Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/04/10
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?
This is my fifth overseas experience. Previous cities include, Phnom Penh, Chiang Mai, Kolkata, and Santiago, Chile.
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?
Homebase is Atlanta. It takes about 5 hours to fly non-stop from Atlanta to Bogota.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
All US Embassy employees live in apartments. Most tend to be very nice and spacious. The embassy housing is very close to lots of great restaurants and three malls. Currently, the US Embassy offers shuttle service to and from the embassy. The commute times average about 30 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Fruits and vegetables tend to be a lot cheaper than in the USA. Pasta and pasta sauces are more expensive. Dried beans are readily available, but they don't come in cans, so you have to prepare them in advance. Due to the elevation, it can take days to cook them, so be sure to bring a pressure cooker. Meats and dairy items are readily available, but cheeses tend to be very expensive or of poor quality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More canned beans, laundry detergent, pasta sauce, TP, peanut butter, special seasonings, baby supplies (baby clothes and supplies are much more expensive here and are not of good quality).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Most fast food restaurants that you find in the US are availalbe here at prices similar to what you'd pay in the US. You can find some knock-off places for a little less. And there are always the Colombian favorites of "arepas" and street snacks, ranging in price from about 50 cents to a dollar or two.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No insect problems.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The embassy has DPO and pouch. The Colombian mail system is slow and unreliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Day-time maids cost between $15 and $30 a day. Full-time maids cost about $300-$400 a month. You should be careful to have them screened and approved by the embassy if you can.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of gyms and work-out facilities. And a brand-new facility (Body Tech) just opened up at the US Embassy.
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?
We have found that our ATM card only works in a few select machines around the city. Our card does not work at the US Embassy. It is often easier to use a credit card than paying cash. If you pay cash and want your tax back, you have to fight to get a special stamp placed on your receipt, and many places won't give this stamp. If you pay with a credit card you don't need this special stamp, and the process is much simpler.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are one or two English-speaking non-denominationl churches.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Almost everything is in Spanish. I'm not sure just what is available in English.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is essential for survival. The more you know, the easier it gets.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Sidewalks are very uneven and difficult -- even to use strollers on them. There are lots of crowds, and people have little concept of space, which means that they often bump into you, even if you are standing still. A blind person or someone with difficulty walking could have a lot of challenges with mobility.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
US Embassy employees are not allowed to take public transportation. It is recommended that if you need a taxi you always call for one ahead of time and do not flag one on the street. Taxis are fairly cheap, but driving your own vehicle is still cheaper.
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?
The smaller the better. Parking spaces are very tight. We have a small car, and it's still hard parking in tight spaces. Often times you'll only have a few inches to spare on either side of your vehicle. Roads are fairly decent, and as long as you are careful there is no need for a large vehicle.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
For just high speed internet you'll pay about $40-$50 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones and sim cards are readily available. It's easy to get set up with a plan.
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?
I don't think so, but we got our animals here.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are lots of options, ranging from vets to kennels to dog walkers and special doggie parks and rides.
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 think so.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Nice to formal.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Bogota is considered a high threat post. Crime is high--like in many big cities--and there is minimal risk of kidnapping. This said, I feel quite safe here and think that with a little precaution you'll have no troubles.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care here is excellent and few people ever get medevac'd.
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?
The air is much better than in most big cities. I normally have terrible allergies, but haven't suffered near as much from them since we've lived here.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Perpetual spring. The temperatures average about 40-70F year round. Rainy seasons can have an overwhelming amount of rain, just learn to plan your schedule around the weather and you'll be fine.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I do not have children, but I have taught at the English-speaking schools. Colegio Nueva Granada (CNG) and Colegio Gran Britania (CGB) are the two main schools that US Embassy families send their children to. CNG is very close to embassy housing, and most children go there. There is a high percentage of Colombian children that attend CNG, so some expat children have a harder time breaking into friend groups. CGB is located about 40-60 minutes (or more, depending on traffic) from US Embassy housing. The school has lots of kids from all cultures, and the Colombian-to-foreigner ratio is a little lower. It seems as though most embassy children who attend this school love it and adapt well.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I'm not really sure, but I do know that the schools sometimes have special programs for an adult to attend classes with special-needs children and help them with their work within the normal class.
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?
There are lots of preschools and daycare programs available, and many families hire full-time nannies to help care for their children.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I think so, but I'm not sure.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
This is one of the biggest expat communities in the world.
2. Morale among expats:
Normally very high.
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?
Lots of options.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Absolutely! There are always plenty of things to do and experience. There is a plethora of restaurants and night clubs and lots of interesting activities just outside of the city.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It seems to be, but I don't know any details.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The people, new fruits, cool temperatures, nice housing, excellent medical care....
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of fun restaurants, national parks, and outdoor activities -- such as rafting, canoeing, rappelling and hiking. There are also nice hot springs and spas not too far from Bogota.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is always spring-like so temperatures are great. The people are very friendly and welcoming. It may be difficult to travel a lot if you are with an embassy, due to security restrictions, but there are lots of amazing places to visit, including sparkling beaches, the amazon, coffee country and quiet mountain retreats. And the air is better here than in most big cities I've lived in.
11. Can you save money?
If you want to, but you'll have to make it a priority, as there are lots of great things to spend money on.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
preconceived ideas about Colombia. Unlike what you normally will hear on the news, Colombia is a great place to live.
3. But don't forget your:
patience and willingness to adapt.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Maria Full of Grace and anything you find on Pablo Escobar