Tijuana, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 04/30/14
Personal Experiences from Tijuana, Mexico
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
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?
West Coast so a day's drive away.
3. How long have you lived here?
Over a year.
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?
Houses are nice, yards are small. Neighborhood parties are NOISY. Apartments are also nice but friends have complained of shoddy construction work - bad plumbing, ceilings falling in. Apartments are pretty spacious compared to U.S. big city standards. It seems like it takes 15 minutes to get anywhere - obviously longer if there is traffic or an accident. Roads tend to be indirect to your destination.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
They seem more expensive - I just shop across the border as the organic selection and prices are better.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None - Target is 35 minutes away. Tijuana also has good grocery stores, Home Depot, Walmart, and Costco.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tacos plus drinks for two is about US$10. A bajamed cocina is approximately US$60 for two.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants and roaches, occasional Black Widow Spider sightings in yards.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
U.S. post across the border.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Full time is US$400 a month. Nannies can be approximately US$700 a month.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but they are expensive compared to the U.S. And reportedly, they have no childcare.
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?
Don't. We use strictly cash here. I haven't had a bad experience but I do not trust the system given the reputation.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I imagine anything - if you cannot find it in Tijuana, you can find it in San Diego.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is helpful, more so than I thought.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are few smooth sidewalks; but it hardly matters as you drive everywhere.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Just the white taxis I think. The buses are old school buses, which is quirky.
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 fancy - streets are rough, speed bumps are everywhere. Our sedan is fine but I feel more comfortable in our SUV.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, approximately US$40 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I use a local one but retained my U.S. plan for when I am across the border. Telcel works okay but I think the data is expensive. The U.S. Mexico plans' data packages are ridiculous in practicality because the data costs are so high.
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?
Not sure - but yes, kennels and vets abound.
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?
I'm not sure.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are plenty of orphanages and migrant/immigrant groups to volunteer with.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
I do not see ties on men ever. It's pretty casual overall.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is concern - it can overshadow your sense of enjoyment in the city. If you exercise street smarts and common sense, you will be okay. We live in a nice neighborhood but with traffic speeding by and people always out and about, I do not feel comfortable walking by myself for exercise. I don't feel that safe here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Allergies have been a pain but otherwise this would be a good place to go to if you have medical problems. Tijuana's health care system seems pretty good but you can get anything treated in San Diego too. Friends of mine are thankful they were here when serious illnesses were discovered and treated.
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?
Overall, not bad. Allergies can be killer though as everything grows in this climate. Air quality at the border can be awful on long-wait days.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is fantastic unless you like the rain and snow. Shorter trees means there is a lack of shade so warmer days feel hot. In the winter, the dryness feels so cold and I dream of a day when I can step out of a shower and not instantly freeze from the lack of insulation.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Parents seem happy with the private preschools and kindergarten. Most parents I know send their elementary school-age kids and older to schools across the border because of bullying or other difficult social situations and because the schools here do not seem to be amendable to working with expat parents.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Few accommodations that I know of. All school buildings have stairs and no elevators for instance. I heard parents send their kids abroad if they have special considerations.
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, although from what I understand, no full day options are available. Parents seem happy with the bilingual private preschools.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I think there are a variety of programs available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's hard to define and make a generalization. There are so so many dual citizens and American expats here. Some love it, some tolerate it. I think morale at the U.S. Consulate is low.
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?
Eat at restaurants and drink. Family is big here, and expats seem to either cross or have bbqs, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, although families lack free things to do. The children's museum is really nice, as well as the cultural museum. The beaches are a bit dirty and crowded though and crime has grown in Rosarito. There are few parks without dogs or idlers, and many seem to lack playgrounds. Those that do look worn out. Most people seem to cross the border or entertain in their homes. Singles and couples seem to do the same. You better like being in your car if you are going to live here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I am aware of.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The food is amazing and visiting the Valle de Guadalupe or Puerto Nuevo is a perfect weekend activity.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Valle de Guadalupe is amazing. It is so fun to pack a picnic or splurge and eat at one of the farm-to-table restaurants. The food and wine are delicious as is the craft brewery scene here and across the border.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mercado Hildago has standard Mexican gifts and food.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Proximity to San Diego, which is an amazing city. There is great camping, hiking, running and bike riding across the border. Some of the more adventurous types would say the same about baja norte too.
10. Can you save money?
No - it all goes to the gas you expend waiting to cross the border. Even with sentri - the wait can sometimes be 20-30 minutes.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It is really a transit city. There isn't a lot of culture in its appearance - no plaza or old missions or anything. It is not a place you think of being a tourist in unless you plan to visit the restaurant scene.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. I would try to go elsewhere in Mexico - D.F., Guad, even Monterrey. I hear morale is really low at the U.S. Consulate and I found that its hard to make friends. Family seems to bind people to Tijuana - and for many - they live here because it is cheaper and work across the border. So finding community is difficult. San Diego is a fantastic world class city but crossing the border gets so, so, so old and expensive. People are really nice and I love the artisan food culture but that's about it.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Wool sweaters and desire to walk to coffee or anything (unless you live in an apartment).
4. But don't forget your:
Common sense and security awareness! And appetite.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Labyrinth of Solitude: The Other Mexico, Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude, Mexico and the United States, the Philanthropic Ogre, New Yorker articles on Tijuana and the Sinaloa Cartel.