Guatemala City, Guatemala Report of what it's like to live there - 07/08/21
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?
No, I have also served in Cairo, Beijing, and Monrovia.
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?
My home city is Houston and the trip from Houston to Guatemala is about 3 hours direct flight and very economical. It is fairly easy to travel to Guatemala no visa is required for less than 90 days. Currently with COVID you must have a vaccine or a antigen test upon arrival at the airport. However, you can also have a test conducted at the airport for entry into the county, but typically there is a long line for the testing.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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?
Most housing for Americans is in the city of Cayala which is very convenient you have everything at your door step. The housing is very spacious with small yards/gardens in a gate area, with easy access to all the shops/restaurants. The apartments are huge with balconies in every room on a clear day you can see the volcanos.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I was able to find everything I ever need for meals. The cost of groceries at Walmart is comparable to the U.S. in places like Texas or North Carolina. If you shop at La Torre (another grocery store here) you can compare those prices to H-E-B in Texas a bit more pricey than Walmart. La Torre is convenient because it's located within walking distance of the housing as opposed to Walmart that is a 15 minute drive. You can always find street vendors selling fruits for very cheap. I usually get my apples/bananas/and limes from them. A bag of 30 limes is less than $1 and a pack of 10 bananas is the same.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. I find everything I need in Guatemala.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You have all types of delivery services here (Pedidos/Hugo/UberEats), it is one of the perks of living in Guatemala. You can have anything delivered to your door within minutes. There are many shopping centers that are modern and have many options for breakfast/brunch/dinner some examples La Estacion and Plaza Fontabella-Zone 10/El Patio de San Roman-Zone 14/Cayala-Zone 16. You could never leave Cayla if you wish and have everything you could ever want to eat I.e. Steak/American/Mexican/Seafood/Pizza/Indian/Bistros etc.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
When we first arrived we had a problem with small ants. After a few Clorox cleanings and raid spray at night time they are all gone. We haven't had any problems. Some OFF spray will also come in hand if you have small kids who mosquitos love.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I have not used a local postal facility, but at the embassy we are able to send and receive packages. You can get anything shipped here from Amazon will usually arrive within two weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is very inexpensive. Having household help fulltime, Monday through Friday 0700-1500 will cost you about $450 monthly. They do everything from babysitting, cleaning, ironing, cooking, grocery shopping, you name it. You do have to provide them with medical which runs you about $80 a year and two bonuses one in July and another in December. You can also hire part-time help for $30 a day. You can get your car washed and detailed for $15. Dry cleaning is about $1 per item.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is Orange Theory here which is a bit pricey compared to U.S. prices. However, if you are already a member in the U.S. you can continue using it here. There is one in Zone 15 and Zone 10 both very nice and well equipped. There is also franchise called Fitness One they provide a full gym, with saunas/pool/tanning beds/ and massage services for $80 a month. Also, a bit pricey compared to what you can find in the U.S. but we still use them.
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 have not had any issues with our credit or debit cards. There are ATMs as well and we have not had any issues either. I also haven't heard of others having them hacked or anything of the sort. If you have Navy Federal it might take a while for your card to work. That is the only problem we kept having to call the bank and verify that it was us using the card to buy food/groceries, etc.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is beautiful renovated catholic church in the center of Cayala. Not really sure what other services are available nearby.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is heavily used here, if you don't know a little bit it will be difficult to get around. A vast majority of the population only speak Spanish or a Mayan dialect. There are tutors you can hire, an hour will cost you about $20.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, there are many roads made of cobble stone, although there are sidewalks, it is heavily congested with people and traffic.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
It is not recommended you travel via buses or trains or the white taxis. However, Uber is widely accepted and affordable.
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?
A small SUV would work perfect here. Something than can get you up the steep terrains and that you could easily park on the side of the road without it sticking out. A small car like we have might be a bit rough due to many potholes, cobblestone roads, and again the steep terrain.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is not a problem here. You have two providers Claro and Tigo. Tigo seems to be more problematic in areas like Cayala, but Claro is the one we have and we have not had any issues. You can have it installed within two weeks of arriving which is the only part that might take a while. You also cannot pay your bill online or set up automatic payments unless you have a debit card from a local bank.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You can also get cell phone service from Claro I'm not sure about Tigo. A good plan monthly will cost you about $40. I kept my home country plan (tmobile) and just use it over wifi with no issues.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Formal dress is usually mostly seen in areas like Cayala because it's considered more upscale. However, a typical day at work is business casual and in public areas you can be as casual as you would like. You will see a lot of locals in their traditional dress attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There is petty crime some theft of personal belongings. However, these mostly occur if you are alone, at night time, or in areas less occupied. Also, if you stick out like a sore thumb you will most likely get robbed. Just hand over your belongings and you will be fine. It is recommended that you don't walk around with electronics on you or visible. Another recommendation is to have at least 200 Q in local currency on you and hand that over, usually they will leave you alone.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There are no major health concerns here. The air is pretty clean and once you get out of the city you can feel it even more. There are a lot of medical facilities and you can get adequate care rapidly. It is also very inexpensive you can get a whole blood panel for $20. A regular check up can cost you $50, but medicine is even less expensive. There are many pharmacy's an many are 24/7.
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?
Air quality is good. The only time the air quality here has changed from good to moderate or even bad some days is when the active volcanos are actively throwing lava which creates the ash. Although the closest volcano is a 40 minute drive out of the city the ash will travel and have an imprint in the city. This doesn't happen often this might be worse in Antigua where you will find many more expats because it is in close proximity to that town.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
None that I am aware.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Guatemala is called "Eterna Primavera" which means eternal spring because the weather here is always perfect. Never hot nor too cold. The only thing is they do have a heavy rainy season usually May through July. Expect rain every afternoon during this time, but it only last an hour if that at a time. The humidity is low almost non-existent.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are three international schools, we don't have any experience with these as of yet.
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?
In Cayala, there are two preschools/daycares. Pequenitos and Tykes. They are both great each alternates their weeks where one week is taught in Spanish and the other in English.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There is swimming classes available for kids three times a week at fitness one for $60 a month. There is also gymnastic classes, I don't know how much these are.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community in the city is small, but in Antigua it is much bigger you can find an expat almost anywhere you go.
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?
Tour groups typically on our hikes we found new people to socialize with and go on other adventures.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes for all of the above in Antigua there are many hostels for singles who are looking for friends to travel and hang out with. It's great for families as well because there are a lot of historical sites.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Guatemalan people are among some of the most helpful and nicest I have met. You do have to speak Spanish in order to experience this.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
During my time here I have visited the lake Atitlan three times and every time there is a different adventure and town to visit there. I have also gone to Rio Dulce which is in Izabal and Puerto Barrios where the water is crystal blue with white sand beaches. It is beautiful there and you can visit a castle. I have also gone up two volcanos Pacaya and Fuego both active. These are best to do at night time due to the heat that is radiating off them and you can see the streams of lava better.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Antigua has all of the hidden gems where you can find traditional craft work being done, or wineries, or chocolate factories and the night life there is the best.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There is a lot of shopping you can do again for very cheap prices. A lot of people really enjoy buying textiles and all the unique pieces that would cost you in the thousands of dollars back in the states. You can do this type of shopping in their central market which is huge in zone 1. Also, in places like Atitlan (beautiful lake) you will find them even cheaper.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
How inexpensive it is compared to the U.S.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Rain coat and boots.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Netflix has a video of Guatemala that shows all the great parts you must visit while here and it is pretty accurate.
5. Do you have any other comments?
You will love Guatemala even if you don't want to come here.