Expat 101

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Sometimes, the expats groups are an echo chamber of misinformation heard from various people who didn't find the Nicaraguans quite as flexible at meeting their needs as they'd hoped.

I can believe that two individuals I've either met in person or who I've followed on this site for four years have had problems with Aduana or Correos or the USPS. Given that I had all packages go missing my first year in NYC, my money wouldn't necessarily be on the Nicaraguans in the chain being the problem. I've had no lost packages to my PO Box in Nicaragua. I was also on a grand jury that indicted a postal worker for stealing from kids sending in coins to buy toys advertised in comic books. My Nicaraguan postal experiences have been 100% positive; my New York ones, not so much. I'll say more about this down page.

On to other things.

Musts for the Scouting Trip:

Will the place you’re looking at provide the things you find necessary in your life:

1. Medicines — there are local substitutes, check for the alternatives if what you need isn’t available at local pharmacies. If your health depends on a medicine you can't reliably get here, think hard about how to deal with this and whether it's worth moving here for you.

2. Interests — existence or not of places that sell supplies for your hobby compared to what it would cost to import them. I run possible purchases through a reality check to see what it would cost to get them shipped down, complete with IVA and customs charges vs. the cost here. Kit I can replace with a $2 round trip to Matagalpa is better than kit that would require either flying back to the US or finding a mule -- for me. Adjust depending on how often you or friends can bring things down. I like Panasonic Micro 43rds cameras — but they’re not available here, so my GF1 body can’t be upgraded without either paying extra for shipping something with lithium batteries or going back to the US myself or getting a mule. I now have two Sony bodies -- one bought locally. I can also get filters and batteries in Managua.

3. Rents — I’m kinda jaded by people who want to see apartments without any real plans to move to the place. Do some on line research and figure out what cities might work for you. Pretty much anyone can narrow the choices down to three cities/regions before coming here and spending more time in a few places is better than trying to check out all of Nicaragua in two weeks to a month, or even a year (anyone spending a year here looking at possible places to live and arguing about rental prices is just having a vacation with benefits and using other expats for free room and board).

If you rent, you can always move after you’ve learned a bit more about the country from living there. Look for what you need to live your life without feeling deprived or in danger first, then check the rents. Or check Encuentra24 Nicaragua before making plans for the scouting trip.

For my part of Nicaragua down to Matagalpa, cheap is one or two bedrooms for $100 a month (and it will be rustic); decent is $150 for one bedroom, $175 to $200 for two bedrooms and a good sized patio adds around $20 to $50 a month to the price. Big houses with more than two bedrooms are $250 to $400 a month. I once suspected I was paying a gringo price for the first place, but the Nicaraguan family in the other side were paying around C$ 1800 to my C$ 1700, and the raised rent the last year we were both there was US $100 a month. If you can get a Nicaraguan to find cheaper places, more power to you, but if you found a cheaper, bigger place in another part of Nicaragua, obviously that's where you should move as not all of Nicaragua has the same prices. Me, I'd rather pay twice as much to live somewhere I liked than pay $75 a month to live somewhere I didn't want to live (I love highland Nicaraguan weather).

5. What are the expats in a given area like? Remember that the more eager they are to have you move to their town or city, the more likely the expat community is dysfunctional. People who have jobs or on-going lifes are generally pretty busy and don't drop everything to show you around town.

6. Do Nicaraguans and you understand each other’s Spanish? If you’re moving to Granada or San Juan del Sur, you can probably get along with minimal Spanish but “they" don’t speak English here, or if they do, they make extranjeros speak Spanish first. Figure at least a year and often up to six to ten years to get really fluent. Most North Americans didn’t learn spoken Spanish in high school or college — it was Spanish appreciation than even a reading knowledge of Spanish. Same goes for many of the kids here who had English in school.

Other thing -- As many people as you had as friends whose English was minimal is the number of people here who’ll want to hang out with you if your Spanish is minimal. How comfortable with this will you be? Nicaraguans aren't going to learn English for you; they'll expect you to learn Spanish. The adolescents with perfect English are headed for the diplomatic corp, government jobs, or international business, and have parents with money and connections who could put them in good bilingual schools in Managua.

Some expat over-generalizations that I wish newbies wouldn’t pick up:

More on the mail service redux — The US PO workers probably know that if your stuff goes missing, and you’re a North America, you’ll blame the Nicaraguans. I have never met anyone who lost mail who ever wondered if it simply went missing before being loaded on the Big Airplane for Managua. My further guess is that big city POs here and in the US have more problems than smaller ones where the clients and Correos employees know each other. My local Correos found that mail to Germany arrived in 4 to 8 days and mail to the US could take a month (mine). So, delays and other people's lost mail is not necessarily a problem at the Nicaraguan end. People in the US can generally manage to get APDO # ## right; they won’t necessarily get Barrio (name), opposite such and such land mark and next door to such and such business right, and that needs to be in Spanish, which they can't write.

Another thing that's just rude: “Nicaraguans/North Americans are all (some gross and generally unflattering over generalization).”

Nicaraguans were just born here and are rather randomly distributed between some jerks, mostly okay people, and a few really fantastic people. Expats either are transferred here on work or chose to move here. My impression is that people who were transferred here on work tend to be more main sequence than the people who decided to pick up and move here to make sweeping generalizations about “the Nicaraguan people.” Not all of us are that bad. But it's a safer bet that people who volunteered to be expats have more in common with each other than people who were randomly just born here.

Too much of expat socializing turns into a whine party about what they don’t like about the country they’re in. Three expats compared notes (me, a friend in London whose now a UK citizen and one in Gifu, Japan, married to a Japanese woman). We all found other American expats rather prone to complaining, sometimes out and out being paranoid about the country. My friend in Gifu said that at least some US expats in Japan believe that it is a fascist jackbooted country (um, not letting Americans break laws freely isn’t a dictatorship). US expats in London complain about what junk food they can’t buy and how small the refrigerators are. Here, no, Daniel Ortega isn’t like Hitler and corruption isn't quite as rampant as some gringos wish it was.

Unless unless one’s Spanish language skills are very good, everyone’s first year here will probably involve socializing more with other expats. Just as in moving to a new place in the US, the first people who want to get to know you may not be people who have strong connections to the community, and may be problematic. And don't carry packages for strangers.

Everyone who doesn't fall in love with the place the first year probably should consider leaving after the first month. For those who adore their place in Nicaragua that first year, enjoy the romance, but don't take it too seriously.

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  1. Chuky's Avatar
    Thanx for insights on EXPAT 101...........I'm having a great time in Matagalpa so far (less than 2 months)........Doing much better on the basics (shelter, food, beer, cable TV, internet) than I could ever do with my "fixed" income on the mainland.........I'm different from the locals; I know they can pick me out on the street .........But taking basic precautions, I feel no danger and I plan to be in Nicaragua until next summer.......PS- I'm saving money currently too!!!!.........
  2. MizBrown's Avatar
    I'm still 100% mail sent is mail received to my P.O. Box -- and the person who addressed the envelope forgot to put in the country, but the PO in the US seems to have figured out that Jinotega, Jinotega is in Nicaragua, not Nigeria or Chile. And this latest was a check. (The bank clerk seems to have to call in a specialist to get my US origin checks deposited.)

    Pickpockets and professional burglars who can actually pick locks tend to show up for festivals. I think there's enough of an immigrant history in Matagalpa that nobody has any real biases for or against cheles as a number of people have German or Danish ancestors and there's a Palestinian group there now, and some Chinese, plus some others.
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