Mexico takes consumer rights very seriously and has an impressive 100+ page federal consumer rights law (Ley Federal de Protección al Consumidor) designed to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices.
The law is enforced by a government body called la Procuraduría del Consumidor, or Profeco for short. They are tasked with ensuring compliance through inspections, investigating consumer complaints and sanctioning businesses found in violation.
Well, as we all know, just because there is a law in place doesn’t mean that everyone will follow it and the consumer protection law is no exception. In fact, if you’re a foreigner, then you’re even more likely to encounter a violation because some businesses/ restaurants/ bars are counting on your ignorance of Mexican law.
Fortunately, you only have to learn four important things about Mexico’s consumer protection law to avoid paying too much for goods and services. Here they are:
1) Tipping is voluntary
Tipping is 100% voluntary in Mexico and businesses are not permitted to add a mandatory tip or service fee to the final bill. Sometimes it’s slid in as a line item and many people don’t even notice. This results in people unknowingly double-tipping.
Just to be clear, it is customary to tip in Mexico and I encourage everyone to do it whenever appropriate. If you need some guidance in this area, check out Tipping in Mexico.
2) All prices must be visible or listed in the menu
The price of any good, product or service must be displayed. If a vendor can only quote you a price verbally, that’s a violation.
3) The exhibited price must be the total amount to be paid
The exhibited price for a product or service must be the total to be paid and already include all taxes, commissions, interest, insurance, or any other charge required to obtain it. That means the price you see, is the price you pay — period.
4) Businesses must honor promotions and ads
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If the sign says “1/2 price beers all day” and they try to charge you full price, that’s a violation.
Carry a Copy of Your Rights With You
If you have limited Spanish-speaking ability, the challenge after you identify a violation (e.g. a restaurant adds additional fees to your bill) will be in articulating your displeasure and getting the charges removed.
To help those folks, I created an educational business card that you can hand to the waiter, manager or business owner that will do much of the talking for you. The card highlights the key points of the federal consumer protection law and includes the maximum fine for violations.
One side of the card is in Spanish and the other in English (shown below):
I created a similar card a couple of years back and distributed them to expats in the area. Several of them later wrote me to tell me how they were able to successfully resolve the consumer dispute after presenting the card.
I uploaded the template to Vistaprint so readers could order their own copies. By the way, I don’t make a penny from the sale of the cards.
Enforcement of the Law
In most cases, you should be able to resolve your consumer complaint directly with the business without involving the authorities, but in the event that you can’t, you can always turn to Profeco for help.
I plan to do a separate post explaining the procedures and requirements to file a formal consumer complaint.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Whether you’re a tourist or a resident here in Mexico, there’s one thing that we all have in common — we’re all consumers. Learn your rights, carry them with you and don’t allow yourself to be cheated, overcharged or otherwise defrauded.