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Courtenay: Barranquilla or Bust

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Colombia makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Colombia, etc.

I’m a writer and independent consultant to nonprofits. After living in different US cities, I put down roots in Miami. As a Latin American Studies major and avid salsa dancer, Miami’s culture appealed to me, but it couldn’t satisfy my urge to live abroad. When my husband, whose family is from Barranquilla, suggested that we move to Colombia, I embraced the idea. We were both working from home then (still are!) and our son was not yet in school, so we could live anywhere. By moving to Colombia, I fulfilled a lifelong dream, my husband connected with family he had never met, and our son now has strong ties to his Colombian heritage.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I began blogging about our move while the three of us were still in a Barranquilla hotel room, trying to get an apartment. Blogging helped me find humor in the difficult moments; it was also a way to connect with others who had “been there”. As time went on, the blog became a way for me to pay forward all the help we received from many people during our transition.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

The Divided Life of the Modern-Day Expat” describes how my family and I live in two different cultures simultaneously and engage in a kind of culture-hacking that is more and more common today.

Regarding homesickness, this piece captures my experience of it pretty well.

People also like “10 Ways Going to the Doctor in Colombia is Different than in the US”.

Since living in Colombia makes it easier to travel in-country and throughout South America, there are plenty of posts on travel to specific destinations. Oh, and there are funny pieces about running road races (and running in general) in another country!

Tell us about the ways your new life in Colombia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

Our transition was a little rocky: we shipped a lot of our personal belongings, but the shipment was left outside in the rain for two weeks at the port, and so we lost about a third of it. I had to learn how to “let go” really fast! I also struggled with some basics like how to pay bills. But our family in Colombia, plus the very supportive expats I found in Barranquilla, made all the difference. The culture in general is very welcoming. I moved to Barranquilla sight-unseen and have no regrets.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Colombia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

We were fairly well prepared except for not understanding the requirements for signing a long-term apartment lease. You have to have co-signers that meet certain income or property requirements, or you need to be able to put down a chunk of money. We ended up having to use all our cash to get into an apartment, which didn’t leave much for furniture and such! We might have prepared differently if we had understood the rental requirements, but on the other hand, sometimes leaps of faith don’t happen if you know too much in advance. In a way, not knowing made the leap easier.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

For my son to get his Colombian citizenship, we had to first get him entered in the Colombian birth registry. Getting him into the registry depended on my husband having his cédula (the national ID card), which was still in process in Bogotá. The Registraduría in Barranquilla told us that they needed to hear from Bogotá before they could move forward with our son. Unfortunately, time was of the essence because my own visa depended on our son getting his. After observing the crazy lines at the Registraduría office, I realized that no one was going to prioritize getting what was needed from Bogotá unless we stayed on top of it. So I downloaded a book onto my phone and went to the office one morning. I stood at the customer service counter and, while reading my book, inquired politely every half hour as to whether they had heard from Bogotá. We had my son’s Colombian birth certificate within two hours, when we had been told it would take weeks! Sometimes a little creativity is required when jumping through the paperwork hoops. :)

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Colombia?

  • Moving to a new country is a leap of faith. If you understand in advance that you can’t know all the variables, you’ll be ahead of the game.
  • Before I left, a Colombian friend in Miami shared this advice: even if you are aiming to have the most authentic experience possible, don’t be afraid to hang with some expats — the ones that have been there awhile are in the best position to know what you don’t know but need to know.
  • Be open to becoming friends with different types of people — both people from your new country and other foreigners. Being an expat gives you common ground with other transplants who you might not have taken the time to get to know otherwise. The diverse friendships that result can be mind-opening!

How is the expat community in Colombia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Barranquilla’s expat community is small but easy to find. I was able to make a few close friends quickly; I miss them now that I’ve moved to Medellín! Medellín’s expat community is large and growing, and easily accessed thanks to groups like InterNations, Medellin Living, Couchsurfing, and others. If you work from home like me, you have to make a bigger effort to meet people. But if you invest a bit of time, you’ll find that the community wholeheartedly embraces you.

How would you summarize your expat life in Colombia in a single, catchy sentence?

Life in Colombia is often not what I expected, but almost always more rewarding than I had hoped.

Pablo Garcia Ramirez

"I was so lucky that a friend told me about InterNations before I came to Bogota. I had the chance to contact many expats there from home."

Michelle Guillemont

"I was a little bit afraid before moving to Colombia - a new language, security issues, no friends. InterNations helped me settle in, though. "

Global Expat Guide