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Expat Exchange - 10 Things to Know Before Moving to Guatemala
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Guatemala City, Guatemala


10 Things to Know Before Moving to Guatemala

By Joshua Wood, LPC

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Summary: If you're planning a move to Guatemala, here are 10 things expats living there wish they had known before moving to Guatemala.

Guatemala, the heart of the Mayan world, is a vibrant country rich in culture, history, and natural beauty. It's a place where ancient traditions coexist with modern lifestyles, making it a fascinating destination for expats. However, moving to a new country is a significant decision that requires careful consideration and planning. Here are ten things you should know before packing your bags and heading to Guatemala.

1. Understanding the Guatemalan Culture

Guatemalan culture is a unique blend of indigenous Mayan, Spanish colonial, and modern influences. The country's rich cultural heritage is evident in its colorful textiles, traditional music, and festivals. It's important to respect and appreciate the local customs and traditions. For instance, when visiting a Mayan village, it's considered respectful to ask permission before taking photographs.

2. Learning Spanish is Essential

While English is spoken in tourist areas and among some educated Guatemalans, Spanish is the country's official language. Learning Spanish will not only make your daily life easier but also help you connect with locals and understand the culture better. There are numerous language schools, especially in Antigua, offering intensive Spanish courses.

3. The Cost of Living is Low

One of the main attractions for expats moving to Guatemala is the low cost of living. Housing, food, and services are significantly cheaper compared to North America and Europe. For example, a meal at a local restaurant can cost as little as $3, and a one-bedroom apartment in the city center can be rented for around $300 per month.

4. Safety Concerns in Guatemala

Like many Latin American countries, Guatemala has issues with crime. However, most crimes are opportunistic rather than violent. Expats are advised to take precautions such as avoiding certain areas at night, not displaying wealth, and always being aware of their surroundings. Many expats choose to live in gated communities for added security.

5. The Beauty of Guatemalan Nature

Guatemala is a paradise for nature lovers. From the stunning Lake Atitlan surrounded by volcanoes to the lush rainforests of Peten, the country offers a diverse range of landscapes to explore. Outdoor activities such as hiking, bird watching, and exploring Mayan ruins are popular pastimes.

6. The Guatemalan Cuisine

Guatemalan cuisine is a flavorful mix of Mayan, Spanish, and other international influences. Staples include corn, beans, and chili peppers, with dishes often featuring local fruits and vegetables. Don't miss trying traditional dishes like pepian (a spicy stew) and tamales.

7. The Guatemalan Healthcare System

Guatemala has both public and private healthcare systems. While public healthcare is free, it's often under-resourced. Most expats opt for private healthcare, which offers high-quality services at a fraction of the cost compared to the US. It's advisable to have comprehensive health insurance that covers medical evacuation.

8. The Guatemalan Education System

Guatemala offers a range of education options for expat children, including public schools, private schools, and international schools. While public schools teach in Spanish, most private and international schools offer bilingual education. However, the quality of education varies greatly, so it's important to research thoroughly.

9. The Guatemalan Climate

Guatemala is known as the "Land of Eternal Spring" due to its pleasant climate. The country has a tropical climate, with a wet and dry season. However, temperatures can vary greatly depending on the altitude, with cooler temperatures in the highlands and warmer temperatures in the coastal and northern regions.

10. The Guatemalan People

Guatemalans are known for their warmth and hospitality. They are generally friendly and helpful towards foreigners. Building relationships with locals can greatly enhance your experience in Guatemala. However, keep in mind that Guatemalans value personal space and privacy, so it's important to respect these cultural norms.

Moving to Guatemala can be a rewarding and enriching experience. By understanding the culture, learning the language, and being aware of the practical aspects of living in Guatemala, you can make a smooth transition and enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer.

Expats talk about Moving to Guatemala

"Come visit, first! Then decide. Only you know what you are looking for, check out what is offered here," said one expat living in Esquipulas.

"If you are thinking about living in Antigua remember the prices there are ridiculously expensive in everything. Cuidad Vieja is very close to Antigua (10-15 min.) and everything here is very inexpensive. Example I have big 5 Br. house 3Br. Garage and a killer view of the volcanoes all for $187.00 per month, not even possible in Antigua. Cuidad Vieja is a very quite city and very low crime. A Great Place to retire to," wrote a member in Cuidad Vieja.

"Be prepared to live a different life style. Life is affordable, help is affordable. Slower pace," commented one expat who made the move to Panajachel.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


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Guatemala City, Guatemala

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