I never seriously considered moving out of the USA but now I love Bolivia! (Part 2 of 2)

by Paul Danielson
(Santa Cruz, Bolivia)

Photo ©BoliviaBella.com

Photo ©BoliviaBella.com

For those of you who have lived in Bolivia for at least 6 months, now that you are here, what have you learned about Bolivia that you did not know before?

Many things too numerous to mention here (I could write a book). Unfortunately, the thing(s) that are most recent and largest in my memory are very negative and involve dealings with Aduanas (Customs) and without saying something that would be slanderous or libel, I just have to say that *ahem* there are opportunists and crooks (as well as honest and helpful people) in every country. That said, I have learned that even though the people I know here are content to live the “simple life” day-to-day, and be happy doing so, they still seek a better life. I note this because I am surprised that people in the most difficult positions in life seem to have an attitude of “Well? What else am I gonna do? Other people have it worse” rather than the attitude I am more familiar with in the USA which is “What are you going to do for me?”. Many more things as well... I LOVE it here! 

Is there anything about Bolivia that turned out to be very unexpected to you?

Yes, I was completely surprised by the need to “never trust anyone” fully. I am usually a positive person, but have found (so far) that you can’t take people at their word, but you need to check up on them and your interests constantly. There are many “good” folks here also, but I have been surprised by the need to “trust, but check up on it” that seems prevalent here. That said, I also was surprised by the many “everyday” instances of beauty here. Many parks in the cities, and many unexpected beautiful locations, buildings, and nature that just suddenly pop into view while living here.

What special skills or attitudes do you think a person or family needs in order to ensure their stay in Bolivia is enjoyable/successful?

I think people need to have patience in all things, and be very, very flexible – mentally as well as during daily life. Things tend to change here quickly, which means you have to be of a mindset that allows you to, as an example, start out your day with certain plans in mind, but be able to deal with those plans perhaps changing by midday, and perhaps enduring and adjusting to a complete and total change of plans/accomplishments by day's end *L*. Along the same lines, I think people need to be open-minded and not assume things here are going to work the same as they did “back home”.

Is there any reason you would NOT recommend Bolivia as a place to live, work or retire?

If you are flexible and open-minded in nature, then no. But if you have preconceived ideas about how it should be or will be, then you probably need to stay home and do more homework and perhaps visit more before you make the decision to live, work, or retire here. It’s a whole ‘nother world.

What is the most negative aspect about living in Bolivia in your opinion?

It’s hard to get commitments from workers, businesses, and individuals about things you want or need done for you. Sometimes you just have to view everything with a healthy suspicion with regard to accuracy or truthfulness, and just make sure your rear end is covered should someone fail to stick to agreements made.

What are some of the most positive aspects about living in Bolivia in your opinion?

Life is more “simple” here. Things move at a generally slower pace (as mentioned before, this is a double-edged sword) and people don’t stress too much. People generally are friendly and helpful. Generally, prices for homes, goods and services are low, if you are living on “imported” funds (as opposed to working here for your spending cash).

Have you faced any unexpected difficulties while living here? Were you able to overcome those obstacles? Are they serious enough to cause you to want to leave?

Aduanas. Also the tendency for all things “government” to change with relative frequency and the related tendency for government office workers and officials to apply laws and guidelines as they see fit. It’s very frustrating at times. Yes, we were able to overcome all these instances, but it took time and money to do so, and yes, sometimes the obstacles are serious enough to make us seriously think about leaving. So far, we have always decided to stay, but each time we run into it, it’s another chink in the armor and willingness to stick it out. Time will tell, but so far we are still here.

If your children moved overseas with you, how did you prepare them for the differences in lifestyle or culture shock?

Our kids are from here originally, so this really does not apply to us.

For future potential expatriates who are considering living in Bolivia, what advice would you give them (how to prepare, what to bring or not bring, etc.)

Sell your stuff before you come. Don’t bring a container of belongings unless you are prepared for a long and perhaps pointless (and definitely expensive) process and dealings with Aduanas. Just bring what you need to survive at first, and assume you are like a kid starting over after just graduating from College. Bring lots of money or have access to it in offshore bank accounts. Have a family member available and willing to help you on your home turf (mailings, obtaining documents, etc.)

What are some of the things that were most difficult for you to accept or adjust to in Bolivia?

Minor things like product availability can turn into large annoyances over time... although all can be adapted to, so it can be overcome, but I was surprised by how different the “market” system and product availability here is as contrasted with the USA. As mentioned before, being a generally laid-back and trusting person, it was hard to get used to “trusting everyone with a grain of salt”, or rather, trusting no one. It is also very, very frustrating to deal with government agencies because while there are “guidelines” and laws, the interpretation and application of these rules depend on who you talk to on a given day and whether or not they are in a good mood that day. A lot of my friends (expats) seem to have trouble with the incessant lines for everything here, but I just relax and put one foot in front of the other along with the native Bolivians with me in the same lines.

Prior to moving here, what aspects of living in Bolivia would you have liked to know more about or have more assistance with? Is there anything anyone could have done, or informed you about that would have made your choice to move to Bolivia, the relocation process itself, or your initial adjustment period easier, less stressful, less frightening?

Not really, other than putting their experiences with the process to paper (or the internet “cloud”). I would have liked to know more about the importation of household goods... *L* If I knew then what I know now... I also would have studied more Spanish had I enough time to do so. You can “get by” here with a very limited understanding of the language, but you need to know Spanish well enough to get by without a translator (in my case, this was my wife and kids) in order to take care of “business” matters and government processes here. It’s nice to have someone to talk to, so join a Facebook page like BoliviaBella.com or a Facebook group or two for expats. The group knowledge is irreplaceable.

Hindsight is 20/20. If you could go back in time to the months before you moved to Bolivia, is there were anything you would do differently to prepare for living in Bolivia?

I would have done more homework about the shipping/receiving company(ies) we used to move our household belongings and pets before we contracted with them to do so. We trusted that they would perform as well as moving companies within the USA, and that does not happen. I also would have taken more Spanish classes.

Just for statistical purposes, had you heard of BoliviaBella.com or Expat Services prior to moving to Bolivia? If so, which parts of our website were most helpful to you? What information would you like to see added for future potential expats?

Yes, I had heard of it before I even was thinking about moving to Bolivia. BoliviaBella.com was on my favorites list for products and information about Bolivia LONG before I ever considered a move here. I used it to learn more about the native country of my wife and children primarily, and it just evolved into a more important source of information once we were required to consider a move here. All the forums were (and continue to be) a valuable source of information from the perspective of a large mix of individuals with all possible points of view. I can’t think of anything that could be done differently, it’s a well-managed and well-organized site. Please click here to return to Part 1.

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