Colombia

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail from the U.S. to Colombia can take up to three weeks. Please note that Colombian Customs will levy import tariffs on most all packages sent into the country. Any customs fees must be paid by the trainee/Volunteer before the package will be released by customs. The mailing address is:

Volunteer/Trainee Name
Cuerpo de Paz
Centro Empresarial Las Américas, Calle 77B No. 57-141, Piso 7, Oficina No. 713
Barranquilla, Colombia

Telephones

For security purposes Peace Corps/Colombia will require you to possess a working cell phone at all times. Peace Corps Trainees are notified prior to arriving in Colombia to bring an unlocked working cellphone. If you do not arrive with a cellphone you are responsible for purchasing one locally at the soonest possible availability.  

Internet

Internet access is widespread across Santa Marta, Barranquilla, and Cartagena. In addition to Internet cafes, there may be the option for a personal Internet connection in your host family home as some host families may have Internet access. The Peace Corps office has some computers in the Volunteer lounge as well as a wireless hotspot. If you do bring your laptop or other expensive electronics, you are encouraged to purchase personal property insurance prior to leaving for Colombia. You should also bring a USB or external hard drive to back up your laptop.

Housing and Site Location

Peace Corps/Colombia requires Volunteers to live with host families for their entire service. The initial host family will be pre-selected, during site development, by the host family coordinator, in conjunction with your project manager, the safety and security coordinator, and director of programming and training. Host families receive a brochure and brief training on hosting Peace Corps Volunteers. Housing for Volunteers must meet a minimum standard of a room that can be locked with a bed, table, chair, and fan. Volunteer contributions to host families for lodging, utility, and food expenses will be explained and discussed after arrival and during pre-service training. Housing in the North Atlantic Coast will vary from community to community. Most houses will be block construction, some may be wood framed. Some host families live in apartments. Houses are constructed to allow air flow to counter the hot and humid conditions. Most will have water, electricity (110 volts of current), and indoor plumbing. Some houses may have water outside the home and very few homes may have latrines instead of indoor toilets. Water may be unreliable, especially during the extended dry season.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. 

Food and Diet

Living in a tropical section of the country, there is a plethora of tropical fruits, including mangos, papaya, melons, lulo and citrus fruits, among others. In the major cities there is a wide variety of restaurants that range from McDonalds to McMondongo’s. The staple foods for the North Atlantic Coast are dishes that include rice, beans, plantains, arepas, and chicken or beef. Soups of various types—vegetable, fish or meat-based—are common. Finally, there is a wide variety of fresh seafood available. You will have relatively close access to markets and grocery stores that sell a wide variety of products to meet most of your dietary needs. Vegetarians can maintain a healthy diet in Colombia and in the Atlantic Coast region. However, it may be difficult to maintain a strictly vegetarian diet when living and sharing meals with your host families. This may affect your cooking and meal arrangements with your host families, since they cannot be expected to change their regular diet to meet your needs. These issues will be discussed and explored further during pre-service training.

Transportation

Transportation within the North Atlantic Coast corridor from Cartagena to Santa Marta is fairly reliable and safe. There are several options available, from vans that provide nonstop travel between the major cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta, to “door to door” (puerta, puerta) vans, which, for a higher fee, will pick you up at your door and drop you off at your exact destination in the neighboring city. Travel by buses that make frequent stops to drop off and pick up passengers is limited to a few trusted companies. In your communities there are inter-city buses and taxis that can take you where you want to go. Volunteers may also travel in private cars when traveling with colleagues or host family or other well-known community members. Volunteers are also prohibited from driving cars, motorcycles or riding as a passenger on the back of a motorcycle. Volunteers are required to receive prior approval from the country director to ride bicycles in Colombia and, if approved, must wear helmets. Being in Colombia, there are several travel restrictions in place. It is prohibited to travel by bus or car after dark.

Social Activities

Most social activities revolve around the family or community celebrations. For Patronatos, or Saint Day celebrations, religious processions are followed by large community-wide celebrations. Carnaval, the preLenten celebration, is very popular in Barranquilla, which considers its Carnaval to be the second best in the world behind Rio de Janiero’s. Colombians are hospitable and inviting and want to share their culture with you. As a result, you may be invited to share in family meals and celebrations, which serve as good opportunities to build strong ties with the community. You will find that traditional gender roles are more common, with females being expected to maintain the home and be subject to more travel restrictions. While you may see females out jogging, those who do almost never do so alone. You need to be mindful and moderate in your alcohol consumption, as not only are you an example for the youth in schools, but statistics show that the majority of Volunteer security incidents are alcohol-related. A Volunteer whose consumption of alcohol results in behavior that is unsafe, culturally inappropriate, and not professional will be disciplined or, depending on the severity of the case, may be administratively separated.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Colombians are generally well dressed, especially in the workplace. Your community is likely to hold you to higher standards because you will be working in a school and you are a Peace Corps Volunteer. Dressing appropriately can enhance your credibility, since it reflects your respect for the customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress, like inappropriate behavior, is something that can set you unnecessarily apart from your community. Until you become well-known by Colombians, your dress will be an important indicator to them. For better or worse, you will be judged in part by your appearance. During pre-service training you are expected to dress as you would on the job. Shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, rubberized clogs, waterproof sandals, etc., will not be accepted and the trainee will be asked to change. Men will be asked to remove any earrings during pre-service training and the first few months at their site. Facial piercings are not permitted during pre-service training and are discouraged during service. If you have a tattoo, it is best to keep it covered. For men, if you have facial hair it is recommended that it be trimmed and well kept.