Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/21/15
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?
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?
Northwest USA. Not a bad trip, about 8 or so hours with a layover in either Houston or Miami or Atlanta.
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?
Nice apartments, no houses. You can live either up in the hills and get a relatively larger apartment with limited walkability, or down in the "planos" with slightly smaller apartments and excellent walkability to parks, shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce is cheap, but imported household goods and non-food groceries, like shaving cream, can be ridiculously expensive. For example, a lint roller that costs about a dollar at home will cost you about fifteen dollars here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The household goods that are expensive here --- but if you need them they are available, or you can order them via DPO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is here and relatively pricey.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Given that Bogota is at about 8,000 feet, there are no insect problems whatsoever.
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?
Cost is okay. We pay our nanny/housekeeper about US$500/month for M-F.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a gym at the embassy and a chain called Bodytech, which also has gyms in our neighborhoods. The embassy Bodytech is subsidized and cheap, but the Bodytech chains outside the embassy can be extremely overpriced and have terrible customer service.
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?
Restaurants and supermarkets almost always accept credit cards. Most basic services, like dry cleaning and haircuts do not, and this can be frustrating
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is not too common, but a working level of Spanish help you get get along.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. The sidewalks are treacherous.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, very affordable. And Uber is here.
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 car will work, but an SUV helps, since Bogota's streets are absolutely terrible with crater-size potholes.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We pay about US$80/month for our cable/TV/telephone package.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Claro has somewhat of a monopoly on US Embassy people. The service is functional for smartphones.
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?
Its a big embassy with plenty of EFM opportunities, but finding a job on the local economy can be a challenge. Colombians are mostly highly educated, so competition can be tough on the outside market.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Bogota has a well dressed society.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Petty theft is not uncommon, and even the occasional mugging at knifepoint occurs. That said, nothing has happened to me or my family. If the government can finalize a peace agreement with the guerrilla groups, that will eliminate an element of insecurity.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There is good medical care. Decent doctors, dentists and facilities are available at very reasonable prices.
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 to unhealthy. It isn't China, but diesel fuel is prevalent with plenty of air pollution. Our curtains have turned a shade of greyish black. An in-home air filter helps.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Do bring your medications. Allergies aren't a nuisance, but certain times of year, usually March-ish, can cause some minor issues.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Forget the luxury of seasons, but it is ideal for someone from the Northwest. The weather is "partly cloudy with a chance of rain"...every day. That said, the temperature stays cool in the 60s to low 70s. Never too hot, never too cold.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No experience, although I've heard so-so reports about the Colegio Nueva Granada (CNG), where most of the US Embassy kids go. I've heard better things about the French and British schools.
2. 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?
Yes. Plenty. Our toddler attends one that costs about US$500/month. It is expensive but, with the devalued peso, not so bad at the moment. Colombians send their children to preschool when they are as young as 18 months.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This is a large embassy with a sizeable expat community. Morale is decent, but life in Bogota can wear you down, as it is a big city with terrible traffic and no road or pedestrian courtesy.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all: families, couples, and singles.
3. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Since this is a Latin American country, indigenous people and those with African origins are more regularly celebrated and appreciated in public, but racism exists, and it can be subtly pernicious or overtly cruel. Some of my African-American friends have been shouted at and degraded in public, in addition to denied entry into clubs/restaurants.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
You can have anything delivered and/or done in your home. You almost never have to leave your home to get a haircut, waxing, receive your dry cleaning, massage therapist, grocery and pharmacy home delivery, etc. I even have a mechanic that will come and pick up my car to get it serviced and then return it at the end of the day.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Ciclovia, when the city blocks-off about 100 kilometers of road on Sundays and holidays for only bike and pedestrian traffic.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can find good arts and crafts that are uniquely Colombian.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The Caribbean coast cities (Cartagena, Santa Marta) are worth a visit. Although domestic tourism isn't great or up to most int'l standards (e.g. a five star Colombian hotel = three stars at best), the external escapes are easy, with short flights to Aruba, Punta Cana, Panama City, etc. The Colombian peso has devalued significantly, so you can save some money, even though Bogota is relatively expensive, given our isolation in the mountains and the high costs to transport things here.
8. Can you save money?
Yes, when the exchange rate is good.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but I probably wouldn't have extended my tour.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Nothing. Bogota is comfortable, and if you want a beach or tropical climate, it's nearby via short flight or drive.