Tijuana, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 04/04/11

Personal Experiences from Tijuana, Mexico

Tijuana, Mexico 04/04/11

Background:

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

First long-term expat experience (previously 4 months in Thailand in 2005).

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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?

4-5 hrs from San Diego Airport

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years; I recently left.

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

Foreign Service posting.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Centrally located apartments for most single officers, with a 10-20 minute commute (depending on if you're at the annex or the consulate). Commute times slightly higher for families who live in gated communities.

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

You can get anything in San Diego. Tijuana doesn't offer as much variety and as good quality as what you can get in San Diego, though for standard stuff you need in a pinch, you don't need to cross the border.

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

Everything is available in San Diego.

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

Tijuana has lots of options for street tacos, mid-range dining, and nice restaurants, all at comparably cheaper prices than in San Diego.

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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?

Soy chorizo is the only meat substitute I saw in Tijuana, though everything and anything is available in San Diego. There are two good, decently priced (though with odd hours and not easily found), vegetarian restaurants in Tijuana.

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

Not really.

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Daily Life:

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

The U.S.Consulate has a PO Box address in San Ysidro. It works great.

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

US$5 an hour for someone to come once a week.

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

There are mediocre gyms are low cost in Tijuana. The only American-quality gym that isn't extremely overcrowded is very expensive, though some officers use it.

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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?

For ATMs, stick to banks and well-lit grocery stores. You get a better rate withdrawing pesos than withdrawing dollars in the US and converting it to pesos at an exchange house.

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

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

San Diego Union Tribune has many articles about Tijuana and the border region.

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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?

In the touristy parts, you can get by with English, but having some basic Spanish is key to being able to interact with most of the locals in Tijuana, and parts of San Ysidro and Chula Vista too!

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

Not at all a walkable city.

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Transportation:

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

Taxi libres are moderately safe if one stays aware of their surroundings. The shared taxis and buses less so. Generally, it is easier just to drive where you want to go, except for when going out at night.

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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?

Road quality is poor, you do not want to bring a flashy car. Expect to get some scratches and bumps; the traffic is chaotic here.

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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?

US$40-50/month for high speed internet+phone.

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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?

Somewhat of a headache; roaming charges are expensive if you use your American phone in Mexico on the Telcel network, and US service is very inconsistent. Many people keep a US phone and a Mexican phone on them.

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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?

No quarantine. No questions are asked and no documents are checked when you enter Tijuana through the land crossing.

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

Vets are available on both sides of the border. Kennels are cheaper in Tijuana, but the quality is not as high.

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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?

San Diego, if you're willing to do the commute.

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

Business casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, while getting randomly shot by narcos isn't that much of a problem, street crime is common. I try to confine my driving to specific areas of the city, in the more affluent parts. I rarely walk in the street anywhere that takes more than 10 minutes to get to.

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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?

Most medical issues can be taken care of in San Diego.

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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?

Pollution never was a major problem, though it varies day to day.

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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?

The vast majority of days are sunny with pleasant temperatures (60-80 degrees).

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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?

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Hard to judge. Tons of Americans (including Mexican Americans, who blend in more) live in Tijuana and work in the US. Rosarito has a large retirement community.

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2. Morale among expats:

There is less of an expat scene. Many officers have family in California, which boosts morale.

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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?

Some house parties, restaurant gatherings. Again, good nightlife options on both sides of the border.

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

Male single officers have dated Tijuanenses; it seems female single officers tend to date more often in San Diego. There is a decent amount of nightlife options on both sides of the border. However, the few places to go out in TJ where you feel safe start to get old after awhile. San Diego has a much more dynamic nightlife, but clubs close early and you must drive there, so you have to have a designated driver to avoid a DWI. Vegas and LA aren't too far away, at least. Outside of nightlife, TJ has very few activities in which to meet people. San Diego is more diverse, but it can get to be a hassle to commute to San Diego for weekly meetup groups and activities. For those looking to date, Tijuana definitely is divided by class, so expect some attitude from the old money. Recent immigrants are not as well off, but much more open to meeting new people. In summary, for the single male, Tijuana is not going to be the heaven that many expat posts are because the US passport isn't a big deal. However, there aren't cultural barriers to dating foreigners, so it shouldn't be an issue.

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

Tijuana isn't as liberal as Mexico City, but there are some gay clubs. San Diego has many options.

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

Tijuana still holds many chauvinistic attitudes, but rarely will there be any outright harassment. Racism exists, the lighter skinned tend to be more dominant in the city. Don't be shocked if you are called "negro,"(black) or "moreno,"(brown). There is much less political correctness here.

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

Traveling around California and the Western United States, traveling around Baja, outdoor activities, varied nightlife.

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

Going out at night, outdoor activities in San Diego, going to the beach.

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

Pictures with donkeys, Tequila shots accompanied by whistle blowing, souvenirs imported from the center of Mexico.

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

The ability to experience three cultures: American/North San Diego culture, Mexican culture, and the border culture.

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11. Can you save money?

Slightly more than you would be able to living in a mid-sized American city.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, it was an interesting two years, but I really miss being able to walk the streets. It's such a shame that people spend so much time in their cars (on both sides of the border) given the beautiful weather.

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

Love of public transportation; Tijuana and SoCal are all car country. Cold weather gear (unless you plan to go skiing in San Bernardino).

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3. But don't forget your:

Sports and camping equiptment.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Traffic
; Sleep Dealer

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6. Do you have any other comments?

This is not a cosmopolitan big city atmosphere; nor is it a boring sleepy town. It's neither Mexican, nor American. Tijuana is it's own unique beast, which merits a tour.

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