Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/26/10
Personal Experiences from Bogota, Colombia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Juarez, Mex; Mexico, DF; and Madrid.
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?
Dallas, Texas area, 5.5 hours in the air. Continental is the only airline with a direct flight to Texas (Houston), and they charge extra for it. American and Delta go through Miami and Atlanta, but look to add 2 hours to overall flight time. With connections the flight time through Houston is 7-8 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. State Dept.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is adequate but poorly constructed with drafty windows. Because of the temperate weather, there are no air vents! Also no central air or heat, so the apartments are often uncomfortably cold. Space heaters are generally provided, but using them is a drag. Several folks have had to be moved because they lost hot water.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries here are more expensive than in the States, and staples are lower in quality. There are very few high-quality locally-produced items. Fruits that they should have here are of poor quality or are expensive imports. No lemons; peaches are hard as a rock or imported, locally produced oranges are not good. Vegetables are awful and there is no variety. Meats: poor-quality beef and pork, but chicken is OK. If you pay upper-end prices, you can get OK- to-good seafood.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Mountain bike. More books. Better and warmer bedding, more decorative items for the house. Local artesania is shoddy.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Almost all USA fast foods are here somewhere. Local Colombian food is terrible. Restaurants are far too expensive for what they are. About the same prices as in the States. Steak here is bad. Even the Argentine steakhouses are subpar. Some cuisines they do OK, especially Italian. Mexican food here is bad. Other than ceviche, seafood is surprisingly awful and expensive.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
APO or DPO. Larger items come in the pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap and plentiful. I pay about 60 USD per week for halftime help and about 90 USD additional per month for her social security.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The embassy has a franchise of the local gym onsite as of July, 2010.
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?
Just like USA. However, because of fraud, VISA stopped doing Colombian transactions for a time. I had to get my card reactivated.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Newspapers, no. TV, yes. Buy a box for 150 USD and pay for Direct TV Puerto Rico for sports and English programming. About 60 USD per month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You should expect no one to speak English to you.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be impossible to get very far in a wheelchair because of broken pavement, no curb cuts, cars running through crosswalks, etc.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis, yes, but we are barred from everything else.
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?
None. You can't drive to very many places. There is an armored van to work in the morning, and taxis are cheap. I have driven all over the world, but once I saw these fools, I decided not to ship a car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. TelMex is about 40 USD per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Do the embassy plan and get a pay-as-you-go cellphone for kids.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Yes. Colombians love dogs.
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?
Suit or sportcoat/slacks.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Security concerns include sometimes-violent street crime, home invasions, FARC-inspired terrorism, and the inability to use public transport. All trips out of town have to be approved by the RSO. Currently the third-biggest city in Colombia, Cali, is simply off limits.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Altitude is a factor for some people. Housing is at 9000 feet.
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. On feast days and Semana Santa, when people are off the roads, it is good.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Weather is cool and overcast with highs never above about 80F on the sunniest days. Lows at night get into the high 40s. Rain, rain, rain! It gets dreary and monotonous a lot. Because we are close to the equator, the sun goes down at about 6 PM each evening, and it is not possible to do things like go to the park after work.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Colegia Nueva Granada is the USG-supported school. It's administration has been bitchy about letting U.S. Embassy families in automatically. The present situation is adequate but problematic. There are many issues, including: poor teachers who speak Spanish, not English, in the classroom; and clannish/bullying Colombian kids make up over 80% of the student body. At the beginning of the semester, students do not yet have their schedules, and counselors and administrators seem lost on this point. My son waited two months, and they still could not get him scheduled in the right level of Spanish, AP English, etc. This is a core thing that should be automatic, but it seems to escape them. The school is thin on non-core programs: no music and no athletics to speak of. Drinking and drugs are an issue at the high school, with many Colombian parents hosting teen parties with alcohol. It is much better at the lower levels. It simply is not a good high school. It would be a joke in the States.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not adequate at schools. Parents need to look elsewhere.
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?
Most people have cheap nannies.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
No. Colegia Nueva Granada says that it has sports programs, but they mostly do not exist.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
It varies from high to extremely low, depending on family situation. Single women do not seem to like it here.
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?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families and couples need to hang together. Singles seem to have more fun. You will find lots of bars and a good club scene. Colombian women seem to have no problem attaching themselves to American men for mercenary reasons, with no hard feelings -- or really any feelings at all. I talk to lots of guys, though, who are using the women, in return. They all seem OK with this arrangement, but it's not my cup of tea.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. People are tolerant.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Bogotanos are mostly white, and they disparage Afro-Colombians who mostly live on the coasts. They call them costeños, which they use as a pejorative term, but they also call them monkeys, etc.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I am a single dad in my 40s, and for me Bogota is boring! It is not a pretty city, nor is it well run. There are one or two good museums. Bullfights are fun, but the season is just 6 weeks. For a person like me, or any family probably, you will have to leave the city to find much to do. Because of security restrictions, though, that is not always easy to do.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Although they are hard to get to, there are two good museums. Also some sporting events and a few hiking spots that are not too dangerous.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
NOTHING. IT'S ALL CRAP.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is not cheap to be here. Dining and movies are about the same, clothes are lower in quality and more expensive. Although there is a lot of money here, most Bogotanos are poor. As a result, personal services are cheap. Domestics, massages, haircuts, etc. are all bargains.
11. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
computer with internet and camera for Skyping.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
The poor travel/tourist infrastructure in most of the country keeps Colombia locked away from most people at Post. At times I felt like a prisoner here.