Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/27/24

Personal Experiences from Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia 05/27/24


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?


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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?

Originally Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Most recently, DC. We were lucky with a reasonable number of direct flights or easy connections through Miami. A little under 5 hours for a direct flight from/to Atlanta.

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3. What years did you live here?

June 2022-June 2024.

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4. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy housing is truly incredible. All are apartments without yards but there are always plenty of parks and green space nearby. As a family of 4 we had a 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath, 4 (!) balconies, with an extra small bedroom or storage and full (albeit small) bathroom for the “maids quarters.” This was a typical size. Our building had no amenities compared to others but more open living space and more patios.

Embassy housing in Chico and Rosales is excellent for location. However, commute time to the embassy is horrendous (45 mins to 1 hour or even more). Many leave extra early to make it more manageable. My husband is not sensitive and would have to come home and lay down due to terrible headaches from exhaust while in traffic. He’s not a biker, but started while here, and that helped for a more pleasant commute.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Rappi (app you can download to have groceries, restaurants, household items, and even clothes delivered) is outstanding (so cheap and easy!) and almost everything is available locally. Some spices and/or spicy things are harder to find (ex. fennel seed, jalapeños); other items like lemons, bourbon, half and half, and creamer are rare (a local WhatsApp group posts when they’re available); and some items are randomly unavailable (fresh milk, butter, etc.), but I’ve been very impressed with all that’s available. You can also get other favorites like Cheerios (staple for our young kiddos) at the commissary. The quality of the beef unless imported is not great (much tougher than the U.S. and other countries).

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Ship bourbon or non-South American wine you want (hard to find or very expensive at post). Baby items (toys, clothes like Carters, etc.) are also very expensive at post. Ship hard-to-find spices you want for cooking.

You can also DPO plenty of items (Aunt Annie’s Mac and Cheese, Cheerios, kids veggie pouches without andded sugars, etc.).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Rappi is life changing. It’s an app you can download for groceries, restaurant takeout, pharmacy items (including prescription items), toys, clothing, and household items. Rappi turbo even has items (grocery and restaurant) that can be delivered in fewer than 10 minutes! If you can think of it, chances are you can find it on Rappi. Enjoy.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We have no insects or infestation problems. In general, there aren’t a lot of bugs or bug problems in Bogota.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We receive DPO, pouch, or via Amazon even packages to our local physical address (just click “free international shipping” and you have to spend $35 or more but it will be delivered to your physical apartment. All options have been excellent. As expected, sometimes pouch can take a while especially over the holidays.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Household help is exceptional quality both for nineras (focus on the kids) and empleadas (cook, clean, and do laundry). Level of help can vary but most have an empleada that comes at least once a week. Others may have empleadas and multiple nineras (for multiple kids), including weekend days. A few people have drivers as well (but this is more rare).

7 or 8am to 3 or 4pm is a typical schedule with extra pay (typically double the hourly salary) for extra hours. Many empleadas commute 1.5-2 hours one way to work on the Transmilenio (bus). If they stay late (past 10 or 11pm), it’s customary to get them an Uber home. We also had a night nurse (registered nurse) for our newborn from 8pm to 6am for $35-40/night.

There are tight Colombian restrictions on the benefits afforded to help (food while working, uniforms and shoes twice a year, heathcare, social security, pension, primma which is a bonus twice a year, liquidación when ending employment, etc.). Use Symplifica or a local lawyer to make sure your calculations are correct. Some guides that may help you educate yourself (check for most updated information):,éstico+2019.pdf/04a6578d-f478-6a94-56ef-6f20299c12e0,

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3. Do you feel that it is safe to walk, run or hike outside? Are there areas where bike riding is possible? What is the availability and safety of outdoor space for exercising? Are these easily accessible?

Yes. Be careful super late or super early but in general yes. Like any big city keep your wits about you; don’t make yourself a target with flashy valuables (like big diamond engagement rings), etc. Virrey Park is especially popular for running. Ciclovia on Sundays (streets shut down for runners, bikers, etc.) are also a cyclist’s dream.

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4. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

All kinds! Many buildings have gyms (ours does not), but the embassy has one, and there are also many local options near where you live. Our local gym when we arrived cost for one year approximately what we paid for one month of membership for Equinox gym in DC. There are also lots of kiddo gym options, country clubs, etc. Our three-year-old loves her gymnastics and swimming classes, but plenty of others enjoy other options (horseback riding outside the city, soccer, theatre, etc.) with older kiddos especially.

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5. 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. Occasionally American Express is not accepted but most places do accept American credit cards. Sometimes they have to run the card more than once because it can be quirky, but it typically eventually works. Asking for your passport or id number is typical for many transactions (you can put “CE” for cédula extranjera and use your local divers license number).

They also may ask “cuantos cuotas” which is always 1 for U.S. credit cards (Colombians may decide at the point of sale how many payments they are going to make to pay off an item but that doesn’t exist in the U.S.). Bank ATMs should be fine. Daily limits can be low though if you need a lot of cash. It’s very common for some part-time empleadas to prefer to be paid in cash (vs bank transfer). Someone getting a Colombian bank account can also help on occasions credit cards are not accepted or will be a much higher rate (not frequent but often enough to want one).

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6. What English-language religious services are available locally?


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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Bogota is almost all Spanish. Google translate helps a lot but it can still be a struggle. There are a lot of local classes/tutors available that are affordable; I highly recommend for those that can take the time. I managed but it would have been easier with more language (but I did not have time for classes/tutoring with my job and small children).

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. The sidewalks are terrible. Ramps or elevators are not a guarantee. Many areas may only have stairs. If you have young kids you really need a jogging stroller to cart them around reasonably.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

No. Uber, cabify, etc. are safe, but taking a yellow taxi off the street is not. Embassy personnel are also prohibited from taking public transportation (buses). It’s also easy to hire your own driver. Your own car is recommended for weekend travel but beware of the scams where they puncture your tires and then upcharge you to fix your tire.

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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?

A not nice, not extra large SUV (something you don’t mind if it gets dinged up by erratic local drivers but that will fit in most parking spots or garages). You don’t want a car with hard to find parts.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is not always exceptional. I work a full-time remote job. We brought a Google Fi Mesh system in our luggage and it’s made all the difference. We’ve only had internet issues one day when they were digging up a bunch of wires across the street. With help from someone from the office and advanced planning (because it was a priority), our internet was set up within a day, but it can be longer.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Google Fi has been excellent for us. I do not have a local Colombian number. We’re required to have a local landline which we maintain but never use.

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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! We send our large dog to the finca (farm) 3 times a week for ~$10 each day (they pick up and drop off from our home). There are also lots of dog walkers and vet services available (some come to your home). Colombians adore dogs! It’s been wonderful for her!

Sadly, one of our dogs passed here, and they quickly removed her from our home and cremated her for us as well. It was a less stressful process than it would have been in the U.S. and we were grateful. Our dogs did not have to be quarantined upon arrival but always check the latest regulations. There are also a lot of wonderful local adoption programs if you want to get a dog in country.

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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?

I have a DETO (domestically employed teleworking overseas) with another U.S. federal agency so am not as versed on spouse employment at post. There seem to be a lot of EFM jobs but they seem underpaid and likely not using all of a candidate’s skills.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I am not as familiar, but there appear to be a lot of volunteer opportunities with the embassy, local charities, American Women’s Club (AWC), etc.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

At the embassy most seem pretty professional (jacket, some ties, blazers, dresses, skirts, etc.). Around the city there’s everything, but you’ll stick out as a tourist/expat if you wear shorts or flip flops. Colombian women especially love to dress up, being on the frills, jewelry, and color. I would be careful if walking around to not make yourself a target. (For example, I and most married women I know do not wear their engagement rings.) Fanciest all year is the marine ball: many men wear tuxes but you can have those and gorgeous dresses made.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes. There are risks for crime like any big city. You cannot have your cell phone out which is the biggest change from other places (it’ll get stolen), but you get used to wearing an ear bud to hear directions if needed when walking, etc. “Don’t show papaya” or make yourself a target by being extra showy/flashy with items like nice watches, engagement rings, etc. Scopalamine (getting “scoped”) seems to be a serious issue especially for single men (gringos), but that’s not our demographic. I know others that have had encounters, but our family of 4 (living near Parque 93) and over 65 visitors never had any issues. We’ve loved sharing this city we love with so many friends and family.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Air quality can be an issue especially if there are wildfires from drought (happened earlier this year). Quality of medical care is excellent. Although I think currently the majority of pregnant women are medevacking to give birth in the U.S., I had my second daughter at Foundacion de Santa Fe (only hospital the U.S. embassy currently recommends for childbirth) and had an even better experience than my positive experience in the U.S. at Virginia Hospital Center (more skin-to-skin time, etc.).

Not all have as good of an experience as me. A lot of it was my OBGYN (well-known in the embassy community) and the pediatrician that happened to be on duty when I gave birth (read my birth plan I had translated into Spanish and supported my requests). I had a natural birth (like my first child), despite the staggering 80% c-section rate here thanks to both of them. If you want a VBAC, most will strongly recommend medevacking.

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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 not great. Luckily our family does not have issues but I’d bring air purifiers if you or your family does and research based on the experiences of others.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Seems like folks try to accommodate but others can speak from more experience.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

I would presume so if it’s an especially rainy year but can’t speak from experience.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Fall-year-round with lots of rain, most similar to Seattle. It can be 4 seasons in a day though, so dress in layers and always bring an umbrella (a gorgeous day can turn on you and vice versa).

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

N/A. Most go to CNG but there’s a broad range (Anglican, French, local Colombian, etc.).

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?


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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?

Preschools/daycare are exceptional. With the terrible traffic, my recommendation is to wait until you have housing, and then pick one that’s walking distance. Everyone, including us, seems thrilled with their quality of care. It doesn’t seem like you can go wrong. Make the most of it and soak up the special experiences for your littles.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes. All varieties (gymnastics, soccer, horseback riding, theatre, karate, etc.).

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Massive. Around 600 US Direct Hires and as a city, over 8 million people. There’s also lots of other embassy communities (Brits, Canadians, French, etc.). It’s so big it can be easy to get lost in it all. Find people that “fill your cup” and focus on them vs. thinking you’re going to be able to keep track of the community at large. There are so many, you should be able to find your peeps. There are happy people. There are miserable people. It’s the full spectrum. Find your flavor.

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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 others that are better with socializing with local Colombians. With my limited Spanish that’s not me. I primarily socialize with other expats (most U.S., but not all embassy, also some Brits and an Italian). American Women’s Club (AWC) can be good to meet people. Also the country clubs around the city.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Can’t speak from experience for singles our couples but it’s been exceptional for our family of four (two small kiddos). The quality of life and especially affordability of help would be a pipe dream in the US. It’s meant we can enjoy our kids fully while still getting time as a couple. There are also so many parks, festivals, fun places to go in and outside the city (restaurants with animals, fincas, etc.), it’s made it a magical place to explore. Colombians love kids and it shows.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I don’t think it’s easy to make friends with locals because of my limited Spanish but others with more Spanish likely have a better experience. I can’t speak from experience regarding prejudices. As a people, Colombians have been very kind and warm to our family and friends that have visited.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Bogota seems more progressive than most Latin American cities and countries but others can speak from a place of more experience.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

It does seem like there can be some racial prejudices and some machismo gender biases but I cannot speak from experience. In general, there are more black people in coastal cities. I was surprised by how few are in Bogota, but our black friends that visited including with their small kids never had any issues and were treated well.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The warm culture and Colombian people who adore kids and dogs (including extra large ones)! The diversity of the Colombian terrain and experiences you can find (Medellin, Salento/Quindio, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Tayrona, Cano Cristales, etc. along with local towns and fincas like Villa de Leyva, La Palma y El Tucan, La Trinidad Cafetel, Guatavita, Apulo, Giradot, etc.). I did not expect to have so many places in country I wanted to visit!

Unfortunately with two years and having a baby here we ran out of time (didn’t make it to Guatape, San Andres, Cali, Leticia/Amazon, Lost City Trek, etc.), but the places we did experience were truly remarkable. We made it to the Galapagos and Panama nearby which were terrific, but we wish we had time for other places like Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Curaçao, etc. Pursue and prioritize the trips you’d most enjoy—Colombia and nearby areas have everything.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The Fruit Tour offered by Victor at Paloquemao Market is exceptionally unique. Outside the city but close we loved Naqua cabins and fincas. With young kids, La Granja Naranja and La Granja Tenjo were fun restaurants with animals. La Picaderia’s weekend brunch is fabulous (kid and dog friendly but also special with just adults). Those were our favorite “go-tos.” There’s also fun ring making classes with emeralds, coffee and chocolate tasting, flower arranging classes, and lots of other fun options (roughly whatever you can imagine).

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Yes! All of the above. Calle de Anticuarios is the fancy street here with a lot of Colombian women’s designer brands. Local malls also have a lot of options, along with ferias (festivals) certain times of year. Corferias Expoartesanias is hosted in December each year and is the most remarkable exhibition of local crafts (furniture, jewelry, clothing, etc.). There were not great Colombian men’s designers, but we did find a great tailor that made gorgeous custom suits, blazers, pants, and a tux for my husband. Open San Felipe is an open house for the art district hosted several times a year that’s also worth visiting.

For local crafts and souvenirs, Mercado de las Pulgas in Usaquen on holidays and weekends and markets in La Candelaria (including a covered market right across the street from the Museo del Oro) are excellent options. Cachivaches is like Colombian Pier 1 and also has beautiful homewares (we have pillows, table runners, hand oven ornaments, napkin ring holders, etc. we love from there).

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Everything! It’s been a dream post for our family and I hope the same for others. No place is perfect (traffic/smog, petty crime, etc.), but the warmth of the people, their love of dogs and children, quality of the childcare, travel opportunities in country (including weekend fincas) and surrounding countries, fun going out scene with every kind of restaurant, dance club, cumbia house, etc. has made it an outstanding chapter for our family we will always cherish.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Nothing could have prepared me for experiencing the quality of the city and culture first-hand. I suppose I wish I’d braced myself for the traffic more (you really want to walk wherever possible). Know you can find pretty much anything you need locally, so don’t stress about things you might forget.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

In a heartbeat. It’s been an incredible post.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Engagement ring or other extra fancy jewelry.

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4. But don't forget your:

Mini, lightweight umbrella you can take with you wherever you go!

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Magdalena River of Dreams

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Our family has absolutely adored this post and cannot recommend highly enough.

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