Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 05/09/20
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. We have lived in Lima, Peru; Caracas, Venezuela; Riyadh, KSA; and Kabul, Afghanistan.
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. There are easy direct flights to DC and practically anywhere else in the US. This is the easiest post, by far, for getting back home.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We live in an apartment in Polanco, and all apartments in Polanco (with a few exceptions, of course) are three-bedroom apartments. The Polanco apartments are generally lovely but can be a tight squeeze for families with more than two kids. The commute to the embassy without traffic is only about 15 minutes, but at heavier traffic times it can be around half an hour. The families who opt to live farther out in Santa Fe have larger houses with yards.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
This is, hands down, the best post we've been at in terms of grocery shopping--you can find practically anything here, and we are spoiled by having Costco and many other chains here in Mexico City. The cost is generally low, especially if you want to stock up on readily-available fresh produce. The best part is that there are delivery services such as Coronership which will do the shopping for you (Costco included!) to save you the hassle.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
For some reason, it's hard to find the various types of canned tomatoes that you can find elsewhere. They seem to only have whole, peeled tomatoes or tomato sauce. It can be frustrating, but not a big deal.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There's a reason UNESCO designated Mexican cuisine as one of the two considered to be a cultural treasure. This is an AMAZING city for foodies with delicious food on every level. Even the most expensive restaurants are a steal by US standards. And when you need a dose of home, you can find practically any US fast food chain--the latest addition being Shake Shack. UberEats and Rappi will bring you practically anything.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The mosquitos here can be annoying, especially as we try to keep the windows open as much as possible given the lack of heating/AC in the housing. But nothing too bad or annoying so far...
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO via Brownsville. Mail is delivered 3x a week, and we usually receive Amazon orders within a week. We are very lucky to still have DPO service during the COVID pandemic as the mail comes over land vice any commercial air flights.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have been very lucky to find great household help. You can pay anywhere from 2,500-3,500MXN (a little over US $100-150)/week for full-time help. There are wonderful household employees who have worked for many embassy families, but there are also services who will find help for you, including background checks.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a ton of options available here, including many US chains. The Embassy also has its own gym, and there's a wide-variety of fitness-related programs put on by members of the Embassy community.
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?
Credit cards are typically safe to use as long as they bring the terminal to your table. ATMs are reliable, but Mexico City is a critical crime post, and we at times here reports of people getting robbed immediately after leaving an ATM.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are a variety available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish can definitely make your life easier here, but there are also many Mexicans who speak English. From what I have heard, those who do not have any or much Spanish have appreciated the language classes at the Embassy or tutors they recommend.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It's certainly not at the level of accessibility one finds in the States, but I think generally someone with a physical disability would be able to get around the city. The sidewalks can be uneven, though.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are, but we are not permitted to take street taxis. The Embassy permits us to take radio (sitio) taxis, but many people use Uber (which is very cheap). The buses and metros are also great, particularly as they have women/children-only sections. People also love using the various bike and scooter shares, particularly given the traffic.
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?
Small SUVs do well here, particularly as some of the garages in Polanco can be a bit tight. Many people who live in Polanco only use their cars for Costco trips or weekend getaways, particularly as the area is very walkable.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is readily available and there are a variety of services. We opted the provider which the previous tenants of our apartment had used, so it was installed within a week of arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Once again, Mexico's geographic proximity makes life easier. I am able to keep my US phone on a North America plan that's only slightly more expensive than my US-only plan. Others have been very happy with their cell phone service.
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?
I have not heard many complaints from pet owners, and I believe there are vets who will make house calls.
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?
I am not very familiar with this topic, but I know there are many spouses who work remotely for their offices back in the States. The proximity to the States and the lack of a significant time difference make this work possible.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are a wide variety of volunteer opportunities locally.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The dress code at the Embassy is consistent with other posts--suits and some business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Mexico City is a criminal crime post, and there are some areas of the city which are off-limits. That said, I still feel very comfortable walking around Polanco, but with precautions. I avoid wearing jewelry, I don't carry around large amounts of cash, I don't use ATMs at night, etc. The RSO here is very helpful in answering any questions people have about how to stay safe in the midst of this heightened level of crime.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
COVID concerns aside, there is quality medical care available here, either through the health unit or private clinics around the city. For common ailments that may require a prescription but are not particularly complicated, the pharmacies here have attached clinics with great hours and are super fast.
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?
The air quality can definitely be in the challenge, especially in the winter when there is not much rain to "clean" the air. Granted, Kabul was definitely worse, but I have heard of some folks here (children especially) who find it more challenge, particularly if they have underlying conditions such as asthma.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Mexico is notorious for food-borne illnesses, and you just get used to a bout of ecoli or such about once a quarter.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not that I have heard.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mexico City has a wonderful climate, with very moderate temperatures year-round. The most challenging time of year is from March through May, before the rainy season starts. It can be quite hot, and the housing does not have air conditioning.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a wide variety of preschools available, and we have been very happy with the Montessori school our younger child attends. We've also been very happy with the international school our older child attends, and I have heard other families have been happy with the schools their children attend. Most embassy children attend the American School Foundation, Colegio Ciudad de Mexico, or the Westhill Institute.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are a wide variety of accommodations available, but I cannot speak to how effective they may be.
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?
In researching daycares and preschools before our arrival, we were pleased to see a wide variety. Not only that, but they are also very affordable compared to the US. For example, our younger child attends a Montessori for a full day, and it's about $500/month. We have been very happy with them, in particular their communication with parents.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I was surprised to find that there are not many soccer clubs for younger children. There are a wide variety of other activities available, from swim lessons to Boy/Girl Scouts to art lessons.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's Mexico, so it's not surprising that the expat community here is large. Morale seems high.
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 ton of opportunities to socialize outside of the community, including various alumni clubs, volunteer work, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a massive city, so it appears to have a little something for everyone. We have had so much fun exploring it with our children as there is a ton to do and see, but I also find myself thinking this would have been a really fun post as a single person or couple without children given the restaurant scene.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I believe so. I have seen a ton of activities, events supportive of LGBT-related causes.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Very easy. People here are very kind and used to people from the US moving here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
As with other spots in Latin America, there is a touch of machismo now and then. The greatest issue appears to be the socio-economic divide between the upper and working classes. In the Polanco bubble it's easy to forget the day-to-day challenges faced by people dependent on the informal economy.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
This has been our favorite post ever. The culture here is astounding, from the food to the folk art to the cultural heritage. We have loved all of the parades in the city, and the season of Dia de Muertos is a magical time of year. The city comes alive (no pun intended) with celebrating the season, and it's always fun to explore the large markets during that time. There are also wonderful trips to the various beaches as well as a chance to see the Monarch butterfly migration in Valle de Bravo.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The city has a ton of museums, each so fun to explore. The various restaurants are the best way to explore the city, from the Michelin-starred spots to the much more informal taquerias.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. Definitely yes. The amount of stunning folk art here is overwhelming, from the black pottery and rugs in Oaxaca to the talavera from Puebla to the art to the embroidery...the list goes on and on.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The proximity to the US is very helpful, particularly to facilitate visits by family members (which can be good and bad!). It's also quite affordable.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
This may sound silly, but I wish I had packed more umbrellas and layers in my luggage we brought here (versus UAB or HHE)! The summer is smack dab in the rainy season, and it's quite chilly at night, not to mention to the daily downpour in the afternoon!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
One hundred percent. I will find it very hard to leave here!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Valuables. As noted, this is a critical crime post, and muggings are a real possibility.
4. But don't forget your:
Appetite! There is SO MUCH good food here!
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Too many to name! There seem to be recently a ton of documentaries about the food scene here: Taco Chronicles, Tale of Two Kitchens...and anything on Enrique Olivera, the chef of Pujol. Of course, Mexico has a well-known fantastic literary and artistic legacy as well.