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Ultimate Guide for Moving to Guatemala By an Expat from Antigua

a street in antigua guatemala

Guatemala is a hotspot for expats, digital nomads, families, and retirees, offering rich culture, history, and nature. It’s also popular among Americans since it’s just a short flight from the United States, making it easy and accessible to get back home to visit family and friends. I have been living as an expat in Antigua for a long time now, and I can tell you exactly what moving to Guatemala is like and how to do it.

Many people move to Guatemala each year, whether it’s for learning Spanish, for work, or simply as an expat, there is a good deal of useful information you need to know. In this guide, I’ll show you all you need to know about moving to Guatemala.

If you’re planning on traveling to Guatemala, I highly recommend you to check out my full guide about it.

Table of Contents

Getting to Guatemala

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, delays, and red tape.

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.

Requirements needed to Live in Guatemala

In order to visit or 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 of time, you need to apply to Guatemalan Immigration.

If you have plans of becoming a resident after moving to Guatemala for the long term, you’ll need to do a ton of paperwork, some of the paper you’ll need are the next:

  • 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, I go more in detail there with some tip and hacks about it.

Related Read: Visas and Residency in Guatemala: Which Options do You Have?

Working in Guatemala

The work permits in the country can be divided into two categories. Those who meet some requirements like residency or temporary visa, police records, and birth certificate or an expatriate with a local (Guatemalan) spouse or kids.

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

Living Expenses in Guatemala

This will depend a lot on your lifestyle, depending on if you are alone, a couple, or a family. You can live cheaply in Guatemala, if you do groceries in local markets, buy local produce, and if you live in simple accommodations, and 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. 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 shopping food in Guatemala. That way, you’ll have a better idea about the costs of living in Guatemala.

Related Read: Family Living Expenses in Guatemala (With Prices)

a house in guatemala

Healthcare in Guatemala

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 cheaper than in most places.

In most cities and big towns, 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. The facilities are great, have all the amenities, sometimes the staff is multilingual, and the attention is excellent.

Related Read: Guatemala Healthcare: Why it Beats the US and other Countries

Woman in a hospital room before giving birth in Guatemala

Education in Guatemala

It is mandatory for kids in Guatemala to do six years of education. And finding the right school in the country can be hard, Guatemala offers private and public schools. 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.

Related Read: Antigua Green School Review in Antigua, Guatemala

antigua green school in antigua guatemala

Banks and Money

Guatemala has an 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 are in two locations, the banks, and the ATMs.

Related Read: Best Way to Exchange Money to Quetzales in Guatemala

quetzales coin and bills guatemalan currency

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.

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

Fortunately, you can find a huge American expat community in Guatemala, from retirees to digital nomads and people that 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.

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