Moving to Honduras
Honduras has a unique appeal in that it has a long Caribbean coastline and a number of islands in the Caribbean. Tegucigalpa is the major city and capitol.
Just two hours south of Miami and Houston by air, Honduras has numerous connections to other US cities.
Activities range from exploring Mayan ruins in Copan to horseback riding to scuba diving around the Bay Islands. nature is all around from the beaches and plains to the jungles and mountains.
Credit Cards & ATMs? There are machines all over, but we haven't used them. We use credit cards in the large stores, like Price Smart, and in some of the well-known restaurants.
What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of rugged terrain, lack of parts and service, local restrictions, carjackings, etc? Bring a four-wheel drive vehicle, because you never know when you will find an unpaved road, even in the city. There are Honda, Toyota, and American car dealerships here.
Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left? Right side.
Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable? The Embassy RSO recommends not taking taxis or buses. We take taxis (don't tell him!), and they are cheap. There are few buses, and they are always way overcrowded, so I don't feel comfortable in them. There are no trains at all in the country.
What is the best way to make phone calls back home? Get an Internet phone. We have Packet 8 and pay $23 a month for unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada.
Do you have any recommendations regarding cell phones? Local service is decent but expensive. We have one for emergencies.
Items you would ship if you could do it again? Nothing, really. You can find most things here.
Availability and cost of domestic help: Very inexpensive. We have full-time live-in help, and she's very smart (although illiterate) and very hard working. We pay her more than the local standard. She makes $175 a month. We also pay her medical costs.
How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living? We speak Spanish, and we use it all the time. I think that someone who doesn't speak Spanish would have a hard time getting out and about. But I do see some that manage, so it's possible.
English-language religious services available? Denominations? We go to the Episcopal Church’s English service, but there are so few of us that it's about to die out. There is a vibrant community at the interdenominational church, Union Church, but it doesn't meet our needs. There is also a Catholic Mass in English. Most of the families with children go to Union Church.
English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost? There is one weekly paper in English, and U.S papers are available for purchase. TV has lots of channels in English.
Internet access cost and quality: Internet access via cable modem is less than $40 a month, and access is OK. It fluctuates depending on what time of day it is.
Size of expat community: There are some Germans, Spaniards, Japanese, and Canadians working here and lots of U.S. missionaries. The U.S. Embassy has about 50 Americans.
Morale among expats: Depends on who you ask. Compared to our last post (Tunisia), I guess I would say it's not as good. Each group seems to hang out with their own. But the Hash does seem to draw out more than just Americans.
Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy? Don't think so.
Entertaining/social life: We entertain in the house a lot, so we have a busy social life. Since we can find the food products we need, and the wine, and the household assistance, we entertain more than we did elsewhere.
Dress code at work and in public: Just like any city in the U.S.
Any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available? We have had good luck with health care and have found good doctors and dentists locally.
Quality pet care available? We have found a decent vet. I don't know about kennels.
You can leave behind your: winter coats and gloves. The weather is great, always spring-like.
But don't forget your: sun screen and bug spray. In the rainy season there are lots of mosquitoes, and they can carry dengue. The sun will burn anyone after a short exposure. And don't forget your snorkeling gear and hiking books.
Weather patterns? Great weather, with a dry season and rainy season.
Can you save money? Yes, because there's not much to do in the city itself and nothing to buy.
What unique local items can you spend it on? Hand made furniture. There are a few carpenters around that can make anything you like.
Knowing what you now know, would you still go there? Probably not, if I had a choice. Schools are the main problem we have.
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By Katya Fujimoto
(Katya is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and works as a writer. She and her husband have lived in Tegucigalpa for a little over two years.)
Travel time to post from Europe or the US (check flight schedules with Expedia): Two and a half hours from Miami or Houston.
Average daily commute: Five to fifteen minutes; 25 minutes during rush hour.
Pollution index (good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy): Moderate to unhealthy. During the dry season those who have allergies or asthma have a harder time. Hondurans burn their fields in between crops, which could be several times a year.
Security concerns? Street crime and muggings are becoming alarmingly serious, and we are advised to avoid walking on the street and to be very vigilant while crossing the streets. Motorcyclists dash from nowhere and grab your purse while you are getting into your car in parking lots. Muggings are common at the parking lots of the Multiplaza Mall and the main grocery stores. Residential burglaries are also a problem, but most people have alarms connected to local security companies. If you religiously use your alarm you can successfully make your house an almost impossible target.
Is housing predominantly apartments or houses with yards? Most US Mission personnel live in houses with small to mid-size yards. A small number of single people and couples without children live in large apartments, but they seem to be happy with their housing situation, as well.
International Schools used by community: There are two major schools: the American School, a large school also attended by many Hondurans, and the Discovery School, known as the school of smaller classes and more individual attention to the student. I have a 3-year old child and can't speak about the schools from personal experience, but parents currently tend to prefer the Discovery School.
Preschool available? Quality? Both the American School and the Discovery School offer preschool from age 4. I know parents from both places who are happy with the preschool quality.
Daycare available? Quality? There are several daycare centers that speak both English and Spanish. The quality is adequate. There are a number of local daycare centers (including a French school), and the quality varies. The majority of the daycare centers operate only in the morning. Full-time and part-time nannies are also available, although it is hard to find somebody reliable who would be sure to follow your instructions. University students who are willing to work part-time for you in the afternoons, evenings, or weekends make the best nannies. They speak a little English, interact marvelously well with your kids, and take you seriously when you want them to maintain your parenting style in regards to forming good habits and establishing rules.
Good post for families/singles/couples? I think it is a good post for families and couples. Singles, I would imagine, have a bit of a harder time, since there is not that much to do around town. But there are bars, discos, and karaoke places, and plenty of mountains for hiking and cave exploring. Not much is organized, but if the singles organize themselves they can have a good time, too.
Good post for gay/lesbian expats? I am not sure it is a good post for them.
What accommodations does the U.S. Mission make for accompanying "Members of Household," including unmarried partners of the same or opposite sex? Currently there are one or two members of household (MOH) in the Mission, and everybody is pretty nice about it, always including them in community events. They get the same treatment as spouses whenever the government regulations permit it.
Does the host government cooperate in issuing visas to unmarried partners of diplomats? I am not sure, but I think it is not a problem since nobody has mentioned they had difficulties in obtaining a visa for their partner.
Interesting/fun things to do in the area: Even though we are in the Caribbean, going to the seaside is not that easy. It takes more than five hours driving on rough roads to get to Tela and La Ceiba (on the Atlantic coast) or to any of the other seaside towns, and, unfortunately, Tegucigalpa does not enjoy many direct flight connections with other countries. However, one can fly to the Honduran islands for diving or to Costa Rica for a vacation. The Copan ruins are among the most famous Mayan ruins in Central America, and they are worth visiting if you are in Honduras. Also, you can go to La Moskitia or other rain forest areas for a wildlife and bird- watching tour. There are also a couple of canopy tours offered in Honduras.
What is there to do after-hours? There are plenty of restaurants, bars, discos, movie halls, and karaoke places around town, although one has to be careful when going out at night. The Marriott hotel just opened in Tegucigalpa, so we enjoy great brunches and some the best karaoke in town. Occasionally there are theater performances in Spanish.
Fast food available and price of a Big Mac Meal (or similar)? Big Macs cost a little more than in the U.S. A lot of U.S. fast food chains are here, you name it: McDonald's, Popeye's, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza, Burger King, Ruby Tuesdays, TGIF, Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robins, Quizno's Sandwiches and KFC.
Decent restaurants available? A few. There is a good Mexican restaurant and a good Argentine one for grilled meats. There is a lack of ethnic variety, though, and one can get tired of always having the same type of Central American/Mexican food.
Food and groceries? If you stick to American products, they tend to be expensive, although almost anything you could want from the U.S. is available here. There are wonderful local and regional fruits and vegetables available all year around that are quite reasonable, as well as pretty good cheeses and meats. Some local brands copy the U.S. standards and packaging, so it's nice since they don't cost as much. Prices of meats are more reasonable than in the U.S. Non-local vegetables and fruits are imported from the U.S. and are quite expensive. These include apples, grapes, apricots, and peaches; basically everything that is not citrus or tropical.
Are there any currency, exchange rate, or debit/credit card considerations that a newcomer should know about? I am not sure. You can pay in cash or with credit card almost everywhere, and we get our dollars exchanged and checks cashed in a bank office located in the Embassy. They take care of all our needs.
Are there any considerations regarding what type of automobile to bring (or not to bring) because of rugged terrain or lack of parts and service? Four-wheel drive automatic cars come in very handy here, because the whole city is situated on steep hills. Outside the city the roads are not very good, and in some parts of the country there are virtually no paved roads; so tall chassis vehicles are better.
What is the best way to make phone calls back to the US if one does not have access to an Embassy switchboard? Through an Internet connection.
Do you recommend getting a prepaid cell phone locally? Prepaid cellular phone cards tend to be rather expensive, but there are two cellular companies here which offer a reasonable monthly rate for a certain number of hours of use per month.
Availability and cost of domestic help: Inexpensive to moderate. Most domestic personnel need a lot of supervision and daily control because of the low level of education in the country.
Realistic language needs: You definitely need some Spanish (survival level at least) to get by. Most Hondurans speak little or no English.
English-language newspaper(s) available? Yes ,including a local weekly newspaper published in English.
English-language cable/satellite TV available? Cost? Two cable companies provide a decent variety of English-speaking channels, including CNN, ABC, TNT, and others. It's expensive by U.S. standards, but people tend to pay since this is how you get your Internet connection, as well.
Wages and job opportunities for expats on the local economy? The opportunities to find a job on the local economy are very slim, not to mention that the salary offered is never what one would hope for. There are plenty of opportunities to do charity and fund-raising for and with NGOs, but rarely as a paid job. The spouses who work are usually self-employed with small businesses that they started on their own.
Health concerns (healthy, risky) and quality of medical care available? The quality of health care isreasonable. The Honduras Medical Center opened last year with more modern equipment than the existing hospitals and a cleaner environment for those who need hospitalization. There are plenty of Honduran doctors who speak impeccable English and have degrees from the U.S. For something really serious, thouhg, it is best to look for help in the U.S. The Embassy maintains a good list of the best doctors (including specialists), dentists, laboratories, emergency room locations, and pharmacies.
Fast Food Available: Domino's Pizza delivers!! As well as Little Caesar's and Pizza Hut. There is Burger King, McDonald's, Church's Chicken, Wendy's, Subway, as well as a few local fast food chains.
Food and Groceries: There are plenty of grocery stores. A huge Pricesmart (just like B.J.'s or Sam's) just opened and they gave us an Embassy sign-up rate. American brands are a little expensive, but really not that bad. A few of the local stores are good. The biggest hassle is when you're shopping for a recipe and you may have to visit 5 different places to get what you need. The local weekend market is wonderful for fruits and veggies, as well as fresh flowers and seafood.
Domestic Help Available: Yes. I have friends who have had a tough time finding one that is reliable, but we lucked out and have a wonderful maid. They are out there. Referrals are the best way to find one.
Realistic Language Needs: You can "get by" with basic "survival Spanish." If you have kids, they will get it in school. My oldest (13) is pretty much fluent and it is mostly due to school. There are tutors available and they will come right to your house. After a year I have no problem going into a store and asking for what I need. The better your Spanish, the more comfortable you will feel. Depends on how much time you want to devote to it.
English-Language Newspaper/TV: Our main channels (CBS, ABC, NBC) come out of Denver. We have cable TV and the majority of the channels are in English with Spanish sub-titles. Some channels switch back and forth, like the Discovery for kids channel, some programs are in English, some in Spanish. The service is OK. It's a lot better than I thought it would be, so we were pleasantly surprised. English papers are harder to come by. The Embassy Commissary gets them in sometimes. The problem is, the news is usually old by the time they get here. It's easier to watch CNN on TV
Internet Access Available: Yes, there is Internet access available. There are a couple of different companies to go with. For the most part we have been satisfied with the service, although there are a lot of down times. But, it can only be as good as the phone lines and we are in a Third World country.
What are Wages Like on the Local Economy: Not very high. If you're a teacher you probably won't have trouble finding a job, but you'll get paid next to nothing. I was offered a job teaching, but it just wasn't worth it.
Good Post for Singles: There are places to go dancing, but Tegucigalpa definitely sleeps at night. There are adventurous weekend trips, but some wish more were available.
American Fast Food Available: (Lots) Pizza Hut, Dominoes, TGI Fridays, (a Ruby Tuesdays is coming we hear), Burger King, Wendy’s, McDonalds, TCBY.
Food and Groceries: You can get anything you think of, but you have to know where to find it. Price Smart is a warehouse store that sells everything you can imagine (like a Sam’s Club or Costco), but the local grocery stores are rather well stocked, considering this is a third world country. Some items have very high prices, others are just about what you’d pay in the U.S. Produce is cheap. You can get wonderful coffee, but, you have to know where to find it.
Food: Honduran food is mostly beans, rice, corn tortillas, and pupusas. (Tortillas filled with meat and or cheese and or herbs before being cooked). Not spicy at all. Good once you get used to it. I hear that Salvadoran food is more flavorful, but I don’t know from experience.
Domestic Help Available: See above for nannies. Gardeners are available as well as drivers. Most people drive here for themselves, but it’s a daunting task to say the least. I considered hiring a driver, and I think it’s about $100 a month. The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) has a driver here, as does the Ambassador. Many women don’t drive unless forced to, or would rather walk or take a taxi. If you take a taxi, at least broken Spanish is necessary since some drivers don’t know their way around. The good thing is that it takes at least two to four weeks to get your car, so people drive you around for a while and tell you how to join the craziness. I slowly discovered that there are patterns and rules, but at first it looks like pandemonium. Watching and learning made me think that it was possible, so I have left my house little by little.
Many people have had trouble with theft by their help, even those who are used to having hired help. The Honduran work ethic is not strong, and we feel very fortunate to have a maid with an excellent reputation. I feel like there are two of me in the house. So much more gets accomplished in one day than I could ever do alone. But, some friends have just found out that their maids have been stealing from them. Since both work outside the home, they’re searching desperately for help for their two daughters.
English-Language Newspaper/TV: There is one English newspaper, Honduras This Week, and three or four other Spanish diarios (newspapers). Cable is about $25 per month.
Cable TV Available: CNN in Spanish and English, CNN Headline News, CNN Sports Illustrated, CNBC, ESPN (1 channel in Spanish, one in English), European news, HBO, Hallmark Entertainment, the Discovery Channel (either subtitled or dubbed), the Weather Channel in Spanish, FOX, FOX Sports World. The American Networks—ABC, CBS, NBC—are from Denver, Colorado. (Our neighbor is a huge Broncos fan and is elated about getting the feed from there.) USA (dubbed), Cinemax (subtitled), MTV in Spanish, Film & Arts (dubbed), People & Arts (dubbed), A&E in Spanish, tve (a channel from Spain), TNT (dubbed), E!, Nickelodeon (dubbed), Discovery kids in English only, a channel called Pelicula with movies originally made in Spanish, Sony Entertainment (subtitled), EWTN (dubbed), Warner Brothers (one channel is in English, the other is dubbed), Canal 22 (subtitled), Animal Planet (dubbed), the Superstation TBS (English only), SUR (news shows from all over Latin America), History Channel, GEMS.
Internet Access Available: We now have cable modems that are very reliable. Not perfect, but way better than anything using dial-up at all. It makes AOL instant messenger and Dialpad.com possible. A flat rate of $60 per month includes TV cable and unlimited internet access for 128 bps. (Higher speeds are available.) Somedays it's sluggish, but not often. Now we can use the internet as it was designed to be used. We bought the cable modem from the cable company for about US$250. You can rent it for $20 a month, but that doesn't make sense if you are here for two years.
What are Wages Like on the Local Economy: BAD! Empleadas make about 1600 lempiras a month (~$110), policemen are two months behind in salaries, and gardeners make about $10 a day. If you’re hired by a Honduran private company and it’s not in the drug ring, plan on it more like volunteering. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but maybe not.
Weather Patterns: June-January is cooler and rainy. (I still have not worn a jacket, but two days so far I've put on long sleeves and sweat pants. Every day I wear long pants with a short-sleeved shirt, but some days I’d rather wear shorts if it were appropriate). January to May is a hot dry season. I hear it’s very hot.
Flying from here to other Latin American countries costs about $200. Tegucigalpa isn’t a big tourist destination like Mexico City or San Jose. Scuba diving and plane lessons are available, but these can be costly pastimes.
American Fast Food Available: McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Church's Chicken, Popeye's, Wendy's, TCBY (frozen yogurt).
Food and Groceries: Several grocery stores to choose from. Food from Central America is cheap. Soto Cano Air Force Base is just over an hour away if you get hungry for real Ruffles chips or Chips Ahoy cookies.
Domestic Help Available: Yes, a maid generally costs $72/month.
English-Language Newspaper/TV: Yes, we get channels from Denver. The Miami Herald comes about three days late.
Cable TV Available: Yes, HBO, Cinemax, CNN, ESPN, plenty of choices.
Internet Access Available: Yes, there are several providers to choose from. I use Intertel.
What are Wages Like on the Local Economy: Low, but I don't know how low. Honduran minimum wage is under $100/month for full-time work.
But Don't Forget Your: Snorkel. The Bay islands are great for snorkeling. You'll never see the Caribbean at this price again!
Weather Patterns: Beautiful. When there's no smoke, the hot sun and soft breezes are great. I don't like dry season, but the weather can be so beautiful during rainy season (when there's not a hurricane).