It’ll be my one-month anniversary in Nicaragua this Sunday, and HOLY SHIT HAS TIME FLOWN BY. I guess you could say that I’ve been enjoying myself.
Being around these kids makes me happy every single day. Talking to my fellow volunteers also makes me feel crazy lucky.
Because, yes, I’m volunteering, but I’m also working.
I’m still working on this blog, my other personal projects, and my freelance jobs. Which means I’m still getting paid — in American dollars.
I’m the only volunteer I’ve met so far that isn’t depleting their savings with every Nica Libre they drink. (Yeah, that’s a thing. Still haven’t discerned any difference between them and Cuba Libres. Guess I’ll have to keep testing.) It’s an incredible feeling of freedom.
Sure, as my boss/mentor/role model Alexis Grant would say, I’ve made my own luck by building this blog and gaining freelance work. But that just makes me even happier. Though I didn’t anticipate this at the beginning, this work has definitely evolved into an amazing ability to be “location independent” (online entrepreneur parlance for the ability to work from anywhere).
Though there are many, many advantages to the location independent lifestyle, one of the most glorious things is that you have the ability to move to places where your dollar will go farther.
I’ve received some questions from some other bloggers and location independent workers about the ability to work remotely from Nicaragua — costs, housing, pros/cons, etc. I’ve decided to answer them here. (Jenny Blake recently wrote a similar post about her experience in Bali.)
For those of you who aren’t (and don’t want to be) location independent, I hope this post will still be of interest, as it’ll answer general questions about the costs of living and volunteering in Nicaragua.
Here’s an estimate of my expenses. All numbers are in US dollars.
Housing: $46/week (Since it’s volunteer housing, it’s cheaper than most places. I’d budget around $70-80/week if you’re not volunteering, but still want a nice place.)
Internet: $30 one-time cost for modem + ~$15/week
Beer: $1 (In a bar. Yes.)
Cigarettes: $1 (I don’t smoke, but I’m thinking about starting since they’re such a bargain down here. JOKES, people.)
Day pass to a private (and beautiful!) hotel pool: $5 ($35 for a month-long volunteer membership)
Movie ticket: $2
Gym membership: $12/week or $29/month (This includes access to all of the classes, such as circuit training, kickboxing, latin dance, etc.)
Yoga classes: $44 for 10 classes ($22 with a gym membership)
Zumba/Baile Adulto class: $1
Dinner in a restaurant: $3-15 (This totally depends on if you’re going to a Nicaraguan restaurant or a gringo restaurant.)
Spanish lessons: $5/hour (one-on-one)
Taxi ride: 40 cents/person (This is to most places within downtown Granada.)
Bike rental: $40 deposit + $2/week (Again, I think this is a bit subsidized from the volunteer organization.)
General quality of life
Estupende! My life is pretty much exactly how I imagined it would be. I volunteer in the mornings, and work through the afternoon, sometimes well into the evening. I take a few nights off to enjoy some drinks with my friends, and I usually spend all day Saturday at the pool. This week marks the end of summer school, so I’ll soon be working full days, but I think it’ll still work out alright. I’m taking an hour-long private Spanish lesson each day, and I’m also trying to work out a few days per week.
I’m living in volunteer housing, and my apartment is great. It’s just a few blocks from the Parque Central, which is the center of life in any Latin American town. My room has its own toilet and shower — a luxury I’ve never experienced in the States before! There’s also a maid who comes once a week to clean the floors and neatly arrange my mosquito net. The only downside? It’s hot as shit, and my ceiling fan makes a noise akin to kittens going down a waterslide (or what I imagine that would sound like).
Essential for any location independent internet worker. I have wifi in my house, which is fine for general email/Facebook stalking, but too slow to use for work. So, I purchased a wireless USB modem from Claro, one of the two major cell phone providers here. (Movistar has a similar product, but you can only purchase three-day packages.) The modem cost $32, which doesn’t include data. There are several different data options — from 500 MB to 8 GB. I purchased a 5 GB data package for $30.
I’ve been using it for about a week and a half now, and I just went through half of it. But, I’ve only been turning it on when I really need fast internet. Skyping uses up a lot of GB. If you’re not using Skype or video on it, I think it could last you quite a while. I’ll update this once I know more. The good thing is that it’s really fast, and you can use it from anywhere in the country that gets cell phone service. If you’d like to purchase a USB modem, just go into any Claro store and ask for “Internet Móvil.”
There are also cafes here with pretty good wifi — by all accounts, and my personal experience, the Euro Cafe (just off of the Parque Central) is the fastest and most reliable in Granada. And the coffee’s really good, too!
I don’t prance around in a tube top at night or anything, but I’ve generally felt pretty safe in Granada. If I’m going more than a few blocks at night, I take a taxi or have a friend walk me home. The only annoyance is the constant hissing and repetitions of “Hola, mami” from the Nicaraguan men. It’s a fact of life here, and in general, it’s harmless. Just annoying as all hell. Still, don’t be surprised if one day I turn around and say, “Do I LOOK like a parseltongue?! NO! I don’t speak snake, so please stop hissing at me.”
My worst experiences so far have been with insects. I took a gulp of water the other day, and then realized my cup (and thus my mouth) was FILLED WITH ANTS. Tiny, harmless ants, but ANTS nonetheless. Since then, I’ve been much more careful about examining my water before I drink it. I also had a 5-minute battle with a cockroach. (He was lying, half-dead, on his back when I walked in, and couldn’t move, but I still count those minutes spraying him from five feet away as some of the most harrowing of my life.)
Other than that, I think I’m going to die every time I get on my bike, but that’s the fun of it, right?
I’m not gonna lie; the food isn’t great. The staple is gallo pinto, or rice and beans, which I absolutely love, but I wouldn’t say it’s haute cuisine. I wouldn’t travel here for the food. The availability of fruit in the market is decent, but surprisingly, they don’t eat a lot of vegetables here. I cook pretty simple food at home most of the time.
The booze is cheap, and the national rum, Flor de Caña is pretty decent. Nicaraguans like partying, and everyone’s favorite place to go in the evenings in Granada is La Calzada, a street where tables and people tumble out of the restaurants and bars like they’ve already had one too many. If you’re looking for some serious dancing, then everyone heads to “El Lago,” where several all-night clubs pump music along the shores of the lake.
You can drink the tap water here, which is sweet.
The opportunities to travel on weekends are great. There are several day trips you can make from Granada — to the massive market of Masaya, the Laguna de Apoyo, and Lake Nicaragua’s isletas. The fun city of Leon, the volcanic islands of Ometepe, and the surfing beaches of San Juan del Sur are all only a few hours by bus. For longer trips, El Salvador, Honduras, the Corn Islands, and Costa Rica can all be visited with a week of available time.
Stuff that wouldn’t fit elsewhere
Granada is a very walkable/bikeable city. I like that. The Spanish here is pretty easy to understand, and the people are pretty nice about my pathetic attempts at speaking. Most of the toilets are western-style; you just can’t flush the toilet paper. I guess the only bad thing is that I’m really sweaty, all the time.
Granada makes a wonderful base for location independent workers. After purchasing the Claro modem, my internet is fast and reliable. The cost of living is cheap, the weather is warm, the people are friendly, and the opportunities to volunteer and/or learn Spanish are abundant. There’s lots of things to do on the weekend, and if you need support, there’s a strong expat community.
What are you waiting for? Ven acá!
What other questions do you have about working remotely in Nicaragua?