Georgetown, Guyana Report of what it's like to live there - 02/03/10
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, also lived in Cotonou, Benin and Bologna, Italy
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.Trip is 6 hours from JFK, which is the only direct flight to the U.S. (no flights to Miami, except via transfer in Trinidad)
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
U.S. Department of State
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I am with the US State Department, and our houses are beautiful and large. The housing could not be more comfortable, in my opinion.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get just about anything here. Once in a while I stumble upon something I cannot find, like Heath candy bars, but it is the list of what is not available is that specific. Having said that, one often must visit several stores to find what one is looking for. Almost everyone goes to the main produce market (Bourda) for fruits and vegetables, leaving the actual supermarkets for imported and processed items. There are no large, American-style supermarkets, but the small ones that are here are good.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Electronics (stereo, etc.) are expensive here, as are spare car tires. If you can ship those in cheaply, you will save yourself a lot of money.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The selection of ethnic cuisine is limited to local Guyanese food, Brazilian, Indian and Chinese. For fast food, there is a great local burger chain (JRs), several pizza places (including the newest Mario's, Pizza Hut and VIP), and several chicken outlets (KFC, Church's, Popeyes). The best quality food is at the several good restaurants and hotels, and the best bet is Guyanese food. Several Brazilian chuhascarias in town, too.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are a problem. Nothing that can't be handled by repellant and long pants, though.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the diplomatic pouch. However, I have used the Guyanese post office to send a letter home and it reached there without incident.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available. I pay usd 20 a day for help, and this is considered a decent wage. My maid does a decent job with everything, including cooking. I have heard of others not being satisfied with the cleanliness standards of their maids, though.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but this is a bit of a let down. None are open on Sunday, none are air-conditined. The best one at present (eb 2010) is Fitness Paradise, on top of the Brandsville Hotel. Third floor, nice breeze, good new equipment. Only drawback is that it is small.
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?
Internationally-connected ATMs easily used at Scotia Bank outlets and (any day now) Republic bank outlets. Both have ATMs throughout the city.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, all in English. Wide choice of Christian, Hindu and Muslim services, but nothing else.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, this is an English language country.
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 speak creole with each other, but everyone you would deal with knows English.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be very hard to live here with a disability. There are virtually no accomodations for disabilities in any building or street.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Private taxis are plentiful, safe and very affordable.3usd gets you anywhere in central Georgetown. 6usd would get you to the suburbs. The shared mini-van taxis, on the other hand, are NOT safe.
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 Rav 4! Don't even think of anything else (or anything not comparable to that).You need high clearance for the roads, but something fairly small for how narrow the roads are.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but expensive and not that fast. About $50usd a month. A new sea cable is going in between Guyana, Surinam and Trinidad that should significantly improve speed and reliablity.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Only two companies here, GT&T and Digicel. Since 2009, the two are compatible, meaning one can call and text between them.
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)?
I do not have a pet, but there are kennels and vets available here.
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, there are not.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. Almost no one wears a tie.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not especially. Yes, there are the usual street crimes, and some violence that is NOT directed at foreigners. Overall considerably safer than its neighbors Brazil, Venezuela or Trinidad.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is not the greatest. Health concerns are dengue fever and malaria, mostly when outside of Georgetown.
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?
Good! Yes, this is a poor country, but it has none of the air pollution or traffic of large poor countries. Garbage is a problem, though.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Always pleasant, though hot from about 10am to 3pm. There are a couple of rainy seasons that cool the air a bit.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I have no children, but have heard many complaints about the international school here. This would be the one true weak spot for this Post.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I am not aware of any. There is a local school here 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?
Labor is quite affordable and there are many Guyanese qualified to babysit. I do not know about preschool, however.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but I do not know details. Cricket and football (soccer) are the biggest by far, but there is a Judo association with lots of kids, go-carts, and many others.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
In official capacity, about 30 Americans + 80 Peace Corps volunteers, 15 Europeans, 4 Mexicans, 4 Canadians, many from throughout the Caribbean (CARICOM is based here), as well as others from the region. Many other foreigners here with NGOs or businesses.
2. Morale among expats:
Good. Everyone pretty much agrees that Guyana is a well-kept secret. No one comes here, and no one knows that it is a decent place. The feeling seems to shared among most ex-pats, they all get along well, and morale is good.
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?
Three hip new dance clubs just opened up in the first part of 2010. The city's first (8 screen) multiplex is opening in 2010. A small but decent selection of restaurants. But this is a smaller city, so in-home parties and entertaining are also big. There is a lot of informal hanging out here. Decent amount of concerts and cultural events.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
For single and couples without children, or very young children, this is an excellent post. With older kids, not as many opportunities for them, in school or out.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Great place to be gay (speaking from first hand experience, and from the experience of nine other gay or lesbian ex-pats I know here). Some internalized homophobia, but nothing that affects foreigners. Never heard of violence or blatant discrimination amongst locals(except for literally one unusual case of police arresting a group of drag queens). There is an annual GLBT film festival, two gay rights organizations (small, but active), regular private parties and occassional officially organized dance parties. Several attemtps at establishing a full time gay bar have failed, but it is still a good place to be gay. Just bear in mind that it is a small Post, with all the drawbacks of a small town.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Some racial prejudices between the two main ethnic groups - those descended from India and those descended from Africa. Mostly everyone gets along very well, though. High marks for religious diversity and tolerance, too.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Driving down to the Rupunini Rodeo in the savannah region at the Brazilian border. Relaxing at peaceful eco-lodges along the rivers, attending interesting cultural events, such as the duck-curry cook-off in Berbice and the Deepavali parade of lights.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Lots of nature excursions, some that can be done on a weekend, most take three days or more. Good cultural opportunities and they are highly affordable (for instance, good dance or live music performances are rarely more than $5usd).
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Amerindian woven baskets and greenheart wood carved bowls. Rum! Guyana has the oldest rum distillery in the world and it wins interntaional awards every year! Even the cheapest version is good, but you can spend up to $200 a bottle here in country for the highest quality.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Small and laid back. No traffic! Lots of stunning, untouched nature. Friendly. Cost of living is fairly high for imported items and interior travel (because it is so remote), but one can definitely save money here. Great weather year-round! Always between 70 and 90F. Housing is good and comfortable. Interesting old colonial architecture. Fresh fruit year round.
11. Can you save money?
yes, but only if you do not overdue travel in the region. Travel is expensive here!
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:
Dishwashing degergent. You will have a maid to wash the dishes.
3. But don't forget your:
picture books from your home to share with Guyanese friends.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Bradt Guide to Guyana (even though already a bit out of date).
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
There are almost no movies on Georgetown. If you want to watch the Jim Jones story, it is more for curiosity of the story itself, but has nothing to do with Guyana or Georgetown.
6. Do you have any other comments?
Just remember that this is a small, developing country city. It has its share of poor country problems (garbage, some crime), but others pleasantly lacking (no traffic to speak of, no air quality problems). All in all, however, you should be quite happy in Guyana!