Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 06/18/19
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?
First experience with the USG, but I have also lived in Latin America and Asia.
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?
You can get to the U.S. in 20 minutes, depending on traffic. The El Paso Airport has direct flights to Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and perhaps one or two more cities. Colleague report having more issues with flights that go to the East Coast. It is a decent sized airport, but not a hub like DC, so of course there are some compromises. You can fly out of the Juarez airport on Mexican airlines to Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey and Tijuana. There are seasonal direct flights to Cancun, and some options for going to smaller towns around Mexico.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
USG housing is comprised of single-family homes with backyards and attached garages, and a balcony or two. Most are three bedrooms with two and a half baths, although there are a few bigger houses in the pool for the larger families. The backyards vary in size and layout: some have rocks, some are patios, some have grass, and some are a mixture. Almost all are within walking/biking distance to the Consulate, and the complexes that are farther are only a 10-20 minute drive.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The same, if a few dollars cheaper. Seasonal produce is much cheaper in Mexico, as are Mexican agricultural products (avocados are everywhere). There is Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart, and Mexican supermarkets. I think everything can be found, perhaps with some research, but you can also shop in the US at Whole Foods, Albertson’s, Target, Sprouts, Walmart for anything you didn’t want to buy in Mexico. There’s also Amazon, if you need it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, see above. You cannot ship food, spices, alcohol or certain types of pet food in your shipments.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is tons of Mexican food, from divey taco shops to more upscale dining. Lots of pizza/pasta, and many US-chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, McDonald’s, Applebee’s, and Great American Steakhouse. People seem to complain about lack of good Asian food in the area. There are mediocre generic Asian restaurants in Juarez and a handful of good ones in El Paso for Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian and Mediterranean. UberEats recently arrived in Juarez and the service is growing. Vegan and vegetarian Americans and Mexicans seem satisfied with their options on both sides of the border, although more so in El Paso. It isn’t a food mecca like New York City, but I’m quite satisfied.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No. It is dusty here, so the dirt can seep in through the cracks around the doors and windows, but I’d rather have that than any insect problems. Desert insects include scorpions and spiders, but I haven’t seen any and have not heard of it being a problem in the housing areas.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the Consulate. Everything gets shipped to El Paso and then driven across the border. The mail room staff is excellent, and they go to El Paso 3x/week, and more during the holidays. DHL is reliable in the area too, though I’ve never specifically used it for personal mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people employ somebody to clean their house, especially for singles living in huge houses, at about US $20-30/session. Many families have nannies, and some people have gardeners. Labor is inexpensive and there are lots of available resources.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Consulate has a small gym with the basics. It also hosts yoga, Zumba and Crossfit classes. There are gyms in the area that seem to be comparable prices to the US, including one that is walking distance from most of the housing. You could go to El Paso for specialty programs, but there are options in Juarez too. You can run/jog around the area near the housing, or go to Parque Central that has a nice perimeter path for walking, jogging or biking.
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?
Credit cards are accepted most places, except at very small food stands. There’s an ATM and a bank inside the Consulate that most employees use. I’ve used other ATMs around town without any issues, but I mostly get cash from the Consulate out of convenience. Lots of places will take your dollars if you don’t have pesos.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I’m not sure. I know there are colleagues that attend Catholic services in Juarez, but I believe they are in Spanish. A few LDS colleagues go to services in Juarez, but again, unsure about the language. Some go to El Paso for Jewish and LDS services, but they could easily be in Spanish there too. I imagine you can find what you’re looking for between the two cities, but I don’t have any experience.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need to know the basics. I struggled with the menus when I got here, mostly due to lack of exposure to Mexican Spanish. There aren’t a lot of tourists, so there is less English than in other parts of Mexico. Tutors are available, and you can take classes on both sides of the border, for Spanish, English, even Chinese.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Perhaps. It isn’t really a walkable city, so if you have a car or other means of transportation, it could be doable. The sidewalks around the Consulate area have ramps. There are handicapped parking spaces in most of the grocery stores and shopping centers. Not a lot of high rises around, so there isn’t a need for elevators/stairs. The Consulate seems ADA-accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are off limits for security reasons. We can use Uber though, which is much cheaper in Mexico.
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?
Lots of people say you MUST have a high clearance car, but I think that is exaggerated. The roads are full of potholes just like most of the roads in the US. It rarely rains, but when it does, it floods for a few hours. This is usually in the afternoon or evening when I just stay home anyway, and it is only about once per month, if that. Any car will do, and since we walk to work, we only really use ours for grocery runs and weekend trips. You definitely need a car though. Diplomatic plates are optional, though increasingly recommended.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is already installed when you arrive, and is very affordable. We upgraded to a medium package to stream on multiple devices at once and it is about $30/month. The connection is good, and maybe we didn’t need to upgrade. There are some teleworking spouses so I think the internet is sufficient.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We kept our American phones and plan and made sure it had US and Mexican coverage. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have similar plans. Some of the carriers require at least 50% of the data to be used in the US, but I haven’t had a problem. I’ve heard there are some good Mexican phone plan options for both country coverage, but I don’t have any experience.
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, to services, no to quarantines. Lots of options available on both sides of the border. I’ve been satisfied with Mexican vet care, both in expertise and cost. Animals must have rabies vaccines to cross the border. The housing has backyards, though it varies on grass and/or shade availability. Many single officers get a pet to keep company in the big houses.
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?
There are some EFM jobs at the Consulate. The spouses who work in the local schools say the salary is really low. Minimum wage in Mexico is US$5/hr. Some spouses work in El Paso. Some are telecommuting, and being on the same time zone as the US seems like it’d be an advantage of the post.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I’m not sure of specifics, but I imagine there are many options. If it was in Juarez, the location of the organization would matter for security reasons.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is business or business casual, depending on the section/industry. Mexicans dress well in professional settings. Formal dress is required for functions, and often Mexican women will get hair or makeup professionally done for parties. There’s lots of variety.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is some cartel violence, however, Americans are not the target. There are zones of the city we are not allowed to go to, which tend to be the more violent areas, but they aren’t places most Americans want/need to go anyway. I feel comfortable wearing jewelry in public and see Mexican women leaving their purses on empty chairs in restaurants. People need to be aware, as much as they would in any other city. The security situation is what you make of it. It can dictate your life and force you to stay inside if you let it, or you can proceed with appropriate caution and explore what Juarez has to offer.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
It is dry and dusty at 3500 ft elevation. Lots of available medical care in Juarez and El Paso. It is much cheaper in Mexico, but mostly Spanish-speaking. The Consulate has a nurse that can help navigate Mexican medical care. It comes down to personal preference.
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?
It is dusty, dry and at 3500 ft elevation. The air is worse in spring, and the wind can be intense sometimes. I think some people have allergies because of the dust.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
See the comment above about air quality. There are many vegans and vegetarians within the community. I don’t have any experience with food allergies, but knowing how to describe what you’re allergic to in Spanish would be smart. If you don’t eat gluten, this is the part of Mexico to be in, since most of the tortillas are corn tortillas.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
None that I know about. It is sunny all the time, except for a handful of days every so often. I think some people get frustrated with the grind of the work and with the security situation, but a good remedy is to get away for the weekend, either in the US or in Mexico.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is hot from May to September, 90-100 degrees. The winter gets down to 30s and 40s, and it even snowed last year. There is a spring and fall. It is very dry, with little precipitation, almost always sunny and no humidity. There’s a 20-30 degree temperature swing every day, which makes for pleasant weather in the mornings and evenings most of the year.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Parents can send their children to private school in Mexico or to public or private in the US. Both options have buses from the housing. It seems people are generally happy with the options, although the schools in the US have a significant daily commute. I can’t speak to the education quality.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Unsure. The Community Liaison Office (CLO) has excellent information about the schooling options.
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?
Again, no direct experience. Some people use nannies, and I know that some pre-school age children attend a school/daycare that requires uniforms in Mexico.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
It seems so, based on what I’ve overhead from coworkers. I’ve seen leagues and studios for soccer, Taekwondo, dance on both sides, and I imagine the American high schools have options.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The community is medium-sized, although there are no other diplomats in town. There are probably some expats that manage the factories. The post and the community are what you make of it. I’d say overall the morale is good. Lots of people extend, it is good for families, there are a lot of positives to the post.
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?
There are lots of events sponsored by the CLO, and I know that school activities link families together. Lots of first and second tour officers here, and therefore there are always happy hours, game nights, dinner groups, etc. You can go to restaurants, cafes, the movies, road trips, etc. There are as many (and as few) opportunities to socialize as one would like.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, this is good for everybody. For singles, you can go to bars and restaurants, and can date in Mexico or the US. For families, there are lots of family-friendly activities, within the community and with locals. The community is close (see above) so it seems like a good option for everybody.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, I think so. Although it is a conservative Catholic country, there are locals and officers alike who are out in the Consulate. There are gay bars in Mexico and I would assume in El Paso.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I think it is possible to socialize with locals, if you want to put in the effort to get to know them. The income disparity exists, but not the level as it does in other parts of the world. There’s a lot of exposure to America and American culture due to proximity and shared history.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Probably, because isn’t this a problem everywhere to a certain extent? However, I can’t really comment on anything specific. Juarez has a history with femicide, but not as much recently. There is some tension in other parts of the country with indigenous groups.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Traveling throughout Mexico, the food, and the culture. The community is great. People really like access to the Southwest US.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
In Juarez, you should check out the Samalayuca sand dunes, Parque Central, the downtown area, La Rodadora Children’s museum if you have kids. In the US, you are close to Carlsbad Caverns, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and close enough to the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders for longer weekend trips. It’s a good post for outdoor activities.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not really a shopping post, unless you need access to American stores. There is some pottery, bright fabrics, leather goods if you want them, but I’ve seen similar stuff throughout Mexico.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Proximity to the US, interesting front-row view on the border situation, immigration and US/Mexican relations, interesting work, good work/life balance, cost of living, food, culture, travel within Mexico. Small-town feel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
There are fewer areas of the city that are restricted than I thought there would be. Work-wise, it is a well-oiled machine which is refreshing.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. It wasn't my first choice, but knowing what I know now, perhaps I would have put it higher on the list.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Love for greenery. Expectations of cosmopolitan mega-city.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen and positive attitude.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
No specific recommendations, but I know there lots of options out there. There are movies and TV shows (Sicario, Narcos, Breaking Bad) that feature Juarez, though I haven’t seen them. Born to Run is a book about the indigenous people of the Chihuahua state, and there are tons of books about the borderlands. Lots of movies/books that feature Mexico more broadly.
6. Do you have any other comments?
I can’t stress enough that this post is what you make of it. Lots of people get assigned here against their wishes, but there are definitely worse places to be. If you appreciate the positives, your tour will fly by.