Thoughts from a US Citizen living abroad
I moved to Bogota about 4 months ago and what a ride it has been. From the weather to the food to saying goodbye to friends and making new friends, this experience has been by far the most adventurous thing I have ever done.
My husband was born in the US but grow up in Bogota, he got tired of the Boston weather and wanted to be closer to his family after living in the US for over 6 years.
The decision on becoming expats was not easy, but he promised a better quality of life which I have to admit, so far he has delivered. He did promise better weather but so far it has been raining ever since we moved! I will miss the beautiful colors of the New England Foliage and the chilly spring days, there are no seasons in Bogota but there is no snow either. I am missing my shopping spree days, mall stores are incredibly expensive here, especially if you are used to American brands, everything here cost three more times than back home. Going out to dinner will cost you the same, and food shopping depending on where you shop can be just as expensive, but then again you can enjoy a Sunday at the local farmers market there are many of them around the city.
I wanted to share my experience because the number of US expats in Colombia is constantly growing. There are five things that I wish I knew before moving here that are key to have an easy adjustment and to set realistic expectations, I have list a few of them below:
- Get Health Insurance as soon as you arrive to Colombia, there are a variety of pre-paid health plans to choose from. I was pregnant when I arrived so I had to buy an additional plan to cover my pregnancy and delivery; as this was consider a pre-existing condition. I moved to Colombia on March 8th but my plan did not go through until the second week of April. Chances are you might be ok without insurance for a month but in my case I wish I signed up as soon as possible.
- Get your Colombian ID (Cedula de extranjeria) Welcome to the land of bureaucracy! Yes no transaction is ever an easy and smooth task. You will be required to present photographs, a blood test and all related documents; this will take hours if not days to get it all taking care of. You need your cedula for everything! Even to order pizza so the sooner you get it the better off you will be.
- Obtain a drivers license (pase) another painful transaction; you will have to pass about 4 tests (none of them include an actual driving test) and go to the registry of motor vehicles (SIM. ) I went about three or two times to complete all exams and fill out all necessary documentation. If you plan to drive in Bogota there are a few things you need to be aware of, taxi drivers, buses and motorcycles are the enemy! They have no respect or knowledge of transit laws and they are an absolute nightmare. If you are on a red light and it changes to green you have about 2 seconds and half to move, before the cars behind you start pushing the horn. Don’t drive too fast or too low and keep in mind that traffic is expected 24 hours a day and it could take you a long time to get from one point to another even if it is a short distance. Last but not least get familiar with the Pico y Placa program, a system that was implemented with the purpose of regulating traffic during rush hour. Depending on the last number on your plate both particular and commercial vehicles are restricted from travelling the streets from 6am to 8pm, the fee for non-compliance drivers could be as high as $250.00. The good news is that taxis are relatively cheap and available 24/7 except around 6 pm when is almost impossible to find a cab and traffic is at its peak.
- Get tax advice, as an American Citizen you are still obligated to pay taxes, get familiar with foreign earned income exclusion laws and how you might benefit from it.
- Make some friends, Colombians are by far the nicest people I have ever met; they are fun to be around, extremely helpful and attentive to your needs. If it wasn’t for my friends and my in-laws I don’t think I would have survived here without seeing my own family every day. I often say that the best thing that Colombia has is its people.
Enjoy it, Colombia is a beautiful country with wonderful people and a lot of potential, no major danger despite the common street crime, a place where you will start your day with the most amazing cup of coffee , a place that you can easily call your home away from home!
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