Guatemala City, Guatemala Report of what it's like to live there - 05/02/10

Personal Experiences from Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala City, Guatemala 05/02/10

Background:

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

Madrid, Guadalajara.

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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?

DC, usually connect in Miami, about 5 hour trip total.

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3. How long have you lived here?

7 months.

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

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Fabulous housing with great views. Most of the people we know live in zones 10 and 14, which have great apartment buildings. Most are highrises.

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

It is easy to find most US groceries and household supplies except organic foods. Those can be found at specialty shops such as Gourmet Center, Organica, and Delica. Prices might be a little higher for imported things.

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

Rock Salt for your ice-cream maker.

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

There are many US fast food chains and Guatemala's own: Pollo Campero. Prices are similar to those in the States.

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

Mosquitoes. Bring bug spray.

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Daily Life:

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

From the DPO at the embassy.

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

Help is very available due to high unemployment rates, and costs only about $8-$10 per day.

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

Futeca Sport in Zone 14. Scandinavian Gyms are pretty good, too. Since there is not a lot going on in the city, going to the gym is one of the more interesting things to do.

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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?

Make sure the ATM you're at is well-lit and lots of people are around. You hear stories of people slinking around them and stealing your money when you're leaving. It's best to go to one that has a guard nearby.

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

Union Church (multi-denominational), and I believe there is a synagogue in English, too.

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

TV, yes. If you get Convergence or Yego for cable, they are connected to US-based antennas. About $50 per month.

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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?

It's very helpful to know Spanish. Some people speak English, but not as many as you would think.

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

There is an ample amount of wheelchair ramps, but they are very steep and short. I can't imagine how someone in a wheelchair would safely maneuver on them. But I don't think it would be impossible, especially if you live in a highrise with an elevator.

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Transportation:

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

Buses are not safe due to gang control of them, but yellow and green taxis are safe and well-priced.

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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?

Any car is suitable, but an SUV or small SUV is probably best due to questionable road conditions. We have a 4-door sedan that has been pretty appropriate, except for some really high speed bumps. All cars have very dark tinted windows for security.

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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?

Same as above.

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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?

Don't talk on it in public if possible.

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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?

No.

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

Yes, the vet right next to Exerzone/Futeca Sport in zone 14 is really good and speaks fluent English.

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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?

No.

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

No one really wears shorts. Jeans are okay, skirts and dresses, too.

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Health & Safety:

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

Security is a big issue here but most crimes are targeted. It is best to refrain from using your cell phone or laptop in public to avoid problems, and always carry some cash with you (maybe $5) to give to someone who threatens you if you don't have something to give up. It is recommended to not carry things with you that you won't readily give up.

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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?

Hospitals seem pretty good. You can't drink the water, but you want to disinfect all your fruits and vegetables before eating. A doctor's visit costs about $20.

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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?

Seems pretty good, though exhaust fumes are pretty nasty when you get behind a bus. We always drive with the windows rolled up and the AC on recirculating air so we're not breathing those fumes.

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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?

They call Guatemala "the country of the eternal springtime" because it feels like spring year 'round. They claim to have only 2 seasons: winter and summer. Winter is during the US summertime and is named that because of the rains that come in the afternoon. Summer is the dry season between October and May. Temperature-wise it always stays the same. It's great!

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Schools & Children:

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

Colegio Maya, where most international students go, and Colegio Americano, which is significantly larger and 90% Guatemalan. Both schools have advantages and disadvantages but are equally high in quality.

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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?

Yes, baseball, soccer, karate, dance, Gymboree. Everything you would find in the States.

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Expat Life:

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

There seems to be a good number of expats.

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2. Morale among expats:

Ok, lots of people are turned off by the crime here.

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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?

Good restaurants and some fun bars.

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

Families and couples, yes, singles, not sure. There is not a lot going on in the city, so if you like a vibrant night life, it might be hard to find it.

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

Haven't heard.

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

Indigenous folks are generally poor and not treated as well.

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

Lake Atitlan is a fascinating place with a mixture of indigenous groups, Guatemalan ladinos, and tourists. Deep sea fishing (an hour or 2 from the capital) catches Sailfish up to 100 lbs., Antigua is a fun colonial town only 40 minutes from the capital, hiking volcanos, and learning about the people here.

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

Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Chichicastenango market, Tikal (45 minute flight), IRTRA amusement park, Semuc Champey caves.

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

Guatemalan textiles, VIP movies, Zacapa rum.

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

Beautiful scenery outside of the city, incredibly friendly people, nice sites within 0-3 hours by car, neat opportunities to experience Mayan culture, archaeological ruins, unbeatable weather (average daily temperature year-round 72 degrees).

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes.

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

Expectation that life will be exactly the same as at your home, and expect a new lifestyle which is different, but also very fun and interesting.

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3. But don't forget your:

adventurous spirit -- because Guatemala is exciting, beautiful, and fascinating!

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Gerardi.

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

The Art of Political Murder, Lonely Planet Guatemala, Silence on the Mountain, Shattered Hope, I, Rigoberta Menchu.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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