Tijuana, Mexico Report of what it's like to live there - 08/11/10

Personal Experiences from Tijuana, Mexico

Tijuana, Mexico 08/11/10

Background:

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

3rd time overseas: Asia, Europe.

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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?

United States, 45 minute drive to San Diego depending on traffic- 5 minute walk to San Ysidro.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

Diplomatic 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?

Every house in Tijuana is unique and full of charicter. Those assigned to the US Consulate have nice houses or apartments within 15 minute drive of the two offices at some point a new consulate will open and the commute will be 20-30 minutes.

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

The top-quality produce is shipped north, so you have to go to San Diego to get good Mexican strawberries. Costco and Walmart are both here and are slightly cheaper than in the US, with some difference in selection.

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

Nothing, its all here.

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

EVERYTHING! The cost is slightly cheaper than the US.

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

The occasional fly or cockroach, but never bad.

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Daily Life:

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

Those working at the consulate can use the San Diego PO Box. Many people drive across the border to local post offices in the US.

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

Almost US wages for good help, but read the fine print on contracts for what the termination/severance will be.

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

They tend to be a little small and crowded. The more serious folks cross to San Diego to run or hike.

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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?

You can use credit cards and dollars almost everywhere without a problem. Once you find out which neighborhoods are safe, you can use the ATMs and local banks as well.

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

Not on this side.

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

I have an antenna on the house that gets all of the San Diego TV stations, and every little radio gets San Diego radio stations.

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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?

You can live with none, but a month or two of classes will really help.

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

This is a car town and the sidewalks can be in bad condition and ramps are few and far between.

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Transportation:

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

The yellow and white taxis are safe and affordable, the red taxis and buses are pretty sketchy.

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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?

They say we cannot bring cars more than 10 years old, but I don't know if it is enforced. I would suggest a car with some clearance, as potholes and speed bumps are everywhere (and boy do they like to build some serious speed bumps). If you are careful about what neighborhood you are in, and the time of day, carjackings should not be a problem.

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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. Cost depends on the bandwidth you want.

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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 have every choice under the sun. Most major carriers offer a Mexico plan, and you may be able to pick up the US signal. Many Mexicans use Nextel, but Americans use all sorts.

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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.

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

Acceptable. Most pet owners I know cross to San Diego for most things.

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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?

No. Most family members work in the consulate or in San Diego.

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

Business casual at work, more formal if meeting with Mexican officials or business contacts.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes, this place is completely unpredictable. I have not seen a single problem ,but 99% of the crime goes unpunished. So it is just luck that criminals are only shooting each other.

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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 is hard to verify the quality control of anything in this town. The Red Cross is well practiced at getting Americans to the border to hand you off to waiting ambulances.

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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?

Moderate, it seems healthy but dust is everywhere.

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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?

Sunny and 72, cooler in the evenings. OK, it does get a little cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer, especially inland. But the weather is great.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most families send their kids to school in San Diego, with the consulate providing a shuttle to select public schools. Expect at least an hour commute each way (with SENTRI passes) with the ever present chance of cars being held up in secondary. In Tijuana, Reina Isabel and British American provide classes in Spanish with up to half of the day in English. Neither one is equipped to teach Spanish as a second language or communicate with parents in anything but Spanish. That said they both offer relatively good pre-K programs and acceptable lower elementary programs. Having experienced schools on both sides I found the public schools in Chula Vista to be excellent and the schools in Tijuana to be vastly different in standards and culture.

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

The Chula Vista Schools offer accommodations for all mild to moderate special needs and can work with severe needs in select schools.

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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?

Again, Reina Isabel and British American both offer relatively good pre-K programs, with Reina Isabel offering a more flexible Catholic program and BA offering a conservative secular program,and if you are up for the drive San Diego offers every type of preschool imaginable. I do not have personal experience at this age but I know parents in both programs that are satisfied.

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

Reina Isabel and a community center have some.

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Expat Life:

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

40,000? There is no diplomatic community, and some expats are completely part of the local community.

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2. Morale among expats:

Fair. At the moment we feel like "the good border post"

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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?

People do not entertain very often, but many single people are out at bars on either side until all hours of the night.

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

If you are the kind of person that can look past the crime threat and corruption then you will find plenty to do. And, if not, just drive to San Diego and do your thing.

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

I believe so, and again - San Diego has a very diverse population.

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

Not that I am aware of. Men will definitely look at the women, but it does not seem to enter the workplace.

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

The variety: every kind of food in the world, every kind of sporting event (bullfighting included), every kind of art…

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

You name it: bars, clubs, golf, surfing, fishing, eating out, cooking classes, movies, museums, dancing…and of course you have the San Diego tourism industry right at your doorstep.

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

Fish tacos.

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

You get to experience the border culture -- all that two countries have to offer. And, it is the best weather in the world.

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11. Can you save money?

Not really.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

Consumables shipment.

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3. But don't forget your:

sun glasses and always bring your sweater.

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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 Bear and the Porcupine.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Weeds, I Witness, Project Tijuana, (not realy Mexico but...) In The Loop

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6. Do you have any other comments?

It is like a magic dial. You can make it as Mexican or as American as you want.

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