Guatemala City, Guatemala Report of what it's like to live there - 04/23/14

Personal Experiences from Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala City, Guatemala 04/23/14

Background:

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

No--also lived in Manila.

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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?

West Coast. It's about 7 hours total with a stop in Dallas/Fort Worth.

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3. How long have you lived here?

18 months.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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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 currently an LQA post but that may be changing in the near future. It was fun picking our apartment here, and I think we have loved this post mainly because we ended up living in the same building as many of our friends. There are lots of beautiful houses and apartments here, with new buildings being built all the time. If you see an apartment and want to have changes made to it, often the landlord will make changes for you. Our commute to the Embassy is about 10 minutes driving or 30 minutes walking, depending on traffic.

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

Groceries (including household supplies) for our 4 person family are about US$300 per week. PriceSmart is the local version of Costco, and Pais is run by Wal-Mart so there are lots of American products available here.

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

Maple syrup, natural peanut butter, some specialty baking items, toys (are available here, but expensive!) and any specific items you can't live without.

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

McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Burger King, Dairy Queen, TGIFridays, Hard Rock, Chilis, plus a bunch of local chains--Taco Inn, Pollo Campero, etc. They are all a little cheaper than in the U.S. There are also lots of nicer steakhouses and restaurants that are also a bit cheaper than in the U.S.

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

Not much. You see the occasional cockroach in the city but it's pretty rare. The houses and apartments sometimes have silverfish or ants, but again, it's rare.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO and diplomatic pouch.

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

Everyone has a helper, either PT, FT or live-in. Drivers aren't common. Helpers are around US$350/month.

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

Most apartment buildings have gyms, hot tubs, and pools. There's a tiny gym at the Embassy. Futeca is another option. Not sure of the price.

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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?

We use credit cards most everywhere we go. We only withdraw cash from the bank at the Embassy.

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

Learn Spanish. Not many people speak English except for those who went to college. The med unit has a list of doctors who speak English and were trained in the U.S., but you will still encounter many nurses, receptionists, cashiers, waiters, taxi drivers, etc. who don't speak English. A little Spanish knowledge goes a long way here!

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

It wouldn't be a great place to live if you are in a wheelchair as the sidewalks are either pretty torn up or non-existent and there are lots of cobblestone roads in parts of the city and in some of the more touristy places like Antigua. That being said, most buildings, including the Embassy, have elevators or ramps.

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Transportation:

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

No.The Embassy recommends that you used only the yellow taxis. Minimum fare is Q25 per ride (about US$3.50).

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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?

Most people here have SUVs with very tinted windows. Get your windows tinted here--it's cheaper and darker. 4-wheel drive is handy is you plan on driving outside of the city.

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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. It's around US$100/month for "triple play" which includes cable, phone and high-speed internet.

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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?

Pay-as-you-go phones are the cheapest way to go. Monthly plans are available. The Embassy gives FSOs phones.

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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?

Most Embassy EFM jobs require a 4/4 in Spanish, which makes it difficult for non-native Spanish speakers to get jobs here. Some spouses have gotten local jobs at the international schools and with private companies.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are orphanages and churches who gladly accept volunteers.

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

Suits and ties for men, dresses and suits for women.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes--take precautions when walking or driving around the city. Armed robberies are not uncommon. Everyone has a story of something that has either happened to them or someone they know. While some crimes are completely random, I think you can minimize your risk by taking a few common sense precautions--don't talk on cell phones at intersections while driving, don't flash expensive jewelry or electronics, and make eye contact as you are out walking.

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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?

Every now and then you get the typical third-world stomach bug and viruses. Medical care is great. Miami is about 2.5 hours away if you need a medevac.

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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?

Pretty good, most of the time. It can get a little hazy during the holidays when there are nightly fireworks or when one of the nearby volcanoes erupt. Traffic is really bad enough to cause a lot of pollution. Allergy-sufferers may have problems as this is the "land of eternal springtime" and with that comes environmental allergies.

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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?

The weather is perfect! Cool nights (in the 50s F) and sunny afternoon (70s-low 80s F). During the rainy season (May-August), the weather is nice until the late afternoon and then there are loud thunder- and lightning storms.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are a few schools that most U.S. kids go to--Colegio Maya, Equity American School, Interamericano, and Americano. Colegio Maya is in Zone 16 and probably has the best facilities but we chose not to go there because the drive can range anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on traffic and natural disasters (earhtquakes and landslides). Our child went to Equity, which was only about a 5 minute drive away. We've enjoyed the small class sizes, frequent field trips, and school performances. It's fine for elementary, however it lacks the resources (large library, music, art, enrichment opportunities, etc.) and sports teams that we would want if our child were in high school.

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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 local options that are good. They are around US$325 a month.

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

Swimming, dance, gymnastics, tennis, martial arts, soccer.

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Expat Life:

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

Medium sized. Most people here love it. I haven't met anyone who hates it.

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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?

Lots of restaurants, Oakland Mall has lots to do, movie theaters (kids' movies are in Spanish, while adults' movies are in English with subtitles), traveling, amusement parks, Pasos y Pedales on Sundays, museums, the zoo. There are lots of parties and gatherings in people's home, as well.

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

Families--yes. Lots of traveling. Many restaurants have big play areas for kids. Guatemalans seem to love kids. Singles--maybe. The nightlife is probably a bit restricted by the security situation. Couples--yes.

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

Yes.

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

Traveling with friends.

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

Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Semuc Champey, Copan, Tikal ruins, Iximche ruins, Roatan, El Salvador. There are also fun places to go with kids--the Zoo is nice, the Childrens' Museum is GREAT, the Mall has lots of cheap rides including a carousel, mini-train, bumper boats, sometimes a huge ball pit, and rotating attractions in the parking lot. There are also a few amazing amusement parks around the country, run by IRTRA. Mundo Petapa is in Zone 12 in town and is a cheap, well-maintained amusement park. Xocomil is a huge water park in Retalhuleu (about 4 hours away) that has another amusement park with rollercoasters next door.

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

Textiles, jade, coffee, chocolate, paintings, Zacapa rum.

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

Lots of great traveling within the country! You can drive to Lake Atitlan (3 hours), Antigua (45 minutes), Retalhuleu (4 hours), Monterrico (3.5 hours), Rio Dulce, Semuc Champey, Copan, Tikal, etc. There are lots of Mayan ruins to see and great handicraft shopping, if you are into textiles, wood carvings, jade, or pottery. The weather is always between 60-80F degrees.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

That the crime doesn't feel as scary as the internet makes it seem. There are more dangerous zones of the city but you just don't go there. That being said, crime can happen anywhere, but if you take precautions and go places in groups, you greatly reduce your chances of becoming a target.

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

Yes.

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

Winter clothes, most consumables (you'll find most everything here), fears of the crime stories you read on the internet.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunglasses, swimwear, adventurous spirit.

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

Lonely Planet Guatemala (Country Guide)
,

Moon Living Abroad in Guatemala

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