Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 04/27/10

Personal Experiences from Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City, Mexico 04/27/10

Background:

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

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?

Home base in US. Regular flights to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami with little difficulty.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years - August 2006 to June 2009.

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

Spouse of U.S. Embassy employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy-provided apartment in Polanco (upscale area in city). Twenty-minute commute. When traffic builds up - (and it does) - about an hour.

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

Walmart owns the local Superama markets, and there is Costco. For cultural - and much cheaper - fare, go to the farmers' markets that the locals use.

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

Comfortable walking shoes.

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

Pretty much everything in terms of fast food except Taco Bell, Wendy's and Quiznos. Most American chain restaurants are here, but they are a lot more expensive than in the States. Aside from fast food, there are some pretty terrific restaurants in Mexico City -- Argentine steak houses, authentic Mexican restaurants (not tex-mex), and you can get a great meal at a decent price.

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

Never had much of an issue ourselves, but some houses had scorpion issues.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Embassy based APO mail. Mexican postal service is a joke from what other expats have told us. Some used Mailboxes etc, Fed Ex, UPS or DHL.

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

Cost varies - locals pay less than expats. Embassy employees are held to a ridiculous standard in terms of pay and severance pay. Be sure to check references; theft and dishonesty are issues.

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

There are several workout facilities (Gold's Gym, etc) and a couple of club-style organizations (Mundette).

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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?

It is easy to open a local account at the embassy. Banamex is owned by Citibank. Use standard ATM common sense precautions.

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

Mostly Catholic, but a couple of Protestant and Jewish services. Not too much in terms of mosques and temples, you really have to look.

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

Bootleg dish tv if you pay a fortune to set it up or are lucky to get housing where it has already been used. Cablevision is TERRIBLE to install and to suspend, but it has basic English programming for a lower cost.

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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?

A basic knowledge of Spanish is ideal, but you will find English speakers among younger people.

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

The sidewalks - where they exist - are in rough shape. Wheelchairs, crutches, even high heels can pose a problem.

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Transportation:

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

Use only registered taxis to avoid drama in your life.

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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?

Vehicles are a hassle to get into and out of the country. The embassy is great help for employees, although getting a diplomatic plate takes ages. There are license-plate-based restrictions for the daily drive. The traffic signs are mostly decorative, and the driving is aggressive.

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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?

Cablevision has a combo package, but the telephone company is much more reasonable and has better service.

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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?

Get a local no-plan cell from Telcel. All you do is buy cards as you go. And at the end of your time in Mexico, you can pass along or sell the phone to someone else. Most US phone plans now have a North America plan available, as well.

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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, but all your vaccination paperwork must be in order, and you will need paperwork from a US vet upon arrival and a Mexican vet for your outbound trip.

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

Go by recomendations only, and even then be careful. The embassy used to recommend a pet service that nearly killed one dog and made a half dozen more seriously ill. Animania in Polanco is run by a very qualified English-speaking vet who truly loves animals and offers excellent kennel services.

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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?

There is a job office in the embassy (called SNAP). But unless you want to teach English to bored executives, don't bother. Use the American Chamber for leads, or work via the Internet as a freelancer.

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

Business Casual is about as casual as you should be. No shorts here!

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Health & Safety:

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

Be aware. Use common sense, as crime exists as in any big city. Use only registered (sitio) taxis; no ATM at night, etc. We heard a lot of horror stories but did not encounter any major issues.

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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?

Respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses abound. Definitely watch what you eat and drink here.

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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?

Air quality is not great, but it was worse before they instituted no-drive days (monitored via license plate numbers). Spring is tough on allergies.

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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?

The climate is temperate throughout the year. Mexicans are very sensitive to cold weather, and it is not unusual to see them bundled up in winter gear on a cool Spring morning.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

Lighthouse School is an excellent international preschool in Polanco. The embassy also provides a daycare, but I do not know enough to comment.

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

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Expat Life:

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

Large and very involved.

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2. Morale among expats:

Morale is up and down in waves. You hate it or you love it. To make your stay bearable, associate with positive people.

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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?

Mexicans are very family oriented and love big family events. Count yourself lucky to be included. Otherwise, dining out with a group of friends or pub crawls are the way to go.

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

Singles and couples will do okay as long as they are adventurous. Families will find some difficulties unless they get into a social group.

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

Mexico City is becoming more and more tolerant of the gay community. Cultural taboos still exict for lesbians. There is a whole revamped red-light district filled with gay bars and specialty shops.

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

Mexico is primarily Roman Catholic, but there are evangelical groups on the rise. The society is very much tied to catholic customs and holidays.

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

There is always something to do in Mexico City. The Chiapas and Quintana Roo regions are just beautiful.

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

Museums and cultural events galore. The expat community is pretty large and active. Most Mexicans are open to foreigners, but you do encounter an obnoxious one now and again.

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

Silver, tequila - the good stuff not Cuervo!, jewelry, handcrafts, native items.

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

Rich cultural heritage makes travel in Mexico very interesting.

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11. Can you save money?

Depends on you - travel takes $$ but it is worth it.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

We were there for three years and that was plenty. We don't regret it, but we would be hard pressed to go back.

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

shorts (unless you are in a gym) and your heavy winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Vonage Equipment! Comfortable walking shoes and "creature-comforts" pet treats are better and cheaper in the States. Baby items are better from the US. Toddler items are better in Mexico - go figure.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Frida; A Day Without a Mexican; Y Tu Mama Tambien; Amores Perros

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Have an open mind and an ability to laugh at foolishness.

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