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Guatemala – You can leave Germany if you want

Philip from Saxony-Anhalt runs a combination bakery and café with his English business partner Becky in the center of San Marcos La Laguna on Lago Atitlan, the second largest lake in Guatemala. Philip has been in the country permanently for six years and can provide good information about the living situation in this Central American country.

300 instead of 1200 euros

“Most people in Central Europe,” he says, “imagine Guatemala to be much more underdeveloped than it actually is. It's a wonderful place to settle down and live in this country. And most people here, mostly indigenous people, are friendly and accommodating. Of course you should be willing to learn Spanish.”

“Just two days ago,” he reports, “I was in contact with a Viennese woman who was thinking about emigrating. She pays 1200 euros for her two-and-a-half-room apartment in the Austrian capital alone. Here in Guatemala she would have problems finding an apartment for 600 euros, because there aren't many such luxury apartments. But she could live right by the lake and under circumstances that are rarely found in Europe. Of course, you can get something decent for 300 euros.” And, he adds, anyone who is willing to live in conditions close to indigenous people can also get by with 200 euros. Conversely, you can live better here than at home, “provided you have enough money”. Philip cites Casa Floresta as an extreme example. Anyone can watch them for themselves on the Internet at

Everything has two sides

So there is this paradisiacal side of Guatemala. “However, if you are sick,” he adds matter-of-factly, “you should be clear about the circumstances that you have to expect here.” There is the Maya Clinic here in town, where all “normal” illnesses are treated using naturopathy concerns. “They grow all the medicines there in their own gardens. There are also a few chiropractors from the USA.”

If you need a hospital, for example for surgical procedures, you have to go to Panajachel across the lake (about 30 minutes by boat; the boats often come, but not according to a timetable and sometimes not at all if the waves are too high). Xela (78 km/2 h) or Antigua (135 km/3,5 h). Or of course to Guatemala City, a little further, where there is everything a European heart could desire. “But in Xela,” says Philip, “they have good ultrasound equipment. I know that because we recently used it ourselves because my girlfriend is pregnant." Here, however, you can't wait until the last minute like in Germany, where an ambulance can be there in 15 minutes. “Definitely,” says Philip, “you need a bit more common sense here, but then you won’t have any big problems.”

There is free state health insurance, the IGGS, for employees and entrepreneurs, but he only recommends it for initial care. The state wants whoever settles here to take out such insurance. However, you only want to go to hospitals with this insurance level if necessary. You can also take out private insurance here and then have a 24-hour service. The prerequisite for this is your own bank account. The costs start at around €63 per month.

Greatly connected

Officially there is a minimum wage of 3200 quetzales in Guatemala. But apart from himself, he doesn't know anyone who pays for it - as a rule it is not monitored. He pays this himself as a starting salary; Employees who stay longer receive significantly more. He believes that Europeans could easily find a job in Guatemala - and would generally be paid better because of their different skills and their greater reliability. “But there is no employment office or anything comparable here. You just have to go and chat. There is also a Facebook community for practically every location. People are extremely connected about that.” His girlfriend, for example, is in a mothers’ group. One supports the other. “You don’t have that much cohesion in Berlin. For example, for mothers a few weeks before the birth and a few months after, there is the 'Food Train'. Others in the neighborhood take turns cooking for you and bringing the food to you - all for free, with no expectation of anything in return. I'm not necessarily a fan of the hippies here, but they have something like that, it's good old hippie spirit."

Get a residence permit

“You only get a residence permit for three months. You then have to leave and then re-enter the country. It's not difficult, but it's still annoying. If you go over three months - in my case it was nine months - you need good reasons. When I showed my passport at the border with Mexico, there was initially a lot of frowning. But I was able to provide a tax number and a business tax number - as an entrepreneur. When I had to 'pocket' 1500 Quetzales, I got three stamps and the problem was over. My lawyer said no one here would go to jail for something like that. You can apply for a residence permit if you can prove that you have been in the country for at least six months within two years. “In order to get citizenship, you need more patience, you have to be able to wait, and vitamin B definitely helps.”

Work permit included

“The practical thing is that you don’t need a work permit here,” emphasizes Philip. This is granted automatically when you enter Guatemala - which also means that you can start your own business here. “You then go to the tax authority and apply for a tax number or an additional business tax number. Then you can get started.” In order to get away from widespread corruption, the state recently introduced a regulation: “As soon as you buy something that is more expensive than 2500 quetzales, you have to provide your tax number when purchasing it or, if you don’t have one , your passport number. People aren’t even that consistent in Germany.”

One aspect of the good life here that he mentions a few times is the extremely pleasant temperatures. At night, all year round, they rarely go below 15 degrees and during the day they rarely go above 25 degrees. It is not for nothing that Guatemala calls itself “The Land of Eternal Spring”. The rainy season can also be endured well. “It usually rains for two hours a day, but then it’s nice again.”

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Written by Bobby Langer

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