Nuevo Laredo, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 11/15/11

Personal Experiences from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico 11/15/11

Background:

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

No. We previously lived in Jerusalem and London.

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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?

From Washington DC, the trip is about five hours with connections in Dallas or Houston.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Over two years

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

Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Consulate staff are housed in two neighborhoods close to the Consulate. No one's commute is longer than 5-7 minutes. The housing is about 20 minutes from the International Bridge crossings into Laredo, TX.

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

Most of us shop at the grocery stores in Laredo. Standard U.S. prices. You can get good, cheap fruits and vegetables on the Mexican side.

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

Nothing. Everything is available in Laredo or two hours north in San Antonio.

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

Nuevo Laredo has good Mexican food and most major American fast food chains (McDonalds, Burger King, Dominos, KFC) some of which deliver. Laredo has fast food and Mexican food. That's pretty much it. There are some chain restuarants such as Olive Garden and Texas Roadhouse, but in a place where even the Chinese buffets serve enchiladas, do not expect the full range of options provided by most U.S. cities of Laredo's size. Laredoans really like Mexican food.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

The U.S. groceries stores would have a lot of these items available.

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

Ants seem to be the principal issue. They get into anything sweet (sugar, syrup etc.). GSO sprays twice a year, but we've found we need to spray at least quarterly to keep them at bay. There isn't the roach problem I thought there would be. You really only seem them when they come out to die.

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Daily Life:

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

We have a PO Box in the U.S. Mail delivery is five days a week.

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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 cheap. We pay $75 for five day a week part time domestic help.

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

This is a big challenge. There are local gyums available, but the security situation means everyone needs to be time and place unpredictable, which effectively eliminates this option. However, several staff members have gym memberships in Laredo and seem to be happy with them. Outdoor exercise in Nuevo Laredo is effectively discouraged due to the violence.

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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?

We have a Banamex ATM on compound that most of us use. I don't use credit cards on this side. Cash only.

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

All.

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

Many major papers are available in Laredo. The local press in Nuevo Laredo is muzzled by the Zetas. They only report on things the cartel allows them to report on.

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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?

You need to have a working level knowledge of Spanish both here and in Laredo. Very few people speak English on this side of the border and many in Laredo will refuse to speak English if they know you understand Spanish. It can be frustrating.

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

Like most countries around the world, Mexico does not make a U.S.-level effort to accomodate disabilities. It would be a challenge to serve here with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

No local trains, buses and libre taxis are off limits. It's a car culture here. Everyone drives everywhere.

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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?

I'd recommend a small SUV with a decent ground clearance. The roads here are poor and when it does rain, it tends to flood. However, large pick ups and SUV's are targets of carjackings by the narcos. Nothing flashy, but something durable is recommended.

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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. It's cheap and reliable through TelMex or Hyercable.

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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?

Everyone uses Nextel Push to Talk. For some reason even Nextel can't explain, Mexican Nextels work on both sides of the border, but U.S. Nextels are spotty at best on the Mexican side. The Consulate provides all staff with a Nextel, but if you have a spouse or older child, I would wait until you get to Post to get them a local Nextel. U.S. AT&T phones get decent coverage here in town and some of the staff have U.S. phones with Verizon using the $12 a month Mexico Border Plan and seem to get good coverage.

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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?

Are you kidding?

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

Decent U.S. care.

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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?

Post has several EFM positions. Beyond that, there are very few job opportunities for non-Spanish speakers. You can't get a job at McDonalds in Laredo unless you speak fluent Spanish.

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

Business casual. Ties are rarely required. It's too hot.

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Health & Safety:

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

We are a danger pay post for a reason. The war between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel continues to rage. The gunbattles can occur anywhere in the city at any time of the day or night. There are now about 1000 federal forces in the city and they keep things from getting too out of control, but security is the principal issue we all deal with.

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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?

Beyond gunshot wounds? Not really. They have dengue here, but we haven't had cases among the staff. Medical care in Laredo is adequate, but extremely slow. It is not uncommon to wait 3-4 hours to see a doctor, even when you have an appointment. No one is in a hurry here. Ever.

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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?

Normally the air quality is fine. We've been suffering through an 11-month drought which means there are a lot of dust and allergens in the area. It has been hard on the allergy sufferers.

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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?

Sunny, all the time. It's hot from about March until about November. It is extremely hot during the summer, to an extent that you really can't do anything outdoors (at least not comfortably). The winters are nice and mild.

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Schools & Children:

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

We had one of our children in a good local pre-school, but we moved him to the private school for kindergarten. Currently, all the kids at Post attend United Day School in Laredo, TX. They have a very good curriculum.

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

A lot of the standard special needs requirements can be addressed in Laredo.

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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?

As I said, our son spent two years at an excellent little pre-school here in town. He picked up Spanish and really enjoyed it. They are a soft target school so they have had all the security upgrades.

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

Laredo has an active baseball/t-ball program as well as youth football. Soccer, is almost non-existent surprisingly enough. Other than that, the full range of sports options is available privately or through school in Laredo.

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Expat Life:

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

Small. We're the only game in town.

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2. Morale among expats:

Surprisingly good. As danger pay posts go, having full access to U.S. goods and services eases the burden. It is a small post, but everyone seems committed to making it work and we spend a lot of our off time at each other's houses. There is a strong interest in college football, so Saturdays in Fall are always a community event. People frequently host parties and get togethers. When the violence isn't spiking, it can be a fun place to be. However, we also have to weather the bad times too. There are periods where we are severely restricted in our movements and the lack of outdoor activities can give you cabin fever at times.

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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?

Lots of at home entertaining. However, Laredo has a minor league hockey team and is adding an arena football team. They also have movie theaters, bars and restaurants. However, to be safe, you need to be back across the border and home by around ten at night due to the risk of violence.

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

The security situation makes this a "create your own fun" post. Many of the local attractions: El Mercado, the Cadillac Bar, the Bullfights have either closed or are operating only sporadically. We mostly spend time at each other's houses. Travel to Texas on weekends is popular with a lot of the staff.

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

From what I've heard there is a small, but vibrant local gay community. However, Mexican machismo means the community has to keep a low profile and the security situation limits late night travel to bars and clubs.

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

Not that I have seen.

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

My family has enjoyed it here. The kids go to school at a good non-denominational private school in Laredo and have made some good friends.

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

Bull fights (when they are available), travel to Texas. That's about it.

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

Santa Muerta statues and knock off Big Pony polos.

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

The cost of living is cheap and people seem to enjoy the constant sunny weather. However the current travel restrictions make traveling into the interior of Mexico difficult. You can't drive overland from Post. You can fly, but there are increasingly more restrictions on many other areas of Mexico and you have to register all travel in advance (personal and official).

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutley. It's cheap living (if you don't spend it traveling) and the allowances are high.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Hard to say. This has been a rewarding Post professionally, but it has taken years off my life.

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

Cold weather clothes and your mostly wildly pessimistic estimate of how longs things should take. Rest assured, they will take even longer here. Mexico: Where 'good enough' is always good enough.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses and your horse tranquilizers (you'll need to take them in order to fit in with local driving patterns).

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Traffic, Saving Private Perez.

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

Down by the River by Mark Bowden, Opening Mexico, The Bear and the Porcupine, Border Games.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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