Guatemala City, Guatemala Report of what it's like to live there - 11/07/11

Personal Experiences from Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala City, Guatemala 11/07/11

Background:

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

This is my first expat experience.

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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. It takes about five hours or so.

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3. How long have you lived here?

16 months.

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

US Foreign Service Officer assigned to Guatemala.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

This is one of the few LQA posts in the world. You can choose your house or apt, as long as it falls within the space/cost limits and is located in zones 10, 14 or 15.

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

Expect to pay pretty much US prices. One can save some money by going to the Guatemalan version of Costco/Sam's Club.

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

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

Anything! American chains are plentiful here from IHOP, Starbucks, Dairy Queen to BK, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino's, Chili's and Fridays. There are also some great dining options that are a bit more expensive located throughout zones 10, 15, 1 and the Carretera a El Salvador.

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

Lots! There are some great boutique stores (Organica, Gourmet Center, SuperVerduras) that offer a selection. You have to be patient, but you can usually find the ingredients you are looking for!

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

Mosquitoes in the low-lying areas, but definitely not as buggy as some countries!

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Daily Life:

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

DPO...most things arrive pretty quickly -- a week or two from the States!

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

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

Yes, there a number of gyms and athletic clubs. It all depends on what you want to pay.

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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?

Lots of places accept credit cards. Think twice about using ATMs, though, as there air frequent reports of theft and card copying scams.

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

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

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

You should have a decent grasp of Spanish to be able to go about daily living.

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

It wouldn't be that easy to get around, as sidewalks are uneven.

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Transportation:

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

No trains, and most intra-city buses are off limits. There is an excellent Yellow Taxi/Taxi Amarillo service that is safe and reliable.

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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?

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Phone & Internet:

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

Yes, there are a number of providers for around $40 and up.

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

Most cell phones work and much of Guatemala has 3G capability.

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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?

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

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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?

To some extent. There are jobs at the embassy and some folks work on the local employment market, although pay is not that good.

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

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Health & Safety:

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

Absolutely. Guatemala is currently ranked as the seventh most dangerous countries in the world with about 42 murders per week (source: The Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development). The security situation has deteriorated with the rise of powerful drug cartels. With that said, one should still take advantage of all the cultural attractions that Guatemala has to offer. Just be careful, don't walk around with flashy clothes, lots of cash and/or a cell phone in view. Americans are not targeted, but may be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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

Good medical care from a variety of US-trained doctors.

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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?

The air quality in the city isn't so good, but once you get out of the capital, there is a lot of fresh air.

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

Known as the "Land of Eternal Springtime," Guatemala enjoys a temperate climate. Although, as one of the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change, Guatemala is at risk of hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters. As Guatemala is in a seismic zone, there is always the threat of an earthquake.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Large!

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2. Morale among expats:

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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?

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

Yes, all of the above. There are plenty of places to meet people, although a good grasp of Spanish is necessary if you want to meet people outside of the embassy community.

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

Guatemala is a conservative culture and not particularly friendly for gays/lesbians. With that said, I have several friends who seem to have found their niche just fine.

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

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

Touring coffee fincas, exploring both the must-see attractions and those that are off the beaten track, learning about the Mayans and the rich tapestry of Guatemalan history.

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

Day trips to Antigua, visits to Guatemala City museums, eating at some of the nicest restaurants in Central America, trips to the cushy VIP movie theater, visits to the historic city center.

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

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

There are a lot of amazing things about Guatemala. Definitely lots of beautiful places to see, such as the ruins at Tikal, Lake Atilan, and Antigua. The temperate climate is hard to beat as well. Guatemala City is a large, modern city with many things to do, plenty of amenities and a nice art scene as well too.

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11. Can you save money?

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely, although the security situation is definitely worrying.

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

Winter clothes, Mac and Cheese (and other US products-you can find most of them here)!

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3. But don't forget your:

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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