What makes Colombia, well, Colombia? What makes people move to Colombia?
Maybe you have watched Encanto? Maybe you have read Marquez’s the Hundred Years of Solitude? If not, maybe you have seen the mention of it in a Colombian consulate? I know, I have.
So is it magic realism?
No, hell no. Magic realism looks great in movies and books. It sucks in real life.
Maybe the gorgeous women? Nah, that’s not it. If it would be, Colombia would not have the proverb: de bonito no se come, which loosely translates to beauty doesn’t fill your belly.
So what then? Hundreds of varieties of fresh fruits available year around? The killer combo of empanadas with freshly brewed Colombian coffee? Cheap cost of living?
The charming coffee triangle? The towering trees of Cocora valley? Salsa? Cartagena? Medellin?
The answer? I honestly could not tell you. I am a guy with a Colombian wife and a former English teacher in Colombia, so I do have some clues.
I think maybe it is all of the above. But you gotta figure it out for yourself.
So what about the article then? Well, that’s so that you make an informed decision and plan well before you think about living in Colombia.
Cost of Living in Colombia
Ok, let’s talk about the cost of living in Colombia.
Colombia is still cheap. It is not as cheap as it used to be maybe 4 years ago. It is definitely not the cheapest country South American country.
However, living in Colombia is definitely way cheaper than North America, Europe, and its South American counterparts like Chile, Uruguay, Argentina etc.
If you are making money in USDs or Euros or Pounds, you are gonna do great. Earning in Colombian pesos? You can still make do, but it will be a little hard.
I know a lot of Americans living in Colombia who earn Colombian pesos and they are not too bad.
Look at this graph just to get an idea.
What would be your living cost in Colombia? Will it be 1000 USD or 5000? It depends on whether you are single or with a partner and family, whether you live in expat zones and eat imported food, and whether you speak Spanish. The list goes on.
If you want to live like a Colombian with basic necessities, you will be totally fine with 2-3 million COPs (USD 500-600.) If you want to live in high-end areas (estrato 5-6), eat out every day, etc you will need much more than that.
And I have a detailed article on cost of living in Colombia, so if you got some time, give it a read. You won’t be disappointed.
Move to Colombia: Is Colombia Safe to Live?
So, let’s address the elephant in the room. Is living in Colombia safe? It is something that I have seen in tons of Facebook posts. It is something that a lot of people moving to Colombia ask about, and it is important to understand.
If your opinion on Colombian safety is based on Netflix shows like Narcos or any other crime shows, it is quite outdated. Colombia has put those days behind.
That being said, all the popular expat-friendly cities like Medellin, Santa Marta, Cartagena, and Bogota are pretty safe.
One thing to take into consideration: petty crimes like theft still happen quite a lot. This has gone up since the pandemic hit. So you must be watchful. And there are some areas in every city that would be a bit more unsafe, especially at night.
The most popular Colombian proverb is probably: No dar papaya. It literally translates to “Don’t give papaya”.
Meaning: Don’t have something “sweet” out in the open that would make you a target. That applies to your nice purse, a Macbook, iPhone, watch, etc. Keep your eyes open and don’t show off that Apple logo everywhere.
How to Find Housing in Colombia?
When you move to Colombia for the first time, it is a much better idea to find short-term rentals. There are two ways to go about it. Use Airbnb and get something for a couple of weeks.
The second option is to go to a Facebook group like Bogota Short Term Rentals or other groups popular with Colombians, post your query in Spanish using Google Translate and you would get a lot of good offers.
This way, you don’t pay the Gringo price.And if you are dealing with real estate agents, simply be careful and only work with one recommended to you by someone your trust.
Something that still works a lot in Colombia, is to walk around the area where you want to live in and find the houses that say Se Arrienda or Se Alquila, and then talk to the owner of the house.
This needs conversational Spanish speaking skills, so if you don’t, then take someone with you who does.
Which Areas Do Expats in Colombia Move to?
If you are an expat moving to Colombia, then the question is where in Colombia. Colombia is pretty big and has many beautiful places where you could live in. Big cities like Medellin, Bogota, Cali, and Cartagena are more popular.
Moving to Medellin, Colombia
Its year-round temperate climate, the startup ecosystem, and the paisa hospitality surely make Medellin the most popular choice for expats living in Colombia.
There are so many beautiful cafes and this is the birthplace of the famous Colombia dish Bandeja Paisa. You can meet a lot of expats out here and it would be a great choice to move to.
There are a lot of local language exchanges and expat meetups every week, and you can find affordable housing with all amenities in Medellin for $600-1000/month.
On top of it all, Medellín has a state-of-the-art metro system that makes getting around pretty stress-free and efficient.
Moving to Bogota, Colombia
Often foreigners moving to Colombia kind of use Bogota as a pit stop, or simply ignore it. I get it. Bogota is huge, and somewhat crowded and you could never guess the weather.
That being said, I do believe Bogota should be something to consider. It has the most jobs and a great coworking culture. If you work in tech like me or teach English, you could certainly find something.
And if you are really in Bogota and planning on doing some language exchange or just brushing up your Spanish, you could visit Dame Tu Lengua in Chapinero.
Moving to Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena has always struck me as a bit too overpriced and too touristy. Don’t get me wrong. It has a lot of charm and great beaches with easy access to many islands.
I know of expats who initially moved there but then decided to move to some other places.
Alternate Destinations to Live in Colombia
If you want to live near the coast, Santa Marta is great. There are many small towns in that belt which are great as well.
Manizales and the other places in the Coffee Axis are also some of the expat favorites.
I personally believe that the small towns or pueblos in Colombia always have a lot to offer. Some of my personal favorites are Paipa and Villa de Leyva in Boyaca.
Which Visa to Use to Move to Colombia?
Citizens of many countries including the United States of America, Canada, the EU, the UK, and Australia don’t need a visa to visit Colombia.
In case you don’t need a visa, you could get 90 days free and further extend stay in Colombia for 90 more days. Or if you need a visa to enter Colombia like me, here is my experience on getting a Colombian Visit Visa.
If you are planning on moving to Colombia, maybe it is a good idea to visit Colombia first for a few months and get a feel. You can check whether you need a visa for Colombia, by visiting Cancilleria’s website.
Here are some of the most sought-out Colombian visas.
Colombia Work Visa: How Hard Is It to Get One?
If you can get a legitimate job in Colombia, it is not hard to get a Colombian Work Visa.
I got one for teaching English. There are a lot of international schools and English institutes, as well as companies in tech that could hire you and apply for your work visa in Colombia.
Colombia Investor Visa: Is It Worth It?
Colombia investor visa can be issued to a foreigner who invests at least 100 times the minimum wage of Colombia. Most foreigners take this route by buying properties or opening up businesses.
It is great if you have money. Do check the terms and conditions, and consult with lawyers before investing.
Retire in Colombia with Retirement Visa
The retirement visa in Colombia is for foreigners who want to retire in
Colombia and can show the means to do so. They must be able to show proof of one of these two.
1. Pension that’s at least three times the minimum wage.
2. Income from investments that’s at least 10 times the minimum wage.
Do Americans Need a Visa to Move to Colombia?
Americans don’t need a visa to visit Colombia for 180 days in a Calendar year. Beyond that, they do need a visa.
Travel Insurance for Colombia vs Public Health Insurance
If you are traveling to Colombia for a vacation, you are fine with normal travel insurance. For what it is worth, I always recommend Safety Wing. It is something that I have used in the past and I consider it one of the greatest backpacker insurance.
The minimum medical insurance coverage totally depends on the visa:
- Visitor Visas: $35,000 USD
- Migrant Visas: $60,000 to $70,000 USD
- Resident Visas: $100,000 USD
Once you have your cedula or have the residency, you can apply for Colombia public insurance or EPS (Entidades Promotoras de Salud).
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