Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 06/21/11
Personal Experiences from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
If you fly from D.C., there is a stop (San Jan, Miami, Atlanta). Coming from NY or NJ, there are direct flights. To go to the west coast is a full day of travel and usually at least 2 stops. Those flights are VERY pricey.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is a mixed bag. There are nice apartments (though there are seismic issues) and decent houses. The Embassy does not really take into account family size or preferences when assigning housing. Things break quite often but if you are persistent, you can get them repaired within a week or so (you have to be VERY persistent). Be prepared for water shortages (all houses have a cistern) and power outages (everyone has a generator). We've had our water cut off 4 or 5 times but you can usually call a water truck to remedy the situation. Everyone is placed in at least a 3 bed/3 bath home. The commute can be an issue if you are far away from the embassy (traffic is awful here).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get almost anything here. It can be funny to see what the stores decide to import. I've seen random lean cuisines, tofu, and artisan cheeses. However, you really have to check the expiration dates and don't be surprised if a dairy product has not been properly refrigerated. Things like oil, rice, and local products are cheap but expect Washington D.C. prices for many imported products. DR is random, I've even seen 7th Generation toilet bowl cleaner for sale here...it really depends on what the stores decide to import at any given time.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Brown sugar, specific hair products, any special over the counter meds, a UPS to protect electronics, clothes.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Almost EVERY fast food restaurant is here, though no Starbucks yet. Santo Domingo does have McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Taco Bell, KFC, Quiznos, and many pizza places (including Dominoes, Papa John's and Pizza Hut). There are a ton of Chinese restaurants, some Mexican, Korean, and a great Chilean sandwich shop. You can get almost anything delivered. There isn't really any Indian or Thai food. One of the best things about the DR is the colmado. Colmados are a cross between a neighborhood bar and a convenience store. They deliver anything (beer, toilet paper, eggs, ice) and locals hang out there playing dominoes and drinking rum.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Most big stores (Jumbo, Nacional) have a selection of specialty products. However, it depends on what they import so don't expect the same selection every time. A 4 pack of Gardenburgers will run you $7-$10.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Dengue is a problem here. Mosquitoes are everywhere and it's hard to prevent them from getting inside (windows and doors in our house have huge gaps--houses are designed without air conditioning in mind). There are also a lot of ants inside and outside.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is cheap and the quality is generally good. A housekeeper that cleans twice a week runs between $15-$20 per day.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, the Embassy has a small gym. Many people use "the body shop". I think it's fairly expensive but some places offer discounts.
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?
Be VERY careful. I only use a credit card when grocery shopping and I check my statement frequently. Quite a few people have had their cards used fraudulently. ATMs should only be used at major banks (Scotia bank is good).
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
The cable companies have some US channels from NY (ABC, NBC, CBS), you have to pay for a lot of useless channels in order to get ESPN, CNN, etc. I pay around $100 USD for internet and cable in two rooms. The service isn't great, there are frequent outages. The customer service is AWFUL/nonexistent.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need Spanish! It's ok to have imperfect Spanish as Dominicans are patient but I think it would be very difficult to live here without any Spanish. You need it to order in a restaurant, buy groceries, pay bills, and communicate in general.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be very difficult. The U.S. Embassy barely has ADA acceptable facilities. Sidewalks (where there are sidewalks) are in horrible condition. There are elevators but given the electricity situation in this country, I try to avoid them.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The only taxi company that is considered safe is Apolo. There are a ton of no-name taxis and public cars but they are not very safe. We are not supposed to take the buses or metro. The metro is new and I've heard it it nice, the route is very limited at this time.
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?
You need a car here. Most people bring a SUV. The roads are poor, potholes are everywhere. There are some rough roads on the way out of Santo Domingo as well. You can easily sell your car for the purchase price at the end of your tour. Cars sold here are more expensive. The most popular car brands are Toyota, Nissan, and Honda.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. it can be spotty but it's fast. Expect to pay $50 USD per month for internet alone.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can use Claro/Codetel or Orange. A lot of people have blackberries. My plan is one of the cheapest and I pay around $14 USD per month. You should expect to pay a lot more for a data plan. The Embassy does not issue phones to all officers.
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?
No, you just need a health certificate.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Pretty good. Kennels and vets are much cheaper than in the States. You have to be careful about where you board your pet (sometimes it's worth it to pay a little more). You can find vets that speak English and are excellent.
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?
It depends on your job. I think teachers would have a lot of opportunities. You would definitely need Spanish and the pay would be very low compared to the U.S. or Europe.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
No one wears shorts. People at work wear suits or business casual. Women dress provocatively and the motto seems to be "the tighter the better, the higher the heels, the better". The younger men like to rock the bedazzled jeans.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is a lot of crime here, this is a poor country and many people carry guns. I have not been a victim but I know people who have. It's important to be careful. For example, don't go running alone with an i-pod, always lock your doors and use your alarm, don't use unmarked taxis...it's probably similar to most places. I generally feel safe here. My advice is to be very careful driving to Santo Domingo from the airport, there are lots of robberies around the airport.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
It seems to be ok. The dentists are good and I've had blood work done twice, no complaints. Unfortunately, doctors and nurses are paid extremely low wages here. The labor laws (or lack there of) lead to very overworked staff at medical centers.
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 in the city is not great. The breeze helps but Santo Domingo is very polluted. They often burn garbage and the thought of cars having any sort of emissions regulations is a joke.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is hot and humid from March until October-ish. Hurricane season lasts from June to the end of November. It rains a lot in the summer and is pleasant from November-February. The humidity takes some getting used to but no real complaints. Some parts of the country can get cooler but you don't need winter clothing.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I've heard that there is baseball, gymnastics, and swimming.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's hard to tell. There are a ton of dual nationals and a lot of Europeans retire here.
2. Morale among expats:
It varies. Some people absolutely hate it here. It can be a struggle to get services and the traffic is horrible. The "me-first" attitude can get to you. However, there are a lot of things to do and it's a pretty nice place to live.
3. 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 lots of bars, restaurants, clubs, and sports teams. Dominicans are very friendly.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes. The families I know are pretty happy living here. My single friends also enjoy it. There are some great restaurants, bars, and great weekend getaways. If you like to dance, this is your country. Just be careful, a lot of people are just looking for that visa.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think it would be tough, there are some same-sex couples in the Embassy community but I don't think it's accepted in this country. I think dating could be difficult. That being said, I'm sure it's better than a lot of countries.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, there is a huge issue with Haitians in the DR. You will hear a lot of rhetoric about Haitians crossing the border to give birth, stealing jobs, living illegally, etc. This is also a very male-dominated society. Men frequently father many children with many different women, it's considered not only acceptable, but the norm. You don't see many women in powerful positions in the government or the private sector.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting out of Santo Domingo is important. We have enjoyed visiting different parts of the country. You can find some nice hotels and those vacations have been great.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
beaches, hiking, rafting, there are a lot of options! Las Terrenas is great, Pedernales has cacti on the beach!
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Presidente or Brugal...
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Beaches! This country has amazing beaches and other nice outdoor activities. Dominicans are very friendly and we've made some great friends here. The weather is pretty nice. It can get really humid and there are hurricanes but the "winter" is perfect.
11. Can you save money?
It depends. If you eat out a lot, travel frequently, or only have one income, no. However, if you really try or have a good paying job, you can easily save money.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, it's been a good experience. It can be frustrating but it could be worse.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Sweaters, rum, and expectations that Santo Domingo looks like Punta Cana.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen (it's pricey here), bug spray, Spanish, and patience.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
In the time of the butterflies, the brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao, the feast of the goat
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Sugar, in the time of the butterflies, Sanky Panky