Maracaibo, Venezuela Report of what it's like to live there - 12/02/08

Personal Experiences from Maracaibo, Venezuela

Maracaibo, Venezuela 12/02/08

Background:

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

Aberdeen Scotland, Maracaibo Venezuela, Miri Malaysia, and Muscat Oman.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years now and I was previously here before from 1994 - 1997.

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

Work (oil industry).

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

American Airlines from Miami, Copa / Continental from Houston via Panama. From Europe you can fly over Caracas (Lufthansa, BA, etc) or via Miami, which avoids the transfer to domestic terminal in Caracas.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments with good security to access and windows in the city. North of the city there are gated communities with better facilities for kids, up to 1/2 hour commuting.

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

A lot of the food is imported and Maracaibo is quite a lot more expensive than USA unless you stick to the very basic staples: rice, corn meal, black beans, etc.

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

Ikea furniture. Storage space in appartments and houses is very limited and getting book cases made is very expensive.

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

The full range from overpriced posh restaurants (mostly Italian) to high quality local food and USA chains and fast food is availaible. Numerous sushi places.

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Daily Life:

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

We only receives letters through company mail service. Quite a few Maracuchos are using a Miami co. like Ruby export to arrange door to door delivery of packages.

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

Live in maids used to be common, but are now hard to find. Ensure a direct reference, as gangs use maids to get access to your house. Cost daytime service: less than US$100 a week.

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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?

I use a local credit card with a low limit. I never use an ATM in an open area and I never use my international cards in Maracaibo.

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

I know of 2 Irish priests in town, but think their sermons are in Spanish. Not aware of any English services, but I have not been looking either.

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

Newspapers, no. I suggest to read news on the web. TV, cable TV with some USA channels are available.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Basic Spanish is a must. Well worth the effort to start learning Latin Spanish before you arrive.

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

Public transport is poor (and dangerous), so you need to drive or have a driver.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right hand side. Most things are USA based (electricity, household appliances, type of cars, sports, etc.)

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

I have been advised not to use any type of public transport. The most dangerous are the porpuestos, shared taxis, which are paid per seat.

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3. 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?

New 4x4s are targeted, but all type of cars are stolen. Sofar GM & Ford are assembled in Venezuela and spares are hard to get for all other makes. Gasoline is highly subsidized, so fuel economy is not a financial driver.

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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?

So far we have access to at best medium speed.

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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?

Not sure about this. Most people say that Movistar of Movilnet are the best companies.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Not sure. Company provided phones work, the house line and family cellphones not, despite assurances.

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Pets:

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

Vets are OK, the kennel we found was very poor.

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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?

Wages are low, Spanish is a must. Some expat wives work in schools or volunteer services.

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

Relaxed for me (but I don't care). For women appearances are very important (majority of Venezuelan miss universes come from Maracaibo's state of Zulia).

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Air is good for a city, littering has improved, water (Lake Maracaibo) is still quite polluted and has algae problems (lemna).

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

High. Latest statistics for the state are 4 murders a day, 1 to 2 kidnappings a day and very frequent car thefts.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Quality is OK, but culture is different from Europe. Some doctors will start with the worst and advise surgery before analysing the problem.

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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?

Hot and humid. Maracaibo is called the coldest city in Venezuela, as they are addicted to their ACs. Bring an indoor jacket / sweater.

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Schools & Children:

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

Age 2 - 6 Caroussel. Very good reputation (daughters worked there).Age 6 - 16 Escuela Bella Vista (EBV). Good school, a bit too American for us Europeans.

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

EBV has special needs teachers. Google: Escuela Bella Vista Maracaibo.

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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?

In the '90s we had fulltime live in maids (from Colombia) and this was the norm. Nowadays they are harder to find, first hand references a must. No info on daycare.

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Expat Life:

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

Not sure, a couple of hundred. We have not joined the American Women group this time. There are a lot of second generation Europeans we hang out with.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty OK. Concerned about safety and frequent unavailability of common goods like cooking oil, milk, toilet paper, etc.

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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?

Maracuchos want to have fun. Compared to the other places I have lived, it still has a bit more of the old work hard - play hard attitude.

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

Singles: in early '90s we arrived with 7 bachelors, 6 got married and are still married. Couples: security issue and lower number of expats makes life more challenging for spouse. Expat experience advisable. Families: as anywhere kids are great to increase your social circle. Biggest concern with kids is crime level.

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

An expat gay/lesbian should take extra precautions in this town. It is tolerated at low profile level, but I am not sure how an expat would find out the do's and dont's before getting into trouble.

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

Racial: no. Caucasians are all gringos, but in a good humoured way. Religious: no. Catholics dominate, but there are quite a few jews & muslims in town as well. Gender: not in the workplace. I have worked here with more women, than I did in Malaysia or Scotland, at all levels. In social life it is a male (macho) dominated society.

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

Social clubs with sports facilities (membership).In land travel: Lost world, angel falls, Andes mountains, etc. BBQ with Maracuchos.

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

I want less stuff, not more stuff. Hammocks, Guajira indian artisan stuff, Amazonian wood carvings are the most common. The Venezuelan rum is top quality and obligatory present.

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9. Can you save money?

No comment.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, but ... my wife was born in Maracaibo. For a couple or a family this is a tough posting, esp if Spanish is not spoken by all.

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

Gold jewellery and expensive watches.

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3. But don't forget your:

English Books (and a lot more). We do our annual shopping in the States.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Maracaibo is not a good posting for first time expat family that doesn't speak Spanish and needs access to Walmart & E-Bay. The good thing about Maracaibo is that most Maracuchos want to have fun and are open and friendly towards foreigners.

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