Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 07/05/11

Personal Experiences from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico 07/05/11

Background:

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

4th expat experience

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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?

About 5 hours of traveling time from El Paso to Washington, DC. You'll usually have to connect in Dallas, Houston, or Chicago.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 months

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

U.S. Consulate

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing for consulate members here is all single family homes in gated communities. The houses are pretty large and most are relatively new construction. All are within a 10-15 minute drive of the consulate.

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

Everything’s available in El Paso and many US products are available in Mexico as well. Prices are US prices in El Paso, and similar in Mexico though the tax is higher.

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

Nothing, really. Pretty much everything is available in Juarez or El Paso. The closest Trader Joe’s is in Albuquerque, so you may want to bring some your favorite TJ products or anything that’s specific to your region.

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

Many fast food options like Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Subway, Domino’s, Papa John pizza, Applebees, and Chili’s on both sides of the border. Lots of good Mexican restaurants and burrito places. Costs are similar to US costs, maybe a bit cheaper, depending on where you go.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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

None that I’ve noticed.

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Daily Life:

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

The consulate has a PO box in El Paso and a warehouse address for receiving packages that can’t be shipped to a PO box.

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

Cleaning ladies charge $20-30/day and are readily available. The CLO keeps a list of cleared ones.

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

There’s a small gym in the consulate and a couple of others nearby.

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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?

There’s an ATM and Banamex branch in the consulate. Credit cards are pretty widely accepted, but I usually use cash just to be on the safe side.

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

Pretty much every type of service is available in El Paso.

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

You can pick up network stations from El Paso with an antenna. Telmex offers a Mexican DishTV service that has lots of US programming with subtitles. Some people have gotten US satellite service set up at their homes.

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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 useful if you’re going to do much shopping in Juarez. Some places have English speaking staff, but you can’t necessarily count on it.

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

Many. There are not sidewalks in many areas, many buildings are not handicapped accessible.

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Transportation:

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

There is a taxi service that you can call, but I wouldn’t use any of the buses.

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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?

Almost any make and model can be serviced either in Juarez or El Paso. You see all kinds of US cars here, so nothing would really stand out as strange, though I wouldn’t recommend anything that expensive or flashy due to the potential crime. Something with a higher clearance would be helpful because of the speed bumps that can scrape lower cars and the way the streets flood when it rains, though many FSOs and locals manage with small sedans.

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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. Telmex has service bundles for phone and internet available ranging from $20-100/mo depending on the internet speed and phone service.

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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?

The consulate provides a basic phone and plan to US employees. Prepaid phones are available through Telcel and Movistar. Many people tend to keep a US cell phone for use on the US side. AT&T and Verizon have plans that work on both sides of the border. Vonage and MagicJack are also popular.

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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, there aren't any special requirements for bringing pets into Mexico. Most people get the health certificate only to enter Mexico with no questions about the pet.

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

Yes, good vets and kennels are available in El Paso.

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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 several jobs at the consulate and it's possible to work in El Paso.

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

Mexicans tend to dress up a bit more in public, but otherwise it is not too different from the US.

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Health & Safety:

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

Over 3,000 people were murdered here last year. Most of the violence in contained within the cartels and their associates, but innocent people are more and more likely to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time or mistaken for someone else. Other crimes, like carjackings and burglaries have also increased dramatically. There’s a certain level of nervousness that never quite goes away.

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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?

Well, there’s the possibility of getting whacked in a cartel hit. Other than that, no special medical concerns. Medical care is good on both sides of the border.

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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?

Dry, dusty. No real problems from pollution, but the dust can get to you.

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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?

Dry and warm to hot. The summers are brutally hot and the winters are colder than you’d expect for Mexico due to the altitude and desert. Spring and fall are nice.

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Schools & Children:

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

The consulate runs an armored shuttle to take kids over to schools in El Paso. A couple of families have kids in school in Juarez and one has sent their child to boarding school in another part of the US.

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

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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?

I believe that there are but I don’t know much about them.

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

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Expat Life:

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

Very large if you count dual citizens who are US citizens by birth or through family, very small if you do not. The U.S. consulate is the only diplomatic mission in town and the maquilas have some managers who are international. That’s about it.

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2. Morale among expats:

It depends. Living in Juarez is tiring with all of the security issues and it takes a toll. Some days things seem fine, some days it feels like the walls are closing in around you.

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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?

Lots of casual entertaining in homes. Very little in the way of official representation, unless you're very senior.

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

I think that it's a tough city for everyone in some respect. Singles can feel very isolated since it is difficult to go out and socialize due to security concerns. Families feel stress from worrying for the safety of their family members and feeling cooped up inside sometimes.

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

The consulate is very gay-friendly and I'm not aware of special problems outside of the consulate, though it's hard for anyone to go out much.

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

Machismo is alive in Mexico, moreso with older generations than with younger people.

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

The people. Chihuahuenses are really warm people and the FS and local staff at the consulate are wonderful.

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

Most of the attractions within driving distance in Mexico are off-limits per the RSO.Las Cruces, Tucson, Albuquerque, Riudoso, and Santa Fe are within a reasonable drive. There’s good hiking over in the Franklin Mountains near El Paso. You can go skiing several places in New Mexico. There are a few museums in El Paso. You can get decent flights to most places in the US from El Paso and many places in Mexico from CDJ.

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

Travel out of Juarez?

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

It’s nice to be able to get home easily and have access to US shopping.

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely, if you don’t spend it all on getting out of town. It’s a 30% differential post, the cost of living is reasonable, and you’re not going out much due to the security situation, so it's relatively easy to save a lot.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not any time soon, but maybe in the future if things calm down. The people at the consulate and community are wonderful, but you spend so much of your time living in fear that it’s exhausting and I'm ready to be able to go for a drive, out to eat, or to the mall without looking over my shoulder all the time.

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

Snow tires

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses and warm weather wear

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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 have any other comments?

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