Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 01/04/21
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 was my sixth expat experience. I previously lived in Asia, Europe, and various places in the Americas.
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?
USA - direct flights to MIA, ATL, EWR, and other gateway airports. Travel to the Dominican Republic is very easy.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Housing is a mix of older standalone homes and smaller, newer apartments. All of them have some sort of household help accommodation. The US Embassy has a housing compound near the embassy - very modern and with lots of amenities on the compound. It is like a subdivision in Miami. Commute time depend on location. Traffic in Santo Domingo is very heavy, so going even a short distance - 1-2 miles - can take 45 minutes or more.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available here. There is even a store like Costco called PriceSmart that has Kirkland brand goods. Produce is generally of a slightly lower quality than in the USA. If you buy at farmers markets or roadside stands, the quality is good. Lots of US brands are available, though they are often more expensive. Quality and variety of paper products is more limited than in the US.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many U.S. chains - McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, Wendy’s, Starbucks, TGI Friday’s, Papa John’s - operate here. There are also Dominican options/competitors. Popular salads to go: Green Bowl. Uber Eats and many other food delivery services operate.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
It’s the tropics; come prepared to deal with roaches, mosquitos, and small lizards, and you’ll be fine.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy mail or commercial courier (DHL, UPS, FedEx).
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is available and affordable, including nannies, maids, gardeners, drivers, etc. Non-Dominicans will likely pay more than Dominicans.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
PlanetFitness, OrangeTheory, SmartFit, Gold’s Gym. All are a bit more expensive than in the U.S. but affordable.
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 sometimes cloned. Be vigilant. Using ATMs in large malls or attached to banks is generally safe.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A working knowledge of Spanish is helpful. While the Dominican Republic and the USA have strong connections and many Dominicans speak some English, it can be hard to communicate without any Spanish.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, as buildings and streets are not designed with disabilities in mind.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses and the subway are very affordable, but they have limited routes and are therefore hard to access. Taxis and Uber are affordable and work well.
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?
A high-clearance 4x4 is best. High water is common in the city during heavy rains, and some areas of the island are only accessible via rocky/rough roads. All US and Japanese makes have dealerships and repair facilities in the Dominican Republic.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, high-speed internet is available, affordable, and works well. It can take a few days to a week for installation.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The two largest providers are Claro and Altice. They work well and are affordable, particularly compared to U.S. pricing. Contract and pay-as-you-go options are available.
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?
I don’t have direct experience with this, but people seemed happy with the options for veterinary care. No quarantine for pets on arrival.
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 know people who worked remotely or worked at the embassy. I don’t know anyone who worked on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are options through religious and some political groups. There is also a “diplomatic women” (Damas Diplomaticas) group that organizes some activities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual is most common amongst Dominicans. Some people at the embassy wore suits and ties, especially in Consular.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crimes of opportunity - home invasion, street robberies - happen. Take care not to leave valuables visible in vehicles or to wear a lot of jewelry if walking around outside.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue is a concern in the Dominican Republic, as was Zika at one time. It is easy to go to the USA for serious medical concerns; there is also good care available in the Dominican Republic in certain facilities.
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 got a lot better when traffic decreased during COVID. Generally, traffic generates a lot of pollution, but I would say air quality is moderate.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Many places frequented by foreigners are attentive to allergy issues. But not everywhere.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and wet. The period from November to April is probably the best weather because it is slightly drier and tends to rain less.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are at least three in Santo Domingo, but I only know about Carol Morgan School, the premier K-12 school in the country. It has instructors from a range of English-speaking countries and the Dominican Republic and amazing facilities.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I’ve heard this can be challenging. Definitely do a lot of outreach before selecting a school.
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?
There are some preschools that people seemed to like. Many people have nannies.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Not huge - this is not a major city - but significant. There are also many tourists from the USA and Europe. There is also a significant expatriate resident population on the island’s north coast. Morale is generally good. While there are frustrations in life, we are still in the tropics!
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?
Pre-COVID, bars, restaurants, clubs, and the beach. Now mostly small groups at home and at the beach.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for singles.
Good for couples.
Good for families.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It’s ok. There is a large, open LGBTI community in Santo Domingo in particular, and there are gay bars in the Zona Colonial. However, this is a very Catholic country, and significant prejudice and intolerance remain challenging.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
It can be hard to break out of the expat bubble. People I know who were most successful either had kids in common or were pursuing a hobby. Spanish can be helpful in this, though many Dominicans do speak English.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The historical conflicts between Haiti and the Dominican Republic have generated deep dislike and mistrust of Haitians. This is often expanded to people who look like they could be Haitian, including low-income Afro-Dominicans.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Nature: the beach, the mountains, whale watching, and just enjoying the tropical weather.
The Santo Domingo food scene is excellent.
Pre-COVID, there was an awesome music scene, including regular concerts by internationally-renowned musicians and the bi-annual Festival Presidente.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really. I didn’t find anything that was particularly unique to the country.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Easy access to the beach and mountains.
The Zona Colonial.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Traffic is tough. Come prepared to sit in it.
While the city is on the coast, you have to drive 30-50 minutes to get to the beach.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. This was a great experience.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, scuba gear, and hiking boots.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Many people recommend reading The Feast of the Goat. Also bring a guidebook for easy reference on the road.