Montevideo, Uruguay Report of what it's like to live there - 05/27/13
Personal Experiences from Montevideo, Uruguay
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
One of several expat experiences.
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?
D.C., a day-trip via Miami.
3. How long have you lived here?
Currently there for over a year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Associated 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 in Pocitos and Punta Carretas are a few minutes by car; the houses in Carrasco are within a half hour. The drive can be nerve-wracking, however, since many of the Uruguayans don't respect right-of-way and routinely merge into your lane without signaling. An embassy employee on a motorcycle was killed recently, and there have been many other accidents.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are around 50% more than in the D.C. area. The COLA is not high enough for the cost of living, so you will need to buy many things by mail order. The local product selection is mediocre, also.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Spices (Uruguayans like bland food; even pepper is often not available in restaurants). Paper goods. Liquids and other items that don't travel well via mail.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McDonald's and Burger King are here, although expensive. Figure on dropping around $50 per couple to eat out at a decent restaurant. Also note that the Uruguayans are obsessed with beef/BBQ, so your options will be limited.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No significant insect problems.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The post has both a DPO (preferred) and pouch.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available but expensive, and complicated to hire due to regulations imposed by the government, including mandatory raises.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The gym at the embassy is mediocre. Some of the apartments have gyms, and (somewhat-expensive) ones are also available commercially.
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?
Visa and Mastercard are accepted at some establishments and are given a small discount at the better restaurants.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
A few English-language services are available, especially in Carrasco.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Direct TV has a few English-language channels, but service is spotty and costs are high. Use VPN and Netflix, Hulu, etc.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Survival Spanish is a must here.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many, since the infrastructure (sidewalks, etc.) is poorly maintained. There is also a lot of dog excrement on the sidewalks.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses are safe and inexpensive. Taxis are expensive (especially from the airport) and are unreliable. If it's raining, they are sometimes impossible to get.
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?
Small cars only, due to the ridiculous parking situation and high cost of gasoline. Plan on selling it here at cost when you leave -- embassy employees are exempt from the high taxes the locals pay on imported vehicles, which tends to inflate the prices. Even cars that have been in significant accidents can be sold at cost.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Speeds are so-so, and service is spotty, with frequent problems/disconnects. Costs are fairly high, as well (around $50/month for basic ADSL).
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, the local job market is poor due to government over-regulation.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Typical embassy attire. The Uruguayans are more informal dressers than their neighbors in Latin America.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes -- this is perhaps the biggest concern here. Crime has been increasing under the current left-wing government, which is soft on criminals, especially minors (even murderers are quickly released if underage). The embassy has resorted to pulling some of the families out of crime-ridden Carrasco, where there have recently been many break-ins and even shoot-outs at embassy residences. Even in "safer" Pocitos/Punta Carretas, where most of the apartments are, there have still been many incidents, including hold-ups of embassy employees. Since the housing office invariably assigns apartments with inadequate parking (even small cars barely fit), count on your car either being damaged while parking or being trashed by the many thieves/vandals on the streets, who seem to target cars with diplomatic plates.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Everyone here goes to the British Hospital. The somewhat-cheaper Fertilab can be used for lab work.
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?
The air is fairly clean, although some people have problems with allergies.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mild climate: pleasant summers and cool, wet winters. There are some severe winter storms with lots of rain and wind.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American School is located in Carrasco, so many families live there.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Relatively good. Most of the complaints are about parking, traffic, and crime.
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 relatively few embassy events other than parties at the Marine House, and some events, such as the Independence Day event this year, are for VIPs/Uruguayans only. There are some local entertainment options if you speak Spanish. Many American movies are shown in English with Spanish subtitles.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This post is best for couples without children. Families with school-aged children have either to live in dangerous Carrasco or send their kids on a long bus ride there. Most singles find the city too quiet.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes -- Uruguay is perhaps the whitest country in South America. People of African descent are particularly discriminated against, and the local Native Americans have been almost completely wiped out.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Day trips to Colonia and Punta del Este.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Trips to B.A., Colonia, or Punta del Este.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The Rambla in Montevideo is good for walking. Asado (South American BBQ) is popular. The weather is mild, similar to San Francisco's. Buenos Aires (B.A.) is just across the river.
10. Can you save money?
No, the COLA is not enough for the cost of living here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, but I think a year would be long enough to see everything.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
dreams of a true South American experience -- this is more like Southern Europe.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you have any other comments?
Uruguay is known as the Switzerland of Latin America, due to its small size and relative stability. However, the use of drugs, especially marijuana, is rampant, marring otherwise pleasant walks on the Rambla and making Montevideo seem more like Amsterdam. The leftist government is even toying with the idea of legalizing and selling drugs, supposedly to fight crime while enhancing tax revenues. Police, even traffic police, are rarely seen, and laws are routinely ignored. Cars are double-parked everywhere and rarely towed, making the streets difficult to navigate.