Lima, Peru Report of what it's like to live there - 10/19/18
Personal Experiences from Lima, Peru
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I've lived in Mexico City, Dakar, and Bogota before moving to Lima.
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. The trip is eight to nine hours with usually two flights connecting through Miami or Atlanta on USG contracted carriers. Some non-contracted carriers have direct flights.
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?
We have a nice, solid two story house with a small yard and small pool in the La Molina suburbs. We are in an older section of the city so our house is older and a bit dark, but it's well built and the neighborhood is safe with lots of green space and a park. There are newer homes with better natural light, although new house problems with plumbing, etc.
We're close to the large international schools, grocery stores, and a few good restaurants. The suburb is growing so there's always more going on. There is usually sun in the afternoons during winter and all day during the rest of the year. Although we occasionally envy our friends who live in Miraflores or San Isidro for the better walkability and restaurant/shopping variety there, we wouldn't trade our pool, yard, sunshine, great school, or short commute to school (and on the return home from the US Embassy) for the more urban life. Note the drive into the Embassy, although close-by, can still take a up to an hour some mornings because there's only one road for the most part out of La Molina into Surco, where the Embassy is located.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
The luxury supermarkets are cheaper than the mainstream markets in the US if you're buying local produce and products. Imported goods are expensive but you can order most of them through the DPO. Local produce and flower markets are incredibly cheap. Most neighborhoods, including La Molina's, have weekend farmers and/or organic markets that are also priced very well. Some organic produce, dairy, and meat companies will delivery, but with greater reliability and frequency to Miraflores and San Isidro areas.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We brought our favorite liquid cleaning supplies, detergents and wish we would have brought more. Chemical-free cleaning products here are hard to find and expensive.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
In La Molina, some pizza, roasted chicken, and sushi places deliver, but options are limited. We like Nanka (farm to table, upscale), Amore (upscale Italian with wood fired pizza and a surprising array of Thai and Indian dishes), and Punto Italiano, an old-school pizza and pasta place. They all open by 6 PM and with our kiddos, we frequently beat the crowds. There's also Sushi, a wine bar, and an organic vegan place that are very good in the neighborhood. In Miralfores, San Isidro areas, there a ton of restaurants and delivery options of all kinds. If anything in La Molina, we've been able to save money since we frequently cook at home.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Chilean brown recluse spiders are everywhere. We frequently find them in our house and have trained our children to yell for an adult if they find one. Our helper shakes out blankets and pillows every day, vacuums, and once a week cleans curtains and under all furniture and rugs. They are venomous and it's nerve-wracking to find them, but thankfully they hide. Occasional ants and roaches, but not frequently.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Never used local postal facilities, although FedEx, DHL, and the other carriers are all available.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cleaners and Nannies range from 900 - 1800 soles/month depending on hours, experience, and expectations. Usually payment includes health insurance and retirement (separate bureaucratic processes that the embassy commissary can help with), bonuses in July and December, and includes a transportation subsidy. Our gardener receives 100 soles/day and helps us one day per week. Some folks in La Molina have a chauffeur to escort their kids to after school activities as well. It's hard to find live-in help, but the prices are about the same, plus the costs of food. It took us a little while to find the right, reliable staff, but we've had the right folks in place for nearly three years and they are terrific.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small, very affordable gym. Lots of larger gyms, including Gold's, and yoga studios abound. For yoga, prices are about the same as in the US.
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?
Yes to credit cards, ATMs, and as long as you use common sense (i.e., no large withdrawals at 2 AM outside a casino), you should be fine.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Your life will be much better if you learn/speak Spanish. Tons of classes, tutors, books, online resources, and good classes at the Embassy; free for some family members of certain agencies.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, although I usually drive, walk, or bike. Lots of bike paths; some hiking in Lima and within driving distance; good sidewalks for strollers, walking, kids biking, etc. Traffic can be maddening, time consuming, and seems rude, but well-functioning internal air conditioning and air recycling is worth driving to avoid toxic street pollution you will get in public transportation or a poorly maintained taxi.
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?
We love our small SUV as we're able to see potholes and when we don't, for managing them without causing an accident. Lots of potholes, even in Lima's best neighborhoods. Lots of hills in the city and lots of mountains outside of it, so I'm glad we have a strong V6 engine, too.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Good quality internet, we stream all the time without problems. It took about a week to install and runs about the same price as in the US.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Several providers. Anyone with a Carnet Extranjeria (foreigner's card) can go to any provider's store and sign up for a pre-paid or subscription service. Most offer national and international calls at the same rates. Much easier and cheaper than in the US. Just bring an unlocked phone and it will be easy. US Embassy uses Movistar, so may be a good idea for the spouse to get Claro or a different company so you have greater network access when you travel outside of Lima.
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?
Lots of vets and a variety of kennel services; other than that not I don't have much experience importing animals. It seems to be a pretty pet friendly place.
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?
Embassy jobs, entrepreneurs, telecommuting, schools, etc. Service-based jobs don't seem to pay well unless they are tech or banking sector; some expats have thriving restaurants, merchandising, and skill based services (teaching instruments, coding, etc.). The US Embassy does a great job promoting USG spouse-owned small businesses.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Loads in every sector, but you should speak Spanish. The level of English spoken by even the most educated Peruvians is surprisingly low compared to other countries in the region.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Same as in Washington, DC: business at work; formal for evening receptions and galas or other formal events. It's casual on weekends and in most restaurants.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's a high crime country, but if you use the same strategies to avoid being a target as you do in Washington, DC or other cities, you'll be fine. We lock our doors and use our alarm system, have trained our household help to avoid scams by phone or at the door, and lock our car doors with windows up while driving. We feel very safe walking around day or night and haven't experienced any problems.
That being said, we have heard of some houses in the embassy community in La Molina and even in our own neighborhood (non-embassy homes) have been robbed/cleaned, out while folks go on vacation. The robberies aren't violent, but they are well-planned and thorough. One needs to be vigilant and follow the RSO advisory.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Pollution is terrible, even in the sunnier suburbs in La Molina area. Coupled with humidity year round and the huge dunes of sand in the neighborhood, allergies and respiratory problems are continuous. It takes forever for coughs to go away (because of the constant assault from pollution, especially in the winter months, July - October) and our kids and their friends frequently get bronchitis. Many adults see numerous allergists, but can't find solutions because there are none. The US Embassy has issued hepa filters for household use and we use them, but haven't seen major improvements.
La Molina has mosquitoes, including Aedes Egypti that carries Zika, but so far the Lima-based Zika cases have been confirmed in farther away neighborhoods. The suburbs around the lakes in La Molina like Las Lagunas, seem to have a lot more mosquitoes than the older parts of the area.
Medical care for most everything that's not a specialized condition, is pretty good. Natural medicine (acupuncture, pollen therapy, etc.) is well developed and high quality. There are several good hospitals, urgent care centers, and doctors' offices all over Lima.
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?
Terrible, especially in winter. See above posts. I always say I would live forever in Lima if it weren't for the pollution.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollution, dust mites, dust from the huge sand dunes....
Lima has a great food scene and everything and more you could want in grocery stores and local markets. It's a fantastic place for folks with gluten allergies as there is everything under the sun made with quinoa and other gluten free grains. Peanut allergies aren't really a thing here, so you may have to be careful with that, but peanut sauce and peanut butter aren't really popular here either. Most restaurants and school cafeterias put MSG (Aji NoMoto) in everything, but if you ask restaurants to keep it out of your meal, the good ones will abide. For our school, we've sent packed lunches instead of using the cafeteria, as our daughter was getting a lot of headaches from all the MSG they were using. The US Embassy provider has stopped using it due to complaints.You would need to train your household staff not to use it if you have bad reactions to it.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Maybe winter blues. You could avoid this by getting out of Lima in the winter during school breaks and long weekends. It's the best time to head to the jungle, mountains, or other countries.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Lima: hot December - March, cold July - October, spring or fall weather the other times and it's always humid. It rarely rains.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Great private schools everywhere; tons of excellent neighborhood preschools; and many of the large international schools have the IB program at nursery level, called PYP, starting at 2 years old.
Quick run down:
FDR is the American Assisted School in Camacho/Surco area close to the Embassy,
Newton College is 2 years through high school, is bilingual, smaller than FDR, and in La Molina area; this is our school and we loooove it. The kids start instruments (violin, guitar, etc.) in kindergarten and the teachers are so caring and amazing. They have very good leadership at each level and very community oriented.
Lots of British - Peruvian schools are very good and in different areas of the city.
Trener is close to the Embassy, very progressive (no uniforms!) and is bilingual but is almost 100% Peruvian
Waldorf - located across from FDR near Embassy; nice campus and curriculum; in the network of international schools; but unfortunately located alongside a major interstate with high pollution...not as green a campus as FDR or Newton;
Casa Maria - Montessori school in Miraflores area (or close by)...I think it's nursery through Grade 8...wish I had known about this school before we moved here. They get great reviews and are quite progressive although a bit difficult to get into given space restraints; nice, urban campus.
San Silvestre - fantastic, progressive all girls school in San Isidro. Again, wish I had known about it before moving here. Some children from the embassy go to it and looove it.
Altair - good, small Peruvian school near old La Molina. The nursery is in a different location, but this school has a good reputation and a nice, urban campus.
There are also very good Italian, French, Germany, and Christian schools, and in San Isidro a Jewish nursery school (not sure how high it goes). Contact the CLO at the embassy or do your homework. Whatever you want you can find here. There's also a fairly strong expat homeschooling group.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I think FDR has accommodations. Newton, like most of the "smaller" schools, does not.
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?
Tons - see comments above. About US $500/month for stand alone pre-schools, although more expensive in the international schools like FDR or Newton. Many people are happy with them; we decided to keep our kids in the same school and loved Newton's pre-school. Most.caring. teachers. ever. and gorgeous facilities and outdoor space.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Anything you want. Soccer, horseback riding, dance of all kinds, gymnastics, music, art, pottery, surfing, skateboarding, languages, seriously, you can find anything and very affordable. Many schools offer extra curricular activities for free as well.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large and diverse; high morale. Folks love Peru.
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?
Mother's clubs, book clubs, Dining for Women, Bunco, Women's clubs, sports clubs for biking, running, etc. Lots of marathons, 5Ks, etc. going on. For US Embassy community, the CLO also organizes a lot of events, they are very good and very active.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, for everyone. There are 9 million people, it's kid-friendly, trendy, and tons of cultural events for everyone: plays, orchestras, theatre, movies, etc. for adults and kids of all ages. Fantastic travel abounds.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There's a strong LGBT community in Miraflores/San Isidro area.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There seems to be discrimination against class and color, especially against indigenous and African-American people. There appears to be a huge problem with violence against women. There are strong activist movements to ensure respect and rights for these populations, but as we know even in the US change can be slow.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Horseback riding and hiking in Huaraz, and visiting Monkey Island and Ceiba Tops in the jungle in Loreto region. We frequently drive to Paracas, a desert reserve with lovely hotels 3 hours south of Lima to relax. Really, there are tons of travel opportunities within the country.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Rafting in Lunahuana, climbing the ruins in Pachacamac, swimming with the kiddos in the heated kids pool at the Doubletree in Paracas, going to Parque del Ninos in La Molina on weekday afternoons (giant trampolines and on the weekends when its more crowded, there are giant inflatables and face painting). Good restaurants with local foods, roasted chicken and playgrounds 45 min outside of Lima in all directions that always have sun. Chakras is a favorite in Lurin.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, Inka market has everything from all over the country and it spans blocks. Fair-mined gold jewelry, silver, wonderful paintings and sculptures...
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Culture, culture, and culture.. There are great museums, live theatre, restaurants, etc. At every turn, there are ruins, in Lima and throughout the country. Fabulous place to unleash your inner historian and/or archaeologist.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
About the diversity of schools available, although I love our school, so no complaints.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but after four years, while I'll be sad to leave the culture and friends, I'll be relieved to get to cleaner air...
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothing. Instead you can stock up on alpaca wool clothing of every kind beautifully designed and very affordable.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunblock (the sun is very strong as apparently the ozone hole is above this part of South America). We burn as fast as we did when living in Bogota at 8600 feet. Chemical-free cleaning products if you use them. English-language books for your kids. There's a good swap here from time to time, and a once a year used English book sale by a women's group, but we've found our school library to be much smaller than expected. Our local library doesn't allow books to be taken from the building. Stock up at your local used book store and fill up a box or two of youth chapter books if you have avid, young readers.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Mario Vargas Llosa: The Dream of the Celt (for adult readers on the Amazon rubber boom),
Wade Davis: One River (on coca, rubber, Amazon communities),
Adrian Forsythe and Ken Miata: Tropical Nature (for anyone who plans to visit the Amazon),
Elizabeth Fagg Olds: Women of the Four Winds (One of four biographies is about Annie Smith Peck, a mountaineer who climbed Huascaran, Peru's highest peak in a "race" to discover the continent's highest peak).
6. Do you have any other comments?
This is a terrific post for families, singles, and DINKs. The only morale depressors seem to be traffic and pollution. Most USG work-related meetings and events are in Miraflores, San Isidro, or Center City Lima, so if you live in La Molina, expect a lot of stressful time in transit if you will need to participate in these. Drivers, in my opinion, are dangerously rude, speed, and traffic police do not seem to help. Probably the biggest complaint folks have here is the amount of time spent in traffic, regardless of where you live. So far there's no protocol for telecommuting from work even one day per week. If you can handle these things, you will have a great experience in Peru.