Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Report of what it's like to live there - 06/29/10

Personal Experiences from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic 06/29/10

Background:

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

Yes.

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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?

It is about a 2-hour flight from Miami.

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3. How long have you lived here?

8 months.

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

US State Dept.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Our house is some distance from the consulate...but if we leave early enough in the morning we can get there in 15 minutes. But like any major city, if we wait till "rush hour' (which is frequent here) it can take over an hour. There are plenty of homes, apartments, etc. that are actually very nice.

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

You can buy pretty much anything you need here. The American products cost at least twice what you would pay in the States. They have a Price Mart here which is very similar to Costco....and a Ferreteria Americana, which is HUGE and is like a Home Depot but on a large scale. it has a food court, baby-items dept, pharmacy, full-scale furniture area with room displays -- somewhat like what Macy's would have and with very nice furniture.....and we recently got an IKEA.

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

We planned ahead and shipped everything we needed. If you are partial to certain brands of shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. you should bring them with you. We have found that something here can have the same brand as in the States, but it is often an inferior product with a higher price.

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

McDonald's, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken......which we don't eat at. Our family is not too excited about Dominican food, so we prefer to make our meals at home.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

The mosquito problem is huge....there is no escaping them. Bring lots of deet. We also have lots of moths that we can't seem to get rid of (in our home).

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Daily Life:

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

We use DPO.

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

Very available.....people are poor and need jobs. We pay our live-in maid approximately $300 US dollars a month. We are going to hire a second one to work Sundays. Most ladies get paid approximately $15 dollars a day.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

We live near "the Body Shop" which is a pretty large and is a nice, modern facility with nice equipment. It is expensive.

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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?

We are advised not to use them. Occasionally, we use our American Express card, which we hear is safer to use. There is a lot of fraud here. We tend to just use cash.

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

We go to the Epiphany Church, which has an English service.

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

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

Spanish is very necessary. But beware that Dominicans are hard to understand. If you are with the State Dept. and you have your kids at Carol Morgan School, then you can get by with English. However, if you should want to ask someone directions, or ask for something at the grocery store, or call up the company that provides you internet or tv because there is an issue, you will need some Spanish.

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

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Transportation:

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

We are advised to just use Apolo Taxi, and you can get just about anywhere in the city for 150 pesos, which is about 5 dollars. Most taxis don't have working seat belts, and the drivers tend to be crazy, zooming in and out of traffic....so it is quite a game of chance just using one. At least our vehicle has seat belts...that helps. I wouldn't use one of the local taxis, although people say you should try it just for the experience. I pass them all the time, though and the people are crammed in them like sardines -- often with arms dangling out of the windows for lack of room. So couple that with no a/c and the pick pockets who frequently use them, and it is an experience I will gladly pass on.

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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?

4-wheel drive/SUV This place has lots of pot-holes.....MAJOR pot-holes and MAJOR dips in the roads....(I call them rivers...not dips) and man-hole covers are stolen (so that they can be sold for scrap metal) which can cause major damage to your vehicle if you run into a missing one. We were walking down a sidewalk with our kids once, and it's a good thing we were paying attention, because we could have lost one of our kids very easily down one of those holes.

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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?

It is available and you can expect to pay the same amount as in the States.

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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?

You need one. Life is full of unexpected experiences, and Santo Domingo is no exception. There is no 911 here, nor policemen around that you can count on to help you, or for that matter good samaritans. You are on your own around here, and having a cell phone is a necessity. There are many service providers, and if you have a contract you can expect to pay the same amount that you would pay in the States. We just get the phone cards, and because we don't use the cell much, it only costs about $20 a month.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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

There is good quality pet care available. PetLand is a nice one, and there is also an animal hospital/vet in Arroyo Hondo.

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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?

The State Dept. has decent-paying jobs for family members. Schools seem to hire quite a few expats.

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

My husband needs to wear a dress shirt and tie to work. As far as in public, Dominicans don't wear shorts, so you will stand out as an American if you wear them (children wear them, though). Dominican ladies tend to dress up and wear very high heels and lots of jewelry. Outer appearance is very important in their culture, not just what you wear, but also how your home looks. When our grass gets a little high, we often get recommendations for gardeners.....which I find funny.

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Health & Safety:

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

This is a very poor country, and I would say a high percentage of people would love nothing more than to break into your car/home and steal from you. You have to be constantly aware of your surroundings. We had our taxi followed by the typical 2 men on a motorcycle....one does the driving, the other snatches the purse, bag, sunglasses, cell phone or whatever else appeals to their eye. I had read from our security report that the would-be attackers like the element of surprise, so my family and I stared them down and they sped off. Many people have things stolen right off of them in the street. There was one incident (that I heard of personally) where the person refused to give up her belongings and was shot.

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

Our one experience in an emergency room clinic (considered a nice one) was scary at best. The sheets were dirty, and they prepared the needle outside of your sight, so we weren't sure if the needle was clean. So we had them do it again in front of us. I wouldn't trust hand washing. We get most of our basic needs met at the embassy health unit, which we are pleased with.

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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?

Unhealthy. Make sure you drive around using the recycled air in your vehicle, because there is black exhaust spewing out of all the cars around you as you drive.

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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?

Typical tropical weather: hot & humid. Right now it is the rainy season, and having lived in Miami for 12 years and Seattle for 10 years, I would compare it to the constant rain of Seattle but with the hot humidity of Miami. I much preferred living in Miami, where there would be a huge downpour followed by beautiful sunshine. Here, we have spent weeks where it is dark & rainy most of the day. It sure makes it hard to enjoy time with the kids....we can't play tennis, swim, go to the beaches, etc....so it's lots of indoor movies and bowling.

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Schools & Children:

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

We had our children at Carol Morgan, but because of the distance from our house and our desire for them to learn more Spanish, we are switching schools next year.

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

Our 2 older children need gifted services which the schools here do not provide. Fortunately, the State Dept. provides special funding for this, and we are hiring a tutor to teach them at their grade level.

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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?

My 3-year-old attends a preschool (about 5 minutes from our home) which speaks primarily English. We are switching him to another school next year that will teach him more Spanish. The problem is that the bigger, nicer facilities have families there with parents who can afford it.....for those parents it is very important that their kids learn English. This is great for them, but not so great for our English-speaking kids. So it has been a struggle to find good quality schools that will still give them some Spanish language.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes. They are available through the schools, and those would be in English. Any other local programs would be taught in Spanish.

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Expat Life:

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

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2. Morale among expats:

We have met quite a few State Dept. employees who can't wait to get out of here. The driving is very stressful....people drive wherever they feel like going, even the wrong way down one-way roads and 2-way roads. If there is a big long line of cars, they will drive down into oncoming traffic to get to the intersection ahead of everyone else. They will often not stop at red lights, they weave in and out of traffic and will use as many lanes as possible to get ahead of everyone else. Two lanes can very easily become five. They stop to pick up or drop off people in the middle of a lane of traffic. There is no such thing as "oh, let me pull of to the side of the road to drop you off", just as there is no "side of the road". You can just be driving along, and someone will stop in front of you to buy a mango or a phone card, and you have to go around them -- which could cause you to have an accident, because the other lanes are also filled with swerving traffic. If you are someone who has a problem with lack of patience, this place will drive you nuts -- as it has many of my friends.

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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?

We attend various embassy functions, and we do quite a bit of entertaining at home.

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

We are a family of 6, and I would not consider it a good city for families. It is not like in the States where a family could just go and play at a park. We don't do that here....only because it wouldn't be enjoyable for us to be constantly looking over our shoulder for dangerous situations and watching over our stuff. Our kids have bikes but nowhere to ride them, unless we drive to the school property where there are security guards. In the States, our kids could ride up and down the sidewalk of our neighborhood freely or walk to the neighbor's house to play, etc. ....you can't do that here. I try to make it as fun as possible for the kids. We have a trampoline, we rent movies, we go bowling, we go to the mall, we go to the zoo, aquarium, botanical gardens, movie theatre.....and almost every weekend we escape from the city and go to the beach.

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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?

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The weekend beach trips with the family, and meeting some wonderful expat families outside of the State Dept.

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

The Colonial Zone is neat.

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

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It's got some great beaches, but unfortunately you have to drive a couple of hours to get to a clean one.

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11. Can you save money?

Food is very expensive to buy at the grocery store and at restaurants. So, I think if you just eat rice, beans and local fruits and veggies you can do pretty well. We like American products, though, so we pay for them and it's expensive. The all-inclusive resorts are about $150 a person per night (children pay half). All of the services (cell, tv, internet, gyms, etc.) have American prices, so it is hard to save money in that respect.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. It has been a good post for us, despite the stress. We enjoy the climate and have met some nice people. We have a nice home, and the embassy provides water delivery and a generator, bars on the house for safety, Dominican watchmen (guards) that come and walk around our property every half hour, and screens on our windows to protect against mosquitoes. So we feel pretty safe, and not having to deal with power outages makes life a bit easier.

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

kid's bikes, roller skates, etc. as there are no sidewalks or safe roads to ride them on.

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen and sun protection clothing/hats etc. Most of the floors are tile, so some good rugs come in handy.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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