Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 07/14/13
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?
This is perhaps my fifth expat experience, but my first with the US Foreign Service.
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?
Our home base is the DC area. Unfortunately, you can't fly direct -- a stop in Miami, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta, or other city is required.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have lived here for two years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Foreign Service officer.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are currently apartments, homes in gated communities, and stand-alone homes. I'm not sure what housing will be like after the embassy moves to the northern part of town. We live in a gorgeous 3br apartment with views of the ocean. For people with a young family, I would recommend asking for a house in a gated community, because there are not a lot of playspaces for kids and that will allow them to play outside.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are about 20% more expensive but you can find most anything you want.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We buy almost all clothing and shoes and linens in the U.S. I tried to buy shoes here but the quality was terrible.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are lots of fast food restaurants and they have play areas for kids, so we eat much more fast food than we used to.
There is good Mexican, Italian, American, Chinese, French, and other European types. We really miss Thai, Vietnamese and Indian food.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes during rainy season, but not too bad.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is very affordable. We pay between $300-400 monthly each for our driver and housekeeper.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there are some nice gyms.
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 only use credit cards at the large hotels and Price Smart (like Costco). I don't recommend using ATMs anywhere. We cash checks at the embassy.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's hard to get around without some Spanish.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It is not a very disability-friendly city.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is a subway system that appears safe. The embassy authorizes the use of only one taxi system and it's about $4 per ride. I have taken Caribe Tours (like Greyhound) across the country and it's fine. The embassy does not authorize traveling around town in the public taxis or buses.
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?
We recommend a car with high clearance and 4-wheel drive to everyone. During the rainy season, if you go to any beaches, you may need the 4-wheel drive. City streets flood during storms, so it's important to have the clearance.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, we have very good internet. It costs about $80/month for internet and TV.
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 don't think so.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People do not wear shorts or workout attire in public (unless they are working out). Women should bring lightweight pants, skirts, and capris for daily use. In general, people dress up more than Americans do. You can never be overdressed if going to an event with Dominicans. Women should bring some cocktail dresses. Men can wear a guayabera shirt at many events and can get one made/buy one here.
At the consular section, suits are not required, although I wear one often. I recommend that women bring lightweight sleeveless tops that can be worn under their suit jackets.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This is considered a high crime post, but we have not experienced any issues. One of the advantages to living in an apartment is feeling more secure. We know people who have been robbed, and it's just important to pay attention to your surroundings, even in touristy areas. Although nothing terrible has happened during our 2 years, I am never quite at ease when outside my home.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We found a great U.S.-trained pediatrician that many families use. Most people go home for anything medically important.
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?
There is some pollution in Santo Domingo, but it's not extreme. People with asthma and other respiratory issues are cleared to come here.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There is a hot/rainy season from about March/April-Oct. It's probably 90 degrees and sunny, but it rains frequently. Hurricane season is June-Nov. "Winter" is around Nov-March, and it is delightfully cooler (around 70-80?) in the city. The funny thing is that they don't heat pools here, so the resort pools are chilly at that time of year. It's almost always sunny. I thought the weather was amazing; my husband doesn't like heat and hated it. To each his/her own.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We placed our school-aged son in a private bilingual school that only a few families use. It is more middle class than the traditional schools used (Carol Morgan and St. George). We had a very good experience there, although he didn't make as many friends as he might have. His Spanish is terrific after 2 years there.
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?
We sent our daughter to a Montessori, Spanish-only preschool. We had a wonderful experience there and she really bonded with her teachers. Her Spanish is great, too. Most people seem happy with the preschools here and moderately pleased with the other schools.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
It has been somewhat challenging for us to find good quality sports programs. I think Carol Morgan and St. George have some, but our school did not. We joined Club Naco, which has 3 pools, tennis courts, basketball courts, etc. for a great monthly rate for diplomats. They do have some sports programs but they are not high quality. It can be hard to find quality swimming programs.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's pretty large and Americans are by far the largest group. I work in the consular section and don't know a lot of the people who work in the rest of the embassy. It's been hard to get to know people from other countries, although I think the Diplomatic Women's Club allows for a lot of socializing. Many spouses have enjoyed that club.
2. Morale among expats:
I think it varies. I love this post and think it's a fabulous assignment, especially for 20% hardship. Some people have a negative attitude about this country. There are certainly issues, but I think the pros FAR outweigh the cons.
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?
Families get together on the weekends and go away together. The ambassador's pool, playground, tennis courts are open for family use. You can spend time with other embassy people or do your own thing- there is plenty to do.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's great for all. Singles and couples can explore and enjoy the nightlife...families can spend weekends at the beach and pool.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The best part has definitely been the ability to just jump in our car and be at a beach town/resort in 2-3 hours. There is a huge range of prices here so you can pay as much or as little as you want. You can find isolated beaches where you are the only one there, or bustling beaches with lots to do. You can stay at a boutique hotel, a beautiful villa, a huge resort, you name it. The mountains are beautiful too and there is a lot to do in Santo Domingo as well.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is a lot to do! There are day trip beaches about 45 min away and resort areas about 2-3 hours away. The mountain towns have whitewater rafting, hiking, waterfalls, etc. A lot of people learn to scuba dive here. There are surfing and other watersports on the north coast. Dominicans spend a lot of time at rivers and there are a lot of "balnearios" or bathing places that are fun. You can jump down "27 waterfalls" on the north coast. Santo Domingo has malls, a beautiful Colonial Zone, restaurants, etc. You can travel all around the island safely.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Larimar (beautiful blue mineral found only here), amber, coffee,
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
I think there are so many advantages to this country! The beautiful weather (sun all year around, though it's hot), beautiful beaches and mountains, affordable and safe travel, outdoor activities, and more.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, definitely. We go away about once a month and still save.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
YES! It is a beautiful, friendly country with great opportunities for travel. If you are a beach person, it doesn't get any better than this.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter clothes and bad attitude.
3. But don't forget your:
adventurous attitude, willingness to travel, swim suits, cover up (you will be hanging out at the pool with your boss!), flip flops, beach bag, goggles, snorkeling equipment.