It is an …exciting time to be in Venezuela right now! Yes, I could talk about the protests, the safety concerns, and shortages on lots of stuff. Instead, I am writing to those few brave souls who will be joining me on an international teaching adventure in Venezuela.
Venezuela is the third country I have taught in long-term…and Venezuela is a whole new ball game! If you haven’t read up on what is going on here, it might come as a shock when you read my packing list for Venezuela. Some of you might even think I’m exaggerating (I’m not). I can only give you a little warning so you can make your life as comfortable as possible during the initial culture shock you will receive after moving here.
Some things I brought or wish I had brought with me to Venezuela:
More fashionable clothing: I tend to pack the basics, mostly stuff for work, with the intention of shopping and picking up stuff once I arrive in country. Venezuela is not the place for this mindset! It is difficult to import stuff. It is hard to find things in a variety of sizes. Many items I do like the look of are made of cheap synthetics, which will either get ruined in the wash or stick to you like glue in the intense heat. People here dress up any time they leave the house, so be prepared and just bring stuff with you. Shorts are not commonly worn by adults here!
Shoes: When you can find shoes you like (I hope you like heels ladies because there aren’t a lot of other options), they tend to be cheaply made and wont last long. I often find that if I am shopping for athletic shoes I can get a good price (due to the parallel market), but that they don’t have my size or the color I want. Be very open-minded or bring shoes with you.
Toilet Paper: I haven’t seen toilet paper in the grocery store since August (and that was only in the big city). You can either wait in a line going around the block to get it outside of the store, use napkins instead, or have a connection hook you up with a bulk order (I bought 52 rolls from a parent at the beginning of the year and have been hoarding them ever since).
Personal hygiene items: you can find everything you need (deodorant, toothpaste, lotion, shaving cream, tampons, etc.), just not necessarily when you need it or the brand you might like to use. For example, one week the grocery store might have a whole isle of Colgate mouthwash, and then wont have any for the next two weeks (or longer). I like the DivaCup because while you can find tampons, they are rarely in stock.
Spices: Venezuela is the land of bland. I had to drive seven hours to find spicy peppers, and then I could only find them in one stall in the public market after asking everyone else where I could get them. If you like spicy food, bring your own crushed peppers, dried peppers, cayenne, Siracha sauce, etc. Here you can find something called Guasacaca (a vinegary “hot sauce”) and other “salsa picante” but these have absolutely no kick. Also, if you like something other than cumin or adobe for seasonings, bring that too.
Kitchen Stuff: peanut butter is about $10 USD for a small container here (when you can find it), if you like it, bring it with you. I love coconut oil and have only seen it twice in the imported goods grocery store in the big city (certainly not the local places I normally go to). I always like to travel with good knives, but they are especially hard to find here. I might also bring a good pot and pan because while you can find cheap ones everywhere, a good pan will be very expensive and hard to come by.
Bedding: I love to sleep and read in bed so good sheets are important to me. If you like sheets that are more than 200 thread count, I suggest bringing them with you because I have never seen any that I like here. Same goes for a good pillow and blanket, either make-do with synthetic cheap stuff, or bring it with you.
Classroom Stuff: books are really hard to find and so is paper to make copies. If you know you will use a book as a mentor text either find out if your school has a copy you can use, or bring it yourself. If you really want a poster for your classroom wall perhaps you can make it over the summer, laminate it, and bring it with you because paper and good laminate are also hard to find. I have a real problem finding a lot of things for my classroom (I live in a small city so perhaps it is easier in Caracas or Maracaibo) so if you really like to use Sharpies, watercolors, ziplock baggies, bring them with you!
Sweaters: It is hot year round in Venezuela, yet there is air conditioning everywhere you go. Have a couple cardigans for work and maybe your favorite hoody to wear when you are hanging out at a friend’s house.
Bug Repellant: during the rainy season mosquitos are everywhere (the rest of the year they are mostly outside). They get into your house and into your classroom and the local insect repellant doesn’t work for me. Bring two or three big bottles.
Meds: If you are on any medications bring as much as you can. I have been sick a few times and I often need to go to a good handful of pharmacies to get the meds prescribed to me by my doctor. Teachers, if you get a sore throat during those first few weeks of school bring your own cough drops because I haven’t seen any since August (or do like I did and drink lots of lemon tea with honey). That being said, if you can find it here, it will normally be vastly cheaper than if you had bought them in the US. Here is a handy “healthy travel kit” list for Venezuela created by the CDC (it is kinda long IMO, but they are professionals!).
A sense of adventure: many people accustomed to living in the US will find Venezuela to be a bit challenging, so come here with an open mind, a sense of adventure, and know that you will have uncomfortable moments, but that life would be dull if you never went anywhere!
A final note: try to bring as much of what you want and/or need with you one the plane because everything I have shipped to myself has either taken 4 -6 months to arrive. My friends have had whole boxes go missing. My roommate had stuff stolen from her boxes. That being said, also put locks on your luggage because another teacher had several things stolen from her suitcases.
This brought back some memories for me! I lived in Valencia, Venezuela in 2007. It was before I was a qualified teacher so I was teaching ESL and it was kind of hard with the low wage. Our housing was cheap but clothing and food wasn’t. I remember going to the supermarket and there would always be something missing form the shelves, so they’d spread the stuff out to make it look more full! Clothing was so expensive! I often see jobs advertised at The British school in caracas and have half considered going back at some point (I’ve at least one more year in Beijing though). Not sure if I would but it would be interesting.
The pay at the international schools isn’t bad since I only have to pay for my food and entertainment. If you have a sense of adventure, then the British school might work out. I met some ladies who work there at the local VANAS teacher conference, and they seemed very happy with their jobs.
I feel like I’m reading about life in Cuba again.
It’s interesting because I feel the same way about Korea with a few points. Things will appear in shops one week – a huge aisle of them – and then once they’re gone, they won’t be back for another month or two. It’s so strange.
I hear Cuba and Venezuela compared again and again!