CARIBBEAN PROPERTY MAGAZINE
Living, Working and Investing in the Caribbean
S P E C I A L F E A T U R E S
Venezuelan Vino Novello and Andean Pecorino
Rita Nerwal, a Caribpro.com staff writer, interviewed Mario Busolli, an Italian who moved to Venezuela three years ago and seems to be very content with his new life.
Venezuela is a young country evolving out from a time of political and military unrest. The government seeks to better the lives of a large number of uneducated people, while addressing the need for jobs in a country where unemployment is high. With these basic objectives in place, is Venezuela now in a position to welcome new immigrants and new investment?
Mario Busolli an Italian who moved thousands of miles from his motherland, chose Venezuela to make his home. And I for one am intrigued to find out why and if he has any regrets.
Rita: Hello Mario and welcome, I would like to start with my favourite and most common question (as an expat myself I love telling my tale) what attracted you to Venezuela?
Mario: Venezuela is a land of beauty and contradiction but to the savvy investor there is gold hidden down here, if you know where to look.
Rita: I understand that it is rich in natural resources including gold! Perhaps you have your own gold mine hidden in the mountains, remind me to come and visit you with a large empty suitcase!
I believe Venezuela has the largest proven conventional oil reserves in the Western Hemisphere. It also has huge quantities of coal, iron ore and bauxite which contribute to the impressive ninety percent export earnings. Has the country always been so efficient in export productivity?
Mario: You have probably heard about nationalizing the oil industry, it seems unfair and to some degree it is. However, it is important you know the history of Venezuela back when it was selling its own oil for almost nothing to the oil companies. After a while the government bought the oil fields and equipment, now the country is selling oil in the market themselves.
Rita: Do you think that people could feel safe in Venezuela ?
I am an expatriate and have been here in Venezuela for three years. I bought my house here in Merida the best and safest place in the country where you can find easy living and relax in the beautiful scenery of the Andes.
Rita: Tell me what Merida is like?
Mario: Merida is lush and green, I am in a valley surrounded by tropical trees and wildlife and conveniently just a few minutes drive from town. Every day humming birds visit the flowers in my garden.
I have flowers all year round due to the special climate of 18-24 degrees Celsius. We have bright sun during the day and refreshing showers at night, it is perfect for growing anything. The only problem is that I need to cut the grass at least twice a month, but I have help. For a whole days work my gardener charges only $15.
Rita: Your garden sounds amazing, very different to the little green patch I left behind in England. I do enjoy gardening, it relaxes me, but it’s the tedious house work I run away from, can you get help for domestic chores as well as gardening?
Mario: If you need help with housekeeping you can find a maid part time for $15 a day, full time maid for less than $200 a month where you provide meals and lodging, normally most residential houses have maid quarters.
Rita: So labour is cheap but what about the cost of living?
Mario: There is no need for heating or cooling here so therefore no bills. The electricity cost for my 300m2 house believe it or not is never over $5, incredible yes! (I have the bills to prove it). My water bill is about $4 and the telephone with internet is about $40.
Unlike you I have no need for a maid and as I own my house I do not have mortgage or rent payments. I can tell you that overall my cost of living here runs to no more than $400 a month.
Rita: Inexpensive help and virtually no outgoings, that’s a big plus, but what about food? I am a great lover of food but do not have creative cooking skills and therefore depend on lots of variety, are you restricted to what foods are available?
Mario: I am Italian so for me good food is important. I can find extra virgin olive oil from Spain, plenty of vegetables and fruits and the best local cheese.
I will not buy the Italian parmesan that for me is too expensive (even in Italy), but I have found a good alternative for my pasta with a local pecorino cheese. I spend a little extra for the best imported Italian pasta, it costs double the local one but to me it is worth it.
You can find the best coffee grown here in the mountains, similar to the Colombian coffee in the States.
Let’s not forget the wine, yes you can find all imported wine from France and Italy, but I tell you a little secret that even the locals do not know. The best wine is a local produce, I buy it for $12 a 5 litre jar and it is wine produced the same year, with a fruity taste and no sulphites! You can drink all you want and you will not wake up the next day with a tremendous headache. It is a wine for ready consumption, and in Italy it is called “vino novella” which is hard to find.
Maybe if you pass through Rome in October or November just after the “Vendemmia” you could ask for one at the “Trattoria in Trastevere” if they have it. Normally they produce it for their own consumption.
As an Italian I will not do without my special Italian bread, no way! Here in Merida you will find “Panaderia” and “Pane Siciliano”.
I buy the bread freshly baked in the morning, they are crunchy and warm. I buy two as by the time I get back home I have eaten half, irresistible!
Rita: With the maid, wine without hangovers and delicious bread, I am definitely putting Venezuela on my list. What about healthcare? I understand basic healthcare is good but what about serious medical problems?
Mario: The health system is not the best here so I purchased health insurance with Liberty Mutual for $500 a year, it also covers up to $3 million for critical illness. It is not restricted to Venezuela, as it covers me out of the country also. However, for periodic checks there are private clinics which are inexpensive. My dentist charged a mere $120 for a root canal. My friend came here from Miami to have one done, she tells me what great quality work she received and that it would have cost her a whopping $1000 for the same work in Miami!
Rita: Venezuela has made great efforts in the last five years to improve security levels within its own borders and unemployment rate is lower than neighbouring countries. Education is compulsory and free to every citizen. There are nine hundred high schools, seventeen public universities, two ecclesiastic universities and three military universities. So it appears the country is investing in its future and that’s such a positive step forward, one everyone will benefit from. But poverty is still endemic and running at around 60%. How does that effect expats like yourself?
Mario: Do not expect to find a first class country like the USA or Europe. Venezuela is still a developing country with a lot of problems and poverty. It is in this context you will see the value, what is bad for Venezuelans working here can be an advantage for a foreigner retiring or an overseas investor.
It all boils down to the exchange rate, the dollar or euro is significantly stronger than the currency of this country.
Imagine an inflation rate of 15-20 percent, it would make you scream of fear at your country, but for you it is a blessing, why? You can exchange your foreign money over the regular official rate, how’s that for value for money?
This country imports most of what it uses so the cost of imported goods is expensive for locals. For foreigners not at all (I guess we are used to it)! You can buy a car at the price equivalent in Bolivars to the actual official rate, so you gain twice.
The high level of inflation creates a phenomenon that will actually appreciate the value of your used car over the year. Long gone are the days where your car depreciated as soon as you drove it away from the show room!
You will also forget worrying about the cost of filling up your car, every time I do it you can catch me with a big smile. I pay $2 to fill up my Camry Toyota….whaooooo!!
If you decide to take a trip to Europe, the cost of the ticket is half of what you will pay in the States, for the same reason if you pay in cash, but do not try to pay with your foreign credit card, that will have the opposite effect.
Rita: Buying property can be difficult and stressful in any country, what kind of pitfalls should we watch out for?
Mario: Let’s talk about bureaucracy, it is incredibly bad. You need to hire a lawyer to handle all your documents. I highly recommend it since the local lawyer knows the rules and much more, they have connections to expedite your needs. When normally it will take months, it is done in weeks.
A lawyer will also help you handling your goods passing customs, minimizing the duty fee and if you buy a property you will be provided with all the legal paper to close the deal.
All this is well worth the cost of a lawyer fee. If you want to come here I can recommend a very good lawyer in Merida who will also help you with your moving.
Rita: Much is written in the press about Chavez' nationalisation of Venezuela's oil assets and of course there is concern about his plans for other foreign owned business and property. Does this worry you?
Mario: I have never heard so many crazy notions, rest assured private property is still respected. I have the title to my house and with a lot of patience I even received a certificate of “vivienda principal” it means that it is the primary house, so it is exempt from taxes when I sell it.
By the way the annual tax for my house is about $8 is that too much? $8 for annual tax, that surely outweighs the legalities of purchasing property! Saying that, many countries' systems are just the same. In England it is also painful and to make matters worse I used to pay $2,000 in annual so-called tax!
Rita: So once all the paperwork is done and taxes paid how safe is your investment?
Mario: Even with the new constitution that the government must get approved by the people, private property is recognized, fear of losing your property is way overblown.
Although it was true, the government implemented a program to eliminate the “latifondo” which means acquiring the land of big farms that were inactive. The government purchased unproductive land to redistribute among the poorer farmers and increase agricultural production.
We are hearing a lot of flamboyant speeches about anti imperialism. The reality is that business with USA and Europe is still strong. Now what is the fear of a communist government here Cuba style? Very low in my opinion, people are used to democracy and they like capitalism including the new Chavistas Bolivarian rich.
On the other hand look how foreigners are treated in Cuba? With the red carpet, so what are you worrying about!
Rita: You have obviously settled in well here, but I understand you are now selling your property, why is that?
Mario: I am selling my house because I have found a nice piece of land on top of the mountain nearby where I want to build my dream house and plant fruit trees in this undiscovered paradise.
Rita: Thank you Mario for taking the time to share your experience with us.
And I hope to be invited some time, preferably during the skiing season!
Mario's home is for Sale, Click Here for More Information
Email : Contact Mario by email