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Expat Colombia: 10 Tips for Living in Bogota

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats offer advice for others considering a move to Bogota, Colombia. Topics include safety in Bogota, best neighborhoods for expats, international schools in Bogota and more.

Expat Colombia - 10 Tips for Living in Bogota

Safety in Bogota

"Like any big city Bogota can be dangerous... but I find it no more dangerous than NYC for example. Colombia as a whole is safe but there are some areas that at you don't go to. The expat community is larger in Bogota than other cities but I find there is little socializing between the expats. Most of my friends are Colombian," described one expat living in Bogota. Another expat living in Bogota said, "I always hail cabs off the street with no issues. Use common sense, don't carry too much cash, passport, or credit cards on you. It is very seldom you need your passport or cards here so only take them when needed. It doesn't hurt to have some self-defense training, too. Thugs pick off the weaker, easy targets. I know for a fact I've been sized up a few times, but I walk around alert and will stare back at anyone giving me the eye and they will always back down. Those bad elements search out easy fast prey so just keep your eyes open and keep alert. Don't walk around with your head glued to your cell, and avoid speaking in English in public so as not to draw attention to yourself until you feel comfortable." Another expat said, "I lived in Bogota for 19 months, and I called for taxis at night, to the airport, or long distances, like to Corferias or Santa Fe. I rode the TM twice - too crowded for me. During the day, I had no problem grabbing a taxi on the street. You must be able to give the address in Spanish. A few of the drivers speak some English, but don't count on it. (I'm female, light-skinned with blue eyes. No way they could have mistaken me for Colombian!) I did this only during the day, and only where I knew the area. It is safe to travel in groups at night, but call for the taxi. I spoke English sometimes, several drivers enjoyed practicing their English skills and learning what I liked about living in Bogota. I got to practice my Spanish as well! Do not underestimate the possibility of theft. Leave valuables at home. No big jewelery or fancy cell phones. I carried my "flecha" to make calls with. I carried a mochilla most places, not the big purses many women use. Maybe they thought I was poor! My Colombian friends also warned me often about safety. Use common sense, stay away from unsafe areas, keep valuables at home, speak the language. I never felt threatened or in danger." Another said, "just about everyone I know has been robbed at some point, on the street, in TransMillenio, or in a taxi."

Jobs in Bogota

An expat in Bogota said, "Teaching jobs are easy to come across. El Tiempo news paper." Teaching in private schools is recommended. One expat said, "Teachers typically make minimum wages at public schools. Private school teachers typically have their masters degrees and are well educated." Another expat who taught in Bogota cautioned, "Absolutely do not go public. I taught for a year in a private school and lived there for over a year and a half learning about the culture. Private is the only way to go, and the prices you quote are reasonable." Another English teacher said, "I moved to Bogota eight months ago, job in hand. However, I am a certified English teacher; finding a job at a bilingual school was fairly easy for me. If you are looking at teaching here in Colombia. there are some requirements. I did not need a TEFL, although I have been told it would be good to have regardless. Make sure you get a visa that allows you to work."

Schools in Bogota

An expat whose children attend Colegio Gran Bretana in Bogota advised, "do seriously consider this school, especially if your child is from an English-speaking country. Almost all of the Secondary teachers are native English speakers from Australia, the UK, the US, etc... So, the school's English programs are top notch. The teachers are stellar, the academics challenging, and the community welcoming and diverse." There are other schools, such as Colegio Los Nogales, Knightsbridge Schools International in Bogota and The English School.

What to Bring to Bogota

"Word of advice -- pay the extra bag fees and bring your stuff with you. $50 for an extra 50 pound bag or $80-100 for a tiny box to be shipped here weighing around 20 pounds. I wish I had just brought my extra stuff with me. You can use the post office website to calculate your shipping cost," advised an expat in Bogota. Another expat said, "I shipped approximately 35 large boxes, to include my mattresses, but wish I had brought alot more stuff. I would not have brought my refrigerator, but definitely the washer and dryer. Appliances cost approximately twice as much in this country. I believe you have 90 days from the date you enter Colombia to ship your household goods to Colombia."

Weather in Bogota

Climate is also an individual thing. I actually like Bogota. Coming from England, I find it is like a Spring day, all year round. I am not too hot, and not too cold. Most of the time I wear simple Polo or T-shirts, and I feel absolutely comfortable. If I want a little more heat, I simply drive down the mountains, and within a couple of hours can be in 30-40 degrees, but 3 or 4 days is enough for me .

Best Bogota Neighborhoods for Expats

An expat advised, "I know Bogota is a great city with a lot cultural events. It has several nice malls and shopping center. You need to live in the north part of the city like El Chico and similar areas. Bogota is safer than many cities in U.S. Restaurants and night life are great. Christmas is an incredible time with fantastic decorations and lights everywhere. Cali is hot and humid, but nice and smaller than Bogota." Another said, "I like the Los Nogales and Santa Barbara neighborhoods; Los Nogales is accessible to downtown; Santa Barbara is more north, near everyone's favorite mall," UniCentro. One expat in Bogota wrote at length about the best neighborhoods, "I can only talk with confidence about this city. So if you are looking at Bogota, then I must say, avoid anywhere in the south. The best areas are to the north, and from my own experience, areas like Mazuren and Cedritos are excellent in terms of safety, standards and quality of life and its residents, whilst still remaining reasonable pricewise. Don't go too far north though, or northwest, for the rapid pace of development continues, and what is now on the edge of the city will be swallowed up by development, and you'll find yourself in the middle of a concrete jungle in a few years. At least they can't build much more to the east of Mazuren or Cedritos, as the mountains prevent that, so you will always be near the edge of the city without having to commute for hours. (Commuting is crap). Both areas mentioned are very close to the Transmilenio, a rapid articulated bus service that has its own designated carriageways, so is fast, and cheap, too, but gets somewhat crowded in rush hour. In just 14 years, my in-laws property, near calle 150, was actually on the northern edge of the city, but now, I think the streets go up to calle two hundred-ish, and still going up. Also, Suba, to the northwest was actually a separate town, and Chia too. Now the expansion has simply gone around them, and they have been swallowed in urban development. Chia is still a separate town, but is suffering the same. Like I said, they can't build much more to the east, so you shouldn't get swallowed up in non-stop development."

Adjusting to the Altitude in Bogota

"Bogota is up high in the mountains, so if you aren't used to the altitude be sure to allow yourself 2 or 3 days to adjust and try to find yourself some coca tea to help. Getting dizzy all of a sudden or falling asleep while your walking can be a hazard -- as can taking taxis off the street without calling on the phone for one," advised one expat.

Gated Communities vs. Conjunto Cerrados

An insightful discussion about gated communities and conjunto cerrados took place on the Colombia forum. One expat said, "As I have always understood it, a gated community is rather more isolationist, where people can live without even going out of the complex. Everything they could need for living, will usually be found on the site, and the residents can live without necessarily mixing with the natives, and keeping themselves very much unto themselves. I understand that in some countries, they are particularly attractive to older residents, much like "old people's homes", but in their own property, living alongside other elderly people. This type of lifestyle is the one where I am opposed to the concept, and personally wouldn't like to live in one, as it really does segregate you from the rest of society. But there are also "conjunto cerrados," which are developments of maybe a few tower blocks, maybe a few blocks of houses, all surrounded by a nice fence to keep unwanted intruders out, and there is usually a security guy on the gate. This allows the residents to live in a safer way than if they were a simple tower block or house on the open street, but of course, they are not totally self sufficient or isolationist at all. You have to go to work, you have to do your shopping, the kids go to school in the normal manner, and all normal life is outside of the gates, which encourages you to mix with, and interact with the local population. But of course, by its nature, it is a lot safer for the kids to play outside, knowing that they won't be able to get out, or intruders able to get in. The danger of traffic too, is diminished, so the kids can ride their bikes etc, in safety."

Another expat shared his experiences, "A lot of great point of views. I don't know a great deal about communities outside of my own city. But I live in a gated community (condos). I have a son (but 18 months old) and feel very comfortable that everyone in our community knows him, drives by slow and we all watch out for each other, like a big dysfunctional family. If we did move I would prefer moving to another gated community just for the added piece of mind of not having people speed past my home or vagrants walking through. I feel it is much safer from aggressive type crimes but there have been 2 brake ins in the past 3 years. Not too bad in my opinion."

Driving in Bogota

"Have a car by all means, but do take a bus from time to time, or the Transmilenio, even in the rush hour, where you get shoved into a bus like sardines. It's part of normal living for Colombians, and so it should be for you too. In fact, if you choose Bogota, you won't be able to use your car for half the week anyway, as they have a scheme (Pico Y Placa) where certain number plates are not allowed on the roads at peak periods (rush hour)," explained an expat living in Bogota. Another expat reiterated, "driving in Bogota is more like an amusement park ride. I take taxis - don't have a car yet. Lines in the road are guidelines, motorcycles make their own lanes between cars, and everyone moves over when cars and busses pass each other over a double yellow line. They have a tendency not to stop for ambulances. Traffic is bad. Most major cities have pico y placa - allowing you to drive your car on certain days."

Opening a Bank Account in Bogota

In his article, Expat Life in Colombia, John Douglas wrote, "another issue is a need for personal references in Colombia, necessary for opening a bank account or establishing a rental contact. Generally, one needs a "backup" person who would be willing to sign their name to a rental agreement and continue payments should the tenant default. It is a good idea to open a bank account as well, but not all banks will allow non-residents to do so. Thus, ask about the requirements from any of the many banks in Colombia. There are no US based banks in Bogota but there are banks headquartered in other countries with a presence in the US and Colombia.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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Comments about this Article

BrendanCorrigan
May 5, 2014 11:24

For more info on Bogotá and Colombia in general, check out http://blogs.eltiempo.com/wrong-way-corrigan/ and www.wwcorrigan.blogspot.com.

Andresd7
Nov 29, 2014 01:59

When visiting Bogota, DO NOT stay in La Candelaria where most hostals are located. I being Colombian find it VERY IRONIC that most foreigners stay in La Candelaria.There are many nice neighborhoods to stay in that feel a lot safer at night. DO NOT stay in the center or South of the city, The center/La Candelaria is an interesting area to visit during the day, cultural events, bohemian, etc. I spend a lot of time there for events but it gets dodgy/sketchy late at night. At night, many junkies from the crime pockets start wandering into the center of the city. I often see clean-looking Colombians rushing to get out of La Candelaria late at night to avoid getting robbed while foreigners who stick-out like sore thumbs are staying there. What the hell!? As I mentioned, there are many nice neighborhoods to stay in. Try Airbnb, etc. Colombians are extremely friendly and will give you tips about places to visit, there are also beautiful suburban/country-side areas outside of Bogota that many Bogota-residents frequent. Go to language exchange groups and get info from locals, but don´t stay in La Candelaria. I am a local and I´m telling you this with all honesty, I´m just trying to save some face and doing what I can so that people visitng my country enjoy it, so stop staying in the dodgiest areas of the city you crazy tourists! Also, my sister and I have been showing foreigners around the city and taking them to gorgeous natural areas and smaller towns outside of the city as a hobby. I lived in the United States but returned to Colombia recently, it is definitely a country worth visiting, there are awesome places to see, it is a very diverse country and it is a shame that many people who come visit miss-out on many incredible locations and events just due to lack of information. If you would like any tips on your visit to Colombia, I´ll be glad to offer my feedback: ad_hhe@yahoo.com My name is Andres Duran

Residente
Dec 7, 2016 14:37

Regarding opening a bank account in Colombia: My experience after arriving last year in Cali was a surprise. Having a temporary residence (cedula de extrajeria) I was albe to open a savings account after residing three months, but only found one bank that would do this, Falabella. The others I went to, maybe a half dozen, required six months residence. They would not open a checking account unless I had a permanent residency (which requires three years as a temporary resident). Forget acquiring a credit card until permant residency is established. I have been using my US credit cards with rarely a problem.

First Published: May 03, 2014

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