Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 05/22/12
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?
No: Arlington, VA, Dakar, Senegal.
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?
US. Five hours with United. Nine hours (2 legs+ lay over) with American Airlines, the mandatory route for Mexico to DC on State Department orders.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years (2010 to 2012).
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government's orders - end of tour.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Polanco has mostly apartments, but we gladly sacrificed to have a short commute (20 minutes in the morning and 15 in the afternoon). If demonstrations were planned we came back by foot (40 to 50 minutes depending on pace). Some colleagues were traumatized about the commute from Sante Fe.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very available: local markets, great supermarkets, and of course Costco & Sam's club ... Much cheaper than the US for all but good cheese.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Spices: they have little choice -- but many new Chili peppers.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All major US fast food except Wendy. The food is so good here (like in Paris but cheaper) you don't want to get fast food unless it is delicious tacos on the street. The sample gourmet menu in the top 10 restaurants is priced around $80/person (service is 10-15%), so you can have very good meals for half this price.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Lots of choice.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Altitude is too high to have any bug - perfect.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Via the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Normally 250 pesos a day (a day is NOT 8 hours for a Mexican maid, at best 7 hours including lunch) - so about $22/day. In Polanco/Santa Fe, Americans tend to pay more, but Mexican households in the same areas pay less. Then you add Aguinaldo (Xmas bonus, 2 to 4 weeks depending on agreement), 7 paid holidays and severance pay of 3 months -- due after only 3 months at your service, so choose wisely and fast.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many, but some are very expensive (Mundet) and none are cheap.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
No problems at all. Very easy. There are 24/7 stores everywhere called Oxxo that have do ATMs as well.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. Very affordable.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I spoke Spanish before, improved during, and it is better to know the language, especially in the provinces. Most people speak English in the capital.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks are very tricky, full of bumps & holes.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are 4 to 5 pesos (divide by 12 for US$), Polanco to the US Embassy is about 60-70 pesos on a safe 'sitio' taxi. Non-sitios (forbidden by the US Embassy) are half this price.
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?
We were told not to bring a black SUV (after we had shipped our car) because the 'narcos' use the same. We never had a problem with our large Nissan. We took big because if you wish to visit the country you need high clearance. The garage was next door.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Less than $40 a month for 2MB.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Many people have iPhone or Blackberry. We used Telcel.
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)?
Yes. Carolina Faz Basurto was a great vet - CLO has her numbers.
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?
Yes, at local wages (low) and with a good level of Spanish. At the Embassy, wages are slightly higher, but many jobs have high expectations in Spanish (4/4 often required for good jobs), a few are available with no language requirements.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
People overdress compared to the US. At the Embassy it depends on the service you work for. Some people wore flip flops!
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
As any other big city, but not as bad as the press writes. We took buses and the metro in full security.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
High altitude can be bad for some. It never affected me. Sometimes people would get really sick for 1 day (big migraine), and then be good again the next day.
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 as polluted as people say.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Wonderful. Mostly in the high 70s. The winters are chilly in the morning, but by 2pm, it's above 60. Raining sometimes, but not the standard pattern that they tell you in guidebooks (rainy season is supposed to be June to October, we barely saw rain in 2010). One day in March 2012 we were in tee-shirts all day and it hailed so strongly around 5pm that we had enough hail to make a snowman. Fun!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Whether the school calls itself US, UK, or French, they are ALL very Mexican: a large majority of Mexican students (sometimes only 1 or 2 American student per class), drinking at an early age. It is probably better at the primary level.
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?
Most people would use an in-house nanny.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
At school and outside yes, lots.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
1 million or more!
2. Morale among expats:
It depends if they are retirees or people on a 2-year tour. Usually people like/love it, but there are a few grumpy ones (I have not quite figure out why!).
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?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a great city for all.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is a great city for all.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I have not noticed any.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Too many to list. Mexico encompasses the culture of the equivalent of Southern Europe + Aztec/Mayas + wonderful beaches + mountains/volcanoes to climb. Mexico City had many wonderful museums, architecture, lucha libre, many opportunities for 2-day weekends around the city.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Pineda Covalin (Mexican designer) silk items - better than Hermes for originality. Local artisans' products. Furniture. Pottery. Too many to list.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Weather, fantastic culture, delicious food, all at a fraction of the cost in the US. No saving money if you extensively visit the country like we did.
11. Can you save money?
Yes - if you don't travel extensively in nice hotels and don't eat in top restaurants often.
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:
Food - you can get anything here.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience in traffic and aggressive driving skills!
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
First Stop in the New World
by David LIDA. Exceptional book for anyone who will live here.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Most tourists rush to the beach or the pyramids. They are missing a fantastic city which offers everything.