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Packing Guidance for Guatemala

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Weather in Guatemala is marked by two distinct seasons. The dry season runs from November to April, and the rainy season runs from May to October. Annual average temperatures range from 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and vary based on location and altitude. Temperatures can also vary considerably during the day, so dressing in multiple layers is essential, as is having rain protection (rain jacket, poncho, or umbrella). Homes and workspaces are generally neither heated nor air conditioned. In addition to temperature variations, please consider high humidity during the rainy season.

Invitees are encouraged to keep these conditions in mind and choose clothing to keep you warm and dry. Although many Volunteers experience Guatemala as colder than they expected, it is wise to prepare for warm weather as well.

Peace Corps/Guatemala provides the following items:

  • Medical kit: All Volunteers receive a medical kit. The full list of items is linked below.
  • Smoke/carbon monoxide detector: Provided to every Volunteer for use in host family residence.
  • Bicycle helmet, chain, and lock: As applicable for those who choose to purchase a bicycle. Owning a bicycle is not required to accomplish work activities.
  • Mosquito net: Guatemala is a malaria, dengue, zika, and chikungunya endemic country. Depending on site location, some Volunteers will be required to take malaria prophylaxis, but all Volunteers must sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Library of work-related books and novels: The main office in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas has a lending library and Volunteers are encouraged to borrow books for personal use. Titles are limited; many Volunteers bring books from home (physical or ebooks).
  • Settling-in allowance: Volunteers receive approximately $450 to purchase items necessary for settling into a host family residence. This allowance is commonly used to purchase household goods, such as a stove with a gas cylinder, kitchen utensils, and if necessary, a cabinet for clothes.

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Post recommends that you bring enough clothing for your first four months in Guatemala. During pre-service training (PST), host families will provide laundry services once or twice a week (subject to the availability of water). Clothes are usually washed by hand and line dried, which can be hard on clothes, especially delicate items.

In Guatemala, both professional and casual clothing can be purchased economically in the many used clothing stores known as “pacas.” Local markets also have simple clothing options for sale at reasonable prices. Consider the tried-and-true packing rule — lay out everything you want to bring, and then pack half of it!

Indigenous community members in Guatemala often wear traditional dress, but Volunteers are not expected to purchase/use traditional clothing.

Work clothing

In Guatemala, professional dress is generally more formal than in the United States, especially when conducting personal or professional business (regardless of whether in cities or rural areas).

During pre-service training and other in-service events at the Peace Corps office, dress is business casual. Jeans may be appropriate for some working conditions (e.g., outdoor activities), but should not be worn in the Peace Corps office.

Clothing is generally conservative when visiting government functionaries, ministry officials, or others in positions of authority in communities.

Close observation of how your host family, work partners, and community members dress will help you to be in tune with local customs and perceived as a professional.

There are some occasions during service (e.g., professional events, holidays, weddings, swearing-in) that require more formal attire.

Patched or torn clothing, military clothing, and clothing that exposes midriff or shoulders must be avoided.

Leisure and recreational clothing

Casual (yet presentable) clothes are acceptable for informal events, after-work occasions, and sporting activities. Shorts should not be worn outside the house except for during sporting events.

You may find occasion for a bathing suit or swim trunks.

Gyms are accessible in most larger towns and cities. Consider modest athletic clothes (covered shoulders, long shorts) if you plan to work out in a gym. Sport bras and tight-fitting leggings should be covered when in public.

In workplace settings, business casual, close-toed shoes are the norm. Volunteers walk and stand a good deal in their workplace. Many work events in Guatemala require travel by foot on both paved and unpaved roads, so shoes should be durable, comfortable, and take the elements into account.

In casual settings, sandals, sneakers, and other comfortable shoes may be acceptable.

Volunteers do a lot of walking and have many opportunities to participate in hiking or athletic activities. Durable, comfortable walking shoes (sturdy boots, sneakers, or sandals) are encouraged.

Both professional and casual footwear options are available in Guatemala for a broad range of U.S. sizes, except for sizes larger than women’s 9 and men’s 10. Options and quality may be limited, so it is important to approach shopping with an open mind.

During the rainy season, roads and paths become extremely muddy. Although not strictly necessary, you may consider bringing waterproof boots or shoes.

Guatemalans wear inexpensive rubber or plastic shower shoes and house shoes for use in the home (Guatemalans do not typically walk barefoot or in socks in the house). Inexpensive shoes can easily be found in the local market.

It may be difficult to find specialty running shoes or cleats in Guatemala, so consider bringing these items with you.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Additional guidance for Peace Corps Guatemala:

Most toiletries (such as shampoo and conditioner for a variety of hair types, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, sunscreen, soap, razors) can be found locally in Guatemala.

Mosquito repellant can be found in larger towns; the Peace Corps Medical Office also keeps a limited supply on hand for Volunteer use.

Tampons are not widely available in rural areas of Guatemala; however, sanitary pads are. Some Volunteers prefer to use reusable menstrual cups (not provided), however, it is important to use appropriate hygiene procedures for cups. Additionally, Volunteers receive a monthly stipend that can be used to purchase menstrual hygiene products.

  • Phone: Volunteers should plan to bring an unlocked smartphone that accepts a SIM card/eSIM or purchase one upon arrival to Guatemala. You may need to check with your current cell phone provider to see if your current phone is unlocked. Each Volunteer will receive a SIM card/eSIM and a monthly allowance for phone/data credit. Volunteers who are unable to bring an unlocked phone will be provide about $190 to purchase a device in country.
  • Laptop: Volunteers have found that a laptop computer can be useful during pre-service training and service, for both work and entertainment. Desktop computers are available at the Peace Corps office and internet cafes are present in many Volunteers sites. Repair services for electronic equipment can be expensive and difficult to find, particularly for Apple products.
  • Voltage: Guatemala uses the same 120-voltage electrical current as in the United States; therefore, any appliance or charger from the U.S. will work here. Outlets are the same as well, but most only accept two prongs. Two- to three-prong converters can be found in Guatemala.
  • Electricity Access: Volunteers will have access to electricity in the host family’s residence; however, power outages are common and unpredictable.
  • Wi-Fi: Access to Wi-Fi varies by site and may not be adequate for streaming movies or music.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description of the common activities Volunteers engage in and what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

  • Gifts: While by no means required, a small gift can be a nice way to make early connections with host families and community members. Calendars of American scenes, coffee table books, pictures of yourself in the U.S., scented soaps or candles, a small box of crayons, U.S. brand snacks, or small knickknacks are often appreciated.
  • Music: Many Volunteers enjoy having headphones or a small, portable Bluetooth speaker to play music in their home and with community members.
  • Musical instruments: Many Volunteers find comfort and connection by bringing an instrument with them to Guatemala. Please be aware that the climate can be very hard on musical instruments. If you do bring an instrument, do not bring something of high monetary or sentimental value as they are also attractive to thieves.
  • Games: Playing games is a great way to connect with host family members and friends in the community. Consider bringing a deck of cards, dominoes, or a travel-sized version of your favorite board game.
  • Sports: Guatemalans enjoy playing football (soccer), and basketball is also popular. Sports can be a great way to connect with your community and students. Footballs and basketballs are available locally, but other types of sports equipment (frisbees, baseballs/gloves, badminton sets) can be harder to find.
  • Hiking: Many Volunteers enjoy exploring the footpaths around their communities or hiking Guatemala’s volcanoes. If you enjoy such activities, consider bringing sturdy hiking boots, a small daypack, and a water bottle.
  • Photos: Many Volunteers have found it comforting to bring photos of family and friends to hang on their walls or have in their workplace.
  • Spices: Volunteers who like to cook may have difficulty finding spices in their sites, although larger supermarkets near the training center or in larger towns have more variety.
  • Maps: High quality maps of Guatemala may be difficult to find. Volunteers who like physical maps may want to bring them.
  • Local stores: You can view some of the products available at La Torre supermarket (https://www.latorre.com.gt/) and Dollar City (https://dollarcity.com/) which are both located within a five-minute walk from the training center.