Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 04/05/12
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?
First expat experience.
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?
Houston, TX, approximately 4 hours (direct flight).
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Large spacious apartments, generally with good views. Hard for kids or pets.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive, probably 5-10% above D.C. prices. Selections can be fairly limited.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Peanut butter and a fake smile.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Almost anything you are looking for is available, with most of the flavor removed. Colombians have great food, but bland tastes so if you like pot roast and boiled potatoes, you got it, but if your tastes are more discerning, you may be a little disappointed.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Limited soy products, no rice milk or almond milk and there is produce that is labeled organic.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No bugs or insects at this altitude. One of the great things about living here. No spiders, no mosquitoes, and few flies.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Again, imagine New York City but with much more expensive memberships.
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?
Credit cards are routinely cloned. Stick to using cash whenever possible.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
The television service is typical of a developing country - the programming is not quite accurate. TV programs scheduled to start at 9:08 may not start until 9:20, or maybe they'll start at 8:57. Commercial breaks may last 30 seconds or 8 minutes. Seasons start like normal and then halfway through the season, the show just doesn't air anymore or goes to reruns. TV basically reflects the overall disorganization of the entire country; it is a subtle commentary on their political, economic and social structure.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's essential to have a good grasp of Spanish, although, unless you are a Native speaker they will peg you as a foreigner anyway and you will pay double for anything that is negotiable.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It's a developing country. It's also hard to rollerblade here.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis yes. USG employees are not allowed to use other public transport.
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 city car that you don't mind getting beat up. There are craters instead of potholes and half of the vehicles on the (very crowded) roads are buses, taxis, and motorcycles that will not hesitate to be aggressive to the point of physically bumping you out of the way, so expect dings, scratches, and fender benders.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Same company as the TV, so you can expect inconsistency in everything but the billing (about $80-$100/mo with TV cable). Sometimes the Internet works, sometimes it doesn't. You'll get the advertised speeds only between about 3 and 5 a.m. At all other times, their infrastructure is, by their own admission, insufficient to support their customer base.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most phones are unlocked and you buy a sim card with rechargeable minutes.
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)?
You will be nickel and dimed to death. Because you live in an apartment, you will need to have a dog walker, a kennel, a groomer, etc.
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?
Most jobs are low paying in comparison to US wages.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dressy. Lots of high heels and suits. Imagine NYC business world and everyone taking note.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
For government folks, the danger pay of 15% is nowhere near sufficient. The danger is not from without, but from within. The foreign nationals (even Colombians generally recognize this)are incredibly non-direct in their personal dealings. They are, without exception, friendly in social and work settings, but can be dangerously spiteful and devious. Imagine an entity run by the foreign national mafia where the current management kowtows to their every demand. It is a viper's nest.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The doctors are generally good, and although the prevailing perception is that it is less expensive than the US, if you are a foreigner, the cost will be more than, or the same as if you were in the States. (Does not apply to hospital costs.) Nursing care is abysmal.
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?
Good. It rains a lot. There are pockets of smog, but nothing unbearable.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
63 degrees most of the time. Cloudy and rainy most of the year, but you do get a few months of excellent, sunny weather.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
CGB is a private school. Although our kids were happy there and did well, it is an environment where money and status rules. Especially in the upper grades, the school rivalry is rampant and dangerous and the allure of money, power, drugs etc. can not be overstated. It is a great social study on the effects of entitlement on youth of all cultures and the training for the viper's nest referred to above.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not sure. I would hate to be a special-needs kid in this social environment
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?
Yes, but again, you will be dealing with a lot of class issues.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Constant. It is easy to entertain especially when you can easily hire a maid to clean up and a butler and catering company to help you keep up with the Joneses.
3. Morale among expats:
It depends how long they've been here. Most of the men are eventually snared by Colombian women and it's a tangled web. Most expats dream of returning to their homes, or getting out of Colombia, but hate to leave the easy life of unending coffee breaks, all-night clubs, and attractive and 'giving' women.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Very accepting of alternate lifestyles, although the acceptance may only be superficial as all other social skills are.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No problems as long as you have money, fair skin, and high status. Otherwise, you will get the plastic smile and the deference afforded to 'those people'
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Good dining opportunities, lots of theater and art, all the amenities that you would expect in a large city - imagine being in New York.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
It's a beautiful and varied country, with lots to do and see if you are allowed to travel. Government employees have very limiting restrictions, so you'll have to live vicariously through those lucky enough to see what's at your doorstep, but inaccessible to you.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of personal services.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is a very dynamic, big city that is easy to navigate using taxis (which are not expensive) and/or private drivers.
11. Can you save money?
Not a chance.
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:
Walking shoes, raincoat and a plastic smile