Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 10/01/08
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, have also lived in Jakarta, Addis Ababa, Accra, and Australia.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
I'm not sure - we drove down from Washington, DC. But I know that there is a daily direct flight from Dulles.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing within the embassy community pales in comparison to the greater expat community, but that's not unusual overseas. Most expats are housed in the West part of the city, far from the airport in the east. The neighborhoods are nice, wealthy, with large houses and plush apartment buildings. Many rich Mexicans are in this area.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
More expensive than the US. We spend at least double what we spent weekly in the US to feed a family of 5. However, we do not shop in the mercados and we do not bargain shop. We do buy in bulk at Costco and Sam's Club to save though.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. Everything you would want is available here, but usually more expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food - absolutely everything except Taco Bell (for obvious reasons!), Wendy's and Quiznos. Restaurants - all the main chains from the US including Chili's and Appleby's, plus many more that are fabulous!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the pouch quite often.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Availability is not a problem. Cost can be pricey compared to other places overseas (but not compared to the US). You have to be careful with Mexico laws because when you leave you are obligated to a certain payout for full-time employees. We pay a day-maid about US$30 to clean our house once a week.
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?
Don't do it. You'll have your number stolen and regret it. Use cash.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. Just keep looking and don't rely on the times printed in the English-language newspaper (The News) or the Newcomers Guide. Be flexible, because things change weekly in Mexico.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. The News just started up again, and it's an English-language newspaper. Small but fair. You can get US satellite TV, but if you choose to go local, the Mexican cable companies also offer some channels in English. AFN is also available here, but I'm not sure how to arrange it. Cost is about US$60-100/mo
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
This is definitely a must unless you have full time help that is bi-lingual (doubtful) and willing to accompany you everywhere. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You must have the language to fully appreciate this country and live comfortably. I took 10 years of Spanish, can understand it about 85% of the time, and can communicate about 40% of what I want to say. I find it terribly frustrating. If I had the time and money, I would take full-time immersion Spanish when living here. However, this is an expensive endeavor, and I have a full-time job that doesn't allow this luxury.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
This is not the best city for a person with disabilities. They are coming around, but it will be many more years before they are even close to the welcome they receive in the U.S.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Same at the U.S.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
You must take a taxi that you get from a taxi stand. Hailing a libre taxi is not safe, and we know more than a handful of people that have been taxi-jacked from taking a libre taxi. The Embassy also recommends against the public metro and buses. Haven't taken them personally.
3. 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?
An old, beat-up clunker. We brought our old mini-van, after talking in length about replacing it. We are so very glad we didn't. Just about everyone will be in an accident while they live here. We now have scratches, dents, etc that happened when we were not in the car - we have no idea where they are from! This is Mexico - traffic and congestion.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. You can arrange this through the phone company, Telcel, (which we did). This is about US$50/mo. You can also get cable DSL through your TV cable company package. I'm not sure of this cost, but I think it's closer to US$130/mo.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
For our kids, we bought Amigo phones at Sanbornes for about US$30. They add minutes that are good for 2 months, and can be added in US$10 increments. You can also sign up for a plan, but we've made-do with this pay-as-you-go situation. If you have a fancy U.S. phone, you can bring it here and just change the SIM card, then sign up for a contract.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
We have Vonage but it stinks. We also have Skype which is much better and cheaper.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Wonderful vet care and kennels. I'd recommend Dangu Kennels if you need them. In the country but well worth the trip, and your animal won't be traumatized when she returns. They cover all sorts of animals, not just dogs and cats. We drove in with our animals, which we've heard is much easier than flying into the country with them (ditto for leaving).
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, and if you're connected to the Embassy there is a person dedicated to helping you get your required Mexican paperwork in order. Pay won't be great, but work is comparable to the U.S.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At the Embassy - shirt and tie every day. In offices - shirt and tie every day. At the school - more casual than I'm used to in the U.S. (jeans are acceptable daily).
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
The pollution is rated as unhealthy. As runners, we can sometimes feel this in our lungs. However, we live at a higher altitude than the city and find it most times quite pleasant.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The drug war has gotten hotter since we arrived. Also, the incidences of virtual and true kidnappings are on the rise. They do not seem to be targeting expats, but they are also not that particular - anyone with more money than them will do.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Quality of medical care is good. You can opt to go to the US for medical care, but it's adequate here for most things, and requests to leave can be turned down (another reason to have the language). We've found the prices to be lower than the U.S. for things like dental care.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
This is the best weather we've every experienced! We are a warm-weather family, so snow does not appeal to us. We have a rainy and dry season here, approx 6 months for each. The weather is dry (not humid), pleasant, and fair most of the time. Even in the rainy season, it's rare to have a full day of rain. It will be sunny in the AM, then could up about 2PM, then rain from 4PM until 9PM, then clear up again. It really is perfect weather. Never above 90F, and never below 50F.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have three children that attend the British International School here. There are mixed reviews on this school. When we arrived, it was the lesser of all evils because the American school had a reputation of bullying. However, this year the attendance is higher at the American school and lower at the British. In our opinion, either one has its positives and negatives. If I had to do it again, I'd choose the same school for my kids. Unfortunately, it is far from the housing, and the kids spend over an hour commuting to school, and sometimes two hours coming home.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The American school has some special accommodations, but I don't know specifics. The British school has little to none. We had a speech therapy need that could not be met by the local community. Luckily, there was an expat American living here that was able to help us.
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?
Plenty available, but it depends if you're particular that it's an English-speaking preschool.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large. Most expats we've met, both American and non-American, are wonderful.
2. Morale among expats:
Embassy American community - OK to low. Non-embassy American community - relatively high. Non-American community - high.
3. 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 always seems to be something to do. We tend to be so busy with our children that they take priority. The main problem with Mexico is getting around. You have to really plan for traffic when you go anywhere, and this can impact your social engagements.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families - yes. If you are looking for activities for your children similar to what you'd find in the U.S. (soccer, dance, swim, etc), then you've come to the right place. Be patient when looking - there doesn't seem to be a central depository for information (including the Newcomers Club, which told me outright they couldn't help me). However, there are great programs if you're patient and persistent. Singles - I'm sure you'll find something to do here. I work with many singles that are quite happy with the nightlife. Couples - ditto. There is so much to do that you could spend every weekend making short trips and not see everything.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is no lack of things to do. You just need to have enough money to do them, as entertainment here is as much or more than what you'd pay in the U.S.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Any sort of art, artifact, crafty item, tequila or silver.
9. Can you save money?
Somewhat. The cost of living is higher than the COLA given by the government. But if you eat at home and restrict travel, you can save. Everything that is kid-related we find to be more expensive than in the U.S.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. It's a wonderful country!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Bicycles, unless you live in Roma.