Living in Guatemala: Pros and Cons
Guatemala is an ideal blend of natural beauty, attractive architecture, a pleasant climate, and a peaceful, hospitable environment — a paradise on earth.
The country is a popular destination for many expats who prefer a slower pace of life without giving up on modern-day conveniences. But before making the big move, it’s important to consider some essential factors that may or may not be a deal breaker for you.
Living in Guatemala: All You Need to Know
Guatemala is an ideal playground for both nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts.
Not only is the country home to exotic landscapes and natural treasures, including Pacific and Caribbean beaches and ecologically-rich cloud forests, but it also has a vibrant urban scene that will appeal to people from all walks of life.
Understanding what to expect can help you make a well-informed decision about moving to a new country.
Lower Cost of Healthcare
Medical treatments are far less expensive in Guatemala than in most other countries, even with the highest quality of healthcare and luxury packages.
That said, health care can differ depending on where you go.
For example, private clinics will provide access to excellent healthcare, which might have something to do with the training the professionals get. According to the US State Department, many of these professionals are US-trained and certified, so expats can expect similar skill and competency of the medical staff and access to equipment for accurate diagnosis and treatment as in their home country — at a smaller price.
In public hospitals, however, treatment can be subpar due to supply shortages for even the most basic medicines.
For better coverage and effective, timely, and life-saving treatment, be sure to get an insurance premium. It is considerably cheaper than in the United States, and the added cost is definitely worth it.
A Beautiful Culture
The local culture of Guatemala is a diverse array of communities, nearly half of which identify as indigenous.
Here, you’ll see ethnic groups like the Maya — who make up almost 42% of the population of Guatemala, Garifuna, and Xinka thriving alongside colonial European and other Caribbean folks.
Catholicism, Protestantism, and traditional beliefs coexist in harmony, and this vibrant diversity is especially evident around celebrations.
Healthier Living Standard
Guatemala has a robust agricultural sector, so expats can enjoy easy access to a wide variety of fresh produce.
The local food isn’t too different from that in your home country, so you can expect to find most types of products you’re familiar with. Meat is also readily available, as asado (grilled meat) is a staple in the local diet. Make sure to purchase them from local markets for big savings.
In larger cities, expats can also enjoy a wide range of international cuisines and easily find American-style food items from supermarkets. But you might have to shell out more for imports.
Guatemala also has 400 kilometres of coastline, supporting a thriving fishing industry.
Guatemala is often called the “land of eternal springtime,” and it’s easy to see why.
It is located close to the equator, so the weather doesn’t really vary by season, but it does vary by elevation. So, regions in the mountainous south, such as Lake Atitlán and Antigua, will have average year-round temperatures.
For example, Lake Atitlán is about 5000 feet above sea level and thus has very agreeable temperatures of around 60-70°F. You can rest assured knowing that it won’t be the hot tropical jungle Central America is typically associated with.
The same holds true for the Antigua area. It is located at an elevation of around 1500 meters. The city receives predictable afternoon showers, and the temperature there never goes below 50°F or above 80°F.
A Comfortable Lifestyle
Guatemala has a peaceful environment where you can enjoy a quiet, serene, peaceful life. It also offers lots of volunteer opportunities where you can get hands-on experience while contributing to making the country a better place.
There is also a large American expat community, top-notch schools, and classes (Spanish and others) that cater to expats. You can also find clubs and groups where you can indulge in some friendly camaraderie with fellow expats.
Here, you will get to see the simple life of the indigenous people alongside the modern world. Shifting to an unfamiliar place can feel overwhelming, but most expats living here report feeling safe and welcome.
It Can Be Noisy
While Guatemala is a generally peaceful country, some areas may not be as quiet as one would like — this is more commonly seen in urban, populated cities than in rural areas.
The more populated areas are filled with the noise of vehicles, blaring speakers, and general loudness, which can be off-putting for expats who are looking for a quiet place to relax.
It Might Have Instances of “Gringo Pricing”
Locals think that everyone who comes from the US is rich, which explains why there’s a double price standard for foreigners. Foreigners are often charged higher for goods and services, even if you live there, which can be a bummer.
So, if you’re looking to save money, you will need to learn how to barter.
It Has a High Crime Rate
The level of crime in Guatemala is a cause for concern, and this is evident in a travel advisory published by the US State Department:
Violent crime such as extortion, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, narcotics trafficking and gang activity are common in Guatemala. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to criminal incidents resulting in a low arrest and conviction rate.
Safety here isn’t stellar — walking alone at night is a luxury one cannot afford in Guatemala. That said, the overall atmosphere is pretty much harmless, and the police are often seen patrolling the streets to ensure crime rates stay low.
Cost of Living in Guatemala
Guatemala typically has a lower-than-average cost of living, although some cities, such as Antigua and Panajachel, can be ridiculously expensive. The actual cost of living ultimately depends on your lifestyle, budget, needs, and wants.
Rural areas can offer a peaceful, low-budget lifestyle, or you can choose to live in the urban part of the city for more money. If you have the budget for it, you can even invest in accommodation in a more luxurious neighbourhood and opt for imported foods, which will all cost you a lot more.
Without rent, the cost of living for a single person can be estimated at $567.66 (monthly), which is 4,437.26 Guatemalan Quetzales. It will fluctuate depending on the type of restaurants and markets you frequent and your expenses on utilities, child care, and so on.
What Language is Spoken in Guatemala?
Spanish is considered the official language of Guatemala, with 65% of the country’s population speaking it.
Spanish is also primarily spoken by nearly 93% of the population living in the Eastern and Southern regions, Guatemala City, and Peten.
While expats are advised to learn the official language, they should remember that it’s often the second language of the indigenous population who speak one or more of the 23 officially recognized Amerindian languages as their first language. These include 21 Mayan languages, with the most significant being Cakchiquel, Garifuna, Kekchi, Quiche, and Xinca.
This can seem overwhelming, but there are also a decent number of Chinese, English, French, and German speakers. So, rest assured, you’ll be heard and understood.
Looking to Retire in Guatemala?
Here are our top three recommended cities that can become your home away from home, perfect for both retired people and digital nomads.
This unique destination makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
- The city offers a lot to explore and experience.
- It has a warm, friendly, and welcoming community.
- There are fantastic restaurants with amazing views for a stellar dining experience.
- You can experience excellent weather. It’s not too hot, not too cold, just the right balance.
It’s a popular getaway for explorers and people who are looking to retire and live a simple life.
- It has comfortable weather, so your home won’t need air conditioning or a heating system.
- The cost of living is low.
- You can indulge in a wide range of gourmet international food and beverages.
- The air quality is excellent, especially in most villages, ensuring better overall health.
- It has a lower rate of homicide than other cities in the country.
Panajachel, also known as Pana, is a small town with the perfect climate and welcoming people — perfect for expatriates’ retirement.
- You can access a wide range of adventure activities, such as zip lining and paragliding.
- The locals are amiable and warm.
- It is ridiculously easy to get around through various transportation options at affordable prices.
- It has a thriving market for fresh produce. You can also eat out for less.
Living in Guatemala as an expat will likely mean adjusting your lifestyle. It may be different from what you’re used to, but as with everything, you have to take the good with the bad.
With just a few adjustments, you’ll find that the slow-paced, quiet lifestyle in Guatemala can be quite agreeable for you.
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