Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 06/16/15
Personal Experiences from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I lived in Western Europe for about 6 years and Eastern Europe for 1 year. For those 7 years I was not working with the government and I worked on the local economy. Juarez was my first experience being overseas with the government.
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?
My home was located a short 8 minute walk from the Consulate and I did not use a car. The housing was in a secure neighborhood that had a gate attendant, the home had an alarm and I felt very safe and secure. A good portion of the housing is located near the Consulate and a number of employees could walk or would ride a bike. For the rest of the housing, a car was necessary as there were no sidewalks and I would not recommend cycling on some of the roads in Juarez. No matter where your housing is located, it would not be possible to be posted to Juarez without a car. Having a car IS necessary. Although I could walk to work, I could not walk (and would not recommend cycling) to the grocery store or anywhere else in Juarez.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years, left Juarez in 2015.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Worked at U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The houses that I visited while at the Consulate were all awesome-large, American-style appliances, garages, seriously the nicest and largest house I've ever been in. Everyone has backyards but the size, style and "niceness" depends on the housing; some people have smaller, "prison style" backyards, while others have ginormous grass filled backyards. There is some housing that is close to the U.S. border, so close that some people can pick up full AT&T, but it's my understanding that a number of those houses are being pulled out of the housing pool.
2. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I would NOT ship any large furniture. There is plenty of furniture in the house and found the furniture provided was sufficient. One item I wish I would have shipped was my bed. The bed provided by the Consulate was nice, but on the soft side for my husband which resulted in back issues for him.
3. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
You are living in the desert, so typical desert insects should be expected. In our house we would sometimes have cockroaches and scorpions. The housing is sprayed for both before you enter but despite this, there would still be some visitors (alive, but most often dead)-- Nothing Raid can't handle.
1. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I never had an issue using my credit card while out for dinner or drinks in Juarez. I typically used the ATM at the Consulate if I wanted to take out Pesos.
2. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is needed!!! You would not be able to do your job properly at the Consulate (visa interviews, political work, ACS work) if you could not speak or read Spanish. A 3/3 is needed in Spanish and you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you think otherwise. I found that Spanish was even needed in El Paso. My husband did not work at the Consulate so he was able to get by with his limited ability --but there were instances where it would have been helpful.
3. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Juarez is not a walking friendly city anyhow as there are only a few sidewalks located around the Consulate, so I would guess that someone with a physical disability would get along fine in Juarez. The Consulate is a beautiful new building, elevator access so I would imagine the person could easily get around the interior. When travelling to El Paso, that is not a walking friendly city either. A car is key.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not authorized to take trains, buses or taxis in Juarez.
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?
A vehicle IS needed! Do not come to post without one! People at post had a range of cars, mini coop to minivans, from Lexus to cars that will most likely not be used on a following tour. Many people did not bother getting Diplomatic License Plates, I would say about 40% had them (maybe less).
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?
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. The security situation now (in 2015) seems to have improved compared to the situation in 2011 (for example). That being said, the gym I belonged to, across the street from the Consulate, the most high-end gym at the time, a gunman entered the gym and shot three people in the middle of the day. Consulate employees are no longer allowed to attend the gym. So, there is danger pay for a reason. Follow what the RSO says and you'll be fine. There are areas that you cannot go to in Juarez and areas that you can. There are some GREAT restaurants and bars in the areas that you can go to--and you should go! Experience the city that you live in! It's just important to always be aware of your surroundings.
2. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I have never had allergies--- but I did develop some allergies that I never knew I had-- different plant life from the desert. Nothing life threatening, just annoying (skin rash, itching).
3. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
May, June, July, August and some of September are ungodly hot. It's a dry heat, but doesn't matter, still unbearable when in the triple digits. My glasses would sometimes feel like they were going to melt off my face. I enjoy the outdoors and physical activities outdoors--so during this time period, the key was to get out before the sun came up. And invest in 50 proof sunblock. Autumn, Winter, Spring are lovely. I hardly wore any sweaters but it is the desert, so temperatures would drop. September tended to bring heavy rains that would often flood the streets.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are about 48 ELOs-- so there is a nice large group to find people to connect to. During my time in Juarez morale was good. There were house parties, social gatherings like cooking competitions, clothing swaps, ladies night/guys night, organized downtown Juarez trips and winery trips. There was a cycling group, running group, tennis court in the consulate with organized lessons, etc.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
When I first arrived at post it was a mostly young, singles post. When I left post in 2015 it had dramatically changed to a more family post (young families and families with children in high school). I'm married, but I've heard some singles say that it's hard post for singles because it's difficult to meet people in Juarez or El Paso--- however I also have single friends in Chicago (a very large and diverse city) say it's hard to meet people in such a big city. So-- I think it depends on your attitude in terms of if Juarez is a "good post" for singles, couples or kids. It's going to be different for each individual.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There are gay clubs in Juarez and there is a community but I can't speak personally if it is a "good" city or not. The Consulate is involved in the pride parade each year in Juarez.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I don't think there are problems, however Juarez (and El Paso for that matter) is not a very diverse city. In my (and my husband's experience) non-Hispanic people stick out in both Juarez and El Paso. Particularly in Juarez, if you're at the mall for example, be prepared for people to be looking at you. In El Paso it's assumed that you're not from the area and that you're most likely somehow associated with Fort Bliss (located in El Paso). Again, no issues-- it's just something that I noticed.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
1.) Coworkers- some great FSOs and awesome ELOs.
2.) Varied work- about 14 months in IV and the rest of the time in NIV/or possibility scoring a 2, 4, or 6-month rotation. Volunteer opportunities to be a control officer for one of the many visiting groups.
3.) TDYs- great opportunity to work at another consulate in Mexico or the Embassy-- and a great way to see if you would enjoy a possible future tour in the other location
4.) Life on the border- what an experience. Juarez is as much a representation of Mexico as El Paso is the U.S.- the border area is different and unique.
5.) Tourism to various parts of the Southwest (New Mexico is a hidden gem!!) and various trips to southern Mexico.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
I LOVED my time in Juarez. The work was interesting (NIV, IV, ACS, FPU) and given the location to the border and the largest IV processing post in the world, there were a number of opportunities to get involved in organizing visits. There are a number of TDY opportunities within Mexico as well and while at post, I took advantage of working for 1 month in three different cities in Mexico. The LES at post are knowledgeable and awesome to work with-- a true feeling of family. Access to most parts of Juarez and anywhere to the south of Juarez in driving distance is off limits (don't even think about Copper Canyon). Despite this restriction, given the location to the border (El Paso could be reached 10-15 minutes with SENTRI card), there are a number of opportunities to experience the southwest of the US. Juarez is a great post for anyone that has a family member that would like to still be able to access the US (work purposes, doctor visits, kids in school, etc).
7. Can you save money?
Depends on your lifestyle. If you stay at home every weekend, sure. However I highly recommend using the opportunity and location to visit other parts of Mexico (Mexico City, Yucatan, etc) and the southwest of the U.S-- so many great cities and towns to visit just within New Mexico.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Unfortunately much of my research beforehand only provided negative, dark and dangerous information (Narco Corrido on Neflix, numerous books). It was only in moving and living there that you can see and experience the reality of the city and life there-- of the wonderful people, the beautiful mountain trails in Juarez and the good food.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. Si. Mot definitely. Without a doubt.
3. But don't forget your:
El Paso is a 15 minute drive away. If there are any products you can only buy in the U.S., no problem. So do not forget or misplace your SENTRI/Global Entry card. Your life will be difficult and you will be very unhappy.