Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 04/28/16
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've lived in 3 other foreign cities.
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?
Just a 3 hour flight to New York.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
The new Embassy compound (moved in June 2014) means an unpleasant commute for almost everyone - not especially long, but unpleasant. Crossing JFK Ave is no fun. Over half the Embassy had far better commutes to the old Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Supermarkets are plentiful and groceries will run 25% higher than in the US (except local fruits).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not much - you can get it all here.
If you have small kids, think about portable basketball hoop, inflatable pool, trampoline, etc. These larger items will be more expensive here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There's nothing but US fast food joints here. A bit pricier than in the US.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
well, just about any flying creature you can imagine. You'll get fewer mosquitoes if you live on the 6th floor or higher. I know someone who requested a higher floor apartment for that reason.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy folks use DPO and it arrives quite quickly.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Full-time, about US$500/month. Hard to get reliable help, but some families are quite pleased.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of decent gyms at various price points.
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?
Credit cards are widely accepted and a good option. ATMs are also fine but the Embassy cashier will provide a better rate.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lots of lively Christian churches, modest Islamic congregation and a Jewish temple mostly run by lay-people.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Few people speak English. You really need some Spanish to get around.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not many allowances for handicapped, unfortunately.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Everyone uses Apollo taxi, and it works pretty well. Almost no foreigner, except Peace Corps types, endure public transportation. Santo Domingo does have a very nice (but limited) metro.
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 opt for a higher-clearance vehicle. 4-wheel drive is not necessary for 95% of foreigners, but high clearance helps. However, normal sedans are also fine, but if you already own a good sedan I'd probably bring it. If you do buy a car with the hope of later reselling, Toyotas and Hondas are the only ones that retain most of their value. US makes, much less so.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, US$30-50/month might cover it.
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 really. Salary scale is too low.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Given the rates of poverty, there are obviously great volunteer opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Given the DR's tropical nature, people tend to be more casual than in the US.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is an issue. For those who live in stand-alone houses, there's a real threat of break-ins. Apartments and gated communities don't have that concern, fortunately. Purse snatchings and other street crime can also happen. The DR is safer than Central America and Venezuela, but it's still unsafe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is not obviously not on par with the US, so many people are medivac'd to Florida. The better doctos are US-educated.
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?
moderate - nothing like China or India
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very hot, humid and often rainy for the six months of summer and mildly hot with much less rain for the six months of winter
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The schools, particularly Carol Morgan, are decent academically. Problem is social integration for middle/high school foreign students. It's a constant complaint. While some older kids manage to break the barrier and befriend many Dominican kids, most do not. So this should be a concern for parents of middle/high schoolers.
2. 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, many options and price ranges.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Not a wide range, but kids can join soccer or baseball teams. Many kids learn water sports, including sailing, diving, snowboarding, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Not a huge expat community. Other than the US, other embassies are small. A few companies send expats, but most don't.
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?
Nightlife scene is not great. Mostly, you hang with friends and family.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For families with small kids, it can be a decent city. There are few playgrounds but the Embassy usually has a nice nucleus of young kids.
Families of older kids complain of the lack of cultural options and social life. Not much of an international community, and wealthy Dominican kids (many related to each other) keep to themselves.
Single women seem to team up together. Only a small number date Dominican men.
Single men encounter no problem dating Dominican women.
Couples with no kids seem to do pretty well.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
A gay, political-appointee Ambassador and his husband have helped soften some homophobic attitudes. However, I wouldn't call this place tolerant.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not toward US/Europeans of any race/color, but Dominicans obviously have an issue with Haitians.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Undoubtedly, long weekends at the beach.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Beach, beach and beach. (Did I mention the beach?)
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The best art is from Haiti. Some of that stuff is really spectacular.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
2 main advantages are proximity to the US and amazing beaches.
10. Can you save money?
Probably. It obviously depends on your salary level, but the lack of consumer spending options probably helps curb spending.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How tough it would be for kids to integrate and make local friends
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you have any other comments?
Unfortunately, the move to the new Embassy caused an across-the-board drop in staff morale. The new Embassy has some advantages of a new building, but it has an alienating feel to it. Location just awful. Almost everyone I know preferred the old buildings, even in their dilapidated state. Diplomacy is now less fluid due to the long distance between the Embassy and contacts. OBO really dropped the ball on that one.
In the old Embassy, morale among staff ranged from high to low. Santo Domingo is one of Latin America's least exciting capital cities, but some people got the most out of its beach life. In the new Embassy, there is the added stress of unpleasant commutes, cubicle overload and an isolated workplace. So I would rate current morale "below average."
However, if you love beach/sea/baseball, this might be your place. If you get a job with upward or professional growth potential, might be worth it. If you're a tandem and both get a job, it's a no-brainer. If you need to be close to the US, or if you're consular-coned and want the invaluable experience of working in one of the world's most challenging sections, go for it.
However, for most FSOs, the DR is more of a fall-back bid. Beats Caracas, but few other South American posts.