Guadalajara, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 01/25/15
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?
Nope. I've also lived in Europe, Africa and Asia.
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?
Washington, DC -- about 8 hours via a bunch of different cities, but no direct flights.
3. How long have you lived here?
Arrived in 2014.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Singles and couples with no or one kid tend to be in three-bedroom apartments whose locations and amenities vary; some are in very walkable areas, but with others you'll mostly be driving. Families tend to be in three- or four-bedroom houses in gated communities also with varying amenities and locations, but most are walkable to some restaurants, small shops, etc. Most but not all housing comes with access to a gym and a pool. Commute times tend to be in 20-30 minutes range. Note that housing for those with dogs can be tricky but not impossible.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Prices are comparable to the U.S. if you go to grocery stores like Wal-Mart (which is fancy here, more like a Target would be in the U.S.), but you can save money but shopping elsewhere. Brands and selections are sometimes different, but there hasn't been anything I've wanted that I haven't been able to eventually find. Costco is more expensive than in the U.S. but a good option for things you have trouble finding elsewhere.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Although you can find anything you need, some things are considerably more expensive here, like clothing and toys. We would have stocked up on birthday party gifts and kids clothing before coming had we known.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pretty much any food chain you can think of in the U.S. is here too. IHOP, KFC, McDonalds, Carl's Jr, PF Chang's, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Krispie Kreme, Starbucks... you name it, it's here. Most prices are comparable to those in the U.S., but there are some surprises. (Outback, for instance, is way more expensive here). There are also lots of great local restaurants. Your palate wont suffer in Guadalajara, though good Asian good can be hard to come by.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing out of the ordinary.
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Full-time help is pretty affordable (US$600 for our nanny) but by law they have pretty good benefits packages in terms of leave time and severance pay, so factor that in too. Nannies can live in or not. It's also possible to hire a housekeeper for only one day a week if you'd prefer. Some expats employ drivers. We have a guy who comes to our house to wash our car for US$10 or so. It's pretty cheap to hire help for whatever you need.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, though most housing comes with workout facilities so I don't know about local market costs.
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?
I use credit cards frequently. Even AmEx is accepted most places I go. I haven't had any issues.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I know of an English language Anglican church. There may be others too.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is helpful, but I've found that most Mexicans who run in the same circles as expats speak perfectly good English too.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be possible to live here, I think, though not as easy as in the U.S.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There aren't local trains except for a tourist one to the town of Tequila. City buses aren't particularly safe, but taxis are. My 25-minute commute to work costs about US$8. People rave about luxury coach bus service to Vallarta.
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 would really be fine. High clearance might be useful due to frequent and poorly designed speed bumps, but anything would do. Pretty much any kind of car can be serviced here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
The options vary depending on your neighborhood, but both speed and cost are comparable to the U.S.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most people bring unlocked iPhones and get a local plan once arriving. I have the maximum amount of data and it costs only US$40 or so a month. If you don't want a smart phone, you can wait and buy one locally when you arrive. They're sold at Oxxo (like a 7-11) for as little as US$30.
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 needed. Vets and kennels are everywhere. This is a very pet-friendly culture.
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?
I've heard of some teaching opportunities, both ESL and in international schools, but without strong Spanish skills I think it could be hard to find other employment on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There's a Junior League chapter that's very active if that's your cup of tea. I've heard of people volunteering teaching English, serving at a soup kitchen, visiting an orphanage, etc.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is crime, but it mostly falls into the categories of 1) what you'd find in any major city, and 2) targeted. I haven't felt unsafe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We've had only minor health issues but have been perfectly happy with the quality of care we've received so far. Many doctors are U.S. trained and speak good English. More and more, Americans are coming to Mexico for medical tourism, and I can see why. Especially for dental work, the quality is great and half the cost as back home.
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?
It's fairly high altitude with some pollution, but I haven't noticed any issues with day-to-day life or short outdoor runs.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's swimming weather 9 months out of the year. The warmest clothing you'll need is a light jacket.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a number of options and the vast majority of expats I've talked to are happy with them.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I've heard not much, but I don't have firsthand experience.
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?
A full-time nanny costs about US$600/mo. There are many preschools, most of which are only half-day. We pay about US$400 month for ours, a bilingual school walkable from our home. We've found that preschool is a little more serious than in the U.S. -- more academic and less play based. But it's worked out okay.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. There are plenty of music, art and other classes too.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The diplomatic expat community is fairly small but the corporate expat community is large. Morale is great. Most everyone feels grateful to be here.
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?
Anything you'd do in the U.S. Restaurants, movies, bars, clubs, birthday parties, playdates, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's really a good city for anyone.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I've experienced. Not more so than I think you'd find anywhere else.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We've been blown away by how kid-friendly Mexico is. Even elderly men and teenage boys coo at babies on the street. Most restaurants have play areas for kids, and some even have on-staff nannies.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Tlaquepaque,Tequila and Tonola are all easy day trips. For a weekend away, Manzanillo, Tapalpa, Guanajuato and Puerto Vallarta are all fairly close. And there's plenty to do in the city itself. VIP movies (think Lay-Z-Boy chairs and waiter service for the price of a regular U.S. movie, or less) are a favorite in our family. There's a new movie theatre designed just for kids, with a play area down by the screen and a giant slide going down the aisle. Colomos and Metropolitano are both great parks. You can satisfy your foodie cravings much cheaper than back home. Etc.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
I personally think Guadalajara is the best post in Mexico. It's got most of the culture and sophistication you would find in Mexico City, but the size is much less intimidating. You don't have the same security issues that you have in most border posts, so you can really get out and see all that the city has to offer. You can drive to several famous beaches in 4-6 hours, and you can get to others with a 2 hour, US$200 flight. The weather is pleasant year-round. And of course... there's the food. Mexican food is delicious, and there's a pretty good foodie scene in town too.
9. Can you save money?
If you don't travel, yes. But the temptation to travel is strong...
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. Do you have any other comments?
This is a great place for cyclists. Every Sunday the city shuts down a whole bunch of major streets to car traffic so cyclists have free reign.