Bogota, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there - 08/06/10

Personal Experiences from Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia 08/06/10

Background:

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

No - Singapore and Edinburgh.

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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?

Our home base is Seattle. It takes about twelve hours to get home through Houston (Continental).

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3. How long have you lived here?

Since November 2008.

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

With the US Embassy

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is fantastic - we love our apartment. All US Embassy housing is in the north of the city, about a thirty-minute drive from the embassy when traffic is good, but more than an hour when it's bad. Everyone is in apartments, even the DCM.

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

Surprisingly expensive for a lot of things. Locally grown produce is cheap, especially at the open-air markets, but anything imported has a high mark-up. And for whatever reason, cheese is like gold.

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

Spices, olive oil, warm blankets, more kids' toys and supplies -- crayons, paper, etc.

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

Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Subway. A couple of Burger Kings. More expensive or about the same as in the US.

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

None, except for those with pets -- fleas thrive here.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO

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

Plentiful and relatively cheap.

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

Yes, but they're expensive, even by US standards.

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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?

Dips get tax back if they use credit cards (you can also ask for a stamp, but that's a hassle). Haven't had any problems using normal common sense about where to use the credit card. ATMs are safe in grocery stores and malls, but they charge a $3-$5 fee for withdrawals.

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

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

Yes, DirecTV Puerto Rico. It's too expensive - so we don't have it. English-language magazines are available at some bookstores, but at a 200% markup.

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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?

I don't see how anyone gets along here without Spanish. It would be really hard, although some people do it.

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

It would be hard to get around. Sidewalks are broken up, and there aren't a lot of ramps or accessible buses.

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Transportation:

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

US Embassy employees cannot take public transportation. Taxis are fine if you call ahead, and they are relatively cheap.

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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?

SUVs are best. Colombians are crazy drivers. It's good to have size on your side.

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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, we pay about $50/mo through Telmex.

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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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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?

Don't know, but don't think so.

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2. 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?

Not really. Maybe if you can teach.

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

Formal. I would never wear jeans to work, and I often feel underdressed at the grocery store in jeans.

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Health & Safety:

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

All of the big-city security issues you would find anywhere, plus the diminishing threat of kidnapping.

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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?

Health care is GREAT. My son had an emergency appendectomy, and all went incredibly well. Lots of women choose to give birth here.

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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?

It's not great, especially if we haven't had rain for a while. The city is surrounded by hills, and stagnant air tends to get stuck above us. But it's not terrible. That said, we got a ton of head colds when we first got here, and I think that was due to the combination of the altitude (8600 feet) and the air quality.

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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 much like Seattle's. A lot of rain, but it never gets too hot or too cold. Some people insist there's a rainy season, but I don't see any pattern at all to it.

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Schools & Children:

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

I don't have any first-hand experience, but people seem to love the preschools.

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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?

We have a nanny and we adore her. The hardest part about leaving will be leaving her. We pay her about $400/mo, ten hours a day, five days a week, and she also does nights and weekends when we ask her to, for a bit extra.

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

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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:

Fairly good. I think a lot depends on how much you can make friends with locals.

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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 throw a lot of parties at their houses. Americans in the embassy tend to go out.

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

I think it's great for our family because of the availability of domestic help and because there's a lot of entertainment for little kids (parks, amusement parks, etc.). Older kids might be more of a problem, because I wouldn't feel comfortable letting them out on their own as much as I would in the US. Single men love it here; single women hate it here. Couples seem to do all right, and lots of people have babies here.

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

My brother is gay and loves it here - visits every chance he gets. There is a thriving gay club scene.

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

It's not pervasive, but there is certainly racism towards those who look to be of African descent and towards indigenous people.

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

Cartagena is amazing - I'd like to retire there. And I really enjoy living in Bogota because everything is so accessible and easy: great restaurants, good shopping, fun stuff for kids (we have one young child).

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

Day trips to Zipaquira, Villa de Leyva, Guatavita. Weekends in Paipa and Anapoima. Take the cable car up to Monserrate for the best view of the city. Amusement parks/zoos for kids: Multiparque, Parque Jaime Duque, Panaca.

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

Great handicrafts, textiles, etc. - especially at the yearly craft fair at Corferias in December. Also trips around Colombia; air tickets are expensive within the country.

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

Colombians are seriously nice people with a terrific appreciation for good food and a good time. It's not possible to save money here, though - it's like living in a moderately expensive American city. Weather is okay, but some people get pretty sick of it; it rains a lot, but never gets too cold or too hot. Sort of like Seattle, actually.

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11. Can you save money?

Nope

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heartbeat.

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

summer clothes, except when you go to the coast. It never gets that warm here. That opening scene of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"? That was DEFINITELY not Bogota.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sudafed, for all the head colds.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Maria Full of Grace

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

Anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (specifically News of a Kidnapping, for a sense of how it was here just fifteen years ago). Also the books by the released hostages.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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