Expat Exchange

Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic

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By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Sep 17, 2022

Summary: With a population of 2.9 million, Santo Domingo is a city with which many expats, retirees and digital nomads have a love-hate relationship. It's a tropical city with a diverse population that some find appealing. But, people say the traffic, dangerous driving conditions and unfriendly locals can make life in Santo Domingo wear on you. Healthcare tip: If you're new to DR, be sure to purchase health insurance that covers medical evacuation for treatment outside of the country.

What do I need to know about living in Santo Domingo?

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When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Santo Domingo, they said:

"Be prepared to adjust. Be prepared to be frustrated and to want to smack your head into the wall. But also be prepared to find the small joys here!! The people are remarkably friendly and helpful. There are many many good people but that takes time to get to know who they are. You won't find them in your first few months here!!!!! After 11 years I am still learning so much. I live in a typical middle class Dominican neighborhood! I am the only expat and I love my life here. 11 years of business and consulting and I pretty much know how to get things done..... but every single day I learn something new!!!," remarked another expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

"Only come if you are retired, and have at least $3,000.00 USD per month to spend on expenses, and enough reserve cash to return to your country for medical treatment if you need because the medical system here is a total disaster. Also purchase Medi-Vac Insurance to be 100% certain you can be air lifted and repatriated in case of medical emergency. Do not move to this city, if you cannot deal with pollution and noise, rude people, constant traffic jams, crazy drivers. Only move here as a temporary stop in order to find your way into the more peacful interior town of Jarabacoa. If you are not retired, stay away if you are looking for work, unless you want to earn $400.00 USD each month," added another expat in Santo Domingo.

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

What do I need to know before moving to Santo Domingo?

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When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Santo Domingo, they said:

"I advise you to visit the better area of town which is called Piantini and Naco. They are very cosmopolitan areas, located in District National Santo Domingo along ave Winston Churchill. Ask Apolo Taxi which I discovered to be the most safe and trusted Taxi, to take you to the Blue Mall on Ave Winston Churchill. Also Go to The Acropolis which is a few blocks from the Blue Mall on the same street. Walk the neighborhood for three blocks in each direction from Ave Winston Churchill and you will see many buildings with condo's for sale(vende) or rent ( alquiliar). There is a Holiday Inn Hotel located 5 minutes from this area on Ave Abraham Lincoln. Both malls have resteraunts and movies. Your supermarket is across the street from the mall. there are at least six banks betwee the two malls along with resteraunts and Pharmacies. Everything you can walk to, if you get your apartment there. Plus the area is quiet and secure. You will not have the loud Dominican music playing 24 hours a day. it is a normal tranquile neighborhood. A 3bedroom unfurnished can cost US$800.00 a month. I recommend you do not fall for the fully furnished apt. ads. If you do, make sure you sign a month to month lease. This will protect you from the bad feeling of living in a place with someone's old trashy furniture and having to put up with it until the lease expires. Also be sure to make certain that your deposit is not listed on the contract as a security deposit. Make sure it is listed as your last months rent. Visit the area for a week on each visit. If you decide to live in a Dominican area with the Bodega's and places that sell beer this is good if you are 27 years old, but if you are retired you will dread the day you did this. Trust me. Banking you should open a checking account and only deposit enough for your rent and utilities each month. The banks constantly suspend your account for no apparent reason. Keep the lion's share of your cash in the bank of your country and use your debit card to take money out," said another expat in Santo Domingo.

"When you move to the DR, unless restricted by work, I would spend a couple of months in a few different areas as the country is so diverse. Once you have decided on the area then just put the word out that you are looking to rent and the potential landlords will find you. Do remember to take into account that access to electricity and water are not automatic, so you need to check their availability. The prices of property vary dramatically by area - the more touristy and closer to the sea, the higher the price," added another expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"I would be sure to study Spanish as it makes the transition much easier. I would just come initially, if possible, for a six month period every year, and then go back. I would not buy anything for at least two years, until you decide that you really like it and until you have seen the entire country," explained one expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

How do I find a place to live in Santo Domingo?

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We asked expats how they chose their neighborhood and found a place to live. They answered:

"I chose my neighborhood because it is located within walking distance of the Sea and one half block from the Metro/Subway. I found my apartment through a website named Sublet.com," mentioned another expat in Santo Domingo.

"i have lived in various parts of the country. The first place was a tourist resort on the Caribbean sea, where I went as my job as a scuba diving instructor was there. A small studio came with the job and after a month I moved into a rental apartment. Here you just put the word out you are looking and people come to you with their apartments. Now I live in a little Dominican town, chosen as it was far from tourists and hence much safer and much cheaper. Again just put the word out and found the house," commented one expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"I first came to a beach town but then found that for a single older intellectual woman, the capital was best. I took my time, found the pool, the library, the neighborhood I liked best, then the apartment, not the other way around," remarked another expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

What is a typical expat home or apartment like in Santo Domingo?

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"I live in a furnished 2 bedroom apartment. This is typical of the expats I have met. My next door neighnor have lived in their unit for ten years. They are from Canada/Germany," mentioned another expat in Santo Domingo.

"There are no expats here. I have a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom single storey house with a large garden. It is a typical house for a middle class Dominican," commented one expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"I live in a furnished rental. I would certainly say that this is the way for anyone to plan to come here first and stay for a year or so and see if they really like it. There are not a lot of expats yet in the neighborhood but I predict that there will be. It is the older elegant but sort of run down section of town, but one can walk to everything. It is a lot like NYC," remarked another expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

What is the average cost of housing in Santo Domingo?

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If you are thinking about moving to Santo Domingo, cost of living in probably a key consideration. Expats commented about the cost of housing:

"I live in Boca Chica and rent a 3 bedroom for $440/month. It's on a very good well so no water bill. Electricity here is iffy, but the last 3 or 4 months have been great with no major outages," commented one expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"The monthly cost of rent is $550.00 which includes water, gas for cooking, internet and cable tv, with a 30 year old tv supplied by the landlord. I must pay for electric $30.00 a month unless I use the air conditioner which is also very old and will raise my electric bill to over $100.00 a month. There are ceiling fans in every room. i use them in lieu of the air conditioner. I have a land line home phone from Claro for $30.00 a month for 400 minutes. I just signed up for a bundle package of Phone/cable/internet with Claro for $75.00 a month," remarked another expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

"Lower. To rent a standard 3 bedroom house in an expat area is around 600-1500 US$ a month. If you live in a gated community it is more. A similar property in a purely Dominican town or village is around 200 US$ a month," added another expat in Santo Domingo.

"Much lower. My two bedroom apartment with balconies and maid's room is $600 a month. To buy apartments here cost around $150k," remarked another expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

How do I meet people in Santo Domingo?

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When we asked people living in Santo Domingo about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:

"Any expat groups, spanish lessons at a qualified school. Join a dance group, a walking group and kind of group that gets you out meeting others," added another expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"Sign up for a course in speaking Spanish at the Dominican Americano School, located on Antonio de la Maza in the block below Ave Abraham Lincoln. There you will meet Dominicans who are enrolled to learn English, giving you both something in common. Many who are there are willing to tell you about their culture and give you the do's and don'ts as to how best to avoid trouble and where to go socially. Other places are the bigger Malls and supermarkets and the Metro which is the new subway line," explained one expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

William Russell Health Insurance

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

What should I bring when moving to Santo Domingo?

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People living in Santo Domingo were asked what three things they wish they had brought and three they wish they had left behind. They wrote:

"I wish I'd brought Cooking utensels, Spices for cooking, American Cable TV. There's nothing I wish I'd left behind," explained one expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

"I wish I had brought a tin opener, good knives and vitamins. I should have left my nicer clothes and shoes at home and my jewelry," said another expat in Santo Domingo.

"I wish I had brought My best friend I wish I had brought more money I wish I had brought better Spanish I only came with what I could carry so I did leave everything pretty much," added another expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

Will I be able to find a job in Santo Domingo?

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When we asked people about industries and career opportunities in Santo Domingo, they reponded:

"First jobs for expats here are usually in call centers if you have not transferred in with an expat company. Working in a call center will get you some experience culturally and help you find the lay of the land so to speak. I do resume reviews all the time and can give you a realistic assessment of your skills and earning potential," added another expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"Santo Domingo is the capital city hosting almost 1/2 the countries population. We have almost all head offices here, lots of call centers, most if not all embassies etc, many many government offices, lots of shopping etc. You can find it all here. I also spent 7 years on the north coast - the capital is very very different," explained one expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

"Main industries are Cell phone companies, mass transit, taxi's, call centers, govenrment offices, supermarkets. Most people find jobs through the newspapers, employment agency, and government. As far as career, the government job is the most common," mentioned another in Santo Domingo.

What is life like in Santo Domingo?

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When we asked people living in Santo Domingo what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:

"The culture revolves around home and community, it is one of the things I love about this country. It can make living here and getting things done a challenge. Embrace it as much as you can and learn to go with the flow when needed, and learn when to put your foot down!!," remarked another expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"Yes! Just like most major cities. People are up early going to work or school. The proiorities in Santo Domingo are ME FIRST!! People here have total disregard for traffic laws and signals. If you are being helped by a customer service person at a bank or store, people will interupt and start talking to the service person as if you are not even there. If you are waiting in line, people will walk right up next to you and jump the line, thinking nothing is wrong with this," explained one expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

"I found that in the city, most people are just trying to make a living. Family is also very important. The weekends are meant for socializing," said another expat in Santo Domingo.

What do expats in Santo Domingo appreciate most about the local culture?

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"I appreciate the fact that under extreme poverty, the people somehow seem to survive on so little," remarked another expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

What do expats find most challenging?

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"The most challenging aspect of the new culture for me has been getting business people to understand that when I pay for a service, I expect to get what I pay for in a timely manner. Example, ( I went to a local bank to open a checking account and I had to come back and forth four times to complete the process) ( my apartment lease includes TV internet and cable. The TV was a 30 year old TV that never worked, the cable only sometimes and the internet is much like waiting for a snail to travel one mile. I requested to have my lease reflect the fact that none of these services are being used due to the fact that the landlord removed the TV during my first week and I had to purchase my own, plus I had to purchase my own internet and cable to ensure that I have service. However, the landlord wants to stick to our original agreement even though he is not providing what is promised in the lease. These sorts of things are very common in Santo Domingo). Beware," said another expat in Santo Domingo.

Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in Santo Domingo accepting of differences?

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"Absolutely diverse, very different from where I am from. While the country is predominantly catholic - that doesn't stop a lot of "other" activity. The DR is racially divided, economically divided and very much a culture of who you know or who you are related to. It can make work and business difficult at the very least. Are they accepting of differences - not really but you learn to work around that," added another expat in Santo Domingo.

"Yes they are diverse. No, they are not as accepting of people who are different. I noticed there is racisim among Dominicans. The Dominicans who are light skinned in complection have this air of aristocrocy about themselves, as it relates to dealing with dark skinned Dominicans. Light skinned Dominicans are perceived to be well off financially and the dark ones are the poor and uneducated people. This is not true, but this is the normal thinking among Dominicans. If you are Anglo/White, you are considered wealthy. If you are American Black or White, that trumps any Dominican in social and economic status," remarked another expat who made the move to Santo Domingo.

"I found a lot of diversity in the city, in all areas. It reminds me a lot of NYC, with all kinds of people living and working together," explained one expat living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Rep.

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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