Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 01/01/10

Personal Experiences from Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia 01/01/10

Background:

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

No, lived in Russia, Bulgaria, Peru, Tajikistan

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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?

Portland, Oregon. We fly Bogota-Houston-Portland on Continental. Total flying time is around 8-9 hours, with layover it is 12.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3.5 years, still live there.

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

Work for an NGO

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most of the houses have been torn down and replaced by brick facade very modern apartments, which are everywhere. No matter what you pay in rent (which is very high always - we pay $2,400 and another $400-$500 for administration (security guards, etc for the building), your apartment WILL have something that needs repairing and the rental agency will never get around to repairing it unless you refuse to pay until it is repaired.

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

Expensive, except for fruits, vegetables and meat. Cheese is like gold here. No idea why but you will pay around $10 for a small piece of Colombian-made swiss cheese. And anything imported is very expensive.

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

I always buy clothes and shoes in the US because Latin women have different styles, and clothing is MUCH more expensive for half the quality. Things like pine nuts, worchestershire sauce - while you can get them there sometimes are lots more expensive.

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

All are available, usually about the same prices as the US. Bogota has lots of great restaurants. My favorites are in Usaquen and La Macarena. Many are very sterile steel and glass very modern and for me rather cold decor.

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

None - this is a great thing about high altitude cities!

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Daily Life:

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

DHL. And do not have anyone send you anything but paper mail - even a hand-made gift will be subject to expensive customs fees.

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

We pay around $700 per month for our child's nanny. I think we pay more than some people do, but hell - it's an important job.

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

Readily available all over the city.

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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?

Careful - lots of identity theft. It happened to me. Do NOT let the waiter or store clerk take your card from you to process. Restaurants have machines that they carry to your table.

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

I don't know. There is a synagogue in Bogota, but I don't think the services are in English.

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

Cable TV has many channels in English, including Dr. House! Most are not in English though.

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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?

You can't live there without Spanish and expect to have any kind of life.

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

Do NOT come to Colombia! I can't imagine how someone with a physical challenge would handle it.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis aren't bad, but try to call one and not to hail one on the streets - they CAN be unsafe. Look for ones that have their fees, and other signs of a legit taxi if you have to hail one. I have taken the buses, but I hate this experience. Drivers drive like maniacs - truly! And people get on board asking for money, prefacing their pleas with 'I am not going to rob you.'

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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?

I wouldn't own one here. You can't import an used car (maybe dips can, I don't know) and adding to the horrible traffic situation sitting in a parking lot of cars whose drivers know no rules is not my idea of freedom. Moreover, there is pico y placa, which means that several days a week license plates ending with certain numbers will not be allowed on the streets. Take a taxi,or even a bus (but not after dark).

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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?

Yes, it is around $50 per month for internet and cable TV packaged together.

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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?

Comcel has the better range.

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Pets:

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?

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

Very much so. Colombians are huge fans of dogs, as you will see from the amount of doggy doo in the streets, sidewalks and parks.

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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?

No. It is very difficult to get a work visa here.

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

Casual-nice. Suits for business people. A perfectly acceptable 'uniform' otherwise is jeans, a nice shirt, nice coat and boots.

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Health & Safety:

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

very bad.

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

Almost all of my staff were robbed this year. Just cell phones, but one was pushed into a car to do the millionaire's run (take you around to ATMs to drain your account). Yes, lots of crime in Bogota. And there are neighborhoods in all cities that tourists would not want to visit. Much of the country is off-limits due to the conflict, but most large cities are accessible.

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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?

Medical care is OK. Long waits, and doctors will always prescribe long lists of the most expensive medicines - never generic.

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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?

It is almost always overcast, with the sun breaking through at times. Never cold, never hot. No indoor heating means it can be cold indoors at times though.

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Schools & Children:

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

We have a special needs child and so this was a nightmare for us. The so-called American School (Nueva Granada) supposedly takes special needs kids, but in reality they only accept them from diplomat parents. We were very lucky to have our child accepted at the Colegio Anglo-Colombiano, a British system school which is a wonderful school! We couldn't be more pleased with the real dedication to teaching, the quality of education - just everything. I would say this even if we did not have a special needs child.

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

El Anglo, where our child goes, made a board policy for a pilot program in which our child was admitted. This year another child was admitted as well. The rector and staff are committed to diversity at the school. It has been a wonderful experience for us.

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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?

Lots available. I recommend Platero y Yo - there are two locations. There is also Montessori, Waldorf, etc.

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

Very many, and the schools are very good with this - all kinds, including horseback riding.

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Expat Life:

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

Large, but you don't see other ex-pats very often unless you go to Rosales or Usquen. The city is huge.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good I think. It can be rather lonely here though because it is a huge city and tough to meet people outside of work. Also, watching your back all the time (because of crime) can be tiring. TRAFFIC is terrible and trying to cross streets is also stressful.

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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 spend every waking minute with their families when they are not working, so weekends they are unavailable usually.

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

For all.

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

There is a large gay community. Not everyone is accepting of gay people, but many are.

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

Well, it is a Latin culture and so there is some machismo and some discrimination of Afro-heritage people, Colombian and otherwise. This is not as bad as in other Latin countries where I have lived (such as Peru).

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

Restaurants, movies, shopping, parks, ciclovia, getting out of town, gym, art classes, dancing

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

Good crafts - though not as diverse as in Peru thanks to the armed conflict. Very nice picture frames of good wood, sold in the market in Usaquen. Furniture.

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9. Can you save money?

No way.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Certainly. It has been a great experience for us.

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

Winter clothing.

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3. But don't forget your:

Summer clothing is a must, but for use outside of Bogota.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Clear and Present Danger does not do justice to everyday life here, though that kind of thing is certainly going on. Colombian movies would be more indicative.

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

I don't know. I would look online for articles and blogs.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

It is a nice post, but kind of lonely because of the large city situation. You get tired of traffic, pollution and watching your back from crime. But all large cities have a degree of all of these things.

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