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Interview with Gustavo – a Peruvian expat living in Washington, DC

Updated 24 Nov 2023

Gustavo is a mortgage loan officer living in Washington, DC, but he’s worked for many years at the World Bank Group, helping new staff members transition into their new homes. Part of the service he provided was as a financial advisor, educating newcomers on the financial products and opportunities they could take advantage of. He found it extremely fulfilling to form part of the transition and the most important financial decision any person could have: buying a home in the US.

As an expat himself, he understands the difficulties and culture shock of being new to a new life in the USA. He could navigate the different new challenges expat life threw at him, but not without people who already knew the system and were kind enough to explain it.

Today, Gustavo is paying that kindness forward, providing us with his insight and experience both as an expat and a professional helping others to settle into their new homes. Connect with him on LinkedIn to see what he’s working on.

About Gustavo

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Peru

Q: What country and city did you move to?
A: USA – Washington, DC

Q: When did you move?
A: 2006

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: Yes

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/partner or family?
A: Family

Q: Reason for moving?
A: Education goals

Living in Washington, DC

Q: What do you enjoy most about DC and the USA in general?
A: What I enjoy the most about Washington, DC, and the Northern Virginia area is the broad range of cultures and engaging personalities that it offers. DC is a bubble full of fascinating people who find themselves on even ground.

Q: Have you had any low points? What do you miss most about home?
A: Yes, I have. It was hard to change the simplicity of my hometown with the hectic working life in the city. It seems that time goes faster, and one can barely have a chance to grab a coffee without being on the go all the time.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience culture shock at all?
A: Yes, I had to adjust my perception of time; I used to think I would have time for everything. Now, not so much; I find myself having to follow a schedule if I want to succeed at completing my daily tasks. That was also a cultural shock because everyone here is doing the same; so, in order to make it into their schedule, I have to announce it in advance.

Q: What are your favourite things to do on the weekend? Any particular places or experiences you’d recommend to fellow expats?
A: I like going to runs over Rock Creek Park down to Georgetown. Grabbing coffee with friends and brunches on Sundays.

Q: What’s the cost of living in your current country of residence compared to home? Are there specific things that are especially expensive or cheap there?
A: One can expect to pay around USD 1,700/month for a decent place in the city. Things nowadays (2023) are not as cheap as they used to be. A cup of coffee might be around USD 6 on average, and one can expect to pay about USD 20 for a full meal without the drinks and tips (usually 20 percent of the bill).

Q: What’s public transport like in your city and across the country?
A: Public transport can be better, in my opinion. Bus schedules and upkeep of the units are areas of opportunity. I find myself using the taxi apps, scooters or my vehicle to move around the city.

Q: What do you think of the healthcare available in your current country of residence? What should expats expect from local doctors and hospitals?
A: Healthcare is expensive; people will definitely need health insurance if they want to have peace of mind.

Q: What’s the standard of housing like in your city? What different options are available?
A: Apartments, private or shared. An entire house is also available, but you will most likely find it more cost-effective if you share.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Arlington (VA), McLean (VA), Alexandria (VA), Bethesda (MD).

Meeting people and making friends in Washington, DC

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It was easy because everyone is in the same boat, looking for the same. As expats, we want a community with the same mentality and values. Apps like ‘Meetup’ are very popular.

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: Mainly other expats, but locals are also in my group of friends. They love the cultural richness and variety of the city as well.

Working in Washington, DC

Q: How easy or difficult was getting a work permit and/or visa? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I was privileged to move in with a resident’s visa.

Q: What is the economic climate in the city like?
A: Products and services are getting more costly, and I feel companies are having challenging times adjusting salaries to compensate for inflation.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: I find the work culture more respectful here. While there are different personalities and opinions, people respect one another and collaborate more seamlessly.

Final thoughts

Q: Any advice you’d like to offer to new arrivals in your current country of residence?
A: I would advise you to be open-minded and keep in mind that probably 30 percent (this is really high) of the people you see in the city are just like you; they have adopted the city as their new home and are trying to make the most of it. Have fun and make connections; everyone who leaves the city takes a good friend or important professional connection with them. Most of the time, these connections could help them spring up to their next goal in life.

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