Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 10/19/08

Personal Experiences from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic 10/19/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Europe, Latin America, and Middle East.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Over a year.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Foreign Service.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Through Atlanta, Georgia from the US.Flight is around 2 hours.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Single houses, housing compounds and apartments. Some houses and apartments have pools. Most of the housing--apartments and houses--seems to have routine problems that tend to take time before they"re fixed. Housing is located all throughout the city. Most people deal with "long" commutes. By this I mean anywhere from an average of 30 min. to 1 hour depending on the time of day, but what makes it seem "long" is the traffic itself and the Dominican mentality of driving--which is dangerous because it is counter to common sense and motivated by a self-centered attitude rather than safety.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries were expensive to begin with, and I"ve seen prices go up since being here while our COLA and differential have gone down. Can't explain why it has.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We brought snorkel equipment and food goods that were not as expensive as here, but in general you can buy most things here (at a higher price, though) or order it over the internet using APO or pouch.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Burger King, Taco Bell, McDonald"s, Baskin Robbins, Haagen Daz, Cinnabon plus local ones. A number of decent restaurants available at a price (not outrageous, but definitely not cheap).

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Plentiful. It will cost between US$200-300 a month for full time help depending on how much advantage of cheap labor you feel is okay to do. Let it be known that living here is expensive and those who labor very cheaply live in sad conditions and don"t have advantage of educational opportunities that those who make a "livable wage" do.

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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?

Generally safe, but there was a rash of numbers getting stolen early last summer when a company servicing the machines at businesses had some employees stealing the numbers. The problem seems to be resolved at this time.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

I do know there are Christian churches available in English or with translation. The CLO has been sending out a list in each newsletter.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Cable yes, paper I know of online,(www. DominicanToday.com), but have never seen it in print. Typical cost.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

As is typical, the more you know the better. But, one *can* get by with little language ability.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many of us without physical disabilities have problems getting around in this city! Or, if you don't have any now, be careful not to get any here from walking in the streets. Walking can be hazardous with unmarked holes in the pavement. I've known this to happen to several people that have been laid up because of falling while walking on the street/ sidewalk.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

All over the road if you're Dominican. Otherwise, it is usually best to stay to the right.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Not really because of the condition of the vehicle, the way it is driven, and the crowding on the buses. Affordable, yes.

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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?

Most cars can be driven here, but certain cars can be hard to find parts for--it just depends if that car is here or not (i.e. a brand may be here and easy to find parts for one model, but not another b/c it is not sold or found here).However, it is surprising what the Dominicans can get to run here. I have never seen cars put together with so many parts and held together with what looks like rust. They are definitely good at recycling car parts and getting things to run!As far as terrain, an SUV is good because of the many, many potholes and where you can take it--say to remote beaches or into the mountains. Local restrictions (they drive about anything here) or carjackings don"t seem to be a major problem that I am aware of.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes--decent service at typical cost.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Claro and Orange are the biggest competitors here and usually are just fine and reasonably priced.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype, Vonage, etc.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Not sure of kennels but I know of a couple of good vets available.

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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?

There are jobs, but I've been told the pay is low.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Dressy casual with an emphasis on staying cool. Dominicans like to dress up more--especially in social situations. Women wear tight jeans, high heels, low-cut blouses, jewlery, and regularly have their hair and nails done at the salon.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy air because of unregulated car exhaust, constant use of diesel generators, etc. Pollution in environment causes problems with rats, cockroaches, polluted water sources, sicknesses, etc.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes. Break-ins, muggings, steeling, even abduction (not common, but personally known of)are all real and a problem here. The embassy considered getting rid of residential guards, but due to the concerns of the community has reversed that decision. How long, though, I have no knowledge of.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Parasites, Dengue Fever, infections, injuries from falls/accidents, etc. can be concerns. Medical care is available and may be decent, but fortunately medivacing to the States is possible b/c of proximity when sufficient care is not available.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot in spring and summer, rainy and muggy in fall, mostly pleasant in winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are no real "international schools" here. The schools that are as near to an international school are geared towards Dominicans learning in English with a consideration for American culture. My experience with the schools is that the only "acceptable" school academically is the Carol Morgan School. If you have a child with special needs, though, be very careful in choosing this school. Also, be very aware that the school has had issues with social difficulties between Dominicans and Americans/foreigners that go there on "scholarship" (i.e. paid for by the embassy).Also, there is a great emphasis on the materialism as Dominican parents tend to use money as the answer to celebrating, creating projects, helping or spending time with their kids, etc. You will be nickle and dimed--or in this case, dollared and pesoed right and left.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

See above about schools. They will "accomodate" your child in the sense that they will do what they can. Whether or not that is sufficient for your child"s progress is another question. I have not had good success in this area.

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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--it seems to be very available and I've known people who seem to have had good experiences with it.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large-ish, but not huge.

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2. Morale among expats:

That's another story. You'll find the whole spectrum with the bulk settling with being frustrated and tired with the Dominican mindset that seems to have filtered into the Embassy ability to support its community. But, non-embassy-related ex-pats seem to fall the same way on the spectrum.

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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?

It all depends on you. Dominicans like to party, so it exists. Expats would probably socialize more, but traffic puts a definite damper on wanting to go out after fighting it to and from work.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Like many places, it depends on what you want. All could potentially have a great time here, but people from all of these categories seem to struggle because of some of the difficulties here and the lack of support for those things.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Race and gender. The darker your skin the more potential for prejudice as a number of Dominicans tend to be prejudiced against the Haitians that usually are darker skinned. This has trickled down into some of the Dominican children"s attitudes seen in the socialization of kids at school (i.e. at Carol Morgan School among some of the darker-skinned expats).As far as gender goes--machismo exists here. If you"re a female, expect to be stared at like a piece of meat if you venture to walk outside, and if you're driving in a car don't be surprised if a boy young enough to be your son or old enough to be your father or grandfather makes passes at you. And, don"t think that just because you have a man with you that this will not happen.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Many things to do. All sorts of nature-related activities (of course the beach, ocean, etc., but also hiking, camping, birdwatching, etc.). Also, some shopping, eating out (though not cheaply), movies, bowling, concerts, parties, etc.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Typical tourist things like cigars, rum, cheap paintings, jewlery, etc. Nothing incredibally expensive, though.

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9. Can you save money?

I'd be impressed if you could. Most families and couples have had to resort to both spouses working just to cover costs.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

I don't regret this life-learning experience, but I never want to live here again. Ever. I'm still deciding if I'd even come visit again. . . i.e. if it's worth all the other baggage that you have to put up with. The way I see it, there are too many other places in this world to explore now that I"ve been here.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Desire for things to function efficiently, practically, and safely.

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3. But don't forget your:

Stress-management books, pills, exercises, mantras or whatever you use to deal with daily life here.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Consider all the former post reports and weigh them all seriously in your decision to come here. This post is totally do-able, but the lack of support and constant battle of re-inventing the wheel on a consistent basis can be wearing at best and infuriating or more at worst. The Dominican culture even drives Dominicans crazy. Add to that lack of support and it makes for a difficult living circumstance over time.

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