Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 02/03/20
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 five other countries from the Caribbean, Middle East, Asia, the Caucuses, and Eastern Europe.
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. On US carriers it's a four hour flight to Houston and five to Miami. From there you can easily connect. Avianca has a direct flight to DC.
3. How long have you lived here?
One and a half years.
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?
Most people live in apartments. There are some single family dwellings in Bogota, but those are rare. Apartments are good size, some have maid quarters. There is no central heating or cooling here, so people who live in apartments with lots of stone and tile complain about the cold. Neighborhoods for USG staff are primarily in Chico and Rosales. Chico is closer to shopping and restaurants and flatter. Rosales is in the hills and a bit cooler in temperature. It's closer to CNG (school).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Food is reasonably-priced here. The variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is good. There are supermarkets that cater to expats with imported products. You will pay a bit more for those things. There is a Price Smart for those who like warehouse shopping, they also carry a lot of exports from the US. I get cottage cheese there.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Fragrance free laundry detergent and fabric softener.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are good restaurants, some American chains. Lots of coffee options, Starbucks, Juan Valdez, Oma and more. Crepes and Waffles is a nice local restaurant chain that employs only single mothers. Rappi is the delivery service which will deliver food and almost anything else.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Very few at an altitude of 8,600 feet. Some folks have had mold from leaks.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Colombia does not have a postal system.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic staff are well-protected by the government here. Maids have employer paid insurance, pension, and "prima" which is a 13th and 14th month paid every six months. They will sue you if they are unhappy. Most folks use a legal representative to set up contracts and fire employees if necessary. I think nannies and maids are most common, but some folks have drivers, car washers, etc.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lot's of gyms. Body tech seems to have locations all over town including on the Embassy compound. Some folks have personal trainers at home.
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?
Many ATMs, just watch the environment for those who wish to separate you and your money. US credit cards are not always accepted, but they are in many places.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
None that I know of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is very helpful. I don't speak Spanish, but get by with my few phrases. Lots of language schools and tutors are available.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The sidewalks are bad -- uneven, big holes, etc. Having said that, the Embassy employs three or four people in wheelchairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Don't take the bus. There are robbery schemes with taxis hailed off the street. The RSO strongly advises that you use an app to call a taxi or ride share. Uber just got halted here. So, we are all scrambling to find a new ride share. Prices are very affordable.
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 what you like to drive. You don't really need a car here. The Embassy offers shuttle service to and from work for a fee as there are limited parking spaces. You can bike to work.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, I got mine installed in less than a week. I primarily stream television.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are several options for local mobile phone service.
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?
Yes. I have two wonderful vets who makes house calls. One does acupuncture for my elderly dog. No quarantine, but if they come via a pet shipper, the process to get them released is LONG! This is a very dog-friendly city. It's easy to get a dog walker or trainer. Some dogs go to day camps with pick up and drop off at home. Bring your dog to public places. Dogs here are generally well-behaved.
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?
The same as everywhere else. Most spouses work at the Embassy or as International teachers. Some freelance or have internet based careers. There is a new Global Employment Advisor at post.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Dog shelters. I'm not too familiar.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Colombians generally dress well. Business attire at work. Formal dress for formal events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Be aware of being drugged at parties or in your home. Scopolamine is used to drug people and rob them. Perpetrators typically befriend the victim and drug and rob them in their home. There are also ruses to rob people in taxis. If the taxi suddenly has mechanical problems and pulls over and the thieves jump in. Also thieves hide in the trunks of taxis.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is generally good. Some hospitals are accredited by the Joint Commission. The Embassy recommends a few hospitals. There are also urgent care centers at some malls. Some doctors make house calls. 24 hour pharmacies will deliver medicine via Rappi. Many pregnant women deliver babies at local hospitals. The altitude affects some folks health. It take about a week or two to adjust for most.
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 quality is good to moderate. Generally worse during business hours. You can follow pM 2.5 levels online.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Epinephrine auto injectors are not available locally.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Nothing specific to Colombia.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The temps are in the 60's during the day and 40's overnight. No snow. It rains frequently and is often cloudy.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many options for schools. The most frequently used school does not guarantee admission of Embassy kids. You need to apply early. The commute to CGB is long. Some children attend the French Lycee.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
CNG does offer accommodations for some kids.
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?
Yes, many pre-schools.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large. Morale is good.
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?
Clubs, bars, sports.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, lots of dating here. Families seem to like it here too.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There are several same sex couples here, both male and female.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I have found it easy to make friends with the locals.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Isn't gender equality a problem everywhere?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Ciclovia. On Sundays and local holidays they close some major streets for biking, running and walking. Bring your bike!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
In November/December there is a huge craft show at the convention center with artisans from all over the country and some other countries too. It's not to be missed. Hand made baskets, natural fiber rugs, pottery....
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's close to the US, fairly cosmopolitan, friendly people, nice temperatures.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The altitude affects people. Blood pressure, sunburn, breathing problems. There is malaria and dengue outside of Bogota.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. But don't forget your:
Bring your umbrella, sunscreen and your bike.