Lima, Peru Report of what it's like to live there - 04/06/14
Personal Experiences from Lima, Peru
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. We've lived in several others places.
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?
U.S. Midwest. 6 hours or so to Houston and then it's a short connection.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Government. U.S. Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Nice apartments with fantastic views overlooking the Pacific for singles, couples and those with small children. The area is chock full of restaurants and is a lovely place to live (save for the months of clouds and fog when you can't see the ocean that you hear). The commute is 45 - 90 minutes, depending on nothing in particular except the whims of other drivers. Most families live further inland, near the Embassy and official school. Houses range from large and modern to smaller and "unique." Some have pools, some don't. Some have a nice yard, some don't. No two are the same. Commute times range from 10 - 40 minutes. On the whole, housing is good.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are more expensive than the U.S. Local fruits and vegetables are reasonable. Milk, meat, cheese, etc are more expensive. We spend more here than any of our other postings. But the COLA makes up for it.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing really. With the excellent commissary at the Embassy (which receives shipments throughout the year) plus amazon, we can get anything we want.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Just about every fast food place is here at reasonable prices. Peruvian chicken is great - most restaurants will deliver.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants, ant, and ants. Spiders invade every house and all crevices. Check under your furniture and in window sills periodically to clean out the webs. Mosquitos are manageable but other biting insects that hang out in the yards will make you long for a simply mosquito bite.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Don't bother with the local mail system.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and cheap. Not always good, not always honest. Don't be afraid to try someone out before committing to hiring them. The daily rate is about US$25.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The U.S. Embassy has a small gym. There is also a soccer field, running track, tennis courts and volleyball/basketball court. Pick-up soccer and volleyball games happen throughout the week. Roosevelt allows the Embassy community (even if you don't have kids who attend) to use the pool for lap swimming (every weekday morning and Tues/Thurs evening) as well as the tennis courts, soccer field and running track. Gold's Gym and other private gyms are all over the place.
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?
Our credit card has been compromised several times here so use caution. We only use the ATM at the Embassy. Our preference is to use cash and avoid the headache.
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?
Lots. Little English is spoken, even in touristy areas. Your life will be better with Spanish.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. Sidewalks exist in some places but are rarely well-maintained. However, you can hire a driver for a reasonable cost to get around public transportation.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Avoid the buses and trains. Taxis are relatively safe. It's preferable to call a taxi than hail off the street but we do both. During rush hour, you may not be able to get a taxi at all.
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 will do but a higher clearance is preferable given the terrible state of the roads. If you import a car more than 5 years old, you must agree to export it. You cannot sell it at the end of your tour.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but the adjective "high-speed" is a bit ambitious. To get something approaching high-speed, you must purchase a package that includes local cable. Without the cable package, you'll be lucky to get 1MB, even though you're paying for 6 or 10 MB. With the cable, it's US$100/month, minimum.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Just buy one locally or bring an unlocked phone and buy a SIM card here. Prices are reasonable.
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 quarantine. Vet care is good. Peruvians love their dogs, and excellent trainers are abundant. The good vet clinics and groomers will pick up your pet for a small fee.
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?
Not really. There are high paying jobs with international companies, but most of those people are hired from abroad. Despite the unbelievable amount of wealth here, local wages are low.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
About what you would expect in the U.S. I see women run into the store on the way home from the gym.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Terrorism is mostly confined to some lawless areas in and east of the Andes. Crime in Lima itself is rampant. All housing has grills over every window and door. Electrified fences surround the houses. Embassy employees have been robbed at gunpoint. Break-ins still happen despite the security measures. On the other hand, carjacking is unlikely to happen as the traffic is so bad that carjackers wouldn't be able to drive away. Smash and grab through car windows is very common.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The pollution isn't Beijing but the constant soot and filth will take its toll. I never had allergies until moving here, not an uncommon complaint. The best hospitals are good, but stay away from anything that isn't top tier. Doctors are good and charge the same price as the U.S.
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?
Unhealthy. It never rains in Lima, ever. The dust and soot from pollution blacken everything. This is probably the dirtiest place we've ever lived because there is nothing to wash the dirt away.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
A humid desert, as strange as that sounds. While Lima has lush green parks, the natural climate is arid hills without a spec of vegetation. It is cloudy 8 months out of the year, especially in the areas by the Pacific where you won't see the sun for months on end. The areas further inland, near the U.S. Embassy see more sun during the winter (June - August) but it's still dreary and miserable. But then it never rains, just gets misty because as the humidity approaches 100%. Combine that with the dirt and soot and there's a layer of filth on everything during the cloudy months. The short summers (December - February) are warm and glorious but pass much too quickly.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The official school is Roosevelt. The quality is adequate but most parents have at least one serious complaint. Right now the frustration over math instruction (or the lack thereof) is driving everyone nuts. It's really a Peruvian school and does little to accommodate or make expat kids feel at home. There has been a reputation for bullying, but we've found that expat kids never fit in and thus cling to each other. After school activities are great and one of the few highlights. Space is guaranteed for U.S. Embassy kids.
Theft at Roosevelt is rampant. Rich, entitled children take whatever they want regardless of whether it belongs to them. Uniforms, electronics, books, whatever will disappear from your child's backpack. Our children have been totally bewildered wondering why their classmates would steal from them. It's one of the aspects of Peruvian culture that we truly hate.
Other options include Newton, Markham and other local bilingualish schools. They all operate on the southern hemisphere calendar, which can be difficult for an older kid to drop in to. Your child will have to either repeat or skip a semester. The International Christian School (which I've been told was started by expat parents frustrated by Roosevelt) works on a version of the northern hemisphere calendar.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Roosevelt makes some accommodations but I don't know the details.
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?
All over the place. I'm not familiar with price.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Great after-school activities at Roosevelt. Surfing lessons in Miraflores. Horseback riding, tennis, soccer, whatever your child wants to do.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge and varied. Many people love life here and extend. Others are so frustrated that they count the days until they leave. Happiness seems to be tied to how far and often one needs to drive. We are content here but would not choose to stay longer than our assigned tour.
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?
Hit the beach in summer. Try the variety of restaurants all over the city. Learn to surf. Stroll down my the water. Invite everyone over for a BBQ. There is always something to do.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all. Single and couples living near the ocean are in the heart of a fantastic area with tons of things to do. Families enjoy the range of activities and household help.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Mixed. Peruvian society is very conservative but this is a city of some 10 million. The Peruvian Congress is debating legalizing civil unions for same sex couples.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Machismo is alive and well as it is in much of the world. Rich Peruvians look down on everyone regardless of background.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
In-country travel. Alpaca wool clothing.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Travel. You can see the coastal desert, Andes, and Amazon basin all during your tour.
8. Can you save money?
Yes, lots if you want to. Ration how often you go to the hottest restaurants (which can cost upwards of US$200/person).
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That even though it never rains, the winters are long and dreary. I'd rather be in Chicago where at least the sun shines through the cold.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I'm torn. There are better places in the Andes (Bogota comes to mind) that are better. The school is the bitter pill for us that undermines all the great that the city has to offer. I'd think long and hard before agreeing to come here with school age kids.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Impatience in traffic and expectation that road rules mean anything - adapt or go insane. Umbrella.
4. But don't forget your:
Wool sweaters for the cloudy, dreary winters. Sunscreen for the very intense sun (when it does appear).