Life in Guatemala
Guatemala is usually warm all year long with some rainy seasons in between. It does not have “winter” as one of its seasons, but the climate may drop to 0º Celsius during November till February. Guatemala has three seasons: spring (February till March), summer (April till October) and autumn combined with winter (November till January). Although the country itself might seem warm throughout the year, the climate may vary depending on the altitude and the location of the place within the country. The higher the altitude, the location tends to be colder during the mornings and evenings while the afternoons are hotter; the lower the altitude, the place tends to be chilly during the mornings and evenings while the afternoons are warmer. Do not be fooled with Guatemala’s location on Earth because during rainy seasons, it tends to either get chilly or very cold. Rain can last a day or for many days consecutively depending on the month.
Dressing for School
For school, the best thing to do is layer because the temperature at school differs, depending on your classroom! Early elementary is chillier than the admin building, for example, and buildings with a southern exposure are much warmer during the day. There is a dress code for teachers at Colegio Maya: No jeans except on those Fridays when parent meetings are not scheduled.
What to Bring, What to Leave
Suggestions from teachers of what to bring include:
Clothes are very expensive to buy here, if you’re wanting brand names - so stock up. If you use large sizes, this is especially important.
Sweaters, boots (fall, not snowy wintery ones), winter coats, hats and mittens (it gets cold up the hill)!
Raincoat and umbrella
Hiking boots (if you have any interest in hiking a volcano)
100% Cotton sheets (if you want them, they can be found but they’re expensive)
Any small electronics that you use (iPod, tablet, travel speaker, etc.)
English books and music (Kindle)
Important books from your professional library
Suggestions from teachers of what NOT to bring:
Although many of us have iPhones, laptops, and iPads; BIG stuff like stereos and TVs, should be left back home
Dishes, flatware, etc. (many furnished apartments offer these things)
Furniture (You can buy new “typico” pieces, which are wooden furniture that are made in a local, carved style. Once in a while, there are teachers/families who leave and send out emails to sell their things as well. New furniture can be found for decent prices too.)
Appliances (many furnished apartments offer these things)
Small household items (many furnished apartments offer these things, but they can be expensive to buy)
Shipping Personal Effects to Guatemala:
You should try to ship as little as possible. Customs charges are exorbitant and are based on the declared value of the merchandise you ship. Customs charges are also very unpredictable and highly variable. Most household and personal items are readily available in Guatemala and the price of buying them new is less that the customs taxes you will pay for bringing your used items.
If you do decide to ship your personal belongings to Guatemala:
Use a reputable shipping company
Check with airlines about limitations on the number of bags /weight and their charges for extra or overweight bags
Make sure you label your shipment as “menaje de casa” and clearly state your items are used and have no commercial value
You will need to provide an itemized list to your shipper by box. Be sure to keep a copy of your packing list for yourself.
Verify the type of service you are paying for: door to door, door to port, etc. It is usually better to pay for door to door so you do not have to do the customs paperwork yourself.
Make sure you list yourself, not the school, as the recipient.
Time your shipment. It will need to arrive after you do so you don’t incur warehouse or storage fees.
Arrival in Guatemala
Initial Airport Pick-Up
The school will arrange for a school representative to pick you up and take you to your hotel. When you arrive you will go through immigration and your passport will be stamped with a 90 day visa. Then proceed through customs and exit the airport. Look for a sign that says Colegio Maya (not your name).
The school will obtain a hotel room for you. The Foundation will pay for you and your dependents for a maximum of 15 days after your arrival in Guatemala, giving you time to find a house or apartment of your choice. This includes breakfast, room and local phone calls. You will be responsible for all extra expenses incurred. It is recommended, so as not to prolong your hotel stay, that you start your apartment search before moving to Guatemala.
The school will arrange for someone to take you shopping for household items, furniture, cell phones during the period you are in Guatemala before the beginning of school.
Real Estate Search
Upon settling in your hotel, appointments will be scheduled for you with several real estate agents who speak English. They will take you to see apartments and houses.
Most teachers at Colegio Maya choose to live in zones 10, 13, 14, 15, 16 or on the road up to school. Teachers may also live in Antigua, although transportation and commuting time are major factors to be considered. Both houses and apartments are available.
Zones 10 and 14 are “down the hill” in the city. They are convenient to nightlife and entertainment. The temperature in these zones also is warmer, sometimes up to 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) than the temperature “up the hill” along the Carretera. This is something to take into consideration. If you are someone who gets cold easily or who is prone to respiratory problems, you might want to live down the hill. Up the hill can be cold and damp for periods.
Another issue to consider is transportation. The teacher bus is only available to people who live in specific areas, usually Zones 10, 14, and 15. If you choose to live along the Carretera, especially if you live beyond kilometer 12.5, you will need a car from day one.
Shopping in Guatemala can be an adventure at local food markets and street markets or just like home in upscale malls and department stores. Prices in stores are usually firm, though discounts for cash (efectivo) can sometimes be arranged. Prices in mercados, especially artesanía markets (handicrafts markets) are flexible. Be sure to bargain; it’s expected and it’s half the fun!
There is one difference, however, that you will notice immediately. Whether you are shopping for groceries or electronics, when you are at the cashier, you will be asked “¿Cúal es su NIT?” The correct answer is “CF,” (Say-effe). Guatemalan citizens have a tax identification number which is called a NIT. You do not have one and don’t need to be concerned about this. Sometimes you also will be asked your name. If you say you don’t have a NIT, you usually won’t have to give your name.
Buying a Car
Guatemala is not a walking city, and therefore, we highly recommend you buy a car when you get here. To buy a car, you will have to get a NIT, a Guatemalan tax id number. As a foreigner with temporary residence, you will only use the NIT to buy a car and not for anything else. If you decide to purchase a car in Guatemala your best bet is to purchase from departing ex-pats. It is strongly recommended that you get your car inspected by a mechanic before purchasing since in Guatemala all sales are final.
Throughout the capital city, there are yellow, green, and white taxis. Yellow taxis are the only recommended choice for transportation. They are considered the safer option when looking for a taxi because a customer can call the taxi service place and his information and location will be input into the computer. Yellow taxis also have the added security of being monitored by GPS. It is not recommended that you board a white taxi as they are not metered or monitored.
Day to Day Life
Day-to-day life in Guatemala is not as different as in other foreign countries you may have lived or visited. A couple of differences you will notice right away, is that they are very courteous people, and wherever you go: to the cinema, to a restaurant, to a hotel, they will greet strangers with “Buenos dias” (good morning), “Buenas tardes” (good afternoon), or “Buenas Noches” (Good Night). Much like at home, where people wish you “Bon Appetit” before you eat, in Guatemala, “Buen provecho” is used very frequently while you are eating and after you’ve finished, to wish you good digestion (essentially).
Throughout the day, whether on your drive to and from school or from your apartment/house window, you will have a wonderfully scenic view of the volcanoes: “Volcan de Fuego, Volcan de Agua, and Volcan Pacaya”. They are beautiful! The skies during the dry season are typically very clear and pretty as well.
Traffic can be horrendous at times, during rush hour because of business commuters and school transportation. Lunch time traffic come and go during the afternoon because many people who work prefer to go out for lunch instead of bringing a lunch box. There is also slight afternoon traffic because some Guatemalan schools finish early, around one o’clock.
Do not underestimate the nocturnal life of Guatemala. There are many restaurants such as steak houses, Asian restaurants, and clubs open at night. Zone 10, also known as Zona Viva, is filled with nightclubs, restaurants, and casinos (mainly in hotels). However, walking alone on the streets during the night can be dangerous.
You might want to consider looking at Guatemala’s English-language magazine, “Revue”, at www.revuemag.com. It comes out every month, and includes sections such as: Guatemala Insight, Great Destinations, Restaurants, and Concerts. It provides some good insight into Guatemala and its regions.
Domestic help is easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Some teachers hire domestic help part time, while others hire them per week. You can task them with chores such as laundry, groceries, cleaning, making meals, and child care; and they may live with you, or they can come and work for 8 hours (or less) per day. An average salary would be $ ….dollars per day, or $ ….dollars per month. By Guatemalan law, there is also an additional (13 month) bonus at the end of each year.