Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 12/10/15

Personal Experiences from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico 12/10/15

Background:

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

First expat experience with the foreign service and with a family, but I've also lived in Czech Republic & England. Husband has lived in Peru, Venezuela, Germany, Japan, & Kenya.

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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?

Home base is Dallas, more or less. 10-hour drive from Juarez. I suppose it would be a couple hours on a plane.

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3. How long have you lived here?

7 months

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

Spouse of foreign service officer

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All homes (that I'm aware of) are in gated, guarded neighborhoods and are single-family homes, some detached, some in rows. I believe all have garages. Many of the Consulate homes are within easy walking or biking distance of the Consulate. Some are in neighborhoods immediately beside the Consulate. We are in a more "distant" neighborhood about 1.5 miles from the Consulate. Depending on traffic the drive can be less than 10 minutes but even at peak traffic I don't think it's ever more than 15.

Housing tends to be spacious and very nice - certainly our home is larger and in a nicer neighborhood than anything we ever had in the U.S. As far as I know all homes are tiled. Our bathrooms and kitchen are completely covered in tile - all the way to the ceiling. I like how easy that makes it to clean, given how much sand and dust gets in the house, but it is chilly in colder weather. The homes also tend to have concrete walls. Most homes are in neighborhoods that feature a central park/playground area. It's nice for us that our kids can ride bikes and play at the neighborhood park and experience a degree of freedom.

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

As mentioned previously I'd say an average grocery run in Juarez costs about 2/3 what it would in the U.S. Linens, durable goods, and electronics are probably cheaper and better quality in the U.S.

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

Nothing you can't get either here or in El Paso.

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

There is some U.S. fast food here and I find the prices ridiculously expensive for what you get, but I suppose it's not more expensive than the same food in the U.S. The thing is, you can get amazing tacos, burritos, and other Mexican specialities at a fraction of the cost of a burger and fries. The burrito is an invention the people of Juarez claim for their own and there are numerous burrito chains, many of which make their own tortillas fresh when you order, and the most expensive of these charge less than US$2 for a meat burrito, less for chile, bean, or veggies. Of course all the fast food you could possibly want is right across the border in El Paso. With kids, I have to say we do sometimes patronize Little Caesar's, which is ubiquitous here. "Hot and ready" pizzas set you back the same US$5 or so they cost in the U.S.

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

I have heard of people here having trouble with insects and with spiders/scorpions but so far we have not had any trouble at all. We are fortunate to have little lizards living in our patio and I think they help keep that area clear of pests. Also, keeping patio areas swept out can really cut down on black widows, which do tend to take up residence in neglected corners in this part of the world. Mosquitoes were a nuisance over the summer but no more so than they were in the U.S.

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Daily Life:

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

Consulate has a P.O. Box and also a street address in El Paso - mail is then delivered to the Consulate.

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

We don't have domestic help but I think it's widely available and quite affordable.

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

There are gyms and I believe the costs are fairly low but I'm not sure.

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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 just get cash from the bank branch at the Consulate but from what I understand it is safe to use ATMs and credit cards here. Cash is definitely king in Juarez, though, and some places are not equipped to accept cards, or can't accept U.S. cards. Most stores and restaurants accept dollars as well as pesos, usually at a very fair rate of exchange.

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

I believe there are English-language services of all faiths in El Paso. There are none that I know of in Juarez. Within the "green zone" (area we're allowed to travel in) there are Spanish-language Methodist, Mormon, nondenominational Christian, and many Catholic faith communities - that I know of. There may well be more. Spanish-language Anglican/Episcopalian and Lutheran churches in Juarez are in the "red zone" (where we can't go).

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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?

The more you know, the better. Although this is a border post you might be surprised how many people don't speak English. Life here is much richer if you can at least understand Spanish and communicate the basics. Also, when you cross into El Paso you will find more people are speaking Spanish than English in the areas right by the border.

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

There are definitely not the accommodations one would find in the U.S. but overall I think it could be OK. Most supermarkets, malls, etc. are accessible.

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Transportation:

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

We are not permitted to use local buses. Taxis are fine, I think, provided we follow RSO advice and call a specific company. We haven't had the need thus far.

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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?

We were advised by some folks to bring a vehicle with high clearance and while there are definitely LOTS of crazy speed bumps, many of them not clearly marked, and plenty of potholes, we have been fine with our very low-to-the-ground Ford Focus. I think pretty much any car is fine. We are advised to drive with windows up and doors locked and not to buy from street-corner vendors (of which there are many), but we have not had any scary moments in the car. Theoretically I know carjacking could happen, but the only ones I've heard of so far in our time here were cartel-related and targeted.

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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?

Internet is connected when you arrive, which is great. I think people's experience varies, but I've been stunned by how good our service is. For about US$24/month we have a phone line and internet service good enough that sometimes my two kids and I have all been streaming different things on three different devices with no buffering. At peak times that might not happen but it's rare that we have any trouble at all. It's possible to pay more for faster internet but we haven't seen the need.

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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?

Several Mexican and U.S. cell phone companies have recently removed roaming charges between Mexico and the U.S. which is great news for folks posted here. The main Mexican cell phone providers are Telcel and Movistar. T-Mobile and MetroPCS both have quite low-cost unlimited plans that work on both sides of the border. I have MetroPCS and it's US$45/month for unlimited calls, texts & data (first 2 or 3GB of data at 4G speeds, which has been more than enough as we have great internet and I can use wireless when I'm at home).

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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?

I believe you just need proof that the pet is vaccinated. Can't speak much for quality of pet care but I've heard it's 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?

I don't believe there's much on the local economy, but I can't say for sure. I telework for a U.S. company and know many other spouses who do the same. A handful of spouses also work at the Consulate.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

This is something I don't know a whole lot about yet. There are volunteer opportunities at kids' schools if you have kids, and periodically there are opportunities through the Consulate to tutor or mentor.

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

Similar to U.S., I'd say.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are definitely security concerns in Juarez, although day-to-day life does not feel dangerous. There seems to be less petty crime here, at least in the areas we frequent and the neighborhoods in which we live, than there was where we lived in Dallas. But the cartel-related violence is still an issue in Juarez and still something to be aware of. Awareness can be a challenge, though, because it does truly feel very safe - and then you'll read about a cartel murder or abduction and remember it's not as safe as it feels. In our experience so far, though, following RSO advice, maintaining vigilance, and staying out of areas we're supposed to stay out of has meant a very peaceful time.

There are parts of town we are instructed not to enter and unfortunately that does include the more historic downtown areas. There are periodic tours arranged, though, for Consulate personnel/families, and taking advantage of these opportunities provides the opportunity to enjoy those parts of the city at least on a limited basis.

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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?

I don't believe there are health concerns specific to Juarez. It's safe to drink the water here and we've never had food-related health trouble. In our experience so far, medical and dental care is excellent and inexpensive. And of course there's El Paso if language is a concern. Many doctors and dentists here speak English, though, as people come over from El Paso sometimes - especially for dental care.

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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?

I don't notice a difference between the air quality here and in the U.S. (we lived inside Dallas, so maybe not the cleanest air to compare).

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

There doesn't seem to be much awareness or regard for food allergies - my daughter's school regularly serves peanut and tree nut-containing foods, for instance (which isn't a problem for her but could be for some). Seasonal allergies don't seem to be any more significant an issue for us here than the were in the U.S. There is a lot of cotton here which caused us some trouble in the late summer/early fall.

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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?

Hot summer (and this past one was particularly hot and long-lasting). Pleasant fall. Winter is on its way and from what I recall growing up in this region it does get surprisingly cold, especially once the sun sets, but almost always warms up fairly nicely during the days. There are certainly cold days in the winter but the sun is very warming. The colder temperatures do tend to make it feel cold in the houses, which are tiled and built of concrete. Lots and lots of sunshine and big blue skies, year-round.

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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 no international schools, per se, in Ciudad Juarez. There are, however, several excellent bilingual schools and I think at least one English-only Montessori (I have no direct knowledge of that school). School in El Paso is also an option, and the Consulate provides transportation to El Paso schools, as well. There are several very good private schools in El Paso (Radford, St. Clements, Loretto, and Cathedral - for older boys - come to mind).

Colegio Milema, Colegio Ibero, Colegio Americano, and Colegio San Patricio are all bilingual schools attended by Consulate kids in Juarez. Comunidad Kari Montessori is a small school with 100% Spanish instruction attended by a significant number of Consulate children. We have one child at San Patricio (a very good, very structured bilingual school) and one at Kari and we're happy with both schools. There are so many good school options here I feel it's easy to find a school that fits each child well.

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

I can't speak to this but I would guess probably most of the schools in Juarez are less accommodating than El Paso schools would be. That's just a guess, though. I can say that there are some students with disabilities at Kari Montessori and they seem to be very much integrated into the family atmosphere there - but I don't believe the school has resources to provide special services.

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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?

My kids are older and I'm not sure of details but I believe there are many options and I think cost is quite reasonable by U.S. standards.

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

My kids take tennis lessons at the Consulate and my daughter does gymnastics at a local studio. The cost for those sports is about US$30/month for twice-weekly classes. Many of the schools offer sports programs - soccer and basketball are popular here (especially soccer).

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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 only expats I know here are associated with the Consulate and I think morale is quite high, at least among families. I think singles find it a bit slow and boring here, but generally there is a strong sense of community and people are happy.

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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?

Many people get together with other Consulate folks at their homes for parties, book clubs, trivia nights, sports viewing, etc. There are many good restaurants in Juarez, at least one featuring a Mexican music/dance/culture show along with traditional foods. There seems to be a fair amount of theater/dance/music to view both in Juarez and in El Paso, although we have yet to explore that much. Sporting events are fun - Juarez has a new and so far very successful soccer team, and UTEP/NMSU sports are not exactly top-notch but fun to attend. El Paso has a minor league baseball team that plays in a cool stadium in downtown El Paso. Also, CLO organizes regular outings and dinners out and breakfasts for EFMs.

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

I would guess it might be harder to be here for singles or couples than for families. While my husband and I do feel comfortable going out at night we stay clear of bars/clubs/etc. It's a very comfortable life here for families, I think.

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

I have heard from numerous people here that Juarez is very open and accepting compared to other parts of Mexico.

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

None that I am aware of, but I truly don't have the basis to say for sure.

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

The people of Juarez are incredible. There is a strong sense of pride here and I find it amazing and heartening that after the violence this city endured over the last decade and a half or so the people are not broken or even guarded. I have heard terrifying stories from people who lived through the worst of it and yet they are still here and they have not lost faith in humanity. It's a real inspiration.

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

Juarez is a great point from which to explore the southwestern U.S. This would be a great post for outdoors enthusiasts. There is wonderful hiking and camping in New Mexico and Texas. Big Bend is within striking distance. Santa Fe is just a 5-hour drive away. Gila National Forest and the Gila Cliff dwellings are relatively nearby. There are plenty of places to ski in NM if that's of interest. We have yet to explore Mexico much, and we are not permitted to drive anywhere from Juarez except to Chihuahua (with permission from RSO). Within Juarez, I'd say the real gem is the people.

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

Some traditional pottery, clothing. This is not a great post for souvenirs, but they can be found. Food is probably the best place to encounter local culture, in my opinion.

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

The proximity to the U.S. makes this an unusual foreign service experience. Any U.S. products you might want are available in El Paso, and it's very easy to get there and back. Almost everything is also available in Juarez, too. Produce and food in general tends to be considerably cheaper in Juarez, and in my opinion the quality is not notably different. For high-end, specialty foods there is a Costco in Juarez with prices roughly comparable to prices in the U.S. Household goods and electronics tend to be cheaper and higher quality in the U.S. in my experience.

Cost of living is lower enough in Juarez that it's possible to enjoy life at this post and still save money. My kids are able to participate in sports and activities here we couldn't have afforded in the U.S. as easily. Eating out tends to be inexpensive by U.S. standards and the food is delicious. Basic groceries are about 2/3 the cost of comparable groceries in the U.S.

Weather is lovely, as far as I'm concerned, but I grew up just an hour or so away in southern New Mexico, so I'm not bothered by the summer heat (which is fairly intense) or the dry air. I love the sunshine and the gorgeous, clear blue skies of the desert.

Although as a border town Juarez may not seem as culturally rich as other Mexican posts, there are still many engaging cultural experiences to be found. These experiences tend to be more of the personal variety - the people here are very friendly and welcoming. Through personal contacts and our kids' schools we have been invited to share in cultural events and family celebrations that have given us the chance to experience Mexican - or at least border - culture.

Medical and dental care here tends to be of good quality and relatively inexpensive. My son got braces here and his treatment will cost, in total, less than it would have even with insurance in the U.S.

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10. Can you save money?

Definitely. Especially if you do the majority of your shopping in Juarez.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I'm not a good one to answer this question - having grown up not far away (and having visited often during my childhood) I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like.

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

Absolutely.

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

Thoughts of Juarez formed by the likes of Breaking Bad or Sicario. Day-to-day life here is remarkably normal and non-threatening, although vigilance and care is necessary.

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4. But don't forget your:

Friendliness, willingness to experience something entirely different, I think, from other foreign service posts. It can still be a different cultural experience from the U.S., despite the proximity.

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

Don't know of any specifically but I know there are many.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

None I can think of - so many focus on the violence, which is not the whole story of this city.

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