Asuncion, Paraguay Report of what it's like to live there
Personal Experiences from Asuncion, Paraguay
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
5th expat experience.
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. 12-16hours. Dulles to Sao Paulo to Asuncion
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work for the US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing here is decent. You'll get your own pool whether you like it or not. The housing program is poorly run, and advice on how to make it better is met with a used car salesman pitch of how hard everything is. The biggest problem is that GSO rely too much on the locals whose idea of a 'good house' for a family of X size is very different then what a American would be. The housing program could be so much better if they had a truly good GSO manager in there.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Same as Washington DC prices.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Sports drink mix, more fall-type clothing.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's and Burger King. The chicken fingers cost more than a whole chicken would on the streets. $5!
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
I wouldn't bet any of the vegetables are organic. Pesticides are abundant here.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The DENGUE (don...don....donnnnn). Mosquitoes are a big concern.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and Pouch here. Average time is 2 weeks. There is a great mail room in the embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We pay $500 for a full-time nanny. She's good. She's no Tony Macelli from "Who's the Boss." More like Berta from 2.5 Men.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are not open on weekends. Paraguayans are fairly exercise-conscious, except for the weekends. But the gyms are affordable.
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?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Most channels from cable-vision can be turned into English audio. You can buy a dish and hook up DirectTV, but that seems like a lot of work. We have near the top-of-the-line cable package with 6Mb internet download for about $100 month. That gets me 4 English HBOs, Al Jezeera, Fox News, BBC, and CNN. And 7 other US national stations: Warner, TNT, Sony, etc. Did I mention they have BabyTV here?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A LOT. Don't be fooled. You need to know spanish to have any type of life here.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The so called cobble stone streets are in fact jagged-edge rocks thrown into a thin layer of asphalt to make 'roads'. Try pushing a wheelchair or baby stroller on that. Not happening!
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The buses are awful here. but if you're fluent in Spanish, or just brave, you can take the buses.
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?
Bring your SUV that you bought for 22K back in 2003, and when you leave you in 2011 you can sell it for 22k. A great way to take back a little something from this place.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I pay about $60/month for 6mb download. But I'll be lucky if I ever get 1/3 of that advertised speed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The embassy has a great family plan. Bring your own phone down here. The phones here are very expensive: BlackBerries $600, iPhones (not very common) $500. Bring them here get them unlocked and hook up the service (which is affordable and reliable). ...dang it I was trying not to say anything good about this place.
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?
Yes, it's best to break your dog in slowly to this place. Once he realizes where he is, he may never forgive you. But there is no Paraguayan rule that requires quarantine.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
They are available, but I do not know the quality. My guess is that one can become a vet if you have ever owned a pet or know of someone who owned a pet, or wished you knew someone who owned a pet. Dogs are inexpensive here. You can buy a sharpei for about $250, and more common breeds like retrievers, poodles, etc., for about $90. But they only guarantee them for 1 month.
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?
Yes, if you speak fluent spanish and guaruani.Jobs are plentiful in the embassy for EFMs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Some dress up in a suit and tie and are under the impression that it matters.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I don't really think so. But we do have barbed wire on our home walls. Car break-ins are not uncommon.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
THE DENGUE. I hear dentistry here is okay. I hope I never have to know about the hospitals.
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?
Moderate. Paraguay is per capita the 3rd largest pollutant in the Western hemisphere. The city buses here are over 30 years old, and spew enough smog to kill a small rodent each time they stop and go.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Varied. Winter can be "cold" as in the 50s, summers 100s. Summer time turns many into prisoners of the indoors. It's so hot and humid and there's very little green space in the city, you cannot stay outdoors for long.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
They are okay. Theres 3, most go to the american school. Don't expect your kid to become Einstein, or even dan quayle from the school
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?
Preschool is more like expensive nannies that you have to take your kids to for 4 hours a day. Better to get a full time nanny, and put them in front of BabyTV, which is available on the local cable system. I guess I could put that as a highlight for this country.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Soccer, golf, and tennis. But you HAVE to speak Spanish fluently. My Spanish teacher speaks about 30 words of English. And she's the most fluent English speaker among the 15 or so people we had to choose from. How do these people expect to teach beginning and mid level English speakers Spanish if they don't speak a lick of english? que suerte! pasa bien!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
I know everyone dislikes this place but would not describe it with that word. Rather they say, "It's okay, better than being in hell."
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?
You can have fun here if you don't have high expectations or if you're the type of person who find Piers Morgan funny, or if you're into drinking heavily.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
"Good" is a really strong word for this country. let's just say it's better than hell for all who get stuck here. Side note: the local women are more often than not very pretty. Very surprising. You can randomly select 10 women from a phone book, and i would say at least 6 of them would be considered pretty by most universal standards. Compared to the USA, I would say, 4 would be pretty. Shallow side note, but I think it's interesting to share.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
i have not seen or heard of anything overtly against gays. I am sure it's no DuPont Circle or Berlin Love parade, and it's not like being in Iran (where they put you in a burlap bag and throw you over the side of a mountain. True story, I know because I read it on the internet.) It's somewhere in the middle.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Prejudices, maybe not. But there are definitely stereotypes that are widely applied and commonplace.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I am still waiting for the highlights to happen, but not holding my breath. There's almost zero tourism here. Once you've been here for a week, you know exactly why. There's nothing special about this place: culturally, historically, or economically. I am saying this from a foreign service lifestyle point of view. There's nothing here worth writing home about, except to write home to say, there's nothing to write home about.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Sit around and talk about how wrong you were for thinking Asunción would be an interesting/fun place to go and live. The golf courses, to put it lightly, suck. The most exclusive courses here somehow cannot keep random people off the course who come in and hawk you while you are playing. They are hoping to swipe your ball and then sell it back to you for a buck apiece. There are at most 3 parks that are accessible here. They aren't that great because of the bugs and are a breeding ground for dengue fever. The local street 'parks' are so bad that even the crack addicts are complaining about them.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
A truly unique thing to Paraguay is this tea that they drink, I could think of the name if I really think about it, but I am not going to. Anyways, the unique thing is that they carry around a ridiculous tackily-decorated gallon thermos of water to support this tea drinking. I can understand that the tea is good, but dang, drink it and be done with it. No need to carry a gallon refill with you to business meetings, church, and birthday parties!
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Not much. Material goods are comparable to WashDC prices, services and labor are about 60% of WashDC prices. Music, dance, sports, lessons are in-expensive.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, you can save money anywhere in the Foreign Service because you don't have to pay for housing. But is this a cheap place to live? No, especially if you plan on living the American Dream of food variety, good groceries, dinning out, and small kitchen appliances.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. (I said that in spanish so that it is perfectly clear.) I say "no" because of how this place was presented. They (old tales from a small planet postings) said that this was a cheap place, had lots to do outdoors, and had good weather. Yes the weather can be nice here in May-July, but then what? There's nothing to do. It's not cheap here, especially the expendable necessities of American life. If they told me this place is your average small town USA in the 1950s except that they only spoke Spanish, had terrible local food (ever seen a Paraguayan restaurant anywhere outside Paraguay?), had about 3 or 4 malls that were way way over priced, and very little green space, then maybe I would think differently about this place. I was hoodwinked!
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
notion that this will be over soon. Even if you leave tomorrow, that's an eternity away.
3. But don't forget your:
sense of humor, and anger management techniques.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
The Alchemist. Has nothing to with Paraguay (likemuch of the rest of the world) but really is a good book.