Guadalajara, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 02/18/08
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?
I lived in Tokyo, Japan previously.
2. How long have you lived here?
1 year and 8 months.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am affiliated with the U.S. Consulate.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
From Houston or Dallas, it's about 2.5 hours, from LA 3 hours and from Atlanta 3.5 hours. There are also direct flights to Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
For consulate employees there are one of two options: Gated community (large four-bedroom houses, at least a small yard, suburban feel) or Providencia (townhouses and apartments, wealthy neighborhood with restaurants and bars).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Cost of groceries and general goods are about the same or a bit cheaper than the US. Electronics/computers are considerably more expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Patio furniture and gas grill. That said, equipales is a good substitution for patio furniture and can be ordered quite cheaply. I got a drink table, a table for four, and four chairs made for me for about US$300.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many American chains: Applebees, Outback, Hooters, Chiles, McDonald's, Burger King, KFC. As for something nicer: Ma Come No is great for Italian, Santo Coyote is a nice romantic Mexican place, and I Latina is a great fusion place. But beware, there are lots of restaurants that have a great atmosphere, but only so-so food.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The American community relies on having people personally take mail up to the U.S. when they travel. I suggest you contact an English speaking church, Lake Chapala Society, or one of the American Legion to get into one of these systems.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
For cleaning it's good about US$15-20 for once a day and even less if they come everyday. My colleagues tell me that nannies are much harder to find. Many have brought them to Mexico from other Latin American countries after not having any success on the local market.
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?
Credit cards are accepted at most large stores and restaurants. Mastercard/Visa is more common than Amex. ATMs are plentiful and safe to use. If you're a Bank of America account holder, you can use Santander ATMs fee free.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Lutheran, Evangelical, Episcopalian, and, I believe, Catholic services are all available. There are more options just one hour away in Chapala/Ajijic.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There's a weekly English paper from Chapala. As for TV, many people contract with DISH network. You can still get the signal down here. Otherwise, the local cable provider has CNN and about 4-5 channels that show primarily American TV series.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Lots. Almost no one speaks English. This is less the case in Chapala/Ajijic which is where American/Canadian retirement community lives.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A Mexican friend who is handicaped told me that the city is pretty wheelchair accessible. However, I've seen many ramps that are a bit steep. The consulate is NOT handicap accessible except on the first floor.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Right, like the U.S.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are affordable and can be very comfortable is you take the luxury or executive class lines. Taxis are safe and cheaper than in the U.S.
3. 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?
If you are going to stay in the city, just about any car is fine. However, a higher clearance vehicle is preferable as Mexican speed bumps can be very high. The bottom of my Civic has been banged numerous times. It's just too low. Outside of the city, an SUV is recommended. You can get by on the toll roads with just about anything, but if you take the free roads or enter a smaller town, you better have high clearance and good shocks.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Telmex is the best. 1G for about US$25 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Telcel's Amigo is a good option. It's a rechargable/pay as you go plan.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Vonage or skype. Telmex charges about 10 cents a minute on it's CHEAPEST Mexico-US plan.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I've heard there are good vets.
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?
Without Spanish, I think it's nearly impossible. Most of the people I know work at the consulate, Siemens, Flextronics, HP, Hershey's, or telecommute from home.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Shirt and tie, suit/nice dress for anything special but you'll probably never use a tux or a real evening gown.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate, people say the pollution is increasing though.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's a low-threat, low-crime post but you should take the typical precautions for any big city. I still feel more comfortable here than in several large U.S. cities.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good. San Javier Hospital and Puerta de Hierro Hospital have good reputations. San Javier even takes Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's a relatively mild climate. It seems to be about 60-85F degrees almost 80% of the year. It rains (usually only at night) from June to September and then it's dry the rest of the year. It can get hot and dusty from February until the rains come in June.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have personal experience, however, my colleagues tell me that the American Foundation School, which started by a former Consul General, has a good reputation. That said, it has very few American or international students and the Mexican kids can be very unfriendly and flaunt their wealth. Some have opted for other options: Vancouver or American Academy.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is not a huge expat community in Guadalajara but around Lake Chapala there are about 20,000 American citizens.
2. Morale among expats:
Excellent....this is a great place to live.
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?
Restaurants, social events (weddings, 15 year old parties, cook-outs, etc.), bars and clubs
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes. It's good for all three. The Guadalajara metro area has more than 5 million people. There's something for everyone. I'm single and I've found plenty of activities including sports, bars, clubs, special interest groups, and cultural activities.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
YES. Guadalajara may be know as a conservative city but it's also the heart of GAY Mexico. It's definitely a paradox and you don't see many people who are completely out especially in public, but there are plenty of gay clubs, bars, and restaurants/coffeehouses. There's even a gay pride parade every year and a monthly magazine. More information is available at www.gaygdl.com. Plus, there's always the scene in Puerto Vallarta just 4-5 hours away by car.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Clubs, bars, restaurants, Colomos Park, many day trips/weekend trips to Morelia, Puerta Vallarta, Manzanillo, Guanajuato, Mazamitla, Tapalpa, Chapala, etc.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Local crafts from Tlaquepaque/Tonala: pottery, glassware, interior design stuff...
9. Can you save money?
If you're determined...The cost of living is very similar to the U.S.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes...it rarely hits freezing and then it usually warms back up to 60-70F once the sun comes out.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
7. Do you have any other comments?
Guadalajara is an AMAZING city. The weather's great, there's tons to see and do, and the weekend trips are great.