Bolivia is diverse in every sense. Expats relocating to this landlocked country will discover that Bolivian culture draws strongly from its multi-ethnic indigenous roots, centuries of Spanish occupation and the influence of its five neighbouring countries. Landscapes are varied and range from the soaring peaks of the Cordillera Real to the stunning salt flats of Uyuni and the tropical rainforest environment of the Amazon Basin.
Living in Bolivia as an expat
The population of expats in Bolivia is small and most foreigners can be found either in one of the capital cities, Sucre and La Paz, or other major cities like Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba. Most expats are employed by NGOs or are volunteering for a brief period. The Bolivian government has also implemented several policies to encourage foreigners to set up businesses in the country.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America but thanks to its oil, natural gas and mineral resources it is experiencing some economic growth.
Expats can find plenty of housing options in Bolivia, mostly detached houses, but apartments are also available. Renting accommodation and buying property in Bolivia are feasible options, although costs vary depending on location and property size.
In terms of getting around, while expats will find that public transport is affordable, it is not often up to the standards of more developed parts of the world. Additionally, driving in Bolivia is not for the faint-hearted. Those brave enough to get behind the wheel should be aware that road infrastructure and signage are of a poor standard and that driving conditions can be chaotic.
While there are some good private hospitals in Bolivia, the general standard of medical facilities is poor. Hospitals are generally underfunded and waiting times are long. Expats need to ensure that they have a full health insurance policy which covers them for treatment outside Bolivia if necessary.
Although Bolivia is increasingly stable and peaceful, safety and security are still a concern. Petty theft can be a problem, especially in major tourist hubs, so expats should always take precautions to keep valuable items out of sight.
Cost of living in Bolivia
The cost of living in Bolivia is extremely low, with everything from transport and rent to groceries coming incredibly cheaply. In fact, Mercer's 2023 Cost of Living Survey ranked La Paz 197th out of 227 cities surveyed.
Local salaries are low, however, and expats will therefore do well to work remotely in Bolivia, earning foreign currency. Those who wish to retire in Bolivia won't need a hefty pension and will live comfortably for much less than they would at home.
Expat families and children
For expats moving with children, private and international schools are likely to be the preferred choice for education. Public schooling in Bolivia is of poor quality and schools are not well maintained. Fortunately, expats are likely to find an international school for their children to continue with a familiar curriculum be it American, British, French or German.
Bolivia is also child friendly as family is an important part of the Bolivian culture and places high value on children. Expats will also discover that there's plenty to do with the kids, such as exploring the gorgeous varying landscapes, visiting museums and famous landmarks, or even just relaxing in a local plaza (square) or park.
Climate in Bolivia
The climate in Bolivia is as varied as the landscape. It ranges from humid and tropical to cold and semiarid. That said, there are some characteristics that are typical throughout the country. Due to the high altitude of much of the country, temperatures can range from hot and humid in the day to freezing at night. Winter, from May to October, is Bolivia's dry season, while summer, from November to March, is the wet season. In Bolivia's main cities, expats can expect to experience mild to hot temperatures year-round.
Ultimately, those planning on moving to Bolivia may experience some degree of culture shock. They will need to adjust to a slower pace of life and be prepared to overcome bureaucratic barriers. Making efforts to understand the culture, traditions and languages of the country can be beneficial to expats when settling in. Expats should also do some research before the move and familiarise themselves with the Bolivian way of life.
Despite multiple barriers and challenges, those with a sense of adventure are sure to enjoy expat life in this land of unparalleled natural beauty.
Population: Over 11.8 million
Capital cities: Sucre and La Paz
Largest city: Santa Cruz de la Sierra
Neighbouring countries: Bolivia is bordered by Peru to the west, Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay to the southeast, Argentina to the south, and Chile to the southwest.
Geography: Bolivia is landlocked and has a diverse geographical landscape, including vast plains, rocky mountainous regions and many large lakes.
Political system: Presidential representative democratic republic
Major religion: Roman Catholicism and Protestant
Main languages: The main language used is Spanish, but Bolivia has over 30 official languages, most of which are indigenous
Money: The Bolivian Boliviano (BOB) is divided into 100 cents, or centavos. Expats will need a residence permit to open a bank account and may need to bring along a Spanish translator to ease the process of opening an account. ATMs are usually easy to find, especially in Bolivia's larger cities.
Tipping: Tipping is not always expected but a small tip of 5 to 10 percent of a restaurant bill is always appreciated
Time: GMT -4
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz. Plugs are two-pronged with round pins or flat blades (type C and type A)
Internet domain: .bo
International dialing code: +591
Emergency numbers: 165 (ambulance), 119 (fire), 120 (police)
Transport and driving: Buses, trains and taxis are available. Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road.