Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brief missive on daily living

A variety of things caused me to sit down and write a bit about living here in Tegucigalpa, addressing what is and what is not available here:

 1. There is postal service. In nicer neighborhoods the postman comes right to your buzon (mail slot) and those that live where having an identifiable address is difficult you can get mail at a PO box. The postal employees here do not number what they do in the US, but they are around and working. You may not get mail promptly, you may find the mail opened before you get it, it is fairly expensive etc...but it is possible.

2. You can get most of your mail and errands done via the internet. I pay everything from electrical bills, land line phone, internet, cable, vehicle registration, insurance, water, cell phone and credit card bills via online banking. Many of the statements I get via email as well.

3. If you pay ahead...you get a discount. Sometimes you might have to pay six months or a year in advance...but if you can organize your budget to do so, many services offer a 5-10% discount for paying that way.

4. X specialty food...affirmative. Not everything, but most of the things people crave or want seem to be here in one store or another. Of course not absolutely everything is available here...but the availability of “foreign” food is much improved over the past ten years. You may have to pay a premium (although...sometimes surprisingly not the case), but if you want pickles, Newman’s own dressings, sushi fixings of all kinds, extra virgin olive oil, fancy chocolate chips, Dr. Pepper, Ritz crackers, wide variety of cereals, etc...you can find it in one place or another.

5. Movies. We have movie theaters. They don’t bring down every movie, but the big ones get here...often the same day they open abroad (to cut down on pirating) and in at least one occasion (the last Narnia movie) came out here before the US. Prices are under $6, usually half that or less, but even for 3D.

6. Cable/internet...you can get whatever channels you want here from Honduras and abroad. Our cable coverage is not the most extravagant, but we still get over six HD channels from the US, movie channels, a Vonage type US phone line, and fast enough internet via cable to easily use Skype or for those interested, use Netflix, etc. If you want to learn a foreign language...our cable company has at least five foreign language stations available as well. If you don’t live in the big city, and even if you do, you can also go with a variety of satellite providers for cable...some can get you decent internet speeds as well, but can be more pricey.

7. Restaurants...you can get great local cuisine, foreign food, and over ten chain restaurants from the US as well...from McDonald’s, Burger King, Little Caesar’s, to Chili’s, TGI Fridays, Applebees, KFC, and more. Some even offer interesting fare available only here, or offers that are better than what is available in the USA.

8. Grocery stores. Wal Mart is available...the same but slightly different. There are super stores, and even a couple Sam’s/Costco type stores. The quality of service and ease of use rival what I am used to abroad.

9. Pharmacy...this is arguably better than the US because you do not need a prescription for very much except for controlled substances, etc. Prices are generally lower but if you want anything from glaucoma meds to an IV to an IUD, no problem, just walk up to any of the plethora of pharmacies available.

10. Basic utilities...you can get electrical, water, sewer, and trash pick up in nicer areas, where you are also going to pay more municipal taxes every year. Even the clinic has a trash truck that passes by every week, a kind of water service which sort of works (and even in the nice neighborhoods...you only get water filling your obligatory cistern a few times a week at most), but no sewer line there yet.

11. cell phones...iPhone, Blackberry...and the list goes on of what you can either buy or bring down. The plans may vary from what is available in the US, but you can get 3G service in major areas and even send texts and call abroad...often cheaper than you can call across town. You can even get Chinese phones that will work with two sim cards so you can have two different companies chips at the same time, and phones that will not just have a radio...but an antenna to watch TV as well.

12. Hotels. You can go as expensive or as inexpensive as you dare. The Marriott, Intercontinental and others can get you into a room anywhere from $80-500 a night depending on what room you want.

13. Traffic. Sure, rush hour stinks. Many major cities have bad traffic, no surprise there. But for most of the year, if you want to get around during the day, it is not problematic, and once you learn your way around (GPS...not really) you can even avoid problem areas (accidents, protest marches, construction) and there is even a twitter feed here that people use to alert others to traffic problems as they come up.

14. Appliances. You pay a premium here almost always, but if you want your Frigidaire, Whirlpool, etc. appliance, you can find it here. Maybe not the exact model you want, but a wide variety for sure, and prices occasionally can rival what is available in the US. There are also brands not normally seen in the US that are smaller for more average sized Honduran homes (smaller fridges without being dorm sized, washing machines in tiny and interesting packaging, etc.) You can get AC units, TVs as big or small as you want (even with 3D now), etc.

15. Vehicles/fuel. You can bring down your big V8 gasoline vehicle from the US, some do, and you can even buy some of those here, but for the most part what sells here is diesel vehicles, and a wide variety of models from manufacturers. We have all the normal US fare along with old and new brands not seen in the US (Peugeot, Citroen, Renault, Chinese brands like Cherry and others which often copy older designs from other manufacturers and use “licensed” engines from Isuzu, Toyota, etc.) Finding a small car here that gets 50-60 mpg does not require a hybrid...and with diesel, even many SUVs can get 20-30 mpg. Fuel prices...as of this writing, diesel is about $4.20, and the gasoline you would put in a vehicle (lower grade is available cheaper than this) would be about $4.70.

This list is long...but not exhaustive, I was just trying to give a feel here, because life can sometimes be portrayed as slightly different from this above admission.

Sure...some things are different, some things can be frustratingly slow, or fast, or just different, especially for many just moving here, but in my mind that is to be expected for anyone who is considering moving to another country. As you can see though...for those who have access, which can vary from being actually cheaper to what they are accustomed to more expensive, access to many of these services can be close, to right on, to what they were elsewhere.



5 comments:

Amber said...

I would LOVE to hear how you set up online bill pay. I spend several hours a month in line at the bank.

Felipe Colby said...

I use Banco Ficohsa's "interbanca" to do all of that...including moving payments for rent to my landlord's account, etc. It is extremely handy. I believe some of the other banks in town have it as well. It took me just a visit to my local branch to set up the username and password, and which accounts I wanted to affiliate to the interbanca account. From there...I just access and pay/move what I want, no problems. If you need to move larger amounts, they will even give you a token/fob to use for added security when logging in to do so.

Laurie Matherne said...

Good post, Felipe.

Laurie Matherne said...

However, I am curious. Do you know of anyone who ever received a letter here? I know a wealthy US guy who sent a letter to his father in law a few months ago as an experiment. He posted it downtown. They live in the same ritzy colonia. He never got it. I know La Gringa posted a humorous post years ago about unexpectedly receiving a piece of mail in her "buzon." But I don't know of anyone personally getting a home delivered piece of mail.

Felipe Colby said...

We have regularly received mail at both places we have lived here. Sometimes it seems they wait until they have more than one piece to drop off, other times just a card or letter by itself gets here...usually 2-4 weeks from when postmarked in the US. I do warn people not to send pictures or anything that makes the envelope bulky, as those tend to disappear. The letters my grandpa used to send were also regularly in a plastic bag with a stamped explaination that "somehow" it had been ripped open along the way. It is not the cheapest route...but we have even received packages from people that have not heeded our advice and sent them through the mail. I am not a glowing endorser of the process...but for post cards, small letters, even newsletters from the US...it seems to work fairly well, just keeping in mind the limitations and such.