Georgetown, Guyana Report of what it's like to live there - 11/04/13
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?
The only other city we lived in was Madrid, Spain.
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?
Home base is western Colorado. The trip is roughly 24 hours door-to-door. Departing Georgetown, one must usually fly to Port of Spain. At Port of Spain, one has to get off the plane and go back through security. The next leg is from Port of Spain to Miami, then Miami to Denver.
3. How long have you lived here?
August 2012 to July 2014.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Employee of the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The vast majority of housing is two-story. One should be aware of areas that are prone to flooding and try to avoid housing in those areas.
Commuting, as with any city, varies significantly depending on the time of day. Leaving early in the morning or late in the afternoon, one can get to or from the U.S. Embassy/Grand Coastal Hotel in about 15 minutes max. Leaving during the high drive-time periods will easily double that time, if not more.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries, including American brands, are readily available and they are generally expensive. A pound of butter (four sticks) is US$6 to US$7. A Butterball turkey will be around US$90, while a ham will run around US$60 to US$70.
By far the best butcher shop in town is Rossingnol Butcheries. It is run by Surinamese people. The cleanliness and selection are second to none.
Most people obtain fresh fruits and vegetables from the open-air markets like Bourda Market. The pricing is generally cheaper than what one would find in the supermarkets; however, one will most likely be charged the "non-local" rate.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I would ship more wine. The wine here is generally horrible (some possibly even counterfeit) and expensive. An inexpensive bottle of wine still runs about US$30.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I am aware of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Popeye's Chicken as far as U.S. brands go. I do not know the pricing because I do not go there. Other local fast food options are available, but I do not go to those either.
Decent restaurants would certainly include the Mahraja Palace, Pegasus Hotel, Dutch Bottle, and the Grand Coastal Hotel. For a couple, including a bottle of wine, dinner may approach US$100.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Pests can be a problem if one does not take action to keep them at bay. Ants are fairly common but ant bait cures the problem fairly quickly. Only one small spider has been encountered in our home. Mice, on the other hand, have been a bit of a nuisance but it's nothing a mouse trap cannot solve.
There are a wide variety of "critters," but with the exception of the above, I have no personal experience with them.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
All mail is received by diplomatic pouch. That means there are restrictions. One is well-advised to brush up on those regulations before coming to post.
One ounce or less envelopes can be mailed from post. Packages no larger than an old VHS tape is all that can be shipped.
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 and very inexpensive. I have experience paying a cleaning lady US$15 for a day of work. Personal recommendations are the best way to find a good and trusted employee.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a workout facility available to U.S. Embassy employees at no cost. The National Aquatic Center is available to the diplomatic community.
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?
I treat Georgetown as a cash economy. I have never used a credit or debit card here; although, they are accepted. The only ATM I trust is the one that is located at the Pegasus Hotel.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, several Protestant services are available.
6. 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; although, it can be mixed with Creole.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I believe it would be very difficult. There are virtually no sidewalks. Also, with very few exceptions, the buildings are not handicap accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are no trains in the country. Buses are incredibly unsafe, just stay away from them. There are good taxis. Be sure to get a trusted recommendation before using a taxi.
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?
Toyota is a very popular brand here, both left-hand drive and right-hand drive. Many people opt for four-wheel drive. Those make it easier to drive into the interior or to get through some flooded areas. Service and parts for Toyota seems to be readily available.
I do not believe there are any restrictions on what type of vehicle can be imported. Local liability insurance runs about US$125 per year.
Import duties can be quite high on diplomats' vehicles if they are sold before being in the country at least three years. Even still, many locals are very interested in buying vehicles when diplomats depart post. The amount of duty they owe on the transaction will be considerably less than if they bought a new vehicle or imported one themselves into the country.
I am not aware of any carjackings.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it is about US$50 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
No personal experience, my phone was issued.
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 do not believe they do. There is pet care available, but I am not aware of the quality.
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?
None of which I am aware.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many opportunities.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It varies in public from shorts and flip-flops to coat and tie.
At the U.S. Embassy it varies from slacks and a nice shirt to coat and tie.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Much of the housing in the area is protected by 24/7 guards, concertina or barbed wire, masonry walls, and iron gates.
There can be crime problems if one opts to go to "out of the way" places along the seawall for example. If one uses good judgement, just as one would in any city, crime is not as much as a factor.
Driving is another matter. The country is set up as driving on the left. There are no restrictions on left-hand or right-hand drive vehicles. The other drivers are quite aggressive. The best advice is to not be in a hurry and drive defensively, paying particular attention to the taxis and mini-buses. One must also share the road with livestock, wild dogs, pedestrians, bicyclists, and horse-drawn carts.
The lack of street lights and the number of others noted above with whom one must share the road, make traveling after dark particularly challenging.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There definitely are concerns. The main reason for that is that the quality of medical care is much, much lower than that available in the U.S.
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 quality is usually very good. The only bad times are when a neighbor or nearby business decides to burn trash. The fumes of plastic and other trash items can be overwhelming.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is, for the most part, very predictable. The high every day is 88 to 90F. The lows are 75 to 78F. The only change is whether or not it rains. There are two rainy seasons; however, that does not mean it rains all day long during those seasons. The main rainy season is in the winter. The other is late spring to early summer.
There are roughly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night/darkness each day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I believe there are programs offered through the school.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The community is relatively small, but morale seems good.
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?
A lot of entertaining/social life revolves around the community. There is not a great deal to do here.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I have experienced the city as part of a married couple. I would have a difficult time characterizing it as "good." There are not a lot of things to do in Georgetown when compared to the U.S.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that I have personally experienced; however, I am told it is fairly common among the locals.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The highlights have included the LE Staff, the varied cuisine, and venturing into the interior.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are interesting/fun things to do, but costs can vary wildly. For example, travel into the interior can be quite expensive, fun to do, but...
In town, I enjoyed the rum distillery tour and the sugar cane processing tour.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Most notably are the hand woven baskets and handmade wooden items.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Because of COLA and hardship differential, it is fairly easy to save money - especially if one does not get caught up in doing a lot of travel throughout the Caribbean.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I did not have a good grasp on the level of poverty and the amount of garbage that is around the city.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I am torn, but probably lean toward not going here.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Umbrella and wine...