South America Living

Expat Interview – Martin and Luisa in Tarija, Bolivia

Editor’s Note: Martin and Luisa are the owners of three businesses in Tarija, Bolivia: Altiplano Bolivia (relocation services to Bolivia), Language School Altiplano (Spanish & English classes) and a lovely B&B – Altiplano Boutique Hotel.

Luisa and Martin of Altiplano Bolivia

Luisa and Martin of Altiplano Bolivia

Can you tell us a little about yourself (and family if applicable)?

It is just myself and my wife, Luisa. We originate from New Zealand. Since it was just the two of us it was relatively easy for us to make the decision to make the big move to live abroad. We have been living here in Tarija in the south of Bolivia since March 2010.

We operate a small B&B (Altiplano Hotel Boutique), a language school teaching English and arranging Spanish lessons, and also have a business that provides destination services for people wanting to move to or within Bolivia (Altiplano Bolivia).

What made you decide to move abroad?

After travelling in Central and South America on vacation and developing a love of the Latino life style we decided that living permanently in South America may be a good life-style choice for us.

So once our personal circumstances freed us up a little more from family responsibilities, we decided “lets do it”, and started making a plan to make the big move.

Altiplano Boutique Hotel

A lovely room in Altiplano Boutigue Hotel – the Deluxe B&B Owned by Luisa & Martin. More info: www.altiplanohotel,com

Why did you choose the country/location you are in?

In 2006 we were planning for our next vacation and Louise read to me about Tarija in the south of Bolivia from a travel book.

It described Tarija as the Mediterranean of South America with its eternal spring climate, plentiful sun, wineries and easy-going inhabitants. On hearing this I wanted to go there; and we did!

En route our friends in Sucre kept saying: “You will love Tarija, it is very beautiful and green” and they weren’t wrong. Tarija’s tree lined streets were wide and clean, the people were kind and helpful, the air was crisp and fresh, and the skies seemed forever blue. Tarija was a place that we wanted to enjoy forever and have others do the same

We liked the people, who are more indigenous than Hispanic, the Immigration requirements where simple (even though the process is complicated). It is relatively inexpensive to live here, and the economy and government are stable by conventional standards.

The city we chose was safe, the climate great, there was lots of business potential with a growing tourist industry, and of course it was in the wine country.

Additionally it is near 3 borders, so if we felt the need to leave quickly we had that option – something that seemed important when we were making our plans from the safe shores of New Zealand but not a factor in our minds anymore.

How long did it take to complete the move? Some people can pack-up and go in a few months, others agonize over leaving their home country for years!

It took us 2½ years of saving and down-sizing our life in New Zealand and making plans to start a business here in Bolivia, as well as investigating the Immigration process. We also made several trips beforehand to investigate Bolivia, and then Tarija specifically.

What were your greatest fears (if any) about moving abroad?

That the idea was just a mid–life crisis and we would get here and think “What were we thinking!” after a short time. But we are happy to say we love the life we have built for ourselves here and can’t imagine going back to life in the fast lane again.

Did you experience much culture shock?

We at first found the differences new and exciting. However not speaking much Spanish provided a few challenges especially when we were trying to set up a Bed and Breakfast business.

Coming to terms with the randomness and pace of life proved a challenge. For example mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow – it means some time, not sure when, but maybe next week or in 3 weeks time!

Are you glad you took the plunge & made the move? Any Regrets?

Yes, we are very happy that we took the plunge and changed completely our life-style. When you live in a city that has a 10 minute ‘rush hour’, 2 hour siestas every day, taxis that just cost a dollar (even less for one person) within the city and dry winters you can’t imagine why you didn’t move sooner.

Living in another country is also one of the greatest educations you can get. It helps you to analyze your outlook and views of life, and hopefully rid you of some of those western world clichés that we were brought up to believe.

Our only regrets are that we didn’t do it sooner and that we didn’t have more money to take advantage of some of the great business opportunities that are here before it became more modern and progressive.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating a move abroad?

Make a plan and do it. You don’t want to be in your 70’s and think why I didn’t do it when I could have. Take the opportunity to live your dream as life is too short not to. Try to research the country as well as you can.

Seek advice from other expats that live there already, and if possible visit the country at least once before plan your move. Then just set a date and work towards your goal.

Can you share any resources that were helpful to you in the planning process such as websites, expat groups, Facebook groups, books, etc.?

Unfortunately before we moved to Bolivia there wasn’t much information available. However the book “You Don’t Make A Big Leap Without A Gulp” by Nigel Beckford and Michael Fitzsimons, about mid-life career change was really helpful, inspirational, but also provided lots of practical suggestions too.

Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story and congratulation to all the success you have had in relocating to Bolivia and starting 3 new businesses – very impressive!

More Expat Interviews:
Tim in Cuenca, Ecuador
Andy Wanderer in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Rachel in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Walter Rhein in Lima, Peru
Photographs courtesy of Altiplano Bolivia, all rights reserved.

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