Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 04/25/11
Personal Experiences from Mexico City, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
Easy four-hour direct flight from Washington Dulles
3. How long have you lived here?
2009 - 2010
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?
Half of embassy housing is in apartments in an area less than an hour's walk from the embassy. The other half is of various types out in the suburbs, under an hour's drive in ideal traffic. If one attempts the commute during rush hour[s], that tends to become two hours or so. As a result, those who can do so prefer to work a 7am-4pm day.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Mexican food is probably 20% cheaper than in Washington; US-style food & supplies maybe 20% more than Washington; Asian-style food costs 50% more.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
That stereo and computer I sent to a landfill before leaving Washington. In Mexico, someone would fix them up and keep them running and well-used for another decade or two.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Good restaurants typically cost ten to twenty dollars for a normal meal. Local ones can be five to ten.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
The restaurant market seems mostly unaware of minority dietary groups.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes do exist, but due to the altitude this is not considered Dengue fever country. Scorpions are reported in natural areas and in apartments/ homes near ground level. Some roaches, same as anywhere else in the world.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I used the embassy logistics center in Texas. For those coming from Washington it can be useful to have that Texas address on record rather than the standard one in Virginia. The embassy commissary sells US postage with a service fee.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and affordable. But be aware of various local labor laws and expected bonuses--like one month's extra pay every Christmas and another before your departure. Some do bring a nanny from another country but I don't have the details.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
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?
Credit cards are widely accepted by hotels, major grocery stores/ shopping centers, and the airport taxi companies. As for cash, a Banamex bank branch in the embassy basement reduces the risk of ATM muggings for embassy personnel.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Basic cable service included in some apartment blocks tends to have several English channels.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. Many Spanish words can be recognized by an English speaker anyway.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Bus services seem safe enough and affordable. Independent taxis are considered a kidnap risk. Taxi-stand taxis may cost more, but are usually affordable and reliable. The subway system is excellent and affordable, but does not serve the nicer suburbs. During rush hour the subway is overcrowded; and at all times, CD-sellers walk around with deafening boom-boxes that make it impossible to hear one's own mp3 player.
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?
An old car will attract less attention from the cops looking for tips. And if the car is a type not marketed in Mexico, its theft-value for spare parts will be low. A small vehicle will be easier to park and to maneuver in tight situations. Strong shocks and tires plus heightened suspension are needed for the potholes, missing manhole covers, and frequent, oddly-shaped speed bumps. A diplomatic vehicle more than ten years old cannot be sold within Mexico, but many Mexicans have relatives north of the border who will facilitate the transaction. Despite the low cost of labor, so much auto repair work is fraudulent that it is not worthwhile to get it done in Mexico. Even dealerships have a pattern of pushing needless repairs, swapping in inferior parts, breaking as much as they fix, and overcharging. To get quality parts, one generally shops online. Having said that, Toyota deserves commendation and here's why:Mr. Jose Velazquez at their Interlomas dealership has excellent English from spending much of his life in the States. He is good at diagnosing and explaining, and often did not charge me for minor repairs. Service there is on par with the best in any country.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Telmex DSL is similar in cost and performance to Verizon DSL--that is to say usable and almost up to first-world standards. For those who have the choice, DSL and landline can be bundled for about $50 total per month. However due to complexities of landlines, embassy personnel are required to keep them separate and pay about $40 for each. Telmex's 3g wireless internet for laptops is probably the best deal in the country at about $35, and the business community swears by it. Cablevision also offers somewhat faster internet, and has recently been allowed to bundle phone services as well, but they are not available in all residential areas.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Telmex and Nextel are the two options. Either one is a better deal than a land-line. Telmex tends to cost a bit more and have better coverage outside the major cities. Nextel works fine in Mexico City and has better international coverage.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Long pants are the norm and suits/ties are common, more so than the rest of the country. This is because of the cooler weather, higher economic class, and higher levels of government present.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Minor theft by domestic help is the norm. Occasional harassment by cops (hoping for tips) tends to happen to those with nice cars--especially if they don't have diplomatic plates. Kidnapping and mugging are to be watched out for, though I experienced neither. Gate-guarded communities are the rule for both business and diplomatic personnel.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Consumption of raw or undercooked food tends to reliably prevent constipation--so, that is never a problem in Mexico. To get "good" health care, you are advised to use the big, clean hospitals in the nicer suburbs. Those hospitals cost at least as much as in the US, but if you do have occasion to go to the emergency room, the staff will still just sit around and chat with each other until well after all paperwork and payments are completed. Best practice is to get contact info for the embassy's designated liaison doctor and know the route to his particular hospital before it is needed. It says something about the state of the medical system, that during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak all diagnostic samples had to be sent to Washington or Ottawa for analysis. It also says something that the ambulance services raise their funds by "passing-the-hat" at busy intersections.
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?
Not healthy, but not nearly as bad as Delhi or Beijing either. The hilly western suburbs are especially breatheable, except for just a couple days per year. Then again, sitting in idling rush-hour traffic for a couple hours each day doesn't help the lungs nor the blood pressure.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Can get below 10C/ 40F up in the hilly suburbs in January. Can get up to 35C/ 95F in March on the valley floor. Monsoonal almost-daily thunderstorms May-September; rest of year almost no rain.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many schools are available: American, British, French, Irish, Japanese, to name a few.
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?
The embassy runs one of their own.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
All over the map. Since this is a big globalized city, the expat community is not cohesive.
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?
Museums are especially good. But really, there is some of pretty much everything in a city that big.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Road trips around Central Mexico. For example: Go for a drive out of town when strawberries are in season. Support the small farmers along the freeway by buying gallon-sized hand-made wicker baskets of strawberries for a dollar or two, and bringing them back for all your friends.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The many daily hours of traffic gridlock tend to prevent evening activities for suburban residents. But aside from that, the possibilities are endless.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Kidnap ransoms, donations to underpaid cops and ambulance crews, and an amazing variety of handmade local artwork.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Perfect weather, big city/ first-world amenities and infrastructure, easy language, easy to visit the US
11. Can you save money?
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:
Stamps and coins. If you put all your coins in one bag when moving out, the packers will refuse to pack it because of a law on the books saying one cannot take "coin collections" out of Mexico. But if you scatter those coins thru the pockets of your clothing, you are okay. Likewise for stamps. If they are all together in a collection, it is illegal to pack them up and take them out of the country--even if nothing has been added since you brought them into the country. But intersperse the albums among your photos/ records/ books and you are okay. Safer not to have brought them into the country in the first place.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience--both for traffic and for Byzantine bureaucracy.