Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 06/26/10

Personal Experiences from Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia 06/26/10

Background:

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

Mexico, Tunisia, Washington DC, Jerusalem.

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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?

From Bogota to Miami: about 3 1/2 hours, then there are direct flights to Atlanta.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

US Foreign Service.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

People working for the U.S. Embassy live in Rosales or el Chico. People with kids who go to the colegio nueva granada or to gran Bretania, live in Rosales, which is in the mountains, a beautiful place but cold. They have large modern apartments, each bedroom with bathroom. Some buildings have playgrounds, gyms, and even pools, but in rosales you definitely need a car. For single people or couples without kids (or with younger kids who go to preschool), el Chico is really nice. The apartments are big -- some of them ultra modern, but more noisy, and it has good parks. all of them are apartments. Temporary housing is something that you may have to deal with, and sometimes for months.

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

Fruits and vegetables are cheaper than in the States. Cheese is expensive, cleanning suplies are a little bit more expensive sometimes. Clothes, toys, and electronic supplies are much more expensive here than in the States.

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

You can find pretty much everything here. It may be more expensive, but they have almost everything.

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

Most of them. Pretty much the same price as in the States. Maybe a little bit more expensive, but not a big deal.

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

None.

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Daily Life:

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

APO and FedEx.

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

About 350 USD per month plus pensiones and heath insurance. You pay between 400 to 500 per month. You have to be very careful and make a contract and make them sign their monthly receipts. Lawsuits are very popular here. There are lots of maids available who want to work for embassy people because they pay more and treat them better than the locals. But in our experience, the ones who work for embassy people for a long time become lazy. I've here about maids who take things like ipods, money, cellphones, kids' toys, etc... It is better if you ask your "portero" for someone, then you send her for a security check at the embassy. People who do that have better experiences.

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

Yes, even in the embassy there is a really good gym. There are all kinds of gyms around, but they are expensive.

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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?

They charge you about 5 USD every time you take money, and in some of them you can take only 250 USD. It is better to cash checks at the embassy.

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

Yes, of all the churches.

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

Yes, pretty much the same as in the States.

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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 definitely need spanish to survive here. There are some people here who speak only english, but most people speak at least some spanish.

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

Most of the buildings have an elevator, but the sidewalks are not the best.

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Transportation:

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

We are not allowed to take public transportation, just taxis. And you have to call them. There have been issues with taxis that you take in the street. When it is raining or during rush hour, it is impossible to get a taxi -- really impossible.

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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?

We have a Toyota Sienna, and there are lots of Toyota agencies here. But the Sienna is not available here, so they have to order parts from the States, and they are really expensive. In addition, the parking spots here are really small. If you don't need a big car, bring one as small as posible. But single men bring good cars -- because for the Colombian women, a fancy car is important.

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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?

The same as in the States.

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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?

Prepaid is cheaper than postpaid. You can bring your unlocked cellphone from the States.

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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?

No.

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

Great. Here everyone has dogs.

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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.

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

Dressy.

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Health & Safety:

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

You cannot drive to the south of the city. I've heard that cellphones are the target. You cannot use expensive jewelry, and you cannot travel by car from one state to the other one because of "las Farc". Driving here is an issue. They really drive poorly.

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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?

Because of the weather, kids are sick all the time. The doctors are not the best. We didn't have good experiences here, and to be medivac'd you need a really difficult surgery. Our kid needs adenoid surgery, and the embassy wants us to have the surgery here, but Colombian doctors are not the best. We have not had good experiences. They say that the eye doctors are good.

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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?

Unhealthy.

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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?

Very rainy. You can have sunny days from November to February, but from March to July it rains every day, and all day long. From August to November it can rain at any moment. Even if you see a sunny day, you have to take your umbrella and raincoat with you, because the weather changes in minutes from sun to rain.

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Schools & Children:

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

My kids go to preschool, but some people here go to Colegio Nueva Granada and Gran Bretania, and they seem to be happy with them.

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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?

Lots, but people who live in el Chico use Babidibu, Past Partou and Abaco, and they are expensive. We have 2 toddlers, and paying for preschool is really expensive for us, but you have no choice.

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

Not at the preschool. You have to pay an additional 200 USD per month per kid to go 2 times per week 1 hour to "la academia" kind of a gym for kids, because in the preschool they don't have any kind of sports programs. The older kids who go to CNG or Gran Bretania have sports programs there.

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Expat Life:

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

Big.

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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?

People go to restaurants. Colombians, as all Latin Americans, love fiesta and alcohol. People who have local friends have fiestas every weekend.

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3. Morale among expats:

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

God for all. Singles are really happy here, especially men. I've heard that here are the most beautiful women they've ever seen in their life, and Colombians like Americans a lot. For kids. the weather is sometimes frustrating. They cannot be outside, but there are plenty of indoors places for kids, but again, in this area they are expensive. The preschools are nice, there is gymboree, divercity, mundo aventura, Andino mall, and lots of restaurants with playgrounds and people who paint their faces, make ballons,and play with them. If you live in el Chico, Jenno's pizza at calle 11 and 94 is a great place for kids when it is not raining.

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

I've heard It's OK, but not the best. It definitely is not San Francisco or Brazil.

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

They are racist against the indians and the afro. If you are blond you are going to be the king here. Blond kids are the hit here.

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

Legal suits from maids, and car accidents seem to be very common. In the legal suits, the embassy doesn't help you at all. If you don't speak spanish, you are lost. The weather is not the best; it rains almost every day from March to July. You cannot make plans for outdoor activities,so the kids have to be indoors all the time. It is expensive. A preschool costs about 400 dollars (US) per month, and the kids just go 4 hours per day and they have lots of holidays and vacations -- and still you have to pay for 12 months. You also have to pay an inscription fee of about $800 dollars per year plus the monthly fee of $400, so people with young kids just cannot save much.

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

la catedral de la sal, Andres carne de res, botero's museum, lots of restaurants, and if you don't have to pay for preschool, you can travel to the beach or to Miami.

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

Emeralds, coffee, flowers and furniture.

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

Bogota is a great country with great people. It is a big city, but you can find everything, and it is pretty close to the States. It is a beautiful city, but there are not many touristic attractions. It rains almost every day -- and all day long. You cannot save money at all, but people like it. A lot of people at the embassy ask for one more year. People say they like almost everything but the weather. Single men love it here.

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11. Can you save money?

Not with 2 toddlers at preschool. We've been using some of our savings.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I think so, life is good here.

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

shorts, flip-flops, sandals, summer clothes and snow clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrellas and raincoats.

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

Alvaro Uribe's biography.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

El Cartel (spanish series)

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6. Do you have any other comments?

I don't know anyone who wants to live here because of the weather or to save money. If you like to be outdoors and in sunny places, this is not your place. It is a nice place for kids, but very young kids get sick all the time, and the preschool and extra activities are very expensive. The embassy is full of locals who manage everything and are not very gentle, and who are not eager to help you. It is more the opposite! They don't provide you with enough information and help, maybe because of the size. It is a really big embassy.

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