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COVID-19 in Latin America

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: COVID-19 is spreading throughout Latin America. Like elsewhere in the world, Latin American countries are taking very different approaches to try to control the spread -- some fare more stringent than others. In this article, expats in a number of Latin American countries talk about the day-to-day realities of the pandemic.

Expats in Latin America - COVID-19 in Latin America

With limited numbers of ventilators and ICU beds in many Latin American countries, some governments like Costa Rica, Chile and Colombia are strictly enforcing stay-at-home orders. Many expats there are impressed with the governments' actions. Other countries, like Nicaragua, are more liberal with their measures. The Nicaraguan government has stated that they will not impose quarantines on those who contract coronavirus. Some expats there are taking matters into their own hands.

Mexico

According the the US Embassy, "The United States and Mexico entered a joint initiative March 21 restricting non-essential travel along the U.S.-Mexico land border to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Non-essential travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature." Mexico declared a national emergency and a stay at home order was established that started on March 30th and will run through April 30th. Click here for the details of the stay at home order. As of April 2nd, the Mexican government reported 1,510 cases.

"I'm staying at home most of the time. I write, and counsel others online. I am also an artist, although I have not devoted much time to that of late. That is likely to change this week. I did not stock pile a lot of food. But I do have about 30% more than I normally would. Other than that, wait and see. We have 35 assisted living and nursing homes here. If the virus gets into one of those, it will likely wipe out the whole population. But for the most part, people are keeping a safe distance from one another," reported one expat living in Lake Chapala, Mexico on March 30th.

To stay up to date on the situation in Mexico, follow Mexico's Ministry of Health facebook page or visit the Coronavirus section of the Ministry of Health's website . And, follow the US Embassy's COVID-19 Information page.

Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan Ministry of Health has confirmed five cases of COVID-19 within its borders. There are 12 additional suspected cases. According to Nicaraguan police statement on April 3rd, officers are going from house to house educating people about precautions and sanitary measures. According to the US Embassy in Nicaragua (April 4th), "The Nicaraguan government has not imposed any restrictions as a result of the worldwide outbreak. Travelers do not need any particular documentation to enter/exit Nicaragua. Airport and immigration officials in Nicaragua have required travelers to report if they have visited any of the countries significantly affected by COVID-19."

"The government of Nicaragua has indicated that it will not quarantine people if they have the virus. But concerns within our community have increased significantly in recent weeks. The government is 'monitoring' the situation but has not imposed any restrictions at the borders or internally. But our local Expat community is actively taking steps to minimize potential transmission of the disease. We live in a gated Expat community near the beach in southern Nicaragua. In the past two days the HOA has ordered the 5 restaurants on site to close their dining areas and serve food for take-out only. The beach bar, a popular local hangout, has been closed. Effective tomorrow, tourists and visitors will not be able to enter the property. Workers and suppliers will still be able to enter the property," reported an expat living in Tola, Nicaragua on March 19th.

Detailed information about COVID-19 is limited on the various Nicaraguan government websites. To stay up to date on the situation, these sources may be the best options: US Embassy in Nicaragua's COVID-19 Information Page, El 19 and possibly the Ministry of Health (note: this page was down when we checked numerous times - hopefully, it will go live again). There is also a helpful list of government offices at the bottom this US Embassy page.

Belize

In Belize, borders began to close on March 15th. The first case of COVID-19 was reported in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye on March 25th. Like many other countries around the world, a state of emergency went into effect on April 2nd which established a curfew and allowed for very restricted movement between 5 am and 8 pm (to purchase essential goods, seek medical care or if you are an essential worker). On April 3rd, following the confirmation of a fourth case of COVID-19 in Belize, the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow announced the closure of borders to nationals.

"[The government of Belize is] doing a good job of information and preparing for the financial aid which will be required. Our EOC (Emergency Office Center) manned by all the health and department heads and great volunteers are working around the clock to minimize the spread - a truly combined effort. Ambergris Caye is taking it seriously. We wish the rest of the world blessings in their dealings with the tough fallout that is surely following," wrote a British expat living in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize on March 25th.

To stay up to date on the situation in Belize, follow the Government of Belize Press Office which is an extremely informative resource and The US Embassy's Facebook page.

Ecuador

According to the US Embassy, "Ecuador has confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in all 24 provinces. The Government of Ecuador has restricted movement throughout the country with very limited exceptions and imposed a nationwide curfew. Effective on Wednesday, March 25, curfew hours are to 2 p.m. to 5 a.m." On Friday, April 3rd the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center's Map showed that there were 3,368 cases in Ecuador. Expats have mentioned that the situation is dire in some parts of the country, Guayas province in particular. The Ministry of Health posted a map of cases by province.

"I am feeling fine thank you, and trying to keep a routine studying my Spanish, growing new seedlings in the yard for some vegetables. I am questioning friends in different parts of the world. This response is from Cuenca: Hospitals are fine, testing is available through a few different sources, There are new cases in Cuenca and surrounding areas. Many people have been arrested for breaking curfews. I don't think there are shortages in Cuenca in Supermarkets yet. Ecuador has locally grown produce. I see cows in rural areas, and some have hogs. There may be some shortages in other areas since ordering goods from outside Ecuador because of risk of infection. As far as general mood in this area, one ex-pat friend in Cuenca wrote that elderly Ecuadorian people have knocked on her door asking for food. It brought tears to her eyes and she says she is not usually emotional. She found some food in her cupboard for them, and tomorrow she is going to dig deeper and have more food ready in giveaway bags. She thinks there will be more people in need here," wrote an American expat living in Cuenca, Ecuador on March 22nd.

To stay up to date on the situation in Ecuador, follow US Embassy's COVID-19 information page and the Ministry of Health's Twitter Feed.

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Colombia

As of April 3rd, 1,161 cases and 19 deaths have been reported in Colombia. The US Embassy in Colombia wrote, "Colombia is experiencing widespread ongoing transmission of COVID-19. As of March 23, the President of Colombia grounded international flights for a period of 30 days. The Government of Colombia also declared a national quarantine to last until April 13 that requires everyone to shelter-in-place."

"Excellent government management so disease seems to be becoming under control. However, it is because of strict compliance to gov't directives and the people know how to work together quite well. Very strick policing on being outside, helicopters (Black Hawks), police cars with loud speakers on the spot. Big fines repeat offenses lead to jail and/or deportation. They are not joking around here. So far everything is OK for me. Over 70 years old are quarantined until about May 30. Helper for over 70 years old can work for the person. Everyone can go for groceries, banking, emergencies - one person at a time per household. Early shopping, i.e. 7:00 am, for seniors is good. Take out from restaurants available. Taxis are running. Markets are open and well stocked considering the circumstances. Masks, alcohol, hand sanitizer hard to find, toilet paper now available in markets. Persons in market are limited so sometimes one has to wait in line to get in; they sanitize your hands with spray when you enter, handle of cart if you ask. Beginning April 1, depending upon the last number of your cedula (residency card, local id card) a person can shop two days per week for groceries, banking. There are more details, this is it basically... I see no difficulty with this, in fact, it really is a way to help suppliers and groceries to manage providing food to over four million people who live here. People starting up ways to provide food for unemployed, donate, they deliver to needy areas. Gov't is providing some food assistance to needy families/children in school," wrote an American expat living in Medellin, Colombia on April 1st.

Another expat in Medellin wrote, "Colombia is being very pro-active and providing the public with up to date information. We are very impressed how they are responding," wrote an American expat living in Medellin, Colombia.

To stay up to date on the situation in Colombia, follow Colombia's Ministry of Health facebook page and the US Embassy's COVID-19 Information Page.

Panama

With 1,673 cases reported as of April 3rd, the US Embassy reports that, "Panama enacted nationwide movement restrictions, also referred to as quarantine, effective March 25, 2020. Decree 504 established that people who break health regulations and quarantines could be fined between $50,000 to $100,000. The movement restrictions include windows of time for people to grocery shop, get medicines, and take care of other essential activities based on gender and the last digit of their national ID cards for Panamanians and passports or diplomatic ID for foreign nationals. U.S. Citizens in Panama should carry their passports at all times and only move for grocery-meds shopping." All non-essential businesses, schools and universities are closed in Panama. Alcohol sales have been banned temporarily, but expats report this rule is not being enforced in all areas. The specifics of the movement restrictions are outlined on the US Embassy's COVID-19 Information Page.

"Panama is being very proactive and keeping everyone informed about what is going on and what to do if you suspect that you have the virus," wrote an American expat living in Boquete, Panama on March 18th.

To stay up to date on the situation in Panama, follow the US Embassy's COVID-19 Information Page.

Costa Rica

With 416 cases in Costa Rica as of April 3rd, Costa Rica has been taking drastic measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. An announcement on March 23rd initially announced that foreigners who are residents of Costa Rica will automatically lose their residency status if they leave Costa Rica and will be unable to re-enter the country under the restrictions. This news obviously stirred a lot of anger and fear among expat community in Costa Rica. The statement from the Costa Rican government was either revised or clarified in early April to say, "If foreigners who are resident in Costa Rica leave Costa Rica, they will automatically lose their status as legal residents and thus will be unable to re-enter under the current restrictions, but they will not have to begin the residency process again. Currently, and continuing until April 12, only Costa Rican citizens, residents, those whose residency is in process, minor children of Costa Rican citizens, and foreign diplomats will be able to enter Costa Rica. This restriction applies to land, sea, and air arrivals. Air crews will not be subject to this restriction."

Additionally, the US Embassy wrote, "Beginning March 24, Costa Rica will have a countrywide vehicle restriction between 10 pm and 5 am, with only emergency vehicles, press, and other exceptions allowed on the streets. Fines of 22,000 will be imposed on those violating this order." Further restrictions were announced for the period from April 3rd through 13th by the Ministry of Health. A thread on our Costa Rica forum outlines the new restrictions in detail. To summaries, from Friday, April 3rd through Tuesday, April 7th, driving is restricted and you are assigned a specific day on which you may drive based upon the last number of your license plate. From April 8th through April 13th, movement by vehicle is restricted completely (except by authorized vehicles).

One expat reported that, "The fine for driving during restricted times has just risen from c22,000 to c107,000! Be careful." An expat responded to the new restrictions saying, "Oh, ouch. That should be a good enough deterrent. I kind of wish these kind of penalties were being imposed in the US. Cities are doing things like removing the nets from basket ball courts and taping off play grounds to keep kids from gathering. Several of those kids partying during Spring break have now found to have tested positive for COVID-19."

To stay up to date on the situation in Costa Rica, follow the Ministry of Health and the US Embassy in San Jose

Uruguay

As of April 2nd, there have been 369 cases of COVID-19 resulting in 4 deaths in Uruguay. According to the US Embassy, "Uruguay has closed its borders to Brazil and Argentina, and entry to Uruguay by foreigners is prohibited until April 13. The Ministries of Health and Interior are encouraging the public to self-quarantine. Those age 65 and older must observe mandatory self-quarantine."

One expat in Atlantida wrote on March 29th, "Yesterday we had the first death in the country, just one hour from here. Now the total of officially confirmed sick people is 304, with 8 on Intensive Care. All the borders are officially close, but the border with Brazil is almost impossible to completely seal due to the historical integration between the 2 countries on a few spots. Here in the Atlantida are there are at least 2 confirmed cases, and surprisingly people continue to gather here and there especially in the open markets (ferias) that happen a few days a week. Instead of reseting each food stands far from each other because there is enough space to do so, they continue to gather almost one next to each other. Prices of food are also another issue as they continue to rise."

To stay up to date on the situation in Uruguay, follow the US Embassy's COVID-19 Information page, Uruguay's Ministry of Health and the Twitter Feed for the US Embassy in Montevideo.

Chile

As of April 4th, there were 4,161 cases and 27 deaths reported in Chile. According to the US Embassy, "Chile is under a daily nationwide curfew from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am. The curfew begins at 2:00 pm in Easter Island. To obtain a permit (salvoconducto) to leave your residence during the curfew period, visit the Comsiaria Virtual or the nearest police station. The Chilean government has declared a 90-day state of emergency, which took effect March 19. Travelers should be prepared for further travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice at the local, regional, and national government levels. The Chilean armed forces are present at ports of entry to ensure compliance with these restrictions."

When we asked expats in Chile how the government was handling things, an American expat living in Valdivia, Chile reported on March 20th, "extremely well - especially compared to other countries. They have closed everything and are trying to limit the spread. The police/military presence is more obvious this week - a slight concern in Chile - but people are orderly and following the rules here."

To stay up to date on the situation in Chile, check the Ministry of Health, follow them on Facebook and check the US Embassy's COVID-19 Information Page.

Guatemala

According to the US Embassy, "The Guatemalan government declared a 'state of calamity'on March 5 and then extended the expiration of this declaration to May 5. Declaring a 'state of calamity' allows the Guatemalan government to take exceptional measures to protect its national security (similar to a 'state of emergency' in the United States). Under a state of calamity, the Guatemalan government can authorize specific actions, such as border closures and curfew." Read this detailed report published on April 2nd by the US Embassy. The Guatemalan government is currently barring entry to most non-Guatemalans (with certain specific exceptions for health and security) — by its land, sea, and air borders. The Guatemalan government can adjust its policy on national border closings at any time. We refer you to the Guatemalan Migration Authority for updated information on its national borders. Guatemalan citizens and legal permanent residents will be allowed to enter, however, they must comply with the established health protocol, which includes: interview, clinical evaluation, and if necessary, transfer to a Guatemala Ministry of Health – Ministerio de Salud Pública y Asistencia Social, (MSPAS), health service, for proper isolation and treatment. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center's Map, there are 50 reported cases in Guatemala.

"People are staying home most of the time, streets not crowded. went to the supermercado this morning. Had an attendant at the door making sure people used the hand sanitizer they provided. Can not go in if not using the sanitizer. National Curfew of 8 days from 4 pm to 4 am started 3/22/20. If you're on the street, driving, you are arrested and jailed 15-30 days. To date over 3,000 Guatemalans in jail for the curfew violation. The President of Guatemala is taking this very seriously. One hospital for confirmed cases, (700 beds with ventilators)," reported an expat living in Antigua, Guatemala on March 27th.

To stay up to date on the situation in Guatemala, check the Ministry of Health's website, follow the Ministry of Health on Facebook and check the US Embassy's COVID-19 Information Page.

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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. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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tombseekers
Apr 8, 2020 11:36

I am very happy with the way Colombia has handled this crisis. As of April 8, the cases have risen to 1780 with 50 deaths. But our graph is fairly flat so the rules put into place by the govt are working.

First Published: Apr 02, 2020

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