Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/17/14
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, I've been to another Central American post.
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. - 1 direct flight on Avianca or through Miami connection (7 hours).
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?
Housing is very expensive. Almost all embassy personnel and private sector employees live in nice modern 2-3 bedroom apartments. Sizes vary. Most apartments come with small maid quarters and usually a small storage unit in the parking garage. Some apartment buildings have small gyms and playgrounds. Best places to live are near the popular areas of Parque 93 and Zona T. Commuting is difficult most of the year due to traffic and lax laws. It can take you 20 minutes without traffic or 90 minutes during a rainy rush hour. If you do not have a diplomatic plate, you may be restricted to drive only on certain days/hours.
Public transportation is not allowed for U.S. Embassy personnel. There have been a few incidents of kidnappings, muggings, and murders in taxis. Try to always call a taxi by phone or through the app Tapsi or Uber. Taxis can be impossible to find during rush hour or when it's raining. Plan your outings accordingly to avoid being stranded. There are parking garages but drunk driving laws are so strict that it is better to take a taxi if you plan on having even one glass of wine.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Almost everything is available if you are willing to go to a specialty store. Some grocery stores cater to higher end imported products and are more expensive. A weekend trip to the large food market is very cheap and you can find your heart's content of fresh produce, fruit, flowers, and meats.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Wine (available but expensive). Bikes for ciclovia.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many options. Almost all restaurants from low to high end deliver. Just google domicilios bogota.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None at altitude in Bogota. You hardly ever see any. There is malaria, dengue, and yellow fever in other parts of the country.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO/Pouch through the Embassy. FedEx and DHL are all over.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Resonable as noted above for nannies. You can also hire maids on a daily basis for around US$15-$25/day. Have a good contract with your domestic help and follow the Embassy's liturature on local staff labor laws.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are many gyms. Cost varies dramatically from your local mom and pop gym to BodyTech at the highest end. Pool use is very expensive are hard to find. Personal trainers are reasonable. Crossfit is becoming popular and boxes are opening througout the city.
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 widely accepted. There are ATMs througout the city. There is some fraud.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
A few but I have no personal experience.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is found in the more touristy areas but a small level of Spanish is needed for daily living. Spouses and family members can get by with limited vocabulary for shopping, transporation, and numbers.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It's not impossible but it is difficult. Only half of the sidewalks have ramps to cross the street. There are elevators in almost all buildings but some restaurants only have stair entry.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not safe, very affordable. I recommend using the apps Tapsi and Uber for taxis.
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?
Bring a car that can handle potholes in the middle of the highway. You can sell your car for what you bought it for in the U.S. at the end of your tour. Parts are generally available or easy to import (at a cost). We did well with a mid-range SUV. There is a wide variety from small sedans to Landcruisers and Prados. It depends on your family size and personal preference. You can also get by without a car if you are flexible.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. A triple-play package is available for U.S. prices. There are many options for internet speed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Claro and Movistar are all over. Getting a contract can be difficult but "pay as you go" is easy to recharge.
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?
No. Pet care is amazing. This is the most pet friendly place I've ever lived. We have our dog picked up in the morning and driven out to a farm to play for the day. There are many excellent boarding options along with dog walking and training for puppies. You can bring your dog to some restaurants if they have an outdoor patio or eating area. We loved bringing our dog to the Irish pub. They would bring him a bowl of water and let him sit on the bench with us. There are also some doggie bakeries for treats. Many grooming places (mobile and shops) and lots of stores to buy clothes for smaller 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?
Some if you speak fluent Spanish but pay is lower than in the U.S.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are some volunteer opportunities with an orphanage and pet shelters. If you speak Spanish, many more opportunities are available.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More formal than in the U.S. Women and men alike dress up with jackets and nice shoes/boots.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Tons. Many diplomats and private sector energy employees require body guards and armoured cars in many areas of the country. The U.S. Embassy severely limits travel for personal reasons. Certain major highways still have FARC checkpoints. While most urban areas are significantly safer, rural areas are still dangerous in much of the country. There are concerns of kidnapping, land mines; more so in areas where illegal armed groups remain. This affects your ability to travel to many of the rural tourism opportunities. Driving is also limited because certain highways pass through dangerous areas. You must fly to many locations driving up the costs of your weekend trip.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Excellent medical care available. Altitude may be a health concern for some.
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?
Bogota air quality is moderate. The buses let off a lot of pollution but there tends to be decent wind bringing in fresh air.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Bogota weather changes frequently but averages the same temperatures year round. It can be slightly chilly with light rain most days. December and January are usually the nicest time of the year with more sun and warmer weather. Bogota is at altitude and takes some getting used to if you are a biker or runner. Two hours away from Bogota is a much warmer climate at lower altitude.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I do not have experience with them but there are many options for schooling from pre-school up through high school. Parents seem to be happy with the available options.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Many families come here with special-needs children but I don't know if the schooling system lives up to expectations.
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?
Preschools are in every neighborhood. Many have small vans that provide transportation for the children although none are in car seats. The cost of an experienced nanny for babies is reasonable and average around US$400-$600/month for an expat. Colombians often employ a day nanny and a night nurse for children although night nurses are rare in the embassy community. Colombians love children and they are welcome in most restaurants and shopping areas. There are many parks although it might be a bit of a walk or drive to get to bigger ones. Playground equipment varies. The rain can make getting out of the apartment difficult.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Many. Soccer is the most popular. Kids are always out riding bikes with their parents on Sunday mornings.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
U.S. Embassy staff is enormous. There is not a strong community with other diplomats. Other expats are easy to spot out and become friends with. Morale varies. Many feel lost in such a big embassy community. Others feel trapped due to the difficulty in finding taxis, the rain, and security restrictions.
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?
Dinner and drinks. Weekend lunches near La Calera. Running. Going to the parks with kids.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all. Single males will enjoy meeting Colombian women and many find their future spouse here. Women have a harder time dating. Couples enjoy the night scene and the many restaurant and bar options in the city. Families do well with parks and weekend getaways.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There is a general acceptance of LGBT individuals but not a large open dating scene. Much like the U.S., the younger generation is very accepting but there is still discrimiation. This is a much better post than most conservative Latin American countries for LGBT.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Colombians will deny prejudice but it exists.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Cartagena is a beautiful historic town and a great 3-4 day trip to take when you tire of the cold rainy Bogota weather. Day trips to the countryside outside of Bogota - parrilla lunches. Paragliding in Sopo and Bucaramanga. Stays at idylic coffee plantations. Biking and running during Bogota's ciclovia when many roads are closed on Sunday mornings and holidays for exercise.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Running and road biking are popular activities. There are many running races and a strong community of runners at the U.S. Embassy. There is also an okay music scene with many concerts coming to Bogota and Medellin.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Emeralds. Purses. There is an artisan fair every December at Corferias which is amazing.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Tourism opportunities - coffee country - coastal towns/beaches - rural mountain scenery. Fantastic restaurant scene in Bogota and Medellin. You can purchase just about anything you may want here but at a premium. Food and flower markets are inexpensive. Coffee shops are all over the place. Excellent medical care available making it a destination for plastic surgery.
10. Can you save money?
If you don't go out to eat at the many nice restaurants all the time.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Housing is spread out and commuting can be difficult. I didn't know how hard it would be to find taxis at times. I thought there would be more opportunities for mountain biking and camping.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but I won't come back for another tour unless road infrastructure and security improves.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Baking equipment - altitude is difficult for most bakers.
4. But don't forget your:
Bike, umbrella, and dog.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Anything about the conflict, on Pablo Escobar, or by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.