Ultimate Guide for Living in Guatemala By an Expat from Antigua

I moved to Guatemala more than 20 years ago and raised my kids here but I have lived in several other countries too, in my time living in this amazing country I learned a few things, it’s highly popular among Americans since it’s a short flight from the US and each year more and more people decide to start living in Guatemala.

I get a lot of emails now and then from people who want to live in this country and ask all kinds of questions, and since I have a lot of experience in this topic, I decided to create a complete guide on what moving to Guatemala is like and how you can do it.

Whether you want to learn Spanish, for work or as an expat or retiree, there’s a lot of information you need to get right before relocating to Guatemala.

In this guide, I’ll show you all you need to know about moving to Guatemala.

Living in Guatemala

Guatemala is a stunning country, filled with amazing natural attractions, and great Spanish schools, and is much more affordable than several other countries. I have been living in Guatemala as an American for several years, more than 20 and I know exactly how living here feels like.

Your best option is to stay in Antigua, it’s one of the most stunning places I have seen in a long time, the architecture, the cobblestone streets, and the volcanoes as a backdrop make every day magical.

But life is more than just that, you need to take care of certain aspects to live at its best, from the healthcare system (yes, it’s a lot more affordable than the US) to working and living expenses.

viewpoint green rush guatemala
My family and I agree that growing up and living in Guatemala is hands-down the best experience, now living in another country we look back to it with a lot of love.

Getting to Guatemala

There are several ways to get to Guatemala, but flying is the most common.

Guatemala International Airport is located in Guatemala City and is called La Aurora. Most people get to Guatemala by plane to the capital. You can also find some destinations with flights to Flores Airport, close to Tikal.

You can still access Guatemala by land or sea, and those are hassle-free unless you’re driving your car, in those cases, you’ll face entry fees and delays.

Flights coming from New York to La Aurora Airport in Guatemala City take more than five hours to arrive, and almost 12 hours from Madrid.

Moving to Guatemala

Relocating to Guatemala is not complex, it’s more tiresome and annoying than complicated. I highly recommend having a to-do list, this will help you organize everything, and depending on how you like things done you will get a step or two done before moving.

Moving out abroad is a big decision but it’s rewarding too. In my personal experience, it’s one of the best things that happened in my life.

I didn’t know a lot of the information I know now, and I wish I had learned all of this ages before. Here’s how I would personally approach moving to Guatemala from scratch.

I would travel to the country for 90 days, get familiar with it, and after the 90 days go out and come back for another 90 days.

In the meantime, I would get the required paperwork done and I would already be familiar with the healthcare system, living expenses, and work stuff. After that comes the “settling in” part, which includes getting a house and moving in.

Here’s each step in detail:

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The best way to get around is by car

Check out this site to rent a car and go at your own pace.

Requirements Needed to Live in Guatemala

To move to Guatemala, you must know the legal requirements and visas or permits needed to do it.

If you’re coming from the United States you don’t need a visa to stay in Guatemala for 90 days or less, if you want to stay more than that period, you need to apply to Guatemalan Immigration.

The first step if you have plans of becoming a resident after moving to Guatemala for the long term, is to get a ton of paperwork right, some of the paper you’ll need are the next ones:

  • Certified photocopy of your passport
  • Letter of passport validity from your embassy
  • Any applicable marriage certificate
  • Police record
  • Pension or investment income proof

All the documents must be translated into Spanish by an official translator, the immigration department usually provides one.

Remember, you don’t need a visa or any of this paperwork before you get to the country, you can stay in the country for 90 days, and you can opt for a renewal of 90 days more.

You should read or listen to my podcasts about visas and residency in Guatemala, I go into more detail there with some tips and hacks about it.

Working in Guatemala

The work permits you can opt for in the country can be divided into two categories. The first one is for those who meet some requirements like residency or temporary visa, police records, and birth certificate, and the second one is for those who are with a local (Guatemalan) spouse or kids.

You should know that people who have been offered a job are eligible for a permit too, in those cases, the employer will do the application for you.

family eating at esquina asiatica xela guatemala
Living in Guatemala as an American was one of the best teachers I could have, and compared to the United States, the expenses here are at least 50% more affordable

Living Expenses in Guatemala

The living expenses will depend a lot on your lifestyle since you need to consider stuff like if you are alone, a couple, or a family.

But in general terms, you can live affordably in Guatemala and get more for your money, also if you do groceries in local markets, and buy local produce, and if live in simple accommodations, you can reduce your expenses a lot.

Based on that the living expenses in Guatemala are almost 50% cheaper than in the United States.

Of course, the costs of living won’t be lower if you’re buying imported foods, eating out in expensive restaurants, and living in an expat-exclusive neighborhood.

But in general, Guatemala is a lot cheaper than the states and that’s noticeable when renting a home, buying local food, hiring local employees, eating at local restaurants, or hiring domestic help.

I also have a post and a podcast about Pacas (a place to buy cheap clothes and much more stuff) and a guide for shopping for food in Guatemala. That way, you’ll have a better idea about the costs of living in Guatemala.

Essential Travel Resources

❗Don’t forget travel insurance

This company is the one I trust, it’s one of the most essential things for any trip. It has your back in case you get sick abroad, or have an accident.

🎒Pack smarter, not bulky

Check out this vacation packing list, including all the essentials you need to pack when traveling, from travel clothing to backpacks and more.

🏡Where to Stay – Here are Suggestions

This is my favorite place to look for accommodations, it offers different types, a ton of locations, and good price options.

🗺️Get Around Hassle-Free

This one is the perfect option to look for different transportation options between cities, from flights, buses, and taxis to minivans and more.

🛫Find Cheap Flights

Whenever I need to fly, I head to this website for low-cost flights.

Healthcare in Guatemala

One of the biggest aspects of living in Guatemala is its healthcare system. Believe it or not, I have zero complaints about private Guatemala Healthcare, I personally have been in surgery here, and had my baby here (you can read my posts about having a baby in Guatemala to learn more) and I must say it’s better and a lot more affordable than in most places.

In most cities and big towns like Antigua, for example, you’ll find public and private centers like hospitals and clinics.

In the rural area, there are small public clinics with a doctor and a nurse. Most expats choose private healthcare, and it’s the one I particularly use and recommend. The facilities are great, have all the amenities, and in many cases the staff is bilingual, and the attention is excellent.

Woman in a hospital room before giving birth in Guatemala
I have a conclusion about the private healthcare system in Guatemala, in my experience, it’s one of the best in the region.

Education in Guatemala

Kids in Guatemala must do six years of education, and finding the right school in the country can be hard, Guatemala offers private and public schools. My kids went to Antigua Green School and I could not be more grateful, it’s situated in Antigua and is dedicated to enjoying the outdoors!

Most expatriates choose private over public schools due to the lack of funding provided by the government for public schools. You can find a wide variety of types of private schools, international, approved by top-notch academic institutes, offering bilingual ambient for your kids to develop the skills needed.

Prices of private school can vary a lot, and you usually pay it per month depending on which grade your kids are in, also, you need to pay fees. I talk about that in detail in my Family Expenses podcast.

antigua green school in antigua guatemala
The private school system in the country is top-notch, you can find anything from international or approved by top-notch academic institutes, to bilingual or specialized schools.

Banks and Money

Guatemala has anti-money laundering legislation that’s very strict, making it difficult for foreigners to open a bank account. This is why many banks refuse to offer services to expats, while others offer service under specific circumstances, like a local Guatemalan serving as a sponsor, or a partial account, where expats are provided with only a card.

In case you find a bank that is willing to open an account for you, you’ll need to provide your passport, utility bill, proof of address, and in some cases a reference letter from a bank in your country.

There are many ways to exchange money for Quetzales, but the best way to with the highest rates is in two locations, the banks, and the ATMs.

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out Best Way to Exchange Money to Quetzales in Guatemala

quetzales coin and bills guatemalan currency
While exchange rates may vary a lot and bank fees can add up quickly, in my experience, getting Quetzales from USD

How Safe is Living in Guatemala

Guatemala is ranked 127 out of 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index which takes into account many things like standards of living, life expectancy, education, and more.

You’ll often read around the web that Guatemala is quite dangerous, due to its poverty, corruption, police brutality, gangs, and stuff like that, but it’s safe, it’s safe if you know where to land your feet and follow common sense and rules.

In my 20 years living here in Guatemala, I haven’t encountered a single moment where my life or my kid’s life was in danger.

Life in Guatemala for the average citizen is a lot different from expats since most expats are away or isolated from the average Guatemalan concerns. That’s why most expats feel safe in Guatemala, only a few of them have reported violence.

Expat Community in Guatemala

Fortunately, you can find a huge American expat community in Guatemala, from retirees to digital nomads and people who just want to learn Spanish, also, you can connect with expats from other countries online, since many expatriates share their experiences like I do, making the process for beginners easier.

The majority of expats in Guatemala are located in Antigua and around the shores of the villages of Lake Atitlan.

Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links, which means that I may receive a commission for any purchases made through the links. Your trust is important to us, and we ensure that all products or services we recommend meet or exceed our editorial standards.

Last Updated on May 20, 2024

One thought on “Ultimate Guide for Living in Guatemala By an Expat from Antigua”

  1. Does anyone have a guide for moving back to the states? Especially how do you move stuff?

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