Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/29/23
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, have previously lived in Western and Central Europe (various countries).
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?
Canada. There are direct flights between Bogota/Cartagena and Toronto/Montreal.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments, all within walking distance to the Canadian embassy. Typical housing size is 3-4 bedrooms, 2-3 full bathrooms. Commute time is a 10-20 minute walk to work. Both work and home are in a neighborhood called Usaquen.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Availability 7/10 - there's a Costco (called Pricesmart) where you can find familiar Kirkland products including maple syrup. Colombia has a good variety of fruits and vegetables, flour (especially corn flour), liquor, etc. Some things are hard to find, like Asian/Middle Eastern spices and (surprisingly) yellow lemons.
Cost 10/10 - very cheap compared to Canada.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Spices like sumac, za'atar, etc.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Rappi is a food/grocery delivery app from Colombia that has since expanded to many Latin American countries. They are fast, very convenient, excellent client service. You can get anything ordered to your house. Otherwise, there are some good restaurants in Bogota especially for Peruvian/Japanese food, but many others are just OK. Colombians have an aversion to spice and the local food is rather bland.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No, one of the best parts about living in Bogota is the notable absence of mosquitoes.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic mail or DHL. Amazon.com also delivers to Colombia.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is widely available especially cleaners, nannies and cooks. Cost is significantly lower than Canada; most cleaners charge minimum wage or a little bit more.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are widely available especially large chains like BodyTech. Ciclovia on weekends sees the closure of kilomtres and kilometres of roads to make space for bicycles and rollerblades. There are also facilities to play soccer/football, tennis, boxing, dance classes, etc. Private/one-on-one classes are common, and can be found on the website TusClases. Most instructors speak Spanish only.
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 widely accepted. ATMs are common but should only be used in safe/secure areas (such as inside a bank branch) in daytime for security reasons.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A lot. This is a difficult post without Spanish skills. The local population is not proficient in English. Spanish classes are available and are relatively affordable.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The hilly-ness, especially on the east side of the city, can be a challenge.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are not safe. Uber is relatively safe but technically illegal.
2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?
For Canadian diplomats a vehicle is not necessary unless you want one for weekend trips outside of the city (to fincas for example). Traffic is very heavy in Bogota and getting around by car often isn't worth the hassle inside the city. For trips outside the city, a car that can confidently handle pothole-riddled roads and the occasional dirt/off road experience would be best. Cars can be affordably rented on Localiza, for those who don't want to own their own. Getting around Bogota on motorcycle is also generally more comfortable and faster than a car, except when it's raining.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, can be installed within a week of arrival (Claro).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local provider (Claro).
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?
Bogota is extremely pet-friendly especially for dogs. Groomers, vets, dog walkers, pet daycares, etc. ... all kinds of services are available. I cannot speak to entry/exit restrictions specifically, but many people at the mission brought pets from abroad.
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 telework for Canada given the time zone similarities, and the fact that virtually all local jobs require some degree of Spanish. A "good" salary in Colombia is around CAD $1.7k monthly and that's not that common to find. Many spouses did not work at all. A few started their own business or side hustles.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Assisting vulnerable migrants could be an option.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More on the conservative side. Women never show their bare legs at work in Bogota; skirts and dresses are always worn with pantyhose underneath. Likewise, sleeveless shirts are very rare. No local will ever wear shorts in Bogota. Expect to dress like it's fall all year round.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty theft is the biggest risk. Organized crime is also a problem. It is not recommended to walk outside after dark, nor to drive in certain areas of the city. More than half the city is considered a "red zone". There are also occasional protests by people and taxis alike that can disrupt traffic and sometimes grow violent.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care (private) is world-class and in many cases better than in Canada (and cheaper). The main health effects are the perverse impacts of the high altitude; effects vary person to person and range from insomnia to generalized fatigue to shortness of breath to no symptoms at all.
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-good, especially near the mountain forests (east side). The frequent rain also helps clear the air.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Lactose intolerance (or lactose sensitivity) is common among locals and many foreigners develop a sensitivity to cow's milk products while in Bogota. That said, lactose-free options are easy to find. Food is generally very safe to eat and in the mission-provided apartments, the tap water is drinkable.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No, other than people feeling down during long bouts of rain.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
About 18 degrees Celsius year-round in daytime, 10 degrees at night. It is similar to fall weather; expect to wear a light jacket all year. It rains a lot, also.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are French, British and American international schools; they are far from the Canadian embassy though
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, soccer, swimming lessons, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium, any not that united as embassies are spread across different parts of the city (not close together). It's possible to make friends outside of expat circles (with locals) especially if you speak Spanish.
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?
Playing sports, doing group classes, going on group hikes. Just pursing hobbies that can be done in a group, generally.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all family configurations, although the divorce rate can be high.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Yes, but due to classism and high income inequality if you are an expat who is well-off it can be harder to socialize with people of lower income, even just because of the part of the city lower income people tend to live in (far from where the diplomatic expats are). There is some racial prejudice in Colombia, especially against Afro-Colombians and Venezuelan migrants, but discrimination tends to be stronger along class lines rather than racial ones.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. Same-sex marriage is legal, large PRIDE parade, and lots of gay bars. Social attitudes still sometimes lean conservative though and LGBTQ folks aren't socially accepted by everyone.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is still some machismo sexism but it's manageable; otherwise, in Colombia women generally wear whatever they want and showing off one's body is not viewed in a negative way at all. Most of the population is Catholic; followers of smaller world religions may not have a place of worship closely accessible to them in Bogota (research first). As mentioned before, there is some discrimination or racist attitudes against Afro-Colombians and Venezuelan migrants.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The friendliness of the people, the endless activities and hobbies that one can do, and the ability to visit virtually every possible ecosystem/weather without even leaving the country.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go to the TusClases or SuperProfe websites to find amazing teachers and coaches for almost any activity. Get personalized driving classes, photography classes, art classes, fitness classes, dance classes, etc. The teachers are amazingly friendly and very warm people, and very passionate about their craft.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
It's known for emeralds, excellent quality coffee beans, some artisanal artwork, unique interior design pieces.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Cost of living is cheap, and very wide range of activities to do. Good air quality, comfortable weather, food safety.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
The traffic is even worse than you can imagine.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
100% (but without a car).
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
shorts and summer clothes.
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Books: Missionaries by Phil Klay. Anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
TV shows: Wild District (Distrito Salvaje), Betty la Fea (the original Ugly Betty)
6. Do you have any other comments?
One of the best postings out there, by far, but even better if you learn or speak Spanish!