Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 05/21/11

Personal Experiences from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic 05/21/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Second expat experience but first time on Official Business

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC 6-7 hour trip with a layover in Miami

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3. How long have you lived here?

10 months

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Houses seem to be nice sizes for people with families and I've heard that folks in apartments consider their places spacious too. Our place is fantastic and although we have had problems with falling ceilings due to humidity, I don't have any complaints. People are placed in various locations - some within walking distance from the Embassy. Commutes range from 10 minutes to 1 hour during rush hour.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Full disclosure: We don't buy boxed/frozen food so I can't comment on those prices. Fruit/veggies are cheaper than in the U.S. usally but more expensive than Guatemala, Peru, and Ecuador. (e.g. 1 avocado is $1). We buy at the grocery store on Sale day every week b/c it's cheaper than the market. Household supplies are more expensive here if you want to use the same brands as in the U.S. so I order lots from Walmart (free or 97 cents shipping straight to DPO) or Amazon.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Children's raincoats, large carpets for these hard floors...not much b/c I can get pretty much everything online.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

One of the worst things about Santo Domingo (to me) is the fact that it is full of fast [junk] food places. I can walk to Baskin Robbins, a yogurt place, 2 local pizza places, McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Dominos, and Pizza Hut from my house. They also have Taco Bell, Wendys, a 24 hot dog place and so much more. I don't eat there so can't comment on price but it reminds me of the South Side of Chicago. There are lots of Italian restaurants, a handful of Lebanese places, and several seafood places too. All but the Lebanese places are unnecessarily expensive in my opinion - $40-$60 for two.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Can't seem to find organic produce on a regular basis and I've looked hard. There is a grocery store with organic packaged food and the prices make Whole Foods look like a discount grocery chain. There are a couple of places to buy meat substitutes (Asian restaurant that sells frozen food and little shop near the Embassy). I've seen a gluten-free store but haven't made it inside yet.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes carry dengue fever in the city, sand flies (but not all year round), of course cockroaches exist but nothing a little borax can't handle to make them disappear

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and Pouch

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Widely available with wide range of skills. The cost is between $250-$350 month for a live-out housekeeper/nanny/cook.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, but they seem to be priced just like they are in the U.S.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We mostly write checks at the embassy and don't use the ATMs unless they are in places that are secure. Credit card fraud is rampant here.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Lots, although surprisingly many Dominicans speak English.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Sidewalks are not even and easily walkable.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

We're not allowed to take the buses. Haven't used the metro. 2 taxi companies are approved for our use and they are about $4-$5/trip.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Small SUVs seem best but many Dominicans drive large SUVs and bogard their way through traffic. Anything will do.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes available and about $70/month including phone. Pretty reliable.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

All phone plans seems to work well.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

I can't imagine.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual to Business

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Crime is relatively high - purse/jewelry snatching by guys on motorcycles; narcotrafficking that doesn't typically affect USG personnel, opportunistic crimes

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Dengue fever, allergies, cholera, parasites. Medical care is okay although I would never want to be hospitalized here.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality is unhealthy in Santo Domingo but I usually don't notice it until in afternoon rush hour traffic while getting nauseous in the car due to the strong fumes

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and humid during several months, hot and rainy from July - October, warm and perfect from November/December to February

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Carol Morgan is backed by the Embassy and is considered a good school. We used an alternate school, as many other families have done, and I would not recommend it (El Dominico Americano) to anyone who wants an organized environment for their children.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There are many preschool options that range from the traditional style with rote learning and worksheets to Reggio Emilio, Multiple Intelligence, and "montessori" based schools. We love the school our child attends. After age 2 though it is difficult to find a quality preschool that teaches in Spanish - they are all English speaking.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Small - medium. I really can't answer this question since I don't mingle much.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are many opportunities to socialize within the USG community and outside. There are movie theaters, live theater, concerts, tons of restaurants, and tons of malls.

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3. Morale among expats:

Moderate to good. I know people that don't like the place and others that really like it.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

I imagine it is great for singles and really good for couples and families with young children. For families that have teens and want to immerse them in a culture of respect and decency, it may not be the best choice.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I haven't heard anything but I've seem some openly gay guys.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Absolutely. To be black, brown, or anything other than white-looking or light-skinned is negative. Dominicans (in general but not all) have a problem with Hatians and anyone that looks Hatian (which includes almost half of their population).Females are taught that their bodies and faces are most important and sexuality should be flaunted - even from a very young age.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Close proximity to clean beaches (45 minutes away), free folkloric musical and dance performances

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Open-air concerts and cultural performances in the Colonial Zone, visit beaches 45 minutes away, walk on the Malecon at night with the kids, visit the aquarium, Los Tres Ojos

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Ambar or Larimar but is that really unique?

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Warm weather all year round, lots of cultural events like live music and theater

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11. Can you save money?

Doesn't seem like it.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Umm, NO.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Driving manners, expectation that people will simply be courteous, and jackets/coats.

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3. But don't forget your:

Positive attitude, flip flops, beach towel, dancing shoes

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The rudeness, bad attitudes, and value system of Dominicans just rubs me the wrong way. That said, I'm sure that as soon as my attitude changes, I will be able to enjoy the country more. I love the way merengue and bachata music and dancing are a big part of the culture.

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