Cartagena, Colombia Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia 08/06/19

Background:

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

Yes, this is our first.

View All Answers


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?

Atlanta, GA. Delta offers a direct four hour flight. Spirit and Jet Blue offer flights with layovers in Miami & Ft. Lauderdale respectively. Of course, it takes a lot longer if Atlanta isn't your final destination for a trip back to the US.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

Two and a half years.

View All Answers


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

Diplomatic mission.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

All nice in a small area. All high rise condos. Nobody gets less than a three bedroom. We are a family of 3 (one kid) and have a three bedroom with a large open living/dining area and a secondary den. Each bedroom has it's own bathroom. Closet space isn't plentiful so you do have to be creative with storage. We do not have A/C in our kitchen so it gets hot when you cook. Some newer buildings/condos have A/C in their kitchens. We also do not have a garbage disposal which is annoying. Just depends on what the apartment owners were willing to spend. We all live in walking distance of each other and either have views of the bay or the beach. It's only about a 15 minute commute to the EBO (Embassy Branch Office).

View All Answers


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

We have several local grocery stores and most have delivery service for a very minimal cost. PriceSmart (which is similar to Costco or Sams Club) is two hours away in Barranquilla but they recently started offering delivery via the Rappi App which is awesome because they carry a lot of American brand products. Food also cost significantly less here than in the US. The local stores sometimes have a small "international" section that might have a few American products. We get household supplies from Gigante Hogar or HomeCenter or PriceSmart. Yogurt here is very watery & pourable...I'm used to thick yogurt with fruit chunks...

View All Answers


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

Almond Flour, pecans, American snacks. Anything gluten-free or low-carb keto friendly is either non-existent here or super expensive because they import it. Lemons, sweet potatoes, and Greek yogurt are hard to come by here as well.

View All Answers


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

They do have McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, KFC and Dominos Pizza. There are many great Colombian restaurants here though. Be that no one has fast service. You can also get almost anything ordered on the Rappi App.

View All Answers


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

Tiny ants are everywhere, but they are only looking for food morsels. So we don't see them outside our kitchen really. Just keep things super clean and they're otherwise harmless. Mosquitos are a problem for us. They seem to seek us out even when they aren't bothering anyone else.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

Via the Embassy mail (DPO addresses etc...) They do have FedEx and DHL here.

View All Answers


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

Help is super affordable here at about $40-50 mil pesos a day (essentially $12-17 US). Ours cooks, cleans and helps with our child. The Embassy circle typically recycles an employee once a family has left. So most have generally worked with Embassy families before. We interviewed more than one when we arrived and went with the lady we felt most comfortable with and she's been with us the entire time we've been here.

View All Answers


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

There are four gyms in our area. Two bigger gyms very similar to what you'd see in the US. One Crossfit and another gym that has much older equipment but gets the job done. Most gyms are less than USD $250 for the entire year. You can also get private tennis lessons or personal training sessions for less than USD $20 per session.

View All Answers


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 are widely accepted and safe to use. Just make sure if at a restaurant they bring you the machine (Datafono). We only use ATMs inside a bank or grocery store.

View All Answers


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

There is one non-denominational church close by that offers English translation at the 9am service. Mostly other churches are Catholic and I do not believe they offer English services.

View All Answers


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

You need to learn Spanish. Most people here do not speak English. You can get a tutor for about $40 mil pesos per session.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

There are buses and trams but we are not permitted to ride the. Taxis are ok but use an app that tracks the transaction. There are set rates to and from areas that are posted. It's never been more than $15 mil pesos one way.

View All Answers


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?

You need a vehicle you won't mind getting some damage. It floods during rainy season so a high SUV is ideal. Also, aim for something that doesn't require special parts (like exotic cars). Kias, Mazdas, Toyotas are all common here.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

Yes, we have two providers for internet & cable. Movistar is faster and more reliable. Une is the other provider and we got rid of them. They had outages all the time and poor customer service.

View All Answers


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

We were able to use T-mobile ONE and keep our US numbers. Most business etc... here have WhatsApp. You can get a local phone here but apparently it has to get registered which is sometimes a ridiculous process.

View All Answers


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?

Yes, there are several vets nearby. Animals do have to be quarantined by I am not sure for how long. Nobody has a yard so if you're not used to having to get on an elevator and take your dog out, this is not for you.

View All Answers


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?

The EBO here is small so there aren't many jobs for spouses. Some spouses with teaching credentials have taught at one of the local schools. Salaries of course will be drastically lower than in the US. Never heard of anyone else working locally.

View All Answers


2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are many through the church and other local organizations depending on your interests.

View All Answers


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

Business casual. If not in the office you can essentially wear anything you'd wear in the US in the summer. It's always hot here.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

Yes, typical need to be aware of your surroundings and not go where you are supposed to. Never hang your purse on the chair while out, etc. There is petty theft. Also, need to be aware of not getting into a taxi if anyone other than the driver is in there already. Not letting strangers touch you. Never pull out large amounts of money in public, etc.

View All Answers


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

I have found that my seasonal allergies are not nearly as bad here. There are a few hospitals for basic issues that are fine. But everything is separate (so you'll see a doctor, go somewhere else to get your blood work done, then need to go back to pick up results and take them to the doctor...). There are better doctors in Bogota.

View All Answers


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?

Very humid and hot, but not overwhelming polluted. Hasn't caused us any problems.

View All Answers


4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

They serve a lot of starchy carbs and very little veggies here at restaurants. So if you have a gluten sensitivity, this may be challenging.

View All Answers


5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Typical home sickness.

View All Answers


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

Either hot & humid, hot with a breeze, or hot/humid and rainy during rainy seasons.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

There are three schools to pick from. One parochial, one international, and one British. There were lots of complaints of bullying and even parents not being inclusive of Americans and the international school. Visit all three and make the decision based on your child's needs.

View All Answers


2. 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 are two day cares that are inexpensive. They stop at age 3. All three of the schools also have nursery programs that are not all day though. Some of the schools offer extra activities after school for an additional cost but only on certain days (never Fridays).

View All Answers


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

Yes, there is soccer, baseball, tennis and swimming all at a reasonable costs.

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Small compared to Bogota. Everyone seems to like it though because of the beach, etc.

View All Answers


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?

Boat trips, day trips to a resort on the island of Tierra Bomba, sunset cruises, beach days, pool parties, and many bars/clubs in Getsemani or the Old City. Also, the movies are super cheap here.

View All Answers


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

Yes, this is a good city for families and singles. There's plenty to do for either.

View All Answers


4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

I find them to be fairly friendly. Of course if you are buying something you have to negotiate so you don't pay the "gringo" price.

View All Answers


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

Yes, It is clear that the darker Colombians are thought of as lower class and hold the domestic and other service jobs and make up the majority of the poor population. Ability to speak English is thought to be a sign of being upper class/ educated. The machismo thing occurs here also. But as an American I haven't dealt with discrimination since it's known I'm American.

View All Answers


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

More time with family and family members love to come here to visit. Cost of living is low so you can save a lot. We love the laid back culture.

View All Answers


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

Aviario, Playa Blanca or Azul, Castillo San Felipe

View All Answers


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

Yes, there is a mercado (almost like a flea market) where you can get unique things for a good price.

View All Answers


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

Ability to be active due to year round warmth, views from everyone's apartments, short commute from office, proximity to the beach.

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Bring rugs, no apartments have carpet and the tile is hard on your feet. There is no such thing as fast service here. Personal space is not something well understood here.

View All Answers


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

Yes.

View All Answers


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

Winter clothes and jeans. It's hot all the time.

View All Answers


4. But don't forget your:

Bikes, lots of sunscreen, and sunglasses.

View All Answers


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

Watching Narcos will probably only scare you unnecessarily ;)

View All Answers


Cartagena, Colombia 03/06/12

Background:

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

First.

View All Answers


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?

Seattle, Washington. It is about a 13-hour trip, either through Houston/Panama City or with a long layover in Miami.

View All Answers


3. How long have you lived here?

6 months.

View All Answers


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

US Government.

View All Answers


Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is all apartments, less than 15 minutes from the Embassy Branch Office even with traffic. They are newer and large and mostly have amazing views of either the Caribbean or the bay.

View All Answers


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

Most things can be found in Cartagena. Fresh fruit and produce is excellent, even if some days you can't find everything you might want. Meat, especially chicken, is also very good here. Due to exchange rate fluxuations we sometimes get COLA here and sometimes not.

View All Answers


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

We brought liquid laundry detergent on the advice of others and were very glad. It is expensive and of poor quality here. Also, UPSs are a MUST for your electronics. Surge protectors for your small appliances as well.

View All Answers


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

There are a few US chains, but most of the restaurants are local. Arabic, Spanish, Colombian, Argentinian, Peruvian, and Italian food is available and delicious. Asian and Mexican are nearly non-existent. Prices are comparable to Seattle in the Old City, less expensive in other neighborhoods. You can also eat from the street cart vendors, arepas and such.

View All Answers


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

Organic is pretty easy, and gluten-free is not as hard as you might think (lots of corn in this society). Vegetarian might get you looked at funny, but you can get by.

View All Answers


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

Surprisingly few. We've seen some tiny ants, but the breeze and the geckos keep the insect population under control pretty well.

View All Answers


Daily Life:

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

We us the DPO. Things take 10-12 days.

View All Answers


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

Inexpensive and excellent. Full-time help runs under $400 US per month.

View All Answers


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

Yes. Most apartment buildings have small facilites and there are several public gyms around.

View All Answers


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 use a credit card most places with no trouble. There are several ATMs people use regularly and have not had problems. Normal travel precautions should be enough. There is an agreement with a Colombian bank to cash checks when we need pesos.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

DirecTV is here, and while most channels are in Spanish there is often a second audio channel in English. Cost is a bit less than the US. The same for cable; Telmex and Une are the providers.

View All Answers


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

The more the better, but because this is such a tourist town you can get around decently at first with just "resort Spanish". Most people are pleased when you try to speak Spanish and will help you learn.

View All Answers


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

Not the best city for this, but better than I expected. It helps that the city is generally flat and is building up its tourist facilities.

View All Answers


Transportation:

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

Taxis are plentiful and cheap. Even out to the airport is only about $9 US. There are no local trains. Buses are not recommended for safety reasons, plus they're crowded, hot, and slow.

View All Answers


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?

This is a tough one. Generally, resale value in Colombia is pretty high, so some people bring a car for that reason. BUT... don't bring a car you love to Cartagena. The humidity and saltwater will eat it up! We chose not to bring a car and are glad. If you have kids, though, you probably need one.

View All Answers


Phone & Internet:

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

It is, but the speed depends a lot on which building you live in. The phone company will give DSL to anyone who asks; the cable company likes to do a credit check which can take a while. We pay about US$40 per month for our phone and internet.

View All Answers


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

For reliable, inexpensive service, get a prepaid phone from Comcel, Tigo, or Movistar, and just add minutes as you need them. But you can also get full smartphone plans just like the US, and the price is similar.

View All Answers


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?

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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?

Not really. There are volunteer options, but you need some Spanish for most of them.

View All Answers


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

More relaxed than in other parts of Colombia (the Caribbean influence). Women tend to wear tight clothes and high heels. Men sometimes wear ties, but almost never jackets.

View All Answers


Health & Safety:

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

In Cartagena, as long as you stay in the old city or the wealthier neighborhoods, there are few concerns. Because it's a tourist town, there are pickpockets, especially around the holiday time. Colombia in general has areas that are still not safe, and driving between most cities is prohibited for USG employees. Check with the State Department for the current situation. It seems like the Colombian government is making progress all the time.

View All Answers


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

Medical care is decent for general issues. Dental care is good; many Americans and Canadians come here for their orthodontic work. There is no malaria and very little dengue in Cartagena. They tell us not to drink the water, but that "brushing your teeth" is OK. We have not had any problems, even eating from the street vendors.

View All Answers


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 good. The breeze off the ocean keeps the air pretty clean. Some people have allergy issues, but we haven't had a problem.

View All Answers


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

It's hot: 87F every day. The rainy season is Sep.-Dec. Jan. and Feb. are dry and breezy, but then it starts to get humid.

View All Answers


Schools & Children:

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

There are two approved choices that seems fairly standard. We don't have kids, but others here have not had big complaints about the schools.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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 are preschools very close to the housing.

View All Answers


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

Lots of soccer and baseball!

View All Answers


Expat Life:

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

Government affiliated -- small. Add the retirees and oil company workers -- actually fairly large.

View All Answers


2. Morale among expats:

Medium to high. People generally chose to come here, and they tend to be surprised at how easy life can be here.

View All Answers


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?

People tend to entertain in their homes, but there are also clubs/bars in the Old City.

View All Answers


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

This is a good post for families and couples; the singles I know have said it can be a bit hard to date. That being said, lots have men have left here with Colombian wives!

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


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

I have not seen any in our community, but I understand Colombians can be a bit prejudiced against people with darker skin. There is still some machismo as well; women can expect to be stared at sometimes.

View All Answers


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

Spending time on the water, touring the Spanish fort, and eating! The food is delicious!

View All Answers


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

Visit various islands right outside of the bay, tour the Castillo de San Felipe, visit the Old City, relax on the beach. Also, travel to Bogota is convenient and fairly inexpensive (by airplane only).

View All Answers


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

There is functional black pottery and black-and-white woven straw items that are fun. There are also a number of painters and sculptors here; there is an art college.

View All Answers


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

Colombia is not the same place it was in the '80s, for sure! This is a lovely city with great weather and a lot of history. There is a mix of Caribbean and South American culture here.

View All Answers


11. Can you save money?

Yes, as long as you don't need to buy everything on Amazon!

View All Answers


Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely. My husband, especially, has been pleasantly surprised by life here.

View All Answers


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

Jackets and warm clothes, need for everything to be on-time.

View All Answers


3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen and adventurous spirit.

View All Answers


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

View All Answers


5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

View All Answers


6. Do you have any other comments?

View All Answers


Five stars on Amazon! Don't miss Talesmag's first book of essays, on cross-cultural food experiences from Mexico to Mongolia (plus recipes!)

Read More