What I Learned as an Expat Living in San Isidro, Peru

What I Learned Bringing My Three-Legged Dog to Peru

"I wish I could do that,” the woman behind the counter said as she refilled my coffee.

After nearly a year of traveling the U.S. in a retro camper, I’d encountered several fanciful onlookers. Folks who wished they could set aside their work, their responsibilities, and join in my adventure.

Being able to work from anywhere made my journey possible, and yet I could see its conclusion approaching fast. When setting off, I’d planned on traveling for a year, then selling the camper upon my return to summertime Michigan, when buyers would be interested in taking over the camper I’d stripped and renovated the year before.

I’d done what I set out to do, and yet one question continued to percolate in the back of my mind: “What next?”

I’d always wanted to live overseas; to experience a new way of living, and save a few bucks if possible. Sure, my job traveled with me, and I didn’t have the responsibility of children or a house to anchor me in place. But would moving internationally make sense? Would I regret it?

“Here’s the guy who’s been traveling around the country in a camper all year,” the woman said to another server.

“Really? Wish I could do something like that.”

That’s when it hit me. Did I really want to, one day, hear about someone moving overseas and think to myself, “I wish I could do something like that?”

No. That night I started planning my eventual move to Peru.

A Retro Camper State of Mind

I’d spent the previous year driving around the country in a 1960s camper. At the time I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. As a freelancer, my livelihood depended on work connections, but with businesses scared by how the pandemic would play out, many enabled work freezes.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time. In the midst of a cross-country move from Tucson to Philly, the country shut down. When my landlord in Arizona wouldn’t let me extend my lease, I found myself packing boxes and heading back home to Michigan to stay with my mom. Wanting to limit any extended stays with relatives, I bought the 60-year-old-camper, gutted it, and within a few months was on the road.

The thing about open-road travel is that it gives you plenty of time to think. To discover. Whether you’re camped off of Lake Superior, beside the Grand Canyon, or taking in the Maine breeze, there are plenty of moments to consider the past. The future. Everything.

I didn’t stop at campgrounds. I “boondocked” it. In other words, I went to the middle of nowhere and stayed away from everyone. It let me take in the American Southwest night sky without headlights, street lights, or anything more than the sound of an occasional breeze. It let me camp on the Gulf Coast, with nothing more than lapping waves and lavender sunrises to accompany my morning coffee.

Being alone forces you to depend only on yourself. When the truck’s transmission went south in middle-of-nowhere upstate New York, no amount of crying, screaming, or questioning would fix it. When both flu and snowstorm hit in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I couldn’t call anyone to bring meds or a bowl of soup. I had to depend on myself.

I learned that I could depend on myself.

And with that mindset, I knew I’d graduated from camper traveling and could move anywhere in the world.

Why Peru?

I had a few specific requirements for where to go. I wanted a destination I could save money in. A place to hole up while enhancing my savings account. I’d always enjoyed South America, so why not start there?

While doing my research for possible destinations one of my dogs, a three-legged pitbull, set her chin on my leg. I scratched behind the ears of her wide head when a thought bubbled up.

“Are there breed restrictions in these countries?”

Being a pitbull owner, I had already run into problems with locations that wouldn’t allow her to stay. Cities like Seattle and Denver made owning her a crime when I considered moving to these locales a few years prior (although I believe this has changed more recently). I didn’t want to arrive in a foreign land and discover my dog would be sent back.

I looked into Brazil. Nope, not allowed. How about Colombia? The same. Venezuela and Ecuador had similar laws. Argentina allowed pitbulls, but with very specific requirements (needing to register her upon arrival and taking out liability insurance).

Restricting the entry of dogs listed as a “Bully” or “Dangerous” breeds isn’t exclusive to South America. Dozens of other countries around the globe have similar laws in place. Everywhere from Germany to New Zealand, Canada to Singapore. For anyone considering a move with such a breed, it’s extremely important to look up these requirements.

After weighing everything from cost to dog requirements, I settled on Peru. I just had to figure out how to transport the dogs (the other one is a Golden Retriever/ Springer Spaniel cross) from the United States to Lima.

Importing the Dogs

Because of COVID, every single major airline based in the United States had stopped international pet transport services. There were a handful of international options, but my dogs were too large to fly in the cabin, and most wouldn’t fly dangerous breeds in the cargo hold.

I contacted a pet transit service provider. They helped book the dogs onto a cargo jet so they could travel as freight. The thought didn’t thrill me, but the pet transport company assured me the only difference between traveling as cargo and traveling as luggage was that they would have their own wood pallet’s worth of space. That’s something that can’t be guaranteed when they fly with the luggage.

After looking at all the transport options to Lima, flying the dogs as cargo out of Miami looked to be the only viable option. Before departure, the dogs needed to receive booster shots and vaccines, plus all the appropriate paperwork.

Arrival and Import Lessons Learned

At the time of booking my dogs’ transit out of Miami and into Peru, I was told the import process in Lima would be straightforward. In reality, the “simple” process turned into a seven-hour airport-to-customs-to-import warehouse run-around. Thankfully, I ran into a guy who imports dogs into Peru and he helped me out (for $50).

By 3 a.m. the dogs and I had arrived at my booked apartment; tired, exhausted, but happy to finally be away from the airport.

Settling Into Peru

Lima is partitioned off into several districts. The most relevant to visitors and expats are San Isidro, Miraflores, and Barranco. San Isidro is primarily a residential neighborhood, so there is less traffic and fewer tourists in this area of the city. It has some of the nicest parks in Lima, its sidewalks typically have grass acting as a buffer between them and the road, and the neighborhood is home to a golf course and plenty of high-end boutique shopping.

Miraflores comes with some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean and, while it’s still one of the more sought-after neighborhoods, it is a busy spot, with street performers, malls, bars and restaurants, especially around Parque Kennedy (yes, it’s a park dedicated to President John F. Kennedy).

Barranco is the least expensive of the three. It has similar features to Miraflores, only it’s less heavy on the Starbucks/Pizza Hut international chain joints, and more of a colorful arts district. Some patches can get a little rough around the edges, but it’s more a case of shabby than sketchy.Long-term rentals in San Isidro start at $600 a month.I settled on San Isidro. It made most sense for taking the dogs on their daily walks. Parque Olivar is a true highlight, and it’s one of the best-maintained parks I’ve been to anywhere in the world. Garbage day in San Isidro is every day. You simply take your trash bag, place it on the curb, and it’s picked up that night. Sidewalks and walkways are also cleaned and swept daily. I haven’t seen a single soda bottle, McDonald’s bag, or any other random trash on the street in this neighborhood.

I rented out an Airbnb before looking for a longer-term rental. For $900 a month it covered everything (electricity, gas, water, internet, and so on). You can find long-term rentals in San Isidro starting at $600 a month, and prices from there can go as high as you feel comfortable paying. Starting prices for properties in Miraflores are a little less, and less expensive again in Barranco.

Shopping and Daily Life

Small convenience stores and fruit stands occupy street corners every few blocks in San Isidro, so when I’m shopping for eggs, bread, or food for the dogs, I’m never far away from it. It’s not difficult to find almost anything here on-par with what I’d find back in the United States. About 90% of the time it’s cheaper. Several large grocery stores lie within walking distance from my apartment in San Isidro.

Medicine is easy to get hold of and almost always costs less than what you’d pay in the United States. You might also find that some of your medications don’t require a prescription here. Vitamins are sold through dedicated supplement shops (larger grocery stores have separate vitamin displays), and prices are on par with what I’d normally pay back in the U.S.

One thing I spend more money on here is fitness supplements. There are fewer options when it comes to protein powders, and prices are more expensive here.

And don’t worry, there are plenty of familiar fast-food chains. I’ve seen more TGIFridays and Chilis in Lima than I’ve seen in a decade of traveling around the United States. And yes, the locations here sell the same margaritas and casual dinners, only for less. There’s generally a “Pick Three burgers” (or something similar) promotion going on that costs about $5.

You can also find plenty of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, KFCs, and even Little Caesars if you’re really craving a Hot & Ready pizza. It’s the same, except for a lower price tag (where a Little Caesars pizza costs $5 in the U.S., it costs about $3.50 here).

A Stay Well Worth the Effort

I don’t know if I’ll relocate to Peru permanently, or if I’ll stay here for six months and then move on, but the stay has been well worth the effort so far. It’s a beautiful city with plenty to do and some of the best food you’ll find anywhere (Lima has two restaurants in the top 10 of CNN’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. For context, New York, Paris, or Tokyo don’t have a single restaurant ranked in the top 10).

The affordable prices make it an attractive destination for anyone considering a move. Other Latin American countries, such as Costa Rica or Panama, often steal the spotlight for expats, but Peru is well worth looking into. It may end up being the perfect destination to call your new home.

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