Georgetown, Guyana Report of what it's like to live there - 03/12/12
Personal Experiences from Georgetown, Guyana
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
4th expat experience -- 2 tours in AF and 2 in WHA.
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?
Orlando, FL.Connenctions: Orlando-Miami-Port of Spain-Georgetown or Orlando-New York-Georgetown.
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?
Housing varies here. Some floor plans look very similar to the US, while others are built on stilts to avoid the flooding that occurs during rainy season. Yards tend to be on the small side, with only a few places having enough grass to use a lawn mower. Most housing is within a 20-minute drive to the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Overall, stuff is imported and expensive. Some basics -- eggs, bread, flour, sugar, tropical fruits and local veggies -- are reasonable. Everything else is costly. Locally-made laundry soap, cleaning products, etc., are much more diluted than US products and you end up using a lot more, so you don't save money. If you need specific products for skin allergies, you need to bring them.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Anything that your family uses regularly or in great quantity -- pet food/supplies, laundry soap, TP and paper towels, cereal, specialized baking supplies. Getting stuff is hit-or-miss (stores bring in tons of things for the Christmas season that you will not see at any other time), so, if you see it -- BUY it and toss it in the freezer. Also, bring more Tupperware/Gladware than you think you will need. There are cheap knock-offs available, but they break quickly.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a Pizza Hut here, as well as a Popeye's (which I would not recommend). There are also a local fish-and-chips place, Nicky's, and a Trinidadian chicken chain, Royal Castle, which are both really good and fairly reasonable. Guyana is not a "foodie" culture. Restaurants all offer the same dishes at varying quality and prices. This is a place to practice your cooking skills or develop a friendship with someone who does!
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Meat/eggs here are "free-range," with animals wandering about and little to no commercial feed being given to them. This makes the meat a bit tougher and less fatty than many people are accustomed to. Good chicken is widely available, "American-style" cuts of beef, lamb, and pork can be found with searching, or ask a butcher to cut it for you. The trick is knowing how to ask for what you want, as things are called different names. There are lots of vegetarians, so meat-substitutes are not an issue.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
It's a tropical country, so the normal bugs are here -- tiny ants in the kitchen, mosquitoes, etc. To balance it, you will also have small lizards and frogs that help keep the population under control!!
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the pouch, which takes between 2 weeks (off-season) and 6 weeks (Christmas).For urgent pacakges, you can always use FedEx, which is expensive from here, but reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is affordable, our full-time person is 70/week and she does everything from kid care to cleaning to cooking four nights a week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a small gym and I have heard there are other places that are available for a membership fee.
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?
Write a check at the embassy for cash. There are two grocery stores in town where I feel comfortable using my debit card. There is one ATM where I would use my card for cash.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Our family is not chuch-going, so I am not sure, but we seem to have a variety of missionaries from lots of denominations.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There are 3 main papers in town, all in English. However the quality of the journalism is lacking and stories tend to focus on accidents and deaths. Both internet and DSTV options exist. We use DSTV and have a good package with kids' stuff, movies, news, sports, etc. Cost is about US$65/month.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Although this is billed as an English-speaking Post, give yourself time to adjust to the Creole! After a couple of weeks everything becomes much clearer, although there are still people I don't understand (mostly from small villages).
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Georgetown would be impossible for someone with mobility issues. There are few, if any sidewalks and they all have cracks and holes. Many buildings don't have elevators and all have steep stairs (many without handrails). Since most houses, shops, etc are built high to avoid flooding, shopping would be incredibly challenging. Housing is either on stilts or with bedrooms on the second floor. I believe that the Embassy is the only ADA-compliant building in Guyana (and even our elevator is subject to outages).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
NO. NO. Absolutely NO mini-buses!! They are a nightmare and make driving here a challenge. Buses swerve all over, stop anywhere and drive like maniacs. If you can find a reliable cab (and there are several), get the driver's cell number and use it. Cabs are cheap and, with a good driver, an excellent option.
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?
If you are only going to drive in-town, a sedan is fine. If you are going anywhere outside town, an SUV is a must. I would recommend high-clearance and a winch, for rainy season.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet speed has picked up considerably, but is still not high-speed. Skype works, but can be jerky. The Embassy is billed for the cost and officers reimburse. Monthly cost is $40.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
The embassy issues cell phones to all officers. Spouses/older kids can easily get a pretty cheap one locally and fill it with "minutes".
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, just have all the proper paperwork before you come. Pets can come as extra baggage on Caribbean and Delta. This was a pleasant surprise, as it is much cheaper than cargo. Delta has a heat embargo, but Caribbean does not.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
One decent vet in town. Bring flea and tick stuff for your dog! No kennels available, so our gardener and housekeeper watch the pets while we are on vacation.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Tropical business. For women, slacks/skirt and a decent blouse. For men, short-sleeve, button-down shirt (no tie) and slacks. Evening events -- maybe a tie and jacket for men, but not usual. Haven't been to an occasion where I need formal wear.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crimes of oppportunity abound here. That said, use your common sense and you should have no problems. There are lots of animals (cows, horses, goats) wandering about freely, so we do try our best to avoid driving at night. We have been here more than 2 years and have never had an incident or felt unsafe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Health care is a major concern here. The hospital the embassy uses is very old and out-dated. There is a newer private hospital in town and more staff are going there, as it seems to be cleaner and more modern. All prescription meds should be brought with you or shipped in. Water is provided through a home distiller, so is not fluoridated -- the embassy provides fluoride pills for kids. Malaria pills are not required in town. Our family has good health overall, but the few times we have had to go to a local doctor, I have not had good experiences: the pharmacy didn't have the medicine my child needed in the proper strength or it was not refrigerated as it was supposed to be.
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?
Good. Sea breezes all the time. Some trash burning, but normally blown away quickly.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm and hot, always humid. Georgetown is right on the ocean so there is always a breeze. Weather is hot and humid most of the time and "dips down" into the 80s at night.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is one "American" school here--Georgetown International Academy (GIA). It is a small place (about 100 kids from K-12), but very lively. The teachers and staff really get a chance to know your child since class sizes are limited. There is a very active School Board and PTA and they are always looking for way to get more parents to participate. Currently, GIA is recommended up to 6th grade, by the Dept of State. However, the Overseas School Advisor recently visited and has said he believes the recommendation should be increased to 8th grade. GIA is fully accredited and recently won the James Stilter Award through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for "The school that best exemplifies AdvancED's mission to spread academic excellence to children world-wide". Both of my children have been really happy here.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
GIA has limited capacity to handle special-needs children, although they seem to have had very few issues with my child's mild ADHD.The small class sizes and loads of personal attention from teachers and staff are great for kids who need extra assistance, whether academically advanced or slightly challenged. GIA (or any school) would be very difficult for children with mobility issues -- Guyana, as a whole, is not the place to come.
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?
There are some expat Moms groups, some local pre-school options and, of course, Georgetown International Academy, aka the American School.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The school has soccer, hip-hop dancing. and cricket available. The YMCA has karate. There are swimming lessons and tennis lessons, although these can be hard to find.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small, small, small. Not very many embassies in town, a few missionaries, very few US companies. Oil exploration is going on off the coast. If oil is found, there will be a boom in many areas.
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?
Entertaining is done at home with casual BBQs, dinners, movies, cards. With a good circle of friends, you can be busy most weekends.
3. Morale among expats:
Not sure, as we hang out with mostly embassy and school families.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families and couples would do well here, provided they have good community spirit. If you have kids, there will be lots of family activities through the school. If you don't have kids, but still like casual entertaining (at-home dinners, BBQs, etc.), you will be OK, if you are willing to throw yourself into the mix. One of the things we like about a smaller Embassy is that people tend to pull together more and help each other out. That said, you need to be willing to participate! Single men seem to have few issues dating in Georgetown, but several single women have told me that the dating scene is very tough (but that seems to be a general trend around the world).
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
We had a gay officer here who was out and he left with a partner. In talking to him, I would say that the community is not open, but it is there.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Guyana is a mixture of races and religions. For the most part, they all seem to get along pretty well. Christmas is big here, with Hindus and Muslims putting up lights and decorations. We just had Phagwah (Hindu) and everyone in the city had colored powder on them. Eid is celebrated with feasting as well. An officer who just came from India commented that it was really nice to be in a place where people from different religions got along. That said, there is not a lot of social mixing in the general population, with people tending to marry within their own group.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The close Embassy community and getting to explore some of the rainforest.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Several "black water" creeks (water that has lots of tanins from leaves) abound right outside the city. These are shallow and generally safe for kids. Be aware that there are no lifeguards on duty! Driving to Suriname is pretty easy and a good "long weekend" trip.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There are some chances to go on trips to Amer-Indian villages, so you can buy baskets there. Some local wood products/carvings are nice, but you do need to watch for people who have used uncured wood, which will crack as it dries.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The warm, family feeling from the Embassy and school community. A chance to see one of the least unexplored places on Earth -- the Amazon rainforest.
11. Can you save money?
Not likely with the cost of imported goods.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Knowing everything, I would come here. I have found my tour both professionally and personally rewarding, meeting some great people who will be my friends forever. That said, our family is very adaptable and flexible. I can see where people could certainly be unpleasantly surprised by their tours here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Cold weather clothes.
3. But don't forget your:
Sun-screen, patience and sense of humor. Bring your community spirit!!
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Great book by a British author (available on Amazon) called Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge.It covers all the "Guianas"--British, Dutch and French. Part travelogue, part history lesson and part social commentary, it is very readable.