Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 04/28/14

Personal Experiences from Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico 04/28/14

Background:

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

Sort of. I've lived short-term in Guatemala. My husband has spent many years abroad.

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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?

Home base?! What is that?? Direct flights to many U.S. cities and also connections to anywhere via Houston, Atlanta, or Dallas.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We were there for 2 years, March 2012-March 2014.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Traffic is a big deal in Mexico. Like, a big super-annoying deal. Do your research on housing to find a good place for you. There are places that are GREAT for walking/riding bikes everywhere. There are other places where that will not really be an option. Our biggest concern was commute time, and my husband rode his bike every day, meaning traffic was not something he had to battle with. I, however, sometimes spent nearly an hour to drive 1.4 miles... it can be a beast.

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

If you "shop Mexican" you'll pay less (meaning: buying products/ingredients that many Mexicans use). If you "buy U.S." you'll pay for it. I think a can of Gillette shaving cream was US$12, which is US$1 in the U.S. That said, you can find almost anything you want here if you're willing to pay!

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

Chocolate chips and brown sugar!

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

Fast food: you name it. Decent: thousands. Outstanding: hundreds. On the whole you'll pay U.S. prices but if you are willing to eat off taco trucks, you'll pay a tiny bit for outstanding Mexican food!

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

None that I saw. I think in 2 years I saw 2 mosquitos. Very dry and at high altitude.

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Daily Life:

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

Definitely available.

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

Pretty expensive. I think all the gyms I looked at were US$100+ per month. Oh, and they open LATE by U.S. standards! 6:30 am or later!

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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?

We definitely used cash a lot more here. There were many ATMs in our neighborhood but I was cautious when using them. Because we didn't have a Mexican bank account, we had to pay utilities and school in cash.

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

To survive, very little. But to really get to know people, a good amount.

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

Depends on the location. I can't speak to it totally but where we lived, there were lots of accommodations for wheelchairs (curb cuts, mini-elevators for use on those half-staircases, etc.) That said, if an elevator is out, someone is probably out of luck.

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Transportation:

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

See comment above re: taxis. Trains are 40 cents per use. Buses, 30 cents. I used both.

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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?

Probably whatever you want. Bigger cars (large SUVs) are everywhere here but they seem to be mostly status symbols. We didn't have one and didn't really need it. I appreciated having a 15-year-old car because I never worried about damaging it!

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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. US$75 per month (more or less)?

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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?

I used Telcel and it was great. Never had a problem.

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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?

Yes, but you have to have a work visa or many companies/businesses won't hire you. Or you can work for yourself!

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes - and we had many reminders of that from the U.S. government. That said, I didn't feel unsafe in Mexico City once I knew the hang of things. Robbery is a real threat. I did not wear a wedding ring or carry valuables. Many people had iPhones; I carried mine everywhere. There were several armed robberies sort of near our home while we were there. The only people harmed were those who resisted and wouldn't turn over their possessions. But as with many big cities, you learn how to get around, what is normal/abnormal, how to stay safe.

"Libre" taxis (those you flag down on the street, as opposed to those you call or find at a dedicated "sitio" taxi stand, are said to have a high(er) incidence of robbery. I never took one because they are prohibited for USG employees so I can't speak to that. All in all, there are concerns about safety but I never saw/experienced them in my day-to-day life.

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2. 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?

Unhealthy. Or, very unhealthy. Though anyone from China would say we are weaklings. Mexico City is at 7,500 feet altitude; that already affects some people. The pollution has improved much in the last 10 years but it is still an issue. My lungs (cough) are still okay but I definitely notice clean, sea-level air!

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3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

75-80F and sunny, year round. In summer (rainy season) it is usually sunny in the morning and clouds blow over to give a big rainstorm for an hour in the afternoon. Then, back to clear. It's actually a nice time of year because the air is so clean! March-June can get pretty warm (I guess more like 85F) but it is a dry heat and never felt bad.

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Schools & Children:

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

Tons. We only have experience with the French school preschool, which we loved.

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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?

Many, many, many. In our neighborhood (Polanco) they are seriously every 3 blocks. Some good, some not, but probably no terrible ones. Cost is approximately US$400 per month? More or less. Most schools seem to be 5 days per week, 4-5 hours per day, though I did find a Montessori that would do fewer days if I wanted. Some have lengthy wait lists. Oh, and all have an inscription fee, which is hefty (US$1,000?) so be prepared for that...

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Expat Life:

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

Huge. And those I knew were happy, happy, happy.

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

I think: Yes. We were a family with two young kids and LOVED it. I knew lots of singles or couples without kids who also loved it. Tons to do for kids, tons to do as nightlife, tons to do on all accounts.

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

Highlights: I think I said them all. But: food, people, friends. Trips around the area.

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

There really are too many to name. Driving outside of the city to experience more of the colonial small town feeling was a particular highlight.

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

Pottery, art, textiles, sculpture, etc. etc. etc.

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

Mexico City is amazing. Perfect weather (75-80F and sunny year-round, NO humidity), TONS to do: cultural sites, sporting events, and sports you can participate in, parks, lots of other expats from all over, tons of interesting/brilliant/friendly locals to hang out with, good public transit system, great bike share program. Lots of different options for where to live. Tons of places to visit within driving distance (smaller cities/beaches away from city). Oh, and the food?! Yeah.

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7. Can you save money?

Kinda? You have to be thoughtful, same as in the U.S.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes. Definitely. Loved it.

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

Winter gear (unless, like many here, you wear your down coat and wool hat when it is 50F degrees).

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3. But don't forget your:

6-inch heels (if you're a woman).

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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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