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The Danger of Life Abroad in Colombia

The Danger of Life Abroad in Colombia

Culture, Life Abroad

When you leave your own country for a place like Colombia, you are in the proverbial JUNGLE. It never ceases to amaze me how naive so many foreign residents tend to be. This is a Reflection About the DANGER of Life Abroad.

Like most people, I have an opinion. Take this with a grain of salt, or if you feel like I actually know what I am talking about, then be sure to share it so people will find the same value you did.

The Danger of Life Abroad

Life Abroad

Having spent almost 8 1/2 years in South America (including 6 months in Brazil), I have noticed a few things about the reality of Life Abroad in Colombia.

NOTHING is Ever FREE in Colombia

Life Abroad in Colombia

In places like the USA, we have been given so much for FREE, that we have forgotten the value of even little things, like ink pens. I remember going to shows and conventions where I came home with 5-10 new pens, a couple pencils and a bunch of swag.

Surprisingly, in places like Colombia, you will RARELY see that type of thing. In fact, that type of promo is often too expensive, or hoarded ONLY for serious client prospects, or even actual clients.

Colombia has taught me that whatever someone gives you free today, will cost you double tomorrow whether it be paid in favors, local currency or taken out of you in the biblical sense.

If they aren’t close friends who you probably already share quite a bit of your time, food or value with, then be suspicious. Especially as a woman, people will try to game you for sexual favors.

At this point, you are shaking your head going “no way.” But, let me give you an example:

I met a lovely old man who owns some properties. We began working together to bring renters to him. He always said to me “I think you are a wonderful, beautiful woman. Don’t hesitate to lean on me for anything you need.” And, I thought, “Oh! How nice!”

A little bit later on, when one of the apartments were unoccupied, he let me stay there a couple times when I needed it. Coming out the other end of lockdown, I gave him a hug goodbye, which he clung to a bit. And I thought, “Ah, poor guy, must be lonely.”

Finally, the last time I saw him, he took the liberty of sitting down next to me, instead of across from me, and wanted to hold my hand. He was a married man! We were in public. And I was thinking “Shit, did I give him a wrong signal?” He went on to talk about how love eventually goes cold and leaving it a bit open ended. It was the last time I spoke to him.

Let’s analyze this.

In the US, we go to visit friends, and stay with them. “Things” could naturally happen, but often don’t. In fact, it is perfectly fine to stay a couple times in someones home, and usually nothing is actually expected in return. Although, it is always nice, and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, to bring a hostess gift.

Colombian men can view the act of lending out an apartment to a single woman, or any kind of favor, as an open door to later make her pay for it either sexually, or via appearances, contacts, business deals whatever. And, being an aggressive culture, they aren’t afraid to make their interests known.

This nice old man probably would never care about having sex with me, but he would have LOVED to have me in every other way possible, including flaunting me publicly as his arm candy.

He probably would have made it worth my time financially, or with his contacts, which I am sure he had some good ones which I would probably even consider killing a monkey to get them in my hot little hands. But, I digress.

Ultimately, for me, the price was too high. I value my individuality, freedom, and public image too much to waste it on some old married guy. Eww! I wish I had something I could smash against a wall, or throw out the window just to watch it break right now. But, again, I digress.

My daddy used to always say, “The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions.” For more information on how you can be Raped, Robbed, and Screwed Over in Colombia Read More Here >>>

Hoard Information of Value, Like Gold

The most valuable asset during Life Abroad in Colombia, is information. With information you can do quite a lot, efficiently, while saving time and money. Without it, you may find yourself shooting in the dark, and striking out, or being shot down.

In our home countries, we are used to information being plentiful, accurate, and often at your finger tips. Surprisingly enough, information on many parts of Colombia is still quite scarce.

Especially in times of COVID, the information is also constantly changing, while rumors are being birthed at an astounding rate, as we adapt to new government decrees on almost a daily basis.

Especially if you don’t speak Spanish, you may discover that at times you feel a bit out of the loop. If you do, take the time to research the authenticity. Being a blogger, I can appreciate how easy it is to simply fabricate false information out of thin air, which is aptly called Propaganda.

If you already live here, be careful who you tell things to. Information is valuable and Colombians especially are looking for ways to use it against you. This is a culture which is always looking for that one-up advantage.

Especially now, with thousands descending into poverty due to lockdowns/economic restrictions, people here are more desperate than the average foreign resident is accustomed to encountering. Be careful who you tell personal details to.

I found it laughable recently when someone actually posted about how they were going to come here, teach English, get married and bring their “large” savings.

During hard times, anything you say can and will be used against you, which brings me to my next point…

Mistakes Are Expensive

Sometimes, even the most innocent “mistake” real, or calculated can result in a fine, arrest and even deportation. The last thing you want, is to find yourself deported from Colombia and blocked from re-entry for 7 years.

Most of the time your status won’t be at risk, but be very mindful that if you aren’t a citizen, too much crazy can find you kicked out of the party. Being someone who has a thing for doing crazy shit, I have learned that lesson.

Even then, you sometimes won’t have the 100% sureness, so please try to avoid this kind of trouble when possible.

Failure to pay those fines/bribes, whatever, can result in not being allowed re-entry, or expulsion. If you are trying to start a business, or run one, mistakes can cost you your savings, retirement, or even every last dime. So, be very careful, and try to find the information you need, even if you have to pay for it.

Life Abroad can be a bitch, even though most of the time we love it!

Don’t Trust Anyone

This last one is obvious, but hard to take seriously, especially if you like to travel serendipitously like I do. But, don’t trust anyone.

If these people will pistol whip for a watch, they will do even more for items of relatively low value. In a recent conversation I had with someone in the street the street-person told me that you can pay as little as 30,000 COP (~$10 USD), to have someone assassinated in places like Pereira, or Medellin.

The best way to explain this, is that one relationship that ends after months, or even years which leaves you scratching your head saying “I thought I knew him/her!” If you can’t even discover what is in the hearts of people you are sleeping with, then you definitely can’t hope to know in the people you just met.

Life Abroad in Colombia has taught me to be very slow to trust, or even talk about money. Sometimes, I will put trust in people but leave them plenty of room to do something against me, and then wait and see. I always like to live just a little bit dangerously.

Trusting is a risk, but do it in a calculated manner until you feel that the other person is worth placing bigger bets on later.

I will never forget one situation where I watched a recent arrival “trust” a group of local yokels to run a company that he set up. By all appearances he had found people who were competent professionals, in their fields of marketing and business admin. However, he had one serious weakness: he needed to travel a week at a time or longer, for his regular 9-5 job.

Long story short, whenever he left the office, everyone dissapeared like smoke and nothing ever got done. How do I know this? I was hired to teach them English. This person paid me up front and the dates were scheduled for each paid class.

But, as soon as the first week of classes went by, he left. Unfortunately he never got his money’s worth because the people who were supposed to be studying never showed up, or scheduled another class with me.

Within a few months, the entire team was let go, and to be honest, I really don’t know how much it cost him financially, but it definitely cost him a lot of time. I feel really bad that he went through that, his idea was great and will eventually succeed, I think.

People here have this thing, called Malicia Indigena, or Indigenous Maliciousness. What it essentially means, taking advantage of what life puts in your lap even if it hurts them. In the jungle, this can cost you time, money, and even your life. Maybe I exaggerate, but not by much.

Conclusion

Honestly, I really wish I could sugarcoat life abroad and make it look as exotic as some other travel bloggers do. It is easy to write about all the things I LOVE and adore about Colombia. This is my home and I like the challenge of it.

On the other hand, after many years and some really frustrating things which have happened to me, I can honestly say that NOTHING adequately prepared me for the reality of life abroad.

Even the Gonzo journalists like Colin Post, Brendan Corrigan, or Adriaan Alsema, weren’t enough to prepare me for the jungle that is Colombia and Latin America. Why? Because most of us ACTUALLY are that Naive!

On a cultural level I hadn’t even the slightest concept of how horrible people could possibly be.

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About the author

English Teacher, Freelancer, Chocolate Entrepreneur and Traveler!!

5 Comments

  1. Kelly
    November 30, 2020 at 7:19 pm
    Reply

    I’m so sorry this has been your experience. Living here is certainly no walk on the park, especially when it comes to efficiency and customer service, but for me and all my close and personal Expat friends our experience has been far FAR away from what you describe. Without any intention to minimize your experience, I think it is worth saying that generalizing it to ALL OF COLOMBIA is a bit close minded especially when your audience are nomads looking to move here. The circles you surround yourself with make all the difference and nowadays through social media and expat community pages is very easy to get to know the circles and environments you should be around. This is still very much a cast society, small towns and marginal neighborhoods are probably not the “safest” areas for an expat, but big cities like Bogota and Medellin, are full of trustworthy, cultured and honest locals. My family and I have been living here for 5 years and we have loved it.

  2. jørn ludvigsen
    December 1, 2020 at 7:27 am
    Reply

    Great article. You are right – listen to every one; trust no one. We have been here since 2015 trying to make a business and live from it. No matter how hard we try to accomplish something worthy we mostly always end up banging our head into the wall of non decent employees, crazy rules, no government support etc. etc. Please bear in mind that here everybody wants the Gringo´s money but no-one wants the Gringo. Be careful out there and find the balance between being “Gringo” and local. No matter how hard you try as a foreigner you will never be allowed to integrate fully as it it is too tempting for any local person or authority to try to exploit you.

    • Eric
      December 2, 2020 at 8:15 am

      Agree that the system, the laws, the taxes, and the business and labor dynamics in the country are a gigantic pain in the ass for any entrepreneur especially if you are a foreigner. They are stuck in the 70’s and the lack of innovation and self-accountability are mind blowing. But as far as talent I learned that if you are looking for “gringo standards “ while paying entry level local salaries you will be forever subjected to the mediocre layer of the labor pool. A good Colombian friend of mine who was a successful businessman taught us to look for talent through the alumni of private universities in the main cities. It sounds elitist but it is the reality. You want gringo standards, you need educated people and you need to pay them well. There is amazing talent: smart, dependable, innovative, dedicated, honest, especially women. Professional women in Colombia are highly competent but because it is still very much a male dominated country (and also there are those stupid stereotypes about Colombian women) they are grossly overlooked. But you just need to know where to look for the talent and it is not among the people whose competencies are barely worth the local salaries. Go talk to the alumni center at the best universities and you will see what I’m talking about and when you find them pay them well. They will help you integrate and navigate through the craziness that is doing business in this country.

  3. DOUGLAS MARTIN MONTAÑEZ YASPE
    December 1, 2020 at 11:14 am
    Reply

    Gran respuesta.

  4. Pablo
    December 2, 2020 at 2:51 pm
    Reply

    Still stuck on your “flaunting me publicly as arm candy comment” hmmmm

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