Georgetown, Guyana Report of what it's like to live there - 02/16/12
Personal Experiences from Georgetown, Guyana
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
First expat experience.
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?
Washington DC, 8 hours including layovers through a direct flight from NYC.
3. How long have you lived here?
1 year since Feb 2011.
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?
The East Coast is becoming more popular as large mansions are being built there. There is expat housing in a number of neighborhoods and they're okay. There is housing closer to the city center which is also nice, though not in a compound or closed neighborhood. The nicest neighborhood is Bel Air Springs and it flooded during this past rainy season. Other areas like Lamaha Gardens are a bit higher and no flooding occurs. The US Embassy provides 24x7 guards that are stationed WITHIN your gates. They have the keys to let you out of your home, so you sometimes feel like a prisoner, but we have never experienced any security issues.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are expensive here. You will regularly spend US$40 per visit for small stuff. EVERYTHING except the fruits and some local veggies is imported, and as Guyana has no deep water port, it has to be unloaded in Trinidad and reloaded onto smaller ships that can make it to these ports. This AUTOMATICALLY increases the shipping costs, which is passed onto consumers in the price. It's safe to say the price is usually double what it is in the US. You can get US goods that are imported directly from COSTCO or WALMART but it will cost double. Diapers are US$75 per box of 120, Toilet Rolls are expensive, Cereals are around US$7 per box. You will not find good cheese in Guyana. The wine selection is poor. To find everything you're looking for you have to go to three or four markets. There are no SUPERmarkets here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Food. Comfort food that stores well. Wines. Large items that can't make it though the diplomatic pouch.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food restaurants include Popeye's chicken, Church's Chicken and Royal Castle Chicken. There is a Mario's Pizza and a Pizza Hut. NO MCDONALD'S OR BURGER KING!!! There is a local shop that copies the Subway concept and has good subs and wraps. There is a good, but expensive restaurant tucked away in a lost neighborhood 40 minutes outside of the city. The Chef, repatriated from the US, imports all the ingredients (including lobster and rib-eye steaks) from the US. A lobster meal can cost US$80 - 100.
There are local restaurants but the food is always the same. They have one curry base that they use different meats in. They have Snacketts that sell local fare which is a mix of Indian and creole foods, but limited and usually the same at every place. Chinese food is very popular here, especially the fried rice and noodles, but it's not the same as the US Chinese food and over all I've been disappointed. The beef in Guyana is terrible. The cows are free range in the city and walk great distances to find good grass, which is different from US grass, so the taste varies greatly, also because the cows sometimes eat trash. Because it's hot, they can never put on any fat which gives beef it's flavor. The food gets repetitive after a year, so cooking at home is essential.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Many organic options for fruits and some vegetables just because it's too expensive to grow anything with chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. The chicken here is tasty. The BEEF is awful. There are many vegetarian options here.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are a problem, but in the city there not known to carry dengue or malaria. The interior is a different story. Ants in homes are problematic, but not dangerous. Other tropical bugs are scarce, though I did see a 4 inch cockroach (an outdoor one, not ones that come into your home).
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Thank God for the US diplomatic pouch and Amazon.com. Locals have to rely on DHL or FedEX which can be pricey.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is readily available. Prices vary, but typically you will pay between US$1.50 to 2.00 per hour for full-time help. It's recommended you have them do your shopping at the outdoor fruit/vegetable markets as they get local prices. You must also be explicit on what you need and want them to do in order to have it done properly.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a few gyms. The gyms in town are not air-conditioned, so they can get HOT. A trainer will cost US$ 7.50 per hour. NICE. And monthly fees are around US$25/month.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Some of the formal stores take credit cards and we've never had problems, nevertheless, this is a cash society and most transactions are in Guyanese dollars (current exchange 201 to 1 US). The largest denomination is a 1000 dollar note which is the equivalent of US$ 5. There are some ATMs around, but the safest ones are located at the nicest (3 star) hotel.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, for all denominations including, Baptists, 7th day Adventists, Jehovah's witnesses, Pentecostals, various Hindi services and Muslim services, all in English.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. Local TV has 4 stations, all are state-owned and operated. You can get Cable (which is sent through an antennae, weird huh?) or DirectTV. Cost is 50 - 75 per month. This is usually the signal from Puerto Rico, so many Spanish language channels.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the official language. Guyanese Creole takes some time to get used to, but it's fun once you can understand it. Some news articles are written in Guyanese creole, look it up and have a laugh.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are NO sidewalks in Georgetown. There are drainage canals along almost all the streets with precarious "bridges" built across them. There are few if any ramps to public buildings. There is a new law that has been passed to begin sensitizing the public and private sectors and there is an NGO that advocates for people with disabilities. That being said, it is not a city or country that can accommodate the disabled.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Mini-buses are not safe. They are authorized to carry 15 passengers but usually carry many more. They are all privately owned so they compete for fares. Hence they are always racing to get ahead of other drivers, regardless of whether or not the other drivers transport people. The taxis are cheap, but most of the drivers have purchased their licenses rather than taken the test to earn them. They have no respect for and probably no knowledge of the rules of the road. This being said, it's good to find one driver you can trust and call them for your transport needs.
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?
Right hand drive is recommended. Many people import from Japan. The price of gas is US$1 per liter so it can be pricey. Many people have 4x4 Toyota trucks and the RAV4 is a very popular car here. You will see some expensive cars and more are showing up on the streets. Amazing, as the import duties on cars is almost 200%. The streets are narrow and playing chicken with the mini-bus and taxi drivers is the norm. After a while, you learn that you don't need more than a few inches between you and the car barreling towards you at break-neck speeds.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
The maximum speed for internet is 100mb. It's okay for streaming and downloading, but not spectacular. Some folks have a US VPN service which allows them to get US content like Netflix, Hulu and Pandora. They have generally been happy with the service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Two companies, not much choice in plans. Blackberries are popular here. You can also get data plans. The cell phone companies send you text messages that are advertisements for their local events including dance club openings and cricket tournaments... quite annoying.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There is one vet that I know of, and he seems to be competent. As I do not have pets, it is hard for me to comment. Many people at post do bring their pets and all seem to be happy.
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. Just plain no.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Caribbean Casual. The Guayaberas are popular here. Suits are seldom worn as it's too hot, even at night.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes, many. There is petty crime and crime of opportunity. Women should be careful walking with jewelry and should NOT be out alone when the evening arrives. It's just not worth the risk. There are constant news articles about murders, but these are not directed at foreigners. Drug trafficking is rampant, and that brings its dangers. Most criminals act with impunity as the police and legal systems have serious problems.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
YES! This is the poorest healthcare I've ever seen in my life. ZERO health standards. All the hospitals are dilapidated. the only one that is relatively modern is still comparative to a US inner-city free health clinic. There are 2 ambulances in the whole country, none of which are well equipped for first response. You are 16 times more likely to die of a car accident here than in the US. PLEASE put some serious thought into bringing your family to Georgetown, especially young children. We have people who have lived in Africa who say the healthcare situation was better in Africa than here! SERIOUSLY this is no joke. You have been warned.
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?
Air quality is excellent. Flat city with Atlantic breeze ensures fresh air. Not a large population, so not a lot of emissions. The locals do burn trash and as part of the sugar cane industry, they burn the crops prior to harvest.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Two seasons, dry and rainy. The rainy seasons can lead to flooding in certain parts of town. The last major flood was in 2005 and some steps have been taken to improve the drainage, but the infrastructure is poor.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Not much experience with the schools. There are some local private schools which are good, but not accredited through the US system. There is an American school that is improving. It is open to expats and locals. There is NO offering for High school and there are NO special education schools (at least up to US standards).
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None that I know of. The local education system is not good unless it is with a private school, and I don't know of any that accommodate or have curriculum for special needs children. Do not believe government reports with literacy statistics or touting the services to special needs children.
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 some local programs run by expat moms. Enrollment is reasonable and they have full time trained teachers. The facilities are okay, but the challenge is the extremely high cost of electricity which causes the majority of funds to go towards paying overhead costs.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but limited. The National Park (what was once the British golf course in the colonial days) has open fields to play and a track to run/walk. Cricket is the national sport and rugby and soccer are also popular. US sports are not well known. I think the locals are open to having expats participate in their sports and would never turn down a curious expat looking to join a group of friends playing in the park. There are no formal clubs for kids that I know of. The Olympic swim coach offers swim lessons for children at a local pool for US$25 per month. Boxing is popular but the gyms are dirty and the equipment is terrible. I don't recommend that as an activity.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Not too big. The foreign missions and some multinational corporation executives comprise the expat community. I would say less than 100 people.
2. Morale among expats:
Varies. Young single men tend to be happy here. Women not so much. Families are OK until there is a health problem with their children. The biggest challenge is the lack of things to do. After a short amount of time, you run out of activities and you're very secluded.
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?
Mostly invites to people's houses. There is a vibrant night life and lots of liming. Again, single men love the night life, single women have to be cautious. Married people have to be cautious too as both women and men are promiscuous and your marital status is not a deterrent.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For couples without children or single men, yes. Women find it hard to date here. Families with children should seriously consider the healthcare deficiencies here. More on that below.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Homosexuality is illegal though the government rarely prosecutes it. There is a thriving gay community, but it is not very public. There is an NGO that advocates for the LGBT community.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
One kudos to the people of Guyana is their religious tolerance. The majority of the population is Christian, Muslim, and Hindu and they all get along great. There is intermarriage between the faiths, although it's not very common. The real divide comes with race. There are three prominent races (four if you count the huge influx of Chinese immigrants). Afro-Guyanese (who were brought here as salves, much like the rest of the Caribbean), Indo-Guyanese of Indian descent (they came after the abolition of slavery as indentured servants), and Amer-Indians (the real natives of Guyana). Racial tensions exist between these and political parties are divided among racial lines. The ruling party in Government tends to be Indo-Guyanese while the Defense Force and Police force tend to be Afro-Guyanese. There is a strange balance of power between these two groups and the result is relative peace.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The people are very kind and open. Caribbean culture in South America. There are many birds and wild animals to see and the fruits are amazing, especially the pineapple.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are creeks and one-star resorts along the rivers that help pass the time. There are trips to the interior which are unreasonably expensive (It costs the same to fly to Trinidad or Barbados for the weekend). Despite being part of the Caribbean, there are no beaches as the rivers empty into the ocean and give the water a brown tint and the beaches are full of mud and sediments. There is an active night life. The Caribbean concept of "LIME" or happy hour is well known here. There are NO movie theaters despite what prior posts state, although one is planned for 2013 (The ground-breaking on a Marriott hotel was supposed to happen over 3 years ago, I'll believe the promised movie theater when I see it)
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Ahhh... The RUM is fantastic here. I prefer the El Dorado 8 year rum, it's not too woody in flavor and it has a reasonable price. I wish I could say the wood products. Wood in Guyana is next to none in the world. The types of wood, the durability and the beauty are indescribable. That being said, because electricity is so expensive, the wood is not kiln dried, so it's still moist. You can't make much from wood that is still wet. There are also no good craftsmen to actually make something nice. It's the irony of ironies.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The weather is great, the people are very friendly. The country is 97% covered in pristine rainforest. This place should be famous for eco-adventures, but alas, too much is wrong with Guyana to ever give it international status/recognition.
11. Can you save money?
Depends. If a local can do your shopping, yes. If you want to buy only US goods, probably not. If you have to pay for your own utilities, you will most certainly not save money.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
If I were a single male, in a heartbeat. The people are really wonderful. They have amazing spirits and are very open. The country is beautiful if you're willing to take risks, something having a family usually doesn't afford.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations of modern luxuries, entertainment and basic healthcare.
3. But don't forget your:
Good attitude, patience and gin.
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:
6. Do you have any other comments?
I mentioned the electricity. This is, in my opinion, the major setback in Guyana. With affordable electricity, there would be a boom of entrepreneurship and development. There is a hydroelectric dam in the plans, but again, I'll believe it when I see it. This country is ripe with opportunity and could really become a spectacular tourist destination if it could sort out it's problems. That being said, people who were in Guyana decades ago were saying the same thing. Unfortunately there hasn't been much progress up to now.