Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Earning a living in Peru

One of the most frequently asked questions by people thinking of relocating to Peru has to do with the availability of business or employment opportunities. I can’t tell you how happy I am that the days of having to concern myself with earning a living are behind me. Retirement is the best thing that ever happened to me. Well, make that second best. Meeting and marrying my wife is first. Anyway, I don’t know what advice to offer to those looking to make a buck in Peru. I do know that many people try teaching English, either privately or affiliated with a school. Others attempt to open restaurants though the success rate is not so good. There is a new restaurant that is either owned or being constructed by a gringo opening near our apartment. We saw him recently. I offered my standard…”How ya doin?” greeting but he didn’t respond which pretty much rules out American, Canadian and British nationalities, unless he was just having a bad day.

What I can talk about is how Chiclayanos make a living. Just about every occupation you can name exists in Chiclayo. From politicians to plumbers to prostitutes, they’re all here. What’s different is the scale. As opposed to huge and lavish, small and modest is the rule. If you have a white collar job – bank or government employee as this woman is, lawyer or teacher, your work area will be small and humble. Nor will you be supported by the latest in technology. Instead your desk will be covered with paper, pencils, and rubber stamps. Lots of rubber stamps. But there really aren’t that many white collar jobs in Chiclayo. Mostly you’ll be selling or transporting something. The sales jobs range from fast food to all sorts of manufactured products including jewelry, clothing, furniture and appliances, cars, etc, just as you’d see in the States. If you’re in transport you’ll probably be moving people but could also be delivering products or moving material to construction sites.

If you’re a self employed laborer or laboring for someone else, the same conditions apply. There are no mega-manufacturers with robotic technology in Chiclayo. Instead you’ll be working in a two or three man shop, doing your carpentry, auto repair, metal fabrication (as in this photo) or whatever the old fashioned way… hand. Hand-held electric drills, grinders and saws are about as good as it gets.

Building construction is also done on a small scale. Concrete is usually poured via the bucket brigade, even on three and four story buildings. Bricks are hauled up by hand, and tree limbs are used for leveling and as temporary supports. Given the methods I am surprised at the quality of the completed buildings. This building dates back to colonial times and is being renovated.

Obviously there are more standard type jobs I haven’t mentioned but you’ve probably got the picture by now. Let’s look at some occupations you may not be familiar with. Any and everything, legal or illegal can be bought pretty much openly on the streets. Selling pirate DVDs as in this photo (5 movies on a disc for $1.50 - quality sucks) is a popular occupation, though not without risk. Frequent police raids sometimes result in the confiscation of the merchandise. There is a raid warning system and in under 5 seconds these people and their display racks can be inside the Bata shoe store behind them.

You can be a “vigilante” – which corresponds to a private security guard who sits on a chair in a strategic area of a neighborhood and watches houses for 12 hours. Each home owner pays about $10 monthly for this service. Many young men earn a living by twirling flaming batons or doing gymnastic feats at major intersections for stopped traffic. Informal parking valets will offer to stop traffic so you can back out of your parking spot. Roving shoe shine men and photographers are numerous at high traffic areas. There are also roving musicians, usually three or four who walk slowly through neighborhoods playing their instruments. Custom has it that, should they see you watching them play through a window or from a balcony, you owe them money. They can be very persistent about banging on your door until you show up with a coin or two.

Selling candy, bread, brooms, juices and everything else imaginable is common on street corners. And if business isn’t so good you can quickly move to another location or, as this man is doing use the time to catch up on your sleep.

Curbside restaurants are very popular, especially with taxi drivers. The food is basic, filling and cheap. You can eat fast and be on your way in minutes for less than one dollar. Ceviche is a big favorite at these stops. If you’re only going to be in Peru for a few days I’d recommend not eating at a curbside restaurant, or drinking juices sold from roving carts. Dealing with Montezuma’s Revenge is not a fun way to spend your vacation.

People don’t generally earn a lot of money in Peru, but they don’t need a lot of money. It’s amazing how little it takes to put food on the table for a large family. Rice, eggs, vegetables, bread and chicken are cheap. Rice is part of nearly every meal. Many families literally don’t know where tomorrow’s rice will come from but they know that somehow they’ll get it. Chiclayanos; men, women and children are not afraid to work.



  1. I have enjoyed reading your blog - I went back and read every post. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Jim - glad you're enjoying the blog. Agreed...te amo Peru.