Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 11/24/08

Personal Experiences from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic 11/24/08

Background:

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

Lived here as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

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2. How long have you lived here?

3.5 years.

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

Teacher at Carol Morgan School.

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

A quick jump to Miami.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

If you're a Carol Morgan teacher, the housing is fair to midland. It's apartment living. A few places have issues with mildew and mold, and to make a change one must complain loudly and often. Most people are pretty content with where they live, however, and the commute is awesome. (I can walk, others take school transportation or drive 5 or 10 minutes).

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

High, like the States when the economy was stronger.

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

Shipping is too much trouble for me to deal with. I try to deal as little with customs as possible.

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

McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, Baskin' Robins, Hagen Daas, King Donut for the major chains; there are also a couple of good Mexican, Mediterranean and Italian restaurants, plus a few good Chinese and sushi joints. If you want Thai or Indian food, the Asian stores have the ingredients, plus bottled sauces.

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Daily Life:

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

CPS: this is a costly service, but it's reliable. The regular mail works for letters and cards, but nice things get stolen in customs.

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

Plenty available, pretty affordable. Most teachers have a maid twice a week and pay around US$100 a month. People with young kids have full-time nannies and pay more like US$200-300 a month, depending on needs and generosity.

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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?

Some issues, but none that have deterred me from using them.

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

Yes, Christian.

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

People use DR1.com's translations of the local paper.

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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?

Some Spanish is helpful, but one can get by without.

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

A person with physical disabilities would need to take cabs everywhere or drive, and they'd need a strong assistant (and strong Dominican men abound) to carry them up stairs.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, but this is not always necessary.

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

Taxis aren't that affordable but are safe and plentiful, government buses can be uncomfortably full but safe, small busses are not so safe and super-jam-packed, public cars are an experience everyone should undergo at least twice, and the new subway system is great but doesn't go anywhere I go. (They're building a phase two soon, so that will change).

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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?

People have every kind of vehicle in the city, but I prefer a jeep-type here because of all the potholes and floods.

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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, if a higher-cost company is used, it's reliable.

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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?

Get one, because calling cell phones from a home phone is super expensive, and everyone else has a cell pone. Though it's a little more expensive, opt for the better service of Claro (it's Verizon).

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

Skype.

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Pets:

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

Yes, Pet Land has great vet care.

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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?

Not really. Good paying jobs are best secured in the States before arriving here.

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

At CMS, the local teachers wear a lot of polo shirts. We Americans wear the same clothes we wore in the States.

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Health & Safety:

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

High, but being next to an ocean and having two major parks (called the lungs of the city) help the air quality considerably.

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

Personal and home robberies--the regular 3rd world deal.

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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?

Amebas abound. People are always complaining of stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea. Most people get dengue at some point. I'm a raw foodist, so maybe that's why I only get mild colds. ; )

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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?

Warm most of the year, hot in the summer, chilly for a couple of weeks in the 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?

Our school is 90% wealthy Dominican, and that's rough in the upper-elementary, middle and high school where there are strong cliques. Even in the 2nd grade kids might tease if your 7 year-old doesn't have a cell phone. In the elementary school where I work, Dominicans mostly play with Dominicans, the Asian kids hang together, Columbians, Mexicans, etc. play together, and American embassy children play with each other. The school is good, and although not highly academic, there does exist an AP program. Ivy-bound students go to boarding schools in the States.

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

It's a great program for students with mild learning disabilities. Anything more than that and it's a struggle.

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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?

The school starts at Pre-K, daycare is available and decent if you're selective.

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Expat Life:

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

Medium to large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Low to high--there is a honeymoon stage for most, but when contract or post is up, most people are ready to go.

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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?

There's a night life here, some decent clubs, teachers entertain in homes. There are a lot of teachers with young children right now.

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

Single men seem to love the Dominican females who are all too eager to score a green card; single women need to beware of Dominican males--they're charming, and the smart ones know how to hide their machismo until marriage. Not all Dominican men cheat (only most), but almost all Dominican men are chauvinists at heart.

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

I can only speak of the lesbian community, as my friend has a blast here. The community is small but active; there's O'Hara's, a lesbian bar run by a woman named Scarlet, a dance club and probably more that I'm not aware of. As for gay men, I only know couples, so I'm not sure about the single's scene.

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

There aren't any religious prejudices--this place has tons of religions, and Dominicans might choose more than one if it'll get them things like a job or a better school for their kids. Wealthy Dominicans tend to be white, poor Haitians tend to be black, so the lighter one is the higher the status, the darker, the less. All that really doesn't effect an ex-pat much, unless you look middle-eastern. Then they'll call you Al-Quida, but in a good-natured way.

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

There're malls with movie theaters, some theater, some art, places to dance, bars and "colmados" are fun places to meet Dominicans and practice your Spanish.

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

There're masks and things, and if you know where to look, you can find really good art.

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9. Can you save money?

I save money because I rarely go out. Most teachers tutor in the afternoons in order to try and save the dollar portion of their salary.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I might want to visit people I've come to love here. Surfers like to come back, though.

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

Love of good customer service.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of adventure and fun.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Nueve Yol.

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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?

If you're a teacher and speak Spanish, try to get to know the Dominicans that don't have kids at the school. The maintenance workers and their families, for example, are wonderful, fun-loving people who will take good care of you if you visit their homes. Try to visit your maid's house. (Just remember to put on the bug spray before you go or you'll enjoy none of it).

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