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?
This was our first post experience abroad (as a family).
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. From Asuncion 5-6 hours to Panama or Sao Paolo, then 6 hours to Washington, D.C. Note that most flights in and out of the country internationally get you around difficult times like midnight, 2am, 5am. This was a pain, but by the airport is pretty small and simple. I heard recently that the cost of the parking has gone up but diplomats can park for free.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
My husband works at the embassy and I am a teacher at the American School of Asuncion.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We were lucky and got a large apartment not far from the school (our priority was near my work). The houses and apartments are scattered around the city, but no commute is more than 30 minutes away from the embassy, and some are within walking distance. No one lives outside of the major city limits. The apartments can vary in size so can the houses. If you have a family larger than three, you can get a pretty big place. All houses and apartments must have at least a wading pool. Our apartment doesn't have any outside space for our little one besides the pool but we are near a small park (albeit it has some issues) but we have adjusted and there is a super nice park within a seven minute drive.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries here are incredibly inexpensive if you buy the seasonal fresh produce and local meats. There is also a great local farm that delivers to the embassy if you're interested. We are flexible with our diet and house supplies and we had no problems here. It is a steal. Wine and beer are cheap and when my father was here he laughed out loud how cheap it was to buy groceries. I eat gluten free and had no problems at the grocery store (a little harder at restaurants). Cleaning supplies are a bit more expensive and I would think worth sending down a bit of. Your cleaning lady will go through a lot quickly if she is thorough. Friends have pointed us to another location, a specialty store where items are less expensive, but we haven't found the need. We generally save money so it hasn't been a problem.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Things we ended up shipping were quinoa (very expensive here), diapers and wipes for our son (they do have various brands but we preferred the US brands in bulk to be cheaper), nuts, cereal (its very sugary here! and no brands like Cheerios), peanut butter (sometimes they have it sometimes they don't at the Casa Rica), traditional cooking supplies like cream of tartar and chocolate chips. Saran Wrap and tinfoil in a giant Cosco-sized perforated edge (here they just sell plain tubes with nothing to cut it off). Some people get cheddar cheese shipped, as they don't have aged cheeses here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are so many restaurants here in Asuncion, you can eat your way around the city. Those who miss America have plenty of burger joints and American restaurants: Burger King, McDonalds, Johnny B. Good, and TGI Friday's. There is a food court at both malls for quicker food stops. Many people also enjoy having delivery from the grocery store Casa Rica, the convenience store Biggie, or use a food app called Munchis. I've never used any of them but all our friends swear by them.
We have enjoyed Mexican, Thai, Italian, Brazilian, Indian, sushi, you name it here, but things open and close quickly here so make sure you check if its still open when you get here. Our favorite spots are Pakuri, a gluten free restaurant (stick with the amazing cocktails and appetizers), Tierra Colorado or Pozo Colorado for upscale and traditional Paraguayan, the food park Mburucuya for a bit of everything, and Cafe de Aca for sitting outside. There are hundreds of places to check out we haven't because of our son. Its easy to get a babysitter here but restaurants don't often open until 7:30pm. We have often had the whole restaurant to ourselves!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No. Ants are the most common problem, with an occasional cockroach.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. The Embassy had some issues with post last year and this year because the carrier cut us down to one plane so Christmas time, I suggest you order and have friends ship early. However, we have had no issues in the last few months thanks to the hard work of the Embassy staff. In fact some Amazon has been taking fewer than two weeks!
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We have a nanny five days a week from 7:00-4:30 for 1/4 the cost of daycare in Washington, D.C. She is like family. She watches our son and keeps our giant apartment clean. She could cook too but we asked her to focus on our son and higher a cook for $20 once a week and she cooks us three to five entrees we stretch out for a few meals and lunches. Help here is incredibly cheap and we take great care of them. Most everyone has someone who cleans or cooks for them. Some people even have multiple nannies - one for day and one for night! Most empleadas live an hour outside the city.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are some gyms, yoga spots, and even some Crossfit places. Yoga classes I think are reasonable but the gyms are a bit more expensive. We work out at home or at the embassy gym. If you are ASA you can work at the school too.
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?
We have had no problems with Credit cards. ATMs can be a bit harder to find but have been safe. We have only heard of one gas station trying to lie about mileage. Banks are open and closed in shorter hours and a bit more difficult to use than stateside so the online app for Itau (if you have a local bank like I do) are suggested.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
We go to an Anglican Church nearby, there are also Morman and Catholic services; I've heard these are in English.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
There is a tutor at the Embassy people use and I have a tutor at ASA for 12 dollars an hour (unbelievably cheap!) I suggest having Spanish if you can as it helps. Most of the professionals here: dentists, business owners, etc. speak English but your day-to-day people: grocery store clerks, doctor office staff, cell-phone locations, hairstylists, guards at the school, etc. don't speak English much at all. The farther from the city you get the more less likely to find English and more likely to find Guarani.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
YES! Taking my son in his stroller is nearly impossible as there are no rules for smooth sidewalks. Piles of sand can block your way, people don't stop for pedestrians unless you just go for it, and there is limited accessibility for wheelchairs.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
We are suggested not to go on the buses, but taxis are super cheap! Uber just got here too and another app that is similar. I normally feel safe in taxis but have had to say no to one or two due to lack of seat belts.
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?
A newer car is better as only old cars with no alarms are targeted for stealing; I've only heard of one school staff member getting their car stolen and it didn't have an alarm. Get a car with high clearance as the roads are incredibly jagged, potholes are deep and always developing from the rain, and it floods here quickly when it rains! We brought a Rav4 and were very happy - especially if you want to drive out of the city to places like the Salto Cristol. Do not bring your shiny new vehicle you don't want dinged up.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, we have Tigo and others have Personal. Our awesome sponsors had it hooked up for us before we got here. We have had issues with it going our recently but generally its fine. We use a VPN to stream Hulu, Amazon Prime, and also have Netflix (Paraguayan).
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Best to get a local provider of Tigo or Personal. I had some serious issues at the beginning with my personal phone. I was they my iPhone 5 (which worked for three months) was too old to work on their network. Then it rebooted and worked fine. Then my son dropped it.... just have patience when you go to set up your phone. You can pay your bills at the embassy.
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?
Most spouses work at the embassy. I am one of two spouses that work at ASA full time. My pay is not what I would get in the US, but that's because I'm paid on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are plenty of options as there seem to be many impoverished people here and I wish I had gotten involved. There is an orphanage the Embassy helps out with, a similar project to Habitat for Humanity when the floods come, and the poor are always in need of donations of food, water, and money.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
. Day to day is pretty casual though the parents at ASA dress up or wear their fancy workout gear! If you got to a Paraguayan wedding, birthday party, or gala you get dressed up, get your hair and make-up done, and go all out! Any excuse to party is a full-tilt prom!
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
A lot of this would be any city safety. You shouldn't walk with your phone out in case of a Moto-chorro (motorcycle pulling up to steal your purse/phone). I've only heard of this happening to two people (not embassy-related). Always be alert when walking, lock your car/door, don't leave valuables visual. I usually feel safer here than I do in the States. My son and I go for walks and I walk to school. Your biggest concern is just safety on the road. You will learn the "fish school" driving mentality here but you always have to be weary of motorcycles passing you on both sides, cars making an extra lane, etc.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I have been sick a number of times in the last month and its just as fast to go to the emergency room as a doctor. I have had great care with a dentist, gynecologist, internist for my son. No concerns with care. Many women have been pregnant here although Zika is still mentioned (it is more of a concern outside of the city). I even had an American friend give birth in the local hospital. We've had friends medivaced for skin cancer, emergency dental care, and for childbirth.
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?
Generally, I think the air quality is pretty good. Some people have allergies from the new flora and fauna.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Gluten-free can be an issue at some restaurants (one pizza place is gluten free) but mandioca flour is your hero here. I'd be extra careful when ordering just because things are super tranquillo here (if you have a high risk allergy). If you have a specific allergy brand you need like Zyrtec, Claratin, I'd ship them from the states.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No, there is plenty of sunshine here!
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is generally hot and humid here! The Paraguayans wear jackets if its near 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If they can afford it, the Paraguayans go away during the months of January and February (very hot and humid). Museums close during this time, so it's great time to get out of country. The coolest months get to the 60s and occasionally the 50s. However when it is chilly it gets in your bones due to the humidity. People in the houses complain they can get pretty cold.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I teach at the American School and have some serious issues as a teacher, however most embassy staff seem generally happy with the education their kids receive but struggle with being accepted with the Paraguayan parents and can have issues with the communication from them. I think the lower elementary kids see less of a break between Paraguayan and non-Paraguayan kids, but in the upper elementary where I am there is not a lot of intermingling between American and Paraguayan kids.
The lack of intermingling is due to the fact that most Paraguayan kids at the school are related to one another, or have been in the same school since Kinder4. That said, there is a new Director General who is moving things in a great direction. A number of other schools have Embassy kids too: American Christian Academy (ACA) has made some people very happy. THere is also Pais, a German School I think, and a Montessori School.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Honestly, I would suggest if your child has a high-level of special needs they do not attend ASA.
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?
There is a daycare called Creciendo that lots of younger kids go too. We looked at it but did not go because we love our nanny and she has helped educate our son. ASA has lots of afterschool programs.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are about 60 families or so and then DEA, Unicef, Peace-corp outside the city. I have had tremendous support here from the awesome people at post. We have a Mamas Group on Whatsapp that is always there for you helping you out. I will miss a large number of people here. You are not lacking in support.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
If you're single there is a large population of 20-30s and a very active late night that gets started around 10 or 11pm! We've loved this post as a family with a young child because it is quiet and we have had lots of other families recently. Day care is cheap, our son is learning Spanish, and there is a great park called "Parc de Salud." The Paraguayans are very family oriented and love kids. There are lots of festivals and things but you don't always know if they are kid friendly. There are lots of playdates to keep us busy. Babysitting is cheap and so is a night out so we have loved it here.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Generally no. It seems members of the LGBT community are starting to be accepted here but it is a very religious country. That being said I know some Paraguayans who are out and are happy here.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I don't think anyone would feel uncomfortable here due to their ethnicity. It is easy to make friends with the Embassy and School staff.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There is definitely an issue with gender equality in that some people are more traditional here and women women, particularly outside of the city, are expected to fit a more traditional role. Abuse of women by a spouse or significant other is an ongoing problem that has had marches in the past two years. There are many single women raising children.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Honestly the calmness of life here, the focus on family, the love of children, and the kindness of Paraguayans have been a great break from Washington, D.C. We can afford to have help which has increased my time with my family and that means a lot. We've enjoyed traveling Paraguay a bit but the best trips have been hops to other countries.
In Paraguay: Many people love the Jesuit ruins (we didn't make it there yet), Salto Cristal is a nice waterfall day trip, Yaguaron for a hike, Aregua for the strawberry festival, park, and pottery, Itagua for the nanduti.
Outside must-sees: Patagonia (we hiked Perito Moreno glaciar), Buenos Aires, Santiago Chile, Peru. We spent a good chunk of time in Argentina and Chile!
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Nanduti is a stunning "Spiderlace" that is very cheap and can you can buy anywhere but especially Itagua. Aregua for pottery and cheap solid wood furniture, and Luque for the unique filigree jewelry.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's a great jump off for other South American cities, you can save a lot of money here, a calm way a life.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Paraguayans are great people unless you put them in a car.
Unlike most capital cities there is not a lot of English spoken by the day to day people.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Driving rules. You can bike but I would not bike in the streets ever!
4. But don't forget your:
Bug spray, sun screen, light weather gear. Don't forget cold weather gear though for trips back to the states, Chile, etc. There are great destinations that are much cooler!
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Book: At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig
A recent movie made in Paraguay: "Los-buscadores" a fun movie currently available on HBO
6. Do you have any other comments?
We loved it here but understand its not for everyone. You have to be patient with some services and dinners can take a long time as they don't rush you out like in America. But it was a great post for slowing down and enjoying a quiet life. Friendships with Embassy staff are important because they are the ones you go out and explore with. If you want exciting weekends every weekend you may want to go elsewhere, but there is always something to do if you want there to be.