Guadalajara, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 06/13/10

Personal Experiences from Guadalajara, Mexico

Guadalajara, Mexico 06/13/10

Background:

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

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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?

Washington, DC. There are no direct flights, but Continental and American fly with one connection (in Dallas or Houston usually). Trip is about 6.5 hours flight time.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 months.

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

Family is here for U.S. State Dept.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We have an apartment in Providencia, in the city. It's nice because we can walk to everything we need, but it's not noisy or too busy traffic-wise. Other people with the State Dept. live in houses in gated communities. We love that we are living among the locals here. Some of the government housing is a 30-minute drive (up to an hour during rush hour) from downtown.

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

You can get pretty much anything you want here. Most food items are about the same price as in the U.S. There are several different grocery chains and also Costco and Sam's Club. There are lots of street markets where fresh produce and meats are cheaper than in the stores. You also can find some American brands that are not in the stores here in international markets, but those items are pretty expensive.

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

Chocolate chips, brown sugar, other baking items. A grill -- they are ridiculously expensive here. Cotton sheets, which also cost five times what they do in the U.S.

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

Restaurants are fairly cheap. Very good taco stands charge about 65 cents per taco. The average good restaurant costs about $12-$15 including drinks. And the best restaurants cost about $50 per person, all inclusive.

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

There are times when the mosquitoes are bad, but it doesn't seem like it's often. But there have been a few outbreaks of Dengue, so it's important to cover up and wear bug spray when this happens.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use the diplomatic pouch through the State Dept.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

It's plentiful and cheap. Most people pay less than $20 a day for cleaning/nanny.

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

Yes. There are many gyms. Several people we know belong to the World Gym in Providencia. Some gated communities have clubhouses with gyms.

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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?

You can't use credit cards everywhere. Some restaurants and stores only take cash.

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

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

The Guadalajara Reporter is the main English newspaper. You can get an online subscription for $30 a year. You would need to get cable or satellite TV to have English-language TV stations.

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

You need to have a working knowledge of Spanish. It would be frustrating and difficult to get around without it.

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

They would have some problems getting around. The sidewalks are horrible here; some have trees growing in the middle of them, and others have steps built into them.

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Transportation:

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

There are no passenger trains. Buses are available, but we haven't used them. Taxis are pretty cheap.

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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?

Don't bring a new car if you are going to get bent out of shape if it gets dented or scratched. Bring an SUV if you can. During the rainy season there are flash floods, and it's much safer and easier to drive an SUV through what can look like rivers at times. Several people we know have had their cars broken into -- just don't leave anything at all that looks worth stealing in the car.

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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. It's decent speed and pretty reliable -- and about $25 a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Most people have the Telcel pay-as-you-go service here.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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 really. It depends what you do. There are some jobs for foreign service spouses at the consulate but most are tedious and none pays well.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

All business at work. It's pretty formal -- just short of suits. More laid back in public, though you rarely see shorts.

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Health & Safety:

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

The drug violence in Mexico is increasing, so it's important to be aware of security measures. Guadalajara has been fairly insulated to this point, and we have felt very safe here. But it's getting more dangerous to drive outside this region and to the north, especially.

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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?

No major health concerns. But be very careful which doctors you pick -- get recommendations from people you trust. I have heard some scarey stories (and have one myself) about bad experience with doctors (even some recommended ones).

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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?

Everything you read says there is horrible pollution in Guadalajara. We haven't really experienced it where we live. The air quality is pretty poor near the airport, though -- and in the warmest months of May and June it can get hazy in other parts of the city as well.

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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?

It's usually nice here. In the winter it can get down into the 30s at night. And in May and June, the hottest months, the 100-degree temps can be kind of brutal. But for the other 10 months it's generally in the 70s and 80s (dry heat) during the day and sunny. June to August is the rainy season, which means it pours (sometimes with hail) after 4 pm almost every day. But it's sunny during most of the day. And this rain cools and cleans the air, which is nice.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We don't have any kids in schools here, but we hear good things, mostly, about the American School. The only complaints we have heard are that there's not much mixing between the Americans and the Mexicans at the school, and that they start the kids in kindergarten a year later than in the U.S.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

We don't have kids in daycare. But many people do, and everyone seems satisfied with the programs they use. There are many.

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

Yes, through the American School. We know people who also have enrolled their kids in swimming lessons.

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Expat Life:

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

Decent size. There are a lot of retirees in Chapala. There are some U.S. companies in Guadalajara, so there are families here as well.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale is pretty good among expats. The morale at the U.S. Consulate here, specifically, varies depending on the management and the workload. The people posted here are nice, and fun for the most part. But the consulate officers are interviewing hundreds of visa applicants each at the moment. This is currently weighing on morale. A year ago, visa demand was lower and morale was higher. At times it feels like a visa factory.

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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?

It's a good social scene here. People often go to dinner, or out to bars and clubs -- and there are often people having others to their homes for dinner and parties. People sometimes organize trips out of town as well. Lately, consulate-organized events, specifically, have not been well attended, unfortunately.

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

It's good for everyone. There are lots of clubs and bars for those interested in going out, and there are also lots of activities for families.

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

There is a large gay community here, and it's supposed to be a gay-friendly city.

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

Not that we have seen, though it doesn't seem like there are many minorities here.

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

The people in Guadalajara are extremely nice and helpful. We've had an amazing time, also, traveling around the country. I never imagined Mexico had so much to offer before I came here.

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

There are too many to list here, but a few: exploring downtown, visiting the town of Tequila, buying cheap well-made goods in Tonala, traveling to the beach for a long weekend.

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

Silver is cheap, and there are unique jewelry items here. Tonala has tons of local crafts, handmade furniture, blown glass, tile and other ceramics, pewter, and other unique items. Tequila is cheaper and better here.

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

Dining out is cheap. It's hard to spend more than $50 at the nicest restaurants for two meals and a bottle of wine. There are so many amazing little towns nearby, within 3-4 hours driving, like Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Tapalpa and Morelia. And there are nice beaches 3-5 hours away, like Manzanillo, Barra de Navidad and Sayulita.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

winter clothes. And your preconceptions about the country if your only experience here is with spring break or beach vacations.

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Night of the Iguana.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Guadalajara is an under-rated city. And Mexico has so much more to offer than I anticipated when we found out we were going to be posted here for two years. We have greatly enjoyed our time here.

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