Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/01/11
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. Buenos Aires, Argentina
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?
CA - direct overnight flight or long daytime flight with connections.
3. How long have you lived here?
3 years 2008-2011
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of diplomat
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
It is mainly apartment living. There are some houses the further north you go from the city.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are a bit more expensive, especially if you want imported items. English muffins can cost 10$/pack, but if you eat local stuff the cost is not too bad.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
You can get everything here, but clothes are very expensive. So maybe I'd stock up before coming.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You will find all types of fast food, even a chipotle rip-off. Papa John's, McD's, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, etc.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
If you look for it, you can find it, but it isn't everywhere.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None because of the altitude.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I was able to use APO at the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Everyone here has a nanny (or two) and a driver, and often a body guard! We had mixed luck with nannies, but even paying them very well, it is about half the cost of a part-time nanny in DC. Most also cook and clean in addition to watching kids, walking the dog, managing the household, etc. A true luxury when you find the right person!
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes -- all over the city. They can be expensive, but they are plentiful.
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?
They are easy to use. Some folks have had trouble, so be cautious. But they are the easiest way to pay for things.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Lots of folks speak english, but I think it helps to have a basic level of spanish here. It is hard to get anything done with out it.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
This city is not well equipped for people with disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and cheap. I didn't use any buses or trains.
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 is fine. We had SUV which served us well on the poorly-paved roads and outside the city. But you don't need one.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
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, pets are well cared for and it is cheap.
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, no, no.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Fairly dressy and proper. Ladies are always in high-heel boots and are made up (even at the park/gym). Men in suits. Folks look good!
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Of course there have been issues since we've been here, but daily life rolls along without much fear for personal safety. There are some big-city petty crime problems with an underlying sense of "we hope there isn't anything bigger to worry about". (FARC, etc.)
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Great medical care is available at very reasonable costs. Many adults get braces and lasik surgery!
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?
Unhealthy. Lots of black smoke spewing from buses. but even so, likely one of the better cities in Latin America in this regard - others are much worse.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rainy, and cold(ish). It's Fall all year long in Bogota. Just outside (a 2-hour car drive) it is tropical!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We have one child at CNG (colegio nueva granada) which says it is an American-affiliated school (it is - but that does not mean it is an American/int'l school). It has mainly Colombians from families going there for generations. Nice folks, but settled in their communities and not especially inclusive. We had a good experience overall. We have heard that in the older grades there is a bullying problem, but we know many families there with older kids who haven't experienced that.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There is a learning center at CNG that accommodates a broad range of special needs. Other schools seem to handle it on a case-by-case basis, as resources are available. You definitely need to research beforehand if you are coming with a special-needs child, but likely you can put something together to address the child's needs if you look hard enough and make the right connections at schools.
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 lots of 'jardins' all over the city. Very high quality and less expensive than the in the States, but not cheap. All in spanish. Most have staff that speak English if your child doesn't speak Spanish.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Older kids don't have the organized competitive sports that you'd be used to in the States, but younger kids have every sporting opportunity available. Lots of folks join swim/tennis clubs, but even if you don't, there are lessons available and schools offer most sports.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty large -- it is a big city!
2. Morale among expats:
varies ENORMOUSLY! First, due to the rain. That gets some people really down on the place. But after a few sunny weeks they are ok again! Colombian drivers are insane, and that also tweaks people. Lastly, there is a phrase "que pena" that people use when they are being pushy or aggressive and you lose out on something. This gets people all riled up - and it is rude and annoying but acceptable. These are likely the 3 biggest morale busters (rain, traffic/driving, que pena) BUT it is such a livable city with so much to do -- and relatively inexpensive compared to other places we've been. I've loved it here and just try to ignore the rain as much as possible. It helped that one year there was a drought, so it wasn't always raining!
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?
yes, yes, yes!
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I am part of a family with young kids, so I can only speak to that. I think it is great and had a wonderful 3 years here. I would stay here if I could. Singles seem to have a harder time.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It seems like it is. I haven't heard that it isn't.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I think there is a fair amount of prejudice between socio-economic groups, as well as between city and coastal groups.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
So much to do! Parks, easy driving trips outside the city, museums, tours, shopping, great restaurants (really great restaurants!), galleries, ciclovia on sundays/holidays, fairs all over the city, flea markets, farmer's markets, and the old standbys: movies and malls.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Artwork, furniture (rustic), molas, mochillas and more!
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Bogota is booming! people are lovely.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, but not tons.
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:
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?
As with any place, it is what you make of it! Here you have the freedom and resources to have a great time if you can get past the rain.