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Why Guatemala?

Introduction: Both the cost of living and the quality of life are significantly better in Guatemala than
English speaking countries. Expatriates enjoy the follow advantages/benefits:

Climate: In Guatemala it feels like spring time all the time. The range of temperatures is essentially
55-75 degrees Fahrenheit year round, so there are no extremes and not so many variations from this
standard. Thanks to this climate, electricity bills are very, very low; people do not build houses with
heating or air conditioning in the capital and in Antigua. Unlike other countries in Central and South
America, you can have leather furniture, wood floors, carpets, etc.

Crime: Just recently, in Guatemala the crime has fallen by, perhaps, 70%. The current President,
Alvaro Colom, passed a law stating that only one person at a time can ride a motorcycle (in Guatemala
City), and that each rider must have a label on the back of his helmet and wear a vest that that has in
large letters the license plate number registered to the motorcycle. Almost all of the crime is done in
motorcycles with two people mounted: one drives, the other operates a gun. It's almost impossible to
weave through traffic and shoot at the same time. Plus, this stops so many lives from being endangered.
I've seen a father, mother, and two small children on a 120 cc motorbike so many times.

This impresses me for a lot of reasons, mostly because Guatemala actually does something about
solving their own problems rather than accuses other countries of having ridiculous crime rates and
pointing fingers, unlike some of the other countries up north. Think about it, look at countries with their
drug addiction rates, alcoholism, police state tendencies, bloated prisons, ignoring the constitution, as
well as state and civil rights, and yet still have not solved anything. Then look at Guatemala where
there is much more freedom and safety (depending where you are coming from) and you cannot but
help notice this blatant hypocrisy. In other words, they can point a finger at Guatemala but four are
pointing back at them.

Now, let's think of reasons why this could be. First of all, if one country gets a bad rep for instability,
another gets the capital instead.

Warrants are not very easily attainable. The regular police officers cannot just search any person they
think deserves a good search. They need evidence.

Bank Secrecy: The secrecy for corporations and banking in Guatemala is very strong. It's not
invulnerable, however, which is why we only do Trust Agreement Banking. Unlike banks, a client of a
lawyer is under the umbrella of attorney client privilege and that, on the other hand, is nearly hallowed.

Guatemala is extremely resistant to fishing expeditions and will not give private information to a
foreign power without proof of a crime with victims and that is illegal in Guatemala (child
pornography, homicide, etc.). This would not include tax issues. Further, and this is good, a prosecuting
attorney would have to give up their diplomatic immunity before testifying in a Guatemalan court. This
means they are subject to charges such as perjury, contempt of court, and extortion, thus leveling the
playing field. This is a huge hindrance to anybody trying something like this in Guatemala, let alone
being able to get an unreasonable search or a violation of privacy carried out.

Guatemala protects its home court and its people from such violations, and institutions such as banks.
For example, for the police to be able to search a car for drugs, it's cannot just order the people out and
start tearing down the roof as they see fit. First, the trained dogs must circle the car and if they smell
drugs and bark, then they have their probable cause and can search the vehicle. Further, the owner must
be present. If the drug dogs were to pull a blank, they would need the owner's consent. If he did not
consent, they would need to go to court to get a warrant.

Personal Security: Further, the police force is much more decentralized than in other countries. While
it exists, many people protect themselves with private security, which allows for so much safety and
freedom. There is no delusion about the police being an all permeating force that we should all depend
on for our security and lives. Private security officials and individuals are allowed to shoot an intruder
on their private property without being assumed to be guilty before proven innocent.

Many private residencies are behind 10 foot walls, barbed wire, and video cameras, and the residential
communities generally have a staff of patrolmen to secure the area. You cannot enter without giving
your ID at the security gate in many of them. You can also install an alarm system and if sounded, two
armed men will come to your house on a motorcycle in five minutes. We have tested this, and they
really do come this fast since they are constantly waiting near their clients' homes. They do not have
very much mercy for the intruders, and so the alarm systems are taken very seriously by criminals.

Parking lots are also safe environments. There are almost always private security men around and do
not at all resemble the guards found in, say, post-9/11 airports in the U.S. In fact, they have humility
and are polite. They do not allow gang members or some restless youths to hang around outside
intimidating customers. All of this makes shopping at the 16 malls in Guatemala City a much more
relaxing experience.

The gun laws are rather lax and you can get a permit to carry a concealed weapon without too much
trouble. In the stores here they sell the major brands such as Glock, Berretta, Koch, etc., as well as
Mossberg shotguns. Silencers and fully automatic weapons not for the average person here; you
shouldn't plan on getting them.

For al these reasons, crime is not allowed to get a strong hold on the people Central and South America.

Real Estate: This is the most costly expense for expatriates, but is still very cheap, even compared
with other Central and South American countries. Generally for a high-end properties in the best parts
of town you pay around $900-1,200 a square meter. Let me explain what I mean by "high-end"; these
houses are mansions, surrounded by walls that can be up to 24 feet tall, inside of a gated community
and with a patrol of security guards keeping it safe, either walking or on bicycles, and there are also
other layers of security available as previously explained. Inside of those walls are courtyards, gardens,
pools, etc; these aren't the walls of the house; they are just the outer membrane. Because of this there
are no bars on the windows or doors, as is found in other countries. Further, the houses have beautiful
views because the build them on an elevation and situated back from the walls and other obstacles.

It's nothing out of the ordinary to live in a house that is 8,000-10,000 square meters (1 square meter:
10.75 square feet). To buy or rent a home this size in the average North American city costs a fortune,
and then you are racked with other problems, namely security.

There are also condos, though these are not very common and are spaced out over the city. It's not a
city of high-rises Generally $150k will get you about 2,000 square feet, three bedrooms and other
amenities that come along like a pool, social area, parking and security. There are more luxurious
options as well that run about $1,000-1,200 per square meter.

Living on a Beach: Guatemala has shores on both oceans: Atlantic and Pacific and there are a variety
of different kids of beaches and sand: white, black, tan. I would estimate that you could get a large
house directly on the beach for $100,000. This house would have at least three bedrooms and while not
pure luxury, it would be quite nice. There is fast internet available, as well as cell phone service,
satellite, cable, etc.

Living or Visiting Antigua, Guatemala: This is located about 45 minutes from the center of the city
(if you aren't trying to go there at rush hour), and only 20 minutes from Mixco, a suburb of Guatemala
City. It was the original capital of Guatemala and is hundreds of years old. The streets are cobblestone
and there are many artisan markets, farmers' markets, bread stores, restaurants, clubs, bars, parks,
churches, ruins of convents, and there are various novelties for transportation such as a horse and
carriage and these small taxies (like something you would see in India) called tuktuks.

It's partially a retirement community and partially a place for backpackers, as well as a city for
Guatemalans. You see a disproportionate number of people from Nordic countries, as well as the
Netherlands and Australia. It looks like something out of Spanish antiquity, because it is.

It is considerably more expensive to live right in the city. A villa in a gated community costs around
$400,000. However, this is the place to live if you would like to speak English on a daily basis.

Guatemalan Traffic, Roads, and Driving: The roads are lit, though the amount of lighting is not like
a football stadium. You very rarely see traffic accidents, which is surprising due to the number of
motorcycles in the city and the rules, such as stopping at red lights, are obeyed. The traffic, however,
gets bad during rush hour, at least if you do not know how to navigate the back roads.

Many cars are from the Far East and Germany. Some of the brands like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are
cheaper here than in the U.S. and Canada.

Entertainment and Night Life: There is a section of town called Zona Viva (rougly translated to the
Zone That's Full of Life), or Zona 10, that is very popular for night life. It's where many of the nicest
hotels are located (Intercontinental, Westin-Camino Real) as well as bars, clubs, and restaurants. The
clubs and bars in the capital are not like the clubs and bars in the United States, and if you are looking
for something more of that taste you should go to Antigua. The restaurants are excellent both in
Guatemala City and Antigua.

There are also a lot of water activities deep-sea fishing, water skiing, surfing, sailing, etc. Climbing
volcanoes is the other popular activity. Some of them are active, some are not. You can climb most of
them. There is a lake, Lake Atitlan, surrounded by volcanoes and is located a few hours drive from the
capital. It was nominated to be one of the new Wonders of the Modern World. There are a lot of
markets, local sites, and water activites there as well, though it is relatively touristy. However, it is

In the north of the country there are most of the famous Mayan ruins, like Tikal. There is a different
climate there. It is much more tropical, wet, and hot and many people like to go see the forests.

Shopping: There are 16 shopping malls and it seems that another one is constantly being constructed.
There's no lack of goods to buy and many of the major department stores and appliance stores are here:
Sears, Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Price Smart (like Costco) and even a Wal-Mart owned grocery store
called Hiper Paiz. There is also no lack of designer clothes, handbags, or luggage. These tend to
dominate the malls, though there are also lots of cheap goods readily available. These stores all take
foreign credit cards.

Domestic Help: It's very, very common to have a maid or two maids that live with you. In Guatemala
many of them are illiterate, but work very hard for what they earn and have a good attitude about life
and work. Plus, you can win them over by being nice, buying them a color TV with basic cable, and
purchasing a prepaid cell phone, and not buying them separate food to eat. This is way above the
standard treatment they would generally get from other families and they will be very grateful. They
are very good with children (again, cultural differences), and can be trusted to watch them if you go
out. Plus, this is a good way for you and the children to learn Spanish.

Most homes and apartments over 1,500 square feet are built with a maid's area that generally includes a
separated area to put a table, a bedroom, and a bathroom. The minimum pay is about $200 a month and
$250 is considered good pay. The standard days off for them are a day and a half on the weekends
(Saturday at noon to Sunday night or Monday morning). Depending on her situation and what you
allow, they will stay in the house (especially if her town or residency is far away) or go home to their

Having a driver is also very common, and they are almost exclusively male (I've never seen a woman
driver, but they probably exist.) He can also live with you and gets paid around $350 as a minimum and
$500 if he speaks English as well as Spanish. The pay continues to go up if you would like him to
double as personal security, as many people do. $800 a month is probably the maximum one will pay
and this is if they have been through body guard training or have previously worked for a high profile

Schools: There are 11 Universities. However, all of the instruction is in Spanish. There is one
University, Francisco Marroquin, which has a lot of American influence. They do offer classes in
English and you can take them, but to actually get a undergraduate degree or a certification from the
University you need to be highly proficient in Spanish. Some of the master's programs are conducted
entirely, or very near entirely in English, however, as in the other universities. Marroquin offers mostly
liberal arts careers. Its more technical counterpart is the Universidad del Valle, which also only gives
undergrad classes in Spanish but has English master's degree programs.

As for k-12 schools, there are a number of English speaking schools. One of the most popular is the
American School. The other (which I consider the best) is the Colegio Aleman, or the German School.
The kids that go there must learn all three languages and from speaking to the students, they learn
much better German than English. If your kid already speaks English, than it doesn't matter so much, as
long as he keeps up his writing abilities. The students I have met are generally very well educated and
police. It is also much cheaper than the American school, by hundreds of dollars a month.

In general, you will probably pay a few hundred dollars a month for a good private school and which
includes transportation and lunch.

Internet: All of the same technology is available in Guatemala, including satellite, an ASDL line, or
cable. It costs about $50 a month for DSL and satellite is about $75 a month.