Tijuana, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 11/05/17

Personal Experiences from Tijuana, Mexico

Tijuana, Mexico 11/05/17


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

No - others in the western hemisphere.

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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?

West Coast - 8-10 hour drive. East Coast - 4-5 hour flights - many available from San Diego.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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

Working for the U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Houses are generally small with very limited outdoor space. Many families consider them small, especially compared to housing at other posts. Houses are generally spread out in the wealthier areas of TJ, and within 5-10 minutes drive of grocery stores and some restaurants, but not usually within walking distance considering the lack of decent sidewalks and very hilly neighborhoods. Commute time to the consulate is 20-25 minutes.

Apartments are generally nicely sized for an apartment and tend to house singles and couples. Most are on a lively street with tons of restaurants, cafes, shops, and entertainment. Most apartments face a country club with green space, but this is off limits as you must be a member of the club to enter. Noise on the street can be a nuisance at times, but most in apartments tend to like the location. Commute time to the consulate is 20-25 minutes.

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

Everything is available on both sides of the border, but prices differ. Food tends to be less expensive in Tijuana, while household supplies, electronics, clothing, etc. are less expensive in San Diego. WalMart and grocery stores are 10 minutes from the border, Target 15 minutes, and an outlet mall is right at the border in San Ysidro.

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

Nothing. Everything is available, and if you don't want to go to a store, Amazon Prime can ship to the P.O. box within 2 days. Family sometimes sends regional favorites not available in San Diego.

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

Tacos are king in TJ, but ceviche, tortas (sandwiches), pizza, ramen, etc. are available and at about 50% of San Diego restaurant prices. Many restaurants deliver, but Uber Eats is also in TJ. Food truck parks are popular and allow you to sample lots of different types of food in one place - they're also great for groups. No one I've talked to has complained about the food here.

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

Some houses have ants or cockroaches or termites or mice. It just depends.

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Daily Life:

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

Consulate personnel use a P.O. box and Postal Annex box for mail. I've had Amazon Prime orders in hand in 2 days (ordered Sunday, box opened on Tuesday).

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

Household help is usually available. But there are lulls. Most families have a housekeeper a day or two each week, and some with kids have nannies.

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

Gyms like Total Fitness and World Gym are available but very expensive ($50+ per month). Smaller outfits have spin, barre, yoga, kickboxing, martial arts, etc. and are available for less and $10 per class or less if you buy a package of classes.

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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?

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Haven't had any issues the few times I've used mine in TJ, but most people use cash. People use the ATM in the consulate for pesos and ATMs in the U.S. for dollars.

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

Every major religion has a home in San Diego with English-language services.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Very little. Obviously you should try, but being on the border many people speak some English. There aren't that many Spanish classes, most language programs offer English.

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

Yes - sidewalks are terrible and many places do not accommodate those with limitations south of the border.

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

Consulate community members can use Uber, but no other public transport is considered safe. Lyft is not yet in TJ. Uber rides are very affortable.

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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 would be fine, but a smaller SUV would be best because there are so many potholes, speed bumps, and speed dips and a higher clearance helps. Parts and mechanics are available on both sides. New cars can stay in warranty with U.S. dealer service.

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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, internet is generally set up for consulate families.

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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?

You can use your U.S. phone - just be careful and also use it a fair bit when you cross into the U.S. The consulate doesn't provide cell phones for EFMs anymore - only employees.

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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?

There are many vets available and most are very good. No quarantine necessary for import to Mexico, just the standard vaccines and paperwork. You should have that, but generally no one checks going into Mexico or back into the U.S. Plenty of vets in the U.S. too if you prefer. Pet Clinic accepts Mexican vets' prescriptions for prescribed medicines or food unavailable or more expensive in Mexico.

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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?

There are several jobs for EFMs at the consulate. Several EFMs commute to the U.S., a few others work from home. There are many options here. Salaries in TJ are generally too low to go to the trouble of getting a Mexican work permit, but it can be done.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty of volunteer opportunities on both sides of the border.

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

Dress in Tijuana and San Diego is casual. More shorts in SD than TJ, but overall pretty casual everywhere. Locals tend to dress up more than Americans for dinners out, but formal dress is reserved for very formal events. The consulate is also casual - ties are rare and suits rarer. Sandals and dressy casual dresses in summer are perfectly acceptable. DC-wear not needed but a couple times each year for major visits.

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Health & Safety:

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

At the moment, not more than any other city. Murders are the highest they've ever been in 2017, but it is generally focused among gang members.

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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?

It's pretty dry most of the year... but nothing else really comes to mind. Medical is good in Tijuana, great in San Diego. Many Americans come down to TJ for dental and medical care.

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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?

Air quality is pretty good. It can get pretty dusty in the dry summer months, but I haven't heard of anyone having major issues because of it.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

There are many food options available, mostly in Sand Diego, but some in Tijuana too. Asthma sufferers may have more difficulties when it's dusty. Seasonal allergies are generally not too bad.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

No. Just the usual stuff for those who usually suffer.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Generally around 70-80 most days. August is very hot, December and January are colder (60-65) and it sprinkles or rains a couple times per week. It can get cool at night and in the early morning, so jackets are recommended. But you don't really need coats unless you plan to ski or visit colder places.

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Schools & Children:

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

Schools in Tijuana are good for preschoolers and kids up to about third grade. After that the education officers recommends schools in the U.S. Consulate kids attend Coronado Public schools and a few private schools in San Diego.

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

Local Tijuana schools can handle mild special needs. San Diego has a few schools that can handle moderate to severe 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?

Preschools are available in Tijuana and are relatively inexpensive. School days are relatively short and few have full-day programs and before or after care.

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

Yes - lots of sports, music lessons, karate, dance, etc. Instruction is generally in Spanish within TJ, but some instructors speak some English.

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Expat Life:

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

There are many dual nationals and in TJ proper not that many expats. The retirees live in Rosarito and further south in Baja. People love it here - it's the best of both worlds.

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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?

Go across to the U.S. or hang out in Rosarito I suppose if you want American friends. Locals are everywhere, so just go out. There aren't expat or diplomat groups like in other posts. If you're religious or have a hobby you can find a group that way.

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

It seems like it's good for everyone. Singles can date freely if the choose or live freely with tons of social options on both sides. Couples have plenty of date options. Families have many options too, but most are in San Diego - there aren't many good playgrounds, parks, or kid-centric activities south of the border.

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

It seems to be. Everyone can date freely and I haven't heard about any couples being harassed or hate crimes being rampant.

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

Not really.

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

The Valle de Guadalupe wine region is wonderful. Whale watching in spring is fabulous. Skiing in California is really fun. Driving through the desert is eye opening. There's really a lot to do - you could surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon.

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

No TJ-specific handicrafts. But Mercado de Artesanias and Rosarito have a decent selection if you want to send something home. Better items are found elsewhere in Mexico. Wine from the Valle is a great gift.

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

Have both Tijuana and San Diego so close. There is something to do every single day.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How much we'd cross into the U.S. It's at least twice each week for us, but some cross every day, and some go rarely.

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

Absolutely. It is a great post. A nice break if you've served in a harder post previously.

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

Snow boots and cold weather gear unless you plan to ski.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunblock, hat, surf board, skis, snowboard, camping gear. But, really, everything is available even if you do forget or leave something in storage.

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