Montevideo, Uruguay Report of what it's like to live there - 03/18/12

Personal Experiences from Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo, Uruguay 03/18/12

Background:

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

I have also lived in Berlin and Stuttgart.

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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?

Colorado, direct flight to Miami (9 hours), then Miami to Denver (4 hours).

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year.

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

Work for the U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Embassy couples and singles (and some families) live in apartments in the Punta Carretas or Pocitos neighborhoods, many with great views of the water. Commutes range from a 25 mintue walk to the embassy or a 5-10 minute drive. Families typically live in single-family homes in the Carrasco suburb, close to the American school where they often have a pool and a "quincho" - a small pool house with a large grill. The drive to the Embassy from there is about 25 minutes depending on traffic. Apartments and houses are all large from my experience.

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

Grocery stores are fairly modern and well supplied, but they don't carry many American products, and when they do they are quite expensive. There is not a huge selection of pre-packaged or "convenience" foods, but you'll be able to buy the basics. There are tons of places to buy homemade pasta.

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

Spices, tortilla chips, ingredients for ethnic foods, American style Kleenex, small 220 volt appliances (like hair dryers, irons), which are very expensive here.

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

Fast food is limited to McDonalds and Burger King. There are lots of pizza and empanada restaurants. Most Uruguayan restaurants serve steak and potatoes. The grilled meats are great, but restaurants lack variety and spice (they don't even put black pepper on the tables). You will miss any kind of ethnic foods. Prices at restaurants are higher than I would have expected, but steak is a relative bargain. Go to Buenos Aires for the weekend if you want more variety.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

Major grocery stores have small sections of gluten free foods. Most meat here is free-range, and grass fed. There are great farmers markets in the parks and plazas at varying days throughout the week.

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

If you go into the interior or to some of the beach communities mosquitos can be an issue.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO

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

Many people have domestic help and I believe it is relatively affordable, but you must pay into the social security fund and follow the local labor rules regarding paid vacations, etc.

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

There are a number of private gyms and sports clubs throughout the city.

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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?

I have never had any problems using credit cards or ATM cards.

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

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

DirecTV has many English language channels and costs about $65/month (with HBO/Cinemax). Diplomats can choose to get DirecTV Puerto Rico with all of the U.S. networks and channels.

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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?

At least some Spanish would be essential. English is not widely spoken.

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

Sidewalks are often broken up, poorly maintaned. Many older buildings don't have elevators.

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Transportation:

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

Buses and taxis are safe and affordable. If you want to go into the interior of the country or up the coast to the beaches it is better to have your own car.

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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?

Smaller cars are easier to park in the city, but generally anything that's not really huge would be fine. Common models here include Volkswagon, Suzuki, Chevy, Honda, Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen. Diplomats can easily buy a car here tax-free and re-sell it for the price they paid because that will still be a bargain for Uruguayans who would have to pay the price with tax at a dealer.

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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?

Yes, internet speeds aren't the fastest ever but we have been able to stream movies, use Skype, etc. Cost is about $40/month, depending on the speed you choose.

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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?

There are many cell phone shops available here. The embassy provides staff with cell phones.

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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?

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

Pets are very common here but I have no experience with this.

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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?

I don't know that there is a lot on the local economy, though there may be some opportunities to teach or to find a job in ZonAmerica or with one of the American companies (at lower wages than in the U.S.) Most spouses who want to work find jobs at the Embassy.

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

At work it's suits or business attire. In public, Uruguay is pretty casual (jeans, shorts, t-shirts, etc.)

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Health & Safety:

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

We have had no security issues. There are issues with pickpockets or purse snatchers occasionally. I understand that there have been break-ins in the single family houses.

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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?

No major health concerns, no vaccines needed. Water is safe to drink from the tap, no real food safety issues. Good medical care is available at the British Hospital, and there are a variety of English speaking doctors and dentists.

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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?

Air quality is generally very good, as this is a small city without a lot of traffic. There is no smoking allowed in public places. Sometimes there is an evening haze from everyone lighting their wood grills.

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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?

Summers are hot and sunny, with temeratures reaching the high 80s. Winters are cool and rainy, with temperatures dipping into the 40s or 50s. There is no snow. It is fairly windy here.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are American, British, French and German schools, as well as a variety of other private schools (including a Waldorf school). I have no experience with them.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

No experience with this.

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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?

There are several families with young children who have used day care centers, but I have no experience with this.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

No experience with this, but I know there's a YMCA branch here.

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Expat Life:

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

Relatively small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good, though some people complain that it's boring here and they are tired of the bland food.

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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?

There are movie theaters with English language movies. There is a theater and ballet. There are numerous restaurants (just with limited variety in the menu). Dinner is very late here (9 or 10 p.m. for locals), and restaurants don't open until 8 or 8:30. Many people have parties, barbecues, game nights at homes.

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

This is a good city for anyone who doesn't need a lot of nightclubs or a cosmopolitan big city. Families seem happy here, and I know some singles, both men and women, have been relatively successful dating here.

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

Uruguay was the first Latin American country to allow civil unions for same-sex couples, so I don't think discrimination is a huge issue.

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

There is some discrimination against the small Afro-Uruguayan population here. Otherwise the population is quite homogeneous - all people of European-descent (mostly Spanish and Italian), so it is just not a very diverse place.

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

Wineries and beaches, travel to Argentina, Chile and Brazil. The asados (grilled meats, mostly beef) are great.

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

The Rambla is great for walking/biking/jogging. There are beaches all through the city and better beaches all along the coast. In the interior you can go to "estancias" - like dude ranches" - to ride horses. Carnival season provides a month of special performances at open-air theaters. Golf at public courses is free on Mondays. If you're into bird watching, apparently it is a great country for that.

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

There are not a lot of crafts here. You could buy wine, dulce de leche/alfajores (cookies with dulce de leche), leather goods.

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

It is right on the water, with a wonderful "Rambla" walkway stretching miles that is great for jogging or biking. There are wonderful beaches and lovely wineries surrounding Montevideo. It is also a 45 minute flight or 3 hour ferry ride to Buenos Aires.

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11. Can you save money?

We have saved money by going out less, but things are not as cheap here as you might expect

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure!

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

...I was going to say skis, but you could always go skiing in Argentina or Chile...

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3. But don't forget your:

sunscreen (sun is intense here!), beach chairs, bikes, spices

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

The Invisible Mountain, by Carolina de Robertis

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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