Monterrey, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 01/12/08

Personal Experiences from Monterrey, Mexico

Monterrey, Mexico 01/12/08

Background:

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

We lived in Nicosia, Cyprus before.

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2. How long have you lived here?

14 months.

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

The author is a spouse of a corporate expat.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Almost everything goes through Texas (1.5 hours) or occasionally Mexico City, including flights to Central and South America. There are a few direct flights to Atlanta, L.A., Las Vegas, and Chicago.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most people live in single family homes. We live in one of the few apartment buildings and have a huge place. Most houses are gigantic with multiple bedrooms. Couples without children have trouble finding appropriately sized living quarters. All homes and apartments have maids quarters.

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

Groceries are widely available. HEB (Texas owned chain) is the most popular among expats and has recently expanded to include a decent organic section. Costco is also here and occasionally has a few hard-to-find things like pure maple syrup and chicken broth. Other things that are hard to find include brown sugar, dried mushrooms, some grains (quinoa, wheat berries, etc), and plain yogurt.

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

Furniture is extremely expensive here for some reason so if you are planning to buy new things you should do it before you get here and ship it.

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

There is no shortage of American chain restaurants - McDonalds, KFC, Carls Jr., Ihop, Chili's, Bennigans, Dominos... There are lots of restaurants, a few of them are very good and many are OK. In general, restauranteurs care more about the decor/coolness factor of their restaurants than the food. There are a handful of cool rooftop bars and restaurants but most are expensive.

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Daily Life:

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

There are a few mail centers in San Pedro that give you a US street address (in Texas) and your mail gets driven to your PO box here every day. This is great for regular mail and magazines. Packages are more tricky because they have to clear customs. This can take forever.

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

Very inexpensive (about $20-25/day for a maid).The quality varies, we have had a few things stolen. Its best to get a recommendation from someone.

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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?

Easy. There are banks all over the place; HSBC and Citi (here branded as Banamex) are the biggest foreign banks.

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

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

There are a few English language channels on Sky cable... a CBS-ish one, an NBC-ish one, and a Fox-ish one, CNN International. Other channels have some programs in English. There are also some English movie channels.

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

Many people speak English, but its best to know at least a bit of Spanish. Dealing with normal house/life stuff (bills, repair people, deliveries, shopping, etc) is almost always in Spanish.

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

Its hard for me to tell. Most places have elevators but I haven't seen many ramps. There is very little pedestrian space so everything is driving accessible. Nearly all parking lots have priority parking.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right side (like the US).

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

There is a subway system (2 lines) but it does not reach San Pedro. There are tons of buses and taxis are cheap and safe. Airport taxis are kind of expensive, but those cars are much newer and more comfortable than regular taxis.

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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?

Anything is fine. Lots of people buy cars in Texas and drive them over as 'temporary visitors' - a permit that needs to be renewed every 6 months or so. There are lots of mechanics and dealerships in Monterrey.

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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?

Its available but not as fast as the U.S.

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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?

Unless you are a Mexican citizen or have a cell phone sponsored by your company, it is very difficult to get contract plans. Most expats use pay-as-you-go phones which are fine. TelCel and Movistar are the 2 biggest companies. Nextel walkie talkie phones are popular as well.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

We use Skype. Telmex has outrageous rates for normal land line calls.

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Pets:

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

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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?

Not really. Other capable spouses and I have had a lot of trouble finding fulfilling work. Many teach English or at the American school. For other work, it seems everything is about who you know, and if you don't know anyone than you are out of luck. Unfortunately for me, Consulate jobs go to Consulate spouses.

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

Like in the U.S. with a little more bling.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy. Some days it is truly gross. The views from the altitude at Chipinque National Park show a stark difference between the pink/brown layer in the city and the blue air above. From March through November, 9 out of 10 days are smoggy and grey.

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

Variable. Very little petty crime (thefts, muggings) in San Pedro where most expats live but assassinations have been on the rise since we've been here. They are targeted towards the drug trade and police. Assassinations are usually VERY public, on busy streets, in popular restaurants, at all points during the day. Almost no one seems to worry about this, expats included. I suppose its something you get used to.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Great medical care. Most doctors are U.S. trained and many speak English. There are several good hospitals.

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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?

There are some beautiful clear days in the winter months, but mostly it is overcast and grey. The summer can get hot, although this past summer (2007) it rained almost every day. We've been told that the weather has been much different than normal in the past few years.

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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?

Domestic help is incredibly cheap - my understanding is that most people have live-in nannies.

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Expat Life:

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

Hard to tell - we are kind of on the fray. There are two big expat groups - ASOMO is an American society and Mexpats is more international and young. Mexpats events can get up to 100 or more at a happy hour. I recently heard that there are 28,000 Americans living in Monterrey.

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2. Morale among expats:

Varies. Some families with young kids love it for the schools, cheap domestic help, and general ease of life. Younger couples/singles without kids can get bored and frustrated with the attitude of many locals and how hard it is to make local friends.

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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?

Again, kind of boring for those of us who aren't in college and don't have kids. Most social interactions are small groups at homes or restaurants. There are fun places to go out downtown but transportation can be hard and it is a young crowd.

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

This is a great place for families. Local people start early, with most couples married off at 23 and with children by 23 and 9 months. As an unmarried late 20's/early 30's couple we are an enigma. Most people are accepting of it but forget about joining a country club! For young singles it can be a fun place - plenty of fun bars and nightclubs downtown, but definitely a college-age crowd.

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

There are some gay bars downtown but generally homophobia is everywhere. I've heard more offensive 'impressions' of gay men here in a year than I have in my entire life.

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

As an unmarried foreign woman with no children, yes. You get the distinct feeling that people are looking down at you if you don't fit in with the normal nuclear family. Gender prejudice is much worse than in the US but better than other Latin American countries, so I am told.

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

There are a few very good museums in the city - highlights are the MARCO Art Museum and the Steel Museum. There is one traditional Mexican market - Mercado Juarez in dowtown has both an outdoor vegetable market and an indoor goods market. If you like outdoor sports, this is your place - TONS of mountain climbing, canyoning, hiking, etc. within a few hours drive. Some hiking and mountain biking trails are in Chipinque Park which is in San Pedro. There are few things to see within a few hours drive, although in 5-6 hours there are some other cities and small towns to visit. Many people drive to Texas on the weekends for shopping.

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

Not much. There are a few upscale Mexican craft stores but they sell things from other parts of the country.

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9. Can you save money?

If you don't eat out much or travel much, then yes. We have spent a lot of money on weekend trips around Mexico.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I wouldn't choose it, but its not bad. It is very easy to live here and the opportunity to travel around Mexico has been great but I would prefer Mexico City.

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

Heavy winter gear (although it does get a little bit cold!!).

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3. But don't forget your:

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

With a large family (with kids) or a big group of friends, this could be a fun city.

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