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Interview with Wesley – an American expat living in Colombia

Updated 8 Sep 2021

Although Wesley originally moved to Colombia to learn Spanish, he stuck around and now works for a medical tourism company, Apollo Medical Travel, and moves between the US and Colombia each year. He enjoys the low cost of living, friendly locals and relaxed way of life, though, he says, the latter presents its own challenges.

About WesleyWesley Jacobs

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Charlotte, NC, United States

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Cartagena, Colombia

Q: When did you move here?
A: October 2019

Q: Did you move here alone or with family?
A: I moved alone

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I originally moved to study Spanish at the Nueva Lengua Spanish School in Getsemani. 

About living in Cartagena

Q: What do you enjoy most about Cartagena, and Colombia in general? How would you rate the quality of life compared to America?
A: Cartagena is a great city to learn Spanish. It's set up in a way that it's easy to get around the Northern Neighborhoods on foot, and it's an inexpensive place to live. It's great to live on the water, but the famous beaches are mostly a 30-minute to an hour boat ride from the city.

I love Cartagena, and Colombia in general, but the quality of life in the long term is higher back home in the United States.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: There are very talented professionals in Colombia, but the culture around work is much more relaxed. At first this is great because it is a breath of fresh air from American workaholism, but over time it can be grating because things take longer to get done and customer service tends to be poor.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Time is the biggest difference between Colombian and American culture. It was a very big shock at first. In social settings, people tend to show up 30–60 minutes late. You can reduce the shock by accounting for this in your planning.

Q: What's the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Rent, food, medical care and domestic travel are less expensive, but Colombia places a hefty tax on international travel.

Q: How would you rate public transport? What are the different options?
A: Public transport options are alright. The bus system is reliable and convenient. Taxis do not have meters and require constant negotiating, and Uber is not widely available. Your best bet to get around is inDriver.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Cartagena? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Healthcare in Cartagena is very good. I work in medical tourism, helping expats and foreigners get medical care across Latin America. In Cartagena, we have helped people with emergency care, cardiology appointments, ophthalmology, dental care and more.

The best hospital in the city is Nuevo Hospital de Bocagrande. It's my go-to recommendation for English-speaking patients staying in the tourist zone. Medical providers tend to offer good service and are very accommodating.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Colombia?
A: Scams are the most common threat faced by expats and visitors in Colombia. To avoid the most common scams, always ask for the price ahead of time and demand payment on delivery.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the city?
A: Cartagena is home to the very rich and the very poor. El Centro has the most expensive real estate in Colombia, while some people live in tin shacks on the outskirts of the city.

Q: Any areas/suburbs you'd recommend for expats to live in?
A: Most expats cluster around the northern neighbourhoods of Bocagrande, el Centro and Getsemani.

Meeting people and making friends

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: Locals are very friendly and accommodating of foreigners. I haven't heard of much discrimination in the city, religious or otherwise. One thing to be careful of, however, is 'gringo pricing'. Gringo pricing is high prices offered to foreigners, while locals receive much lower rates.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: Yes. Cartagena has a great party and nightlife scene, and people are open to talking, dancing and making new friends.

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?
A: I have a good mix of local and expat friends. I would advise expats to learn Spanish if they do not already speak it and take advantage of exercise classes, language exchanges and trips to make friends.

About working in Cartagena

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit?
A: I spend six months a year in Cartagena on a tourist visa with an extension. Even during the pandemic, I have not had any problems with immigration.

Q: What's the economic climate like in Cartagena? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there?
A: It's best to work remotely for a foreign company or have your own business. You won't maintain a high standard of living with a local job.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: The work culture is more relaxed, which can be a blessing and a curse.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals in Cartagena?
A: LEARN SPANISH! In just a few months, you'll be able to speak enough Spanish to get around. Take the time to learn, and you will have a much more enjoyable experience.

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