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Living in Lima
A comprehensive guide about living well in Lima
Living in Lima will give you a taste of life in South America. While you are experiencing life in this bustling city, you might need some guidance. Read on in this InterNations GO! guide for information on what living in Lima is all about, including safety, currency, transportation, education, and housing.
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Life in Lima
Lima is both the capital and the largest city of Peru. As such, it has a history of attracting plenty of expats. However, this does not change the fact that the city takes some getting used to, and you may have to deal with some significant culture shock before you can acclimatize to your new life. The information below should assist you in doing just that.
No Seasons: Pleasant Temperatures at All Times
One of the first things you will notice about living in Lima is the thick blanket of fog covering the city for the vast majority of the year. This is because of Lima’s location near the coast of the Pacific Ocean, in a valley created by three different rivers. Don’t let the fog put you off: accept it as part of your Peruvian experience, and something that makes Lima quite unique!
In terms of temperature, life in Lima is quite pleasant. You will rarely experience anything below 12°C, or above 29°C. At least choosing the wardrobe to bring with you will therefore be relatively straightforward! Expect the warmest season between December and April, and the coolest from June through October.
While you are living in Lima, you have to use the Peruvian nuevos soles, or sol (PEN). The current exchange rate as of August 2015 is 1 sol = 0.28 EUR. Changing money might be a bit tricky while you are in Lima. It is easiest to exchange euros and US dollars — other currencies might pose a problem.
The airport offers terrible exchange rates and is best avoided. Instead, look for a cambista (a money changer), wearing the vest uniform to indicate that they are licensed. You can usually trust those on the streets of the wealthy district of Miraflores.
Follow a few simple tips to successfully exchange money while you are living in Lima. Compare various exchange rates (tipo de cambio) before you settle. Most importantly, always ensure that the cambista stamps their seal (sello) on the bills. This allows you to complain if one of them is counterfeit.
Violent crime is not common in the city. The greatest threat you are likely to experience while living in Lima is petty theft. Beware of pickpockets at all times, especially in crowded places like buses and bars. Pickpockets are often well dressed, and many of them attempt to make friends with unsuspecting foreigners before robbing them.
So, it is advisable that you do not wear expensive accessories such as designer watches, and that you carry bags on your front. While tourists will be the most obvious target, as an expat you may not look or sound Peruvian, and could also stand out.
The other main threat is found in night clubs and bars, and comes from the Peruvian pepera. A pepera is usually a young female Peruvian who will ingratiate herself with male foreign tourists, before spiking their drinks with sleeping pills, and then robbing them. Although female peperas are most common, there are also males, especially in the dense tourist areas of Plaza de Armas (city center) and Park Kennedy (Miraflores). Life in Lima, for the most part, is safe, but it is important to always be cautious.
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Public Transport in Lima
Negotiating public transportation in Lima is certainly a tricky feat. In fact, don’t be too dismayed if it takes you a few months to get the hang of it. The disorganization often means that your means of transportation doesn’t arrive, or simply is not where it should be. As with anything, though, it is only a matter of time until you travel the city like a true Peruvian.
Public transportation is much in demand in Lima as 80% of residents use it as a means of getting around. However, just because it is popular doesn’t mean that it is fast. It is estimated that most limeños spend two to three hours a day in transit! You better bring a book along.
The Unusual Way of Getting Around: Micros
Micros are small, privately-owned vehicles that travel haphazardly across the city. The smallest are known as combis. Both types are usually made of recycled parts, or are old vehicles such as retired American school buses. There are around 60,000 micros operating in the city.
Micros are extremely inexpensive, and very convenient for making necessary trips from one part of Lima to another. However, they are also quite risky, accounting for an astounding 45% of all of Lima’s road accidents. If you are brave enough to ride one, look for a sticker on the windshield announcing the destination.
More Traditional: Bussing
The more traditional buses arrive and depart from Lima’s main bus terminal, located near the shopping center in Plaza Norte. These buses serve both national and international destinations, and follow routes which are far more regulated than those of their micro-counterparts.
Lima has also recently implemented El Metropolitano, a Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT) system. This route links the key locations throughout the Lima Metropolitan Area. Buses running on it can be determined by the Spanish initials COSAC 1, standing for the Independent Corridor of Mass Transit Buses.
Modern: Using the Metro
The Metro Lima was first planned in 1980. However, it has only been fully functional since 2011. A main line runs along 22 kilometers and stops at 16 stations, joining the southern part of Lima with the main city center. However, work is currently under way to build several more lines, including one that will connect the city to the airport. At the moment though, the metro will only be useful to you if you live within its very limited range.
Stay Classy — Call a Taxi
As an expat, getting a taxi is probably the easiest means of traveling around Lima if you do not have your own vehicle. Taxis are cheap, but fares should always be agreed upon in advance as there is no meter. Regular taxis are usually painted yellow, but all have a taxi sticker — with the word Setame, standing for Servicio de Taxi Metroplitano — on the windshield.
For more secure and professional transportation, call and order a taxi from the Taxi Seguro companies in the city. For more information and the phone numbers of taxis in the region, check the Info Taxi website.
Going by Plane
Lima is located near the Jorge Chavez International Airport, in Callao. This airport — the largest in Peru — operates plenty of domestic and international flights. It is a main transportation hub for Latin America, and is easy to navigate. Reaching the airport from the center of Lima is best done by taxi.
Education and Housing in Lima
With its extensive population, Lima is well equipped to serve expats in terms of education and housing. The city has just over 30 universities, both public and private. It also has various districts in which expats will feel at home and safe.
Education — How It Works
Children must attend primary school between the ages of six and eleven, and secondary school between the ages of twelve and fourteen. After having completed secondary school, they can then choose between an academic and a technical route. The first will result in certification that is the equivalent to the British A-Levels or the American high school diploma. The second will provide them with a certificate facilitating work in a technical field.
Lima has excellent international schools. There are several schools that follow the standards of English, American, French, and German curricula. The most popular ones are the Franklin D. Roosevelt American School and the Colegio Franco Peruano. The former teaches in English and the latter in French. Both are frequented by expat families and are known to yield high educational results.
Lima is home to the oldest educational institution in the Americas: the National University of San Marcos, founded in 1551. There is a real variety of other higher education options, including the engineering school Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería, as well as the Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal (the second largest university in the country) and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (the oldest private Peruvian university).
Finding the Ideal Living Area
As an expat, it is most likely that you find a suitable home in the city’s wealthier districts. Like in all cities this size, there is a great divide amongst the residents of Lima when it comes to wealth. In certain areas the rich and poor live side by side, but in the districts of Miraflores, San Isidro, La Molino, San Borja, and Santiago de Surco, you only find wealthier residences.
The city center — known as “El Centro”, and “Cercado de Lima” — offers cheap accommodation and dozens of hotels. Try to avoid this area and stay in areas which are slightly further out. The neighborhoods with parks and businesses feel safer than the densely developed city center.
Rising Prices for Living Spaces
Apartments or houses that you find for rent will generally be unfurnished, and the price might not include hot water, electricity, or internet. Prices for housing in the nicest districts in Lima can also be sky high.
But don’t give up. It is always possible to find a bargain in Lima. Try the real estate section of the Living in Peru site for options. Other sites (in Spanish) to check include Peru Inmobiliaria, and Craigslist. Otherwise, your best chances will come from reading the real estate listings in the local papers — though of course you will need to know some Spanish for this as well.
If you aren’t interested in renting, another option is to buy property. With the exception of buying property within 50 kilometers of the border, there are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Peru. The price of a home in the Lima Metropolitan Area will obviously depend on which areas you are courting and how close you want to be to the beach. The prices have been rising in recent years, a sign of the high demand for property in Lima’s capital and a strong housing market.
Before you are allowed to make a purchase, you first have to apply for a real estate transaction permit. The Department of Immigration issues these permits and they cost between 200 USD and 300 USD. In addition to the cost of the property, you have to pay deed registrations and notary fees (roughly 1500 USD) and include a title check.
Cities often reach a limit in terms of how much available land there is to develop and Lima is no exception. Therefore, in recent years property developers have begun to convert older houses and offices into apartments.
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