La Paz welcomes a small number of new foreign residents each year. Although immigration statistics are hard to come by, it’s fair to say it’s not the world’s premier expat destination. This little-known capital of a landlocked and hard to reach country has a modest economy and limited foreign investment opportunities. What expats get instead is a very low cost of living, warm and friendly people, fascinating indigenous culture and unparalleled natural beauty.
We all have different motivations for living in La Paz. “What are you doing here?” is the go-to question between newly acquainted expats. Although responses are always interesting and insightful, the typical expat can easily be stereotyped.
Therefore, I present to you my list of the top 10 only slightly offensive stereotypical expats living in La Paz.
1. The English Teacher
The English Teacher is an adventurous nomad who has lived in countless exotic locations around the world. They love nothing more than to step out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in an unfamiliar foreign culture. The English Teacher isn’t here for the money; they admit to living a comparatively modest lifestyle. Instead, they come for the unique culture and breathtaking landscapes that La Paz has on offer. You’ll often find The English teacher in their institute’s staff room discussing the most effective way to explain the Present Perfect Continuous to a lower intermediate student.
2. The Significant Other
The Significant Other met the Bolivian man or woman of their dreams, fell in love and decided to make it work by packing up everything they own and moving across the globe. It’s a big risk to take but it happens all the time. You’ll often find The Significant Other at the Multicine eating Pollos Copacabana before a movie date with the love of their life (especially on Wednesday’s two-for-one special). Love has no boundaries.
3. The NGO Worker
The NGO Worker is a 20-something-year-old European with endless energy and enthusiasm. They come to La Paz en masse to gain interesting life experience and help the less fortunate. Many work here as volunteers, but that doesn’t faze them because they can survive on their home back account and know the extra work experience on their résumé will pay serious dividends. You’ll often find The NGO Worker chain smoking cigarettes at a Sopocachi café while discussing the local politics of some far-flung pueblo in Chuquisaca.
4. The Academic Researcher
The Academic Researcher comes to Bolivia to write a thesis potentially titled “The adverse effects of illegal logging on the blue-throated macaw”. They are ridiculously knowledgeable on their chosen subject and are always happy to share said knowledge. You’ll often find The Academic Researcher at a party stressing about how their thesis is due next week and they’ve only written two pages.
5. The Retiree
The Retiree doesn’t mind Bolivia’s below average salaries because their working years are well and truly behind them. While they might run a small business to keep them occupied; it’s their foreign pension that brings in the real money. Bolivia’s becoming more popular as a retirement destination for its low cost of living and decent (private) healthcare system. However, most retirees look for somewhere warm to spend their twilight years so it’s no surprise that there aren’t that many calling La Paz home. Santa Cruz on the other hand, has plenty. You’ll often find The Retiree complaining on Facebook about how things “just ain’t as good as they are in the US”.
6. The Missionaries
The Missionaries are a married couple in their fifties who moved to Bolivia 20 years ago from Utah. They’ve settled here permanently to spread the word of God by helping those most in need. The Missionaries’ modus operandi is to start a small NGO that provides food and shelter, hand out bibles and convince the locals of their need to be closer to the Almighty. You’ll often find The Missionaries reading a passionate sermon in a low socio-economic neighbourhood church or saying “Que Dios te bendiga” to random passers-by.
7. The Businessman
The Businessman settled in La Paz years ago at the insistence of their locally born significant other. With savings earned or inherited in their home country, The Businessman successfully invested in a bar, restaurant or hostel that caters to the tourism industry. You’ll often find The Businessman complaining to his cashed up colleagues in an upmarket watering hole about Evo Morales’ excessive increases to the minimum wage.
8. The Student
The student moved here in order to take advantage of Bolivia’s ridiculously cheap educational system. They often hail from other Latin American countries and assimilate effortlessly into the Bolivian way of life. The Student typically only stays for the duration of their degree at which point they happily return home with their new-found knowledge and expertise. You’ll often find The Student complaining to anyone who’ll listen about how poorly funded their university is.
9. The Professional
The Professional has extensive qualifications and experience in the field of Petroleum Extraction Engineering or the like. They originally moved here for their job in a large multinational energy company, but eventually fell in love with the place (or a significant other) and decided to stay. The Professional can be found indulging in beer and tapas at a high-end Zona Sur “After Office” with a table of rowdy Armani suit wearing compatriots.
10. The Digital Nomad
The Digital Nomad has mastered the art of making a living online. They are skilled writers, programmers, web designers or online marketers. The Digital Nomad loves Bolivia for its low cost of living and easily avoidable tax regulations. You’ll often find The Digital Nomad at home on the telephone complaining to their Internet Service Provider about how f*^@ing slow their connection is.