Karen Attman is an American expat who came to Latin America 22 years ago and never left. Read about her Colombian experience below, or have a look at her blog, Flavors of Bogota, and follow her on Twitter @FlavorsofBogota to keep up with her adventures.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m from Philadelphia, USA.
Q: When did you move to Bogotá?
A: I’ve been living in Latin America since 1996, so I’ve been enjoying expat life for 22 years now!
Q: Did you move to Colombia alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I originally moved to Latin America alone.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to Latin America to do volunteer work, which I still do. I also have a boutique coffee tourism business, where I teach both locals and foreigners about coffee in Colombia.
Living in Bogotá
Q: What do you enjoy most about Bogotá? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Philadelphia?
A: I enjoy expat life because I feel free of barriers I’d have at home. I can be who I want to be, live as simple as I like, work at what I love, and not worry about keeping up with the Jones’.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Cheap peanut butter can be hard to find in Latin America.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Bogotá? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Everything is different, so I basically had to adjust to everything. I’ve had to deal with lack of cleanliness, running water, and electricity, an abundance of bugs, lack of basic food items, and other issues. Also, the mentality of local people can be quite different than what I grew up with, which on a positive note has helped me to see beyond the walls that I set up in my head and make friends with all sorts of people.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Almost everything is cheaper, except clothing and imported products.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Bogotá? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Getting around Bogotá is difficult on public transport, but having your own car is worse! Most large cities in Latin America are quite congested, but if there’s a good metro or bus system it can be better than driving. Bogotá drivers are notoriously reckless and rather aggressive, so I feel more comfortable on public transportation.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Colombia? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: I’ve had better healthcare experiences in Bogotá than back home. When I’ve needed care over several weeks, I’ve even had doctors get teary-eyed on the last appointment! That kind of care I never got in the States.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Bogotá? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: Almost everyone I know here has been robbed. In any country, there are areas we should avoid visiting unless we live there. I personally haven’t been robbed in Bogotá, but I’m careful about what kind of bag I use, how I carry it, and where I go at night.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing? What different options are available for expats?
A: In Bogotá you can find all sorts of housing arrangements, almost all of them cheaper than in the United States.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: There are so many areas to live in Bogotá, it’s hard to narrow it down. I would suggest living as close as you can to work since you’ll spend a lot of time in traffic otherwise.
Meeting people and making friends in Bogotá
Q: How tolerant are Colombians of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: Colombians tend to be open and warm, but there is some racial discrimination in the country.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Since I belong to a local congregation, it’s like having a ready-made family of expats and foreigners to belong to. Also, through my work in coffee tourism I meet many people and never feel lonely.
About working in Bogotá
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: Since I married a Colombian, I haven’t had a problem obtaining visas. I’ve figured out the procedure myself (with some tears and hair pulling, but eventually I got it done).
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Bogotá? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: I would never recommend coming to Latin America to look for a job, since jobs are generally scarce and poorly paid. The best option is to find a job abroad that brings you here. Like many expats, I started my own company in Colombia, which gives me more flexibility in my schedule and better pay – and I’m doing what I love. Here, expats often teach in schools, academies and universities.
Q: How does the work culture differ from the USA? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Colombia?
A: In Bogotá, most businesses expect their employees to work long hours and many days. That’s something to check with a future employer – what the true expectations will be.
~ Interviewed May 2018