Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 06/01/16
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?
I have also lived as an expat as a child for four years in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
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?
Our home base is Ohio. It is a 23-hour DRIVE from Cincinnati. Total flight time is about 5 or 6 hours with a layover in various cities: Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, etc.
3. How long have you lived here?
We currently live here and have been here for a year and a half.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
We lived in Ciudad Juarez due to my husband's work as a Foreign Service specialist.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I don't know of anyone in an apartment. Everyone is in houses. Some neighborhoods are walking distance from the consulate. The farthest are about a ten-minute drive. Some yards are very small or are completely rocks or cement, but all of the neighborhoods have shared green spaces with playgrounds.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The cost is similar to that of the U.S. You can get pretty much everything here in Juarez.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The cost is cheaper than in the US. There are lots of DELICIOUS restaurants and fast food: McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr., Subway, KFC, etc. Fast food restaurants here have HUGE play places. HUGE!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No major insect problems. Just the expected cockroaches. There are black widow spiders and scorpions, mosquitoes, and crickets. We had a bird-mite infestation from birds who nested in our window sills, but none of our neighbors or friends had that issue, so I think we were just unfortunate.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The U.S. Consulate has two addresses in El Paso that you can use to receive mail and packages. You can send mail at the consulate or drive across the border and mail it from El Paso.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is very inexpensive --- around $20 a day. Most people have someone who comes once or twice a week. Dual working parents often have full-time or live-in nannies. Some have drivers.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The U.S. Consulate has a gym. Your membership in the employee recreation association (ERA) includes use of the gym. There are also other gyms in Juarez in the "green zone" to which you can buy a membership.
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?
I use my credit cards and ATMs here with no problems.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
People who want church services in English just drive over to El Paso, Texas. In the Green Zone of Juarez there are Catholic and Mormon churches. There may be others as well. All of the Anglican churches are in the "red zone."
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A lot of Mexicans speak some English. You will meet lower income Mexicans who are fluent in English, because they lived in the US for years and are here only because they were deported. You will meet wealthier Mexicans who are fluent in English because they've paid for lessons.
English is actually taught in all public schools in Mexico, but with varying success. I find it convenient to know Spanish, but a lot of signs and store items have labels in both languages.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are some sidewalks, but not always.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Nope. You can hire a U.S. Consulate driver in his free time if you need a ride.
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?
You can bring any kind of car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is available. The combined cost of our landline and internet is a little over $30 every month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We obtained a local phone number through Movistar. The plan works in the US and in Mexico. We Google-ported our American numbers, so we can still use those through our Mexican cell phone data line. I like having a local number, because it is easier for the local doctors, schools, friends, etc. to call me. That said, a lot of wealthier Mexicans have American phone numbers. It costs about 30 bucks a month for unlimited calls, text, and 1.5MB of data.
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?
There are vets and kennels here that my friends with pets use. I don't think there is a quarantine requirement.
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?
Some spouses further their education at UTEP. Many of them telecommute. Some work in El Paso. I work at my kids' school. Many work at the Consulate.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
You can volunteer at the schools, at churches, and through an orphanage. There are many opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business attire at work. Whatever you want in public. Mexicans, in my opinion, dress more formally than Americans, but the other moms don't bat an eye when I wear yoga pants to my kids' soccer practice, and they're in three-inch heels and a dress.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Well, yes. Ciudad Juarez is doing MUCH better than it was during 2008-2011 when it was the murder capital of the world, but it does still have a pretty high homicide rate. I never really felt unsafe, though. When you arrive, the Regional Security Office (RSO) will give you a map with the "Green Zone" marked on it. The rest of the city is the "red zone," and you have to get RSO approval before venturing into those parts of town. There are many churches, stores, and schools in the green zone, and if you ever want to stretch your legs farther, you can also hop over to El Paso.
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 think there are any specific health concerns. There are two fantastic private hospitals within fifteen minutes of the consulate. I had my baby here. I have my dental work done here. I had a root canal here. I go to El Paso for my kids' well-check ups and vaccines, but I see a pediatrician here in Juarez when they are sick. We haven't had a medical unit during most of the time I have been here, so that's a little frustrating.
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?
The air quality is mostly good. Some times of the year are very windy, and that kicks up a lot of sand/dirt into the air. The pollution is similar to that in the United States.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Mexicans don't seem to worry about food allergies. It is a desert, so I imagine it wouldn't be too horrible for plant allergies.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The spring season is windy. Summers are hot (highs of 90-100). Winters are mild (highs of 40-60F). It is very, very dry, and the altitude is higher than we were used to, so various family members had to deal with nose bleeds, cracked and bleeding hands, dry nose, and dry mouth.
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 at this post. You have the option of using private Mexican schools or shuttling your kids to El Paso for a private American school. Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA) is an option right now, and a few families choose to live in El Paso and attend public school.
There are currently six different private schools in Juarez with consulate children attending them. The schools vary: some are small, some are large, some are Montessori, some are Catholic, some are bilingual, some are all-day Spanish, and one is all-day English. It is not uncommon to choose a school and then change your mind and switch your kids to a different one.
Typically, those with high schoolers choose to send their kids across the border to El Paso every day, and those with preschoolers and elementary school kids keep their kids in Juarez. Middle schoolers are a mix of both. We did recently learn that there is one high school here in Juarez that can offer a diploma recognized by the US, but it is also part university, so your high schoolers would be on campus with college kids.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I only know of one school that has special-needs kids: Colegio Kari Montessori. Depending on the disability/disorder, El Paso might be a better option.
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?
There are many preschool and daycare options available. Mexican public schooling begins at age three, so all of the local children are in school. Some private schools begin at age two with a "maternal" level. All of the private schools offer "estancia" where your child can stay longer after the school day; some offer after-school arts, sports, music, tutoring, etc. rather than just a regular day care. Preschool is VERY inexpensive compared to Virginia, like under $150 a month. You can also hire a full-time nanny for $20-$30 a day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are lots of sports programs. You can do them in Juarez if you want a shorter commute and don't mind Spanish, or El Paso if you want English and don't mind the drive. My kids have done soccer and gymnastics. There are tennis lessons at the Consulate. We have friends who have done swimming, ballet, dance, and tae kwon do. Pretty much all sports are available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The American consulate is the only consulate in Juarez, but there are other expats here because Juarez has a large international industrial sector. The American consulate is huge, and I've never met anyone who didn't love it here. Some are initially not thrilled at coming because they are fearful of the violent past, but once you get here you love it.
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?
The consulate has lots of activities. People get together a lot as well for trivia nights and board-game nights. There are lots of delicious restaurants to choose from. Many concerts. The VIP movie theater is a treat.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a good city for all of the above. The Consulate community is huge, and there are always activities going on. Juarez also has lots of concerts and shows, as do El Paso and Las Cruces.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
That I don't really know, but there are currently a few serving here, and I believe they are enjoying the assignment.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The area is predominantly Catholic. There are very few people here of African descent, so I don't know if an African American would feel uncomfortable with being such a minority. I personally have never encountered any prejudices.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Highlights have been the amazingly delicious food, the caring environment at the Montessori school, and the incredible friendliness of the Mexican people.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are three different water parks within fifteen minutes of the Consulate, so those are fun. The children's museum (La Rodadora) is fantastic. The El Paso Zoo has a very inexpensive yearly membership and includes a very fun playground and splash pad. We are able to get a library card through the El Paso public libraries. Fiesta Park has go-carts, a zip line, bumper cars, boat launchers, a roller skating rink, carnival games, mini golf, and other fun activities. Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso has some great and challenging trails. You are close to White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, and City of Rocks.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
"Lucha libre" masks and Mata Ortiz pottery.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The greatest special advantage is being right on the border with the United States. It has been very convenient to drive across the border for my son's speech therapy. Also, if I ever get a hankering for my favorite cereal, it is just a bridge crossing away.
Juarez is also an excellent place to live if you want to travel in the southwestern United States. Many great places are a short road trip away. Juarez itself has Walmart, Costco, Sam's Club, and Home Depot, as well as Denny's, Little Caesars, and a plethora of other American chains. It is also very nice to have the option to fly throughout Mexico from the Juarez airport or throughout the U..S from the El Paso airport.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That private Mexican schools are not at the same level as the international schools, but the schools are very motivated to keep the Consulate children at their schools because there is so much competition. So, if you work with the administration, they will probably work hard to accommodate your needs.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Fear of being murdered by a drug cartel.
4. But don't forget your:
Map of places to explore in the southwestern United States.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
It is not a book, but here is an article from June 2016's National Geographic magazine about Juarez.