5 Things To Consider Before Moving Your Family To Nicaragua
Editor’s note: Please think very carefully before moving your family abroad. In most cases, we would discourage it. It takes a great deal of research and planning. This article is for families considering living in Nicaragua who are seasoned travelers, possibly Spanish speaking, and with disposable income. This is definitely not for everyone, and most of our friends with families are small business owners here in Leon. If this sounds like you fit in the above category, please read on.
My wife and I moved to Nicaragua with our 1.5 year old son back in the fall of 2012. We first came down here with the intention of scouting the country out as a potential place to start our own business: A TEFL training center that became ITA’s branch in Leon, Nicaragua.
At the time, we were just like you. I had one colleague that had moved down here with his family in 2008, and we kept in regular contact to get updates on each other. Other than that, and a Lonely Planet Guidebook, we knew very little about Nicaragua, except that it was a cheap and a safe country for foreigners – which was important to my wife and I with a young child.
Eventually we settled down into Leon, found a place to live, and started the process to open our business, obtain residency, and find a little normalcy after traveling by chicken bus for over 4 months. At first, we didn’t look for childcare, or in home workers, but as the business started to see some small success, our time was better spent helping upcoming and present students as opposed to mopping and doing house chores.
I have to mention that up until the recent past, taking a TEFL class, and moving to Nicaragua with your family would be discouraged. By considering these 5 things before coming to Nicaragua, we believe that people who are willing to put in the time and effort can live in Nicaragua comfortably.
- Finances. It is no secret that Nicaragua is an affordable country compared to other Central American Countries, however over time things can add up. One thing to consider is what type of TEFL class is the best for your family. During the 4 week onsite course here in Leon, you can expect not to spend any time with your family for a month. You will wake up, eat, breathe and sleep this TEFL class. We work hard and we also have a lot of fun. So if you were to consider the 4 week class, either come alone, or put your spouse up in a comfortable living arrangement while you are basically gone for a month. If you are both considering doing this (I would definitely consider this, for double the income – see below.) than it will be a fair trade off. If you are a single parent, the online course would likely be the best option for you.
Teaching English online in Nicaragua is becoming very popular here, and is really the only way possible for a couple to be able to live comfortably, be able to afford childcare, private education, rent a small house, and save some money for the future. Broken down, this is what some basic expenses are for a family of 4:
- Rent for a 2-3 bedroom home in city center Leon – $300/month plus utilities.
- Electricity, water, Internet – $80 – $120 (Without air conditioning. Electricity is very expensive because we get over 50% of it from renewables here in Nicaragua. A/C uses a lot of electricity, and most people don’t use it.)
- In home childcare – $200/month
- Private pre-school or primary school – $50/month/child
- Visa runs/costs – $10 entering the country if you are from N. America. Border runs to Costa Rica via Tica Bus (Best practice) can cost upwards of $80/person depending on month. This has to be done every 90 days. **Nicaragua is nice because you can also renew your tourist visa 2x per month in country. This will cost you around $50 per passport holder.
- Food – $80/month eating local and preparing food for a family of 4 without diapers etc. (Infants are more expensive, and cloth diapers are highly recommended.)
- Medical – $20 for a trip to the Dr., and $30 for a trip to the ER. This pricing is at private clinics/hospitals.
- Travel – $35/day with local travel, public transportation, and staying at budget accommodations.
So as you can see, it can be very cost effective to live here in Nicaragua. A regular monthly budget totaling all things above except for visa costs, medical, and travel is $780/month. If you had two parents working part time teaching online and earning a combined salary of $3000/ month, you will have a monthly savings around $2200. Teaching online you will also not have traditional hours. One company may offer hours during the day, and another company you may start working at 9:00 pm or 4:00 am. It depends on the company and their students. You will also need to plan your childcare around that as well. See below.
That all sounds fine and good, except that we haven’t discussed how long it will take you to get to this point. First you need 9 weeks for both spouses to get TEFL certified (22 weeks if you decide on the online course.) than you need to find a place to live, find quality childcare, possible maid services, a school, and when you do that, it will probably be time to do a visa run. This is all before you collect one paycheck. So as you can see, you are going to have to have a nice nest egg saved in order to do all of this before getting your first check. It may take up to four months to accomplish all of these things.
- Finding Housing. When looking for a place to live, I try and avoid real estate companies and people who act like them or on behalf of them. They are usually much more expensive, and usually their demographic are retirees and pensioners who have steady income after retirement. The best way to find affordable housing is to find it on the ground while you are here. This is where knowing a local, and word of mouth is important. Often times, the best and most cost effective housing and rental options are not even advertised or on the market. There is a local website similar to Craigslist called Encuentra 24 that may have some affordable options, but the best way is still on the ground.
- Childcare and Education. You can’t call up someone and send you child to day care. It doesn’t exist, with a few rare exceptions in Managua. Most childcare in home is found by word of mouth, and you may or may not be lucky enough to have someone that actually takes good care of your child. If not, then you need to find someone else, and start that process all over again.
Private, local education is plentiful and usually affordable. Outside of Managua, there are few bilingual schools. Our six year old son goes to two schools. The first is a local private school, and that costs about $50/month. We have started our own bilingual school here in Leon, and plan on expanding over the course of the next few years. The cost for that school is $200/month. It is customary for secondary school to be slightly more expensive. Large, International Bilingual Schools in Nicaragua are expensive, and out of the price range for most Nicaraguans. For example, there is one school that has a $5000 initial one time registration fee per child, and $500/monthly fee per child. The students of this school are mainly the children of international ambassadors from around the world, and wealthy business owners. The same is true for Universities after secondary school.
- Make friends with locals. They know who to trust, and who to stay away from. They might be a neighbor, your server at a coffee shop, or a taxi driver. Either way, it is imperative to make friends with locals. If you apply for residency, (I would recommend this after one year.) something to consider is that Immigration will interview you at your home. What they don’t tell you is that they will also interview all of your neighbors to see if you are good people. In Nicaragua, how you act and interact with people is almost more important that what you say. Your attitude, your body language, how you treat your children and each other. People are kind and respectful, and they expect you to be the same way. Pay attention to cultural norms. Nicaraguans also take a lot of pride in their personal appearance. Men often wear jeans or dress pants, a collared or button up shirt, and dress shoes or sneakers. Women will often wear jeans or slacks, a blouse or a button up shirt, high heels, or nice sandals. Nicaraguans always look good! It is expected that you dress the same. If you are always wearing shorts, tank tops, and Havaiana’s, you will be treated like a tourist, and not a local. They even have a word for people who dress like that: Bagos! Assimilation to the Nicaraguan culture will only benefit you. The cliché when in Rome, do as the Romans is very true here.
- Take a scouting trip first. Nicaragua is a developing country in the tropics. It is not an affordable version of Florida, and it is definitely not for everyone. If you have only gone on vacation and stayed in resorts, you may be in for a shock. How do you know if you even like Nicaragua? Leon or Matagalpa? Depending on where you are going, you will find Nicaragua has three different areas and personalities – The Pacific Lowlands including Leon, The Caribbean Coast and Islands, and the mountainous and much cooler north. The people and culture in these three areas can be strikingly different, and for you and your family – different people like different things.
Before taking your scouting trip to Nicaragua there are two big things to consider. First, conduct research and lots of it. Check out blogs and expat websites, but also research authorities like Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, and Moon. You may be surprised at what people write online, and come to find your experience is much different. So take Facebook Expat sites and Blogs with a grain of salt. Second, you will experience culture shock. Prepare for it, and expect it. Children will experience culture shock differently than adults and at different times. Again conduct research on culture shock, the signs and symptoms, and the steps to get through it. Here is a popular article on culture shock.
So as you can see, this is an arduous task – but doable if you plan ahead, do your research, and are tenacious about living abroad with your family. Nicaragua is an amazing country where family comes first, and everything else comes second – including work. Working part time and teaching English online with two working parents is a fantastic opportunity, without opening your own business and assuming any risk. This is a much more economical way to live abroad with your family.