Sunday, 29 November 2009

What expats should bring to Uruguay

I recently helped my parents pack up our family home in Ireland and throughout the process I heard many a time that "moving house is listed as one of the most stressful experiences in a person's life". Having been surrounded by cardboard boxes for weeks on end, and always realizing I needed something right after I sealed a box (with excessive layers of tape no less!) I couldn't imagine combining this experience and moving to a new country all at the same time!

Now I may be an expat myself, I may have done this "packing up my life" business, but the longer I am here the more I realize how young and free I am. My move to Uruguay was not dependent on whether I could sell a house in today's difficult economy, I was not responsible for young children and their belongings and welfare as well as my own, and I didn't have a whole lifetime and stuff to pack before I came...just 2 suitcases accompanied me down south (and I can't tell you how hard it was to close those 2 very innocent looking but insanely overpacked cases!).

Of the many expats I have met here in Uruguay - of all ages, situations, and personalities - pretty much all will agree that less is more when moving your life (explained wonderfully in this blog post "The Cost Of Owning Things"). If you're young, willing to adapt, and not responsible for anyone but yourself, then yes - bringing the bare minimum is possible and advisable (the less clutter you own, the less cluttered your life is - this is not a cliche!). However, when it comes to families - especially those with young children, and also those moving here long term (ie. a good few years without possible return "home") then there are a few things you may want to bring with you to make life a little more comfortable.

Remember, all lists should be edited/added to/ignored based on YOU, nobody can tell you exactly what you will or won't need. Some people can live in the same clothes day in-day out, some people cannot survive without a cookie cutter version of the life they are used to (if that sounds like you then think long and hard about a life in South America - it requires compromises!). With that said the very best advice I can give you is to take 5 or 10 minutes, sit down with a piece of paper and mentally go through a regular day. What things do you use every day? What is the one thing you can't live without? What is the one thing that relaxes you and puts a smile on your face? If those things can be packed, then bring them.

Here are some things expats have recommended packing (if there's anything you think I left out then feel free to add a comment!)

- Most importantly - your memories! In the end almost everything can be begged, bought, borrowed or stolen here, but you can never replace your photos, your keepsakes, anything that means a lot to you.

Your favourite/most used things: this is very person specific - if you love to garden bring high quality garden trowels and tools, if you knit bring good knitting needles, if you're a DIY person bring good tools, if you love to read bring a good selection of English books to keep you going (they're in short and expensive supply here, though I think you can order then off amazon...and wish for luck with the postal system!). If you love make-up and facials etc bring high quality cosmetics (good stuff is rare and where it does exist its very overpriced!), if you draw or paint bring the right supplies...I think you get the idea - take a few minutes to think about YOU and what's most important in YOUR life.

- Rare ingredients: If you like to cook (or even if you don't yet cook but like foreign foods) then bring ingredients. Food in Uruguay is bland. They make a damn good steak but thats really as far as it goes. The don't do flavorings for baking like vanilla essence etc so if you bake bring them. I brought a tub of really good (really strong) curry paste and many many months later it is still making me lovely curries :) You can buy curry powder here but its just not as good as the paste. You'll won't find any thai food ingredients. Mexican stuff is here but in small supply and its all very overpriced. Once again, think of your favourites (whether its peanut butter, marmite, chutney, spices, good chocolate etc) and bring a little bit for a treat every once in a while.

- Kitchen supplies: Good pots and pans and general kitchen utensils (especially anything unusual!). Both can openers and corkscrews here are terrible - they break all the time and are so overpriced (a basic can opener can fetch US$15 and break in a week!). Pots and pans here are of cheap cheap China quality, and anything resembling the good stuff is crazily priced. If you cook it is worth investing at home and bringing a good set. The same goes for utensils or machines - a blender, electric mixer, good nonstick baking trays, chopping knives. Its all much more expensive here (because of all the import taxes) and the quality ranges from passable to very poor unless you are willing to pay big prices.

- Home Decor & Furniture: Just to clarify - obviously the bigger stuff on this list only applies to people who are importing containers of household goods, I am not recommending that you bring your grandmother's armchair on the plane (though I'd love to see someone try with how ridiculous airlines have become about baggage these days!). If you're setting up house long term in Uruguay then bring as much as you can - I could pretty much guarantee you that anything you bring from home, even if second hand, will last twice or three times as long as anything you will buy here, and you can be sure it will cost you less at home too. If you're building a house then bring fittings and fixtures like taps, light switches, door knobs, drawers pulls, wall and ceiling lights, towel holders/racks etc.

- Your Clothes! I've said it before in a post about clothes in Uruguay, but in general they leave much to be desired - in short, bring your clothes with you! Buy plenty of your tried and trusted favourites (trust me, you'll appreciate something as simple as well fitted jeans or good quality tshirts!). Underwear is made in very odd shapes and not the nicest materials (cotton isn't popular here, synthetic materials are - I'll say no more). This is especially relevant if you're very tall or short. Uruguay is a small market so things only come in so many sizes. If you wear very large clothes you should bring plenty with you.

- Technology! Import taxes are around 50 or 60% in Uruguay (and keep in mind they don't make much that isn't cow related)...then their value added tax (IVA) is 22%. This basically means you will pay through the nose for almost everything! If you need a laptop bring one. If you're setting up a business, bring everything!

The list could go on and on and on. I wrote a very detailed article for Total Uruguay about what to pack when moving here. Again it varies from person to person, and yes most things are "available" here but they will be more expensive and they will likely be of poor quality and with less choice. I wrote this article because when I went to pack my bags for moving here I had never been to South America before and I really didn't know where to start. Rest assured that the larger towns of Uruguay are very developed and will have pretty much everything you are used to. Bring a supply of the things that you use on a daily basis, and as you settle in you will find substitutes.

If you need some motivation to help you with your clear-out try this great blog post about holding on to physical belongings, moving away, and realizing you just don't need all the STUFF after all.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Cafe Lifestyle: The Perfect Weekend In Montevideo

I am a BIG fan of activity-filled days that somehow also feel lazy and relaxed. Today was one such day :)

Montevideo is a great place for understated taste and culture - ie. where it exists it hasn't been monopolized by arrogant posers. Unfortunately people foolishly tend to associate kitsch cafes, funky bars, unique venues and memorable music with modern metropolitan cities - Montevideo may be small, but under its greyish outer layer there exists a colourful array of places to be found and treasures to be sampled.

Today I finally made it to one such treasure - La Pasionaria, a little place of many titles! Choose from cafe, restaurant, boutique, art store, design studio, bookshop, art exposition and more - either way, it all equals good fun (and a million colourful corners to feast your eyes on!).

Whether you peruse the eclectic array of intriguing coffee table books in the libreria (plenty of nudity in the name of art, always good), gawk at the collection of fantastic Uruguayan photos and artworks in the design studio, or simply chow down on some of the great (and reasonably priced!) food in their cafe "El Beso", you're sure to enjoy yourself.

La Pasionaria is in La Ciudad Vieja, on Reqonquista no.587, on the corner with Juan Carlos Gomez. They're open Monday-Friday 10am - 7pm and Saturdays 12 - 6pm. And if you like La Pasionaria you're such to get a kick out of Cafe La Pausa just around the corner. These two spots are sure to become my favourite weekend morning hangouts.

Cafe La Pausa is of those places that is both hidden and yet right in front of your eyes. It is also located in La Ciudad Vieja, along Peatonal Sarandi just after Plaza Matriz (walking away from the city). It is an ordinary looking front door, sometimes with a sign, sometimes without....but if you head up to the first floor you will find the lovely Alicia offering a gorgeous little cafe filled with fantastic books and magazines to rummage through, a menu of home-made goodies to feast on, and the wonderful soothing sounds of soft jazz and classic tango wafting casually through the air.

The tall windows not only allow you to curl up in the afternoon sunlight with a coffee, tea or freshly squeezed juice of your choice, but it also makes it a perfect spot for a little bit of people watching along the bustling Sarandi....and the owner Alicia really strikes me as a person with some great life stories to tell...if you're looking to practice your español! :)

Afterwards take a stroll through the feria that takes place in Plaza Matriz...there are so many old photos, records, keys, postcards, jewellery and intriguing snippets of other peoples lives to help you piece together an elaborate history of how Montevideo once was. Don't actually buy anything though - the prices are massively inflated and Sunday holds something even better - The Tristan Narvaja Market (I'll get around to writing a post on that one someday!).

Until next time....go out and find Montevideo's secret treasures (and let me know about them!)

Friday, 25 September 2009

Place To See: The Central Cemetery Montevideo

What I love about Montevideo is that it is a city which YOU have to go out and find, it does not simply stare you in the face like many big tourist hubs. There isn't a set list of top 10 sites to see and then you can tick it off your may be small, but it is rich in culture and hidden treasures - and when you make the effort to go out and find it, the discoveries are so much more rewarding.

My newest find (and one that I should have bothered to visit much sooner!) is the beautiful Central Cemetery ("El Cementerio Central") located in Barrio Sur. You'll find it along Avenida Gonzalo Ramirez at the end of Yaguaron, a beautiful oasis of peace and serenity amidst an otherwise bustling city.

Some may find it strange to visit a cemetery - personally I find the whole tourist fascination with the famous Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires a little grotesque. Its not so much the "visiting a cemetery" part that I find weird, but more so the mass visits, the lack of reverence, the flashing cameras. Yes it is a beautiful place, but is also a sacred place - one where mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have been laid to rest.

Luckily that is something that is still very much acknowledged in this cemetery. There are still people visiting graves - old and new - but they don't mind you wandering. They have bought these beautiful monuments to pay homage to their loved ones, and as such they are there to be shared, appreciated and admired. It is a place of incredible peace and tranquility - it is filled with lush towering trees, some that hang down over the memorials, as if weeping with and comforting the mourning figures captured in the incredible grave stones. There are hundreds of different types of birds - colourful and singing, oblivious to the nature of place they have made their homes. Cats patrol the graves - some sprawled out on the hot sun soaked marble tombs, others watching from the almost catches you off guard when you notice just how many little feline eyes are following you!

Having been built in 1835, the cemetery is now over 160 years old and still expanding. You can see where the original plot lay, and how it has since expanded downward toward the rambla. There are many important figures buried here, including Delmira Agustini a major Latin-American writer, and Francisco Acuna de Figueroa, the man who penned Uruguay's national anthem (and probably a whole lot more if you're up to speed on Uruguayan, Italian and Argentine history!).

What remains most striking is of course the incredible grave stone monuments. Many were commissioned by very well-to-do families of the 19th century who spared no expense in leaving a fitting memorial for their family name. As such there are works by Genoese artist Lavarello, Italian sculptors Felix Morelli and Jose Livi, as well as Uruguayan artists Jose Luis Zorrilla de San Martin and Jose Belloni (who also designed the fountain in Plaza Entrevero and the horse statue in Parque Rodo).

This is definitely a place to visit in Montevideo. There is an incredible sense of peace and deep history. It is unusual to find such a place in the middle of a city and it is honestly somewhere I could visit again and again. I think it is open to the public every weekday until 4.30pm.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Helpful Articles & Advice For Expats In Uruguay

s I've been working away on so many articles for the free ebook that is available on Unfortunately this has kept me more than distracted from my to try and make up for it I'll post links to all the articles here so at least you have something to tide you over until I get back to the good stuff.

  • Thinking about a move to Uruguay? Or maybe wondering what has all these people relocating to this random tiny country in South America? Read up on the positive and negative aspects of life in Uruguay.
I hope they help! If you have any questions about life in Uruguay feel free to post a comment and I'll do my best to answer you :)

Friday, 28 August 2009

Buying Real Estate in Uruguay

So I was approached to do a small interview offering my opinions on the burgeoning real estate market here in Uruguay...I expected nothing would come of it, but alas, here I am being quoted in surname form!

Nuwire Investor: " Uruguay Real Estate On A Steady Beat"

On another note, I really have to apologise for how ridiculously sporadic this blog has been, I guess it has mirrored my hectic life in Uruguay so far! But now that I am back from a quick trip to Ireland I plan to "settle" (in so far as that word could ever be used to describe me!) at least for a little while. And here's what's coming up in the next few posts:

- Banking & Investment in Uruguay

- What to bring & what to leave behind

- Why move to Uruguay?

- Searching for an apartment from outside Uruguay

- My new favourite galleries and art exhibits

- Montevideo Zoo!
(*update: I went, I won't write a post on it - too depressing. Just take my word for it - don't go)

** Oh and if you're reading this and you have any requests for a blog post on anything let me know and I'll see what I can do!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Carrasco Airport Montevideo: Flying To & From Uruguay

If you are flying in or out of Uruguay you will almost definitely arrive via Carrasco International Airport. This is Uruguay's main airport and it is located in Montevideo's suburban neighbourhood of Carrasco, just 30-40 minutes drive from the city centre.

Carrasco Airport is a small airport by any standards - it is essentially just one long narrow terminal building, one end housing a few check-in desks and one end occupied by a door for arrivals. It is a very basic set-up with a fairly modern appearance but since the airport was privatized in 2003 to a company called "Puerta Del Sur" passengers now pay a hefty fee for this basic modernity!

Coming IN to Uruguay is free of charge, but if you wish to leave via Carrasco airport expect to pay US$31 for international passengers or US$17 if you wish to hop across the river to Buenos Aires. Its a bit strange that the one area they won't let you take pictures of in the airport is the desk where you pay this fee, they even have a 24hour guard to ensure nobody takes pictures! You can pay this "tasa de embarque" (boarding fee) in cash with US dollars or Uruguayan pesos , they say they accept visa, mastercard and amex but many people have they when they tried to pay with credit card they were refused so bring cash to be safe!

There's two small cafes either end of the terminal building and another snack stand inside at the gates. There is a "free shop" which obviously offers some sort of savings because the immigration officer very stealthily asked me to escort her to the duty free shop, buy her a few boxes of cigarettes and deposit them in an area where the security cameras couldn't see. It was very clandestine altogether, but entertaining nonetheless.

I have heard such a mixed bag of reports about going through customs when entering Uruguay - everything from the Spanish Inquisition over bringing in laptops to people who just walked on through with bags and bags of things. I find that it is very hard to provide accurate information or hard and fast rules about processes in Uruguay because it can honestly depend on who you encounter, what kind of day they're having and even what happened yesterday....I'm told that when customs officers are scolded for not catching something you can expect them to confiscate random things and ask pointless questions just for the sake of looking active and conscientious! Just make sure that if you're bringing anything new you make it look used (put pictures and personal things on laptops, don't bring anything in its original box etc).

Transport: Traffic in Montevideo is quite light and its a rather stress-free journey to and from the airport. You can take the DM1 bus from Tres Cruces bus station for 25pesos and it will leave you right outside the airport terminal building. Equally so the DM1 regularly stops outside the airport terminal and will bring you to Tres Cruces bus station which is in the centre of Montevideo. You will have to have small change to pay for the bus as they will not speak english and will NOT be happy if you attempt to hand them 500 or 1000 pesos to pay your 25peso fare!

You can also take a taxi to the airport but it is often better to book one through a remise (a taxi company) rather than hailing one on te street because it could be very expensive on the meter. There is a guy called Jaime that has been recommended by a few expats. He lived in the US for a few years and so speaks some english, his cell phone is 099-152-560. As I was leaving on a ridiculously early flight I used Remises La Española 02-622 2323, they collected me at 3.30am in Pocitos and the journey cost me 450pesos (no meter, pre-arranged fare).

Be warned that Carrasco airport is located in the municipal department on Canelones and so the taxis are governed by a different set of rules. They tend to be much larger nicer cars, but the price tags match that. This is all well and good if you have dollars to burn but if you're traveling on a budget or living a more Uruguayan lifestyle then call a Montevideo remise or take the DM1 bus to the centre. There's also a COPSA bus (I think its number 706), this also brings you to Tres Cruces but takes a much less scenic route...if your a tourist the DM1 goes by the coast and is a nice introduction to what Uruguay has to offer.

Carrasco International Airport Website
: Everything is in Spanish but there is a good list of frequently asked questions and information about parking, car rental, duty free shopping, luggage etc.

Check here for arrival and departure times (this is also a good way to know what airlines fly in and out of Montevideo). At the moment the main routes seem to be with TAM, Pluna, American Airlines, Iberia, Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN and Gol.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Ice cream in Montevideo

Ok, so I may have mentioned Las Delicias as the best ice-cream place in Montevideo, and I still stand by that claim, but my favourite flavour is to be found at the Artigiano Heladeria on the corner of Juan Benito Blanco and Miguel Barreiro along the Rambla in Pocitos.

This heavenly little cup contains very creamy, slightly chewy "Mantecol" flavour...yes, for all you peanut-butter fans out there this is it in ice-cream form! And only 45 pesos! They even do delivery if you're feeling super lazy :)