Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/05/20
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?
Is far from my first. Have lived in many other cities. Bogota is far from my favorite city as an expat; it's overrated.
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?
Moderately easy to fly to Bogota; has flights from LA, Atlanta, Houston, NY, DC, and Miami.
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?
Modern, spacious housing. Awful commute, though. It's a diagonal 10km across town and zero public transportation options exist per security rules. Commute time in cars range from 30-90 minutes depending on traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Nearly full selection; conveniently delivered to home via apps also. Cheaper than in the U.S.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Plenty of mainstream cuisine available in expat neighborhoods, albeit most restaurants are oddly closed on Sunday nights--which is when you want to eat out the most if one has a housekeeper. One wishes Bogota's cuisine had more creativity and flair.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
It gets cold at nights, especially between May-November, and many housing units don't have internal heating. External heating units are half decent yet also give the fear to the owners if they're left turned on too long.
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?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Abundant facilities at accessible prices. Bodytech is the best gym chain albeit gymgoers there can be snooty.
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?
ATMs are hit or miss for foreign cards. Many charge obnoxiously large transaction fees and use unfavorable exchange rates.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish definitely helps.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks range from beautiful to pitiful. Really depends on the neighborhood.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Ubers are safe; yellow street taxis are not. Not sure about buses. No train service available unfortunately.
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 any car. SUV for those wishing to explore the mountains.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Installed within one week.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Claro or Avantel.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Seem to be abundant.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More on the formal side.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpocketing can be bad, especially in central Bogota.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Not really. Good enough health care.
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 is fresh.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
First few days can be tough because of the altitude.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Temps between 40-70 degrees. It gets cold at night.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It seems small for the size of Bogota. Morale higher among married expats than single expats. Bogota society is quite closed and already formed by college age, so those who are single have a hard time making friends or finding partners organically. The social life in Bogota is overrated based on a glowing reputation that didn't turn out true after living here. Expats seem much happier in Medellin.
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?
It's tough. The society doesn't allow a lot of access for foreigners despite its undeserved reputation for being welcoming. Locals act in a rigid way in public; if you try to say hi to strangers on the street, you might get a response back some 10% of the time. The Bogotanos can be delightful if you have an introduction from a trusted third party, though.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's decent for singles but it's challenging to meet a local single who is intellectually vibrant and thinks about anything outside of Colombia's borders. The cultural gaps are bigger than they appear, especially the Colombians' extreme closeness with their families that leads to sheltered, banal young adults. Couples seem to enjoy it more here. Families appear happy too.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
If one has an introduction from an American or old friend, it's possible to make friends. Organically in public, forget about making friends. Bogotanos tend to be EXTREMELY guarded to those they don't know. I've heard those of African descent having a hard time, and it seems some Colombians can also be racist against those of Asian descent, too.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Cool trips to small towns in the mountains. Dance floors can be fun.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Medellin and Bucaramanga can offer cool escapes. People like going to the ocean. The country is a bit ungoverned in rural areas, though, which makes exploring more dicey than it should be.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Woven handbags are a standout.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Quite a walkable city within the residential neighborhood. Best music scene in the Spanish-speaking world. Affordable prices. Cool mountain views.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
In my opinion, it's a socially unwelcoming city. Without introductions from trusted third parties when they can be hospitable, Bogotanos tend to be content to stay in their own longstanding social circles. They can be guarded, classist, racist, and unwilling to move out of their comfort zones. Northern Bogota (Chico/Rosales neighborhoods) empty out on weekends and holidays when the upper class flees to their rural villas/farms. It can be a ghost town when everything is closed down. The city often can seem bland, vapid, cold.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. The Bogota society is too rigid to be a place where one can flourish socially or develop deep friendships. Customer service (outside of luxury hotels/restaurants) tends to lack integrity; a tailor/shop will promise one thing and then not comply with the promise. The closed-mindedness, the bias against most things non-latino, the stay-in-the-family-nest syndrome, the lack of intellectual curiosity--it soon becomes a downer. Colombians tend to be extremely smug and remain in their comfort zone. Neighbors in my building, for example, have never said hi or offered any hospitality in the year of living in my building. Why expand their perfectly cozy lives??
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Curiosity for the outside world. Creativity. Optimism for making friends organically.
4. But don't forget your:
Bike (great bike trails/biking culture in town).
Snooty attitude (to blend in socially).
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Colombia has changed greatly in the last ten years. While it has developed its infrastructure and grown its economy, it seems less and less friendly, open-minded, or welcoming.