You’re probably feeling pretty excited right now. You’ve just booked your first trip to Mexico and you can’t wait to soak up the sun and the tacos! There’s just one problem… You don’t know a word of Spanish.
Don’t worry, I’ve been there and I empathize. That’s why I’ve put together this cheat-sheet of key phrases that will get you through your trip. Plus, you can use them to impress your friends when you get home!
Are they the only Spanish phrases I know? I’ll never tell.
Greetings, Goodbyes & Pleasantries
In Mexico, pleasantries go a long way. Even if you aren’t able to converse with other people in Spanish it’s nice to be able to set the tone of your interaction with the appropriate greeting.
Let’s start with the classics. If you only manage to learn three phrases in Spanish let them be these:
“Buenas Noches” – “Good night”
If you want to show off a little you might add these to your repertoire:
And if you’re Canadian you’ll definitely need this one:
“Disculpe” – “Excuse me”
Now that you’ve demonstrated your ability to greet people, they are bound to attempt to converse with you. Here are a few of the questions most likely to be asked of you and the appropriate responses.
Your response should be:
“Soy de…” – “I am from…”
Or they may ask:
Think of this question as “Where are you arriving from?”
Your response should be:
“Vengo de…” – “I came from…”
For example, if you’re from Canada but you just flew in from Las Vegas, “Vengo de Las Vegas.”
Asking for Directions
Your trip will be greatly enhanced if you’re able to ask for directions to where you’re going! These phrases will get you started:
“Dónde está?” – “Where is…”
You probably recognize this one from the infamous phrase, “Dónde está la
But since you’re probably not visiting the library on your vacay you’ll want to learn a few additional vocabulary words that better represent your interests, ie. “la playa” (the beach).
Or, if you want to be a little more polite and formal you can ask like this:
There’s really no point in visiting Mexico if you don’t know enough Spanish to order a beer (
“Quiero…” – “I want…”
Of course, you’ll need to learn the names of some Mexican dishes to say after those phrases. You’re probably familiar with many of them already, but when in doubt, just say “dos de pastor.”
Your server will likely ask you how your food tastes. The correct answer is always:
And finally, when you’re done eating you’ll need to ask for the bill:
No trip is complete without a little souvenir shopping! Use these phrases to make sure you get all the info you need before making a purchase:
If you see an “I Love Mexico” shot glass that you just can’t resist, this is how you ask the price.
“Cuánto cuesta ésto” – “How much does this cost?”
Or maybe you spot a comically large sombrero at a street market and you want to try it on for your Insta story, this is what you say:
“Puedo ver é
By the end of your trip, you’re bound to be laden down with bags of souvenir hot sauces, tequila bottles, and a comically large sombrero (you couldn’t resist it, could you?). You’ll want to take a taxi to the airport.
This is how you should ask your driver:
And don’t forget to pay him at the end of the ride! Ask “Cuánto me cobra?” to find out how much it costs.
There you have it, my friends. These key words and phrases will help you immensely on your trip. Learning a few words in Spanish really breaks down barriers. Many people in Mexico speak or, at the very least, understand English, but if you make the effort to converse with them in Spanish they will be very appreciative.
Will it be awkward? Absolutely. But everyone loves a good language barrier anecdote!
In fact, if you already have a language barrier anecdote share it in the comments below!
I’m Janine, a Canadian-American expat based in Mexico. I feel strongly about living life on my own terms, which is why I left my 9 to 5 job to become a digital nomad and live abroad! Follow me for travel inspiration, stories about expat life, and the journey to becoming truly location independent!