Managua, Nicaragua Report of what it's like to live there - 04/02/18
Personal Experiences from Managua, Nicaragua
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Not my first. Jeddah, Cairo, New Delhi, Quito, Kabul, and Tegucigalpa.
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?
The U.S. There are direct flights from Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas to Managua.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
Most housing is very nice, spacious with nice yards, often with fruit trees. Many houses have pools. If you request a pool, keep in mind that it costs about $80 per month to maintain. The apartments are beautiful and have access to a pool, gym and tennis courts for $100 per month. The Embassy is building its own apartment building that will have ten units. Most live off of Masaya highway on the east side of town, but six embassy employees live on the west side of town off of the South highway (Carretera Sur). The advantage of Carretera Sur is that it is much closer to the embassy; nine minutes with no traffic (on a Sunday morning) and 20 minutes with traffic during rush hour. From the Masaya highway it is more like 40 minutes, but that side of town has the shopping, movie theaters, hospital, and veterinarians. The American Nicaraguan School is closer to the east side, but the Nicaraguan Christian Academy is close to Carretera Sur.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I was shocked at how much is available here. Pricesmart is a big box store like Costco and even has Kirkland products. They have large bottles of olive oil, U.S. laundry detergent, pet food, cat litter, soy milk, cereals, almond milk, and peanut butter. The regular grocery stores are very good, too. They have tahini, Asian food ingredients, etc. Local foods such as beans, rice, and produce are very affordable. Imported items are more expensive (nuts are very expensive). You can also shop in the local markets which are very affordable. You can find tofu at several places (Naturaleza, the Korean market, Ola Verde), but not in the grocery stores.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
It's really not an issue because you can order everything online. Items I order regularly online are almond butter, maple syrup, nuts, Truvia, shampoo, conditioner, and cosmetics.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of good restaurants, especially for meat eaters, but there are also vegetarian and vegan options. I have not found a great Asian restaurant. There is good Peruvian and Italian. I prefer the restaurants in Granada. There is a fantastic Middle Eastern place called Pita Pita owned by an Israeli and also, the Garden Cafe. Managua has many fast food restaurants and chains: McDonalds, Carls Jr., Pizza Hut, Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of geckos which keep the mosquito population down. Each house is different: some have scorpions, others tarantulas, ants, cockroaches, etc. We have been lucky to only have geckos, maybe two scorpions, one tarantula, limited ants. Many people have iguanas in their backyards and some boas.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Most people have a housekeeper who will also take care of children and cook, plus a part time gardener, and a pool service. Housekeepers/nannies start at $250 per month, plus you must pay the 13th month salary (like a Christmas bonus), and pay their medical insurance (about $60 per month). Most do not take the one month of vacation that they are entitled to, so you have to pay them for that. I pay our housekeeper much more because she is worth it, it's the right thing to do, and I can afford it. Gardeners start at $10-$15 per day. I started ours at $20 and he now makes $25. You get what you pay for. The pool service comes twice a week and charges $80 per month (they provide all the chemicals).
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a great gym at the Galerias mall that many people use (on the east side of town). The Embassy has a good gym, a large pool, and tennis courts. There are yoga classes around town.
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?
A lot of people use their credit cards, but I personally prefer not to do so. ATMs are common.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
The more Spanish you have, the more pleasant your stay in Nicaragua. At the same time, Nicaraguans are very patient and will do their best to communicate with you regardless of your level of Spanish. There are affordable tutors/classes.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, it would be difficult. At the same time, there are organizations for people with visual and audio disabilities, and a wheelchair basketball team. Locals will maneuver their wheelchairs through traffic although I don't recommend it.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable, but not safe. Embassy employees are not allowed to use them, except for a list of taxis that are more expensive. We have a driver who we can call when our housekeeper does errands for us.
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 or Hyundai because it is easier and more affordable to get parts (and therefore easier to sell when you depart). I recommend a small SUV for the clearance. Four wheel drive is not necessary, but I wish we had it just for the trip up the Mombacho volcano.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it is available. It took us less than a week to get it installed.
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?
There are many vets but only one excellent vet clinic that I know of in the Las Colinas neighborhood. Very competent, but they don't keep good records so you need to keep copies of everything and bring them when you go. You need to be assertive and be sure they examine your pet completely. If you go in and say your pet has an eye infection, they will treat that infection very well, but they won't bother to examine anything else. You have to say, "Please have a look at his teeth, his ears," etc. No need for quarantine. Many dogs get Ehrlichia from ticks (a parasite in the blood), so be sure to give them prophylaxis.
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 much on the local economy. A couple of them teach at the American Nicaraguan School or at local universities. There were many jobs at the Embassy, until the hiring freeze. A few of those positions have been unfrozen.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many opportunities. Go to www.nicaraguanonprofitnetwork.org to learn about them. I volunteer with a couple of animal rescue organizations: Rescatando Huellas and Fundacion Adan.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Just like in the U.S., it varies. You can go to the theater and see everything from jeans to dressy. I would say most at the Embassy dress business casual unless they know they have an outside meeting so they put on a tie and jacket/suit and heels.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
While Nicaragua is MUCH safer than Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, there is still pickpocketing, purses and cell phones grabbed by two guys on a motorcycle, etc. Embassy employees have 24 hour guards at their residences which acts as a deterrent. I go walking and running in my neighborhood with no concern. Locals have more problems because they ride the buses and don't have guards at their homes; violent crimes often involve vendettas. A lot of women are killed by their partners or ex-partners. The greatest danger is traffic accidents: two people die every day in Nicaragua from traffic accidents, usually people on motorcycles.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Not particularly. This year, a lot of people had coughs that lasted six weeks, some stomach issues, I knew of one case of dengue that required hospitalization. There is no malaria in Managua. People seem happy with the pediatric care. There is one modern hospital, but the facility looks more impressive than the actual care. There have been medical evacuations for any type of surgery. I had physical therapy here that I thought was very good.
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 is decent and much better than most developing country capitals. The dry season is dusty.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No, it is sunny all year.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mostly hot all year, although December and January are very pleasant. The houses on Carretera Sur are on a hill with a nice breeze. The rainy season is not that wet, the dry season is very dry.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small to medium in Managua, but large in Granada and San Juan del Sur. Morale is 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?
Don't wait for an invitation, invite others out. Nicaraguans are very nice and sociable, people overall at the Embassy are great and also expats working for NGOs. You can also meet expats through several Facebook groups.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think life for singles is always more challenging overseas and Managua is no better or worse. You need to find your fun, usually through sports, church, volunteering and inviting others out. It's great for couples and families. There is a lot to do in Managua and many options for weekend trips.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
While Nicaragua is a conservative country, there is a visible LGBT community. There used to be an issue with the local country club not allowing LGBT members, but I don't think that is a problem anymore.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is discrimination against indigenous and Afro-descendant groups. There is also discrimination against women although I have not felt it. Most major businesses are headed by men, and the newspapers feature stories about successful men alongside pictures of half-naked women. There are many vocal women's rights groups and it is an issue that is openly discussed in the media.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There really is no reason to take vacation outside of Nicaragua as there is so much to do and see here, especially if you love nature. There are active volcanoes, beautiful beaches for surfing, Corn Island for snorkeling, Laguna de Apoyo, the mountains of Matalgalpa, Selva Negra, Finca Esperanza, and Granada for colonial homes and good food. You can volcano board down Cerro Negro. Our favorite trip is to Sabalos Lodge on the Rio San Juan (border with Costa Rica). We have seen monkeys, sloths, caiman, lots of tropical birds, sharks. Very similar to Costa Rica and the tourists have discovered this.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Sabalos Lodge on the Rio San Juan.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nicaragua has very good coffee, cigars and Flor de Cana rum. Hammocks are also nice. Some people like the ceramics.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Managua is not particularly interesting but there are a lot of parks for families, including the edge of the lake where there are activities for kids and restaurants. Most of the major Hollywood movies come here. Yes, there is traffic.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Books: Blood of Brothers by Stephen Kinzer, The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli, poetry by Ruben Dario.
Movies: Under Fire with Nick Nolte
3. Do you have any other comments?
Take every opportunity to explore the country and get out of Managua. Do your best to befriend Nicaraguans as they are a very kind and generous people. They love their country and want to share it with you. There has been a long history between the U.S. and Nicaragua; get to know that history and ask Nicaraguans about it.