Asuncion, Paraguay Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Asuncion, Paraguay

Asuncion, Paraguay 02/08/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Guatemala City and Managua.

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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

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Dependent spouse of USAID employee

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There are disparities in housing here -- the local housing board has not been great at picking houses -- many families with young children have been put in houses that are full of mold, because the embassy is still paying rent on them. GSO is not at all effective here, often coming to houses 3, 4, 5 times for the same problem. That said, the housing is fine. Not as big as some places I've lived, but adequate. Our yard, (luck of the draw), is tiny, which is not great for teenagers, but we're living with it. Most houses have pools (really big bathing pools because they are not deep), and all housing (apartment or house)have BBQ grills called quinchos. Most bedrooms have adjoining bathrooms and the size is nice. My house is about the same size of house I have in the States (with more bathrooms). You MUST be prepared to have a lot of extension cords (good ones) -- Paraguay uses 220 electricity (US is 110) and so all your appliances will have to be hooked up to converters. Not an issue if you have lots of extension cords. The embassy will provide converters (about 4 or 5).Commute time varies from where you live. But no more than 30 minutes driving.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I spend about $150/week on groceries (if I'm not buying US products).Pretty cheap.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

All sports gear. Lots more summer clothes (it's hot here).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Yes, there is fast food if you're dying for -- buy why when you have such great restaurants -- Chinese, Korean, German, Brazilian, Spanish, just to name a few!Great place for restaurants.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Lots of great vegetables from the farmer's market literally trucked in the same day. There are availability of some gluten free products. Not much for vegetarians unless you are willing to eat local vegetables and dairy. None of the great frozen products available in the States.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

There are lots of houseflies and mosquitoes here. We have animals, so we have to leave our backyard doors open, and we are always combating the flying insects. So much so, that we often spray ourselves with Off before we go to bed.(and there is the occasional outbreak of Dengue that is transmitted via mosquito, so best to be safe).

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We have DPO and pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

About $300 or 400 a month -- I think I over pay, but she's good and reliable.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Lots and lots and lots of gym facilities. Take your pick. There are even exercise parks solely devoted to exercise and recreation. Great place for exercise.

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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've had problems with my ATM -- the number has been "used" (read stolen) 3 times, so I don't use it anymore. We live with cash only now because the card-number stealing is getting out of hand. But it's not usually a problem because we take out enough for the week from the Embassy bank.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes. There is an English Catholic mass weekly, and there is an Anglican church, and anon-denominational church (but I think that is in Spanish).

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

No English language newspapers. TV is either local, cable from Argentina (which has some US shows), and DirecTV -- we have DirecTV -- however, it goes out when there are huge storms -- so it becomes a pain. But that's the price you pay for US TV.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Basic Spanish -- people are pretty accommodating -- even though I'm fluent, a lot of my friends aren't, and Paraguayans are very nice about it. Some people here also speak the local indigenous language, Guarani, too.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

There is virtually no access for those with disabilities -- like any other Latin American country, it is assumed that you don't have disabilities.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Buses are taken by lots of people -- they are cheap and go all over the city and country (even out of country).There doesn't seem to be an issue with the safety of the buses either. No trains (except for one that is a touristy type of train).Taxis are more expensive, but pretty safe. You do have to make sure your taxi driver is not drunk (talk to him at his window to do a smell test).

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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?

Definitely an SUV because Asucion has lots of cobblestone streets and HUGE potholes that would take out a normal car. The highways, on the other hand, are wonderful and smoothly paved. Go figure. There are the normal car break-ins if you leave valuables sitting in plain view, but if you don't then you're fine. Parts are usually hard to come by, most people have to have the part shipped here and then the local mechanic will install it (usually well).

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

We have Tigo at the highest speed -- we do pay a lot more than most people, but our internet speed is about the same as Verizon Fios in the States -- for me, worth the price, but I know for others it wouldn't be.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell phones themselves are pretty expensive (as are most electronic things here). But the service is okay and pretty reasonably priced.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Pet care is adequate.

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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?

If you're not a teacher, no.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Suits at work. Jeans everywhere else (sometimes even workout clothes!).

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There are the usual pickpockets and car break ins (although I had that happen to me while I was living in DC, too). So just the usual city living awareness is needed. There is no need for concern other than that. People walk around after dark all the time, there really is no "violent" crime at least in the areas where we live. Pretty nice living compared to other places.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Despite what others have said, I think the medical care here is very good compared to other countries. They have a brand new children's hospital with the latest equipment, the adult hospital too has all the latest equipment. Doctors are great (although most don't speak English) and I have been very impressed.

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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's okay. I've lived in much, much worse. However, compared to a developed country, the air will be worse. But not overly horrible. The only shocker was the allergies -- our embassy nurse warned us that if we had allergies to pollen in the US it would be worse here - and she was right!Different pollen, different time of the year all make for lots and lots of allergies. So make sure you bring lots of allergy medicine!

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are 3 schools most people send their kids to:the American School of Asuncion (ASA), Paraguayan American International School (PAIS), and the Christian Academy. Most send their kids to ASA.ASA has US and Canadian certified teachers and Paraguay certified Spanish teachers. They have a drama, art, and music departments. The only downside is that most of the kids are Paraguayan and have gone to the school, known each other from kindergarten. The kids, while friendly, are not liable to reach out to incoming American kids. And, if you have older teens (like I do) you might have more difficulty because the social circles are very difficult, if not impossible to become a part of. Many teens are very unhappy here as a result. My middle school child is satisfied, but not overly enthusiastic. We keep him busy though, so he's not dwelling on the "no friends in Paraguay" aspect so much. We do know many other teens and pre-teens who are miserable though because of the no friend aspect. So, that should be taken into consideration. PAIS is considered an "okay" alternative to ASA -- most of the teachers are Paraguayan and non-native speakers of English -- this is fine if one is not teaching English, but they do have non-native speakers teaching English as well. They have smaller class sizes which some people prefer. The Christian Academy also has smaller class sizes and non-native speakers/non-certified teachers teaching as well. The downside from what I've heard is that many of the kids speak Korean on the playground and therefore, American kids have a hard time making friends.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

ASA has 3 full-time certified LD teachers. Pretty remarkable for an American school in my experience.

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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?

Don't really know -- many people have maids for babysitting.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Lots of soccer, tennis, and golf. Take your pick of the place -- however, note that Paraguayans are known for their great soccer, so the kids are uber competitive about soccer -- that said, there are lots of soccer schools, great golf courses with cheap instructors, lots and lots of tennis. They love sports here!

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very small. Almost non-existent. There are the American teachers and the embassy communities (German, Japanese, Korean, etc). Other than that, really no one.

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2. Morale among expats:

Ok.

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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?

That's about all there is to do other than sporting. Some people like to go out to the clubs. I'm not a club person.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

For families it's great, especially for those with younger kids. I think it's great for single men as well. For single women, I think it's hard because one would have to rely on the Embassy community (this is Latin America where women don't live outside their parents' home until they're married).For couples, it's fine if you get involved in activities -- after you've toured the country once, there's not that much to explore (other than going to other countries).So, best to get involved in lessons, activities, etc.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I don't know about the gay situation here -- Argentina is just to the south and is very open and friendly to gay/lesbian community. But Paraguay is more traditionally Latino -- but there doesn't seem to be such anti-gay sentiment as I've seen in other Latin American countries.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No problem with race -- we have Brazil to our East and it's very diverse. While you don't see people of African descent here often, people automatically presume they are Brazilian. There are lots of people of German descent here as well -- lots of blonds. Very unusual. And lots of tall people. So, people will automatically assume Americans are Brazilian or Argentinian before assuming they are Americans.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

We have loved Iguazu Falls, seeing it from both the Brazilian side and the Argentinian side. It is highly recommended. The ruins of the Jesuit missions are wonderful too (see the movie, "The Mission" to get an idea).Other than that, it's a really great family post -- there are lots of things to get the kids involved in. Otherwise, not much to do.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

A'poi lace/tablecloths. Naduti lace. Hammocks.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

A lot of people say this is a poor country -- as a USAID dependent having seen poverty, there ain't that much here. It's rapidly developing, with 4 huge malls, lots and lots of available products to buy, nice houses (even for the working poor).I can count on my hand the number of shacks I've seen and compared to other "developing countries," Paraguay is heaven (in the economic sense).The increase in GDP last year was almost 10%.Huge. The downside is there are lots of underemployed people - but, at least they're employed. Asuncion is a very laid-back city (except for the driving).If you have kids, or if you enjoy taking classes or taking lessons in various sports, you can do it all here. Activities are very inexpensive compared to other cities, and are readily available. If you are a golf aficiando or a tennis enthusiast, this is your post. I golf EVERY DAY.Seriously. The weather is perfect (except for the occasional rainy day) and there are plenty of golf instructors (cheap!) who are willing to help your game. As a woman, it is rare, however, to see another woman on the course, but it hasn't deterred me -- everyone is very polite. My kids all take tennis and golf lessons. In addition, we all take guitar and art classes. So, that's what you can do on a daily basis -- lots of classes. As for touring -- seeing the ruins of the Jesuit missions is great (and great history), going to Iguazu Falls is wonderful. BUT once you've done that, there isn't much more to see in the country. There are the small towns that make the famous a'poi lace, hammocks, etc. But that's really a one time trip. Everyone usually takes advantage of the proximity of Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil and explores them. The only disadvantage is that if you have a family, flying is very expensive ($500 per ticket).A lot of people drive (if you're used to road trips) and the highways are great for a "developing country."Seriously. You can save money here -- if you buy local products, (except for clothes), everything is cheap. Vegetables are wonderful if you buy in the farmer's market on Tuesdays, the beef cannot be beat. Because this is a land-locked country, the only local fish everyone eats is surubí, but I won't eat it because a lot of it is caught from the river which is really polluted. So I rely on frozen Tilapia or Salmon. We've had to buy a lot of our clothes from the States which is ok -- the DPO is only weekly, so mail takes about 2 weeks to get here. We also have the pouch for bigger items. There is a local grocery store that imports US products every month or so, which is nice -- so if you're dying for pancake mix or syrup, or even Poptarts, you can get it there (even spices!).Other stuff you can't get you can buy from Walmart online or Netgrocer. Paraguayans are very nice, but kinda introverted. They are welcoming, kind and are very proud of their country. It takes a while to get to know any Paraguayans well. But if you plan to be here a while, don't worry, you will!Weather is nice -- in June, July and August it can dip down into the 40s and 50s. September and October are wonderful (70s), November is great (80s), but December, January, February are HOT!!!(90s - 115s) -- March and April are cooler in the 70s and 80s. So you might need a light coat for the winter months of July and August, but don't be surprised to see Paraguayans all bundled up with hats, mittens and boots during this time. And they might look at you weirdly if you wander about without a coat.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yeah, but be prepared to entertain yourself.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Your thick winter coats and boots (unless you want to look Paraguayan, but then you'll sweat from wearing them when it's 50 outside). Any 110 appliance that you really don't need. It's a pain in the butt trying to use all your appliances and plugging and unplugging them to get them to work.

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3. But don't forget your:

Extension cords (lots of them). Sports gear. Summer clothes. Umbrellas.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Paraguay by Margaret Hebblewaith. See other posts for recommended books -- they're good.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Mission.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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