Al Argueta is one of the premier Guatemala travel experts, now working on the third edition of Moon Handbook Guatemala and a contributor to our luxury Guatemala hotel reviews. He first traveled to Guatemala with his father and later moved to the country for two years, allowing him to formally learn Spanish and experience Guatemala’s culture firsthand. His new book is a guide to experience this yourself: Living Abroad in Guatemala.
What are some advantages of living in Guatemala in terms of having a vacation home or a retirement home? How do prices compare to Mexico and other countries in Central America?
Probably the biggest advantage is the lower cost of living. You can still get land for relatively cheap, especially compared to other destinations in Central America such as Panama and Costa Rica. It’s also much less overrun with tourists. Another huge advantage here is the weather. It’s quite simply perfect most of the year.
What are some of the most popular areas for foreigners?
Colonial La Antigua Guatemala has always been a favorite due to its charming atmosphere, dramatic volcanic backdrop and proximity to the capital. Lake Atitlan is another popular locale due to the rugged, sheer beauty of it, though lately there have been concerns with the lake’s eutrophication. Guatemalans and expat residents alike are in a fight to save the lake from pollution and a cyanobacteria algae growth now covering part of its surface. Guatemala City is popular because many international corporations have offices here and so executives often need to move here. A number of other Guatemalan locales have become increasingly popular over the years, as people seek places off the beaten path. Guatemala seems to have something for everyone.
Are there restrictions on what kind of land you can buy as a foreigner? (And are there any ways to get around them?)
There are restrictions on land adjacent to waterways, which includes the coast lines, rivers and lakes. You can’t outright own these areas, just lease them from the government for 30 years at a time. This applies to foreigners and Guatemalan citizens alike. Foreigners can’t technically own land in areas considered national parks (Lake Atitlan is one example), though the easy way to get around this is to invest via the formation of a Sociedad Anonima (S.A.), which is similar to a U.S. corporation. You’ll need at least one Guatemalan among your investors, though their role can be limited to that of just a front-man for your S.A.
What can a potential buyer expect in terms of infrastructure, things like high-speed Internet, air connections, and road conditions?
Internet in Guatemala is highly competitive, with various providers available. You’ll find almost every town or village has internet service. Similarly, cell phone service is widely available and there are numerous competitors. Unlike in say, Costa Rica, internet and cell phone service have been deregulated in Guatemala since the 1990s. These are no longer a government monopoly and so free market economics have prevailed. You’ll find your iPhone 3G also works in Guatemala and is available with three different carriers, unlike in the U.S.