Bethesda, MD, United States of America Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Bethesda, MD, United States of America

Bethesda, MD, United States of America 03/12/08

Background:

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

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2. How long have you lived here?

6 months.

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

My husband works for the U.S. Government.

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

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Mostly single family houses, townhouses, and some condominiums.

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

If you clip coupons, become a member (free) at the supermarket and buy in bulk, you can save money on provisions. Some supermarkets are more expensive than others. There are lots of choices.

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

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

I hear there are 300 restaurants in Bethesda alone including many very good ones. Pretty much every American fast food chain is in the area.

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Daily Life:

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

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

I don't know - we're doing our own cleaning right now. Help with yard work, etc. varies. Construction/contractors are expensive.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Lots of places. Little secret: 7-11 ATMs seem to be free - at least the two in the area I've been to!

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

Of course!

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

Of course!

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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?

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

Things seem fairly well set-up, by law, for handicapped people.

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Transportation:

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

Right.

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

Safe and affordable.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

I'm a little tired of the giant SUVs in the area. There's no rugged terrain around 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?

A typical package ranges from US$25 to $40 a month. We got Verizon's triple play with television/DVR, FIOS internet and phone service (land line) with unlimited calling - we pay around US$130 a month for this package.

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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 actually found U.S. cell phone systems a pain after the pay-as-you-go plans in some European countries. Here you often get locked into a 2-year contract and if you lose your phone, it's an expensive replacement. Some people have found AT&T or T-Mobile pay-as-you-go plans (and I think there are others).

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

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Pets:

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

Yes, plus dogwalking services.

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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?

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

Americans have gotten more casual at the office since we last lived here - except at the State Department!

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Health & Safety:

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

Good.

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

Some petty crime such as shoplifting, stolen wallets, and some more serious such as car and house break-ins. Thieves will often break into all the cars on a suburban street in the middle of the night.

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

The quality of medical care is good; quality of health care insurance is a nightmare. More and more physicians are dropping insurance carriers. The system needs to be completely overhauled.

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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?

4 seasons: lovely blooming springs (not good for allergy sufferers, though), lovely falls, hot and humid summers, and surprisingly cold at times in the winter with quite a bit of precipitation.

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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 public schools are very good; there are also excellent private schools in the area.

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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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Expat Life:

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

It's actually quite large - since we're in the States, we're actually talking about the international/foreign community here - there are many diplomats and other expats.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good. Making the transition to living in the States, even for Americans, is more difficult than many expect. Customer service has diminished in quality in the States for the last decade and getting set up with utilities, etc. can be a bit daunting.

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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?

Many people go out to restaurants in Bethesda and the DC area.

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

Very much so - it's a lively social scene.

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

Yes.

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

Not really.

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

There are literally hundreds of good restaurants, several movie theatre complexes, art galleries, Strathmore Music Center, malls, shopping, cultural events of all kinds, parks, and street festivals, and much more.

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

The Pennsylvania Dutch market in Burtonsville, MD.

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9. Can you save money?

Not if you've got two kids in college and just bought a house, as we have!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes - we're glad to be back after so many years overseas.

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

The ability to save money; aversion to being stimulated on all fronts by the media.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor when driving in congested Bethesda traffic.

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

Margaret Truman's Washington DC mysteries.

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

Margaret Truman's Washington DC mysteries.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Construction, both residential and corporate, is constantly underway in Bethesda. People are complaining about the huge houses packed onto small lots (we have one going up right next to our smaller 1948 house right now) and that the downtown area, with its taller and taller office buildings, is losing all its greenery, charm and sunlight. Traffic is a constant problem. However, we love living within walking distance to BCC high school and the metro and to shops. We traded residential space for location and although it's been a challenge, we really like where we live.

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