Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 03/01/09
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
15 months so far.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
5 minutes to two hours to cross one of the bridges. Then you can fly from El Paso, Texas to anywhere else.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Government providing housing is mostly good. There are a few exceptions, but most houses outside of gated communities are being phased out. They will eventually have everyone within a 15-minute drive to the new Consulate.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Soriana, SMart, and Superette are the three main local grocery stores. Government employees may also shop at the Fort Bliss commisary. There is no U.S. product you cannot get, one way or another.
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?
Most U.S. hamburger and pizza chains are in the city, as well as some excellent local restaurants, reasonably priced. And you can always go to El Paso.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are lots of gnats and houseflies. Some people have had problems with scorpions, if they lived near vacant lots or in the most recently developed areas.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The Consulate has a P.O. Box in El Paso, and receives packages through a service in New Mexico. It is easy to cross the border, and some people have P.O. Boxes there, often at one of the stores so they can have a physical address.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There is plenty. It is about US$20 to have someone clean your house.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are several good gyms in the city, and most government employees can use the facilities at Fort Bliss in El Paso.
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?
Most credit card machines here print your entire number on the receipt, so the numbers are stolen a lot. Use ATMs inside the big stores and then shop. The bank kiosks have locking doors - that are usually broken. Never get money at night in one of those.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Only in El Paso, but all denominations seem to be represented.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
You get broadcast TV from El Paso. There are some English channels on local cable and satellite. Few places sell the El Paso paper in Ciudad Juarez.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Many people speak at least some English, but the more Spanish you know, the better. You will not starve to death without it, but everything is harder.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Nowhere in Mexico is well designed for people with disabilities, but there are some handicapped parking spaces. At least one of those we know of has a power pole in the middle of it, so maybe it is the parking space itself which suffers the disability.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We cannot recommend the converted school buses for travel. There are many cab stands - pick up a cab there or call to request one. They are somewhat expensive.
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?
Do not bring anything with too low a ground clearance because of speed bumps and occasionally immense potholes. An SUV will help in the flood season. Do not bring anything too flashy, and definitely not a black SUV with tinted windows.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, between US$50 and US$100 monthly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can get a plan from any of 4 providers. Despite proximity to the border, most U.S. phones do not work. At least one company has a pay as you go plan.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Only if they speak Spanish very well.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Mexicans as a rule tend to dress up more than Americans. Men will almost never wear shorts, unless playing sports or going to the beach.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate. The pollution is not so bad, the problem is the dust blown from the Chihuahuan Desert by the near constant wind.
2. What immunizations are required each year?
All are voluntary.
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
In 2008, 1,602 people were murdered - mostly narcotraffickers. 2009 is looking to be worse. Since police keep quitting, or being killed, the overall crime rate is rising. There are armed robberies in front of the Consulate. 2008 saw over 1,600 carjackings. Not many people go out in the city, but some are willing to take their chances.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There are some excellent local doctors and dentists. Many people do cross for medical care, however.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winters are cold with occasional light rain or snow. February and March bring the heavy winds and dust storms. June can be well over 100 F (38 C). July and August are the rainy season, and it floods. A lot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have no experience with the international schools. Some people use them, others send their children to schools in El Paso.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The special-needs children who come to post attend schools in El Paso.
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, both sides of the border are used.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It is tough to judge. The border is not really Mexico or the U.S., but something in between. People drift back and forth. Many people are citizens by birth in the U.S., but have lived their whole life in Mexico.
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?
Despite some fine restaurants and night clubs in town, most people are making home the center of their social life.
3. Morale among expats:
Everyone's morale is low right now.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is a tough city for everyone right now. Singles may have it the worst because it is hard to go out without worrying about the security situation.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It does not seem to be any worse here for gays or lesbians than for anyone else. The Consulate has many gay employees.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that we have seen.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Chihuahua State has a lot to see and do. Unfortunately, it is very hard to do it. Paquime is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Copper Canyon train ride is a great multi-day trip, and Cd. Chihuahua has some nice museums. In the U.S., you are only a few hours away from 4 ski areas, Big Bend National Park is a day's drive away, there are spring fed pools, mountain hiking, rockclimbing, etc. all within a few hours drive.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Things that will be damaged by lots of dust.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Someone recently commented that nearly all movies about this area are horror films.
7. Do you have any other comments?
It will get better when the narcos are diminished enough that they have trouble finding rivals to kill, but that will probably not be in 2009.