Nuevo Laredo, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 06/15/18
Personal Experiences from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
We've lived in three other Latin American countries and also in Europe.
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?
Virginia -- we can drive to San Antonio (2.5 hours) or Austin (3.5 hours) and catch a reasonably priced direct flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
Nearly three years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is generously sized and within 5 minutes' drive of the Consulate. Every house has some quirks, like occasional leaks/floods, weird layouts, etc., but generally they are quite comfortable. Most have walled-in back patios, nice for kids, dogs, barbecues, etc.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It's easy to cross over to Laredo TX to stock up on supplies. Most of us also make regular runs to San Antonio for specialty items (Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Central Market). I buy most of my fruits and vegetables at the HEB supermarket on the Mexican side -- great prices for excellent Mexican produce, including avocados, tomatoes, peppers of all kinds, onions, pineapple, mangoes, and fresh cactus (!) (throw it on the grill with some olive oil, salt and pepper, it's delicious!)
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing -- we can stock up in Texas.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are excellent restaurants on both sides of the border with authentic tacos (e.g. shredded beef on a soft tortilla), delicious fresh salsas, and similar. The range includes a fantastic morning taco truck (Tacos La MaÃ±ana 2) where the tortillas are made right in front of you and you have a choice of 10 fillings, to a "fast food" type place, Taco Palenque, that has 6 fresh and delicious salsas in its salsa bar, as well as radishes, roasted jalapeÃ±os, and much more, to nicer restaurant/cantinas such as La Terraza. Other cuisines are harder to find, though. There is a Domino's Pizza and a Starbucks near the Consulate.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Honkin' big cockroaches. Sometimes mice. Tiny biting ants -- nothing I have tried seems to deter them. Fortunately they are just in my living room and not in my bed :)
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Mail service through the Consulate, and visiting the post office in Laredo TX (typically long lines, no self-service machines -- best to print postage online and just drop off packages).
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people have housekeepers and/or nannies a few days a week, and a gardener once a week. Very hard to find a reliable person who is willing to live in. There have been some issues with people's staff having personal problems and quitting suddenly.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The most popular gym is Xperfit, about $50 a month for a short-term membership. It's air-conditioned and has many machines and also classes (TRX, yoga, Zumba, Bodycombat). The Consulate has a small gym and also a nice lap pool. The city also operates sports facilities that are free of charge -- a running track and a boxing gym with classes for men and women at all levels.
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 accepted in medium- and larger-sized businesses, and they seem to be safe to use. For ATMs we use the one inside the Consulate to get Mexican cash, and ones in Laredo to get US cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Only in Laredo TX.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is dominant in Laredo TX as well as Nuevo Laredo. Skilled teachers/tutors are hard to find. I recommend learning as much Spanish as you can before arriving -- you'll feel more confident/secure and have a better time here.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The city tries, with ramps and handicapped parking spaces, but the infrastructure is still poor in this regard in many places.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No, we don't use public transportation in Nuevo Laredo.
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?
Bring a sturdy vehicle with good ground clearance, because of potholes, speed bumps and occasional floods, and to sit up high so you can see what's ahead of you (like a cluster of military vehicles you should steer clear of). Don't bring a flashy car (luxury SUV in black would be the worst) that would attract carjackers or make people think you might be a cartel member as you drive around.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet service is mediocre -- we can't stream on two devices at once, for instance, and sometimes the service really slows down (especially on weekends). Some people have two providers so they can switch to the other when one is giving them trouble. Installation should be pretty quick, just a few days.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I have the T-Mobile cross-border plan, but using our address in Texas, so I have to watch out for too much data roaming in Mexico (wifi at home is fine). It also provides free roaming in Europe, which has been great since we have traveled over there several times during our posting.
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?
We use a local vet (Supercan) for routine checkups and immunizations. Many people take their pets across to Texas, especially for more complicated issues.
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?
Jobs in the Consulate have dwindled since the hiring freeze began. Some people work remotely. There are jobs in Laredo, but crossing the border every day makes it more complicated. Many end up volunteering, taking online classes, taking care of their kids, etc. I pay $20 for an hour of physical therapy at a private clinic here in Mexico, which will give you some idea of the salary scale here.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
A bit limited because we have to stay in our "green zone" and can't go to the poorer parts of the city. Check with the Women's Forum (a group of local women leaders, linked to the Consulate) for current volunteer opportunities. Some people volunteer on the Laredo side (animal shelter, network to support foster children).
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At work, business casual up to a suit or dress. On the street, casual and often quite feminine for women and quite Texas-style for men.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
This border town is a key corridor for smuggling operations into the US. Cartels fight over it, and the Mexican military fights the cartels. (The local police are intimidated, rightly so, by the cartels that offer "plata or plomo" -- take the cash or get a bullet.) There are regular gunfights, chases, kidnappings, etc. However, the good news is that no one is targeting Consulate personnel, in fact they really do not want to make trouble for us. (Expat businesspeople known to be wealthy can be kidnapping targets, however.) The main risk to us is blundering into a bad situation. We alert each other via WhatsApp about developing situations ("I heard gunshots") and travel around the city in pairs or small groups if possible (upside: forces our small community to do things together!). Homes have alarms and roving patrols, but weird things happen in the neighborhoods, and there is a sense of tension and danger. Important to "escape" to the US regularly -- fortunately this is quite easy.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
This post is dusty, sometimes moldy, and VERY hot (regularly 107F or more in the afternoons, all summer). Medical care in Laredo can be frustrating, with long wait times and sometimes less than competent staff. Many go to San Antonio for the outstanding medical care there. The Consulate has a new relationship with a family doctor which seems promising. Medical care on the Mexican side can be excellent and affordable for many needs. Consulate women have had babies here and have been quite happy with the care.
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?
Lots of dust and pollen. Many people have nagging sinus/respiratory issues. Also, housekeepers overdo it with the harsh, smelly cleaning products.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There is less awareness of the need for labeling, for instance gluten or peanut ingredients.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
There's a sense of isolation and danger here that can weigh on people. I think it's important to speak some Spanish, to make local friends (either in Nuevo Laredo or Laredo), enjoy what this post has to offer (tacos, friendly people, the glass factory, exercise opportunities), and get away regularly. We don't currently have anyone staffing our health unit; we just get occasional visits from the regional doctor and psychiatrist.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It gets into the 90s F in May and doesn't let up until October. High can be over 110F. Winter is cooler and pleasant. More rain and humidity than you might expect, including torrential rains and floods (and leaks and mold).
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Some families are happy with the United Day school in Laredo. Others are not, and even homeschool. The best option on the Mexican side is unfortunately not in our "green zone." The preschools on the Mexican side seem to be fine, though.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Mainly on the Laredo side, involving lots of driving across the border.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The US Consulate is the only diplomatic mission here. Very few other expats (a priest here, a company manager there). Many Mexicans have dual citizenship. As a bit of a substitute for an expatriate community, I've made friends with the Mexican consul in Laredo and her husband, as well as many Mexican professionals who come from other parts of Mexico. The Consulate community is very small. Important to branch out and make local friends in Mexico and/or Texas. Otherwise the sense of isolation is strong.
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?
People go to each other's homes, to restaurants, etc. On weekends most people are off doing their own thing, many of them in Texas. Single people tend to escape most weekends and go to San Antonio or elsewhere. There is a "Newcomer's Network" in Laredo but I have not attended any of their gatherings. No expat groups. Socializing in clubs and bars (except restaurants) is not recommended.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it is best for couples and for families with young kids. Singles face a very small American community here, and concerns about security/corruption/visa questions when meeting local people. Most seem to escape to San Antonio regularly. Kids older than about third grade face issues with after-school activities in Texas (parents have to cross the border to get them), friends not wanting to come to their houses in Mexico, snobbery issues in Texas (prominent families who have known each other forever), and similar. However, I hear that the academic quality of the school in Laredo is very good.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
This has historically been an area with a very "macho," discriminatory culture, but the situation seems to be improving. The Pride March is in its sixth year and continues to expand and find greater public support. There are LGBT groups on both sides (the one in Laredo is new this year).
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Leadership is still very male here, but the situation seems to be changing gradually.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Free boxing class! Watching margarita glasses being hand-blown at the glass factory. Petting a tame baby jaguar at the zoo (she's too old for that now ): ) Working on civil society projects with the Women's Forum (like educating secondary students about relationship violence, promoting breastfeeding). Getting together with the EFMs for walks on the track, lunches, taco truck visits, pool parties, handicraft market visits, etc. Visiting Mexico City (museums, food, biking). Visiting San Antonio (biking the Mission Trail). Visiting Austin (paddleboarding on the river, shopping at the original Whole Foods Market).
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Glass factory, Mercadito, Guadalajara Pottery, boxing class at the Unidad Deportiva, the zoo (well-run and actually more of an animal rescue, featuring abandoned exotic pets!). Don't miss the huge George Washington's Birthday parade (!) in Laredo.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The only thing made here is the glass from the Bejines glass factory (but it's amazing -- ranging from tequila glasses to artistic plates and wall hangings; they also take custom orders. Check it out on Facebook). But there are a few shops with handicrafts from all over Mexico at good prices.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great new Consulate building. Being 20 minutes away from the US. Exploring Texas. Getting to know the Mexican people, food and culture (of course there are nicer places to do that, but we've appreciated the opportunity).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How small the Consulate community really is. Once during summer turnover there were only two EFMs here. Also the fact that there are very few other foreigners and people from elsewhere. And the dominance of Spanish even in Laredo TX.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. In fact, our time is nearly over and I wish we could stay longer, now that we have adapted!
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter sports equipment. Stereotypes about Texas. (The cities are diverse and fascinating -- Spanish colonial history in San Antonio, cutting-edge health and fitness culture in Austin, German immigrant culture in Fredericksburg, Laredo as the most Hispanic town in the US ...)
4. But don't forget your:
Nice hot-weather clothes. Appetite for tacos. Spanish skills. Patience with border crossings. Global Entry/SENTRI card. Comfortable car with excellent air conditioning for frequent trips to other Texas cities. Willingness to participate in the small Consulate community with people who may not match your demographics (age, interests, ages of kids, etc.) -- but I hope you will find as I did that they are terrific and fun people.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Be brave and read some books about the smuggling and crime in the border area, such as "Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel." Don't let it scare you too much, because their world is not our world, but you will better understand what some of the local people are facing (corruption, intimidation, young people being seduced into joining the drug gangs).
6. Do you have any other comments?
It's been frustrating not being able to explore Mexico from here because of the security restrictions. But Laredo, Texas, is culturally strongly Mexican, and "los dos Laredos" have their own unique border blend, which has been very interesting.