Top Expat Hacks to Survive Colombia

I’m gonna try to keep these Expat Hacks short and sweet. You might be an expat, perhaps even a wannabe expat, I don’t know. What I am gonna tell ya here is that there’s an easy way to get by in this new land with different people, and a hard way.

I could blow smoke up your arse and explain about the ‘5 best ways to eat avocado in Colombia’. Or ‘how to dance Salsa like a Caleño in 5 days’. ‘How not to be a gringo in 5 steps’, or any of the many ‘5 different ways to do 5 hundred different things’. But let’s keep these Expat Hacks here short and sweet.

These are my top Expat Hacks on surviving Colombia with your wellbeing and peace of mind fully intact. Don’t scoff at them. If you’re full of yourself and think you know better, let me know in the comments section and I might just include them in the list here too.

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Home from home

Click to see there price plans. ibDNS is the service you need for UK TV.

ibVPN is my recommended service to access everything just like back in the UK.

Let’s be honest. Colombian TV is rubbish and you know it. Almost anything is better. So I know you want to get some of that BBC or Channel 4 goodness in the way of those Documentaries, Sport, Dramas and whatnot. This even goes for my fellow Anglos from Germany to France to the USA to pretty much any country around the world.

Do yourself a favour and just get a VPN service. It’s unrestricted, cheap, reliable. Using it will warp you right back to what you know and love. What’s even better is that I am recommending a provider right here. There’s even an easy as pie free trial. Trust me I’ve tried loads. Wrote a more in-depth post here.

Otherwise, have a bit of home from home below, with Sky New’s UK stream.

Keep in touch

Send a free can to your mum with this code ''.

Send a free card to your mum with this code ‘WKYMMP’.

Don’t be one of those cold people that just post a photo on facebook now and then with a pretentious comment expecting everyone to be waiting hand and foot on your timeline updates. Be caring and send your folks a card. It’s easy and you can design the card yourself. Yes, I know the postal service here in Colombia and much of Latin America is piss-poor but here is a way that easily bypassed post in Colombia.

Again, I’m here and doing it, so can recommend one service for you to at least try. Here it is and be sure to use this code ‘WKYMMP‘ to get yourself a free card to send anywhere in the world. No excuses, head on over here now and send your mum that card, right now.

Bring home to you

The humble British corner shop. The source of so much happiness and convenience.

The humble British corner shop. The source of so much happiness and convenience.

This can for some be the hardest part of survival here in Colombia. Tastes are different here and the staple food here can grate on your taste buds soon enough. Not forgetting the acute absence of any decent confectionary or even tea for that matter. Here Carulla sells your Cadbury’s but that’s about it. Electronic consumer goods are a pain to get your hands on too. And when you do find them on Mercado Libre they can cost top dollar.

For snacks, the most obvious solution here is this specialist online store ‘the British Corner Shop‘ catering just for British expats like us. They have a massive selection of items and even stock thousands of Waitrose products too! You’ll find what you want here but their postage can be expensive if you go for heavy stuff like Heinz Beans and that.

Get on the Grabr scene. It’s a site that pairs travellers with buyers in a destination country of travel. You put up a request for an item and a person will buy it and deliver it to you. It’s a great way to get tech and other items from home to you here in Colombia. See this for an example search of items wanted from the United States to Colombia.

My very top recommendation, however, is your standard old eBay, forget Amazon as they’ll do you for duties. You just need to do some work in searching for the goods and whether they ship to Colombia. The trick is to add your address to your account settings then visit any listing’s ‘postage and payment’ tab and select Colombia from the drop down destination window. From then on its a matter of searching for the item with decent postage costs (a lot of sellers miscalculate them). Search via these links to ebay.co.uk and ebay.com. Selecting ‘worldwide’ from the ‘item location’ in the search’s left-hand column helps to narrow sellers. Here’s an example listing.

My super top tip is a little naughty (fraudulent) but is risk-free. Seek out sellers who state that they send via a standard non-tracked delivery service. That way if the item doesn’t arrive eBay will be on your side and will always refund you as long as tracking doesn’t show it’s been delivered. Don’t worry about import tax. Everything I’ve received has made it without even being opened.

Go home for a bit

The very best method to secure the cheapest flights.

Sometimes you just need to go back to where you came from (for a bit at least). Whether it’s for business or pleasure, what you do not want to do is sell the silverware to make the trip. Everyone bangs on about Skyscanner. Now let me tell you, Skyscanner is crap. What you want is reference Google Flights. That’s not to say that you won’t need to do some work, it’s just that Google Flights makes the work easy.

Start a simple search for a destination. Now, for the departure dates go through whole Month’s one at a time (use the graph view if you prefer). Google searches for all options and you will quickly see the best prices. When viewing results keep your eyes peeled for suggestions google makes at the top of the results page. Sometimes making slight tweaks to dates or cities brings the cost down by up to half. The last trick here is to add it to ‘tracked prices’. Make sure the dates, destination and stops are your ideal and add it that search to track (do this for a variety of scenarios). You’ll get regular emails with price alerts.

Be sure that when you see a price you like you should book ASAP. Otherwise, I find the optimum time to buy is 6 month before you’d like to travel. But google flights gives you the info to decide.

One other little tip is to add the promotions page (e.g. Avianca Colombia’s) to a site monitoring service like VisualPing. In effect, you’ll get an email triggered by any changes in the official airliner’s prices from there. Be careful to select the airliner’s site that is respective to your departure country.

My free tip here is to signup for Grabr and see what people want purchasing for them from your departure country. I do this everytime I fly. It’s easy and secure. Once I got the flight for free and only used up a third of my luggage allowance. Other times I’ve averaged £100.

Keep the faith

Keep the faith as an expat.

Keep the faith as an expat.

It’s one thing tending to material aspects of life. But what about the spirit? We know attending local mass is an energised event in itself and one that any visitor here should make an effort to experience, whether you have faith or not, in order to better understand the people of the land that you’re in. Not to mention playing a part in your host society helps you integrate. It can, however, be tiring when you are not able to practice your faith as you once would.

Thanks to the internet you can be present in mass in a more of a familiar setting. For example, the website Church Services TV has live streams and regular previously recorded masses from London, United Kingdom and Irichurchesess. My one a Month regular one being the St. Thomas More Church, Swiss Cottage. If you can take (or prefer) that use style mass and accent then there’s an official Catholic YouTube channel that has regular mass and live programming as well. Apart from mass, there is a good podcast with news and other happens here. For other denominations and spirituality, Songs of Praise by the BBC is good (you’ll need to use my ‘home from home‘ hack to access their media).

Integrate Yourself

Don't fight it. Learn to become like them.

Don’t fight it. Learn to become like them.

I don’t wanna feel like I’m fobbing you off here on this last point. But I am pretty sure you came to Colombia for a reason and I hope that you have indeed found it and are living the dream as I am. But you really ain’t gonna get anywhere nor nearly as far as you could unless you get at least a basic grasp of the language.

The best way is to get yourself on a Spanish language course. Over at this site there are some neat recommendations for providers in Bogotá. However, we are in the internet age and second to just meeting people and interacting in Spanish there is a wealth of online resources. My top tip is the BBC Learn Spanish website and then to branch out to Spanish courses on FutureLearn and edX where there are actual tutors and student interactions. Best is that these are free.

Please share these tips onwards

Hope that these Expat Hacks somehow prove useful to you and your life in Colombia. I am particularly interested in expanding this to US, Aus, NZ expats and for my fellow Germans too. Please help others and share this post onwards.

I would very much like to update this article in time with more hacks from you my fellow expatriates. Please leave any advice in the comments section just below.

  • Are you an expat here in Colombia, Latin America or any where in the world? Drop a comment here with how you get by in your new country? Is a link to your place of origin important? Let us know here please.

  • Alexandra Rodriguez

    Saying that everything in the country is rubbish is surely the BEST way to start your life in Colombia. Honestly, if all you want is to feel like you are home, then you should have stayed in your home country.

    • Thanks Alexandra for your comment. Although I feel it is disingenuous. I did not say that everything in Colombia is rubbish! I only complained about the TV here, which is indeed rubbish. But if you’d take a look at all the other posts I had made on my host country, you’d realise that I am pretty much always praising it http://stuartoswald.com/tag/colombia (perhaps too much). Yes, the post here is pretty much about creating home away from home (that’s much of the hack). The important thing here is to realise that Colombia is indeed still a developing country and visitors do from time to time miss aspects of life that were familar. Here’s an article (one of hundreds) that you should prefer https://www.alongdustyroads.com/posts/2017/1/25/things-to-know-colombia-travel. Thanks again,

      • Jeto

        You know what might be a better hack? Buy a ticket and largate!

        • Thanks for the comment but don’t you mean ‘lárgate’?

          • Mariana

            I’m colombian and I also think colombian tv is rubbish. There’s nothing wrong to say it! Keep up the good work!

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