Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/13/18
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 Africa, South America and UK before.
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?
United States. Direct flights to LA (7 hours), Houston, Miami (3 hours) and other cities. Travel to other South American cities can be expensive. You can find good deals for in-country travel to Cartagena, etc.
3. How long have you lived here?
Over a year
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?
All apartments. Sizes vary depending on location and building age. Most expat housing is in the north of the city with commute times running closer to an hour.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables available for cheap. Imported products will run a little bit higher but still cheaper than the US. Many people shop at PriceMart (equivalent to Costco) for American products. In general, the cost of living is very low.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Baking supplies, spices, wine, clothing for big/tall, electronics
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is available for delivery here, from food to dry cleaning to money from the ATM. Plentiful American fast food chains. Colombian food tends to be fried, not spicy. Food is generally better in other South American countries.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No, minimal bugs due to the altitude.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. There is no national mail system in Colombia. Locals use DHL
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very inexpensive. Minimum wage here is $1 US dollar per hour
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many gyms are found throughout the city, including CrossFit. Memberships can be higher or equal to US prices
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 safe and widely accepted. Use the machine that they bring to your table at a restaurant. ATMs are common, but skimming and personal security are concerns.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Native Spanish speakers (and their spouses) will have a different experience and quality of life here than those of us who are still learning Spanish. Very little English is spoken, since there has not been a lot of tourism here historically. The 3/3 Spanish level is really essential for quality of life here. Most of the service industry (restaurants, shops, telephone/internet providers) does not speak English, so Spanish is essential for getting basic services. There are local language schools and classes available (with varying prices). Lots of personal tutors are also available.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, sidewalks are uneven and many buildings are inaccessible to wheelchair users.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transport is crowded and petty crime is common. Government staff are advised to not take buses or hail taxis. Uber is illegal for drivers but okay for passengers to use. Some use smartphone apps to call a legitimate taxi. There is no metro system, so traffic is some of the worst in the world.
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?
For trips outside the city, bring a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We have 100 mb cable and tv for $100 per month. Installation takes two weeks or less. The best ISP, ETB, no longer provides service to diplomats.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local providers are plentiful and affordable. Paying your bill requires going to a local store in person since international cards are not accepted online.
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 spouses here do not work. Spanish fluency is a must for working on the local economy, even as an English teacher. Many jobs at embassies also require Spanish fluency. There is a work agreement between the US and Colombia, but I don't know anyone personally who has been able to find a job. Local salaries are very low and some companies/contracting agencies attempt to scam foreigners without diplomatic status.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Very few if you don't speak Spanish.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional. More formal than in the US.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Muggings are increasingly common, especially cell phone theft. It's become so common, that the government decriminalized the theft of cell phones, so there's nothing the police will do. Gringos should watch their purses and drinks at bars. Recommend bringing cross-body purses and leaving all jewelry at home. In general, Brazil felt more safe than here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Bogota is at 9,000 feet so many people experience altitude sickness. This can last for several months and drain your energy. Very few mosquitos or bugs, so low risk of malaria and zika (unlike the coast). Doctors are well educated and provide good quality of care. Navigating the bureaucracy and service inconsistencies can be frustrating. Facilities are not well maintained in comparison to 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?
Air pollution is also high here due to the traffic, especially in the dry season.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Allergies can occur practically year round from pollen.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Very mild climate, 60s year round. Rainy like Seattle and London, but lots of greenery here. Due to climate change, it is becoming more rainy here. Often there are periods when it rains every day. The line between dry and wet seasons is becoming more blurred.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Commute times can be over an hour.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
US expat government community is large. Private US companies also have a large presence here. Due to current low employment opportunities, spouse morale is low. The community is click-ish, based on what agency one works for and too big to be close knit. There are few embassy events for family members who do not work at the mission and for those without children.
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?
American Women's Club (open to all English speakers) has been a life saver here with lots of fun events to meet other expats and Colombians and to explore the city's restaurants and culture. Otherwise, people go out to movies, restaurants and fincas (country houses) on the weekends.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good city for couples with lots to do. Families may find apartment living a bit cramped.
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
African Americans are more frequently stopped by police for questioning and may experience more problems with stereotypes.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Parque Tayrona in Santa Marta, Cartagena.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Tejo (throwing lead balls at gunpowder targets), El Cielo restaurant, ciclovia (roads closed to cars on Sundays and holidays)
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, lots of artwork, furniture and handicrafts are available.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Everything available for delivery to your house.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Colombian society in general is very classist and due to the 50-year civil war, the people are very closed off to foreigners. This means making friends is difficult, and you need to know someone to get a job here. As a foreigner without any pre-existing friends in the right places, you may find it difficult to have an "in" with a company to even find out about a job opening.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Probably not due to the difficulty of local employment.
3. But don't forget your:
Rain jacket, Whatsapp.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Narcos *just don't mention it to any Colombians :-)