Sabine, living and working as a vegan in Colombia

Living in another country. A dream for some and a reality for others. What is it like to emigrate and live as a vegetarian or vegan in a country other than the Netherlands? We set out to find the stories of women who eat vega(n) and decided to take the plunge and live abroad. What is their story?

Sabine from

Today 32-year-old Sabine who left the small northern Dutch town of Kudelstaart to live in the metropolis of Bogotá, Colombia. Why did she do that? And what is it like to live as a vegan in Colombia? Read her beautiful story.

Photographer Mons Photography, source: website Besabine

Who are you and how did you end up in Bogotá, Colombia?

Hi! I am Sabine, 32 years old, and raised in Kudelstaart, North Holland. At the end of 2014, now 2.5 years ago, I traded this quaint sleepy village for Colombia‘s metropolis of Bogotá , a city of millions. This is where I now live with my Colombian husband. I met Jimmy at work in Holland, where he joined me in the same office for one year. We became friends until more developed. For a year we had a long-distance relationship, but it was not really nice. Therefore, after some visits to Colombia, I decided to fly after him! I didn’t have many expectations of what my new hometown would be like beforehand; I was mostly concerned with how to find a job and trying to live my life in another culture.


In the Netherlands I was a scientific researcher in a hospital, and after about five months I found a job at the National Cancer Institute in Bogotá where I do more or less the same thing. My topics include palliative care, sexuality and cancer, and smoking in Colombia. I also have a blog,, about traveling, living and working in Colombia.


When I just lived in Colombia, I didn’t speak Spanish very well. I learned this particularly at work and by now I am doing very well. Colombians are real meat eaters, but my husband, like me, is vegan. Not yet when I met him, but after watching several documentaries on Netflix he wanted to start eating vegetarian. For about two months now, we have switched to vegan together. It is very nice to do this together and enjoy the good food together. Even at home, of course, it is much easier to make one dish that we are both happy with.


Why did you start eating vegetarian or vegan?

I can’t quite remember when I became a vegetarian, but I think it started about 10 years ago. I didn’t stop overnight, it was gradual. First I didn’t want to eat chicken anymore, then no more meat and chicken at home (so still in restaurants and someone’s home, I thought it was hard to stop 100%). After a few months, I stopped eating meat and chicken altogether (i.e., even outdoors) and only then did I also stop eating fish.


In the house, we have not had milk and cheese for about a year now, only eggs. But now the eggs are also out and we have decided to go completely vegan.


My choice to become a 100% vegetarian had several reasons. First, I no longer wanted to contribute to animal suffering, and second, it felt much better for my body to no longer ingest these products. So since then, I have been a vegetarian for many years, but still ate dairy and eggs.

Transition to vegan

Until about one year ago. My husband and I began to delve more and more into animal products, and then also wanted to stop eating milk and cheese. In the house, we have not had milk and cheese for about a year now, only eggs. But now the eggs are also out and we have decided to go completely vegan. That came after we started to learn more and more and watched documentaries like Food Choices and Cowspiracy. Besides, the move to go vegan felt right, like now is the time. We both want to stop contributing to environmental pollution and animal suffering, besides it feels better for our health. I also find that I really enjoy being more creative with food and tasty dishes. I am very happy with my choice, but there are some struggles I am experiencing….

What is it like to live in Colombia as a vegan?

So the struggles. And there are quite a few in Colombia!


The hardest thing in Colombia: if you don’t bring your own food to everything, eating 100% vegan in Colombia is virtually impossible.


First, Colombia is a real meat country. Colombians call meat, fish and chicken “protein,” and that immediately says a lot. It is the main ingredient on every Colombian’s plate, and without protein, you wouldn’t get enough protein. Even though the supermarkets are packed with the tastiest fruits and vegetables, I am amazed every time how little of it is reflected on their plates.


A lunch (here we eat hot at noon) easily consists of a large piece of meat or chicken, lots of rice, a potato, beans or lentils and two leaves of lettuce. Just about all food they process with milk, cream and/or cheese. So if you eat out in a small typical Colombian restaurant and you want vegetarian, it’s pretty simple: I ask for rice and lots of vegetables with no “protein. I then get a strange look but have my vegetarian meal nicely. And often quite delicious.


Vegan, however, is a different story. Because if there is egg processed through the vegetables, I can’t pick it out. And that’s immediately the most difficult thing in Colombia: if you don’t bring your own food to everything, eating 100% vegan in Colombia is virtually impossible.


Difficult to explain

Second, both vegetarian and vegan is something that many Colombians do not understand at all. I often have to explain ten times what it is and why I eat this way. Because people are not concerned with it at all, there is also almost nothing available for vegetarians and vegans, or it is extremely expensive. For example, there are at least a few vega(n)burgers in every supermarket in the Netherlands; here they are virtually nonexistent. You can’t even get tofu in the very largest supermarket. There are health food stores where they sell a few kinds of burgers, but they are expensive. Also, things like noble yeast doesn’t exist here and agave syrup is so enormously expensive, we can’t afford it. Nuts are plentiful, but also too expensive for us to buy. Just like the different kinds of flour I always see passing by in Dutch dishes: it is either not there or too expensive. The only thing we buy is almond milk, which they have everywhere. Also expensive, but we always look for the cheapest option.


Third, supplements are also hard to find. Vitamin B12 I have since found, but also only in specialty stores. And no one knows anything about it, especially in connection with veganism. Unfortunately, vitamin D is harder to find in certain dosages and also very expensive.


The tricky thing then is when I go out to dinner with colleagues on friends at a non-vegan restaurant. They have vegetarian everywhere, but vegan is difficult then.


So the bottom line is that due to lack of ingredients and high costs, we so make everything ourselves and delicious dishes that I find on the Internet, I often cannot get on the table because half of the ingredients are not here. What Colombia does have a lot of is beans, lentils and chickpeas. So we eat a lot of that. Vegan pasta is also available at health food stores and we alternate the rice and quinoa with that. In addition, fruits and vegetables are abundant and cheap here.

Dining with colleagues

Fortunately, Bogotá does have a great selection of vegan restaurants, and the dishes there are always incredibly delicious! So we go to restaurants regularly, but they are not near my work. So to me at work I always take my homemade lunch with me, so I can eat vegan there too.


The tricky thing then is when I go out to dinner with colleagues on friends at a non-vegan restaurant. They have vegetarian everywhere, but vegan is difficult then. So very occasionally a little cheese or egg slips through, but fortunately this is rare. Outside the big cities, it is more difficult, as there are often only typical Colombian restaurants with only meat, beans and rice. Fortunately, at least then we can eat some beans and rice.

How do people in Colombia react when you tell them you are vegan?

In the Netherlands I got quite a lot of comments about vegetarian food, usually not very positive. Now that we have switched to vegan, I am also already noticing some resistance and people not understanding. Now I have to say that ten years ago I didn’t see the point of it either, but when you delve into it a lot of knowledge suddenly emerges.


In this, the Netherlands differs from Colombia, where people are mostly curious and want to know the why and how. They often don’t understand and totally don’t understand how to live without animal products, but they are understanding and they ask a lot of questions. They also like to try food. Despite the fact that I would like to see Colombians less focused on those proteins, at least I get understanding responses.

Photo: Sander Ruijsbroek. Villa de Leyva


Growing group of vegas

I notice that more and more vega(n) restaurants are popping up, and the Facebook group of vegetarians and vegans in Bogotá is also growing: there are already more than 18,000 members (well out of a population of about 9 million). In any case: I think that in a few years there will be more knowledge about what all that protein and dairy does to the body and the environment, after which people will start eating less of it.


What does it cost to eat healthy and varied food as a vegan in Colombia?

I actually don’t know what I spend on it. What I do know is that here it very much matters what and where you buy. If you buy vegan pasta (1.50 euros or more), veg burgers (three euros or more), nuts such as walnuts (five – 10 euros), almond milk (three euros) and agave syrup (nine euros) at the health food store every week, you are spending a lot of money, especially by Colombian standards. Also, seeds like chia are heartily expensive here. Because of that high cost, we only buy the almond milk and sometimes vegan pasta.


I also spend a lot of money on rice, beans, lentils and chickpeas, quinoa and fruits and vegetables. Quinoa also costs about two euros per bag. Rice, lentils and beans are cheap and last longer. Fruit and vegetables are also much cheaper here than in the Netherlands. I like to incorporate dried tomatoes into my dishes, but unfortunately they are almost impossible to get or very expensive (the cheapest is three euros for a jar, which is very expensive here).

Freezing large quantities

I often make large quantities of a dish to then freeze, so if I make something that goes a lot, I’ll spend a little more money once, but you’ll get several days out of it. For example, the other day I made about 25 vegan burgers and froze them in packages of three. How much I spend on average I don’t know, but I think less than it would cost in the Netherlands.


I happened to discover another new vegan restaurant in Bogotá last week, namely Mestizo in the La Macarena neighborhood. Highly recommended!

What tips do you have for other vegetarians and/or vegans to when they come to Colombia?

There was a vegan festival in Bogotá in January and I think it’s every year. I really love the vega(n) restaurants out there and the vega(n) food in regular restaurants in Bogotá! The food is much tastier than in Holland and they really make something of it. You can find the restaurants through Happy Cow. On my blog, I listed my favorites with some additional tips for travelers who want to eat vega(n) in Colombia. You can read this here.


I happened to discover another new vegan restaurant in Bogotá last week, namely Mestizo in the La Macarena neighborhood. Highly recommended! In addition, as a vegan or vegetarian, you can get totally absorbed in all the delicious fruits and vegetables they sell here. Step into a fruit store and buy all those things you don’t know. Or just a papaya or mango, also to savor!


Many snacks and even chips are not vegan, so you will have to skip those then. Ask the person very clearly what exactly is in it and whether milk, cheese and/or egg were used. Also, when ordering food, it is helpful to indicate very clearly what you want. Asking for vegetarian or vegan they do not understand, so you have to be very specific (what is and what is not). Workshops and other activities I don’t know about yet, but I plan to pay more attention to them. So that will come later on my blog. Just like real Colombian dishes, but the vegan version!


What did you find most difficult about your emigration? And what did you like best?

Only in the second half of the year 2014 did I make the final choice to emigrate, and on December 31 I flew to Colombia. In just a few months, I arranged everything for my emigration. From my diplomas that had to be converted, all the translations, my visa and ID card in Colombia, selling my house and all the contents, and flying to Colombia one more time in between to leave some stuff behind. And saying goodbye to everyone, of course.


In just a few months, I arranged everything for my emigration.


It all happened very quickly, but I liked that very much. It’s already a pretty emotional and nerve-wracking event and I would hate for that to take a year or more. What I might do differently is already have a little more knowledge of the language, that would have made the beginning in Colombia a little easier. But actually, I’m quite satisfied with how it all turned out. The best thing about emigrating was simply that I could then finally be together with my Colombian!

Do you plan to return to the Netherlands someday?
For now we stay in Colombia, of what the future will look like I have no idea. Living in Bogotá is not so healthy because of the air pollution, so we would like to live somewhere else. It also depends on other points, such as the security situation in Colombia (which is not so stable here) and my husband’s work. It is just possible that he will go to work in another country for a few years and then, of course, I will go with him.


I have no desire to go back to the Netherlands (although I would if it were convenient), but would certainly enjoy emigrating to another country again. Whether that will happen time will tell.

Has foreign countries changed your view of the Netherlands? How do you look at the Netherlands now?

Now that I have lived here for about 2.5 years, I see everything that happens in the Netherlands from a distance. Just like in the Netherlands you look at what is happening abroad. In recent years, there have been a lot of occurrences with refugees, for example, that I didn’t take very much notice of. Just like the political stuff and other things the news is full of in Holland. The Netherlands now feels more like a second home where I have family and friends, but in my mind the country is exactly the same as it was 2.5 years ago.


When I read somewhere that the poverty problem is so big in the Netherlands or that there are so many homeless people in Amsterdam, I do get a bit of a jolt.


I suddenly see what is and isn’t in the Netherlands and that despite all the discussions about things like safety and poverty, in the Netherlands that is just heartily well taken care of. When I read somewhere that the poverty problem is so big or that there are so many homeless people in Amsterdam, I do get a bit of a jolt. By Dutch standards that may well be true, but when I read that news while sitting on the bus and seeing a vagrant/addict sleeping under a plastic bag in the middle of the road every ten meters, who can’t just go to the Salvation Army, even if it’s only five degrees. Not to mention the gigantic inequality that you also see very clearly in the streets…. then the Netherlands really isn’t all that bad.

Finally relaxed on the street

We just returned from a vacation in the Netherlands, and what fun it was! Especially wonderful to see everyone again, but also the clean air and being able to walk down the street with valuables (wedding ring for example) without worry was very nice. Still, I am content here in Bogotá. I think particularly because of the people who are much more welcoming and kind and the opportunities it offers to live here. Foreigners are not exactly welcomed with open arms in the Netherlands, here they are. Jimmy in particular notices this and, as a result, so do I. Holland has so many rules and everything must be done exactly as it should be. Here, life is freer and much less planned. Anything is possible.

The Netherlands is a hugely expensive country

I think every person who goes to live in another country changes himself and gets a different view of the whole world. You learn an enormous amount and suddenly see how things really are, good or not so good. You can suddenly compare. I don’t think my view of the Netherlands has changed much, except that I see the Netherlands as a second home and as a hugely expensive country where everything is planned in detail. Still, after a few days, I did feel at home there. I am proud of my Dutch roots and it is wonderful to be there from time to time!


Read all of Sabine’s stories on her blog: Besabine
We, too, were in Colombia. Read our blogs on:

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