Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 04/29/13
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?
No, I have lived in several countries, both developed and developing.
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?
California. There are several connections, and it is a full-day trip. Flying out of Santo Domingo, you will always have to connect through Miami, Atlanta, or New York. Expect layovers.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Embassy.
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. The housing pool is full of properties that are in poor condition. You are very lucky if you end up in one of the nice homes or apartments. The housing pool is also very small, and many people end up in temporary housing for extended periods of time. This is very inconvenient if you're hoping to receive your HHE.
Another issue is the commute to the embassy. Many houses are not located near the embassy, and traffic is horrendous. The typical commute time in the morning from our house is 30 minutes to an hour. However, the embassy will be moving to a new location in 2014, and commutes for most people will end up being over an hour.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find almost everything here, but it will cost much more than it would in the U.S. --- and it may or may not be in stock for long periods of time.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Laundry detergent, any specific products you are particularly attached to (in bulk), a comfortable couch because you will likely spend most of your time in your home avoiding the dangers of the city.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Burger King, Taco Bell, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's.
There are also some chains like Chilis, Fridays, Tony Roma, Hooters, Outback Steakhouse, and Haagen Dazs.
Restaurants: there are many Italian restaurants and a few Spanish restaurants. Dominican food is fairly bland. Choices for international cuisine such as Indian, Thai, Mexican, etc. are very limited to non-existent.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes, ants, and sandflies. Small ants are a large problem in the home. We keep all of our food in the refrigerator to prevent ants from getting into it.
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?
Inexpensive - $250-$300/mo. But the work ethic here is terrible. We suggest starting the employee at a lower rate and on a trial basis. Design a schedule of specific chores and how they should be completed. Create incentives for good work by increasing pay over time as the employee exhibits quality work. Managing domestic help can be a headache--more than in the rest of the developing world.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. They are not up to U.S. standards but the new embassy compound should have a decent gym.
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?
Avoid using them when possible, but it's safe to use them for things like hotel reservations at the nicer resorts. ATMs are available, but we use the embassy cashier.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need to speak Spanish because almost no one speaks English. I should also note that Dominican Spanish is very different from textbook Spanish and is very difficult to understand.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The country is not equipped for people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
SUV. Flooding is common during the rainy season, so you want good ground clearance.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. There are two basic providers: Claro and Tricom. Tricom is smaller and has better customer service. Claro is a nightmare. Expect to wait in long lines to receive service or pay your bills. Both of these companies take some time to set up service in the home.
There are frequent internet outages, but we can stream video with no problems when it's up and running. We pay around $50/month, but most people pay more because they have cable and other services included.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can bring your unlocked phone here and purchase a local SIM card. You can also buy a cell phone here, but they are much more expensive.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
We have a great vet. The name of her clinic is Best Friends Vet Clinic.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Regular business attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes! Santo Domingo is a dangerous city, and the crime rates are rising. In addition to high homicide rates, armed robbery is very common. Several people from the embassy community have been robbed at gunpoint during our year here. Friends have also had wheels stolen off their cars and dogs stolen out of their yards. In general, crime is a big problem.
One of the biggest dangers in Santo Domingo is the reckless driving. Drivers do not follow any of the rules, and road rage is not uncommon.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
MOLD! There is a serious mold problem in most of the homes and apartments. This has caused health problems for many of the embassy staff and their families. The GSO and facilities maintenance section have been unable to manage this problem.
Stomach viruses and bacterial infections are very common here. Food is not prepared in a clean environment in most restaurants.
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?
Bad and very unhealthy. There are no regulations on car exhaust, so you're breathing black smoke fumes anytime you're in the city.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is great if you like it warm. It stays in the 80s-90s.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Middle of the road. We do not particularly like it here, and most people who have been here for a while are eager to leave. There have been a lot of curtailments.
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?
Limited. It's dangerous to go out, especially at night. However, you can find some entertainment in the malls, including movie theaters and restaurants.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is better for couples and families than for singles. There are not a lot of safe venues for singles to get out and meet people outside of the embassy community.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
As in many Latin American countries, there is a stigma associated with homosexuality. However, for most embassy people this is not an issue because they spend their time in tourist settings and diplomatic settings in which this kind of discrimination is not problematic. This has not affected individuals in their work.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Dominicans discriminate against Haitians and blacks. There is also some gender bias.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Cabarete beach, Las Terrenas beach, and Punta Cana beach. Water activities: surfing, catamaran, and snorkeling.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are some malls that are fun to walk around and some restaurants that offer decent food, although with a limited choice of cousines. The only thing we have enjoyed about our time in the DR has been getting out of the city and enjoying the beaches. We try to leave the city and head to the beaches at least 2-3 times a month.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Getting out of the city and enjoying the beaches. Most beaches that we enjoy are about a 3 to 4.5 hour drive. Easy for long weekends.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. Absolutely not.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter gear, sense of urgency, obedience to traffic laws, work ethic, and sense of security.
3. But don't forget your:
swim suit, sunglasses, snorkel gear, home entertainment system, bug spray, sunscreen, fluoride, and many DVDs/Blu Rays.