A Gringo’s Guide to Being on Time in Mexico

Arriving at social gatherings in Mexico is a true art form. For Mexicans, it comes naturally. They know exactly when to show up for parties, coffee dates, dinners, etc without offending anyone or being offended by others.

For expats, we need a few years of careful cultural study before we finally stop checking our watches in annoyance every time we plan a meetup at Sanborns. When an American says a party starts at 7pm, you can be sure that all guests will be there at 7pm (and leaving at 9pm haha). In Mexico, parties start whenever and end some time before everyone has to go to work the next morning.

Hopefully I can help you jump ahead in your quest to being on time in Mexico by laying out what I’ve learned as an American in Mexico over the past 9 years.

1. One-on-one

So you’re in Mexico, and you’ve agreed to meet someone for coffee, or maybe a late dinner. If you made these plans more than one day in advance, I’m sorry to tell you that your plans do not exist. It’s useful to check ahead to make sure the other person doesn’t already have plans for that time, but your plans aren’t official until you call or text them the day of the meeting to confirm. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Tell the person you would like to meet up with them the following day. Mention the general time (morning, lunch, dinner, night, etc), but don’t bother with an actual time just yet.

Step 2: The morning of said meeting, text or call the person with something along the lines of, “Good morning! Can you still meet me today? Does 8pm at Sanborns sound good?”

Step 3: Now we’re getting into expert level. This is my secret to saving yourself a lot of headache… Text the person 30 minutes before the scheduled time with something like, “Getting ready now! See you in half an hour. Can’t wait!” This will help ensure they don’t forget or back out. It also gives them an opening to let you know if they will be late.

Step 4: Arrive 10 minutes later than whatever time they plan to arrive. It’s ok because they will be 15 minutes late.

Step 5: If for some reason you arrive after the other person, even if it’s 30 seconds after, you have to give a lame excuse. You can just quickly say, “Sorry, traffic was bad” or whatever you want, but you have to give some reason. Otherwise it would be awkward. I don’t know why. It’s just what you do.

2. Small groups of friends

The lead-up to plans with groups of 3 – 10 friends is the same as with a one-on-one. (Confirm the day of, etc.) However, things get a little tricky because the time is likely to be pushed back further and further the closer you get. With modern technology, I recommend a text chat group with this group of friends so you can get a play-by-play. Be ready to leave your house at the set time. If you planned to meet somewhere at 8pm, that’s the time you should be putting your shoes on to leave. BUT… don’t actually leave your house until you get a text from someone saying, “Ok I’m here. Where are you guys?” This way, you won’t be the first to arrive, but you won’t be the last, either.

3. House parties

If you show up within 30 minutes of a Mexican party’s scheduled start time, congratulations: you have just earned a spot on the planning committee. If you’re a family member of the host, you’ll be asked to run to Walmart to pick up soda, paper plates and tortilla chips. If you’re not a family member, you will have to help set up chairs and tables, then sit around in awkward silence waiting for everyone else to arrive. I try to arrive 1 hour after the scheduled time. That way you’re not the first person to arrive, but you’ve still made it in time to score the best taco ingredients and see the piñata. If you have close friends or family attending the same party, you can always call or text them to see when they plan on being there.

Bonus tips!!

  • While Mexicans are rarely on time for social events, they always try to be on time for business meetings, interviews, class, doctor’s appointments, exams and movies.
  • Never, ever make plans with a Mexican on a Sunday. Sunday in Mexico is strictly family day, and unless they’re inviting you to their cousin’s birthday party or their nephew’s baptism party, there’s no way they’re going to make time for you.
  • The Mamá Factor: Even if you follow all the proper steps, keep in mind that a Mexican may still cancel on you at any time if their mom calls and asks them for something. (I’ve had friends cancel on me at the last minute to go to the grocery store with their mom… more than once.)



27 thoughts on “A Gringo’s Guide to Being on Time in Mexico

    • Love it! When I’m in Yucatan visiting my husband’s family, there is never, ever a set time. Since they’re all in little towns, you’re never more than 2 blocks away… so whenever the party starts, somebody will come and get you!

  1. I’ll fit right in. I am always late. In US particularly , when one is late, they fall apart.
    In Vancouver, a little more laid back.. Merida 2015!

  2. Great article Amiga. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.

    I went to a Mexican child’s birthday party, at a party venue. Invitation said 12:30. My Mexican girlfriend, her two kiddos and I arrived at 12:40. That was my doing. No evidence of a party about to happen. At 1:15 we were the only ones there. I am getting antsy. But we had a cooler with beer and there was a pool. A few minutes later others started showing up, but not the birthday boy or his mom and dad. At 2 pm they showed. Everybody helped hang the balloons, streamers etc. They had bottled beer but no bottle opener. Fortunately, I did. You get used to it.

  3. The (in)famous “Mexican Time”, as a mexican Im not offended at all, is something in our genes, the mexican parties always start (if you are lucky) one hour after the schedule, and nobody is offended.
    The mamá factor LOl!
    Excellent work!

  4. I had a Mexican friend who would tell us that she was going to try not to be Mexican and be on time. She would seriously pep talk herself as she was putting the meeting in her phone calendar. It was hilarious. The best part was when she was only 15 minutes late, she would say, “See, I can be American. I’m only 15 minutes late. Good, no?”

  5. this is GOLD! i think we’ve adapted – the last wedding we went to husband and children were FREAKING out as we left our house about 2 hours “late”. i told them we’d be Fine. We still beat the bride and groom to the venue but AT LEAST an hour. 🙂

    oh no – the LAST wedding was a Canadian/Mexican one and we missed the whole ceremony because we showed up only an hour late. apparently we were given the “gringo” start time (but from now on they’ll give us the “mexican” one).

  6. I live fulltime in PV and do not find Mexican time acceptable. I leave and try not to be placed in that position. What’s next? That it is cute and funny that thievery goes on? I understand the whatever attitude but I don’t reward. Thanks

    • When in Rome, do as Romans do. You cannot actually expect people to change their habits and traditions because YOU moved to their country. Sorry. We are quite accommodating but we are fed up with foreigners telling us, obviously in their opinion, what is acceptable and what is not. Like I’ve said to several foreigners, if you don’t like it, please go back to your country of origin.

  7. My former Spanish/English techer in Mexico had a cross-cultural party. He told the Mexican students to arrive on time and bring a host gift. And he told the gringo students to arrive two hours late and bring four people who weren’t invited.

  8. What a huge difference between here and there. No wonder I like going to Mexico so much. And I do appreciate your being on time when we met at Marakame in Cancun a couple of years ago. Especially after reading this. We just got back from Cancun last wkend, and we thought about you and that awesome restaurant.

  9. Thanks Laura !! I just arrived in Mexico DF less than 2 weeks ago. I don’t know a lot yet about the culture but so far I had to meet my future flatmate to give her the deposits at 11am. I arrived at 11.15, I am not really an “on time” person either, she was not even awake !! But in a way I just spent 2 years in the UK where each time my phone would ring at 1 minute past the meeting time to ask me “where are you ??”. I think I’ll like the Mexican way of life, as soon as I will get better…(seek as hell for the last 24h, don’t know if I’ll ever eat again)

    • Bring a book or crossword puzzle and relax…they, may or may not show.
      At a family gathering I have always enjoyed pitching ub to help with the event and make friends,
      Infact at one party, the cake lady was sick, so I ran home and baked a cake when I returned with it, folk were just starting to arrive.
      Mama wanted candles in the cake immediately, unfortunately the cake was still quite warm and the candles wilted.

  10. HAHAHAHA this is so good! I’m mexican and this made me laugh so much! It’s so true, I could relate with each and every single one of these lol. I didn’t even notice I did that a lot until I read this haha

  11. Ha! I’ve waited over an hour for friends while living in Mexico. It works out fine if you’re running late but is so frustrating if you’re on the other end. Haha.

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