Montevideo, Uruguay Report of what it's like to live there - 08/08/18
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?
No. We have also lived in Caracas, Belgrade, Pretoria, Paris, and Washington, DC.
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?
United States. Currently the only direct flight from Montevideo to the U.S. is to Miami, which takes about 9 hours and is with American Airlines. There are other flights to the U.S. but this involves a connection through Buenos Aires, Santiago, Rio, or Sao Paolo on Latam or other international carriers.
3. How long have you lived here?
We lived in Montevideo for three years (Aug. 2015 - June 2018).
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?
We lived in the suburban neighborhood of Carrasco, which is close to the majority of international schools. Carrasco is mostly single family homes, interspersed with some small buildings for apartments. Houses have small to medium-sized yards and the streets are nice for walking and biking. Commuting to downtown takes about 30-45 minutes. The airport is only about 15 minutes' commute.
Other neighborhoods are closer to downtown and embassies but are for high-rise apartment living. The apartments can be large and many are directly facing the River Plate and famous 'rambla', which has its plusses and minuses.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and household supplies are generally more expensive in Montevideo than in the U.S. Food-wise, there are now more options for spices and ethnic or trendy foods (kale, for example), but you might have to shop around or be creative and find substitutes. Household supplies are mostly very low quality for a high price - this has been one of the downsides of Uruguay for us. Best to come prepared for this reality.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nice towels and sheets, toys/birthday gifts, electronics, Indian spices, chili powder, kids' snacks, and school supplies.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of meat-the-grill restaurants of all price ranges, pizza/pasta places, and some upscale 'international cuisine' is what comes to mind when I think of restaurants. There are well-organized food delivery services that many people use, and many mid-range restaurants have takeout options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Plenty of maids and nannies are available but because of labor laws, hiring them, even part-time, can be a financial strain. The government requires lots for domestic employees, including mandatory social security, paid vacations, thirteenth month salary, bonus for showing up to work every day, etc. Most nannies or maids are local Uruguayans and speak little to no English. Pool guys and gardeners are also easy to find and hire; I'm not sure how expensive they are.
2. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The gyms I'm familiar with are not very exciting or modern, except for the ulta-expensive Lawn Tennis Club in Carrasco. There are numerous other clubs around the city, some have indoor swimming pools and sports activities for the whole family; the prices seem reasonable. I've also seen small gyms just for exercise classes such as zumba or step. Many Uruguayans exercise outdoors: jogging on the rambla, playing soccer in empty fields, etc.
3. 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 were becoming more accepted during my time there; always a good idea to have some cash on hand just in case. ATMs are common and are safe to use.
4. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Spanish is absolutely a necessity. This is a big make or break issue for many expats' morale at post. There are local language classes and this is a great post to learn Spanish because you will definitely get to practice what you're learning if you step out of your house.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think Uruguayans are helpful and kind and would be willing to lend a hand to anyone with physical disabilities if they can; living downtown would be difficult but not impossible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is no metro, train or tram service but local buses and taxis are safe and affordable. Uber now works well, too.
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 better if you want to easily get around, especially downtown. Parking spaces are usually very narrow and city parking is limited. Almost no risk at this time of burglary/carjacking but there has been a sharp increase in windows being broken and things stolen out of cars, so you can't leave anything visible in cars anymore.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, internet works well. The embassy did a great job of having it installed and ready to go when we moved in; hopefully they're still offering that service!
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 was necessary for our cat and we found qualified vets for him but we only needed routine care. Uruguayans love their dogs and many let the dogs run free without leashes. There are no laws about cleaning up after pets, so watch where you step.
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?
Local salaries are very low compared to the U.S. and Spanish fluency is really necessary. Most expat spouses/partners either work at the embassy or find a way to telecommute somehow.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Uruguay is a relatively homogenous middle-class society with strong support from the government on social problems. There are limited opportunities to volunteer in my experience.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress at work is similar to the US. Women seem to prefer to wear loose, flowing clothes rather than tight ones, and white and off-white are very popular colors.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Uruguay is becoming increasingly dangerous, with more store robberies, personal robberies, smash and grabs, and shootings. It's not the same safe, laid-back place it was 15-20 years ago when people would still leave their doors unlocked at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good for routine things; I'd go elsewhere for anything serious, though. Braces are cheaper than the U.S. No health concerns in particular.
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 good; people suffer with seasonal allergies though.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Uruguayans aren't very careful about food allergies; they'll promise you a dish has no dairy but serve it with sprinkled cheese on top. I'd be wary of going out to eat and trusting a restaurant to give you honest answers about what's in the food. They're not dishonest, just careless. Seasonal allergies are real, but no worse than in other places we've lived.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Expats often complain of boredom and frustration with not being able to communicate since most locals don't speak English. It's expensive to travel within Uruguay and it's easy to feel isolated and really remote. Winter (June-August) is cold, damp and windy and most expats leave the country for the season, so it's best to have a plan and be prepared for being alone and indoors for those months if you stay behind.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Four seasons, lots of wind coming off the River Plate throughout the year. The nice thing about the weather is that there is lots of sun, so even in the winter, there can be lovely days of blue skies.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
For truly international schools, there's really only one: the Uruguayan American School. There is a large British School that is almost entirely Uruguayan students (and they tend to discourage foreigners at the admissions office!); there are French, German, and Italian schools and numerous bilingual schools, but these are also mostly local students and the curriculum is very Uruguayan.
We had three children at the Uruguayan American School in both primary and secondary and we were very happy with both sections. Our kids loved the school and were happy to go there. It's small and everyone knows everyone, which can be a blessing and a curse, depending on how you see it.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
We had two children in the secondary school that required an aide and accommodations. UAS did a fantastic job working with us and helping our children be successful in the classroom. The teachers were very understanding and the overall attitude at the school is accommodating and friendly, so our kids really felt good about being there. The primary school has more experience with special-needs issues and most parents are happy with their accommodations. If you have a child with special needs, reach out to the school with honesty and transparency; I believe the UAS administration really want to help but will also tell you if they don't feel they can.
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 many affordable preschools in Spanish; I don't have experience with them but friends who do seem to be happy with them.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are plenty of local sports teams/classes but it would be very hard to find one that is not in Spanish.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community isn't terribly large and morale seems to be medium. Many people complain about how expensive everything is, how far away Uruguay seems from the rest of the world, and how 'bored' they are sometimes. It depends on what you're looking for; Uruguay is not the most 'exciting' culture, but if you want a place to spend lots of time with your family, relax, and enjoy a back-to-basics lifestyle, you'll enjoy it. It's a great place to learn to slow down and appreciate the non-material things in life.
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?
Lots of socializing at friends' homes. There are a few expat clubs, too.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for all types.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. Uruguay is very liberal for Latin America.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
No problems with religious prejudice but Uruguay is a very homogenous country culturally. I've heard Asians and anyone that doesn't look like most Uruguayans can feel uncomfortable. No big issues with gender equality.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Our favorite trips/experiences have been traveling in the countryside of Uruguay, to Salto del Penitente, or the beaches in Rocha. Montevideo provides a high quality of life on a daily basis; it's a cross between Western Europe and Latin America but it feels more like the former than the latter. For us, it was great to be in a walkable city, watching people pulling out lawn chairs at the boardwalk to see the sunset, and learning to slow down and appreciate friends and family. The people, food, and country in general are unpretentious and refreshing.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Montevideo has lots to offer but it's not easy to access information about what's available. The architecture of the old buildings is really charming; it's worth the time to take some walking tours and get to know the older neighborhoods. Learn how to grill meats the Uruguayan way, try to tango, and drink lots of local wine. The ballet, symphony and theatre are top notch and incredibly affordable; this was a wonderful treat in Montevideo.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not much to buy here. There are some European antiques that were made in Uruguay by European immigrants and supposedly cost much less than in Europe even though the craftwork is similar. Uruguay's best products are consumables: meat, wine, dulce de leche.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
We love that it's one of the few capital cities in the world that are still small, relatively safe, with good air quality and low traffic congestion. Uruguayans all seem to be connected somehow - for example, either they went to school together, have cousins that are married, or were neighbors at some time. It's charming.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I knew how expensive it is to travel within Uruguay and to neighboring countries. And even though there's a large coastine, the fish is disappointing.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, we really enjoyed our time in Montevideo.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Plans to save money, pretentious attitude, need to be 'wowed' by innovation and creativity.
4. But don't forget your:
Comfortable lawn chair, corkscrew, sunscreen, and zen mindset.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Alive!: the movie about the 1970s Andes plane crash.