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?
No. Brussels, Belgium, and Izmir, Turkey.
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?
USA. There is no longer a direct flight from Miami. Connections are usually through Peru or Panama. The whole trip (including normal layovers) is about 12-14 hours (Miami 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.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The embassy housing pool is generally nice, each house has its own quirk (the Paraguayans love experimental architecture), but our apartment was lovely. There was shirt, but not long-dress hanging space in the closets for us. Most of the city has a relatively similar standard of American middle-class equivalent housing, though there are several wealthy areas and several slum areas.
The commute times are bad. There are some paved roads, but most of the neighborhood roads are cobblestone or paved-over cobblestone with mammoth potholes. The city wasn't designed; it's been built up for 500 years. The congestion (an influx of cars in the last decade) makes what should be a 10 minute trip into a half hour stop-and-go.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Comparatively similar cost to the US. A lot of people here say it's expensive, but I think they're comparing it to other countries they've been. Being land-locked, most things have to be imported, so you're paying for that. We spent an average of $400/mo on groceries in the States and we spend $400 here. Availability, you'll find most everything you need, but not want. There's maple syrup, for example, but it's all sugar-free. Brown sugar isn't quite brown sugar, nor is sour cream or cream cheese. Their "cheddar" is really American cheese. Some families order food from Amazon. The only time we did was for Thanksgiving and Christmas to get cranberries and candied yams. OH! And Campbell's soup. Canned soup is not a thing here, but different stores will import a variety of American goods and there's a large population of Koreans, Germans, and Italians here, so you'll find a wide-variety!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
My Swiffer wet-mop. It broke the last day of our move and I'm too cheap to pay the big-bucks at ACE. (Yep! There's an ACE Paraguay! Some American goods there!) The mops here are rags on sticks and squeegies which work really well on the floors, but I just couldn't get used to. My crockpot. I had the idea that I'd just buy my appliances here so I didn't have to worry about transformers. It took a while to find a toaster, but crockpots don't exist here. I don't use one, but I'm not sure if I've seen a blowdryer. I bought both a hair straightener and hair clippers here which work well.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All of them. Paraguayans deliver everything. Even groceries. There's sushi, burgers, pizzas (NOT like American pizzas, just a warning!), everything is delivery.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes. Some ants or roaches. But mosquitoes. Just take normal precautions, don't leave water sitting about, don't throw open the windows without a screen, wear repellent when you're out on muggy days in season.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the USPS at the embassy. We have heard horror stories of the local post, but have not tried it. Even through USPS, several pieces of high-value mail have been stolen in transit.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We didn't hire help, but every kind is available. Nannies, housekeepers, cooks, gardeners. Generally â‚²100.000-â‚²120.000 guaranies a day which translates currently to US$20-$25, with lunch provided.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Soccer, and there's also soccer. Tennis, golf, track, and handball. There are tons of gyms of many types and I'm pretty sure I've seen weightlifting. Pilates is BIG. Some separate gyms for women. Treadmills, ellipticals, and most parks have some kind of exercise machines set up as well. I don't know about the gym costs. There are several large parks with beautiful walking paths; just bring the bug spray!
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?
Credit cards accepted most everywhere. You have to be careful and monitor as it's a quickly rising crime here, but we haven't had an issue so far. ATMs I haven't used as we go to the embassy.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I know that there is one English-speaking church by the college on Espina.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You need some Spanish. The embassy offers paid Spanish classes with Spanish-only instructors. If you just learn some simple Spanish for the store, you'll be okay, but Spanish here is different. There are some archaic terms, some Guarani (local native language) mixed in, and even speaking Spanish, sometimes people will look at you funny; they're particular about their pronunciation. Most won't slow down when you ask to repeat. Some won't repeat. The people here are friendly; give yourself some patience and practice!
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. The sidewalks are not compatible for wheelchairs and a blind person would trip. There are few wheelchair accessible stores and street parking would be near-impossible for a handicap vehicle. There are dedicated handicap spots in the mall or parking lots, but this would be difficult for most physical disabilities. Doors are all push/pull with high handles. I have seen only one blind man who was walking in his neighborhood (across a rather scary intersection!). There are no protective lights or audible cues.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are crammed, private (unregulated) companies, and we were warned against pickpockets. Taxis: yes, one cab company was more highly recommended, about US$20 to drive across town.
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 a high-clearance, thinner-framed vehicle. With rain, streets flood quickly. Your suspension will be thoroughly tested. Roads are narrow and people park their cars on both sides.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It took about five minutes for us. Super easy. It does go down sometimes; power outages and internet outages are intermittent.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Two choices: Tigo or Personal. We used Tigo because they had a chat help system online which was handy. My husband's phone didn't have a SIM card and mine was (despite claiming to be international) hard-wired to US cell towers. Do a little research on that before you come as it was a little headache when we got here; though the setup and service was quick and easy.
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 on vets, I don't know on kennels. We didn't bring a pet, but took care of our friend's and I found a wonderful vet who didn't speak English, but spoke slowly, repeated herself, and made sure I understood everything.
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?
Jobs are sparse locally. Mostly teaching. Nurses can't transfer positions. When we arrived, there was a hiring freeze at the embassy, but several positions opened up recently. I'm not sure if that will continue, or if there will be a lull once the positions are filled.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Difficult. I'm certain that there are, but they're hard to find. Advertising (unless for products) is rare here.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual. Some formal events, and for those, go glitzy! When there's a party, people doll up. Several dress shops around, expensive BUT they rent them.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpockets. Some motorcycle drive-by snatching. House break-ins/attempts. A few car break-in/attempts. The only violence that I have heard was a car stolen for a bank robbery and a rare drug lord shooting.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue, chikungunya (related), and yellow fever. Wear bug spray. There are two hospitals here. Medical evacuation for anything major.
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?
Relatively good, unless you walk by the street by a bus. A friend has had serious asthma concerns (hospitalized) and another has had sinus issues.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
You have to get out of the city or you might feel trapped. Iguazu falls and Encarnacion are about 5 hours away. Argentina is about an hour, but a lot of the area is flat and empty. Either explore the city thoroughly, or get out every other weekend. You'll feel better.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Temperate, mostly. Hot gets hot and muggy. Cold gets tingly. But neither is unbearable. Air conditioners are everywhere and you can grab a blanky and hot cup of mate.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
American School of Asuncion is the only one I know. It has a great reputation and is a beautiful campus.
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?
Many people use nannies.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Some and some have private tutors as well.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Unknown. Positive, but the sense of community could improve. Because this is a low-threat environment, there's not as much need for togetherness. More could be done with that.
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?
Asados/BBQs are the thing! There are movie theaters, paintball, parks, clubs, and restaurants galore.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There are LGBT here and there are LGBT locals, but I have heard they have a struggle. I haven't heard of any issues from expats and I haven't seen any discrimination.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
I love the lapacho trees. It's beautiful and temperate for the most part. Unfortunately due to constraints, we weren't able to see as much as we wanted, but the Jesuit reductions and Iguazu falls should not be missed! There are also some smaller falls and several local festivals.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Mostly people will get some leatherwork, nanduti lace, and guampas and bombillas for terere (the tea everyone drinks here).
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is generally peaceful, calm and beautiful.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How to find out about more local events. Advertising is really hit-or-miss. A lot is on Facebook or word of mouth. I know something's coming up, but only hear about it after it's happened. Poor-planning on my part, but I wish there were an easier access to local events.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Bugspray, but it's not that bad.)
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
They just released a movie called Los Buscadores which was filmed around Asuncion. It's in Spanish and Guarani and was almost up for an Oscar! The Mission, though I haven't seen it.