Guatemala City, Guatemala Report of what it's like to live there - 02/14/19
Personal Experiences from Guatemala City, Guatemala
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Been around, tour # seven (four in developing countries.)
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?
US to Guatemala, thru Atlanta or Miami is fairly easy, if coming from DC. Guate airport is small and easily navigated; parking, including diplomatic, right on the curb
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?
Good housing. Housing varies, but is generally older, gated, established neighborhoods with nearby 'other' embassies, or Class A high-rise apartments with all the amenities; near high end dining and shopping; commute is generally 10-15 min drive or can be up to an hour on bad days or some can walk. A new US embassy is being built, so a lot of housing is transitioning towards new location in 'Cayala' (z15). Currently commute 15-20 minutes, up to an hour. This newer housing can still have 'new construction' problems to include many are smaller spaces, tiny yards and very close or attached housing (like compound living).However, it does have vibrant shopping, dining and social area (think mixed use) of Paseo Cayala. The future new embassy will be within walking distance. Entire area is being built up, and traffic is already difficult at peak times and during events (they host a lot of events in the area).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Practically everything available here, but of course Amazon is rich for a reason. Supermarket chains and shopping malls are mostly like US in quality - slightly higher pricing though (in Guatemala City, not rural). Walmart and big box shopping (Pricesmart, similar to Costco) available here. Toy stores, butchers, etc...
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Guatemala has US-based restaurant chains all over the place in the capital (fast food certainly, PF Changs, Applebees, TGIF, Krispy Kreme, etc), as well as Adidas, American Eagle Outfitters, Forever 21, Hush Puppies, Zara, etc. There is a thriving motorcycle delivery industry for food options direct from restaurants but also delivery services like UberEats, Glovo, Hugo.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not in mine. Not that I've heard of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Local options not used (available?) or (secure?) but embassy mail room is fine.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic services widely available. Guatemala labor laws in effect and salary mandates for part time and full time under debate (in law). Generally 150- 200 quetzales (roughly $20-25usd) is standard for both maid or gardener services; fluctuating on size of housing/yard. Often gardeners have own lawnmowers and machete. Drivers are not typical.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many gyms located about town. Some apartment buildings have these included, including private gyms or rooftop infinity poos with views of the volcanoes.
2017 pricing 'Alive' gym (z10) = 650q/mo for annual membership with 4 mos free at end. (special)
'Fitness One' and futeca are options.
There are also various yoga, spin classes (AVIA bldg) around.
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. I don't use ATMs outside Embassy banking services.
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?
I use it frequently, however not sure it's absolutely necessary. Classes and tutors available in English.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, somewhat. City streets, sidewalks, etc., all have uneven pavement. Traffic is unforgiving for pedestrians.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Uber is available and safe to use; taxis okay. Other transport not used.
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?
There are more and more high end (Porsche, BMW, Range Rover, occasional Maserati, etc) on the streets than even 2 years ago. Almost all are encouraged to tint windows however for safety. Driving outside the capital (and to Antigua), the roads deteriorate and can be difficult to navigate in some areas, due to excess traffic and lack of adequate infrastructure.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, available. Occasional spotty service. Installation within short time/quickly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Used US-based cell phones for a month prior to service deteriorating, then switched to local number and service (Claro or Tigo).
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?
Veterinarians (and gun stores!) all over the place. Unsure quality. No quarantine.
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?
Limited embassy offerings.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual to suits in the office. In public, it can be casual. Formal dress only for specific events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Zika is still present. There are areas or zones that are not considered safe, even though Wayz will try to lead you through them.
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 considered good and may be less costly than the US. Appointments (and results on lab work) are generally much quicker.
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?
Guatemala doesn't have great air quality. Within the capital high traffic streets having poorer quality of air, but it's better in other parts. Since there are no car emissions testing or car age limits, so old US school buses have a long afterlife down here and really put out some exhaust. But the climate is good, so there is no Hepa filtered, recirculated air conditioning, and windows are generally left open. That said, the capital city is surrounded by of volcanoes / mountains that may trap city smog.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Average almost all the time. Summer heat is direct, but the temperature may not seem as hot as it feels. Guate has a 'raining season' (all thru summer). Winter turns chilly, but further up the mountain (by Colegio May school, it is cold!). A/C and heat not generally provided.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Colegio May - the smallest English based curriculum. All grades represented in fewer than 500. Average, more diverse, some sports, clubs.
InterAmericano - all grades -1100 students, some sports, clubs. Less diversity,
Cag Americano - large school, money elite families, some bullying, high academics, less sports, clubs.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Average to smaller and insular. Fine, nothing great.
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?
Frequent restaurant dining.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
All demographics seem represented, but heavier on families with younger children.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Although a Catholic country and local laws are not in favor, LGBT expats seem accepted. Annual parade held (small).
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Tikal, Semuc Champey, Chichi, volcano hikes.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Limited excursions (hiking, biking, etc), most folks go to Antigua to site see, to the coast for deep sea fishing (not swimming!).
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of textiles, some pottery, coffee and rum are typical gifts for folks back home.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Less expensive "service industries" - domestics (maid, gardener, driver), some cosmetic medical, vision appointments, salon/barber, massage, shoe repair. Fresh flowers stands abound
Not less expensive - actual eyeglasses (go online), picture framing (ouch, but haven't done it in the US), seamstress/tailor of quality (only found regular, non high-skilled, i.e. hemming, etc).