Sonora, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 08/28/11

Personal Experiences from Sonora, Mexico

Sonora, Mexico 08/28/11

Background:

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

No, it is my first FS posting, but before going the Foreign Service I lived in Hong Kong, Riyadh, Leysin (Switzerland), Rome, and Shikoku (Japan).

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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?

Home bases in both Utah and California, with between and 8 and 13 hour drive. I think it's about a 5-hour flight from the East Coast.

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3. How long have you lived here?

February 2011.

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

US Foreign Service - I'm the spouse.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All the State Department people have fantastic, large homes in the same neighborhood, away from downtown. What they may lack in outdoor living space, they more than make up for indoors. They makes sure we're very comfortable here. The consulate is a 5 minute drive for everyone.

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

Everything you can get in the States - most people do their shopping at the Walmart right over the border since it's cheaper. Produce and meat are cheaper and fresher on the Mexican side.

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

You can get anything you forgot.

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

Everything you could think of in America. There's a Papa Johns just down the street while there isn't even one over the line in Nogales, AZ. Slightly more expensive than in the States, but unless you're desperately craving a Big Mac, the Mexican food here is great and cheap.

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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?

You can get all that across the line.

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

Some of the other families have had seen a scorpion or two, but we never have. For the most part this place has been nicely bug-free.

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Daily Life:

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

On the American side. We have an American address for the consulate and they do a mail pick-up every other day.

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

From what I hear it is not cheap, since anyone looking for that kind of work would prefer to do it across the line. Maybe a couple hundred dollars a month?

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

Yes, there is a gym about a mile from the consulate that is approved by the security officer and that offers good equipment and classes like Zumba and Yoga.

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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?

More upscale restaurants will take credit cards. We've never tried to use our credit cards at the grocery stores. There are plenty of ATMs around and almost everywhere will take both pesos and dollars.

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

Everything is across the line.

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

English newspapers can be had across the line. You can get an international package through cable or satellite that provides English language programming.

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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?

Almost none, but it's still nice to learn a few phrases. You'll always encounter someone who speaks a little English while you're out and about.

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

There aren't really sidewalks, but there isn't a whole lot of opportunity for strolling around the city (nor would you really want to, Nogales is not that kind of town). As long as you were able to drive you would probably be fine.

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Transportation:

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

We've been advised not to use them.

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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 car works. The roads are not as polished as they are across the line and there is frequent construction, but any car does fine.

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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, we pay $80 a month or so for our combined phone and internet.

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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 have both a Mexican and American cell phone, mostly for emergencies. We have a pay-as-you-go for the American side since we use it less frequently. We're on the consulate plan and my husband gets his phone paid for while mine is $15 a month or so.

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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?

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

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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?

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

Shirt and tie at work, casual in public.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, our travel is limited to certain parts of the city. In our time here there have been a couple of major shootings not too far from where we live. You cannot travel outside of the city in the dark. For the most part, Nogales is the sleepiest of the border towns and violence happens, but not nearly as often as it does in the other cities. We have felt completely safe and free to go around the city at night to try new places to eat, but at the same time we are aware of our surroundings and don't let our guard down. With that being said we really like it here!

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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 real health concerns and there is fantastic medical care in Tucson, as well as a hospital just across the line.

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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?

Good.

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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?

Winter, fall, and spring are amazing. June is the hottest month of the year and then monsoon season starts in July, which keeps things cooler. You get used to the heat, and as they say, it's a dry heat!

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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

No idea, although it seems like the schools in Nogales, AZ, do and there are schools in Tucson that can accommodate special needs.

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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?

We are looking into putting our kids into a local preschool. There seem to be quite a few if you're interested in having your kids learn Spanish, but there's also lots on the other side of the line.

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

Probably.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty small on the Mexican side. There are only 7 FSOs in the entire consulate and almost all other Americans who work in Mexico live on the other side. Our small group socializes quite a bit, but there are advantages and disadvantages to such a small post, of course.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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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?

Lots of get togethers with the consulate community. It is what you make of it.

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

This probably is not a good place for singles, as the bar scene is dangerous and I think probably prohibited to the FS officers. The city itself doesn't offer much in the way of recreation, so if you don't have a family, I wouldn't really recommend it. Tucson is a little over an hour away, though, with a busy nightlife and this is a great post if you have young kids, or for starting a family as well.

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

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

Not really.

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

Trying a new taco place every week (it's impossible to find the best one in the city), being able to cross the border and go to Costco, making lots of Mexican friends.

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

All that Tucson and Southern Arizona has to offer, Hermosillo three hours to the south, beaches on the Gulf of California including San Carlos and Puerto Penasco, great food.

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

All the usual Mexican handicrafts, and vanilla, but mostly the food.

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

The city itself is not especially beautiful, but you get all the benefits and amenities of living in Arizona, while enjoying the unique culture and amazing food of Sonora. Amazing weather three seasons of the year means lots of potential for hiking, biking, and outdoor activities (mostly in Arizona) and you're not that far from beautiful beaches.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, definitely.

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

Winter gear.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses, love of Mexican food.

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

The Devil's Highway: A True Story
by Luis Urrea - it gives a little insight into illegal immigration on the Arizona border.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

A SENTRI card and the ability to cross the border easily are necessary for this post, otherwise you would feel really shut in and restricted. We like it here, but the ability to go to the States and easily get away every once in awhile is awesome. The security situation is good right now, but you never know when that could change, so we try to enjoy it as much as we can every day.

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