Friends sometimes ask how much money we make in the Peace Corps and whether it’s enough to live comfortably. People also want to know about the cost of traveling here. So let me offer a few bits of information here.
The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy (Executive Order 10924) on March 1, 1961 and authorized by Congress on Sept. 21st of that same year. The Peace Corps Act clarified its purpose as:
To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.
It is important that as Peace Corps Volunteers, we live a lifestyle that is integrated with the people with whom we work. In other words, we should not make a higher wage nor have greater access to things of a higher standard of living.
Basically, I make the equivalent of a beginning level teacher. Keep in mind, I don’t have a family to support and I’m not creating a home full of furniture or needing a car or moto since I’m here for the short term. I’m able to take care of all of my needs as long as I pay attention to my ongoing expenses. I keep a little book for that purpose.
Our rent is covered by the Peace Corps. Our only other main costs are food, clothing (I lost weight and need new clothes!), incidentals and travel. Great, fresh vegetables and fruits are readily available at low cost in the outdoor market three times a week in my pueblo. Below: an indoor market in Chichicastenango
There aren’t many places to spend money except for the cafes, stationary stores, and a jewelry/cosmetic store which is very inexpensive. Let me give you an idea of some random costs but first I’ll give you some exchange amounts:
Anything less than Q7 (7 Quetzales) is less than 1 US dollar. Q10 = $1.36.
avocado Q2; broccoli Q5.25; apple Q2; oranges (bag of 6) Q10; papaya Q7.9; fresh corn tortillas (pack of 4) Q1; chard Q1.65; cantelope Q6; eggs Q23.9
Restaurants and cafes vary from very inexpensive (Q15 to Q20 for a meal with a drink) to more expensive (Q50 to 70 or a complete meal w/drink. I love eating out but I can’t do it often because the costs add up. I can however, have a nice plate of healthy tacos w/drink for less than $3 or, if I want to splurge on a Sunday, I can have an incredible breakfast with coffee for $4.77.
Travel is inexpensive in Guatemala. The large carreteras are usually crowded beyond comfort and you feel every bump in the road. But the cost and accessibility makes them worth it. For me to travel from my site to Lake Atitlan, three hours away, is only Q30 ($4.09). That’s about 4 bucks to get to heaven.
Once you hang out a while and meet people, you find the best prices for hotels in each city. You have to know people. I recently found a nice, modest hotel for Q100/night in Panajachel (sorry I can’t give you the name since I stay there). But you can also get a very inexpensive room at the beautiful hostel, La Iguana Perdida, across the lake with a more secluded setting. Otherwise, on the cheaper side, hotel rooms are about Q150 per person and they are very modest and without a view. More money means more space and a view.
In terms of the hand woven textiles, they are priced well below their true value but at the same time, more expensive than I can usually afford. A rebozo (shawl) is about $20+ and a larger one that is used as a falda (skirt) can be Q400+ ($54.51). I bought a couple of used huipiles in Chichicastenango. That is definitely the place to go for weavings. Mine are a little worn but gorgeous nonetheless.
Until this month I’d been complaining to my inner self about the money situation. But then I met another Volunteer who told me how much she spends a week (very little) and how much she saves–enough for flights to the U.S. and her upcoming wedding! That was humbling. Then a few days ago I realized that I had forgotten about Q800 ($109.02) of money from this month’s income. Apparently I had hidden it from myself! That might sound like very little to you but to a Volunteer, it’s cause for a happy dance! So, yeah, I’m doing fine.
Below: clay bowl, crystals, textiles and quetzales.
Two last things to share with you is that the Peace Corps does not allow Volunteers to work extra jobs in Guatemala. They don’t want us to receive any money from Guatemalans, which makes sense. Secondly, the Peace Corps sets up a savings account for each Volunteer so that at the time of Close of Service (COS) after two years and three months, you will have something with which to re-settle in the U.S. Instead of telling you an actual amount, I suggest that you speak with a Peace Corps Office staff member. They can help you with that information and much more.
I highly recommend the Peace Corps experience. For any kind of service, what you give aways comes back double. In the case of Peace Corps service, it comes back a hundred times more.