-Where were you born?
I was born in British Columbia, Canada.
-In which country and city are you living now?
I am currently living in San Juan del Obispo in Guatemala.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
My partner, Irving, is Guatemalan. We live on the same piece of land (but separate house) as his family and we have two small boys of our own, Dorian and Dante.
-How long have you been living in Guatemala?
I came to Guatemala in 2002 and lived in Antigua for a year, where I met my partner. We later moved to San Juan to be closer to his family and have been here for 4 years now.
-What is your age?
I am 27.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Guatemala?
I actually hadn´t planned on living in Guatemala. My big plan was to travel through Central and South America, with Brazil as my final destination! Then I had intended to look for work on a cruise ship. My life turned out very differently when I stopped to learn Spanish here and met Irving!
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Visas are super simple to get here in Guatemala, but you do have to renew them every 3 months. Once every 6 months, you can do so in the capital, so that means every other renewal date, you have to leave the country.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I had a year´s travel medical insurance from my bank in Canada before I left, but it was too expensive, so I let it lapse once I was here. I´ve been in the public hospital various times, which is free and haven´t had any major difficulties.
-How do you make your living in Guatemala? Do you have any type of income generated?
I am currently earning a living online as a freelance writer and blogger, but I´ve had my share of typical traveler jobs. Just here I´ve worked in several bars as a bartender, taught English, both privately and in schools and worked as a short order cook and a store clerk. It was always very easy to find a job, usually word of mouth was all I used. There were times when someone would say, "Hey, want a job?" I´d say "sure", "Great. Can you start tonight?"
-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I do speak Spanish and I think it is extremely important. By not speaking the language, you really gyp yourself out of a great experience. I know many expats here who never bothered to speak Spanish and they don´t know what they´re missing. I really don´t understand why you wouldn´t learn the language of the country you live in, especially when it is one that is so easy to learn.
For me, living with a Guatemalan man and his family, the local traditions are very important. I don´t think that it´s something most expats would follow unless they have a close connection to a Guatemalan. For example, going to the graveyard every Nov. 1, to fly kites and eat fiambre and talk about family members that have have passed is something that wouldn´t hold much meaning for foreigners. But to my family it´s something that we do every year. My children are growing up, hearing about aunts and great grandparents that passed before they could meet them, and to me that is really important.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss my sisters mostly. I have three sisters, one of whom is turning 15 this year and she was just a little kid when I left Canada. While I don´t have contact with my parents or my baby sister at the moment, I do talk to my other two sisters frequently on Skype and through chat.
I suspect every expat has days when they think that home is so much better than their adopted country. There are days when I´m so frustrated with the Guatemalan way of doing things and wish I were home where I actually know how things work and where I can fix things myself.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
My future right now revolves around my boys who are 20 months and 3 months old. I´m not sure that Guatemala is the best place to raise them and my partner and I have talked extensively about returning to Canada, but that is a really big decision. I would be the main money earner there and the cost of living is pretty high compared to here.
We´ll be homeschooling our children and I would like to travel with them to Europe, Asia, etc. I think it would be a good education and I would like to instill my love of travel in my boys. However, that means I really have to build my blogging and writing businesses!
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We actually own our house. Irving´s father gave us a piece of land to build on. At the moment, we have just two and a half rooms built and share a bathroom with his family, which is a bit of a hike. I´m looking forward to finishing this house!
To rent, a 2-bedroom house in my town runs about $100-200, but Antigua is far pricier since everyone wants to live there. There a two-bedroom house is more like $350-$1,000.
-What is the cost of living in Guatemala?
Well, we live pretty cheaply since we eat market food, don´t have a maid, etc., like many expats do. Comfortable living for my family of four is about $700 a month.
-What do you think about the Guatemalans?
The people in general are friendly toward foreigners, but many of them try to use you. They see anyone with white skin as being very rich and figure you should give them money. Once you get past that, they are a very friendly and interesting people.
Here in San Juan, it took about a year for people to get used to me and start sitting by me on the bus and say good morning to me in the street. I still don´t have many friends who are Guatemalans, but that is more because I don´t get out much with 2 kids!
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Guatemala?
It is a third world country and with that come limitations. There are products that just aren´t available here and some things that we take for granted in a first world country are just hard. For example, internet. It took us 2 years of trying to get internet. I couldn´t get credit because I´m a foreigner and my partner has bad credit. Finally we had to pay for 2 years in advance! It was the only way they would give us internet! That was something that really frustrated me.
However, living here is also great in so many ways. I love that I am now fluent in another language. The fresh fruit is to die for and is dirt cheap, as are vegetables. Plus, there is no way I would be building a house if I still lived in Canada. Earning American dollars and spending them here is the best part of living in Guatemala.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Guatemala?
Be flexible. If you are the type of person who is used to getting something done NOW, get over it. Guatemalans run on Guatemalan time and nothing ever gets done when you want it to. It´s frustrating if you don´t learn to relax and forget about it!
Also, always haggle. No price in the market is fixed and most often, unless you know the vendor, they are doubling the price because of your skin. But if you get them down to a good price a few times, you can keep going back to that person and you´ll be sure to get the best prices.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Guatemala?
Well, obviously I have to recommend my own blog, www.expatmom.info! That´s a site that will be for parents adopting children in Guatemala but will have plenty of information on what it´s like to live here.