Important tips for living and working as an architect in Mexico


Important tips for living and working as an architect in Mexico



Santuario Señor de Tula © Laure Nashed

This entry is based on my perspective, many conversations with friends and honesty/directness. I address issues here that can be sensitive, such as wage gaps (or social inequality), working conditions and the strong contrast between our privileged life in Switzerland and life in a developing country. With this entry, I hope to help architects who are thinking of working in Mexico to prepare themselves.


Santuario Señor de Tula © Laure Nashed


The very first thing to be clear about is what you are looking for personally and professionally. My previously well thought-out motivation was the back-up during the difficult months. Undoubtedly, everyone has difficulties when moving far from home – especially in a country that is such a contrast to the home country. From my point of view, the seeking of the following personal and professional experiences in Mexico City can serve as motivation:

– The search for friendly and collegial relationships with work colleagues.

– The search for a very dynamic, fast-changing and diverse architectural scene.

– The search for serenity/resilience: Mexicans always find a solution.

– The search for a rich exchange with craftsmen. Industrial products are often more expensive than developing the desired detail with a craftsman.

– The search for the “land of unlimited possibilities” – this is how Mexico is often described. In architecture, much is indeed possible, as less is legally prescribed than in European countries.

– The search for cultural richness and a fascinating history that goes back thousands of years.

– The search for a social environment that welcomes you quickly and without judgmental attitudes. Mexicans make it their business to help every foreigner feel at home.

– The search for smiles and kindness: I have never experienced a country that is so friendly even to begging homeless people.

– The search for development and life-changing experiences: Not only do you get to know the country and a new culture, but you also get to know yourself better. Far away from everything you knew before, you find yourself on your own.

You take the risk of immersing yourself in an unknown world. But you must never forget that you can return to your home country at any time. I kept asking myself, “What do I have to lose / What do I have to gain?”



The digital age and namely Skype make the application process possible at a distance. But you don’t give much room to intuition in this setting. You don’t get a feel for the office space and the general atmosphere in the office. But because of the distance and the flight costs, it hardly makes sense to fly to Mexico just for the application.

I have heard from many people who applied on site and were allowed to support the office for the first few months until the visa arrived and were compensated financially for this (cash payment – black). You get a tourist visa for 6 months in Mexico. For us Europeans, working without a permit feels completely illegal and not right, which is basically true. The Mexican authorities, on the other hand, make it so difficult for the employee and the employer that I think this attitude can be quite reasonable. I explain more about this under “Visa”.

It is also important to know that in Mexico an enormous amount is done through contacts. From my own experience, I can say that the likelihood of a response to an application increases many times over if a contact is involved. That sounds sobering for a foreigner without contacts. But the big advantage is that Mexicans are enormously helpful. This statement may seem strange, but it is true: if you know a Mexican through more than two corners, there is a good chance that he or she will help you.

Swiss universities are well known to Mexican architects. Professional experience on a CV, on the other hand, is a bit more abstract, unless you have worked in a world-famous Swiss office. It is therefore important to have a convincing portfolio and to mention the exact professional experience in your CV.


Where to apply?

I share here my personal list of architecture firms in Mexico City. The list is completely without evaluation of the working conditions and satisfaction of the staff. I only estimate the size of the offices at this stage.

– Small architecture firms with max. 10 employees: LANZA Atelier, Max von Werz, Zeller Moye, Frida Escobedo, Hector Barroso, Pedro y Juana, ANTNA, APRDELESP

– Medium-sized architecture firms with 10-25 employees: Dellekamp Schleich, MMX, Productora, Alberto Kalach, CCA, Ambrosi Etchegaray, Perez Palacios

– Large architectural firms with 30 or more employees: Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, Rozana Montiel, Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, Javier Sánchez (JSa)


Salary in Mexico as an architect and cost of living

The financial situation is the biggest challenge for me. Compared to Switzerland, you earn very little here as a young architect. Compared to the majority of the Mexican population, however, you earn very well. According to the Mexican statistics from INEGI, only 4.5% of the Mexican population earns more than 13,000 MXN (660 CHF/USD). The cost of living in Mexico City is the highest in the country, according to Numbeo.

I share here my estimation of salaries in architectural offices specialised in design (before tax deduction, incl. accident/emergency health insurance – mostly without further health insurance, pension, social security). Salary depends very much on the size and general attitude of the firm.

– “Junior” architect with 0-2 years experience: 9’000 – 14’000 MXN (460-715 CHF/USD)

– Architect with 2-5 years of experience: 15’000 – 18’000 MXN (765-920 CHF/USD)

– “Senior” architect with 5-10 years of experience: 19’000 – 24’000 MXN (970-1220 CHF/USD)

– Project manager: from 22’000 MXN (from 1120 CHF/USD)

On the Numbeo page you can compare the cost of living in the respective countries. If you compare Zurich with Mexico City, in my case I would have to earn 32’000 MXN to maintain the same standard of living I had as a young architect in Zurich. The rents in Mexico City are disproportionately expensive compared to my salary.

The salary as a young architect in Mexico City is not enough for me to pay for a plane ticket to Switzerland or to save money. If you limit your experience in Mexico to a certain period of time, it is easier to cope with the – in my understanding – low salary. Especially if you come from Switzerland, you inevitably give up your (high) standard of living and security in many areas in Mexico. Without another source of income, it is almost impossible to imagine a future here with this background.

It is also important to know that in Mexican offices the wage differences and hierarchies are much bigger than we are used to in Switzerland. You have to be able to accept that your boss posts his trip abroad in a luxury hotel on Instagram, while you think 5 times about whether you can afford the new Adidas shoes.


Working hours and holiday entitlement

This section refers to my experience and that of some friends:

The weekly working hours in architecture offices range between 42.5 – 45.5 hours. In addition, there is an average of 3-5 hours of overtime per week, which are regulated differently. Only 6 days of holiday per year are prescribed by law. Most architecture firms agree on 10-15 paid holidays with their employees. In addition, a maximum of 5-10 unpaid leave days can be taken.

In the OECD statistics, Mexico is listed as the country with the most working hours.



The national language is Spanish. Due to the proximity to the USA and many American expats in Mexico City, many Mexicans speak some English. To communicate with planners and tradesmen, as in any country, you cannot avoid learning the local language. 


Verbal commitments, promises and patience

According to Swiss understanding, verbal promises are binding in a job.

I was very disillusioned to discover that in Mexico, verbal agreements and promises are treated much more loosely. Out of Mexican politeness, things are promised. Whether the promise is later kept is written in the stars. For us Europeans, this is very difficult to judge. Perhaps one should explain in a friendly way from the beginning that one has a different understanding of promises and ask for clarification so that later conflicts can be avoided.

Without patience and understanding of the Mexican mentality, you run into walls here. In my opinion, this is where the biggest culture clash arises. In general, Mexicans also have a different sense of time. Even if the official processing time is 4-6 weeks, it can end up taking 4-6 months. Official procedures are associated with a great deal of time uncertainty. Architects and planners are usually expected to do the opposite: to get everything done as quickly as possible. This applies to work with both public and private clients.



This topic has cost me a lot of nerves. There are constant adjustments at the “migration office”, which in most cases cannot be found on their homepage. You have to rely completely on your workplace and acquaintances. A Facebook group for foreigners in Mexico was also enormously helpful. Here, thousands of members exchange information about the current status. I describe the status in summer 2019 here.

Basically, for the visa process, it’s best to rely on your future job. They will help with putting together the documents and filling out the initial forms. Officially, the visa process should take four to six weeks. When an architecture firm refers to this official duration of the visa process, it is important to ask for their honest assessment of how long it really takes. Because I don’t know anyone for whom this duration was adhered to. Even before the change of government, it was more like 3 months. After the change of government, people had to wait 4 to 5 months without having any idea how long they would have to wait. You have to expect that the visa process is unpredictable. It is enormously important to agree with the future office how the waiting time will be handled. Otherwise, you could end up stuck in Mexico with no idea when you can start working. This experience cost me a lot of money.

After an unspecified period of time (about 1-5 months), you then receive a document with a permit number (NUT number) with which you can make an appointment at a Mexican consulate (important: outside Mexico). You have 30 days to make this appointment. Depending on which country you go to the Mexican consulate in, it is better or worse organised. In the best case, you will receive your provisional visa at the first appointment at the consulate. In the worse organised consulate in Guatemala, I had to go to the consulate three times and pay about 35 CHF/USD. With this provisional visa you can enter Mexico (again).

For the next steps, you always have to go back to the migration office in the city. Before that, you have to fill out a bunch of paperwork and pay a bill of 4000 pesos (200 CHD/USD). It has to be agreed beforehand with the architect’s office who will cover the costs. This payment is equivalent to a work and residence permit for one year. The migration office is impressively inefficient. You have to expect at least 2 hours of waiting each time.

After 2-3 visits to the migration office, you have to wait again to get the FM2 residence permit card. Only with this card can you register with the tax authorities and open a bank account. At the migration office I was told that I would receive my FM2 card in 2 weeks. In the end, I received the card 2.5 months later.

The first work and residence permit, called “Residente temporal”, is valid for one year. It can then be extended to a total of four years.


Tax regime and SAT tax authority

There are two basic tax regimes: salaried employees “Asalariados” and freelancers “Honorarios”. It is more costly for the company to hire architects as “employees”. At the same time, it is much easier for the individual architect to have a contract as an employee. Under the “asalariados” system, the company is obliged to provide social insurance for its employees and to give them a share of the profits. As a freelancer, you have to file a monthly and annual tax return. The monthly taxes amount to about 20% of the salary, unless one declares as many bills as possible (purchases, restaurant, etc.), which in turn reduces the tax amount. Since the system is very complex, especially for foreigners, you have to rely on the help of a tax consultant. This in turn costs about 500 pesos a month. The only advantage I see in the freelancer “Honorarios” system is that you can work for different companies if you want.

In order to be able to reduce your taxes under the “Honorarios” scheme based on declared invoices as described above, one must be in possession of the FM2 card. Only with this card and the corresponding “RFC” number can one register with the SAT tax office. If you already have your work permit and start working before you get this card, it is essential to check with the architect’s office what this means for taxes. This is very important because at this point you have no way to reduce the 20% tax. From the point of view of many of my architect friends, a compromise must be found here between employer and employee. There are several options here for the firm. If the office is not willing to find a compromise, then it is definitely not the right place for a foreign architect who has already made a great personal and financial effort.


Change of workplace

If it turns out that it is not the right job, you are not tied to that workplace. The work and residence permit is valid for one year. You have 90 days to inform the Migration Office about the change of job. I have been told by several people that it is extremely difficult to take the permit away from the foreigner again.



There is no point in beating around the bush here. No matter how well you prepare, no matter how many probiotics you take, no matter how careful you are when choosing a restaurant: sooner or later Montezuma’s revenge gets everyone. Bacteria that are foreign to us are hiding everywhere. Reasons for this are, for example, low hygiene standards and the sometimes inadequate refrigeration of food. Tap water in Mexico is a paradise for bacteria. You have to get through it.

Important: International or Swiss health insurance often do not cover visits to the doctor. Insurance in Mexico is much cheaper than international or Swiss insurance. If you plan to stay longer in Mexico, it certainly makes sense to take out Mexican health insurance, as you can’t afford EU/CH health insurance on your salary anyway. A good health insurance (e.g. Seguros Monterrey, which was also recommended to me by good doctors) costs about 26,000 pesos per year.


Last but not least…

…I have often been asked why a Swiss architect decides to live in Mexico. I have also asked myself this question many times in recent months. And the answer is ultimately simple: because of the infinitely warm, friendly and polite people as well as a dynamic architectural scene that simply grabs me. It is a never-ending journey of discovery.


Postscript 14.12.2020

During the Covid 19 crisis, many salaries were cut by 30%. I was very lucky to have alternatives at that time and decided to leave my job as an architect in Mexico and become self-employed to pursue my own projects.