Moving to Guatemala
With a topographically diverse and spectacular landscape, rich culture, storied history and warm people, it's no wonder more and more expats are choosing Guatemala. From its tropical jungles and vast plains to soaring mountains and mysterious underground rivers, there is much to explore in Guatemala.
The expat population in Guatemala is relatively small but is growing steadily as it becomes a popular retirement destination for those from North America and parts of Europe. Some travellers settle in Guatemala for a shorter period to work, learn Spanish and use the country as a base from which to explore the Americas. Most expats living in Guatemala settle in the capital, Guatemala City, or Antigua.
The country’s favourable climate serves to draw foreigners looking to settle down in the land of perpetual spring and to enjoy its ceaseless availability of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. For those interested in history and culture, Guatemala has a host of fascinating Mayan archaeological sites, colonial cities and art galleries to visit.
Naturally, new arrivals may face culture shock when relocating to Guatemala – but it's all about perspective. Guatemalans are known for their kindness and generosity, and while the inequality is striking, the people are warm, friendly and welcoming. Learning about the culture and having at least a basic knowledge of Spanish (and the local slang) will make the experience all the more pleasant, and expat children can pick up Spanish at one of several international schools, most of which follow the American and German curricula.
Guatemalans are resilient and hard working, but expats will likely find that lifestyles are simpler here, with little appetite for the long workweeks and rushed deadlines associated with major world cities – though the perks of high salaries and glamorous employment packages may have to be sacrificed as Guatemalans' incomes are much lower.
On the flipside, the gentle cost of living affords many expats mid- to high-range accommodation in complexes with 24-hour security systems. Cities also boast state-of-the-art private healthcare facilities, but the standard of hospitals is varied and rural areas are underfunded.
While Guatemala is still developing in some respects, it's easy to see why its popularity as an expat destination is growing. For those who are flexible and open-minded, Guatemala offers a great lifestyle and an abundance of opportunities.
Population: Around 17.9 million
Capital city: Guatemala City
Neighbouring countries: Bordered by Mexico to the west and north, Belize to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast. Guatemala also has coastal regions to the south and the east.
Geography: Most of Guatemala is mountainous with some patches of desert and several lakes.
Political system: Unitary presidential republic
Major religions: Christianity, principally Roman Catholicism
Main languages: Spanish
Money: The Guatemalan quetzal (GTQ), divided into 100 centavos. ATMs are easy to find in Guatemala, and foreigners can open a bank account without much problem.
Tipping: Guatemalans don't generally tip, but with good service, a tip of 10 percent can be given
Electricity: 120V, 60Hz. Plugs have two or three flat blades (Type A and B)
Internet domain: .gt
International dialling code: +502
Emergency numbers: Police: 120; Ambulance: 122 ; Fire: 123
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road and can easily be rented by international rental agencies. Public transport in Guatemala is limited, but recycled US school buses called chicken buses can be found, as well as private inter-city buses.