Matamoros, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
Personal Experiences from Matamoros, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
Midwest. Despite being within sight of the U.S., its not that easy to travel out of Matamoros. Due to security you can not use the airports on the Mexican side, so you have to fly out of one of the airports in the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, McAllen, or Harlingen. From each you can get to Dallas or Houston and then on from there. But flights are often delayed/canceled and many people miss connections (although missing a connection in Dallas isn't the end of the world). There are some directs to Las Vegas if you are heading out west, but flights out of the valley are an all day affair unless your destination is Dallas/Houston. Because of flight times, getting back to Washington is especially taxing.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years - 2013-2015
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?
Housing is pretty good. The houses are large and most are in good condition. Almost all have yards or gardens. The commute time is great, about 5 minutes, you could walk it in 15 if security permitted.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
They are slighly more expensive than in the midwest, less than Washington DC. Everyone does most of their shopping in Brownsville, but Brownsville is the end of the supply chain. Quality is not as good and price is a bit higher.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing, anything you need you can run to one of the 5 U.S. Walmarts in the Brownsville area. Or Target if you are one of those who refuse to shop at Walmart.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Brownsville has to have more fast food per capita than just about anywhere else in the world. If you have been craving fast food after a tour in the middle of nowhere, Brownsville will not disapoint. Although the chances that they get your order wrong is high. Also, some of the food was actually not edible. That being said, there are strip malls that have Panda Express next to Wendy's next to McDonalds with a Taco Bell around the corner. Decent restaurants are another story, but it is relative. The restuarants are hit or miss and sometimes it depends on what you order. There are some major U.S. casual dining chains, but you shouldn't expect DC quality or service. There are also some adaquate places in Matamoros, and some good places to get tacos, but when most people eat out, they eat out in Brownsville.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, lots of cockroaches, mosquitoes, some with dengue. The housing is all near the river, so at times the mosquitoes are unbearable without lots of spray.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Anything can be shipped.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Good and cheap. We paid about less than US$20 for a housecleaner, same for gardner.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
In Brownsville, normal costs, although the Consulate was working to build something when we left.
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 always used cash on the Mexican side, the U.S. side is fine for ATMs and cards.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
None in Matamoros, but some in Brownsville, most of the Catholic churches in Brownsville have at least one english service and some are preformed in both languages. Lutherans and Baptists are also in Brownsville, not sure about anything else.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need to speak Spanish in Matamoros and it helps in Brownsville.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
High clearance due to speed bumps and ocassional flooding, but you can get away with anything.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed is relative, we were able to watch Netflix, it cuts out ocassionally, but was pretty good overall. I think I was paying about US$40 a month, you have to pay your bill though, otherwise they cut it off without notice...normally on Sunday nights and you have to run out and pay.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
T-Mobile with wifi calling and unlimited international data, this has changed my life. We struggled with AT&T for almost two years. AT&T can pick up a signal depending on where you are in the city, but can also switch to TelCel and you can get hit with roaming. Employees are issued a Mexican phone as well and most carry both. You will be in the U.S. a lot, so you have to keep a plan that will work there too.
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, easy to drive them across, and there are a couple of good vets in Brownsville.
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?
Maybe in Brownsville.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Ummm, a few. Due to narco violence, U.S. employees are restricted from traveling in all but a very small geographic area. Basically, from housing to the Consulate. There have been some incidents inside this area, but for the most part people are safe if they stick to that area and are not out in the middle of the night. Without access to Brownsville, TX it becomes unbearable, but people just abide by the restrictions and then get to Texas as often as they can. The housing area is pretty safe and there are walls/barbed wire/patrols to make sure nothing happens in the neighborhood. Despite the security concerns we rarely felt unsafe after taking the necessary precautions. The biggest fear is getting caught in random gunfight.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care in Brownsville is not great. It is adaquate, but not great for U.S. standards. Some people get minor stuff done on the Mexican side for next to nothing, we weren't that brave.
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?
Not really a problem.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Everyone sends their kid to private school in the U.S. The consulate provides an armored vehicle to take them across the border and back. They generally seemed happy.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The preschool had some special needs kids and they seemed to be fully integrated. I would give the owners a call and talk about your specific needs. I know they do some accommodations in at the schools on the U.S. side too.
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?
Yes, the preschool is the best thing about this tour. We had 3 kids in preschool on the Mexican side. Pabellon Infantil has been the best daycare we have found in 3 moves. The owners are Americans and the staff is great. They really care about the kids and are easy to work with. When we picked up our kids each day they were clean and happy. They really enjoyed going to school. The school also potty trained. The school is 100% Spanish, but our kids picked it up quickly and now speak fantastic Spanish, albeit with a mexican accent. We paid less monthly for 3 kids than we paid weekely for 1 in NoVA. The school is close to the Consulate and housing and in a relatively safe area. The school understands the security situation and has worked with RSO in the past, we never felt the kids were unsafe while at school. We can't say enough good things about the preschool.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through the schools on the U.S. side.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The community is the consulate, morale is based on who is there at the time and the security conditions.
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?
Social life is pretty limited to house parties and trips out of the valley.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Preschool aged kids are probalby happiest here. Our kids were younger and didn't mind spending the day at the zoo and a McDonald's play place and then doing the exact same thing the next weekend. Older kids would likely get bored and the security puts singles in a tough spot. With no real accessable safe nightlife opportunities on the Mexican side it forces singles to look to Brownsville or further (Austin). A couple with no kids might do ok, only to use the danger/hardship money to travel around the U.S. It is a bit of a fishbowl, and the community hangs out at each other's houses a lot; it's fine if people get along, but living and working with people under stress sometimes creates issues.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The weather is generally ok, although it can get hot. There are professional opportunities to travel througout Mexico. The work is interesting. The Brownsville zoo is actually pretty nice, and you can wake up and be in Houston or Austin by lunch.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Brownsville Zoo, Boca Chica beach is normally empty and you can drive onto the beach and camp. The tacos sold out of the parking lot on the otherside of the park are pretty good.
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There really are no advantages to living in Matamoros, because you don't really do anything in Matamoros except sleep and work. There are advantages to basically living in South Texas. South Padre is about 30 minutes away once you cross into the U.S. Corpus has some nice things, Houston is a 5 hour drive, San Antonio is about 4, Austin is 5. Despite the flights sometimes being a pain, you are close to the U.S. so if you need to get back for family or want to go visit friends you can do it without transiting 4 airports and 3 countries. With the hardship and danger it is easy to save money, unless you travel.
7. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't travel.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That crossing back and forth across the border was going to cost $6. Its a hidden tax thats not accountated for in a COLA, you can't do anything on the Mexican side, but have to pay to enter and exit your own country because the bridges are owned by the county/private company.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I doubt it. It worked well for our family at the time. It works well for a couple of people.
1) People who are planning to have a baby in the next two years. Having a spouse evac'd 10 minutes away was much better than being on the other side of the world for 6 months.
2) People with small kids, preschool/nannys are super cheap, and you can find enough things to do for 2 years to keep little people entertained.
3) People who want a PSP light post, the pay isn't as good, but you get extra money and can get out at will, the conditions on the Mexican side are much like a PSP post, except you have to self drive from housing to work, using SMA and having your family in the U.S. is popular, but the employee has to sleep a certain number of nights in Mexico.
4) People who have some reason to be close to the U.S., be it elderly parents, friends' weddings, a spouse/significant other who is working in the U.S.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas that you are going to explore Mexico. In order to get anywhere in Mexico you have to fly to Houston (unless you are on official travel and can use the Mexican airport). You can't drive into Mexico and the little bit of Matamoros you get to see is a weird mix of borderland culture as opposed to what you may think of as traditional Mexican.
4. But don't forget your:
Global Entry/SENTRI Card...although this has become less important due to security reasons.
5. Do you have any other comments?
Despite all the negatives, the work was excellent and first tour FSOs should consider the border for professional reasons.