Moving to Bolivia

Bolivia is diverse in every sense. Expats relocating to this landlocked country will find that Bolivian culture draws strongly from its deep 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. 

The population of expats in Bolivia is small and most foreigners can be found in either the capital, Sucre, or other major cities like Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba. Most expats are employed by NGOs or are volunteering for a short 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 the country is experiencing some economic growth.

Some of the main things expats relocating to Bolivia will need to consider are accommodation, education and schools, transport, safety and healthcare. Expats should also be sure to do some research before the move and familiarise themselves with the Bolivian way of life to minimise culture shock.

Expats can find a range 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.

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.

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.

Since the 1980s, Bolivia has become an increasingly stable and peaceful country, but 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.

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.

Ultimately, those planning on moving to Bolivia may experience some 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.

Despite multiple barriers and challenges, those with a sense of adventure are sure to enjoy expat life in this land of unparalleled natural beauty.


Fast facts

Population: Over 11.4 million

Capital city: Sucre

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: Unitary presidential constitutional 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.