Guadalajara, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 10/10/14

Personal Experiences from Guadalajara, Mexico

Guadalajara, Mexico 10/10/14

Background:

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

Middle East, Central Asia, South America, and Europe.

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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 takes less than three hours to fly from Guadalajara to southern U.S. states. Generally, you need to connect through Arizona or Texas to get to the rest of the U.S. but there are many direct flights too.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Houses and apartments are widely available here. Many expats live west of central Guadalajara. The traffic can be bad at rush hour, but rush hour is at a different time here than in the U.S. so we've rarely had trouble with the traffic. Some people think the traffic is crazy here, but it's not bad at all compared to many other cities around the world. This is a good place to drive.

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

Prices in the grocery stores are fairly similar to the U.S. The weekly street markets can be a good place to buy good produce and local food for less, although it depends on the area they're in. The fruit is wonderful here. Costco is more expensive than the U.S., but if something is imported, it's usually cheapest at Costco. However, you can often find a much less expensive local version in the markets. Abastos market is a giant warehouse market with great prices. There are a few stores, including one in Abastos, where you can buy ingredients to make food from all over Asia. There are expensive stores with imported household supplies here too, but as with the food, you can nearly always find a cheaper local version that works well.

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

You can find nearly everything here although some things will be expensive. When I visit the U.S., I bring back cases of coconut milk, spices, red lentils, bulgur, and lots of dark chocolate.

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

We mostly eat street food which is delicious and inexpensive. There are plenty of U.S. fast food chains here if that's your thing and lots of restaurants. It's very easy to eat here.

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

Mosquitos can carry dengue (although we've just heard this and don't know anyone who has had personal experience with this) and there are ants. Some people have trouble with cockroaches and spiders in their houses. Generally, the insects aren't much of a problem here.

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Daily Life:

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

Our neighborhood has a good gym as do many other neighborhoods. There are gyms around that are good but a little expensive from what I hear.

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2. 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've had trouble with credit cards and rarely use them, although we know a lot of other expats who use them all the time. We stick with ATMs and have never had a problem getting money out. There are drastically different fees at different machines so pay attention.

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

There are a few Catholic and Protestant services. There are no English services for Mormons.

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

You can get away without much Spanish although it's always better to learn some. There are classes at the universities.

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

Compared to the U.S., yes. Compared to most other countries? Definitely not. Guadalajara is working hard to make the city more accessible.

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Transportation:

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

Sitio taxis are safe and relatively inexpensive compared to the U.S. We're not allowed to take the buses and the metro line is very short in Guadalajara and doesn't go into Zapopan at all so we've never tried it, unfortunately. This is a walkable city and I don't feel like I have to drive everywhere even though I can't take the bus. One reason I love to go to Mexico DF is to ride the Metro there.

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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?

We brought a high-clearance car and are glad we did when we want to drive up a volcano, but it's not necessary to have one. Many people have minivans and all sorts of smaller cars. I think you can get just about anything serviced here.

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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, and it's about what we'd expect in the U.S. both for cost and reliability.

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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 so much, and you'd probably need Spanish. Most expats I know who come here without a job lined up have a hard time finding something that pays well.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are many and they're not hard to find especially if you're connected with Junior League.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are some states we avoid but generally we feel very safe here.

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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?

Excellent. People travel here for good care than is much less expensive than in the U.S.

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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?

Generally the air quality is reasonable. It can get a little bad early in the year when it's dry and there's not much rain, but it's generally a little windier then too. I haven't ever been bothered by the air quality.

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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?

There are three basic seasons. The rainy season starts around June and lasts till around September or October. You can expect rain in the late afternoon and evening any day, but it rarely rains in the morning or early afternoon. Everything is lovely and green. Then it cools off and gets drier for a few months. It can get fairly cool in January and you might want a jacket, especially in the evening. It starts to warm up in March and can be quite hot in the afternoons in April and May before the rains start, but since the elevation is high and it's very dry then, it cools off almost every night and the heat doesn't bother me. Even though it's dry in the spring, many bushes and trees flower so it's very colorful.

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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 several options here with many more choices for younger children than older children. As in many places in Latin America, there really aren't international schools, but high-quality private schools. The Canadian School goes through third grade right now and is adding a grade each year (so it will include 4th grade in 2015-16 and 5th grade the year after, etc.). It's an excellent school, as is the American School, and both are easy to get to from the area many expats live. The Lincoln School is a Christian school that is less expensive, but further out for many expats. There are many, many bilingual schools around the city.

We aren't very satisfied with the high school choices here, but between the American School, the Lincoln School, and homeschooling the families with teens have been able to make things work. I wouldn't avoid Guadalajara simply because of the schools.

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

Yes, through the schools, gyms, and universities. We've been able to keep our children busy with sports.

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Expat Life:

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

There are a high variety of expats here, from tens of thousands of retirees on Lake Chapala to medical students to business people, missionaries, and diplomats from a number of countries. People seem happy to be here.

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

Our family has been reasonably happy here although we wish there were more teens in the expat community since my children don't speak much Spanish. Singles and couples find plenty to do. It would take a lot of effort to be bored in Guadalajara.

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

Yes.

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

Some, but most problems are very minor in comparison with many other places in the world.

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

Traveling around Mexico, trying so much good food, and experiencing an interesting culture that isn't completely foreign. We've felt welcome here.

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

Hiking volcanoes, visiting Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, mountain biking, going out to the coast, visiting Mexico DF, fiestas galore, Tequila, rock climbing, religious pilgrimages (the Romeria on October 12th shouldn't be missed), eating, the Day of the Dead, Tonala and Tlaquepaque, camping, and so much more. We will never run out of things to do here.

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

So many things. This is a great place to spend money!

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

Everything is wonderful in Guadalajara. The weather is nearly always pleasant, the food is amazing, Mexico is completely fascinating, and it's a very comfortable city.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish there were more written in English about the city and its culture. There's not much available in English about Guadalajara that isn't aimed at tourists.

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

Yes. Our teenagers haven't been entirely happy here, but other than that, this is a wonderful place to live.

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