of their wages on rent. Usually the rest of pay is divided between cell phone, transportation, and food. This does not leave much room for extra spending and is why going to the beach or the movies is a popular activity.


Working Conditions in Mexico

The good news is that in Mexico there are some basic rights of working which include severance pay, standard hours, good working conditions and health care. The bad news is that many businesses find a way to reduce benefits that workers should be getting.

You are hired but not by us

One way busineses get around workers rights is not to hire anyone. How is this possible? Well, they go to  a separate company that hires the people and then suppiles the worker to them. This way companies are desolved of issues with emplyees and any issues have to be delt with a separate company. You may say you work for a big fancy company but in fact you really work for an obscure company that is a small office somewhere.

Short term contracts

Another way busineses get rid of responsibilty is by not having long contracts. It can be difficut to fire people in Mexico. The longer you work for a company the more rights you have to severance pay and vacation time. Some company only have contracts for a few month and then you have a maditory couple of days off and then magically you are hired again for another contract. This does not exaclty instill confidence in job security and this practice is used often.

How much vacation time do Mexican get?

Most people will be surpised that vacation time for Mexican workers is only about a 7 -12 days. Even after working for many years with a company it is hard to accumulate vacation days.

Prejudice in Mexico and Job discrimination

There is prejudice in Mexico and that means a type of job ceiling for some people. People do not like to talk about it but there are basically three levels of society in Mexico. There are the more indigenous looking people, mixed people or “Mexican looking” people and then there are the more Spanish looking people. If you notice on TV there are lots of more white looking people and usually at front desk of hotels there are not more indigenous people. This just highlights a kind of cast system that workers face in Mexico. These are long running tendencies of Mexico and sad to say that many have a hard time trying to change the system but at the same time don’t really try to change it.

You will see many  job descriptions looking for “female age 22-26” or “male 20-30” actually in the description. Many personnel department are looking to fill a job that needs a nice young female or what they feel is appropriate person for the job. It can be very hard for older people to get a job. Something as simple as a cashier in a convenience store will have age restrictions.

The hard working Mexican

The preconcived idea that Mexican workers are lazy and unproductive really is not the case.  It is true at times you may get bad service but mostly this is due to bad on the job training and some cultural differences. Many people from the United States, where there are many Mexican workers, may think that the same generalization of Mexican workers is true on both sides of the border. This really is not true. Many workers in the Rivera Maya are well educated and speak two or more languages. Given the same skills, many workers here could do very well in other countries and  be eligable for a good job with a much better wage. However the fact remains that while people are very skilled here, wages are low and opportunies are not that frequent to advance.

Sometimes you might think that that service is not good at a place because it is slow. Think can be a reflection on managment because they protect profit rather then hiring more people. Because of this, people work harder to compensate and ofter are busy for long periods of the day. You might ask then, “Why don’t they just get a different job?” Well the fact is there often is limited job options and if you live in a small area there are only so many jobs within a commutable distance. Also other jobs have the same situation and it is pointless to change jobs.

wages in Mexico

What workers do on their time off

With most people working 5 1/2 -6 days a week there is just one day to relax and start all over. This means it is time to relax and do nothing and the only time people have to shop and get things done like laundry.

A majority of workers in the Rivera Maya work in tourism and this means many work at large hotels. Resort have policies that workers cannot use the property on their time off.  This mean going somewhere else even if your apartment is connected to the resort. Visiting cenotes or the beach with friends is popular. With wages in Mexico so low and the devaluation of the value of the peso, it does not leave many options.

With many people working in the sun during the week, the number one thing to do on their day off is relax and watch movies indoors or at the theater. This is why you will find the theaters in Centro Maya or Plaza Las Americas so full on Sunday, the main day people have off.

What you can do to make working in Mexico better

You may think that there is not much you can do or the only solution is to tip generously so people have more money, but that is not really the answer. Here are some things you can do that benefit the situations of workers here.

  • Yes tipping is nice but there not over tipping. Here is why. Tips add to the percentage of take home pay for many workers. While some workers like waiters get more tips than pay, most people receive about 30% or their wages through tips. Even if you are staying at an all inclusive where everything is paid for, tips are appreciated especialy for great service. Over tipping however can skew the system and people become overly reliant on tips or employers lower wages because people receive bigger tips or service can be focused on giving “better” service to foreigners or to certain nationalities that tip more. This can lead to some people being sligtly more prejudice against. For example you take a taxi, you give a nice tip. Tipping is not normally done in taxis except for rounding off 5 pesos if you like. If everyone that is a tourist starts tipping and over tipping, taxi drivers will rather pick up tourist and pass locals standing waiting for taxi. Pretty soon preferential treatment is given to certain people. The best way to tip is follow the normal tipping rules in Mexico.
  • Tip on tipping: Normally we recommend using pesos here for everything but it is acceptable to tip in USD. The reason for this is because it is easy to employees to use USD at grocery stores and a few other places at a good exchange rate. If it was a location where employees needed to go to the bank and exchange them and loose a portion, we would recommend tipping in pesos only but this is not the case.
  • Besides tipping, a gift might be well appreciated or an invitation to go with you to enjoy a meal. If you are at a large resort, workers usually cannot join you for a meal at the hotel but if you go off the property why not treat someone to a meal. Not only is it a great cultural exchange  it is agreat way to say thank you on a personal level.
  • One way to really personally thank someone in Mexico is to stay in touch. Many all inclusive resort guest come back to the same hotel year after year and can actually see the same people working there. Receiving a card or a special note when a guest leaves is a nice way of saying thank you. We know many people here that save the cards and hold them dear. Often making friends around the world and connecting on Facebook. This makes people feel more like friends and less like a person just serving other people.
  • Make guest comments to the hotel or other place of business. If you had exceptional service, mention in a comment or email to the business. Often employees will be rewarded because of guest comments. It is a nice way of saying “Good job” to someone and “job well done”.
  • Say hello and greet people. Mexico is a very welcoming country to outsiders. It is easy to see the faces of the front desk or your waiter at a restaurant but behind them there are many people making things happen for you. Even a simple “hola” to a gardener or “gracias” in the window of the kitchen to the chef is greatly appreciated. All of this makes people feel appreciated for their hard work. You also will be rewarded because of you go back you will get an even bigger smile and perhaps even better service just because you are nice.
  • Support local busineses when possible. Most large resort have a bottom line and cutting cost often starts with workers pay. Your cheap holiday is built on the inexpensive labor workers provide. Staying at a small hotel might be the same situation but in general small businesses are often family run. Patronizing them will support the people directly rather then a large coporation first.


People work very hard in Mexico and long hours. Wages in Mexico are low and spending power is being cut. It may not be that workers can be “on” everyday. You might not have the best service but just remember that workers have more things here to deal with than what you might imagine. In many cases if people had the same conditions and hours in your home county, you can bet people would be complaining about it a lot. Here though, for the most part people are happily going about their business and working hard.

A little appreciation goes a long way, so next time you think of it, thank everyone that helps you. People work here and even if life’s opportunities for different conditions are not available, your kindness and appreciation should be.

Do you have a story about working in Mexico ?or a comment about your interaction with people while on vacation in Mexico? We would love to hear from you in the comment below.

22 Comments on The Secret Life of the Mexican Worker

  1. Carrie Elkin // February 7, 2016 at 6:21 PM // Reply

    Thank you very much for all the information on here! This will be my first time out of country and first time in Mexico!
    I am not coming until May but doing some research early! I still believe i have much to learn for sure. I am an avid Birder (also known as: bird nerd, one who watches and looks for new birds to add to the list). There is one birding site on here i will have to check out!

    • We hope you have a great time here in May. Here are a few places you might want to check out if you have time. There is a bird aviary in Xcaret that is set up really well. A tour to Rio Lagartos is another great natural place to see birds especially flamingos. The three points tour in Holbox is great too because you go to bird island where you can see many different birds. In Playacar there is an aviary as well but it is small and the 300 pesos entrance is a little discouraging.

  2. Marc Plourde // February 8, 2016 at 11:47 AM // Reply


    I am very pleased having took time to read “The Secret Life of the Mexican Worker” and well other many parts of Everything Playa Del Carmen info. This offer me to get prepared for my 19-26 Feb, 2016 trip to La Vidanta resort.

    My resort is not full included and surely your website has given me lots of info what to do on my week of vacation at Riviera Maya, Mexico. I do hope my wife will fellow me on my adventure to Playa Del Carmen, Tulum ruin and Cozumel Island and all that trying to do it by Colectivos and ADO transportation.

    Gracia, Thank you, Merci
    NB, Canada

    • Thank you for sending us a nice message. We hope you have a great trip down and get to find some of the great local restaurants and nice spots to check out.

  3. What a great article about workers in the Playa Del Carmen area.
    We love visiting this part of Mexico because of the people. Everyone is so nice and willing to let us practice our Spanish with them. Most of the employees at the resorts really like it when you take the time to talk with them and let them know that you appreciate their hard work.
    Some resorts are noticeably better than others and treat their employees well. We have returned to our “family” of resort properties over the last few years and always go home with new friends that work at each resort.
    The general Cancun area is much different than the west coast of Mexico. The Cancun and Playa area is a place we always miss when we leave.
    As for tipping at our resort, tipping is really appreciated by the staff but is never expected.

    • Mr.Yucatan // April 8, 2016 at 11:36 PM // Reply

      That is great to hear that you find people very friendly and welcoming in the Riviera Maya. We talk to many people that work here and it is always nice when people are thankful for all they do.

  4. Diane Phillips // April 23, 2016 at 4:44 PM // Reply

    I just returned from the Riviera Maya for my first time. I have a COMPLETELY different opinion of the Mexican people. They are the friendliest hardest workers I have ever been around. I felt completely safe on my vacation and will return to vacation in Mexico. Thank you for a great vacation!

    • Mr.Yucatan // April 23, 2016 at 6:24 PM // Reply

      We are so happy you had a great vacation and had a good impression of the people that live here. It is surprising the image that Mexican have in different counties in the world, in particular the United States. We wrote this article to tell more the story of people here and often how hard they work. Many find it a surprise that people work six days a week and yet at many resorts they are always pleasant and welcoming. We like to highlight the hard working people here and how the maid or other person you cross paths with, has a back story. We will continue to bring you more insider article on life here. Sometimes we feel like National Geographic and have to think how fortunate we are to be close to so many people here and know the inside story. We feel a responsibility to tell other people about it. Thank you for reading and commenting on this article. We hope you come back soon and get to explore more! Even the small communities in the interior of the Yucatan can be amazing and the people so welcoming.

  5. Trixie Billings // June 4, 2016 at 2:56 AM // Reply

    I really liked your reporting on things behind the scenes. We have kept in touch with our favorite staff at Sirenes Resort. They are like family when we come back each year. I know how hard they work and are always pleasant. Your comments and insight are good and hope it helps people.

  6. Annette W. // June 17, 2016 at 5:18 PM // Reply

    Your website certainly opened my eyes to the fact that so many people work hard to provide services for tourist. I make sure to treat them well and become their friends. I hope resorts take note and pay wages that are good.

  7. I like how you go behind the scene to write about how things are there. I appreciate tell me how workers are treated and know what the wages are like in Mexico. I will be sure to think about that next time I am on vacation in Mexico.

  8. Just back form Riviera Maya, this is my four times to Cancun and Riviera Maya. My family love our stay in Cancun and Riviera Maya,people are friendly and work hard. I always think that Mexico should be a even greater country, because Mexican people not only work hard but also very smart. maybe those huge mega resorts are designed by European, but they need smart and work hard workers to build them.
    I will continue go back the Mexico to learn the culture and experience the beauty of this country.

    • Hello Kevin
      We are so glad you had a good time in Mexico and appreciate the hard working people that are working behind the scenes and in front of the scenes to make Mexico a welcoming place. Some of our staff was just in another country and had interactions with hotel staff, waiters etc, and really reflected back to Mexico and how hard working and friendly the people are in Mexico. We do really like living an working here in Mexico. laces can be beautiful but are made even better by the people.

  9. suezette kirlew // August 4, 2016 at 7:13 PM // Reply

    Very informative. I just came back from Cancun. I thought about the same thing the article addressed. My sisters and I made sure we tipped generously morning,noon and evening. We also made sure anyone who served us was tipped.

  10. We are in Mexico right now staying at the Valentin. This article is eye opening. I am amazed how hard working and pleasant the entire staff has been during our stay. Everyone greets you with a pleasant smile and is always willing to help. I have a lot of respect and admiration for everyone here.

    • We are happy to hear you notice how hard everyone is working there. We just got back from Europe and some of the places that deal with tourist has horrible attitudes and customer service. We were even more appreciative of the quality of the people here in Mexico. We hope the rest of your stay goes well and thank you for taking the time to make a comment.

  11. Joette Pinkham // September 5, 2016 at 6:43 PM // Reply

    It is interesting to know what it is like for people at the resorts.

  12. We just stayed at the Royal Hotel in Playa del Carmen. The staff there are so nice. Each year we see many of the same people and they are like family. The people in Mexico are so warm and the stupid people that worry about the boarder don’t know the real Mexico. Keep up the pleasant

  13. I just came back from a trip from MEXICO CITY, the people were super nice, was my first time there. I truly could not believe how nice everyone I came in contact was. Everything I heard in the media prior to going had me a little nervous, the media has it wrong!!! MEXICO CITY was and is amazing and so are the people. Upone leaving I found out that the minimum wage was 70 pecos a day, which I found truly shocking and sad!!! Everyone I came in contact with was so hardworking and nice, it truly broke my heart!! I find it very hard to see how they can make ends meet on that wage amount.

    • The first time I went to Mexico City I had all the thoughts of what was in the media as well. As soon as the plan was landing, I saw the green parks and rooftop pools. I was surprised already before hitting the ground. it is nice to hear you had a good time and met great people. It is amazing how hard most people work in Mexico and for the low wages. Most people also don’t realize that many people in Mexico work 5 1/2 or 6 days a week.

  14. We are leaving today from the Catalonia Riviera Maya hotel, it has been the most amazing 2 weeks, and we really want to come back soon.

    The staff are amazing, so friendly, helpful, and always a huge smile.

    In the UK we don’t really tip that much, but over here we’ve done it regularly, because we understand the wage situation, and we really appreciate the service that we’ve received.

    It’s an amazing area, so much culture on the doorstep, and we still have so much that we want to see, but we climbed the pyramid at Coba (if you’re thinking of doing it, get it done, you won’t be able to do it next year apparently), had a tour around Chichen Itza & Tulum. Still can’t quite get my head around what we were shown at Chichen Itza, mind blowing!

    Of course we also had to do the obligatory trip to Coco Bongo – great night!

    Genuinely can’t wait to come back, haven’t left yet, and missing it already!

    • Thank you so much Barrie for your trip report. It is nice to hear how people’s trips went and what they did. We are so pleased that not only did you meet nice staff along the at but also got out to explore. We hope you come back soon and get to explore more. We will be here writing and discovering more places for you.

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