Georgetown, Guyana Report of what it's like to live there - 04/05/14
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?
No- many years as an expat including cities in Europe and Asia.
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?
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
United States Government.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Houses are sizeable and within 15 minutes of downtown. Most houses have large family areas but feature odd layouts. Construction quality is not always the best but they are safe and comfortable. Once you get accustomed to Guyanese layouts and the odd features and lack of measured construction in your undoubtedly unique house, they are quite cozy and most people enjoy their houses. You will have a larger home than you would in most places.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Canned goods and basic groceries are good- you will pay ridiculous prices for some items and they will be inconsistent in availability- particularly some of the more specialized dairy items. There is one decent meat market. Goods are overpriced and it's good to ship in daily use canned items just because they are cheaper.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Tires, tires, and more tires- the roads are terrible and tire punctures inevitable. More day-to-day goods and less specialty items just so to save costs- a can of tomato paste costs over a dollar here and the same can would be about 35 cents in the U.S.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are some actual real U.S. fast food chains- Popeye Chicken, KFC, and Church's Chicken, a Quiznos, and Bruesters Ice cream. The rest are generally knock-offs- place called "Domino" that you think is a pizzeria but doesn't serve pizza. Lots of snackettes and eateries- they are affordable. People tend to find a place they like and deem clean/decent and stick with it.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
If it crawls or flies, you have it here- close to the coast, you have fewer mosquitos but they are omnipresent at dusk and evenings as are flies, giant roaches- and small ones too. The most problematic insect are ants which are everywhere and seem to track down the smallest food source. Colony killing ant baits and a clean household will keep them away quite nicely.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through embassy pouch. Very limited- local mail is unreliable but DHS and FedEx are available though expensive.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It is available and can be cheap. Most Americans don't seem comfortable negotiating prices and don't understand the local wage scale. We pay our housekeeper about half of what most people do, she works a bit more than most, and is considered well-paid on the local market. Be picky about who you choose and make sure they are trustworthy early on.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some affordable gyms available but they are crowded.
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?
Only at international locations such as Pegasus hotel. Credit card use is minimal here and I think relatively secure due to lack of technology here.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I think many main Christian sects have services here, Hindi services are plentiful and there are lots of mosques. I would think most would be in English or the normal language for the denomination. I do not attend any of these.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is the main language here- you will pick up the local dialect and wait for "just now" to actually happen. If Guyanese go into creole dialect, you will struggle to understand and in some of the more rural regions, you will wonder if it is a separate language.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
YES, YES, YES. There is nothing for disabilities, most buildings do not have elevators, there is one escalator in Georgetown, and sidewalks are almost non-existent. The roads often look as if they had experienced an artillery barrage.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There are no trains, only mini-buses and they are not safe and always seem to have some horrific fatal accident. There are hotel taxis that are affordable but as they cater to expats, they are more expensive. Find a good local and reliable taxi service and stick with that and you will be fine and have a very affordable taxi. That being said, even with the hotel taxis, you can get from downtown to the main outlying neighborhoods for US$6-8. It is about US$30-35 from the airport to the expat communities.
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?
Japanese cars are king here- you can do left or right drive vehicles, both work fine though harder to pass in traffic with a left hand drive- an elevated vehicle is better and the deeper you plan on driving, the more rugged you should get- that being said, most of the traffic on interior roads still are basic vehicles such as mini-vans and canter trucks.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
"High speed" internet is available but it is anything but speedy; speed is relative and seems quite variable, unpredictable, and sometimes goes out- but you get used to it and we all get by, even those who stream regularly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most use digicell- make sure you watch them charge your phone and credits are fully there- beware of text messages that charge you for being sent to you.
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?
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?
Only if you are involved in extractive industries.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
It is a poor country and I believe there are likely endless opportunities though I do not know for certain.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The president of Guyana wears a "shirt-jack." Some parts of the U.S. Embassy wear suits as do a limited number of the Brits and Canadians- I suspect this amuses the locals. Dress is pretty casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime is rampant in Georgetown, in particular, and you have to be weary in key seasons such as Christmas which will have the predictable rise in armed robberies in the downtown. Stay out of the risk places and don't flash cash or jewelry and you will be fine. Expats generally aren't targets unless they are in high risk places or overly flashy with cash, jewelry, or electronics. We have never been confronted or robbed.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
THe medical care is deplorable. There is one private hospital that is good and you can pay extra to have an appointment and not wait in the line. Most of the hospitals lack real sanitation and modern facilities.
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 can be good but the locals burn everything from garbage to dead animals so if you are downwind, beware. In the interior, the air can be very good but also very hot and humid in some places.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
There are two rainy seasons and two dry seasons- the weather is predictable for the most part; even in the rainy seasons, it doesn't rain all day. The locals say the weather pattern is changing and the rainy seasons are less predictable.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have a child in school here but have heard parents complain about the school. Guyanese education practices and considerations are different than in the U.S. and that seems to run over into some of the school activities. Some parents have stated their child fell behind in school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Likely none- Guyana is not handicapped friendly and generally special needs kids and handicapped kids are not let into the schools. You will likely find them as cheap labor somewhere or as "specialty beggars" at market entrances.
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?
Some but I do not have experience with them.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I understand there are some limited programs- apparently there is a new swimming program and a baseball league has just started as well.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is small and morale seems highest among the recent arrivals and the soon to be departing- Georgetown can wear people out and one needs to get away from time to time. Morale is really what you make it to be- you can be very happy if you choose to be and don't mind a quiet life, if you are negative about Guyana and choose to remain so, you will be miserable here.
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?
Most entertaining is done at home- there are some very limited bars worth going to but they are better for singles- the rum is world class and cheap. The beer is limited and terrible but you find your "best of the worst" and get used to it- many of my colleagues have taken up brewing their own beer which creates its own social platform.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It can be a good city for families if you accept that there is only so much to do and you are limited by where you can take your kids or that it will be overly expensive to get out. Single men seem to enjoy the city the most as it is a poor country. Single women seem to have a hard time. I think it is best for couples without children.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It is illegal to be gay here though they do not seem to actively prosecute; you will hear about the "anti-man." Most people have a negative view of homosexuality. There are some groups fighting for LGBT rights here.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are there major ethnic groups- Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese, and Amerindians. You won't find many Amerindians in the main cities and they keep to themselves. You will find distinct Indo and Afro neighborhoods and regions. There are some tensions between the two but these mostly exist around elections which are racial.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Guyana is a beautiful country but it is hard to get around. Going to the interior is adventurous and can offer some excitement for the adventurous. Georgetown's main attractions can all be seen in a day or two at most.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are some neat places in the interior such as Kaiteur Falls but once you have seen them, you have seen them. There are some overpriced eco-tourism places but again, their charm is that they are not Georgetown and they generally are small in scope and get overrated as they are the only game in town so to speak.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wood carvings, local crafts, outstanding world-class rum, the 21 year old El Dorado is beyond belief, and local art.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Weather is consistent and the interior offers a jungle experience.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't fly out of Guyana all the time and bring consumable items to help you save on costs.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How bad the medical care really was.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No, being here is sort of like doing a tour in combat, after a while, most expats can tell you exactly how long they have left on their assignment and the happiest people are always those who are "short" on their tour.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations that being on the ocean will enable you do swim in the ocean- there are really no beaches in Guyana and by Georgetown the water is filthy- everything from trash to sewage goes into the water.
4. But don't forget your:
Endless patience, sunscreen (though you will likely stay indoors in the day as it is too hot and bright), repellant, ant bait, sense of humor, and willingness to get to know the locals who are the best part of Guyana.
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
There are a lot of you-tube videos about Georgetown and Guyana.
6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
I didn't know of any but don't bother reading anything about Jonestown, it's not a big deal here and no one really cares. You can visit if you like but it's pretty much grown over and not much to see aside from being able to say you were there.
7. Do you have any other comments?
With the right frame of mind, this can be a good place, I have had a good time here but have been able to explore the country and get out of the city. Those who are tied down by families or who are more timid in their travels, seem more unhappy here.