Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 12/09/08

Personal Experiences from Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia 12/09/08

Background:

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

Second expat experience after New Delhi.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Over one year.

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

Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Miami in 3.5 hours.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All apartment living, many people are not happy with the housing. The apartments are small or old or very noisy. Everyone has a white noise machine to help with sleeping, but it's hard not to hear the apartment noises (parties in other apartments, etc) and the buses and motorcycles are really loud.

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

You can get almost anything here except for spices and good ethnic food. EVERYTHING IS EXPENSIVE! For Americans living on a government salary, it's hard to cover your costs if you are a family and eat at home during the week, and like to enjoy dinner out once or twice a week. Don't expect to save anything.

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

Spices, cereals, peanut butter and jelly and other basic U.S. items that are so expensive here.

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

Yes, lots of options, but they are expensive.

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Daily Life:

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

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

Available, but many are not reliable, honest or efficient. Most people that I know have been through at least 2-3 maids in one year.

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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?

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

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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

Spanish is required to live comfortably.

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

Sidewalks are in bad condition and it is not pedestrian friendly -- the cars/trucks/buses rule the road.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Same as the U.S.

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

Government employees and their families are not allowed to take them.

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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?

A small SUV is the best. Parking spaces are small, but you want a bigger car so you can see in all of the traffic and get a little more respect on the road.

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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?

It's available and has been reliable -- TELMEX costs about US$75 per month

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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?

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Vonage.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

It is hard to find a job that pays well. If you don't care about the salary, you can find work. Embassy jobs are also available.

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

Definitely a dress up city -- you will never see a woman wearing sweats and sneakers and walking around. They are always wearing boots and nice jackets and have make-up on, etc.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy, lots of exhaust and diesel pollution for buses and trucks. It just hangs in the air.

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

Yes, lately there have been more armed robberies and the threat of attacks against Americans is very real.

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

A lot of respiratory issues -- my kids have a lot of coughs and runny noses here. The pollution makes it hard to stay healthy.

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

Rainy, rainy, cloudy, and a little sun every day.

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Schools & Children:

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

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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?

YES! Lots of options but they are impossible to get into, especially the ones that have a good reputation.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge.

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2. Morale among expats:

Not great. Among government employees, it is getting worse not better due to the living conditions and the embassy life here.

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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?

Colombians love to party.

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

Not so great for families with young children - they are stuck in the apartment a lot -- it rains almost every day and there is nowhere for children to go.

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

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

Yes, Colombians are not racially or culturally sensitive. At a young age, kids call each other terrible names like 'negrito', etc.

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

Lots of cafes and restaurants!

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

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely NOT. In fact, you may even eat into your savings if you are on a government salary.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

NO. I would go somewhere that is family-friendly, with less pollution and with a better Embassy Management team (see below).

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

Summer clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Umbrella -- it rains a lot, pretty much every day.

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

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

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

The Embassy here is terrible and doesn't seem to care about making life better for families. Most people say it's the worst embassy management team that they've experienced - the CLO office provides no good information at all, GSO is terrible with maintenance issues (don't expect anything to be fixed on time or at all - it takes 6 weeks for someone to come to fix an electrical or plumbing issue). The embassy housing pool is getting worse -- people that have come in during the last 6 months have gotten some of the worst apartments available in the city -- and they all have maintenance issues that are not getting fixed. The embassy furniture is old and badly damaged and hasn't been replaced in many years.

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