Guadalajara, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 02/06/15
Personal Experiences from Guadalajara, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, we have also lived in Brasilia, 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?
Home base is Oregon. We expect the flight to take most of the day with layovers in DFW, LAX, or Arizona. There are direct flights with local airline Volaris but the hours are all red-eye and the days are sporadic.
3. How long have you lived here?
August 2013 to July 2015.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Consulate (husband is an officer with DOS).
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are apartments, sprawling haciendas, but most families live in a Coto, a walled community of houses, patrolled by guards at the front gate and often include a club house with a pool, gym, etc. The houses in cotos are typically boxy, concrete, and crumble easily. Most residences in the city have a blank facade with the heart of the home in a central courtyard, away from the front door. It's unsettling at first how much seems to be crumbling and covered in graffiti but quickly you realize that people focus the beauty of their homes within its walls. Front lawns are extremely rare. There is a LOT of traffic in Guadalajara and commutes can be lengthy (30-45 minutes isn't surprising).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Goods are costly, services are cheap. So while you pay around US$30 a day for a house keeper, you'll not get out of Walmart (yes, that Walmart.. they're everywhere here and it's not as trashy, I promise) or Costco (yup, i said it..) for under US$100 or more.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not much, we have just about everything here.. although, BBQs, mowers, etc are crazy spendy.. but then again, the butcher has a grill and the gardener brings their own equipment.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Why would you want fast food in Guadalajara??? The food here is AMAZING. Tacos are everywhere, roadside stands (totally safe), restaurants, etc. Look for the places that are busy where the locals go.. that's the cleanest. I have NEVER gotten sick from the food here, ever. There are incredible food options all over GDL.. From carts to 5 star Michelin rated, just about everything is available. Tip: AVOID TOURIST TRAP RESTAURANTS!!! The huge places in Tlaquepaque, Karne Garibaldi, etc.. cute but the food is not great and in GDL, you can have GREAT on the cheap. Now, if you insist on American fast food... you're in luck.. we've got it and almost EVERYONE delivers.. seriously. McDonald's, Burger King, Krispy Kreme, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Subway, PF Changs, a BILLION options for hot wings (what's with the obsession with wings here?!?), pizza, hot dogs, sausage, etc. etc. About the only thing I haven't seen here is Thai.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The Mexican cockroach is no joke. They are huge and fearless and they don't really care how clean your house may be, they're coming to check it out. The smaller 'dirty house' cockroaches exist but aren't nearly as plentiful if you're a diligent cleaner. Black Widow AND Brown Widow spiders are common. Ants are plentiful from the giant headed leaf cutters to the tiny, super fast house ants, they're a pain. The mosquitoes are stealthy and annoying but the electric racket sold on the street corners is loads of fun for killing them.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Government Mail Service through the Consulate.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Great help is hard to find. Our housekeeper is AMAZING and like family but I hear that this really isn't the case for everyone. Live in, full time, part time house keepers are readily available. Approximately US30$ a day is common for pay for a part-time housekeeper. TIP: The rules here for holiday pay, leave pay, etc are VERY SPECIFIC and serious. Know the rules and how to write a contract BEFORE you hire.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many cotos (neighborhoods within tall walls) have a clubhouse with gym and pool. There seems to be a CrossFit on every corner.
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?
Avoid it if you can. On the daily, use cash. If you need an ATM, Costco has a few.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's pretty essential to know the basics. Many, many people in GDL speak English but as that we're in MX, don't be THAT person.. learn the basics. Your attempts will be profoundly appreciated. People in GDL are incredibly warm and kind and honestly beam with happiness when you behave like a gracious guest. USE YOUR MANNERS, this is a profoundly genteel society.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Guadalajara doesn't really have many crosswalk signals, the roads and sidewalks can be fairly uneven, and there are few obvious ramps or automatic doors.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and decently priced. Make sure to either see that there is a meter OR better yet, set up an agreed price with the driver BEFORE you go. The Gringo Pricing is real and it's steep. Currently, from Zapopan to the Airport (40 minutes) is around 300 pesos.
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?
All in GDL: Mercedes, BMW, Ferrari (yeah, i know.), Mazda, Honda, Volkswagen, etc. We have a high clearance car that is fairly common here and it's been great for the occasional flood or need to be higher up. People drive like lunatics here. Street laws are subjective and 'floating' from lane to lane (if you can even see the lines of the lane at all) is not uncommon. Accidents happen here all the time and you're going to see a lot of little kids in the front seat. A high clearance, safe, reliable car is best.
Phone & Internet:
1. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone. Telcel and other carriers are abundant. You can get a prepaid chip and refill it at most every grocery store.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress up. GDL is full of very, very well dressed people.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, Mexico is known for especially violent 'cartel' behavior and crime but in general, if you use good common sense, don't flaunt wealth and don't make yourself a target, you will find that Guadalajara is a very safe place to live. It's very important to be compliant to robbers who feel that it's easier to shoot than argue about you handing over your gems, but it's not a common occurrence and the vast majority of people you will encounter are gracious, loving, and warm... EXCEPT while driving. Then yes, put on your game face if you drive here because even the locals agree, the driving is TERRIBLE. If you're a fan of driving laws and good behavior and following the rules while driving, you will be surprised at how little those things are used here. The Minerva Glorietta (roundabout) is a madhouse when busy, and it's not uncommon to see drivers drift into other lanes, cut people off, or cut across three lanes of traffic to pull a U turn.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is EXCELLENT. Many Americans come just for the care.
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?
Usually the air quality is excellent but during the dry season, the smoke from fires and the smog can hang heavy. With the rains, the air is lovely.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Blue, blue skies. Generally high 70's to low 80's F. The weather is year-round beautiful and while dramatic, the rains are very refreshing and rarely last long.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I have one child in 2nd grade.
There are many international schools, an American school, a Canadian school, etc. My experience has been that communication in English, even at an English dominant school is not as common as one would hope. The curriculum can be excellent and many opportunities exist for after school activities, clubs, gifted student programs, etc. The teachers are generally very engaged and the administration works hard to include the international community.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Our 2nd grader is considered gifted and the school she attends has done an excellent job of working with us to provide a tutor in both reading and math that teaches at her level and beyond. We pay out of pocket for the tutors and the prices are very reasonable.
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?
I have not used them but many do and they seem to be reasonably priced.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Through the schools, yes. Also, the local colleges offer after school and summer activities in Spanish including dance, sports, art..
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The Expat community is VERY large here, from retirees in Ajijic to Dot.com folks, the cultures are assorted and people, for the most part, are very nice and helpful. There are various Facebook groups here specifically for expats.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Guadalajara is an excellent city for families, singles, and couples.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would assume so.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is definitely a gender pecking order here and sometimes the machismo can be a bit on the archaic side but most people are very authentic and loving and it feels less like a prejudice and more like a harmless old school mannerism.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
THE FOOD!!! Guadalajara's food scene is PHENOMENAL!!! From roadside tacos so cheap and flavorful that you could get fat on a pittance to high end cuisine that any Michelin rated restauranteur would be proud to serve, Guadalajara has it all. Hand crafted beers, sausages, vegetarian/vegan, rich desserts, and the best Tequila that money can buy... Come hungry.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The best Tequila (Forteleza), Artisenal jewelry, crafts, food, travel, experiences, surfing, shopping at the super high end malls or the open air weekly produce markets (Tianguis).
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Mexico is an incredible place to live and Guadalajara is often described as 'The most Mexican of Mexican cities.' It's not a huge tourist hub which means that rather than dealing with tourist behavior, inflated prices, bad food, and knock off crafts, you get the real thing. Guadalajara is very proud of its heritage from Mariachi to hand-made silver jewelry, this is the city for the real deal! Guadalajara is a great jumping off point for seeing the rest of Mexico too. An hour's drive from the town of Tequila (or take the train, you party animal!), 2 hours to the mountain hamlet of Tapalpa (and the best Cajeta 'caramel' you've ever had), 5 to Puerto Vallarta. You can fly anywhere and most flights are fast and fairly inexpensive.
8. Can you save money?
If you're careful, yes. Have we? Not really. We've been exploring, eating, shopping, and drinking it all in.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I would have known how warmly I would be treated by the locals and how much they LOOOOOVE kids. I am so grateful to live in a place where children are revered and appreciated.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
American attitude about everything needing to be shiny and perfect, your perceptions of street food, your rigid standards of road behavior.
4. But don't forget your:
Manners, Sunscreen, sense of adventure, good common sense.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Guadalajara is a dream home. The weather is perfect, the people are kind, the food is amazing. The city hosts a varied culture and economic demographic and there are new adventures to have every day. The safety of the city depends greatly upon your good sense and good behavior. You will always be rewarded for trying new things and for being a good guest, doors will open. We love GDL.