Matamoros, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 02/27/12

Personal Experiences from Matamoros, Mexico

Matamoros, Mexico 02/27/12

Background:

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

No; London, Cusco.

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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?

I don't really have a home base anymore. But flights from DC to Post aren't bad, connecting through Houston.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

Foreign Service Officer at Consulate General Matamoros.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is great in Matamoros. All houses are within a 5 minute drive to Post, though some houses are within walking distance. All housing is huge - as a single guy, I have a 3 bedroom 4.5 bath home with guest house off the back patio. Floors are tiled, countertops are often granite, appliances are new. A few houses have a pool. We live in the most exclusive (rich) neighborhoods in the city, but many of our neighbors are involved in criminal activity.

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

Everyone grocery shops in Brownsville, TX.

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

None, really, considering the proximity of the US.

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

Of course, all American fast food can be found in Brownsville. A few chains are here in Matamoros, including Domino's Pizza, Church's Chicken, Burger King, etc. Most fast food places in Matamoros deliver (even Church's and Burger King!)

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There's no Whole Foods, but the biggest and nicest grocery store in Brownsville makes a decent effort to provide organic, gluten free, etc, options.

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

Gnats, ants, and mosquitos, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Daily Life:

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

The Consulate provides a Post Office Box in Brownsville, TX, with daily mail runs. Shipments can be received to the US Logistics Center in Brownsville, which is also picked up daily.

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

Cheap and available. We pay about 300 pesos for an 8 hour work day, which includes everything from an overall house cleaning, all laundry, dishes, and even a cooked meal if you want. Since we're a small post, we all use each other's maids, who have often been working for Consulate families for years.

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

There are a few gyms that colleagues use, including one specifically for women that is close to the Consulate. You can also get a discount membership to the Deportivo, which is like a sports club. There are pools, equipment, and a running track. It's nice for Matamoros, but a bit distant from the housing area (10-15 minute drive).

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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 don't use credit cards in Matamoros. There's a Mexican ATM in the Consulate - that's the only place I use plastic here.

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

Again, in Brownsville.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

In Brownsville.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Surprisingly enough, having Spanish is important. Even though you can literally see the US from your 2nd story window, you still need to be able to speak Spanish to communicate with the average Matamorense. It's also not uncommon to go into a store in the US and the employee or cashier there doesn't speak English.

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

Probably quite a few problems - you can't take public transportation at all, so if you can't drive, you're screwed. Sidewalks are uneven and half the time non-existent. There are sometimes handicap ramps on the edges of sidewalks, but hardly any businesses have them.

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Transportation:

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

You may not use public transportation for any reason, period.

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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?

Any type of vehicle is OK considering the proximity to the US. High clearance is recommended, however, because there are numerous pot holes and when it rains the streets tend to flood due to lack of good drainage.

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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?

Yes -- everyone uses Telmex. Average cost is about US$50/month for decent DSL speeds. You can pay in tiered plans to increase speed.

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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?

We all use our regular, US cell phones, with regular, US cell plans. We live so close to the border that you can pick up US cell towers inside the Consulate and your home. USG provides everyone with a basic Mexican phone. Key officers get blackberries.

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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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are a few in Brownsville.

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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?

If you're in the manufacturing business, or a teacher....

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

Business casual. It's not uncommon to see hoodies and cargo pants on Fridays. Most days it's a dress shirt and slacks, no tie or jacket.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Travel within Mexico is extremely restricted for USG employees. In Matamoros, about half of the entire city is off limits without a fully armored vehicle. USG employees are not allowed to leave Matamoros to go anywhere else in the region. You can't use any public transportation whatsoever due to far-too-common carjackings, narco road blocks, and kidnappings (though there is one taxi driver approved for extenuating circumstances). All travel within Mexico must be approved by the Regional Security Officer for the region where you wish to travel. The entire state of Tamaulipas (where Matamoros is located) is considered off-limits to USG-employed visitors for pleasure. There is a curfew from midnight to 6 am in Matamoros, and during that time you must be in the area of the city where all USG employees live.

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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?

No major health concerns outside of the occasional stomach bug. Medical care is surprisingly lacking in Brownsville and neighboring cities. Anything major will be medevac'ed to Houston or DC.

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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?

Air quality isn't that bad. Sometimes there's a pretty rank odor after a rainstorm, because the sewer system backs up and lots of sewage bubbles up in the gutters and streets.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot. Very hot. From April through September it's like living in a convection oven. In the worst parts of July and August, you open a door to the outside and literally feel like you opened an oven on 400 degrees. It rarely -- if ever -- rains during the summer. Last year I think we had a span of two solid months with no rain at all. The winter is great, though -- very moderate temps, never too cold.

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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 a few bilingual schools in town; a couple fully-immersed schools. You also have the option of taking your child to school in the US since it's 5 minutes away. I don't have kids so I don't have much detail on this.

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

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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?

It's available and used by other employees. I've never heard any complaints.

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

I'm sure there are some in Brownsville.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Not very large in Matamoros, again due the proximity to the US.

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2. Morale among expats:

Constant security concerns.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

See what was written above -- there isn't much entertainment here, and there is an almost non-existent social life. I've been here one year, am young, and single, and I still don't have any Mexican friends that don't work at the Consulate.

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

It's an OK city for families and couples since you have Brownsville and the beach close by. There is a zoo, a few parks, a big mall, two movie theaters, etc. This is a terrible place for singles. There is nowhere to go to meet locals, and even if there were, you probably wouldn't be permitted to go there anyway. Mexicans are very friendly and warm, but it's just downright hard to meet them or to get into the community.

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

I assume there would be no issues with homosexuals. I think there is a fair number of gays in the city. I'd find it hard to believe that this is an oppressive place for that kind of lifestyle.

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

Not really. Of course, Mexican culture still has a machismo about it, but it's not bad. It's a pretty accepting society.

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

Sadly but honestly, the highlight of living here is the ease of travel through the US. There isn't much to do in Matamoros and travel is rather restrictive in Mexico, so it's easy to take long weekend trips throughout the US.

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

Sadly, not much. Anything fun or interesting is in Brownsville or the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Brownsville has a regular movie theater and a discount theater (where new movies go to die after they run their span in the regular theater.) South Padre Island, TX is about 45 minutes away and is a nice place to spend a day at the beach, but don't expect any nice resorts or "beach nightlife." It's a big spring break destination in March, but other than that it's a lazy island. There aren't very many green spaces down here in the south Texas desert, so don't expect a lot of outdoor activities, though you could probably find a soccer club pretty easily. Matamoros itself has a few movie theaters that are generally OK, though a grenade was thrown inside one last year. Movies are in English w/ subtitles or dubbed in Spanish.

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

pPttery, handmade knickknacks.

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

Easy and constant access to the US! You literally live within 5 minutes of any international bridge to cross into Brownsville, TX. It's easy to save money because everything you buy is from Walmart, Target, or the mall in Brownsville. But the peso is also advantageous, if you can find places to shop in Matamoros.

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11. Can you save money?

Absolutely. Mexico is cheap. A basic meal costs less than US$5. Everything else is bought in Brownsville in dollars anyway.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. This place is a social life black hole, unfortunately. The work is great, but outside of 8-5, there's simply nothing to do and nowhere to go.

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

Outdoor activity gear - it's too hot, and nowhere to do it.

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3. But don't forget your:

Personal entertainment items (tv, dvds, game consoles, etc.).

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Matamoros is what you make of it. If you're single and not the most extrovert person ever, you will be lonely and bored here. Strangely enough, of all the American staff here, everyone is married except two of us, and all of the married couples except one have children age 4 and under. There are literally babies and toddlers everywhere. One colleague joked that this is because there's nothing else to do.

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