Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 01/29/10

Personal Experiences from Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico 01/29/10

Background:

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

In government, yes.

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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?

Los Angeles, USA - about 4 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years, until December 2009

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

Work at U.S. Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

For U.S. Embassy employees, singles and couples without kids are at apartments not too far from the Embassy, while families tend to be in large apartments, townhomes or houses farther away. That said, I kept a regular schedule of about 8 - 5:30 and the commute wasn't too bad (30-45 minutes;, leave much later from home or work and it gets bad fast. The driving itself is its own special challenge - join a carpool if you can.

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

Depends on where you go. Go to local markets and produce is dirt cheap. Go to Superama in Santa Fe and it's a little more expensive than in the U.S.Used Costco a lot.

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

Nothing comes to mind. You can get anything you need from the U.S. pretty fast.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Just about everything but Taco Bell (that was a joke).Food is definitely one of the highlights of Mexico City, from taco carts to fine cuisine. Favorite places included Villa Maria in Polanco (Mexican), Bellaria in Polanco and Santa Fe (Italian), Tori Tori in Polanco and Mikasa BBQ on weekends in Condessa (Japanese) and Blossom on Palmas (Chinese).

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

We had issues with ants, and the occassional scorpion, but since Mexico City is elevated and usually dry, bugs are not a big issue.

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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 U.S. Embassy and its corresponding shipment center in Brownsville, TX.

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

Day maids are about 25-40 dollars a day. Live-in maids are about 400 dollars a month. Widely available, especially if you live in Polanco. Little harder to find farther out (e.g., Santa Fe, Interlomas) because it means a longer commute for the workers.

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

Embassy has a passable gym. Private gyms are somewhat expensive.

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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?

I had no problem, but be careful using one alone at night without people around.

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

Yes, but no specific experience.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Three main options, depending on where you live. Local satelite (Sky) or cable (Cablevision), which gives you Mexican and Western programming (heard the sports packages on Sky are cheap), or Dish satelite programming directly from the U.S. (not sure on the exact legality of this).The first two are widely avaiable, the latter you would need to ask around among expats.

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

More the better. Outside the wealthier areas, most Mexicans know little English.

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

Probably a lot. Sidewalks are generally in pretty bad shape from poor construction/maintenance and buckling from earthquakes. Access to buildings seems mixed.

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Transportation:

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

Affordable, yes. Never used the subway but heard it was ok. U.S. Embassy has new policy of prohibiting employees from using "libre" taxis which you pick up on street. Need to use "sitio" or raido taxis, which are a little more expensive, but it's not worth the risk.

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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?

We had mid-sized SUV and it was fine, but something smaller might have been easier. Had problem with repairs because that model year wasn't sold in Mexico, so worth checking in advance if you are buying a car before coming.

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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, we got DSL through the local provider for about 25 dollars a month. Not always reliable.

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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?

We bought a basic, pay-as-you-go phone phone. In terms of phone service, Mexico is basically a monopoly, so it's more expensive than you would expect.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes. Many vets make house calls!

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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?

Spanish is generally critical, or you need to look at teaching english or working for the American school, etc.

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

Generally more formal than in the U.S.After a while I gave up the impossible task of trying to "blend" in and wore shorts on days hot days.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes - random crime, even in nice areas. The drug war doesn't seem to have affected Mexico City much.

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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?

Health care is pretty good. Pick your dentist carefully as many are very "old school."Watch the water. Some people are affected by the altitude pretty hard.

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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?

Not good, but not overwhelming. Seems to affect people differently. My daughter and I were ok, but it seemed to affect my wife more. We were in the "burbs" to the west of downtown, which seemed better.

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

Very predictable, and generally great. Rainy and mild temperature from May/June to Sept/Oct, but it usually just rained heavily from about 6-10pm each night which was convenient for going around town, but sometimes affected traffic. The rest of the year is very dry, cool but not freezing in the winter, then peaking in April/May before the rains start again.

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Schools & Children:

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

Mixed. We started mid year at one elementary school with our daughter, but moved after 6 weeks to another because she was having trouble adjusting, and did fine from that point on. The main choices for Embassy employees seem to be the American School, Greengates (UK system), Westhill, and Lomas Altas (pre-school through 6).There are pros and cons about each - it is worth looking into each one, what type of programs they have, etc. and try to find a good fit for your child. If it doesn't seem to be working, consider changing - many have done it.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

No specific experience here, but the American School seems to be where most go.

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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?

Many hire nannies, which are not as cheap as other developing countries, but are still doable. There are different daycares (Mi-kinder in Santa Fe seems good).We used the aftercare at the Embassy (Little Amigos) with good results.

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

Depends on the school.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge, but not always obvious. Mexico City is definitely a "Mexican" city.

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2. Morale among expats:

Mixed, but most are reasonably happy. Obviously a lot depends on the attitude you bring. The driving, nagging concern about crime, and general hustle bustle of a major metropolis can wear you down. That is why it's key to find ways to escape whether it be to a favorite neighborhood for the afternoon, or to a local colonial town for the weekend.

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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?

Always something going on.

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

I would say all of the above. The attitude of Mexicans in general seems pretty pro-family. Good variety of kids activities (petting room at +KOTA pet stores, petting farm near Santa Fe, Lincoln Park in Polanco, play areas in malls and fast food places).

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

Seems pretty good, but no details.

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

Among Mexicans, there seems to be a correlation between the darkness of one's skin and your economic status, but didn't hear much about expats being targeted.

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

The travel opportunities to colonial towns around Mexico City, within driving distance - Puebla, Taxco, Valle de Bravo, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Cuervavaca, Morelia, Patzcuaro, etc. The toll road system is pretty solid.

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

Walking around historic downtown, Chapultepec Park, Condessa/Parque Mexico, Polanco, San Angel, Coyoacan, pyramids, plus all the travel within 1-4 hours.

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

Great local crafts - too numerous to describe.

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

Rich culture, amazing travel, good weather, and great food.

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11. Can you save money?

I suppose, but the twin temptations of local crafts and travel did us in.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

It worked for us as a first overseas assignment (especially compared to other places my colleagues went), but it wasn't easy and we were definitely ready to leave after two years. There are enough U.S. amentities to make it an easy first transition, as well as being close to the U.S. for visiting family. Mexico City and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer, and if you are in the U.S. government this is the place to be. The key is to travel, travel, travel.

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

Winter gear and civility while driving.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience and your travel bug.

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

For history junkies, the Biography of Power by Krauze. The Bear and Porcupine for U.S. policy. Opening Mexico for recent political history.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Amores Perros.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I think Mexico City has a pretty bad rep in the United States as crime-ridden, dirty and chaotic. It definitely has problems, but it is very doable, and many expats have great experiences. The key is maximizing all the pros (shopping, food, travel, activities) and minimizing the cons (e.g., be smart about crime, avoid driving during rush hour, etc.).

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