Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/20/14
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 have lived in multiple posts.
2. How long have you lived here?
I left in 2014.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive.
2. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants are very good and plentiful. The price is cheaper than Washington D.C. but more expensive than many parts of Latin America.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the embassy. The mail system is good.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is affordable, although it is extremely unusual to find anyone who speaks English. I had someone who was wonderful and dependable, although many people have a different experience and complained small items went missing from their homes.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a nice gym at the Embassy and some around 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 used rarely and many have large fees if you use them. This is a cash based society but there is a bank at the embassy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are some English language church services.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You absolutely need Spanish to function.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be almost impossible to get around on the streets or sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
No. The American Embassy community is prohibited from taking the bus, and there are restrictions related to 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?
A four-wheel drive is very useful due to road conditions.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. The cost seems reasonable, but service is not great. You may or may not get your internet and cell phone bills.
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?
There is no quarantine. Good vets will come to your house for whatever your pets need and the care is quite 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?
No, but sometimes they are employed through the embassy part time.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
A number of spouses volunteered at the local animal shelter and did amazing work!
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional at work. Less casual in public that the U.S. No one wears shorts or flip flops.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Security is a huge concern. People stay in their neighborhoods and are inside by dark.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The air quality is quite poor. The medical care is very, very spotty even though particular hospitals are recommended for the American community. A number of people who were hospitalized while I was at post had very bad and somewhat scary experiences.
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?
The air quality is very, very poor.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The international schools present serious issues for the American kids. I have extensive experience with Colegio Gran Bretana (CGB - The British School). Please know your children will hear regular anti-American comments and criticisms by the teachers on a regular basis and in front of the classroom. They will be questioned in front of the class about why the Americans do this or that or why American policy is what it is. They will be taught America did not really participate in World War II or World War I. The children will be taught many "conspiracy theories" about how the American Government may have known about the attack on Pearl Harbor before it took place but chose to do nothing. These are just a couple of examples. The kids are taught to be ashamed of being American. The regular anti-American comments leave the door wide open for the Americans to be bullied by the Colombian kids who are absolutely favored at the school.
There is a great deal of prejudice against children who are not Caucasian or who are not Hispanic with light colored skin. This is coming from a parent of caucasian children who was regularly shocked by comments made to fellow American classmates such as "don't touch me or your black may rub off" or "you'd better get out of the sun you are already so black." These comments are common and no actions are taken to prevent or correct them. Institutional racism is taught in the classroom through the presentation of the "social pyramid." This pyramid shows the white skinned Colombians at the top, and moves all the way down to the black-skinned Colombians who are at the bottom of the pyramid. There are comments made to the class about how it is wrong to mix the races. The 2013-2014 yearbook makes it clear through comments made by the administration that state the idea of the melting pot reminds the administration of -and I quote- "sludge." This can be easily read - just get a copy of the 2013-2014 yearbook and read comments made by school leadership.
The British teachers regularly humiliate the children by announcing grades to the class, with an emphasis on those who did the best and those who did the worst. Children hear comments such as "you don't seem to have 2 brain cells." This is coming from a parent whose children were very successful academically.
Some teachers will comment on the appearance of your children in negative ways in front of the class to include comments about hairstyles. For example "What did you do to your hair? That seems like a bad choice."
The Colombian kids will not/not accept the American kids as friends. It doesn't matter if your children are outgoing or have been socially successful in other posts or in the U.S. Your children will not succeed socially in this environment. Many American kids ended up in private counseling due to the stress of bullying and the overall environment. Children at the age of twelve are permitted by Colombian parents to drink hard liquor. The parents provide the liquor and allow the children to "party" as they are "just having fun." The American parents are just considered uptight as they do not allow the children to party with hard liquor at such young ages.
The yearly school trips are very dangerous. For example, kids travel to the Amazon and walk through flooded forests with water up to their chests. They are told to stay together so they don't get bitten by animals in the water. They go on very long hikes in extremely hot temperatures and the guides run out of water halfway through difficult hikes. The kids are not informed to take malaria medication even though malaria is a prevalent in the Amazon.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The schools are not open minded about issues such as ADD and ADHD and do not deal well at all with the children who have these issues.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There is soccer.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Morale is low. The size of the community is large, but many people are there temporarily and are not there with families.
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?
Restaurants and night clubs.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Living in Bogota is a difficult environment with very little to do. The boredom is the biggest challenge.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. Colombian society is in no way accepting of people who are gay.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are serious issues with race. Those with white skin are obviously treated much, much better than people of color.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. But don't forget your:
Don't forget your electronics!!! You will be inside a lot and need to be able to entertain yourself.