11 Pros & Cons for Expats Living in Colombia
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Colombia is an amazing country with diverse geography, culture, climate, and people. Even though it has gone through some rough times in the past, now more than ever, it has become a top destination for ex-pats and digital nomads worldwide.
I was born and raised in the US and have been fortunate enough to have moved permanently to Medellin, Colombia, about five years ago. This list has been compiled from my experience and what I’ve seen through some of my “gringo” friends (it’s not a derogatory term, by the way, don’t @ me) over the years.
Here are just a few of the pros & cons of living in Colombia.
1. Cost of Living
Let’s keep it real: It’s all about the Benjamins, right?
PRO: Living in Colombia is relatively inexpensive. According to TimeDoctor.com, the average monthly salary in Colombia is somewhere between 4 and 5 million COP (roughly USD 845 at the time of writing this article), while the current minimum wage salary (2023) is 1,160,000.00 COP or USD 245.
So it’s common for most internationals to experience an attractive lifestyle at a fraction of what they’re used to spending, especially if you’re earning in a foreign currency!
CON: The flip side to that is local salaries are also low. So if the plan is to work for a local company instead of earning dollars or a better foreign currency, you won’t make out as well.
2. Affordable Rental Properties
PRO: Building off the previous points, the rent in Colombia is NOT “too damn high”…
In Medellin specifically, it’s common for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment, in a lovely doorman building, in a decent upper middle-class neighborhood to run you about 2 million pesos (roughly USD 450 at today’s rate), give or take.
My friend, Andy, rented a nice 2-bedroom apartment in the Estadio area of Medellin for $510 a month plus utilities.
For a little perspective, I’m from New York, and you couldn’t find a closet for that much!
Studio apartments in Queens go for around $1300 easily. Obviously, other locations will fluctuate in price, but that’s a good benchmark.
BONUS TIP: Electricity, Water & Gas bills are rolled up in one, and the price varies based on the “stratus” of the home. Low-income areas pay less for essential services than wealthy ones.
Internet is separate, and the fast speed option costs about $20-25 per month.
CON: Actually getting the apartment.
Foreigners may find it difficult to rent an apartment due to various factors. Not least of them is the language barrier. Plus, there are ridiculous bureaucracy and credit history requirements.
Sometimes you will need to put down a hefty deposit, like 3-6 months of rent, or get a CDT which is where you put down a deposit in the form of a CD at the agency’s bank of choice.
Bonus: If you go the CDT route, your money earns interest, sometimes as high as 15% annualized.
Your best bet is getting yourself an English-speaking friend (like me!) or real estate broker to walk you through the process and avoid confusion and any scams.
Speaking of scams, the government doesn’t sanction real estate agents and brokers, making it the wild west of real estate.
Getting scammed by a so-called real estate broker here is just as easy.
The best bet is to get a referral from a friend.
Renting your own place is definitely a better option than succumbing to the dreaded “gringo-tax” and renting from one of the many people who take advantage of these difficulties and rent properties to foreigners in need and at disgusting price-gouging rates.
My friend Andy, before he found his current non-gringo tax apartment, was a victim of high prices for a while. He used AIRBNB numerous times, and the rates were extremely high.
Check out Metro Cuadrado, as they have both listings for sales and rentals.
3. Cheap, Delicious Food!
PRO: Eating local is very affordable! Like so many other things, the food in Colombia is very diverse. It’s as varied and different from region to region as the people, climate, music, and culture.
But it never has to be expensive. In Medellin, you can get a “working man’s” lunch special at most restaurants, starting at about $2-$3!
Just ask for the “menu del dia,” or menu of the day, or the “corrientazo,” as it’s commonly known here.
I know it sounds crazy! But they’re complete meals that include soup, salad, and a full plate with protein, rice, and usually some other starch like potatoes or yuca.
Even if you’re looking for a more refined dining experience, at the highest end, a meal should never cost you more than around $20.
CON: Imported grocery items can get pricey
While you can keep your grocery spending to a minimum by taking advantage of the local options available, like markets, butchers, and bakeries, if you choose to visit the large chain supermarkets and indulge in treats from back home, what you can find, will get expensive.
I know. I’ve got a severe pickle addiction, and they’re only available in one store in the city, and they aren’t cheap!
Pro tip: Colombia is home to a world-class variety of fruits, many of which I can guarantee you’ve never heard of, much less tasted. You’d be making a mistake by not checking them out.
Also, the fruit is very affordable. A large Papaya is about 75 cents, Large Haas Avocados are less than $1.00, and Mangos fetch similar prices.
One word of caution is to be careful of the tap water in Colombia. Sometimes it’s safe, and other times it’s not. Always be cautious and play it safe by drinking bottled water if the water source seems sketchy or if you are in a town in the middle of nowhere…chances are the town doesn’t have good water filtration or the pipes are crap.
Read this article, too, Can I Drink Tap Water in Cartagena?
4. Affordable Healthcare
PRO: Colombia has good healthcare, and it’s not super expensive, at least not compared to what we’re used to!
I pay about USD 65 for the basic plan with the best Insurer in the country, SURA.
Our friend Andy has the top plan with Sura, which costs him around USD 95 monthly.
And many other options offer complete coverage for a little more. The plan I have has always been “good enough.” I get good care and medications; I’ve even had surgery with the respective follow-up physical therapies.
Many people also visit Colombia for elective procedures such as dental work or plastic surgery.
CON: There are some drawbacks. Like everything else here, the healthcare system is bogged down in bureaucracy.
Sometimes you will have to do ridiculous amounts of legwork and paperwork and go through long approval processes to get treatment approved.
That, of course, is an issue that comes with the cheapest plans like the one I have. The higher ends of coverage always have better care for the price.
BONUS TIP: There are also some new and exciting diseases! With the diversity in biomes and wildlife also come health hazards. Mosquitoes and the like can carry illnesses we are not used to, like Malaria, Dengue, Yellow Fever, and more. Make sure to keep that in mind and take all the necessary precautions.
Ahh, yes, the spice of life. That is what they say.
PRO: Incredible diversity. In Everything! Colombia is the most varied place on earth.
In my opinion, nowhere else will you find greater diversity.
Every region in Colombia has its own climate, culture, people, food, and music. It’s like many different countries in one! And dancing! Colombia is known for its own dancing styles, both modern and traditional.
With that comes a fantastic variety of things to do! Whether you’re into cultural tourism, nature, gastronomy, or nightlife, you’ll always find something new and different to explore.
CON: As in most places, and more so in countries where there is severe poverty, as there is in Colombia, safety can be a concern. Especially for those who are clearly not from around here.
There is nothing you can do about your physical appearance, you may not be able to blend in, but you should always be careful and try not to flash any wealth or anything valuable. And as always, choose carefully who you trust.
Trivia question for the day, does it snow in Colombia? Surprisingly yes, but here is where.
PRO: Even with the crime, the people in Colombia are very friendly. Sometimes too much!
It’s not rare for the lady behind you at the supermarket to strike up a conversation and pry your life story out of you.
Colombians are very helpful, warm, caring, and accepting. You’ll never be hard-pressed to find help in a time of need, and you’ll surely make new, long-lasting friendships.
CON: They don’t speak English! You’re going to want to consider learning Spanish seriously. Like, VERY seriously!
The vast majority of people here speak only Spanish, so if you plan on stepping outside the Gringo-sphere, whether that’s for friends or maybe even…a little romance…learn Spanish!
PRO: The education in Colombia is very high quality, especially in private institutions.
If you’re considering bringing your family down here or starting one, you’ll need not worry about the quality of the education the little ones will receive.
This page has all the information you need to pick the right school for your family.
CON: It isn’t cheap. As I mentioned above, the quality of education differs significantly between public options and private institutions.
The higher-end of schools and international bilingual schools that many foreigners would choose to send their kids to come at a high price tag, but they are still more affordable than the states.
For example, the Nueva Granada School in Bogota, well known for being the most expensive, will cost you around $7500 a year.
PRO: If you’ve got ideas about traveling around much of South or Central America, Colombia would be an ideal jumping-off point or place to establish a home base.
From here, it is easy and relatively inexpensive to reach and enjoy the local scenery in any of those destinations you’ve got your eye on.
For example, you can book a flight to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which only costs roughly $400 round trip.
Or let’s say you want to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, which will only cost around $450.
9. Getting Around Colombia
PRO: Colombian cities have sound, affordable public transportation systems. Whether it’s the iconic Metro in Medellin, the gondola lifts of the MetroCable, its integrated trolley system, or Bogota’s TransMilenio, there are many options to get around the city.
And if the trains or trolleys can’t get you there, the cities are covered in bus routes that should be able to get you there on time and for a meager price. Not even a dollar!
If you choose to venture outside the city, there are also many very affordable options for inter-city buses that are generally much more comfortable than the city kind.
Or you also rent a car and drive yourself wherever you want, but that comes with its own set of dangers which I discuss here.
PRO: The cities also accommodate those who prefer to take in the local scenery. If you like to pedal your way around, there are bike rental programs like Medellin’s EnCicla.
If you instead prefer to walk, most cities have that availability and especially the smaller rural towns. Those rural towns are meant to be walked as most people don’t have cars.
PRO: Uber and InDriver are very affordable. It costs around $4.50 to take an Uber from Laureles, a popular part of Medellin, to the other end of the city Sabaneta. That would probably be $45 in the USA.
CON: Too many Motorcycles!
I really think Medellin has more bikes than people! It’s overwhelming, especially if you’re driving. Motorcycles are very advantageous to the average Colombian.
They’re small, agile, easy to store, and inexpensive to buy and maintain.
Especially the cheap Chinese brands that have invaded the market! So it’s no surprise the country is flooded with them.
ANOTHER CON: With that swarming of motorcycles comes insane traffic! Medellin is bad because it’s basically a long hot dog wrapped in mountainous buns, with nowhere for all the traffic to go but north or south.
But from what I hear, Bogota is even worse!
Colombia, especially the cities, has experienced a boom in growth and, therefore, population, with some cities, like Medellin, struggling to keep up.
The deep Ayura river valley it sits in leaves little room for expansion, with most of it creeping up the sides of the mountains that envelop it.
And these mountains and their roads were never designed to handle all the cars that the new residents come with.
If you happen to need to be on the roads around peak rush hour, sit tight and get comfortable, you will be there for a while.
So you’ve decided to move to Colombia? OK, let’s talk J-O-B.
PRO: English speakers enjoy high demand in Colombia. Whether it’s for work as an English teacher in one of the country’s many universities, schools, or language academies, work in the many call centers, or even just as an added benefit in the business or industry of your choice.
CON: With that being said, it takes work. Getting a visa or work permit can be a long and complicated process. The bureaucratic struggle here is real. Don’t think for one minute you can buy your way through the red tape.
And even the people you may hire or trust to guide you through the process may not even know the full extent of the most up-to-date regulations or requirements.
It’s also not easy for a company that wants to hire you either.
They’ll also have to go through a process detailing what the offer is they’re making to you and why they have chosen not to hire a Colombian for the job.
It’s quite a hassle, and many smaller companies would rather avoid it altogether.
11. Money Exchange
PRO: The US dollar versus the Colombian Peso is strong. So if you are bringing in dollars to exchange for pesos, you will do good. Now if you are a Colombian making pesos and want to travel to the US, it’s really difficult and expensive.
What do I mean? At the time of writing this article, one US Dollar equals 4851.44 Colombian Pesos. That’s really good. When I first moved here, it was closer to 3000, so it has steadily climbed upward, which is tied to inflation.
CON: If you don’t have a Colombian bank account, you are going to get screwed over at International Money Exchanges. Those exchanges take a deep cut. Chances are you can also use your debit card here with Colombian ATMs, but you will most likely pay a fee plus the rate isn’t going to be fantastic. Plus, there are limits on how much money you can take out!
If you have a Colombian bank account at, let’s say, Bancolombia, you can transfer money from your home bank account using an app called Remitly. This app has some very favorable exchange rates, and if you transfer over $500, they don’t charge an extra exchange fee.
They also have an economy feature which is the best rate, but you get the money in 3-5 days. The instant feature has a less favorable exchange rate, but it’s good.
So there you have it! Eleven-ish pros and cons of living in Colombia. Things you must consider when deciding whether or not to take the bold plunge into the not-so-unknown and move thousands of miles away to a land very different from your own.
Of course, you’ll have to decide if making that move works out for you, but Colombia is a beautiful land with amazing people, and I’m sure that your experience here will be positive and life-changing.
The incredible diversity in all matters of life here will ensure that you’ll never stop exploring, learning, and experiencing new and beautiful additions to your life.