Guadalajara, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 04/26/14
Personal Experiences from Guadalajara, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
DC, 7 hours with a lay-over in Houston.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government; Foreign Service.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments are more common for singles, couples and small families. Large townhomes in gated communities for larger families. Commute is about 15 minutes. Typically the "rush hours" are from 8:30-10am and 6-8pm, so our work hours did not coincide with the Tapatio schedules.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
If you shop at the local markets it is much cheaper than the U.S. Even if you shop Walmart and Costco, I would say you spend about 30-40% less than in DC.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Baby food squeezables.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Anything you can find in Southern California is here: Costco, Applebees, Chilis, Outback, Walmart, Sam's Club, Starbucks, etc, but I would recommend a taco stand or one of the hundreds of amazing local restaurants. The food is fantastic, most restaurants have open-air seating because the weather is perfect and everything is so much cheaper that you can eat out more often!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Very few, mainly ants and cockroaches.
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?
Readily available and cheap.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes they are everywhere and slightly cheaper than the U.S. but with the weather as gorgeous as it is all year, you could take up running!
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?
It is a very cash-based place. Not all little places take cards. We had no problems getting money at ATMs in certain places. All the malls and bigger restaurants take cards.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
We used it all the time. Most people do not speak English but everyone is helpful and will try.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The sidewalks are not always there, some have large holes, and many buildings do not have elevators, so it could be a problem.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and affordable from the taxi stands; we were not permitted to take buses or metro.
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?
Any car is fine. A small SUV is nice for the high clearance to avoid potholes and the flash floods that happen a few times.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, i think we paid about US$25/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your own, buy a sim there.Getting a plan is a challenge. They do a full "investigation" and have trouble unless you have a local bank account. It is easier to just buy the monthly sim refill cards.
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 quarantine, great pet care all around and kennels are about US$20 a night.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More formal than the U.S. Most men are in button down shurts and slacks, women are in dresses and heels. No one goes out in work-out clothes.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We had no issues; we live in a gated community.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Great medical care, better than the U.S. Pediatricians who will meet you on a Sunday evening, or at 8pm at night, hospitals that are like spas, and the price is great!
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perfect! Sunny all year with rains in the summer evenings and higher temperatures; it's gorgeous the rest of the year. Pool weather from April- October.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Not available. The one "American School" that is considered adequate is not even close to a typical International school. It is made up of 95% wealthy Mexicans and then the rest are American expats, Japanese and Koreans. With so few international students, the school has a hard time integrating into the fold. Academically there are problems as well. The school has a P1 year between kindergarten and first grade to allow native Spanish speakers to learn English. This causes international students transferring in great trouble because the acadmeics do not line up. The math curriculum is ahead and the language arts is behind based on grade level and the peer group age is older. So when you place your child, s/he will either be with his/her same age peers but the academics will be a year behind, or s/he can be with older kids to align better academically.
Another problem is that non-native students are spread out over the grade level (2-4) per class, then pulled from class for half of the day to attend a "special Spanish" class. They are not given the opportunity to learn Spanish through inclusion, the segregation causes social difficulties and students waste a lot of time without a real curriculum.
Communication is another issue. The school is not good about passing information to families. Information usually came late, if at all, through the room parent and only in Spanish, so if you don't speak Spanish, it is difficult to know what is happening.
Other options for schools are very limited. There is the Lincoln school which is religious, weaker academically and small with few extra curricular activities. The Canadian school is growing, but only had classes up to 2nd grade. No schools offer special needs services.
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?
There are a few preschools but most families with young children hire nannies. We hired a nanny who worked full time (6:30-5:30 M-F), cleaned our house, took care of the kids, did laundry and prepped dinner for about US$250 a week which is on the very high end of the pay scale.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, eveyrhting is in Spanish so it is a great way for them to learn the language!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium and good.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
BBQs, movies, parks, outdoor mall, hiking, hanging out with friends.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, so much to do. Beautiful parks, a great zoo, easy to travel out of the city, lots of nightlife for singles and couples, great reastaurants!!!! Did I mention the food is amazing?
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I believe so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is more of a class system among Mexicans but we did not experience any prejudices.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Chapala, Chacala, Tapalpa, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Puerto Vallarta, Akumal, Mexico City, the cheap and delicious food, the fruit stands on every corner.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The many parks.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Tonala is an Artist's town full of amazing Mexican items; you can furnish your house or send gifts home. You can even get furniture made to order for great prices.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is perfect all year round, the food is amazing, travel to the coast is fairly easy (3-4 hours by car), travel to many other cities and towns for a long weekend is easy, the people are nice, cost of living is cheaper than the U.S. and you can get anything you would want (it is like living in Southern CA).
10. Can you save money?
Yes, depending on how much you travel and eat out.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That the school was so bad; we would have chosen differently.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
We would go back in a heartbeat if we did not have older children. It is a gorgeous place and so easy.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen and swimsuit.