Tijuana, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 03/11/08
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?
This is my first adult expat experience; I lived in the Philippines as a toddler.
2. How long have you lived here?
1 year and 2 months.
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
It's a 30-minute drive from the San Diego airport.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works at the U.S. Consulate.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Consulate housing includes apartments and single-family homes with yards. These are all within a few miles of the Consulate and the Consular Annex. However, the new Consulate is supposed to be on the other side of town. I hear they're also going to build consular housing near it, but obviously I don't know what it will be like. Single family homes tend to be cold in the winter since they're often built with marble floors, no insulation (i.e., concrete), and no central heating. Fortunately, heating and air conditioning units in bedrooms can make up for it.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
About the same as DC and San Diego. Many Mexicans travel north to do shopping but Super Gigante comes across nicely (and clean).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. It's all available here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All you want both in TJ and north of the border.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The Consulate has a San Diego address... very helpful.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help seems to be readily available and is probably cheaper than comparable services in the U.S.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I haven't heard of many problems but most people at the Consulate either use the consulate's ATM, ATMs in San Diego, or a nearby bank.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
The San Diego Union-Tribune is readily available. We get just broadcast TV (free) and can pick up all the San Diego channels (e.g., NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, WB, UPN). Cablemás has some English channels, like Comedy Central, but you'll have to check their website for specifics on their packages.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Even though most Mexicans have varying degress English, it's appreciated when you make the effort to speak in Spanish.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Tijuana is not really set up for people with disabilities.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses and street taxis are generally not considered safe but often people can get word-of-mouth recommendation for a taxi and call that person.
3. 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?
With all the speed bumps in TJ's residential areas, something with low clearance is nice. Any vehicle common in the U.S. could be serviced in the area.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Our high speed internet is through the phone company, Telnor. Sometimes we have reliability issues but no one else we've spoken to has had those problems.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phone which allows both U.S. and Mexican calls (although our reception through Verizon's plan is ANNOYING in the border area - we lose calls all the time when coverage switches between U.S. and Mexican carriers while at our house).
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Some people use Skype or Vonage at home. We rely mostly on our cell phones.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Dr. Alexander, with two locations, seems to be a popular veterinarian, since many vehicles sport stickers from that practice. We have not taken our dog there but another consular officer spoke highly of it when they needed to board their small dog.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as in the U.S.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Most Americans not involved in illicit activities aren't going to be affected by the more violent crimes, like murders and kidnapping. More likely is local police looking to shake down foreigners for bribes after minor traffic accidents.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Most people go to the U.S. for medical needs. Even though medical tourism in Baja is a growing industry.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Like San Diego.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most families with school-age children (elementary and up) send their kids to schools in San Diego. The Consulate provides shuttle service and it seems that school choice is fairly flexible; it just needs to be within a certain distance of the border. There are some English/Spanish schools such as the British-American School (which seems to be mainly preschool and elementary) and Reina Isabel (which includes daycare through high school). People seem pretty satisfied with these schools, although I have no direct experience.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't know anyone currently with special-needs children but I assume that schools in San Diego can make whatever accomodations are necessary, educational and otherwise.
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?
There are a variety of daycare/preschool places. The daycare that my 2-year-old daughter attends is near the current Consulate. The teacher/student ratio is more than what you'd find in the U.S. but the staff seems genuinely concerned about the well-being and development of all the children.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Seems positive enough. Although, with San Diego so accessible, there isn't a sense of a definitive expat community.
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?
San Diego seems to be the entertainment/social life of choice for many expats
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I do think Tijuana has something for everyone although for families with young children in search of outdoor playgrounds, San Diego is really the place to look. Tijuana seems to have a lot of good quality restaurants. If we didn't have such young kids, I think I would have spent more time experimenting with restaurants and other cultural fare, like theater, movies, art exhibitions, etc.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I really can't say about Tijuana but San Diego has a pretty thriving gay scene, I'm given to understand.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't encountered any prejudice of these sorts; the Mexicans I've encountered seem rather friendly and tolerant.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
San Diego. If you want to, you can pretty much treat Tijuana as a suburb of San Diego and make use of all the marvels (Seaworld, Zoo, Seaport Village, Old Town, Padres, hiking, surfing, swimming, museums, shopping) north of the border. With young kids we certainly do that. But the Baja norte region and TJ have some nice sites as well. Mundo divertido - a theme park in a shopping center, excellent dining options, the surreal border fence disappearing into the waters at Playas de Tijuana, bullfighting (never been), and a decent cultural center all are part of TJ.Outside of town, Ensenada and Tecate are fun day trips (Rosarito if you like to 1) Shop for condos playing on Americans' dream of owning by the sea; or 2) Drink like an underage teenager)
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
You can, but Mexico/Tijuana is not as cheap as people think. Goods are priced about the same but services are cheaper.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?