British Expat Living in Colombia - Interview with Marie

Published: 26 Jan at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Colombia
Marie is a twenty-something environmental and political scientist who is working in Colombia on food security and climate change. She enjoys travelling, exploring different cuisines and learning languages along the way. Having already lived in Colombia and Spain before, this is the first time she is taking a more long-term approach to being an expat. Marie's expat blog is called Honestly Cali (see listing here)

View of las tres cruces hill from San Antonio
View of las tres cruces hill from San Antonio

Here's the interview with Marie...

Where are you originally from?
I am half French, half British and grew up in England.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am living in Cali, Colombia.

How long have you lived in Colombia and how long are you planning to stay?
I have been here for four months and I am planning on staying 1-3 years, job permitting.

Why did you move to Colombia and what do you do?
I moved here primarily for professional reasons, as my field requires experience in the South, but it helps that my partner is from Cali! I am currently a Visiting Researcher at CIAT, a research centre for climate change and food security in tropical regions.

Street in San Antonio
Street in San Antonio
Did you bring family with you?
No, I came alone.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
This being my third time in Cali, I found the transition pretty easy. Of course, you have to get used the chaotic city life, the Colombian time keeping and the safety issues, but you soon get the hang of it.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It was relatively easy to make friends here, once you meet one expat, you get introduced to hoards of them! I am also friends with Colombians too, though mostly through my partner. Most expats here tend to live in the San Antonio area, where I lived three years ago, so have no problem settling in.

Christmas in Cali
Christmas in Cali
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The best things to do in Cali are to go to these bar/clubs where you can salsa dance all night long and often spill out onto the street, such as la Topa Tolondra or Don Hebert, both in the North near Quinta. Also taking walks near the river on the new Boulevard is nice and more peaceful than the rest of the city. I also really like the lake in Cuidad Jardín where you can sit and feed ducks and geese and eat an icecream.

What do you enjoy most about living in Colombia?
The climate is very consistently warm and, although it does get too hot sometimes, it is a lot more pleasant to wake up at 5am in 18 degree heat, rather than the minus temperatures I normally get at home! I am lucky that I have a pool where I live so I definitely make the most of the weather. I also love that no matter where you are in the city, you can see the beautiful mountains that surround it. It makes the city less suffocating.

How does the cost of living in Colombia compare to home?
The cost of living is cheaper than back home, especially compared to when I was living in London for my masters. I am not someone who buys lots of clothes or cares about which mode of transport I use or restaurant I eat in, so you can definitely live cheaply as an expat. But, then again, I think it can be quite expensive relative to wages, compared to the UK. I am fortunate to be earning a decent salary, but I am aware than this is not the case for most Colombians who struggle to buy things like vehicles, electronics, toiletries, health insurance etc.

View from the top of Unicentro shopping centre
View from the top of Unicentro shopping centre
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Colombia?
There is a lot of pollution here, in all senses (noise, light, fumes), so it can get quite suffocating. Also the safety issues here are very real and you have to be careful all the time. You stick out like a sore thumb here if you are an expat, especially if you are tall and have light brown/blonde hair and this makes you more of a target. The poverty is also quite hard to deal with and you are reminded of it every day which can be upsetting.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Colombia, what would it be?
Be realistic about your expectations, moving to Colombia is not all salsa, aguardiente and beautiful women. You will have to go through difficulties due to bureaucracy, language barriers if you do not speak Spanish, commuting time, safety etc. However, if you are determined and clever about it, you will soon find your feet.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The sociopolitical situation that exacerbates inequality and poverty. I find the whole strata-system - cities here are divided up by socioeconomic class and everyone knows their number - a reality that is very hard to swallow and the upper classes live in bullet-proof bubbles, largely ignorant of these issues.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I think it will be strange as I will be away for longer than I have been before. The first time I went back after living here, I remember being overwhelmed by how safe and clean it was in England.

Beautiful big tree at Parque del Perro
Beautiful big tree at Parque del Perro
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Live in San Antonio when you first arrive, if only for a couple of months to get to know expats.
  2. Move to closer to your work once you have found your feet a bit to avoid very long commute times on the Mio buses.
  3. Be clever about safety. Do not walk the streets at night alone. Taxis are cheap so never take the risk. Get cash out in shopping centres as these are generally very safe. Don't have your smart phone out in public, many expats have 2 phones for this reason.
  4. To get out of Cali for a bit, go to the kilometro 18 up in the moutains.
  5. You can get private health insurance here so no need for expensive travel insurance bought from your home country. You can contact me for help with this if you want.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is a mixture of sociopolitical commentary about Cali and Colombia, what I do at work, and the usual helpful guide about the city such as food, where to go out, how much things cost and how to get settled in. It is one of very few blogs about this city so I hope to give someone the help that I never got when I first got here.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Please feel free to contact me by commenting on my blog posts or by filling out the Contact form, which will be private.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMarie is a British expat living in Colombia. Blog description: I am a twenty-something expat living in Cali for the second time starting a career in the environmental sector. I started this blog in order to help others with similar intentions as there is a distinct lack of blogs about Cali.
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