Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 01/28/16
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 Germany and Austria.
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?
Northern California, pretty long trip with a couple of connections.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost 2 years: 2014-2016
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live in a brand new, modern 12 story apartment building in the center of the city. I love our place, it is spacious with nice appliances and a beautiful ocean view. People who live in single family homes are usually in older buildings. The homes are large but dark inside to combat the heat. Most are walled-in for security. My commute time to the embassy is about 15 minutes in the early morning (I start at 7) but can be 45 minutes or longer getting home. And it's only about 5 miles! Traffic here is one of the main complaints that everyone has. Everyone suffers from the noise issue, it's hard to escape. Housing is scattered about throughout the city in the "nicer" neighborhoods (still are not that nice in my opinion).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability is good, you will find a lot of familiar U.S. products at grocery stores like Nacional, Jumbo and Bravo, where everyone shops. Prices are about the same as in the U.S. but if you don't have to pay taxes that is a nice bonus. Produce selection is limited and lot of items are not fresh, it takes about a week for products to arrive from Miami, so keep that in mind. It's recommended to bleach things that you aren't going to cook, or use some kind of produce wash.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Rugs because your home will have hard-surface floors. Otherwise you can order pretty much anything you want from Amazon or find it locally. We bought rugs at IKEA.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tons of U.S. fast food outlets are here - McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, etc. Costs are about the same as in the U.S. There is a good selection of mid-range and upscale dining, too. Prices can be pretty high but mostly are on par with what you'd pay in the US. Diplomats don't have to pay the 18% VAT, which is really nice. There is a good website I use to look at the menus of various restaurants and see if they have delivery, etc. menu.com.do
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes. Several people I know have contracted dengue and it is pretty awful. Now Zika might be in the country. Bring repellent and mosquito nets, and use them.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local mail is unreliable, most people use some kind of parcel service. We have the DPO at the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very available, low cost - we pay about US$350 for our full-time helper (nanny-housekeeper). Some families employ drivers, which is necessary if you have multiple kids and one vehicle. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, many employees are lazy and under-educated and in our experience you have to really spell out everything you want them to do. It has been very challenging to find good help but we basically settled for someone because she shows up on time, can read and write, is available to babysit at night on occasion, and because we couldn't find anyone better.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, plenty. There are private clubs that offer diplomatic discounts and they are really affordable, otherwise private gyms like Gold's and Body Shop are popular and prices are similar to in the U.S.
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 use credit cards at the grocery store and other major stores but have had our card skimmed at a major pharmacy (twice!), so you never know. ATMs, we use to get cash from major banks and get reimbursed by our credit union for the fees. This is a cash-based society in many ways - don't get in a taxi without cash, they don't accept credit cards.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Very few people speak English, so having the ability to speak basic Spanish is really important.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. It is very difficult to go for a walk in one's neighborhood with a stroller, so I can't imagine having to get around in a wheelchair. The streets and sidewalks are awful, they all have huge gutters to accommodate the rainwater, and this makes crossing streets really tough.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable yes, safe, no. These environments are notorious for theft or worse.
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?
Most people would recommend a sports utility vehicle. We also had "defensas" - big bumpers - installed on our Honda CRV and it was a great investment. Probably saved us thousands in body and paint work because almost everyone will get into some kind of fender bender or worse.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, there is a range of costs but I think you can expect to pay upward of $60/month with Claro or Orange. Pretty reliable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Claro or Orange.
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?
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?
Not that I know of; wages here are very low so it wouldn't even be worth it to find a job locally.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At work, varies somewhere between business formal and casual. Suits are always acceptable, many ladies wear dresses and skirts too.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, this is a high crime area and I know quite a few people who have been robbed. Thieves look to steal smart phones and anything of value they can re-sell. Like in any city, you have to be vigilant, lock your doors, don't leave valuables in your car, etc. Most people avoid walking so they won't be a target for the motorcycle drivers who are known to knock people down and steal purses, wallets, phones, etc., sometimes at gunpoint. You might think you're in a relaxed, Caribbean atmosphere, but the security threat is real.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Tropical diseases and concerns from the non-potable water. Medical care seems decent, lots of specialists, doctor's offices seem relatively modern. The hospitals, I have heard, are not great. I would want to go back to U.S. if I had to be hospitalized. Prescription meds are available without a prescription and are cheap. I'm talking about antibiotics, not painkillers (which are controlled and you do need a prescription). A doctor's office visit typically costs RD$2,500 which is about US$50.
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?
Worse than you might think, lots of exhaust from vehicles and I don't think they have any sort of standards. When you clean your floors and see lots of black dust, you'll know the pollution seeps into your house/apartment as well.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Sunny and hot. Rainy season is in the summer but there are downpours regularly at other times. Threats of hurricanes but no problems in the time I've been here. December and January are the most pleasant times of year, weather-wise. Gets down in the low 70s F at night which is wonderful. Otherwise, it's so hot and humid you want to avoid being outside most of the year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
My child attends a bilingual preschool, there are several of these types of schools available. Most kids go to Carol Morgan or St. George. There are a lot of private, bilingual schools and I think most people are happy with the options available.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not sure, as far as I know there may not be many options for special-needs children but it would depend on the disability.
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?
Yes. We pay something like US$2,000 a year for preschool, which seems reasonable.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty large expat community, there are lots of diplomatic missions here as well as US and World Bank and other NGO offices. Lots of expats complain about life here when they get together, but expats are also a valuable source of information about the city/country, too.
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?
Lots of restaurants, places to go dancing, bars, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Probably better for singles or couples without kids. There are not a lot of things for small children to do. Few parks, and the security situation coupled with the heat and mosquitoes means you need to find indoor activities for little ones. There are some indoor play places but it gets repetitive after a while. Friends who are single seem to go out a lot and enjoy the nightlife, travel opportunities, etc. Some people really like it here, and have requested to extend their tour, others can't stand it, and some think it's so-so. Just depends on your expectations, your lifestyle and what you are looking for.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There are probably better and worse places.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Prejudice against Haitian immigrants who come to the country for work opportunities. Freedom of religion exists, not really any issues there. As far as gender prejudices, this is a male-dominated society and machismo certainly is a thing, but many women work and it doesn't seem to be a major issue.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getaways to some of the higher-end resort areas like Casa de Campo, Cap Cana, and Club Hemingway.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Getting out of the city is what most people would recommend. There is not much worth seeing in Santo Domingo. One visit to the Colonial Zone will pretty much do it.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nothing here is really worth taking home, in my opinion.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Abundant and cheap tropical fruit all year! Sunshine all the time, proximity to beach resorts and eco-tourism adventures, pretty good restaurants in the capital (most with food delivery which is super convenient), modern U.S.-like supermarkets with lots of American brands and imported products, very nice upscale shopping malls.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't spend it all trying to escape Santo Domingo every weekend!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I would have known about the noise, traffic situation, etc. so that I could have put another city at the top of my bid list.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Nope. I would have opted for another location if I had known.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations that you will be living in a peaceful Caribbean paradise. Santo Domingo is a noisy, crowded (with cars, mostly) dirty (people just throw trash and garbage on the sidewalk, in the street, in the gutters, etc.) big city (2 million people).
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, mosquito repellent
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Junot Diaz, Julia Alvarez
6. Do you have any other comments?
Be prepared for really shocking traffic situations. Yes, you will sit in traffic a lot and it takes forever to go just a few miles, but it's more about the way people drive - any civilization vanishes the minute they get behind the wheel. Lots of honking, lots of getting cut off, no attention to lane markings, etc. I am surprised every single day that I make it home without getting in an accident. And I don't drive...I take taxis everywhere. I am too scared to get behind the wheel myself. The DR ranks number 1 in the world for traffic fatalities per capita and if you're here to experience the roads, you are not surprised at all.