Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 05/25/16
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, this is my fifth overseas experience in the Foreign Service. All told, I've lived in Costa Rica, Germany, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Colombia, and Italy.
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, just a few hours direct flight. One of the pleasures of serving in Mexico!
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
We are in Polanco, very reasonable commute time 15-20 minutes to the Embassy. Housing awful mold-filled apartment, worst I have had in 18 years in the FS and I am including my junior officer tours. We are about to move to our third apartment. If you have small children, decide whether you are OK keeping them in a small, yucky apartment much of the time due to pollution. If I had one do-over in my life, it would be not to bid Mexico City with small children.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
See above; almost all is available but at a price. Fresh vegetables and fruit are shockingly poor quality but CSA-type arrangements are available at a price (see the Facebook page called Mexico City Moms).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Patio furniture (expensive here). Goldfish, Triscuits and spices.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Oh, the food is great. I've never been sicker in my life, but the Embassy has a same-day analysis machine that will tell you what you have. Everything from street tacos to Pujol. The fresh produce in markets is lacking, however. If you care about cooking well at home, you can do it, but it will cost you. Feeding my family healthily has been shockingly expensive this tour.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I haven't noticed any. The altitude alleviates most of those issues.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Brownsville address, no complaints other than why doesn't the Embassy have a functional click-and-ship machine yet?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very affordable, and I think we got lucky but she's fantastic.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
In Polanco, you've got lots of gym options. I enjoy Evolution Pilates and 02 Yoga on Alexander Dumas.
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?
I've had no issues, use the ATM at the Embassy and on Masaryk in Polanco.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
I arrived already speaking Spanish, and I imagine it would be difficult not knowing the basics.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, sidewalks are a nightmare, even in Polanco, for parents pushing a stroller or for someone in a wheelchair. That said, probably still better than much of the world.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I always use Uber rather than taxis and love the service. Have not taken public transport but know several people who've been robbed on it. Very uncomfortable for women, in particular.
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?
Nothing flashy but most cars/SUVs are OK.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Our internet is AWFUL and SLOW. Not worth whatever we pay for it.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use T-Mobile and have retained my 202 phone number. Some folks get scared by the US digits, though, and won't call you.
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?
No. We have a good vet who makes house calls, but our poor dog hates Polanco; no good parks and super dirty.
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 volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At the Embassy, pretty formal with some relaxed standards for heat. Mexicans are dressy: don't wear cutoffs and T-shirts, be respectful.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Sure, you should exercise caution and not wear jewelry. Don't bring a flashy car.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Oh my word are there. Pollution is awful, and people get sicker here than anywhere else in Latin America. If I had it to do over again, I would not have brought our small children here. Hospital Espanol in Polanco is pretty good. The Embassy health unit is not the best: it has some good staff but is overwhelmed.
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?
It's awful, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It's so bad that you're not supposed to take your kids outdoors on many days, and there are many families with small children at post who are going stir crazy.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Bring meds, find an allergist. Food allergies: just exercise the same caution you would anywhere.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Drier January - May, then rainy June - December. I have been sicker here during the dry season than I have ever been in my life. I feel guilty most of the time for subjecting my children to the pollution.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our sons are very happy in the American School Foundation (ASF). We've been lucky though: parents of older children complain - bitterly and sometimes tearfully - of problems with bullying.
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?
Yes, lots of affordable options in Polanco - Cadi Kids, Kinder Lighthouse, Aprendo Jugando, Mi Montessori, etc.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, various locations in Polanco such as Club Mundet and Cadi Kids and after school programs at schools.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge. Join Mexico City Moms and the CLO Facebook page. Also the Newcomers group seems to have a lot of fun. Morale varies: this is a doozy of a city. We have lots of great new friends who have made this awful transition easier.
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?
Go out, have people over, lots to do.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles and couples, absolutely. Lots to do, great restaurants and nightlife. Families - absolutely not, and I am kicking myself for not figuring that out before we bid it.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Some of the world-class restaurants in the CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico). Our wonderful nanny.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I'm afraid I don't have anything to add here.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
All kinds of handicrafts (most of which are not to my taste) and gourmet dinners out.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great food, lots to do and see--though we have small children which makes it much more difficult. Very affordable childcare. Many might say the weather but given the awful pollution (worst in 15 years) and the fact that the thermostat in our non-air conditioned apartment bedroom registers 86 degrees as we are trying to go to sleep, the weather is not a selling point for me.
10. Can you save money?
Honestly, no. I had thought we would, but this is an expensive city.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The poor quality of embassy housing, and how very polluted the city is.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. If I had a do-over in life, I would not have brought my small children here. I feel terribly guilty.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations regarding comfortable housing.
4. But don't forget your:
Sense of humor, flexibility, and willingness to speak Spanish.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Y Tu Mama Tambien
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
It is interesting that these are all male authors. Women travelers or mothers are much less likely to be enthusiastic about CDMX.
Mexico City: An opinionated guide for the curious traveler, by Jim Johnston
First Stop in the New World, by David Lima
Down and Delirious in Mexico City, by Daniel Hernandez
The Interior Circuit, by Francisco Goldman
7. Do you have any other comments?
Mexico City Foreign Service tours just went from two years to three. I will be curious to see if that is rescinded a few years from now.