Guatemala City, Guatemala Report of what it's like to live there - 03/11/08
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've been to other Latin American and European cities.
2. How long have you lived here?
1 and 1/2 years.
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Most connecting flights go through Miami or Dallas, about 2 to 3 hours to either one.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am affiliated with the U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The apartments here are great - there are a lot of new high rises going up all the time! There are also houses but they seem to be older. And it can take a while to get maintenance work done, so I would recommend an apartment. I think apartments also have better security. If you are with the embassy, remember this is an LQA post so you are on your own for finding and furnishing an apartment.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
I think it's about the same as in the U.S., although some imported stuff might be more expensive.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Almost everything is available here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Pretty much any fast food you want and they deliver.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I have APO access. I've heard stories of stuff getting lost/stolen in the Guatemalan postal system and being delayed in customs.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Cheap and available - day maids, live in maids, nannies, cooks, gardners, etc.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
You can use them pretty much anywhere. Just be careful - someone who's just used an ATM or is walking out of a bank is a target for being held up! And only use your credit card at reputable places, of course.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Union Church is non-denominational and has services in English (contemporary and traditional). There are a variety of denominations that have services in Spanish.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Cable TV has a ton of English channels - CNN, HBO, etc. I am not sure about newspapers.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's very helpful to know Spanish. Much of the upper class seems to speak English but for day-to-day interactions you should really learn some Spanish at least.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be hard to get around here with physical disabilities.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Right. But traffic is horrible and people do pretty much drive wherever they think there's a free space.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are not safe and I would not recommend taking them. Some people do, but only carry very minimal cash. And don't hail taxis off the street - it's much better to call a reputable company. There are no trains here.
3. 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?
Pretty much anything. If you're going to do a lot of travel outside of the city you might consider a small SUV. Most of the roads seem good but every now and then a SUV is handy, although it would be hard to park one in the city.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, although it can be unreliable. I think it's about US$60 a month or so for the fastest service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
See above. Get a pre-paid phone card on double or triple days.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Skype of course, or cell phones. Cell phone companies here have double or triple days - if you buy a pre-paid card, you double or triple your value. If you buy on those days it can be as cheap as 2 or 3 cents a minute to call the U.S.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Good vet care, but I don't think I'd trust the kennels. If you have a maid, which most people do, you can always pay her extra to look after your pet.
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?
There are a lot of teachers here. But in general I don't think the pay is very good unless you're at one of the main English speaking schools. You won't make much as a private tutor.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional at work, casual outside of work.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Unhealthy - there is a lot of pollution from buses and other vehicles here.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are significant security concerns here. Although I have never personally had a problem, I know others who have been robbed at gunpoint.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Pollution is a health concern. And don't drink water from the tap, and I would recommend washing vegetables and fruits in bleach water or disinfectant. Most people seem to get stomach bugs every now and then. There is good quality medical care - many doctors have trained in the U.S. at good universities and speak English.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have personal experience with the schools, but Maya seems to be popular.
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?
I don't really know about preschools, but domestic help is cheap here so many people hire nannies.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Big. Lots of teachers, tourists, Spanish language students, volunteers, retirees, etc. If you go to Antigua it seems like there's more English than Spanish speakers.
2. Morale among expats:
It depends on where you are and who you are. Some people love it and some people can't wait to go someplace more exciting/safer/interesting. I'm happy here.
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?
It is what you make of it, see my comments above in interesting/fun things to do.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's good for all. I'm single and enjoy it here. There are restaurants and bars and things to do although not as wide of a variety as you might find in a larger city. There are a lot of families at post too.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Not sure - there does not seem to be overt hostility but there isn't a lot of openess about sexual orientation either.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It is Latin America so there is some macho attitude among the guys.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
In Guatemala City there are restaurants, bars, movie theatres and a bowling alley. There aren't a ton of cultural events but some every now and then. I feel there's enough to do, but you might end up going back to the same restaurants or bars fairly often as there isn't that big of a variety. But there is also a lot to do outside of Guatemala City - Antigua is an easy day trip or even easy to get to for dinner/drinks on a Saturday night. And Lake Atitlan is beautiful too, and there are beaches on the Pacific and Atlantic coast.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Local or regional travel and textiles.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you are working at a well paid job. But many jobs on the local economy don't seem to make that much.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but probably not for more than a couple of years.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Road rage. Traffic is bad, you just have to get used to it.
3. But don't forget your:
Jacket! Guatemala City is not tropical and you will need a light jacket at night. If you go to the beach it is hot and tropical but in the highlands it gets cold at night.