Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 06/03/16
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?
The second one. Previously, I had a chance to live in the US - Berkeley and Arlington/Washington DC for about 8 months.
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?
Belgrade, Serbia. There is a long connecting flight from Belgrade, via Frankfurt, to Washington DC. Then there is a direct flight from DC to Mexico City. I remember Lufthansa having a much more comfortable flight than United.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Being an Eligible Family Member (EFM). And curiosity, of course.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Okay. We live in Polanco, on Musset street. The apartment seems to be one of the "smaller" ones, but it has sufficient space for two. Polanco has the advantage of offering living accommodations that are the closest to the embassy and city center.
There are many pricey restaurants, boutiques, and supermarkets. It is, after all, a zone with many international companies, foreigners and rich people. You will find very nice parks, dog walkers, and hotels. The Orthodox Jewish community is also based here. There are a couple of private art galleries and, I think, two Catholic churches.
Street names are pretty European and North American. Many city neighborhoods are identified by names of streets or rivers or cities, or famous musicians. It takes me 20 minutes to walk to Chapultepec park and about 50 minutes to get to the embassy. One metro station and a couple of bus lines are operating nearby. Here you will find a gym and a pool in your building (expect occasional daily socialization in the pool area). Polanco doesn't seem to have a sense of community, though, as e.g. Roma and Condesa have (still with an international flavor).
Apart from boutiques, shops, and supermarkets, there's mostly just residential housing. Don't walk your dogs on Masaryk street. You won't encounter any trash cans, but you might get uncomfortable (like me) seeing many armed security guards in front of fancy boutiques. Inside your building, expect to see housemaids from early morning until the late afternoon. It won't be empty all day).
The only real issue I can mention here regarding accommodations in Musset is that there are a couple of buildings being torn down or re-built, which contributes to occasional noise (just like airplanes), which seems to be the case with the whole area. Internal walls are not sound proof. I was surprised that many embassy people are not very considerate of their neighbors: using a treadmill in an apartment at 4:30 a.m. (and waking up the whole block), making loud noises while exercising in front of the gym at 6 a.m., letting dogs bark, etc. Because the entrance guards are not responsible for internal issues, you need to talk directly to your neighbors, and then things will be fine. It's not hell, it just needs some adjustments. ;)
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Good. Supermarkets are present nearby (Superama, OXXO, Chedraoui, etc). There is one street/open market (these are called "tianguis") open just on Saturdays at the eastern end of Lincoln park ("Polanquito"). For more diverse non-supermarket shopping, I'd suggest going to city's big markets, like Jamaica, Medellin, San Juan, Sonora/Merced, and Central de Abastos.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Polanco - just like Roma and Condesa - has a lot of international restaurants which can sometimes be pricey. My recommendation is to check Dawat (for Indian food), which also has home delivery. Near the embassy you will find Daikoku (Japanese) and Mikasa (an Asian market and restaurant) in Roma. Most of the restaurants in Polanco are on Masaryk street or near Lincoln park.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
It takes a long time to send even postcards by regular mail. And sometimes mail gets lost. I encountered a couple of branch post offices which didn't sell envelopes, so I did everything at the central post office (near Bellas Artes) which has everything.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
A small gym is available in the building, and a couple more in the area.
3. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
That depends on your work and your degree of socialization; I would say it's needed and useful. Most of the maids and security guards don't speak English. Neither do the people working at market stands and shops. Upon arriving here, I expected more people to speak English. But why should they? The burden is on us. But many young and people do speak English. Sometimes people will be shy using it, though, because they do not know it well enough to be comfortable with it.
4. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sometimes, although many places are well equipped. It all depends on the area you want to visit. Many streets have issues like things poking out or unexpected holes. Look carefully where you're walking.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Metro is cool, cheap (5 pesos per ride), and fast. Just try to be avoid using it during rush hours. (Check out a metro article in CLO's Aztec calendar which I wrote). Unlike the metro, local buses (except for the metro bus) sometimes don't have a clearly visible route that you can track, so you need to experiment a bit. Now they charge 5.50 pesos, and there's one from Sevilla metro (near the embassy) to Polanco (Ejercito Nacional) which takes about 20 minutes. Watch out for pickpockets when using any public transportation, and be street smart.
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?
I'm glad not to be driving in this city. Drivers are aggressive, specially the taxis. I almost got run over three times. You need to take care crossing the streets. Traffic jams are regular, as are "no driving" days (depending on your registration plates). Cars are contributing to much of the pollution in this city. But with the metro and buses you are pretty well covered.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It took us several weeks to get the Internet installed. After canceling with the provider, the guy came the next day after and installed everything. We took "Izzy" and the service is okay, with occasional short bugs. Ask which providers are used in your building. In general, the customer service is bad. So be patient.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I took Telcel's "Amigo" pre-paid kit, and it works fine. I'm getting extra credit for recharging it every time if it's at least 100 pesos.
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?
Nearby is a newly opened dog hotel (NUUGI). There are pet stores (+kota), and many people have pets. I don't know the procedures regarding taking animals to Mexico. Note: there are no fenced parks.
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?
If you're an US citizen, the embassy has some positions. There is a high demand for native English teachers. I was pet-sitting in the neighborhood.
Check websites: https://www.occ.com.mx and http://www.bumeran.com.mx.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
In Mexico the social classes are very visible. You will find many very well-dressed people in Polanco. In general, people dress in a diverse ways the only exceptions I've noticed are:
- sandals are rare (due to dirty streets?)
- short pants are hardly ever seen, except if you're jogging, and
- it is not advisable for women to have very open shirts or mini skirts (unless they want a lot of visible attention).
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
If you go to markets, dress down. Flashy laptops, phones and wrist watches can be targets for robbers (especially in public transportation). If anyone stops you and shows a weapon, just give them what they want. Use Uber and not local taxis. I have had no security problems. Just be street smart.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air is very polluted, so you might feel it in your throat. Occasionally I feel very tired due to the pollution. Keep in mind that fact that the city is in a valley without much wind. Expect "Montezuma's revenge," which depends on your personal hygiene as well as the hygiene of restaurants you visit. Do not drink tap water or make ice cubes with it. I experienced two stomach problems which lasted about 5 days each. Just buy Loxcell anti-bacteria tablets in a pharmacy. Most of the foreigners have been through it.
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?
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
People with asthma will probably be bothered by the air pollution.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rain season (April - October), aka summer: mostly warm (rarely hot), with expected showers almost every day in afternoon and evening.
Dry season (November - March), aka winter: mostly dryer (almost no rain) and colder. Temperatures range between 5 and 30 Celsius.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Big, just like the embassy. Musset has a pool that can be used for parties. There are many things to do. The CLO staff have many interesting activities and are very helpful.
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?
There are a couple of "let's learn Spanish" groups on MeetUp. Zona Rosa, Roma, and Condesa have a lot of places to socialize (bars, restaurants, night clubs, karaoke, galleries, etc.).
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yup. I have seen many same-sex couples holding hands in the center (although, locals have told me that it's not the same in many suburban zones). There are many clubs in the Zona Rosa.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't seen any. But skin color is something that you'll be aware of. Although Mexico is a self-proclaimed "mestizo" nation (mixed races), you'll notice that "color" sometimes means "class" (compare indigenous people begging for money and light-skin foreigners called "gringos").
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
- Food. Any local food (quesadillas, sopa azteca, tlacoyos, gorditas, huaraches, nogales, mole...). Great street stands (if they are using bottled water and many people eat there - do it! there are a few near the Polanco metro station).
- Markets - great fruits and vegetables (cheaper than in the US). And drinks - try atole and horchata!
- People are polite and nice (although seemingly unconsciously occupying all of the public spaces). Just say "con permiso" and a way will open to you.
- Many museums and art galleries, history.
- The pyramids at Teotihuacan.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
- View of the city from the Spanish cultural center (behind the main square Zacalo), or visit the bell towers of the main cathedral (40 pesos).
- Markets during Dia de los Muertos.
- UNAM's ecological park plus MUAC museum.
- National Anthropology Museum.
- People watching at Monumento de la Revolucion.
- Bakeries (Pasteleria Buenos Aires and Pasteleria Suiza).
- Check the whole Chapultepec park (lakes, museums, zoo...).
- if you're into Mexican muralism, you'll find the most important pieces here.
- Plaza Santa Catarina at Coyoacan.
- Xochimilco (ask CLO for recommendations so as not to get overcharged).
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Oh, yes! Check Plaza Sullivan, Coyoacan (a small park in front of the market), the flea market at Parque Pushkin, Teotihuacan shops, Tianguis el Chopo (for music - vinyls, CDs, clothing, badges)...
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Mexico City has a lot to offer. Lots of things to see and do.
Words of Wisdom:
1. But don't forget your:
- heaters (we had a small radiator in the flat, which wasn't enough - the majority of places do not have air conditioning or central heating)
- air purifier
2. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
- Hecho en Mexico (musical documentary)
- Amor en primera visa
- check Spotify's account in Mexico
- Vive Latino compilations and music festival
- this travel blog