Monterrey, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 02/01/21
Personal Experiences from Monterrey, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I have lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Damascus, Syria as a private citizen and Cairo, Egypt as a Foreign Service Officer.
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; US. Flights are frequent and inexpensive, about six hours max with a stopover in Houston or Atlanta.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Consulate employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is in good-size townhomes and standalone homes for families, high-rise apartments for singles. Housing is excellent but quality can vary a bit. The commute to the Consulate without traffic is 10-20 minutes. When the universities are in session, it can be up to 45 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and household supplies are similar in cost to the U.S. because most people shop at a U.S. supermarket, HEB. There is also Costco and you can go out of your way to buy inexpensive produce at local bodegas.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Furniture and clothing are overpriced here, but you can easily order online and ship things, even larger items like furniture if you receive advanced approval for oversize boxes.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
UberEats and Rappi are popular food delivery services. Lots of good Mexican and international food. The quality and variety of food here is excellent. There is limited Indian and Chinese food options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some cockroaches and spiders, comparable to Texas.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Everything is shipped to a PO Box in Texas and then brought by truck to Monterrey. It takes about an extra three days to receive things than it would if you were shipping within the U.S.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is inexpensive, although it can be difficult to find someone reliable. Because it's a small consulate, there isn't always former household help of departed officers to hire. We used agencies and word-of-mouth to hire a nanny and housekeeper, but struggled to find anyone who would arrive on time and perform basic tasks. Recommend trying to hire within the Consulate community if possible, and sticking with the trial period if your contract to ensure you've found someone who will follow through.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of yoga studios, specialty gyms etc. They are less expensive than the United States, but still pricy.
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 widely accepted and there are ATMs at HEB and other convenient locations. I've heard of a few people being robbed or having their debit card stolen at ATMs, so there are some safety concerns.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is very useful here. No domestic staff will speak English, and Mexican neighbors/colleagues prefer to speak Spanish, even if they speak English. Basically, professionally and socially, Spanish is the default and it will be isolating if you don't speak it.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis yes. There's no metro system and we are prohibited from taking local buses.
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?
Any car. Roads are smooth and easy to drive on; you may not want to bring a car that's excessively flashy if you plan on leaving the San Pedro area. Carjackings and robberies do happen, but are quite rare and usually targeted.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, a bit slower than the US.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use a home-country plan, but a local plan is cheaper and easy to set up.
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?
Yes, good pet hospitals and veterinarians.
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?
Both local and telecommute. Since it's CMT, it's easy to telecommute to offices on the East Coast. Local salaries are very low. An engineer or attorney earns about $1500 per month, max. Workers without a professional degree earn about $300 to $800 per month.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many opportunities through religious charities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Mexicans are more formal than Americans, and typically do not leave the house wearing casual/lounge clothing. At work, a blouse and skirt or dress for a woman or a suit for a man is standard.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are occasional robberies and carjackings in some neighborhoods, including in San Pedro, but they are rare and typically targeted. There is crime on the roads to Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi as well as to Laredo at the border. The neighboring state of Tamaulipas is very dangerous and off-limits for U.S. government employees.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Available medical care is high-quality at the private hospital, Zambrano. There is some risk of Zika.
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?
Moderate/bad. Air qualify fluctuates but ranges between 50 AQI and about 150 AQI+. There is heavy industry just outside town. I'd say the air quality is the biggest drawback to life here (although it doesn't compare to prior places we've lived, like Cairo).
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
We had a colleague with breathing problems curtail due to air quality issues.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None that I know about. It is a patriarchal culture, so some women find it difficult to date locally, and it is surprisingly traditional -- women in San Pedro rarely work, fathers do minimal household labor. It has been isolating at times at my children's school as a professional mother, since the assumption is always that women do not work.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is a desert climate, mostly hot and dry.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have had a great experience with a local Montessori pre-school. The teachers and administrators are excellent and it costs about $350 month plus enrollment and materials fees. The primary schools are also highly regarded.
2. 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?
Yes, there are a wide variety of inexpensive, high-quality options. Our children both became fluent in Spanish through pre-school. Some provide after-school care, others are only half-day programs. Our child attended a pre-school with extended hours to 3 p.m. (before COVID) but we paid a teacher to drive her both ways and stay with her after school. It was affordable and convenient.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, many (pre-covid). Horseback riding, swimming, soccer, ballet, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's relatively small compared to capital cities and Mexicans here tend to be from here so they already have established social circles. It takes a bit longer than usual to make friends, but the people here are very kind and friendly once you get to know them. I think it can be a bit difficult for young singles to meet people.
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 is a Monterrey International Women's Organization, religious groups, and through kids' schools and activities.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's best for families and people with children. The social scene is a bit quiet, but it's been easy to make friends through our daughters' school.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
There is some racism and colorism here. In San Pedro where we live, there is a lot of extreme wealth, so classism can be an issue too. But the people here are generally friendly and it is relatively easy to make friends.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is more traditional than the United States, but LGBT friends say it's much easier and more open here than other places they've lived overseas. I think it's probably comparable to the American South.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Gender inequality, classism and racism are all issues here.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Travel around the country is exceptional. Zacatecas is a five-hour drive away, and it is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city. Flights elsewhere are frequent and inexpensive -- both coasts, Mexico City, Guanajuato/San Miguel, and many other destinations. Travel to the U.S. is also cheap and easy.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Zacatecas, Santiago, Real de Catorce, Cola de Cabello.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Most handicrafts are shipped up from the south. Recommend waiting to buy artwork etc. on trips to Mexico City and elsewhere. Oaxaca is an excellent destination with great shopping.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's easy, comfortable, the mountains are stunningly beautiful. Weekend hikes in Chipinque park are exceptionally beautiful. People here are nice and easygoing, and the food is exceptional and varied.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I'd stocked up less on supplies. With Costco here, it's comparable pricing and easy to buy whatever you need (with the exception of patio furniture and clothing, but those can be easily ordered online and shipped here).
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, it is much better than we imagined! And I'm still amazed by the mountain views every time I go outside.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter clothing.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, hiking boots.