Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/31/18
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?
First long-term expat experience.
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, some direct flights to DC, none to Pittsburgh. Usually we have a three and a half hour flight and another two hour with a short layover in Florida/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?
Apartments. No houses in the US Embassy community, but I know of some other expats who live in the far north in houses. The housing is beautiful; usually modern and very nice sizes. Everyone I know has space for a live-in nanny as well. Embassy families live in different zones and it's about 30-45 minutes to the embassy depending on traffic. We had a three bedroom apartment with a living room, family room, office, dining room, and two balconies.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get just about anything here, especially American imports at PriceSmart (Latin American Costco). Carulla, Exito, and Olympica are the main grocery stores and you can get just about anything. There are some limitations on things like exotic spices, etc, but there is no shortage of specialty stores; you just might have to go out of your way to find them. Lots of markets with much more inexpensive produce and meats, but not necessarily in expat areas and not as convenient.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We did ship several cases of black beans and garbanzo beans because we heard they were hard to find here, and we are glad we did! We also shipped a lot of other food things like spices, almond milk, salsa, and peanut butter. You can find all of those here but they are more expensive and we had the weight allowance to do it. We don't drink much, but many people complain about how expensive alcohol can be.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I don't know a single expat who doesn't use Rappi, a delivery app. It's very inexpensive to have things delivered and I use it constantly. For restaurants, you can find a lot of things here: there are good "fast casual" places like Home Burger, Wok, Sipote, Freshii, lots of pizza places etc. Lots of US chains like KFC, Dunkin, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc. You can also go to super nice restaurants for a fraction of the cost it would be in the US.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Zero. With altitude of 8600 feet I almost never see a bug.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO through the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of very qualified empleadas (housekeepers) and nannies (nineras), and some people employ drivers. Cost is around US$20/day for a housekeeper, but it totally depends on whether they are live in/out, their experience, their schedule, etc.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of stuff available. In our neighborhood alone we have a regular gym, spinning (cycling) classes, boxing, yoga (multiple), and even Barre.
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?
Yes, yes, and yes.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, one English-language non-denominational church in Rosales, at least one Catholic church has an English mass. I know of some community members who attend a Mormon service and a Jewish synagogue, but I am not sure if they are in English. There is also an Episcopal priest that does an English language service.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not a whole lot of English is spoken, definitely not in grocery stores, pharmacies or most restaurants. You can, of course, find professionals (doctors, etc) who speak English. I know very very few expats who don't know any Spanish at all. Lots of great schools and tutors available at very low prices. I did a full-time program for two months when we arrived and it helped me acclimate much faster.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
If you were in a wheelchair, you could definitely have issues because the sidewalks are not great, even in the richest neighborhoods. Ramps are often missing and some stores/restaurants have steps (no ramps) to get into. I get frustrated just with a stroller, so I can't imagine a wheelchair.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We cannot use the Transmilenio (bus) system, but Uber is here and taxis can be used with an appropriate app. We are advised not to hail them on the street for safety reasons and to avoid price gouging.
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?
There are all kinds of cars here. We have a Honda Civic, which works well for tiny parking spaces, but lots of people have smaller SUVs and all the Marines have massive SUVs. High clearance is nice if you want to go to some hiking locations outside the city, but we have also driven all over in our Civic and been fine. There is a Honda dealership that replaced my airbag when it was recalled.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Ours was installed within a week or so, but many people have frustrating experiences with Claro and require repeat visits.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Claro is the main one. We brought our phones from the US and swapped sim cards.
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?
Locally-based jobs are going to pay practically nothing. I telecommute and have other expat spouse friends that do the same. Some teach, some are tutors, some have jobs at the embassy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Lots. Some skilled and many unskilled.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The embassy is business dress. My spouse wears a suit and tie every day. We haven't had to wear formal dress for anything yet.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The same as any big Latin American city which includes some muggings, and harassment. I have heard that some people have their wallets or phones stolen. The general rule is common sense: be aware of your surroundings, don't walk alone at night, don't go to seedy neighborhoods, don't use your phone or pull out your wallet on the street.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air pollution is pretty bad. Medical care is excellent. The main hospital expats use is Fundacion Santa Fe, which is one of the top hospitals in South America. We have been there a few times and the care is very good. English-speaking doctors are also easy to find. I had an excellent obstetrician. Dental/orthodontia is a fraction of the cost of the US and good quality.
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. It can be unpleasant walking down certain streets and breathing the exhaust from the buses, but, in many neighborhoods, it's totally fine.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
It's easy to manage food allergies here.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It rains a lot in Bogota, but when it is nice weather, it's amazing. :)
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's about 55 degrees all year round. Dry season is December through February and then June through August. Wet season is the other months. It's a very comfortable temperature; the kind you never really think about.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of international schools. Lots of kids go to Colegio Nueva Granada (CNG) and Colegio Gran Britanica (CGB), but there are other options, too. No personal experience with either, but people seem happy with the school options here.
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, in expat areas they tend to be more expensive, but traffic makes it prohibitive to drive a little farther for a less expensive option. We pay about $350 USD/month for my toddler to go to jardin (daycare/preschool) for 4 mornings a week. Obviously much cheaper than the US, but I have non-embassy friends who live in other areas that can pay a lot less.
I love our jardin. My toddler started going at 18 months and before that when she was home with me, Colombians thought it was very strange that she wasn't already in a jardin. It's just a cultural thing to send very very young children to school as soon as possible and it's not just the upper class that does this.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty large. Bogota has one of the biggest US Embassies in the world, and there is also a very large French population here (I've heard this is due to the large presence of Renault) as well as many other European expats. I think most expats are happy, although many feel very ambivalent about Bogota.
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?
There are a few expat groups/clubs that are pretty popular, e.g., the American Women's Club and the American Society of Bogota.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
We were here with little kids. The low cost of childcare and household help is really nice. You can get just about anything you need here, and there are lots of things to do for families and kids. Lots of things to do within a few hours of the city if you need to get away. Colombia is not a super easy country to travel around with little kids just due to the level of development. It is getting better with the peace process and it's much better/safer than it was even a few years ago.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The hiking! Colombia is a gorgeous country, and no one should stick to just Bogota! We hiked to La Chorrera, which is a waterfall about an hour from Bogota and it was amazing. We haven't been yet, but everyone loves Coffee Country and Cartagena.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We really love the hiking trails in the eastern hills. Unfortunately, they are often closed due to rain or repairs, but when they are open they are amazing. I recommend that you only go when the police are there (usually weekend mornings, but some trails are staffed every morning) because I understand there has been muggings and violence on the trails.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You can get beautiful handmade things here, e.g., furniture, leather goods (shoes/bags, etc), handmade woven bags or things for the home, etc. Lots of local artists: the market in Usaquen is a good place to find things.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known that we wouldn't be able to travel as much as we thought. South America is way bigger/spread out and flights to neighboring countries are much more expensive than we realized. In country flights are usually under US$100, but lack of development in some areas makes it difficult to get to some of the best places if you only have a three day weekend to travel.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Impatience. Everything takes way longer than you expect it will.
4. But don't forget your:
Umbrella, boots, and rain jacket.