Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/11/12
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?
I have lived in Guadalajara, Maputo, Brasilia, Sao Paulo, and Afghanistan.
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?
East Coast, 8-12 hours depending on layovers in MIA or ATL.
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?
Everyone lives in apartments that range from older, but typically larger apartments with no amenities in the building, to very new complexes with generally smaller apartments but with gyms and other amenities onsite. Commute time ranges from 30 minutes up to an hour or more if raining. At this point, the embassy still offers shuttle service in the mornings and afternoons so you don't have to drive.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I have never been one to ship in food and have always lived with whatever my options are locally. Bogota is an incredibly easy place to grocery shop. You can usually find whatever you need, even if you have to pay a little more than US prices to have it. The grocery stores are big and modern and pleasant. The embassy also has a commissary.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing that I don't ship to any post we've ever been - peanut butter (although you can buy that locally at a price), paper products, Reynolds Wrap, kids' birthday presents for last-minute party invitations, etc.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can eat all sorts of American fast food chains here for probably slightly more than US prices. There are amazing, world-class restaurants in Bogota at prices much lower than you'd pay for similar food/quality in NYC or San Francisco. We LOVE the restaurant choices here.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
At 8600 feet above sea level, there is a wonderful lack of bugs!
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?
Plentiful and less than $20 a day (or more if you hire full-time and are required to pay benefits).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms everywhere, plus the city is famous for its "ciclovia" on Sundays and holidays. The embassy also has a gym.
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?
We use our credit card frequently and have had one issue early on with cloning. We also use our ATM card but only in one of two ATM machines in the city. There are certainly issues with using either of these, but we've been very lucky.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic and Protestant services are available in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We have Direct TV out of Puerto Rico (available to embassy officers). so we watch American TV. We pay about $60 per month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
This is a post where knowing Spanish will definitely help you.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks are a disaster here, and I imagine it would be very difficult for someone with physical disabilities to navigate them easily.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Embassy personnel are not allowed to take buses, but we can take taxis, which are VERY affordable.
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?
I drive an old Toyota Corolla around the city and I love it. Even with the blue plates, I feel very inconspicuous and have never had any issues. We have been able to have it serviced without problems and it is the perfect size for zipping in and out of traffic. Drivers are VERY aggressive here and I'm happy to not have a big car in which to fight the traffic.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We have high-speed internet and it's the best we've ever had overseas. In two years, it's been down less than 5 times and has always come back up quickly. We pay by the year but I think it works out to about $70 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Everybody has them and there are several service providers in the country. You can get anything from a cheap no-bells-or-whistles phone to an iPhone.
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)?
I hear it's good.
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'm not sure of this. For an embassy of this size, there are relatively few EFM jobs, which is disappointing. There are teaching jobs available and I occasionally see opportunities for local-economy jobs announced in the embassy newsletter.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Bogotanos are typically very formal, so the dress for work (especially if you have meetings outside the embassy) is business attire. With that said, you can wear dressy jeans to nice restaurants and nobody looks twice at you.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Bogota is a danger-pay post, and there are definitely security concerns on a larger, narco-terrorist level. On a day-to-day basis, there is normal, big-city street crime, so you just have to be aware all the time and use common sense.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The embassy has a full-service health unit with staff including MDs, PAs, RNs, etc., as well as a lab for any testing. The local medical care is fabulous with many doctors who speak excellent English after training in the US. I've had very successful eye laser surgery and we've had one very quick and painless visit to the ER for our son. We've also had great dental care. The cost of treatment is much lower than in the US.
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. There is definitely air pollution from vehicles. Our son has had some issues with asthma here because of it.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Nights in the 50s and on the very best day, highs in the mid-80s. A more typical day is mid-60s. When the sun shines here, there is no more beautiful place to be than Bogota, but for the two years we've lived here, the weather patterns have been off, with more rain than normal.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Colegio Nueva Granada (American School) and Colegio Gran Bretana (British School) are the two that seem to be used the most by embassy staff. Our son goes to CGB (British) and we all LOVE it. The school is smaller and incredibly diverse and international, the curriculum has been fantastic, and opportunity for sports and extracurricular activities has been great. We have not regretted this decision for one second.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
There are a number of special-needs kids at post right now, and they all seem to do very well. CGB has a great special needs program and preaches "inclusion" to all students.
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?
No personal experience here, but I hear wonderful stories of amazing preschool options.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Our son has two days per week of extracurricular sports at school, plus he takes tennis lessons and plays baseball on the weekends. There's no backyard to go out and throw the ball around, but there are definitely organized sports programs/classes available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This embassy is HUGE - one of the top three US Embassies in the world right now. So there are plenty of Americans to socialize with and there are opportunities to meet non-US expats as well.
2. Morale among expats:
I think it's very good, or at least it is among the people we socialize with. The complaints that I hear are typically from first-tour folks who have nothing to compare this experience with. Bogota really is as good as it gets, in terms of quality of life, ease of travel to the US, things to do, etc.
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?
There are great opportunities for entertaining and an active social life, whether in your home or out.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's a great city for all, as there are so many amazing opportunities for everybody, no matter your stage in life.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I have not seen this firsthand, but my Spanish teacher told me when I first arrived that Colombians have prejudices against anything other than heterosexual relationships. I've not seen or heard anything to confirm or deny this claim, but Bogota definitely does not have the same "acceptance vibe" as Brazil, for instance.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I've never heard it discussed on the social circuit, but there are definite racial issues. You only need to look at the editorial cartoons in the major newspaper to see things that would never be permitted in the US.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We've loved exploring Bogota as well as visiting all the other places that Colombia has to offer. Cartagena, Medellin, Tayrona, Coffee Country - this country is rich is natural beauty.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Where to start? There are all the cultural activities that you'd expect of a huge city (museums, churches, concerts, theater), plus there are amazing restaurants here. If you want outdoorsy activities, there's the "ciclovia" every Sunday and holiday where you can bike or walk/jog for miles on closed city streets, plus there are great hikes in the city.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
We haven't bought much. Our biggest splurges here have been on in-country travel.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Bogota is a great city, full of all the opportunities a big city can offer. It's very certainly the easiest expat experience we've ever had in 14+ years of doing this. After tours that require very long flights, we are happy to be closer to the east coast for quicker trips home.
11. Can you save money?
We've saved a little.
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:
Flip-flops for living in Bogota (but do bring them for your trips to the coast!).
3. But don't forget your:
bicycle for the "ciclovia!"