Montevideo, Uruguay Report of what it's like to live there - 08/23/16
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?
We've had numerous expat experiences before this and have lived in Western Europe, the Balkans, Southern Africa, and other South American cities before coming to Montevideo.
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?
Our home country is the United States. There are several routes; the one direct flight to the U.S. lands in Miami, through American Airlines, but this is the worst option if you can avoid it - the airplanes are so old they still have ashtrays in the seats and no entertainment, and the flights are notoriously cancelled or delayed. My opinion of the best route (and I've tried many) is through Santiago, Chile. Any way you go, it's a long trip - Montevideo is situated right beside Buenos Aires, so a direct flight to Miami is around 9 hours or more.
3. How long have you lived here?
I've been here for one year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
We're here as diplomats.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There are options to live downtown, 'mid-town', and out in the suburbs. Both downtown and midtown housing is almost exclusively high-rise apartments, many of which have lovely views of the water and the Rambla (boardwalk.) The apartments can be large but there are complaints about small parking garages and little storage. The suburbs are between 20-40 minutes' drive from downtown; the houses are nice, with good sized yards. If you're in one of the older neighborhoods where many of the expats and most of the international schools are, the houses are architecturally interesting and the trees are large and well established. There are many newer suburbs where the houses are larger and more modern; but these tend to be either ridiculously expensive or quite far from downtown.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is more expensive here than in the United States - even local produce!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
There aren't a lot of spices and 'ethnic' foods, but this is slowly changing. Also, if you like to bake, you'll have a hard time finding molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, real vanilla, chocolate chips, etc. For electronics, toys, clothing, and just about anything else, you will find better quality in other countries.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a delivery service called PedidosYa that people are happy with but I personally have never used them. They will deliver items from hundreds of restaurants around town. There are plenty of restaurants serving typical Uruguayan meats (asados), or their country's national sandwich, the 'chivito', which is like a hamburger loaded with everything you can imagine and more. There isn't a great deal of variety among restaurants and menus; if you want something 'haute' or creative, you can find it, but people that go out a lot run through the handful of places pretty quickly. And for ethnic restaurants such as Thai, Indian, or Vietnamese - you'll have to leave Uruguay to find!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We haven't had any problems out of the ordinary.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use our diplomatic post office which works very well. I have not needed to use local facilities yet.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There is plenty of availability, but cost can be crazy expensive because of the high taxes, bonuses, and complicated local labor laws. For any household help, starting with one hour a week, you must pay more than twenty percent above the agreed salary to the authorities. We pay a small fee to an accountant to make sure we comply with labor laws. There is the 'bonus month', the 'perfect attendance bonus', the governmental across the board raises, medical and retirement, and severance payments. The worker is well protected here by the government and you feel it.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are gyms here, mostly muscle-guy 'Rocky' types rather than modern and glamorous. Prices are higher than what you can find in the U.S. but not prohibitively bad. There are also athletic clubs that you can join - these are family oriented and offer a wide variety of sports activities and often have great pools and 'summer camps' for the kids. People here do exercise a lot, however, much of the exercise is team oriented and social - soccer teams, running clubs, even personal trainers in groups. The Rambla is full of people walking, jogging, biking. There are races almost every weekend.
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?
Credit cards are accepted, but there are many places, such as doctors' offices that still only accept cash (!?!?). Some places will offer you a discount for using a credit card; others will charge you more. ATMs are common and can be safe to use; like in all places, though, be cautious of your surroundings and be aware of scams.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is an English language non-denominational 'Christian' church in Carrasco and I imagine there are other options as well.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It would be very hard to be out and about here without some Spanish. There are local classes that are affordable, and people here are very nice about trying to communicate however they can.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It wouldn't be the hardest city to get around in with physical disabilities but it's not up to U.S. standards.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Some people warn that buses can be dangerous, and taxis are a bit on the expensive side, but overall I think both are fine. Uber opened up here recently; taxi unions had a fit, but things are settling down and now Uber is more accepted and works well.
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 are much better if you live closer into the city; parking spaces and streets can be tight. Four wheel drives may be handy because of the dirt roads once you get outside of Montevideo, but it's not a necessity at all. Drivers don't usually stay in their lanes and minor dings and scrapes are inevitable. We are advised not to leave anything in a locked car on the street or you run the risk of getting your window smashed and being robbed. Carjackings are not a major risk. If you plan to buy a car locally, be aware that cars here often come with fewer airbags and features than what is standard in other countries, so be sure and ask specifically what you are getting.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, the internet is good and fast here and can be installed quickly.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use a local provider. WhatsApp is a preferred method to communicate for many people here.
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?
This is a good place to have a pet; many people have dogs here and there are plenty of places to take the dogs for walks or play. We've been happy with the vet services for our cat. Animals do not need to be quarantined.
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?
There are job opportunities, both part and full-time at the embassy and at the international schools. Local salaries are much, much lower than in the U.S. even though the cost of living is higher. I'm not sure how people manage on local salaries only here.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are some, but not an abundance - Uruguay is quite developed for Latin American standards.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Uruguayans dress very casually almost all the time. Even at elegant restaurants, you'll find the majority of men in jeans. In offices, men wear suits and ties and women wear dresses or slacks. I can't imagine a reason to stock up on formal clothes here; you might feel very overdressed if this is your style.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There has been a rise of petty theft and burglaries. Like any city, you need to be aware of your surroundings, don't flash your goods, and stay away from certain neighborhoods. However, within Latin America, Montevideo and Uruguay are among the safest places to be.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There are no particular health concerns and the quality of medical care is good for day to day things. If I were to have major surgery, I would chose Buenos Aires or Santiago over Montevideo, though.
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 quality is very good here thanks to a constant breeze from the Plate River. It's a small city with a small population so there isn't a big problem with pollution.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I am told that people with allergies tend to see their allergies worsen here. If you have food allergies, just be sure you know and trust any restaurant you go to as waitstaff aren't always clear as to what they are serving. My friend once asked for a vegetarian option in a restaurant and was told the pasta was vegetarian, but it turned out to be ravioli filled with meat.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Montevideo has a nice, temperate climate. There are four seasons, but the winter isn't too cold and the summer isn't too hot. It can be quite humid for a lot of the year. Spring and Fall are lovely. Remember, though, that this is the Southern Hemisphere so the seasons are reversed if you're used to living up north.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an abundance of bilingual Spanish/English schools and several other international schools, including French, German, Italian, and even New Zealand. My children attend the American school, which has been wonderful. It's a small school, but the atmosphere is very welcoming, the staff is top-notch, and the facilities are very nice. (A new wing was just finished last month.) I only have great things to say about the American school, however, if you are looking for a highly competitive academic or sports environment, you will be disappointed. The British School here is enormous and more academically rigorous but it has a poor reputation among expats as it is hard for an outsider to feel accepted.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
We have two special needs kids at the American school and we are extremely pleased with how they have been accommodated. It says a great deal about the faculty and administration that such a small school is willing and able to take on special needs kids where other larger international schools say they won't or can't. The social environment is very accepting to special needs kids.
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?
I don't have experience with preschools here but I have not heard any negative comments about them and they are a great place for your toddler to learn Spanish quickly. The American school offers after school activities and a late bus that leaves the school at 4:45.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are tons of local sports classes and activities for kids in Spanish. In English - probably next to nothing. That being said, if your kid doesn't speak Spanish but is adventurous, people here are friendly and patient and they will find a way to communicate.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a medium size expat community here. I think overall morale is very high. Most everyone agrees that although Montevideo can be boring, the quality of life here is pretty awesome. There is a general feeling of contentment that you sense from locals, too. If you are able to do some shopping outside of Uruguay (Amazon.com, Buenos Aires, etc.), and get out a bit to see more of the neighborhood, this is a great place to spend a few years.
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?
The weekend asado (meat grill) is the thing to do here. Otherwise, going to restaurants with friends or hanging out on the Rambla are also popular. There are a couple of expat clubs such as InterNations that are fairly active.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think this a best for families since it's a great post to have quality family time. For couples it could be good if you like to get out on the weekends and travel; for singles, just beware that if you fall in love with a Uruguayan, they will probably convince you to live in Uruguay rather than leave with you when you're time is up here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Uruguay has some of the most liberal LGBT laws in South America, including legalized gay marriage. However, I don't know how much of this was mandated by the government versus what the people truly are in favor of.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I am aware of. Uruguay is the most secular country in Latin America and it's fairly homogenous as the vast majority of the population is of European descent.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
For me, the highlight of Uruguay is the people and the laid-back lifestyle they embrace. Locals are really warm and friendly and they really value family ties and long-term relationships (which is important in a country this small!) This isn't the most beautiful country I've been to, nor are the tourist opportunities very memorable, but for day to day living, it's a great place to be. My favorite trips have been to neighboring Argentina and Chile.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Walking around the Ciudad Vieja (Old City), Pocitos, and along the Rambla are all great ways to spend a day. There are great antique shops and lots of hole-in-the-wall spots. There are numerous wineries to visit all within a couple hours' drive of the city. Most of what Montevideo has to offer is not going to pop out at you - the best tip is to get advice from locals about where to go and what to do.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
There isn't much to buy here except perhaps a cow skin rug or some rustic wood antiques.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The Rambla runs along the entire length of the city - 22 kilometers of uninterrupted, paved sidewalk along the water. It's great for getting exercise, people watching, drinking mate tea, and hanging out with friends. You can swim in the beaches in the middle of town. There is very little traffic or pollution compared to any other Latin American city. Life is predictable and easy-going; crime is only a small undercurrent, and beef and wine are delicious here.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I have had a great year so far in Montevideo, and I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy the rest of my time here as well. I would definitely still move to this city knowing what I now know. That being said, I can see how some people would be anxious to leave after a couple of years as life does move slowly here. But if you know this coming into the experience, and you set your expectations as such, it's a great place.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas about saving money. It's expensive to live here and there are many travel opportunities outside of Uruguay that are worth spending money on.
3. But don't forget your:
Plans to start to write that book, learn to play piano, plant a vegetable garden, earn another degree...any of those long term projects you've always wanted to do but never had time for until now!