Assimilating in Peru, Plus Quick Tips for New Arrivals

Okay, so you want to move to Peru. You may have a job waiting for you here, you may have fallen in love with a Peruvian and decided to try living in their world, you may be adventurous and curious about a new culture. Whatever your reason, you have to understand that living in Peru will be very different from where you are now. Peru is a unique country in many ways, with a rich heritage from the Inca era and previous indigenous cultures. They are very proud of their food, their music, their dances. They are Catholics, and religion and tradition still very much shape society. Culturally, I would say Peru is probably 50 years behind “the West”, for lack of a better expression. Women still stay at home with the children, whilst the man goes to work. Women fully expect men to hold the door for them, to pay for meals out, and to generally treat them like queens. Nothing wrong with treating women well, but equality is a very long way away in Peru!

Family and personal contacts are the most important thing to a Peruvian. The family is the social base unit, and often can be very large. It typically includes more than two children, although the excessive procreation is now a thing of the past in the major cities. In the provinces, you will still see most families having many children. The harsh reality is that child mortality – often due to poor nutrition or insufficient health care – is a very real possibility. Also, your children are your pension plan. You cannot rely on the Government when you are too old or too sick to work and support yourself, instead your family has to take care of you. The moral obligation to take care of family members in different situations is a backbone of Peruvian society.

Now for the social contacts. It is absolutely essential to make good friends in Peru. Friends are not only for social interaction, friends are also your key to finding jobs, to finding reli- able contractors, to get tips about good shopping, and to generally help each other out any way they can. The word “friend” is banded about freely, people will easily call you “amigo” here, but the value of the word is somewhat ambiguous. People will certainly consider themselves your best friend in the world if they think it can benefit them in some way. I cannot stress this enough: be very careful! Even Peruvians themselves were warning me when I first arrived, and I can only concur. A foreigner is always an attractive target for any gold-digger who would rather sponge off someone else instead of working for his money. As a foreigner, you are also very vulnerable. You may not speak the language to perfection, you don’t know the system, and you will have to depend on others to help you with many things. But the proof is in the pudding, so please be careful, if not suspicious, of every new person you meet and you actually have experience of their honesty! Many a “blue-eyed gringo” has been taken in with acts of charm, only to live to regret their naïve trust.

A few quick tips for the new arrival:

– Never pay the asking price without haggling (no Peruvians do, and neither should you). Most times you can knock of 1⁄2 to 1/3, and you will arrive at the price Peruvians pay! Peru is a very cheap country, and you should never expect to pay U.S. or Europe-type prices for anything.

– When contracting a service, never pay the full amount up front! Once they have all the money, they will completely lose interest in completing the job. Typically you pay no more than 50% upfront, with the balance due on completion. That way you still have some leverage if you are not completely satisfied.

– Ask for references. If they are legitimate, that should not be a problem.

– Ask for receipts. The black economy is very widespread, and most times you will be quoted prices that do not include the sales tax. Without a receipt, however, you have no recourse in case things don’t go as planned! Verbal agreements don’t carry much weight here, if it’s not on paper – and nota- rized – it doesn’t exist.

– Don’t sign anything unless you are completely sure you understand what you are signing. Like everywhere else in the world, it’s not what’s in the contract that will trip you up, it’s what’s NOT. In Peru they are very much in love with complicated formulations of any document, so unless you have the language down to a T, ask for impartial legal advice.

Take anything you sign to a notary to “legalize” it. It gives the contract extra power, as the notary confirms that both parties have signed the document in his presence, and your counterpart cannot claim later that he knows noth- ing about the contract he signed with you. It’s a cheap and quick insurance against possibly very expensive and time-consuming problems later.

– Be a little wary of people that you don’t know well offering to “help” you. Often they are only interested in helping themselves – to your cash. It is very important to find honest, reliable people in Peru, but sometimes easier said than done. Other expats may be able to point you in the right direction.

Excerpted and adapted from the ebook “An Expat’s Guide to Living and Working in Peru” by Tommy Almgren.