Mexico City, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 10/09/14
Personal Experiences from Mexico City, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. 2nd overseas tour. First was to India.
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?
Pennsylvania. It's usually two 2.5 hour flights through Houston, DFW, or Atlanta.
3. How long have you lived here?
Almost 2 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Foreign Service.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is very nice generally-speaking, but a mixed bag depending on commute time. Polanco (the "Beverly Hills" of DF, 10-40 minute commute depending on traffic) is apartments-only, but the upside is a short commute and a fantastic walkable neighborhood with a lot of charming sidewalk cafes, a park with a great playground, etc. The further out you get, the more space you get (townhomes, etc) but the commute time can be horrendous. 1+hours). We love our apartment in Polanco, and even though we a family of 4 cramped into a 1300 square-foot 2-bedroom place, I would definitely choose it over being further out in the suburbs. I don't think my husband (the FSO) would see his kids at all during the week if he were in Santa Fe or Interlomas. Lomas de Chapultapec is the next neighborhood from Polanco so the commute is just a little longer. The neighborhood in Lomas is beautiful and has everything you need but you would do more driving than walking. In Polanco, you could manage without a car.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty much everything is available that you would want but a little more expensive in the grocery stores. If you buy produce at the outdoor markets you get a better price. We have Costco and Walmart, which have made my life infinitely easier.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The only thing I can't find is free-and-clear detergent. Occasionally it has been available at the Commissary. Also, I wish I could ship good quality deli meat. That's the only disappointing food item here I can think of. You can get plain turkey or ham but forget your Boar's Head cajun turkey breast!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tons of wonderful restaurants (Mexican, Italian, sushi/Asian, American/Continental, French, Greek, Indian and more) and lots of small dives with delicious tacos and mexican specialties. McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Krispy Creme, Dairy Queen, Subway, Quiznos, Panda Express, Sbarro).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy folks get their mail routed through Brownsville, TX. It's fantastic because there aren't as many size/contents limitations and it comes FAST. Mail is brought in on M, W, F, and usually gets to the Embassy the day after it arrives in Brownsville. I use Amazon Prime's free two-day shipping and often things show up 3 days after I placed the order.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available and most everyone has some help. Full-time maid/nanny is around 300-400 pesos a day (less than US$30).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are many gyms but I hear they are pretty expensive.
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 try to get cash from the Embassy bank but I always use my credit card at the grocery store and Costco and occasionally at restaurants (they usually bring the swiper table-side). It's generally understood that it's best to get cash at the Embassy, though.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, etc; we love Union Evangelical Church (non-denominational Christian).
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some. I arrived with almost nothing and have picked up a LOT without classes; you do need to know some Spanish because hardly anyone speaks English. The Embassy has classes available for free to employees and EFMs.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A little. The city seems to be trying to be wheelchair friendly but I've noticed pushing a stroller around that you'll often have a sidewalk ramp on one side of the street only to be met by a very large curb at the other side.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Only use Sitio taxis and don't ever hail one off the street. They are pretty affordable. Buses are cheap and safe and I have heard good things about the metro here but have never needed to use it.
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?
Nothing too big as parking can be difficult. Nothing too nice as minor accidents are common. The traffic and driving here is crazy and although Mexicans are very polite to your face, they are ruthless behind the wheel! We heard that a Honda CRV is the perfect vehicle to bring and that's what we bought. It really has been perfect.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Around 700 pesos a month (about 50 bucks) and plenty fast.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Easy to get a pay-as you go plan here with data. You can recharge your minutes at most supermarkets. I spend about 500 (less than 40 bucks) every 6-8 weeks for talk and data.
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, and yes, there are excellent vets who will come to your home at a much lower cost than a U.S. vet would charge. Very easy to get pets in and out of the country. There are kennels but we haven't used them. Most are on the outskirts of the city where there is more open land and dogs run around outside during the day.
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?
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots of Embassy-sponsored ones and many more, I'm sure.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More dressy than in the U.S. Mexicans are generally very put-together looking! No one goes out in their sweats.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We were really worried about that before coming to Mexico. Everyone said "aren't you worried you'll get kidnapped?" I have been so pleasantly surprised that I generally feel pretty safe--just like in any big U.S. city, you need to be aware, but as long as you keep a low profile you should be fine. The reports I've heard about muggings, etc in the neighborhood always seem to be for people's watches, jewelry, phones, etc. Mexicans "dress up" more than we do in the U.S. so I make a point to not look too fancy when I go out (no jewelry) and have had no issues. Most women leave their diamond rings at home (me included) and just wear a simple wedding band. I feel safe enough to walk 20 minutes to take my kids to the playground and I go grocery shopping by car after dark. There are some locations in Mexico that we are not allowed to travel to but we have been able to go everywhere we have wanted and then some.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
You can't drink the water, obviously, but other than that, no real problems. We get ice in our drinks and lettuce at restaurants and each of us has only been mildly sick one time in almost 2 years. The altitude takes a week or so to adjust--drink tons of water your first week here. Medical care and hospitals are quite good. Great OBs and pediatricians. Many women stay here to have babies. My husband had foot surgery here and we were pleased. We have a great health unit at the Embassy as well.
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?
I have heard people complain about the pollution but frankly I just don't see it. The air seems no more polluted than in the average U.S. city. Pollen allergies, yes, but pollution has not been an issue for our family.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
We have noticed our seasonal allergies just like we do in the U.S. but I think my dust/mold allergies in particular have been much better here due to the lack of humidity.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perfect almost year-round. Most of the year it stays in the low to mid 70's F. Rainy season is July-September but it's not like it rains all day. There's usually a big rain for about an hour or so in the late afternoon, sometimes in the evening and night, but mornings are usually dry and partly sunny. The weather in DF is one of my favorite things about the place.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
There are tons everywhere. Mexicans seem to send their kids to "school" starting from infancy. I think the overall quality is good and many are bilingual, however, one thing to note is that it can be hard to find part-time options. Most preschools want you to send your kid every day. Some will let you send your kid part-time but you still pay the full-time rate. There are a few exceptions but not many. I don't have first-hand experience but I have heard the average price is about US$500 a month. We chose to keep our 1 and 3 year olds home but a good friend who used to teach at aU.S. preschool did a lot of research and said her favorite preschools in Polanco are Kinder Lighthouse and Mi Montessori--if that is helpful to anyone.
Alternatively, many families hire a nanny for their children as it is more affordable.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but I don't know details.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge and pretty good I would say. I have heard that morale can be lower for people with a long commute to work.
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?
Lots of bars, restaurants, group-trips to take, marine parties, barbecues. The embassy community is huge and not centralized, so you may have to reach out to find your people, but as long as you try, your social life will thrive.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for ALL. Lots of singles/couples here and I have to say, living in Polanco, I am jealous of them because they can fully take advantage of the amazing restaurants, bars, and cafes in Polanquito, etc. sans children. There's a ton to do with kids (parks, trips, beaches, museums), and with the fantastic weather, you can spend lots of time outdoors. This may be random, but with small children, I have really appreciated how clean commercial facilities are kept. I have never seen cleaner fast-food restaurants and public bathrooms in my life. High chairs for kids in restaurants are always spotless! There is currently a thriving weekly embassy playgroup in Polanco on Tuesday mornings for stay-at-home parents with small children.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, I think.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that I perceive.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trips to beautiful beaches, museums, pyramids, mountains, pueblas. Eating out! Coming from India, it was incredibly nice to be down the road from mega supermarkets with everything I need in one place. We have Costco. You will not get bored here. Lots to see and do. It's a beautiful, charming country in general, and the people are great.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Desierto De Los Leones (wonderful hiking in the mountains), visit various archeological sites (Mayan pyramids--one of them has a restaurant built into a cave beside it) 1-2 hours away, Acapulco resorts are a 4-5 hour drive, plane trip to Cancun/Riviera Maya area (beaches are amazing), Papalote Children's Museum, Chapultapec Park (bigger than Central Park), Lucha Libre wrestling, visiting food/art markets in colonias like San Angel and Coyoacan. On Sundays they shut down the main drag for miles through the city for biking, jogging, etc. There is plenty to see and do.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is FANTASTIC. It's a very clean (in the nice neighborhoods at least), cosmopolitan city. There are great travel destinations by car and plane in Mexico, the food is great, and it is a very "easy" place to live in general. We have really enjoyed the beaches and mountains in particular. Household help is affordable.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, but you will want to spend it on weekend getaways all over Mexico and eating out at all the great restaurants.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
We were not excited to come here but LOVE IT. I will be sad to leave. It's beautiful and interesting and a pretty easy place to live. It's much safer than the average American perceives.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter coats, huge SUV, expectations that you will feel unsafe all the time.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience/vigilance when driving, appetite.