Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/10/08
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've also lived in Seoul, Korea.
2. How long have you lived here?
A little over a year.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I work at the U.S. Embassy.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
About 7 hours I think. American/Delta/CO all have decent flights and fares but we prefer the 6am American Airlines flight as it gets you to Bogota around 1pm and you sleep most of the way here :)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Love, love, love the housing. It's all apartment living but the housing office really does try to give everyone ample space. Most single people come here to find themselves in 3 bedroom apartments, most families 3-5 bedrooms (including a maid's quarters). Most have studios, dining rooms, nice size kitchens (most of our ovens are terribly small though). . .and usually each bedroom has a bathroom.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The dollar is worthless right now so it's extremely expensive. No exaggeration. In January 2007, you could purchase 1 million pesos for about US$500 (sometimes less), now it cost about US$645 USD to purchase 1 million pesos. If you don't buy the U.S. imported stuff and buy locally, it may not be that bad but with three children, we usually buy the U.S. stuff. I find it quite expensive to buy food, cleaning supplies, clothing . . .pretty much everything I have to have I can get it cheaper on Netgrocer.com (company that ships just about any guilty U.S. pleasure you have to have). I also shop on Drugstore.com.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Hmmm so much! Diapers, any baby items, clothes, formula, toys. TOYS, TOYS, TOYS! The toys are ridiculously overpriced. Those tiny little hot wheel cars are almost US$4, Barbies are almost US$50. Nintendo DS games are close to US$90. All toys are insane. We went to the dollar store and purchased all the toys for birthday parties etc. I would bring all your favorite seasonings. But remember, there's always Netgrocer.com for most things.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I hear Bogota has some of the best restaurants in the world. From personal experience, it's one of my favorite things about the city. As far as Fast Food goes, Bogota has it all (KFC, McDonalds, Subways, Pizza Hut, etc). The best thing about Bogota is that almost every single restaurant, even the mom and pop tiny grill places deliver! Best restaurant to try is Andres Carne de Res. . .about 45 minutes away from Bogota, great food and man what an experience. .. dancing on tables, great music, great environment!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We have APO (APO AA) and Fed Ex.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a full time live in maid and a part time maid who comes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We pay our full time maid roughly US$$350 month and the other maid US$$75 month. We also have a child in preschool for a little over US$$350 as well. As the dollar drops, it gets increasingly more expensive. . fast!
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Most of us write checks to the Embassy or take money out at the U.S. Embassy ATM. . .if we absolutely must take out money, we do it at one of the malls.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are Greek Orthodox churches, Jewish services, of course Catholic churches and lastly the United Church of Bogota, an English speaking church. If you are religious, you should have a place to go.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
You can get the Miami Herald I believe, not sure about that. On the cable side of the house, you can get the Puerto Rican Direct TV which shows all the real U.S. stations or you can get Colombian Direct TV or TELMEX cable. PR Direct TV costs US$50 a month. The Telmex cable/internet package is a little over US$150 a month.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You cannot live here happily without Spanish. There are only a handful of people who speak English none of whom work at the preschool, work as a maid/nanny. It is extremely difficult for my spouse here who has no Spanish. I enjoy it immensely but I'm about at a level 3 Spanish.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks are terribly broken and uneven. We couldn't even use our brand new double stroller we purchased before we arrived.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
On the right side - thank goodness.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
NOPE! With the taxi's you MUST call from home, restaurant, Embassy etc, the company will tell you the license plate number and a secret code that only you and the driver know. Unfortunately, people have been held against their will or robbed in the taxi and thrown out. So best way is to drive. Taxi's are affordable, gas here not so much.
3. 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?
Love having our SUV but the garages in most apartment buildings are so narrow that we've scraped the side of our Pathfinder. That is the only consideration to have. The service on the vehicle is relatively cheap, parking is plentiful in town. I would now normally go into my THEY DRIVE CRAZY here speech but that's with any tour overseas!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes great wireless internet. . .of course, the apartments are so large you can't get coverage all over the house unless you're a techie and can rig it yourself.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most offices in the Embassy (if not all) issue cell phones upon arrival to have throughout their tour.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Embassy IVG line or Vonage.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
This country loves its dogs! There are doggie schools, dog walkers, great kennels. I don't have any animals but hear from my friends. Many people buy dogs here because the best breeds are bred here.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business. . .many dress casual on Fridays but with all the meetings and constant VIP visits a casual Friday is sometimes just not going to happen.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate, like any big city. I'm a New Yorker so it's really all relative :)
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The security concerns are very real. I am here with my three small children. On the surface, people are eating picnics in the park, riding bikes, always laughing and kissing and enjoying life but just under the surface it's scary. In the year I've been here, I've had a few friends get robbed and much worst. I myself, have been safe and enjoyed myself but AGAIN, I'm a New Yorker and many big city people do just fine here because we don't go where we aren't supposed to and we're on alert at all times. . .using all the common sense God gave us!
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is fantastic in Bogota. Many Dr's are U.S. trained and certified but again, no English in the hospitals so Spanish is a must.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Always, always, always partly cloudy with a chance of rain!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many good schools here. Unfortunately, the Embassy pushes the main school Colegio Nueva Grenada (CNG) on you the moment you arrive. It's a beautiful school, much like a college campus that sits on acres and acres of beautiful land. But with any large school, comes the distance. You drift off into a sea of other parents. Colegio Gran Bretana (CGB) is a small school, a little further out from housing but beautiful and the school is broken off into 4 different houses (think Harry Potter). The Director of CGB knows your NAME for the most part and your child. Those are the two main schools but there is also a French school and an English speaking religious school I hear alot about.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't know from experience but I have a co-worker who has a child with Down Syndrome and I know of other parents who've had ADHD children or other special needs. . . I think CNG has a wonderful program and does it's best to get your child where he/she needs to be.
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?
LOVE the preschools. No complaints here. They are all Spanish speaking which means your 3 year old will speak more Spanish than you will but that will make your heart sing watching him interact with his friends and teachers. In the area the embassy community is forced to live (basically the Beverly Hills of Colombia), all of the preschools are really expensive (compared to the rest of the country) but they are great!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Bogota is really hard work. . .from the Cafeteria, to the Ambassadors office, everyone is ALWAYS working hard and that leads to tiredness but we all truly enjoy the work we do and can see the impact of it daily.
3. 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 tons of bars/clubs/ restaurants to go to still less that eating out in the States. It's a great social life here.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for singles, wonderful for couples with no children. . .as for families, it rains quite a bit. NO exaggeration, like every weekend. There are a handful of apartments with playgrounds in the building so you're stuck at home. Additionally, if you don't make Colombian friends you are stuck in Bogota when only an hour to three hours away it's hot, sunny and there are farms and resorts. The trick is knowing how to get there. Most of us, without Colombian friends don't know how. . .rewind back to the security question! You can't just jump in your car . . .rephrase, a New Yorker doesn't just jump in the car with license plates that say Hi I'm an American Diplomat in a country with a history like Bogota's. With that said, there are tons of places to go and see. Hopefully, before some of the families who are here now leave, we can compile something for families with children to get them around.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No idea. I presume so, I know one gay couple who have a wonderful time here. I think it's accepted here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I'm an African American and have found no prejudices in this area at all. Finding a beautician to handle African American hair is the hardest part.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Bogota has the most beautiful shops, tastiest restaurants and amazing history! I take tons of pictures and we do get out when it's sunny and go to places. There are many wonderful things to do with kids once you get someone to tell you about them :) Bogota loves children. As for singles/couples with no children, there are great clubs, malls, movies, anything and everything you may want to do, Bogota has it!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
HA! For a person who has never lived overseas, especially in Asia, maybe they'd go nuts buying wood items, bedroom suites etc but if you've been anywhere else in the world, nothing here you have to have.
9. Can you save money?
Not right now. . .it's expensive here! Well maybe a little bit if you're not paying rent :)
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I don't know. I say it's great but it's terrible all in the same day! We like it because of the schools, the weather (when it's not raining) and the nightlife but the insane driving, and constant watching your back takes its toll. You'll love it if you know people to get you out of Bogota every now and then.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Heavy winter coats, winter clothing.
3. But don't forget your:
Pocket umbrellas, huge golf wind resistant umbrellas, rain boots for the kids, ponchos for the kids. Don't forget your Spanish/English dictionary if your Spanish is so/so. Feminine products! Baby FOOD! Bring it or you'll have to make it yourself, the baby food here has sugar in it.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Funny enough for all my countries that I investigate, I go to Realpostreports.com :) I never looked at a book for Colombia.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Man on Fire with Denzel Washington was not only a good movie but actually paints the picture of the danger in the city. . .keeping in mind it's a movie.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Funny enough for all my countries that I investigate, I go to Realpostreports.com :) I never looked at a book for Colombia.
7. Do you have any other comments?
We generally like it here. Great food, great things to do (when it's not raining) and great housing. The biggest difference in hating Bogota and loving it is finding that one friend who can show you how to get out of the city. Just remember that Bogota is like any big city, NY, DC, PA, as long as you're aware of your surroundings, it's not as bad as you've heard.