Matamoros, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 04/27/18
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?
No, I've had four other overseas assignments and several long-term temporary-duty assignments.
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?
Washington, D.C. Flight time is only about 5 hours, but the journey takes about 7 hours.
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?
Spacious, comfortable, and secure. Pretty sure all are single-family homes. There were two neighborhoods, a place called Rio which is about a 15 minute drive to work. Homes in Rio look impressive and upper class and are in a gated community. Some homes seem opulent. The other location is Jardin which is considered the nicer older area, with established families. One can walk to work from Jardin.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are two supermarkets that have pretty much anything you need or want. For any specialty items, simply cross the border into the neighboring city of Brownsville, Texas.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, as the drive across the border takes care of that.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There aren't a lot of options, but the options that are available are fine. Mi Pueblitos, Bigos, Garcias are all good and have been there for ages. There is an Irish Pub, a sushi place which wasn't great but not terribly bad. Every restaurant delivers to your home. There are fast food chains like McDonalds. There is also a Papa Johns. A few of newer restaurants have opened, two Italian and an Argentinian one. Frankly, if it's steak, meat, fajita or pollo, everything is authentic Mexican and good. If none of those are appetizing, then cross the border into Texas.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
South Texas has some of the largest cockroaches we've seen in our lives, bigger than Bangkok. Fortunately we haven't seen any in Matamoros as large, or as frequent.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Post has a DPO and a PO Box. One can also go across into Texas to the USPS if desired.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plentiful and the cost was about 20 USD per day for maid service. Most families also had nannies.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Consulate has a small, but nice workout area. If you're looking for a Gold's type gym, cross the border into Texas. There is a local gym with an Olympic-size pool that folks say is very nice.
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 only use cash. There is an ATM at Post, or cross the border into Texas.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Many on the Texas side. The area is predominately Catholic. The church in downtown Brownsville is old and charming and nice. We heard there is a mosque but haven't found it. We have seen one Korean church in Brownsville.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Speaking Spanish helps, but not necessary. Post offered free lessons.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, but unless you're living in the US, most of the world is difficult for individuals with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No, off limits. Drive your own vehicle and your green zone is very limited.
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 will work, however one with a higher clearance may be desired. Matamoros is prone to flooding and in two years, flooding was bad enough on two occasions on a couple major roads that made passing in a normal car difficult or not possible. But the water subsides in a day or two. Given the bridge wait can be long and the weather during the summer can be hot, just make sure your vehicle is dependable and your air conditioner works.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, two options, Post can set you up with either. We haven't had any issues and speed is fine.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Modified our domestic plan to include Mexico at no cost, but it depends on your carrier.
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 quarantine but do have your pets paperwork in order. Dogs seemed to be well liked and they is plenty of dog and cat food at the 2 local supermarkets. We use a vet in Texas, but have heard there is a good vet and also a pet hotel that are used by mission personnel.
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?
With the EFM hiring freeze, none. Even when the freeze is completely lifted, the EFM opportunities will be very limited, probably in the low single digits. It's not a terribly huge post. That said, most spouses can easily find employment in Brownsville and do. Examples include the University of Texas at RGV, local government, and and even a coffee shop.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business attire. Most men wear slacks and a button down shirt, but no tie. Guayaberas are seen at formal events, or men wear ties and jackets. Bear in mind it can get very hot here. Also, in my opinion, if you wore a business suit you'd stand out like a sore thumb. Women wear very nice business attire and some heels have even been seen.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. You'll need to adhere to all security updates, bulletins and keep aware of your surroundings. During the two years there was a rolling gun battle, several car jacking incidents, and murders reported in select news outlets. However, these issues are not in the housing areas or in the city proper, which will be the green zone you need to stay in. With this said, we have been comfortable and the people of Matamoros very kind and helpful towards Americans. We have our family with us and have had no issues, but we pay attention to our surroundings.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None, as Brownsville, Texas has many medical facility options.
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?
Good, no issues. It can get very hot during summers.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Haven't heard of anything. You have to be thick-skinned to go overseas in the first place.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Pleasant year round except summer. Its very hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Check with post but my understanding is no local school is accredited. That said some of the kids attended San Jorge. It is a nice school and had our children not attended a school in Brownsville, we probably would have sent them there.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
On the US side they do make accommodations. We've observed both ADA and even a special needs school.
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, on the US side. They were about 40% the cost of Washington metropolitan area and better in our opinion.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, there are many activities as you would find in any town USA. Soccer, karate, swimming lessons, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small, don't know the exact number. Morale was great, you can engage as much as you want with a crowd, or not and do your own thing.
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?
Families arrange play dates. Adults did BBQs and swim parties.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families yes. Couples, only if the trailing member keeps themselves occupied. Couples can travel in Texas which is fun and an adventure. Singles, we observed singles work very hard and had limited social lives, and the socializing they did do was on the US side through online dating. They were successful in that regard. Singles also saved money and most all of them enjoyed the work and got their highest bid preference coming out of Matamoros.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Unknown, but never heard or saw any issues.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that we observed.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Work is rewarding. We never flew out of Matamoros to other Mexican cities but were told that was inexpensive and great.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Yes, South Padre Island. It's about 25 miles up the road and was really a surprise for us. It's slowly being discovered as Spring Break is crowded and you'll want to stay away. But the rest of the year is fantastic. Beaches, bars, restaurants, things for kids to do like a sea turtle rescue place, etc. Port Isabel is also a neat town. South Texas is another world and felt like an overseas assignment in and of itself.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not necessarily in Matamoros, with the exception of Garcias. But if you like Mexican art and crafts, yes, but you'll need to go look for it.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Saving money, ease of going to the US anytime you want. If you watch the crossing times at the three bridges, you could get across in minutes. You could even walk if you wanted to. Also, despite the security issues with the TCOs, it was still a pleasant place and assignment.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That you're limited to a green zone, and within that zone it's very limited what you can do. Don't expect to walk around some plaza and eat tacos and drink beer. You'll have to find a restaurant to do that.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but us Foreign Service folks are quite adaptable and a bit strange like that.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes and gear.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunblock, sense of humor, and your Tex-Mex attitude.