Monterrey, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 07/08/10
Personal Experiences from Monterrey, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First overseas living experience.
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?
Trips to the States are very easy. Monterrey is only a 2.5 hour drive away from the Texas border. You are able to fly out of Monterrey to the states, but it comes at a price. It is easier to drive to TX and fly out of there.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. State Dept.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
All consulate housing is in the area of San Pedro, a very wealthy area. The houses vary from very nice to just "ok". Families should look to live in the Provanza's (I spelled it wrong) as there are playgrounds close by. Most people do not have a lawn. Real Estate here is similar in price to NYC so you maximize your space. Commute time from San Pedro to the consulate is between 7-15 minutes. Once the new consulate is built, travel time might increase by a few minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are a little more expensive than in the States. Anything that's in a plastic container will be almost double what you'd pay normally. You can get American brands at HEB, but the "off-brands" are just as good. Cleaning products are more expensive also. Thankfully, if you work for the State Dept. you are able to get the taxes from some products back, which makes it better. Costco is here and most Americans shop there. Bulk is always cheaper. When we go to the States, we stock up on everything....soaps, cleaners, toilet paper, chicken stock, tomato products, canned fruit, etc. The occasional trip to the States to shop is worth it!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything plastic you need, bedding, spices.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is available here, making it an easier overseas experience. Pricing varies because of the exchange rate. Fast food is about the same price as what you would find in the States, but the quality is different. My kids tell me that McDonald's tastes different. There are tons of nicer restaurants available here, but you will pay for the better quality. There isn't a large variety of flavor to some of the Mexican food. Chinese restaurants are few and far between, although I heard a rumor that PF Chang's was thinking of coming here.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Roaches and pill bugs. They will invade your house if you aren't careful. Most of the doors in the houses do not close completed at the bottom, leaving about 2 cm space for bugs to crawl in from. We spray the doorways almost weekly to keep the bugs out. You will most likely have roaches in your water reserve so we spray around that also.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have the pouch through the consulate and it's been wonderful. Those not with the consulate get PO Boxes in McAllen or Laredo, and then check them every few months.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Super cheap and totally worth it. You can find a maid for around $25/day. I'm not sure of the cost of nannies or gardeners.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are facilities available, but they are extremely expensive! Looks are very important here, so people are willing to pay the higher prices.
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 use only cash. There have been many instances when someone's card has been copied and their funds drained. The only safe ATM is at the consulate. When paying your cell phone, home phone, internet and cable bills they require cash only.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I've heard there are English services in almost every faith.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We have cablevision and opted for their "local american channels" which come out of Denver. Basic cable will run you around US$30-40 a month. Some channels will offer both English and Spanish options, you just have to regulate it through the options menu.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's important to know Spanish. You might find one or two people who know English at the grocery store, but the majority of the city only knows Spanish. It is very frustrating and hard to communicate here if you don't know a little bit of Spanish.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The streets are narrow and not in good condition. The sidewalks are even worse. The malls seem to be more friendly for people who have disabilities. Handicap access isn't available everywhere.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are not very safe at all, and we've been advised as to which taxi services are better and safer than others. Taxis are super cheap and you can find them everywhere!
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?
Anything is fine here. Just know that everyone drives like a maniac here, and your car will get dents, dings, scratches, etc. An SUV will help you during the rainy season, as the streets get very slick when they are wet. Work on the car is fairly cheap, and the dealerships are all over the city.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed is available and costs around $50 a month. We haven't had any issues with the cable going out, except during the hurricane. We have the MagicJack for our US number, and it has worked almost perfectly with our internet service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Telcel is the main company here for cell phones, and we've had zero issues. Most people get a pay-as-you-go phone because the plans are cheaper. It just depends on what you prefer.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I'm unclear on this, but there are a lot of people who brought their animals with them.
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?
Not if you don't Speak spanish fluently. Many spouses have struggled to find work. Teaching and working at the consulate seem to be the only options.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At the consulate it is business dress. You don't have to go in with a suit and tie everyday, but slacks and a nice shirt are expected. In public, everyone dresses up. Women wear super-high heels to the grocery store. You will stand out if you are just wearing jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Right now, yes. Things seem to be heating up between the cartel and military. We haven't been able to really venture out much because of the restrictions. There are certain areas of town that are totally off limits for Americans. Car-jackings are also rising in number. From what we've heard, no one has been hurt during a carjacking. All they want is your vehicle. You really have to use good judgement when going out. Always be aware of your surroundings here, you never want to be caught off guard.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medial care here is great! It's not very expensive at all, and you can find English-speaking doctors. There are many women who have had their babies here and said they received better care than in the States.
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?
Most of the time there is a thick layer of smog covering the mountains. Whenever we have a good rain, the smog disappears for a few days and the city is absolutely beautiful!If you have asthma, you might have a few issues here. We all have experienced allergies during the spring season.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is very hot here, but the humidity is low. The rainy season is around August-October. Summers get well over 100 degrees and because there is a ton of concrete everywhere, it feels hotter. Winters are mild.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have had a great experience with the schools here. ASFM is an American Private school where some of Monterrey's elite send their children. There are a few bullying issues, but the teachers have been great at trying to stop it. Most of the teachers at ASFM have come from the States. There are a lot of American children who attend here that are not apart of the consulate. Some families go to San Roberto, which is also a private English speaking school. It is more religion-based and has more Mexican teachers than American. The kids do wear uniforms everyday, which is a bonus. San Roberto offers more after-school activities than ASFM.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There isn't a lot available for special needs kids within the schools. Outside help is always there and is quite cheap compared to the States.
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 haven't experienced it myself, but have heard that it's expensive.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Most schools offer afterschool sports. There are a few leagues around town, but you need to do your research on them before signing up your kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fairly large. You have to really put yourself out there to meet them, though. People seem to stick with what they know or just keep to themselves.
2. Morale among expats:
Normal. Everyone is here to help others, but you have to ask for it.
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?
Everything is available here, so you are able to have as much of a social life as you want.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
The singles and couples seem to love it here. There is always somewhere to go or something new to try. Because of the raise in crime, families are a little more hesitant to go out and about. During the day (most of the time) you should be okay. We always try to be home before dark, just as a precaution. There are a lot of outdoor things to do here that kids will love. Again, just be aware of your surroundings.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I haven't heard any complaints from the gay community. Everyone is welcome here with open arms.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
We have only experienced issues with this at school. The Mexican kids seem to pick on the American kids. Other than that, we haven't heard of any issues.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
This post hasn't been too much of a culture shock for our children. There are tons of American families around and the schools have been wonderful.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
You are surrounded by mountains that are just screaming for you to hike them. There are a lot of excursion packages available around the city. You are close enough to some smaller villages and ruins to make a weekend trip out of it.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Artwork and pottery.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Trips to the Texas border are lifesavers. There is quite a bit here that you either can't find or is too expensive to purchase. Going to the border every once in awhile is not only a good break from the stress of living in Mexico, but also a cheaper option for purchasing items. Saving money is becoming harder to do. Monterrey is the richest city in all of Latin American right now and it shows. The prices of clothing is almost triple what you would pay in the States.
11. Can you save money?
Not really. Groceries are more expensive, and gas is watered down. Electricity is a killer here if your company isn't paying it for you! During the summer, a 2000 sq ft house could cost $800 a month in electricity. We are also "pitching in" for parties quite often at the consulate, which can get pricey.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably. It was a good transition into the foreign service life for our kids. Not much of a culture shock as many things are Americanized. The rise in crime would make me think twice. I don't like that I cant roll down my windows without worrying I'll be carjacked.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
winter clothes and good driving record.
3. But don't forget your:
bathing suit, rain boots, shorts, spices and any specialty foods.