Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 06/08/08
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?
I've done several tours, including tours in developing countries.
2. How long have you lived here?
Over 2 years.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am a Foreign Serivce Officer.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Roughly 2 hours through Miami, but avoid Miami if at all possible. Connections through San Juan are much better.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The Embassy seems to be shifting from houses to apartments as an economic measure (though some apartments lack constant power). Typical commute is between 30 and 45 minutes -- to travel 6 miles. Double it if it's raining, which it does frequently. There is no one more self-important than a Dominican driver behind the wheel of his car -- and since everyone feels the same way, expect massive tie-ups, blocked intersections, and complete disregard for traffic laws and common sense practices to make your drive into work hell.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
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?
Major fast-food chains are here and decent resturants are available but expensive - service is abysmal.
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?
Widely available and cheap, but they have little idea what they're doing, frequently have little experience with applicances (e.g., washing machine) and, based on personal experience and the experience of my friends, tend to steal whatever they can. Local laws make you pay salary and benefits if you fire for cause, even for theft, unless you can sucessfully press a court case.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
ATMs are only to be used in hotels or banks because of high potential for theft and fraud. Credit card use is officially discouraged, though we still use them to avoid carrying cash.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
All major networks available on cable. Cable roughly US$30/month.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
One must have a working-level knowledge of Spanish. That said, people are generally happy to try to figure out what you're trying to say - they appeciate the effort.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Grave difficulties, based on lack of ramps and other necessary accomodations.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are no trains, apart from the new multi-billion dollar subway (not yet running).Taxis are available, but may or may not be safe depending on upkeep of car and driver. Buses are crowded and not very safe.
3. 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?
Strongly suggest a Toyota SUV for parts and resale. Should take some sort of SUV, as roads are poorly maintained and often flood.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, both cable and ADSL. Varying costs based on speed. A mid-level ADSL plan is roughly US$45/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You'll need one. Get a contract, as the cards to recharge the phone don't seem to last the right amount of time. Some phone cards sold on the street are counterfeit.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
It is an exceptionally tough job market and Spanish-fluency is a must. You will not receive a salary offer near what you're used to.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The dark suit is alive and well for men at work. Skirt & blouse or dress for women at work. Shorts are rarely seen -- especially on women.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Very, very unhealthy. Aside from the tremendous pollution - cars, industry, burning and/or widely scattered trash, mold is a significant health concern. The city of Haina, located quite close to the capital, has been noted by CNN to be one of the 5 most polluted cities in the world (largely by contamination from lead).
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Significant concerns. Violent street crime is on the rise.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Tropical diseases are real - nearly 1/2 of the Embassy has had dengue fever (some multiple times), malaria is at the border and at the eastern resorts, both ameobias and parasites are prevalent and easily acquired, pollution is taxing if you've got more than slight pulmonary restriction. Don't get into a major car crash - trauma facilities are rudimentary. There are a number of good doctors and dentists - ask around for personal references after arrival.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
86F and sunny generally, with a pronounced rainy period. Very humid.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Schools are fine, from an educational standpoint. As society is classist, Dominican children can be vicious and/or exclusionary with children of expats.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Very low at the Embassy, not much better in the general community.
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?
Seems to revolve around dinners and parties with friends. There are a few nice clubs though.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All in all, it appears about equal for families, singles, and couples. Perhaps a bit better for singles - as others have suggested, quite easy to make a new friend, especially as a single.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Strong Catholic tradition, Evangelical movement, and machismo make it interesting to say the least for gay men.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Classism is noteworthy and racial discrimination is obvious -- Embassy has placed 2 nightclubs off-limits for refusing to serve Embassy personnel.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Diving, tennis, golf, beach resorts.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
This is, perhaps, the only saving grace. Or at least it was until the hardship differential was cut down to 15%.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I could not in good faith recommend coming to this post.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Paxil and valium.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
You can enjoy it here if you just shut everything out and think happy thoughts, but the combination of grinding poverty, corruption, and misplaced governmental priorities make it hard to take if you try to make a difference.