Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/29/11
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?
I have lived previously in France, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. This is my first post in Latin America.
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?
Washington D.C.Around 12 hours, usually through Miami.
3. How long have you lived here?
I have been living in Bogota for one year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work in the US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
All official Americans live in apartments in the northern part of the city. Commute times can be up to an hour each way (more if it's raining or traffic is otherwise hectic) in a lightly armored vehicle. People complain about the commute fairly often. But the Embassy is having trouble finding housing in other parts of the city that would fit both security and size requirements.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries in the Carulla are generally more expensive than what I pay in the U.S.They stock a lot of American and European products, but at import prices. For example, a small can of Hunt's canned tomatoes costs $5. In terms of household supplies, the thing that makes me cringe is dishwasher detergent which cost nearly $10 for a small box.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tons of great restaurants from most places in the world. Lots of American fast food, including McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, etc. The types of food I find lacking:The two Indian restaurants I know of are overpriced and not stellar. There are a limited number of decent Mexican places.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Bogota has a great selection of fruits and vegetables, including at a place called Surtifruver--even if the quality of tomatoes and mangoes isn't always what I want it to be. I've seen organic and some gluten-free stuff in the grocery story but it's expensive.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None that I've noticed.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I used the Embassy DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
I pay nearly $20/day for my maid.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The Embassy has a Body Tech and there's are lots of other Body Techs around town--so that's the gym most Embassy folks use. Many of the residential buildings also have small gyms with at least a few treadmills.
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?
In the upscale northern part of Bogota, it's pretty common to use credit cards and ATMs--although some people do get their pin numbers copied and used illegally on occasion.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I don't know.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Some of the major print media chains do English translations online. Many TV shows in local cable are in English with Spanish sub-titles.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Knowing Spanish makes a big difference in your ability to connect with locals and explore the local culture.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many sidewalks are equipped to help blind and deaf. Most residential buildings have elevators. The old city is of course hopeless for disabled access.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There's a good public transport network here, which is affordable--but it's off limits to Embassy staff. Taxis are affordable/cheap.
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?
The roads in Bogota aren't great, but they're not bad either. Most cars in the city are compact, minis. People told me I would need a car, so I brought mine--but I regret it. I find driving here very stressful, mostly because it's such a big place with lots of highways and byways that I still am not comfortable with. Also, taxis are cheap. If you don't have a car and feel comfortable walking and using taxis, you def shouldn't let anyone convince you that a car is a necessity. If you do bring a car, consider buying a local GPS to help you get around.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. I pay almost $100/month for the combination of cable and wireless internet.
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?
I don't know.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I've heard so.
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?
I don't know for sure, but would imagine.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Colombians are fairly formal, and the State Dept folks don't come to work if they don't have a suit on.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's a big city with a certain level of crime. The Millionaire's Run is not unheard of, where a taxi locks you in and takes you around the city to take money out of cash machines. Robberies at knifepoint are becoming increasingly common in the north of Bogota where most official Americans live. I generally don't leave the house with anything that I couldn't stand to lose. That being said, I've lived in lots of big cities (NY, Paris, Washington DC) and don't feel any more insecure in Bogota than in those places. You just have to use your street smarts.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Altitude bothers some people. Quality of medical care both inside the Embassy and on the local market is great.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
In Bogota, the temperatures range from the 50s to low 70s F.In other words, it feels like fall most of the time. You do get a few nice months with lots of sunshine. But even then, it's rarely warm enough for a sundress. In Nov/Dec, the rains fall most days and it can be pretty overcast at other times throughout the year. Houses/apts don't generally have central heating, so it can be chilly inside and out when the sun goes down. Don't come without a fleece jacket or something of similar weight. Especially in the evenings, I also wear a scarf most of the time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
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?
Bogota is a great place for all. It's a big city, which means its got niche opportunities for a wide variety of tastes and lifestyles. There's art and theatre, there's outdoorsy stuff, there's lots of stuff for kids, etc etc.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, especially when compared to other developing world cities.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is certainly latent racism, but it's not noticeable on the streets on a daily basis.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The music and salsa dancing culture are great. Most Western goods and activities are available.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Movies are released early here and are mostly in English with Spanish subtitles. It's a nice city to walk around in.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
I've found a few unique little things, but nothing to write home about.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Colombia is a fantastic country for culture and tourism. It's truly a beautiful place. Some people still have the image of Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels running the major cities. But that's an outdated image. While violence still exists in parts of the country, the major cities have been cleaned up enormously and the tourists are starting to move in. My favorite cities are Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin. You've got everything from mountains to the sea/beaches. Fancy parts of the country/cities feel like you're in Europe or the U.S.Poorer parts of the country/cities can feel like you're in Africa.
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:
Summer clothes (unless you plan to travel to the beach/coast).
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?
Bogota is a wonderfully modern place with all the creature comforts. But like any big city, it can be isolating. Be sure to come ready to go out and make new friends. The Colombians are great and if you open yourself to them, you will have a wonderful time.