Building in Mexico

By Dean McQuillen

“Hello, I am liar!” This stranger to me was just outside the gate of the house I had just rented. The very house I was in the process of converting into a carpentry shop for the fabrication of components for the construction of my house in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

“Yes, I am liar.” Smiling broadly, he had offered his hand through the bars of the gate for me to shake. Remarkably honest of him, I thought, considering his apparent vocation, I threw my wife, Doris, a wry look – she looked like she just swallowed a canary.

“Thanks, amigo, thanks for your frankness – I’ll watch out for you,” I offered playfully and pumped his hand. This stranger was with another Mexican I only vaguely knew at the time, his name was Victor. I opened the gate and invited them into the yard. Victor speaks English well, and I had a strong will to learn Spanish as well as he’d learned English.

“Hola, Victor, ¿que paso?” I offered in my then very limited Spanish. “Dean, I thought you might need a liar, so I brought my friend, Ulices, by to meet you”.

“No, no … I can’t think of what I would need one for, Victor … maybe a carpenter…” I began when Ulices proudly stated, “¡I am carpenter!”, and stood there smiling like I was looking at the solution to my carpenter needs. I wondered if he was exhibiting his lying skills.

“Victor, first this guy is a liar, now he’s a carpenter. A liar, Victor, is someone who doesn’t tell the truth. Is he lying about being a carpenter?” I queried. Ulices’ English was not very good, and he just stood and smiled and knowingly nodded like all was well. Now Victor looked like he’d mistakenly swigged from yesterday’s cervesa.

“Dean, a liar, you know, for contracts for your employees”, said Victor. I looked at Doris and back at Victor, “Victor, Ulices is a lawyer, not a liar”. We all laughed for a while and replayed and explored further the implications of the exchange we just had with the meaning of the mispronounced word revealed. Mexicans do love to laugh, and I’ve never met one too proud to laugh at themselves. As it turned out, a lawyer was exactly what I needed.
If you are intent on being the General Contractor on your project in Mexico, the following I strongly recommended, and/or are required, if you are playing by the rules:
A Property Survey. I highly recommend getting an up-to-date survey. Current surveys of property are done with state-of-the-art GPS monument locations and skilled operators. Old surveys can be very inaccurate; rare is the property with an old survey and correct monument locations. As a result, petty, and very serious disputes of property lines are rife in Mexico. If you bought property with an old survey, your monuments are likely in the wrong place – mine were incorrect; my property grew a little.
A Building Permit. In order to obtain a building permit, you will have to have plans for your project to submit. These plans, in my experience, can be in both English and Spanish (Spanish is required) and the plans have to be in metric. Mexico is a meters and liters kind of country. If you want to gung-ho the construction of your dream-house with no Building Permit, ¡Buena Suerte! (Good Luck!).
Contracts for your employees and sub-contractors. This is one area where a lawyer or notary public will be of use. A lawyer or notary public will also be helpful and sometimes necessary should there be an accident on your work site, or in the case of a dispute with an employee. No matter your involvement in the building process, a lawyer or notary public is necessary. Unlike Canada, a notary public can actually be more expensive in Mexico, a lawyer is a good choice for legal obligations when building in Mexico.
If you hire a General Contractor (GC), he or she will have to have contracts with all the employees, and the GC will also have to pay their version of workers insurance (IMSS – Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social or the Mexican Social Security Institute). Another expense is Mexican Seguro through the Mexican institute known as Infonavit (Health Care premiums which extend to and include the employees families). Possibly the GC has a lawyer taking care of all of this, but you must make sure you have proof of it all in order (I would suggest copies of the receipts, and you should be seeing these receipts every month for Seguro, and every two months for IMSS).
If you just go in and ‘cowboy’ these aspects of the building process, you will very likely experience legal problems. If you don’t want any problems, you have to ensure that your GC is following the rules.
If you are the GC, you will need to consider and provide these for your employees. The larger the crew you have, the more this is going to cost, but it is not a prohibitive cost with respect to a reasonable budget for construction costs.
Mexico has definitive laws governing the employee/employer relationship designed to protect the employee, as a result, there must be just cause for the firing of an employee, or they could take legal action.
Once your project is done, you will also have to pay severance pay to your employees. These are all facts of building in Mexico, and ignoring any or all of them can result in a sea of expensive and serious legal hassles, or worse.
There are also a phenomenal quantity of holidays in Mexico, many of them are paid days off for your employees.
The Mexicans even have a Dia Del Taco (Day of the Taco) – this is not a paid holiday, but it just illustrates how Mexicans celebrate pretty near everything, and that, presumably, is a contributing factor for why you are considering building in Mexico in the first place.

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Living in Mexico full time since 2011, Madeline is a graphic designer, writer, iPhone photographer and road tripper.