Matamoros, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Matamoros, Mexico

Matamoros, Mexico 04/27/18

Background:

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

No, I've had four other overseas assignments and several long-term temporary-duty assignments.

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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?

Washington, D.C. Flight time is only about 5 hours, but the journey takes about 7 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Spacious, comfortable, and secure. Pretty sure all are single-family homes. There were two neighborhoods, a place called Rio which is about a 15 minute drive to work. Homes in Rio look impressive and upper class and are in a gated community. Some homes seem opulent. The other location is Jardin which is considered the nicer older area, with established families. One can walk to work from Jardin.

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

There are two supermarkets that have pretty much anything you need or want. For any specialty items, simply cross the border into the neighboring city of Brownsville, Texas.

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

None, as the drive across the border takes care of that.

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

There aren't a lot of options, but the options that are available are fine. Mi Pueblitos, Bigos, Garcias are all good and have been there for ages. There is an Irish Pub, a sushi place which wasn't great but not terribly bad. Every restaurant delivers to your home. There are fast food chains like McDonalds. There is also a Papa Johns. A few of newer restaurants have opened, two Italian and an Argentinian one. Frankly, if it's steak, meat, fajita or pollo, everything is authentic Mexican and good. If none of those are appetizing, then cross the border into Texas.

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

South Texas has some of the largest cockroaches we've seen in our lives, bigger than Bangkok. Fortunately we haven't seen any in Matamoros as large, or as frequent.

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Daily Life:

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

Post has a DPO and a PO Box. One can also go across into Texas to the USPS if desired.

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

Plentiful and the cost was about 20 USD per day for maid service. Most families also had nannies.

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

The Consulate has a small, but nice workout area. If you're looking for a Gold's type gym, cross the border into Texas. There is a local gym with an Olympic-size pool that folks say is very nice.

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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 only use cash. There is an ATM at Post, or cross the border into Texas.

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

Many on the Texas side. The area is predominately Catholic. The church in downtown Brownsville is old and charming and nice. We heard there is a mosque but haven't found it. We have seen one Korean church in Brownsville.

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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?

Speaking Spanish helps, but not necessary. Post offered free lessons.

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

Yes, but unless you're living in the US, most of the world is difficult for individuals with disabilities.

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Transportation:

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

No, off limits. Drive your own vehicle and your green zone is very limited.

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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?

Any will work, however one with a higher clearance may be desired. Matamoros is prone to flooding and in two years, flooding was bad enough on two occasions on a couple major roads that made passing in a normal car difficult or not possible. But the water subsides in a day or two. Given the bridge wait can be long and the weather during the summer can be hot, just make sure your vehicle is dependable and your air conditioner works.

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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, two options, Post can set you up with either. We haven't had any issues and speed is fine.

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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?

Modified our domestic plan to include Mexico at no cost, but it depends on your carrier.

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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 quarantine but do have your pets paperwork in order. Dogs seemed to be well liked and they is plenty of dog and cat food at the 2 local supermarkets. We use a vet in Texas, but have heard there is a good vet and also a pet hotel that are used by mission personnel.

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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?

With the EFM hiring freeze, none. Even when the freeze is completely lifted, the EFM opportunities will be very limited, probably in the low single digits. It's not a terribly huge post. That said, most spouses can easily find employment in Brownsville and do. Examples include the University of Texas at RGV, local government, and and even a coffee shop.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Unknown.

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

Business attire. Most men wear slacks and a button down shirt, but no tie. Guayaberas are seen at formal events, or men wear ties and jackets. Bear in mind it can get very hot here. Also, in my opinion, if you wore a business suit you'd stand out like a sore thumb. Women wear very nice business attire and some heels have even been seen.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. You'll need to adhere to all security updates, bulletins and keep aware of your surroundings. During the two years there was a rolling gun battle, several car jacking incidents, and murders reported in select news outlets. However, these issues are not in the housing areas or in the city proper, which will be the green zone you need to stay in. With this said, we have been comfortable and the people of Matamoros very kind and helpful towards Americans. We have our family with us and have had no issues, but we pay attention to our surroundings.

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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?

None, as Brownsville, Texas has many medical facility options.

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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?

Good, no issues. It can get very hot during summers.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Haven't heard of anything. You have to be thick-skinned to go overseas in the first place.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Pleasant year round except summer. Its very hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

Check with post but my understanding is no local school is accredited. That said some of the kids attended San Jorge. It is a nice school and had our children not attended a school in Brownsville, we probably would have sent them there.

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

On the US side they do make accommodations. We've observed both ADA and even a special needs school.

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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?

Yes, on the US side. They were about 40% the cost of Washington metropolitan area and better in our opinion.

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

Yes, there are many activities as you would find in any town USA. Soccer, karate, swimming lessons, etc.

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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, don't know the exact number. Morale was great, you can engage as much as you want with a crowd, or not and do your own thing.

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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?

Families arrange play dates. Adults did BBQs and swim parties.

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

Families yes. Couples, only if the trailing member keeps themselves occupied. Couples can travel in Texas which is fun and an adventure. Singles, we observed singles work very hard and had limited social lives, and the socializing they did do was on the US side through online dating. They were successful in that regard. Singles also saved money and most all of them enjoyed the work and got their highest bid preference coming out of Matamoros.

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

Unknown, but never heard or saw any issues.

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

None that we observed.

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

Work is rewarding. We never flew out of Matamoros to other Mexican cities but were told that was inexpensive and great.

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

Yes, South Padre Island. It's about 25 miles up the road and was really a surprise for us. It's slowly being discovered as Spring Break is crowded and you'll want to stay away. But the rest of the year is fantastic. Beaches, bars, restaurants, things for kids to do like a sea turtle rescue place, etc. Port Isabel is also a neat town. South Texas is another world and felt like an overseas assignment in and of itself.

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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 necessarily in Matamoros, with the exception of Garcias. But if you like Mexican art and crafts, yes, but you'll need to go look for it.

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

Saving money, ease of going to the US anytime you want. If you watch the crossing times at the three bridges, you could get across in minutes. You could even walk if you wanted to. Also, despite the security issues with the TCOs, it was still a pleasant place and assignment.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That you're limited to a green zone, and within that zone it's very limited what you can do. Don't expect to walk around some plaza and eat tacos and drink beer. You'll have to find a restaurant to do that.

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

Yes, but us Foreign Service folks are quite adaptable and a bit strange like that.

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

Winter clothes and gear.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunblock, sense of humor, and your Tex-Mex attitude.

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Matamoros, Mexico 08/31/16

Background:

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

Prior posts - Santo Domingo, Frankfurt, Brussels plus other overseas assignments pre-foreign service in Colombia and Athens.

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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?

Mesa, Arizona - Flight from Harlingen, TX about six or seven hours depending on lay overs in Houston. Southwest and United fly out of Harlingen but all flights go through Houston. Other airlines fly out of Brownsville as well. We are not authorized to use the Matamoros airport except for official travel because we can only go to the airport when transported in an armored vehicle.

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3. How long have you lived here?

19 months.

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

EFM to a Foreign Service Specialist.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Gorgeous huge house in a lovely community of really huge houses. Commute time is less than ten minutes by car.

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

Due to the security situation, we do all of our shopping in the US in Brownsville, TX. There is one grocery store in our "green zone" in Matamoros but I have only been there twice. In Brownsville there is a Sam's Club, HEB grocery stores, and several Walmart Super Centers. On Saturday mornings there is a local farmer's market. The nearest Costco and Sprouts is an hour away and there are no organic stores in Brownsville. However, HEB and Walmart are beginning to carry more organic options. HEB even carries grass fed beef and dairy.

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

Nothing. Everything is available across the border in Texas.

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

Within our "green zone" there are a few restaurants used frequently by consulate staff but I have not personally eaten in any of them. Tacos are supposedly amazing here in Matamoros. Many places will deliver.

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

Not bad at our house but others have had cockroaches, killer bees, and a couple of poisonous snakes (Coral snakes). Mosquitoes are an ever present problem so repellent is essential, especially in light of Zika, Dengue etc.

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Daily Life:

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

Staff from the mail room cross over daily to mail through the US Post and we also have access to pouch.

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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. I do not have a maid but almost everyone else does. I think they pay like US$20 per day. I pay my gardener 250 pesos each time he comes, which is less than US$20 depending on the exchange rate.

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

The consulate has a small but nice gym with an elliptical, tread mill, bike, free weights, bands, etc. There are no gyms in our green zone but there are several options in Brownsville.

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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 do not use them in Mexico at all. We use the ATM at the consulate to get pesos when needed and pay everything in cash. We use our credit cards and debit cards in Brownsville.

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

There are no English language churches in our green zone so everyone goes to church in Brownsville. There are one or two Spanish language Catholic churches in the green zone and there may be other spanish speaking denominations represented but I do not know what they are. In Brownsville there are most religions represented.

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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?

To function in Matamoros with local businesses etc, Spanish is necessary. However, it is possible to hardly ever interact with locals by doing all business in Brownsville. Most of the educated Mexican nationals that live in our housing areas speak English.

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

Yes. There are few accommodations made in the infrastructure (such as it is - I mean, really, this is a border town in Mexico after all.)

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Transportation:

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

No. Not authorized to use them.

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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?

Bring something that has a pretty good clearance (although some folks use Mazdas etc) because the roads are not great. I also recommend leaving behind anything that is new and shiny (i.e. expensive). You do not want to do anything to call attention to yourself in any way here.

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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, but high-speed in name and in reality are not always the same thing here in Mexico. Our internet was already installed when we arrived in our home. We spend 400 pesos a month for local phone and internet, so that is less than US$30.

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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?

We have one phone for use in the US and one phone for use in Mexico (provided by the consulate to EFMs). We also have a special antennae my husband rigged (one of the benefits to being married to an IMS guy) on the roof of our house that lets us get cell signal from across the river in the US to use our cell phone as home. The Mexican cell service is prepay - no contract.

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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?

Yes. We do not have a pet but we have heard good things about the service that is available here to pet owners. Cheap and good.

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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?

Most work in the consulate and it seems there are always job announcements. However, the wait time for clearances can be incredibly long. Some spouses work in Texas and cross over every day for work.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

In Brownsville there are lots of opportunities. The Rio Grand Valley is the poorest part of the US with much of the population non-English speaking, undocumented, and low-income. Due to the security situation in Matamoros, we do not have much freedom to be involved in volunteer opportunities at post.

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

Sharp casual at work. The wealthy Mexicans dress very nicely when out in public. I am seldom out in public in Mexico due to the security situation.

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Health & Safety:

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

YES!! Kidnapping, burglary, robbery, murder, carjackings, gun battles between warring drug cartels or between the narcos and the federales, etc etc. However, the very narrow sliver of Matamoros in which we are authorized to travel seems to be calm for the most part. The federal police are quite visible in their trucks with their automatic weapons etc. We have an alarm system in our home, bars on all the doors and windows, and a roving security patrol. Caution and good judgement are called for and that reduces the risk. American consulate personnel are not the targets. It is just a matter of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Private American citizens who venture into Matamoros and Tamaulipas do run some serious risks.

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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?

Can't drink the water but we have bottled water and a distiller. We get all of our medical care across the border in Texas. Orthodontia is cheap in Matamoros and there are quite a few options.

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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?

Good in our green zone. A nice breeze off the coast keeps the air moving.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

We use air purifiers in our home to cut down on dust.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Stress due to security situation as well as the fact that things just don't seem to work as expected i.e. - trash pickup is sporadic, repairs by local companies are slow in coming and often do not seem to actually resolve the issue etc.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot humid summers (90-100F), cool humid winters. No snow of course, just rain. Above freezing.

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Schools & Children:

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

The little children of consulate families often attend the local Montessori school. All others cross the border every day and attend private schools in Brownsville. The school system is not stellar and some families have not been happy with the schools. For others, it seems fine for the lower grades. There are some magnet schools that seem to be better than the regular public schools.

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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?

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

Maybe through the schools in Brownsville? Nothing here in Matamoros.

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Expat Life:

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

It is common for families of Direct Hire Americans to take SMA and live in the US while the employee resides alone in Matamoros due to the school and security situations. Morales seems good among those of us who have chosen to live at post. Post has some get togethers - which improves morale by building relationships among community members but we really do not socialize together as much as I would like. I know I should take the bull by the horns and host more.

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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?

CLO sponsered happy hours, welcome parties, Principal Officer sponsered gatherings at the official residence where there is a pool. I do not know if there are expats from other communities and I do most of my socializing in Brownsville with my church group.

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

Not great for families with teenagers since they have no freedom and it is not easy to always cross to the US due to lengthy lines at the border etc. It has been nice for my husband and me (empty nesters) because we enjoy being together.

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

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

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

We made a trip to Mexico City and loved seeing the sights there.

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

Nothing in Matamoros that we are allowed to do but South Padre Island is a half hour into Texas across the border and it is beautiful. There are also some interesting historical sights related to the Mexican American war.

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

I have heard that there are fairs periodically to which craftsmen bring their wares but they haven't occurred in our green zone as of yet. Our area recently was slightly expanded and there is supposed to be a street where leather items are sold but I haven't visited it yet.

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

The hardship allowance and the ability to save money. Its proximity to the US (we go several times a week and can buy American products).

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Air fare and travel from Brownsville and Harlingen to the rest of the US is not as convenient or inexpensive as we expected. I also wish we would have realized how tiny our green zone would be and that we would have little to no opportunity to really experience the local culture (except for on the US side.)

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

Yes, because it satisfied our desire to be closer to family and to save money.Also, the island is a great attraction.

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

Any American products - you can get it all easily. Also, your desire to experience the Mexican culture and country side first hand. Not allowed to travel except by air to any other city.

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4. But don't forget your:

Positive attitude, self-entertainment skills, and surf boards etc if you want to visit South Padre Island.

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

I have heard that the movie Sicario might give you some idea of what goes on in the darker parts of the society.

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Matamoros, Mexico 08/02/15

Background:

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

No.

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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?

Midwest. Despite being within sight of the U.S., its not that easy to travel out of Matamoros. Due to security you can not use the airports on the Mexican side, so you have to fly out of one of the airports in the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, McAllen, or Harlingen. From each you can get to Dallas or Houston and then on from there. But flights are often delayed/canceled and many people miss connections (although missing a connection in Dallas isn't the end of the world). There are some directs to Las Vegas if you are heading out west, but flights out of the valley are an all day affair unless your destination is Dallas/Houston. Because of flight times, getting back to Washington is especially taxing.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years - 2013-2015

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

U.S. 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?

Housing is pretty good. The houses are large and most are in good condition. Almost all have yards or gardens. The commute time is great, about 5 minutes, you could walk it in 15 if security permitted.

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

They are slighly more expensive than in the midwest, less than Washington DC. Everyone does most of their shopping in Brownsville, but Brownsville is the end of the supply chain. Quality is not as good and price is a bit higher.

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

Nothing, anything you need you can run to one of the 5 U.S. Walmarts in the Brownsville area. Or Target if you are one of those who refuse to shop at Walmart.

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

Brownsville has to have more fast food per capita than just about anywhere else in the world. If you have been craving fast food after a tour in the middle of nowhere, Brownsville will not disapoint. Although the chances that they get your order wrong is high. Also, some of the food was actually not edible. That being said, there are strip malls that have Panda Express next to Wendy's next to McDonalds with a Taco Bell around the corner. Decent restaurants are another story, but it is relative. The restuarants are hit or miss and sometimes it depends on what you order. There are some major U.S. casual dining chains, but you shouldn't expect DC quality or service. There are also some adaquate places in Matamoros, and some good places to get tacos, but when most people eat out, they eat out in Brownsville.

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

Ants, lots of cockroaches, mosquitoes, some with dengue. The housing is all near the river, so at times the mosquitoes are unbearable without lots of spray.

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Daily Life:

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

Anything can be shipped.

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

Good and cheap. We paid about less than US$20 for a housecleaner, same for gardner.

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

In Brownsville, normal costs, although the Consulate was working to build something when we left.

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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 always used cash on the Mexican side, the U.S. side is fine for ATMs and cards.

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

None in Matamoros, but some in Brownsville, most of the Catholic churches in Brownsville have at least one english service and some are preformed in both languages. Lutherans and Baptists are also in Brownsville, not sure about anything else.

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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?

You need to speak Spanish in Matamoros and it helps in Brownsville.

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Transportation:

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

No.

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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?

High clearance due to speed bumps and ocassional flooding, but you can get away with anything.

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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?

High-speed is relative, we were able to watch Netflix, it cuts out ocassionally, but was pretty good overall. I think I was paying about US$40 a month, you have to pay your bill though, otherwise they cut it off without notice...normally on Sunday nights and you have to run out and pay.

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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?

T-Mobile with wifi calling and unlimited international data, this has changed my life. We struggled with AT&T for almost two years. AT&T can pick up a signal depending on where you are in the city, but can also switch to TelCel and you can get hit with roaming. Employees are issued a Mexican phone as well and most carry both. You will be in the U.S. a lot, so you have to keep a plan that will work there too.

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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, easy to drive them across, and there are a couple of good vets in Brownsville.

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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?

Maybe in Brownsville.

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Health & Safety:

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

Ummm, a few. Due to narco violence, U.S. employees are restricted from traveling in all but a very small geographic area. Basically, from housing to the Consulate. There have been some incidents inside this area, but for the most part people are safe if they stick to that area and are not out in the middle of the night. Without access to Brownsville, TX it becomes unbearable, but people just abide by the restrictions and then get to Texas as often as they can. The housing area is pretty safe and there are walls/barbed wire/patrols to make sure nothing happens in the neighborhood. Despite the security concerns we rarely felt unsafe after taking the necessary precautions. The biggest fear is getting caught in random gunfight.

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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?

Medical care in Brownsville is not great. It is adaquate, but not great for U.S. standards. Some people get minor stuff done on the Mexican side for next to nothing, we weren't that brave.

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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?

Not really a problem.

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Schools & Children:

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

Everyone sends their kid to private school in the U.S. The consulate provides an armored vehicle to take them across the border and back. They generally seemed happy.

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

The preschool had some special needs kids and they seemed to be fully integrated. I would give the owners a call and talk about your specific needs. I know they do some accommodations in at the schools on the U.S. side too.

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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?

Yes, the preschool is the best thing about this tour. We had 3 kids in preschool on the Mexican side. Pabellon Infantil has been the best daycare we have found in 3 moves. The owners are Americans and the staff is great. They really care about the kids and are easy to work with. When we picked up our kids each day they were clean and happy. They really enjoyed going to school. The school also potty trained. The school is 100% Spanish, but our kids picked it up quickly and now speak fantastic Spanish, albeit with a mexican accent. We paid less monthly for 3 kids than we paid weekely for 1 in NoVA. The school is close to the Consulate and housing and in a relatively safe area. The school understands the security situation and has worked with RSO in the past, we never felt the kids were unsafe while at school. We can't say enough good things about the preschool.

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

Yes, through the schools on the U.S. side.

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Expat Life:

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

The community is the consulate, morale is based on who is there at the time and the security conditions.

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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?

Social life is pretty limited to house parties and trips out of the valley.

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

Preschool aged kids are probalby happiest here. Our kids were younger and didn't mind spending the day at the zoo and a McDonald's play place and then doing the exact same thing the next weekend. Older kids would likely get bored and the security puts singles in a tough spot. With no real accessable safe nightlife opportunities on the Mexican side it forces singles to look to Brownsville or further (Austin). A couple with no kids might do ok, only to use the danger/hardship money to travel around the U.S. It is a bit of a fishbowl, and the community hangs out at each other's houses a lot; it's fine if people get along, but living and working with people under stress sometimes creates issues.

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

The weather is generally ok, although it can get hot. There are professional opportunities to travel througout Mexico. The work is interesting. The Brownsville zoo is actually pretty nice, and you can wake up and be in Houston or Austin by lunch.

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

The Brownsville Zoo, Boca Chica beach is normally empty and you can drive onto the beach and camp. The tacos sold out of the parking lot on the otherside of the park are pretty good.

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

There really are no advantages to living in Matamoros, because you don't really do anything in Matamoros except sleep and work. There are advantages to basically living in South Texas. South Padre is about 30 minutes away once you cross into the U.S. Corpus has some nice things, Houston is a 5 hour drive, San Antonio is about 4, Austin is 5. Despite the flights sometimes being a pain, you are close to the U.S. so if you need to get back for family or want to go visit friends you can do it without transiting 4 airports and 3 countries. With the hardship and danger it is easy to save money, unless you travel.

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7. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That crossing back and forth across the border was going to cost $6. Its a hidden tax thats not accountated for in a COLA, you can't do anything on the Mexican side, but have to pay to enter and exit your own country because the bridges are owned by the county/private company.

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

I doubt it. It worked well for our family at the time. It works well for a couple of people.
1) People who are planning to have a baby in the next two years. Having a spouse evac'd 10 minutes away was much better than being on the other side of the world for 6 months.
2) People with small kids, preschool/nannys are super cheap, and you can find enough things to do for 2 years to keep little people entertained.
3) People who want a PSP light post, the pay isn't as good, but you get extra money and can get out at will, the conditions on the Mexican side are much like a PSP post, except you have to self drive from housing to work, using SMA and having your family in the U.S. is popular, but the employee has to sleep a certain number of nights in Mexico.
4) People who have some reason to be close to the U.S., be it elderly parents, friends' weddings, a spouse/significant other who is working in the U.S.

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

Ideas that you are going to explore Mexico. In order to get anywhere in Mexico you have to fly to Houston (unless you are on official travel and can use the Mexican airport). You can't drive into Mexico and the little bit of Matamoros you get to see is a weird mix of borderland culture as opposed to what you may think of as traditional Mexican.

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4. But don't forget your:

Global Entry/SENTRI Card...although this has become less important due to security reasons.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Despite all the negatives, the work was excellent and first tour FSOs should consider the border for professional reasons.

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Matamoros, Mexico 02/27/12

Background:

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

No; London, Cusco.

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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?

I don't really have a home base anymore. But flights from DC to Post aren't bad, connecting through Houston.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

Foreign Service Officer at Consulate General Matamoros.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is great in Matamoros. All houses are within a 5 minute drive to Post, though some houses are within walking distance. All housing is huge - as a single guy, I have a 3 bedroom 4.5 bath home with guest house off the back patio. Floors are tiled, countertops are often granite, appliances are new. A few houses have a pool. We live in the most exclusive (rich) neighborhoods in the city, but many of our neighbors are involved in criminal activity.

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

Everyone grocery shops in Brownsville, TX.

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

None, really, considering the proximity of the US.

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

Of course, all American fast food can be found in Brownsville. A few chains are here in Matamoros, including Domino's Pizza, Church's Chicken, Burger King, etc. Most fast food places in Matamoros deliver (even Church's and Burger King!)

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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?

There's no Whole Foods, but the biggest and nicest grocery store in Brownsville makes a decent effort to provide organic, gluten free, etc, options.

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

Gnats, ants, and mosquitos, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Daily Life:

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

The Consulate provides a Post Office Box in Brownsville, TX, with daily mail runs. Shipments can be received to the US Logistics Center in Brownsville, which is also picked up daily.

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

Cheap and available. We pay about 300 pesos for an 8 hour work day, which includes everything from an overall house cleaning, all laundry, dishes, and even a cooked meal if you want. Since we're a small post, we all use each other's maids, who have often been working for Consulate families for years.

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

There are a few gyms that colleagues use, including one specifically for women that is close to the Consulate. You can also get a discount membership to the Deportivo, which is like a sports club. There are pools, equipment, and a running track. It's nice for Matamoros, but a bit distant from the housing area (10-15 minute drive).

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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 don't use credit cards in Matamoros. There's a Mexican ATM in the Consulate - that's the only place I use plastic here.

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

Again, in Brownsville.

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

In Brownsville.

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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?

Surprisingly enough, having Spanish is important. Even though you can literally see the US from your 2nd story window, you still need to be able to speak Spanish to communicate with the average Matamorense. It's also not uncommon to go into a store in the US and the employee or cashier there doesn't speak English.

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

Probably quite a few problems - you can't take public transportation at all, so if you can't drive, you're screwed. Sidewalks are uneven and half the time non-existent. There are sometimes handicap ramps on the edges of sidewalks, but hardly any businesses have them.

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Transportation:

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

You may not use public transportation for any reason, period.

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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?

Any type of vehicle is OK considering the proximity to the US. High clearance is recommended, however, because there are numerous pot holes and when it rains the streets tend to flood due to lack of good drainage.

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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 -- everyone uses Telmex. Average cost is about US$50/month for decent DSL speeds. You can pay in tiered plans to increase speed.

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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?

We all use our regular, US cell phones, with regular, US cell plans. We live so close to the border that you can pick up US cell towers inside the Consulate and your home. USG provides everyone with a basic Mexican phone. Key officers get blackberries.

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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.

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

There are a few in Brownsville.

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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?

If you're in the manufacturing business, or a teacher....

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

Business casual. It's not uncommon to see hoodies and cargo pants on Fridays. Most days it's a dress shirt and slacks, no tie or jacket.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Travel within Mexico is extremely restricted for USG employees. In Matamoros, about half of the entire city is off limits without a fully armored vehicle. USG employees are not allowed to leave Matamoros to go anywhere else in the region. You can't use any public transportation whatsoever due to far-too-common carjackings, narco road blocks, and kidnappings (though there is one taxi driver approved for extenuating circumstances). All travel within Mexico must be approved by the Regional Security Officer for the region where you wish to travel. The entire state of Tamaulipas (where Matamoros is located) is considered off-limits to USG-employed visitors for pleasure. There is a curfew from midnight to 6 am in Matamoros, and during that time you must be in the area of the city where all USG employees live.

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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?

No major health concerns outside of the occasional stomach bug. Medical care is surprisingly lacking in Brownsville and neighboring cities. Anything major will be medevac'ed to Houston or DC.

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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 isn't that bad. Sometimes there's a pretty rank odor after a rainstorm, because the sewer system backs up and lots of sewage bubbles up in the gutters and streets.

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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?

Hot. Very hot. From April through September it's like living in a convection oven. In the worst parts of July and August, you open a door to the outside and literally feel like you opened an oven on 400 degrees. It rarely -- if ever -- rains during the summer. Last year I think we had a span of two solid months with no rain at all. The winter is great, though -- very moderate temps, never too cold.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are a few bilingual schools in town; a couple fully-immersed schools. You also have the option of taking your child to school in the US since it's 5 minutes away. I don't have kids so I don't have much detail on this.

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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?

It's available and used by other employees. I've never heard any complaints.

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

I'm sure there are some in Brownsville.

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Expat Life:

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

Not very large in Matamoros, again due the proximity to the US.

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2. Morale among expats:

Constant security concerns.

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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?

See what was written above -- there isn't much entertainment here, and there is an almost non-existent social life. I've been here one year, am young, and single, and I still don't have any Mexican friends that don't work at the Consulate.

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

It's an OK city for families and couples since you have Brownsville and the beach close by. There is a zoo, a few parks, a big mall, two movie theaters, etc. This is a terrible place for singles. There is nowhere to go to meet locals, and even if there were, you probably wouldn't be permitted to go there anyway. Mexicans are very friendly and warm, but it's just downright hard to meet them or to get into the community.

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

I assume there would be no issues with homosexuals. I think there is a fair number of gays in the city. I'd find it hard to believe that this is an oppressive place for that kind of lifestyle.

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

Not really. Of course, Mexican culture still has a machismo about it, but it's not bad. It's a pretty accepting society.

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

Sadly but honestly, the highlight of living here is the ease of travel through the US. There isn't much to do in Matamoros and travel is rather restrictive in Mexico, so it's easy to take long weekend trips throughout the US.

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

Sadly, not much. Anything fun or interesting is in Brownsville or the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Brownsville has a regular movie theater and a discount theater (where new movies go to die after they run their span in the regular theater.) South Padre Island, TX is about 45 minutes away and is a nice place to spend a day at the beach, but don't expect any nice resorts or "beach nightlife." It's a big spring break destination in March, but other than that it's a lazy island. There aren't very many green spaces down here in the south Texas desert, so don't expect a lot of outdoor activities, though you could probably find a soccer club pretty easily. Matamoros itself has a few movie theaters that are generally OK, though a grenade was thrown inside one last year. Movies are in English w/ subtitles or dubbed in Spanish.

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

pPttery, handmade knickknacks.

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

Easy and constant access to the US! You literally live within 5 minutes of any international bridge to cross into Brownsville, TX. It's easy to save money because everything you buy is from Walmart, Target, or the mall in Brownsville. But the peso is also advantageous, if you can find places to shop in Matamoros.

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely. Mexico is cheap. A basic meal costs less than US$5. Everything else is bought in Brownsville in dollars anyway.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. This place is a social life black hole, unfortunately. The work is great, but outside of 8-5, there's simply nothing to do and nowhere to go.

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

Outdoor activity gear - it's too hot, and nowhere to do it.

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3. But don't forget your:

Personal entertainment items (tv, dvds, game consoles, etc.).

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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:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Matamoros is what you make of it. If you're single and not the most extrovert person ever, you will be lonely and bored here. Strangely enough, of all the American staff here, everyone is married except two of us, and all of the married couples except one have children age 4 and under. There are literally babies and toddlers everywhere. One colleague joked that this is because there's nothing else to do.

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