LIFE: Transplanting Yourself in Barranquilla – Part 1

Moving to La Arenoza


So, you’ve decided to move to Barranquilla. Awesome decision – this city is a fantastic cross between a Caribbean paradise and a cosmopolitan metropolis. The decision to come was the easy part. For most people, picking up and moving to another country is perhaps the most stressful event of their life. Whether it be for work, family, or even just a fresh start, pulling up your roots and transplanting yourself in unfamiliar territory is scary. This is especially so for people who are already established and who already have a home, a car, friends, and work. Leaving behind something that you’ve spent years building will be hard.

Hard, but not impossible. As someone who has done just that – pulled up roots and completely restarted, 4000 miles from home, I’m going to show you how to do it right. I moved from Canada to El Salvador in 2009 and then I moved here to Barranquilla in 2014. I want to help you avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced and make your transition as painless as possible.

So, I will try to give you all the info you need in 4 parts, split across 4 weeks:

1. Plan: Everything you need to consider once you’ve made the decision to go.
2. Move: All the steps along the way including shipping, visas and paperwork.
3. Arrive: Navigating the city, finding an apartment, setting up an income.
4. Grow: How to find a great job, join a social network and blossom.

If you plan well enough and you know what to expect, you can avoid the traveler terror that some people suffer – realizing they’re a million miles from home, that they don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, etc. You don’t want to be like my buddy Peter who came to visit me in San Salvador, El Salvador but landed in San Salvador, Bahamas. Crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s will make the different between a nightmare and a dream.

Push for success but plan for failure

Having confidence in yourself and in your ability to locate an apartment and a job is fantastic – but don’t count on it – reality has a habit of kicking us in the butt – you should have housing and work lined up before you leave to the airport.

First, get on Facebook, and connect with us at Expats of BarranquillaOn this group, we have close to 500 foreign people (expats) who know Barranquilla and would be happy to answer your questions about the city. Almost everyone in this group has done exactly the same thing – make the right decision to change their lives!

I recommend you come to Barranquilla prepared to stay at least 3 months (the maximum you can stay without renewing your visa). This should be more than enough time to decide whether Barranquilla is right for you. Personally, I love it – for me, it’s paradise, and I have many friends who agree. But I also know many people who couldn’t handle the heat and the laid-back culture – most of them ended up moving on to Medellin where it’s a little cooler and attitudes are more aligned to North American and Western European culture.

If you’re young and/or single and you’re mainly interested in traveling and not necessarily looking to relocate your life, you might want to reach out to an internship or volunteer program. Many of these programs offer to cover basic expenses (sometimes referred to as stipends) and some of them will also help locate work and/or lodging. Depending on your expectations and the availability of space, these programs may be better suited to you. They generally offer the security of a pre-planned itinerary and can eliminate some stress by meeting you at the airport, and pre-arranging trips, connections, etc.

On the other hand, most of these programs have start-up fees and many of them set expectations up front for mobility and time. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line. You can ask the people in our expat group – many of them are here on internships. Below are some of the most common such programs used by these kinds of travelers to Barranquilla:

Check back next week for the first segment of Transplanting Yourself in Barranquilla. If you have any questions or concerns, leave a message in the comments below or reach out to me directly by clicking here.

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In a former life, Mike was a corporate project manager in Canadian telecom. For the last 6 years, he has been traveling around Latin America, teaching English and writing. Mike now lives with his partner in beautiful Barranquilla.