Montevideo, Uruguay Report of what it's like to live there - 07/18/20
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, I have lived in Brasil, South Korea, Italy, and Swaziland.
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?
USA. The most direct route is AA to Miami. It is a very expensive flight and the plane is old with no amenities (no screens at your seat, car port chargers, terrible food and uncomfortable seats). The plane itself had frequent service and mechanical delays that lead to very unreliable service. The new AA plane has was "going to be brought into service in 6 months" my entire tour. In general travel into and out of Uruguay is expensive.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
I lived in an apartment in Punta Carretas/Pocitos. In general the apartments in this area are very nice and spacious- especially the ones facing the beach. This area has plenty of shopping and things to do vs. Carasscso where people with school-aged children tended to live. I often walked home from work along the Ramblas and it was nice. Anyone living in an apartment building should make sure that it has 24/7 security guards. Carassco has big houses and some with pools but there isn't a lot to do over there and there were frequent break-ins that sometimes ended violently. Commutes from Carassco could take 15 minutes or an hour if there was traffic or an accident on the road.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries in Montevideo are EXPENSIVE. I ordered a lot of things non-perishable items and all my cleaning supplies from Amazon including toilet tissue. If you found food you liked in the store sometimes it would disappear for months. There were more affordable fruits and veggies at local markets.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Liquids- like my shampoos and any household cleaners. Once I used mine up it was hard to replace them. Anything else I was able to order.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
The restaurants are plenty...lots of steak and sushi but not a lot of variety in the food options. This was starting to change a little with more immigrants moving into the country. Pedidosya and Rappi were available for food delivery- expensive but convenient.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
I didn't see any bugs in my apartment, but sometimes there could be moisture problems in some of the older buildings.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I got mail at the post DPO- sometimes orders would show up in less than one week. if you are not embassy-affiliated receiving orders is limited- Uruguay limits online overseas orders and taxes them quite heavily.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is not really a thing here for regular folks. Labor is super expensive because of unions and expats can end up in a tricky (expensive) legal situation if they don't understand the system or hire the wrong person. Was not worth the potential headache.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are expensive and require some 'physical' from some government agency. There were a couple that a lot of expats went to but they expected 6 months prepayment up front. The gyms didn't open early enough for me (like before 8 or 9am) so I didn't join. People did do a lot of outdoor fitness...every day you will see people walking or jogging on the Rambla. If you aren't an outdoor jogger consider bringing your own equipment in your HHE.
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?
Everyone uses credit cards and you used to get a 22% IVA waiver for using a foreign credit card. There were hundreds of ATM robberies (blown up) at any time during the day so I definitely didn't use any in public. I got my cash from the embassy. Do not carry a lot of cash on your...robbery was being a big problem when I left post- for locals an expats a like.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You an get by with basic Spanish. Be advised it's not the same dialect as Spanish in the rest of South America and it can take some getting used to. Most people are patient though and speak a little bit of English or understand it.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
I think it could be ok in some newer areas of the city but not others where there are old sidewalks and no escalators or elevators. Most apartments have elevators but entering the building could be a challenge with steps.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
When i was at post we were allowed to take buses and ubers. There are a number of apps to help with the bus routes and schedules and I took the bus to work most days for less than one USD. Ubers were EXPENSIVE...the drivers would band together to control surge pricing. Taxes also were expensive if you didn't order from a reputable number. I did use Uber a lot because driving and parking was so inconvenient.
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?
In the city I recommend the smallest car your family can handle. Parking spaces are tiny and often have lots of columns that make maneuvering difficult. Big cars sometimes don't even fit in the apartment parking lot and you will have to park on the street or pay for a private lot. Car break-ins are FREQUENT. Don't leave anything in your car and be attentive to where you park. Many people tinted their windows as soon as they got to post. There were also a number of carjackings (breaking windows to snatch bags off of laps or car seats). You can't ship car parts DPO so if you need parts and can't get them locally you will have to import at full tax. Even if you can get the parts locally its expensive, so consider that when you choose what vehicle to bring.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
there is one provider for internet here. If you are in embassy housing you can have that set up prior to your arrival. I thought it was pretty fast and I didn't have trouble streaming video.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring your own unlocked phone. You can get a local sim card through the embassy if you work there. I didn't find it to be too badly priced and i could pay my bill on the internet. Be aware that cancelling your service can be a pain and they will keep trying to bill you long after you are gone.
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 a number of EFM jobs at the embassy. Montevideo is a small post so i don't remember it being super competitive if someone wanted a job there. Do not expect to get a decent paying job on the economy- many expats who don't work for the embassy bring their job or income (remote) with them. Work visas for expats isn't very straight forward and isn't cheap to obtain.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are some volunteer projects around to support women and children. Lots of places to donate your time, labor, and goods.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Dress at work and in public is pretty casual unless its a special occasion- people don't dress very flashy in Montevideo and you will stand out if you do. The only time I wore formal clothes was at the Marine Ball.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
YES. The crime in Montevideo was unexpected and didn't come up in any my previous research. Numerous embassy local and direct hire employees were victims of crimes...some of which were VERY violent. Some people were victims more than once. Many of these crimes happened in broad daylight. The criminal system is lax in Uruguay and there isn't anything to deter people from criminal activities. You can have a great time in Montevideo but you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
The quality of care at the British hospital is decent but expensive.
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 was generally fine. Some people had allergy issues in the spring.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Being a vegetarian will require some effort because there is so much beef eating in the Uruguayan diet.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The winter season is long, wet, and cold and people will try to go to the States then to get some sunshine and warm weather.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winter is cold and wet...very windy (Mayish to November). December to January is nice but it the gets super hot in February and March. The rain storms here are incredible...you can get lightning storms for 2 days straight!
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a decent number of expats. They tend to be either embassy employees, teachers at the American school, or retired expats. Montevideo is a slow paced city and most people seem ok with that.
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?
There are wine tours to the many bodegas that a lot of people go to. I met some really good friends there. There are some activities on internations but I hardly used it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Montevideo is fine for all household types. I think it's fine for single people but it's better if you know Spanish. Couples seem to have a really good time as well as families. One thing I liked is that singles, couples, and families socialized together which you don't see in a lot of places.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would say yes based on what I've been told by my friends.
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I think if you have a connection through work or other activities it's easier, but it takes a while for people to warm up to you if you aren't from there. I found people to be generally kind and friendly.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Montevideo is a very, very white place compared to the rest of South America. There are black people in Montevideo but you will almost never see them in high ranking jobs or positions. Most of them live in a neighborhood near the US Embassy and blackness is only celebrated during Carnival but even that is kind of 'whitewashed'. Nobody ever did anything overtly prejudicial against me; however, there is some prejudice that will be denied if you ever brought it up to a local. I was often followed in stores and stared at, and since there weren't very many American black people around, I was often recognized when I went out and it was slightly uncomfortable. Nothing to keep anybody from bidding here, but it's something to be aware of.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The wine tours were my favorite thing! I do miss my tannat :)
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Montevideo is a slow place...so a lot of the fun was the experiences you had with other people. I wouldn't say there are a lot of 'must see' destinations. People like to talk about Punta del Este and other beaches but to me they were regular beach towns.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
It's not really a shopping post. Things are expensive and the crafts aren't really that great IMO. There are lots of markets and some stuff is interesting to look at but I never bought anything.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Its the type of post/city where you know everybody, which could be an advantage if people get along great. I think it's convenient to travel to other places even if its not the cheapest. Buenos Aires is a ferry ride away.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Crime ... and I would have learned Spanish.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
High heels, fancy purse, expensive jewlery
4. But don't forget your:
lysol, toilet tissue, spices, maple syrup, bacon!