Guadalajara, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 02/03/17
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?
This is my first experience abroad as an FSO. Previous experience in Europe and Northern Africa.
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. It's a pretty straightforward flight with a stop over in Atlanta, Houston, or Dallas. Quite inexpensive, too
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is divided mostly between 3 bedroom apartments in Providencia where the singles and childless married couples live and houses in little gated communities further west. Commutes are usually around 15-25 minutes. I don't have much experience with the houses, but the apartments vary quite widely in amenities. All will be way larger than you need and have doormen/guards. In some, you have to actually be let in and out by the guards and aren't even given a fob/key to get in. Some have pools and modest gyms, others do not. The apartments' locations aren't really near any of the happening stuff going on in GDL. Some are within walking distance of more upscale restaurants and some grocery stores, however.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Anything you want is available. It's basically "bizarro California." Sometimes items disappear from grocery stores, so if you see something you like/use often, it's best to buy a bunch. Otherwise you can get most everything from Amazon/Walmart/Target.com. Grocery stores are generally large and American-style. Great produce.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Rye whiskey is unavailable. I usually order brown sugar and kosher salt from an online retailer.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pretty much anything you can think of is available in GDL. A lot of restaurants also deliver. There are a lot of beautiful high-end restaurants with great food at low prices. At a nice restaurant, you can spend $15 for a dinner and drinks, when in DC you'd be looking at $50+. Meanwhile...street tacos are cheap, plentiful, and amazing. And tortas ahogadas shouldn't be missed!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Once a week maid service for around $17. Most people have a cleaning lady with a lot of the officers sharing the same few people. A lot of the officers with children have live-in nannies.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many of the accommodations have small gyms. Otherwise, there is a wide range of gyms in GDL. You can spend anywhere from $15 to $120/month on gyms, with facilities much nicer than in the US. Yoga studios, boxing, etc are all common.
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?
No issues. Credit cards are accepted at most sit-down restaurants, grocery stores, and malls.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English isn't very widely spoken in GDL, but you can get by without Spanish---there will always be someone at a restaurant who can speak English. Socially you're about 60/40 for whether or not someone will speak English. You'll find life MUCH easier with Spanish, however.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Just take Uber. It costs about $1.80 for a 20-minute ride. A 45-minute ride to the airport is under $10. We are urged not to use buses/taxis/the 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?
Everything under the sun is at post. Small cars, sedans, large SUVs, small SUVs. The roads are pretty terrible and there are tons of speed bumps. Also GDL floods during rainy season. On the other hand, small cars are great for the small streets downtown and for parking. Car shops are fine and plentiful, as are dealerships (Honda, Toyota, you name it).
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is more or less similar in cost and speed to the US. Sometimes it'll be set up when you arrive. Other times, you have to set it up yourself and it can be a huge headache and take a few weeks.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
People seem to fall into 3 camps: use the office-issued Blackberry; keep their US number and use that; get a local plan. A popular local plan is with AT&T, about $30/mo, 5ish GB, free calls/texts to US/Canada, no roaming charges in US/Canada.
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?
Good vets at good prices. Unsure about quarantine. Sufficient kennels, but some people have a hard time finding one they like.
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?
A lot telecommute as we're one hour off of EST. It takes forever to get a clearance to work at the US Consulate.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Pretty much whatever you can imagine.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
GDL is a tech and design hub. Most people around the city are dressed casually. At the US Consulate it's business/business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Like any big city, you have to watch out and not be stupid. There seems to have been an uptick in crime recently. An officer was also recently shot, but that was seemingly an anomaly.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is very high quality and very affordable. No health concerns.
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?
Air quality is fine.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's like an eternal spring. The hot months are May/June (100 degrees daily). Then comes rainy season July - Sept, when it's about 85 and sunny every day with one rain storm (usually in the evening). Sept - April it's generally gorgeous, 75 - 80 degrees, sunny every day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
American School and Canadian School.
2. 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 lot of people hire nannies.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small expat community. There are a lot of big tech companies and there are a few small diplomatic missions. Some Americans attend the UAG medical school.
Morale at the Consulate is mixed and has had its ups and downs. It depends on your expectations. In the Consular section you will work hard and do more visas than any other post in Mexico. People have burnt out. However, the team (officers and local staff) are absolutely fantastic and make going to work worthwhile.
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?
The Consulate community isn't the most social. The city is a great place and people don't seem to need the connection with colleagues that exists at harder posts. There's also a huge divide between the singles (and childless couples) and the families, given different living locations. That said, there's been a recent influx of younger officers who are more social. When I arrived there were very few singles and people weren't very social. GDL is like any other city--restaurants, bars, a few museums, lots of outdoor markets, lots of craft/design fairs. Some concerts come through.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All of the above! It's a happening city and everyone should be able to find his/her niche no matter their civil status.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's nickname is "Gaydalajara." GDL has a huge gay scene for a conservative Latin American city. It's not uncommon to see same-sex couples holding hands on Chapultapec. There are a lot of gay bars/clubs and most establishments are gay-friendly. The post's Public Affairs Office and the CG are both very active in supporting and working with the LGBT community.
Also, it's only a 5 hour drive to Puerto Vallarta, which is an international gay beach destination.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not specific to GDL, but in Mexico as a whole there can be prejudices related to skin-tone and economic status.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
All of the fantastic travel opportunities and beaches! Oaxaca, Sayulita, Vallarta, Baja Sur... Mexico City is fantastic and incredibly cheap to get to.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are some great hikes-- you just have to look for them. Bosque de la Primavera, Barranca de Oblates. Nearby waterfalls and hot springs. Tequila, Tlaquepaque for crafts/gifts. Tapalpa for a cabin in the mountains. Within 2.5 hours there's a ton to do.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You will get all new glassware, ceramics, and textiles.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Big city with a small town feel. Approximately 5 million people in the metro area, but GDL itself doesn't feel huge. The quality of life is very good for a big city. It's location is also ideal: super cheap to get to CDMX and you can drive/take a bus to the beach if you want!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Definitely. It's not the biggest/most happening city, but the quality of life is great and there's a ton of life in it.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Dislike for reggaeton?
3. But don't forget your:
Patience and assertiveness while driving. Driving is the worst in GDL. The traffic circles are like a free-for-all with no laws. A lot of the streets don't have painted lanes. And a lot aren't labeled. Have fun!
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Just get out your Lonely Planet and start planning to get to know Mexico!
5. Do you have any other comments?
People are often concerned about GDL because it is a "visa mill." But the city and the life you lead there make it all worthwhile.