Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 05/17/16

Personal Experiences from Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico 05/17/16

Background:

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

Kedougou, Senegal, London, England, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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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 and Massachusetts. Direct flights are possible to both places. Takes about 5 -6 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years: 2014-2016.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments, Polanco and Bosques de Las Lomas or Santa Fe mostly. Depending on where you work, commuting times can be very long. Traffic here is like nothing I've ever experienced before. We tend to walk or take public transportation most of the time reserving driving for weekends when it is more calm.

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

Costco and Superama and City Market have almost everything you need. Groceries are comparable if not more expensive than they are in the US. You can get fruits and vegetables delivered from the verdularias and fruterias. Superama (owned by Walmart) has an app that allows you to select groceries on-line and have them delivered to your house. City Market will also deliver.

If you cannot use scented laundry detergent, you may want to pack or order some. Detergents and cleaners tend to be heavily scented.

In general, you really need to carefully read food labels. Sugar is added to a lot of things that usually don't have sugar. For example "natural" yogurt sometimes has sugar added, so if you want plain, without sugar, check the label. Vegetable oils are often a combination of several oils including soybean oil. Organic foods are available, but again read the label, sometimes non-organic items are placed in the organic section. There are some organic farm shares and a store called vila del pato which sells grassfed, cold-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk.

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

If I could do it again, I would ship my sofa and get it re-upholstered here. Consumer items are widely available.

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

None that I've experienced in the city.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the Embassy which has a shipping station. I have also received things at my home address by UPS without problems but our bills are always late in arriving and our phone is constantly being turned off.

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

400 pesos a day, easily available. Most people work a 6-7 hour day if they commute since commutes can be as long as 2 hours. Sometimes you can find someone who will work longer, but usually it is the live-in housekeeper who works longer hours.

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

Very expensive. I found the best value is a boot camp that meets daily at a local park. It includes child care. Otherwise a gym membership without child care is US$100 or more per month. Child care is usually not available or costs extra.

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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?

Be careful and always count your money at the machine. Make sure that no one follows you into the ATM. Be sure to use the machines at the bank not the convenience store. American Express is usually accepted and Visa and Mastercard alwats are. Have the merchant or waiter swipe the card in front of you using the hand-held reader.

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

Some are.

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

I think you need to learn Spanish.

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

Unfortunately, yes. They have updated sidewalks in some areas so that there are ramps to street level but usually its even a challenge to get up the curbs with a stroller. Neither the metro nor bus has universal wheelchair access.

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Transportation:

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

Yes. Uber is a great option as is the bus system and metro.

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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?

One thing you can get here is excellent service for a low price. We have a Honda and the Honda dealership is literally around the corner. It is very easy to get the car fixed and the service is often faster, better and cheaper than the US. Driving here is not pleasant but once out of the city, its better. You can drive to so many amazing places. I don't think an SUV is necessary in terms of terrain. Although the lanes on the roads tend to be narrow, there are a ton of SUVs and minivans.

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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, cost is 800 pesos a month with cable service. Service is okay.

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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 recommend bringing your own unlocked phone and getting the AT&T plan here which can call to US, Canada and Mexico as well as be used in US, Canada and Mexico. Unlimited minutes and some data for about $10 a month.

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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?

No. There are some jobs at the embassy, but I would't call them decent. I think the best bet is to telework or start your own business. The salaries for local hires here are VERY LOW. Try to get hired internationally prior to arriving.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Yes, there are definitely opportunities to volunteer.

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

Fairly casual. Although people dress up for work.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, there are security problems here in Mexico. There are kidnappings, robberies, and murders. Driving is very dangerous.

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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?

There are hygiene issues. Zika is a problem in the lowlands.

You have to be discerning about medical care. It is reasonable, and there are some excellent quality health care providers here, but not always high quality.

There is a great deal of emphasis on appearances in general and in medical care, I think that might translate into the idea that giving more medicine is better because it seems like you're getting more for your money. There are high C-section rates, low breastfeeding rates, lots of aesthetic surgery, high rates of antibiotic prescription and not a lot of regulation. There is a paternalistic attitude in general that the doctor "knows best" and people often don't question. So you'll want to ask a lot of questions as you look for the right health care provider for you.

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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?

Air quality is sometimes very bad. As a result there have been many days when it was recommended to spend less than 15 minutes outdoors. The kids are sometimes cooped up all day at school and at home as a result. Due to serious pollution and ozone concerns, there is an "hoy no circula" (today no driving) policy. On at least one day a week, and one Saturday a month certain cars do not circulate. We had the misfortune of being assigned Fridays which means we cannot leave town for the weekend on Fridays anymore.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

That seasonal allergies may get worse here due to the altitude, dryness and pollution, but it probably depends on what you're allergic to.

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

Beautiful, perfect, weather almost every day. 70s Fahrenheit usually with blue skies. There is a rainy season but rains are usually in the afternoon and evening.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are several international schools but they are in high demand and it is not easy to get places in the schools.

Here are some of the International Schools: Colegio de la Cuidad de Mexico, Lycee Frances, Escuela de Las Lomas Altas, The American School Foundation, The Westhill Institute, The German School, Greengates School.

Here are some thoughts on the two schools that our children attended:

The American School is not really an international school, as international students make up a only small part of the student body. The school values appearances. From the outside, the facilities appear impressive, but in our experience, there is a toxic social environment. Bullying starts very early and the administration does not address this adequately. Our child had an inexperienced teacher. We removed our child after one year, but wish we had done so sooner. The school is physically closer to Polanco than Greengates but the commute is longer. You can get to the school by metro which is nice because the roads are often affected by protests.

Greengates is a British school. It is a nurturing learning and social environment with rigorous academics and a true focus on learning. There is a wonderful sense of community. The students come from a variety of countries and cultures and the school celebrates its diversity. The school is located in Naucalpan, in the Estado de Mexico, 8 miles from Polanco, though its relatively quick to get there on the segundo piso of the periferico (ring road). You just need a "lliave" or "televia" pass which can be recharged with money at many places including 7/11. If you are told that there is no space for your child at Greengates, keep following up, don't take no for an answer. Bus stops are grouped, which shortens the commute and builds a sense of community among students and parents.

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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?

Our pre-schooler attended Yaxcheel Montessori which I recommend avoiding. Our child was physically hurt here regularly by students in her class. The director's solution was to deny that this was happening (even though it was caught on a video posted on the school's website) and to pressure us to send to our daughter to school 5 days a week instead of 3. The school has more green space than the others I have seen, but is very disorganized and has a lot of turnover with the teachers.

In general, costs are about US$200-600 per month depending on the school. Most places will insist on 5 days a week of preschool. If you want part-time care, usually you pay for 5 days and send the child less. Many schools have before- and after-care options.

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

There are, but I find it easier to have them do these activities at the school than elsewhere due to traffic.

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Expat Life:

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

Large community. Not particularly tight. Most people seem to love it here and want to stay as long as possible. Its hard to break in to the Mexican social scene, especially when expatriates are everywhere.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Listen to music, enjoy an outdoor cafe or restaurant, ride your bike on Reforma when its closed to car traffic on Sundays, travel outside of the city.

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

I think this would be a great post for singles and couples. It is not the ideal place for families. The pollution, dangerous driving, feeling like you're taking your life in your hands trying to cross the street, shoving car seats into a taxi when your car can't circulate, battling the intense traffic, all these things start to wear on you after a while.

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

I believe that the city has a long tradition of being a place where gay and lesbian people are welcome and safe.

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

I think there are issues. Sexism is an issue. Women ARE paid less here. Job descriptions will include criteria about age and appearance. Sports are not as widely encouraged for girls.

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

The travel opportunities are wonderful. Taking our family to pyramids in nearly every place we go has been incredible. The food is out-of-this world. Interesting things to do and see all of the time. We have driven to all coasts. Driving is permitted in many areas, and is a nice way to see the country.

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

Templo Mayor, murals at the Palacio Nacional, the Condessa and Roma neighborhoods as well as San Angel and Coyoacan.

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

Beautiful art: ceramics, textiles, paintings...and amazing travel opportunities.

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

Interesting culture, amazing weather almost every single day of the year, incredible travel opportunities.

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10. Can you save money?

I think so.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Mainly the truth about the schools, since there are real issues with the American School.

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

I have very mixed feelings. I always say that this would have been so different prior to kids. I think that the negative experiences with the schools kind of changed everything for me, and that I never felt as comfortable here knowing what my kids had experienced.

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

Camping gear.

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4. But don't forget your:

Ultralight down jacket, slippers, and electric fans. There is no heating or air-conditioning here, which is great, but it can get a little chilly at night in the winter and a little hot in the summer.

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

Circuito Interior by Francisco Goldman.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

It is a very fascinating place.

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