Medellin Colombia: City of Eternal Spring, and our home for two years
(Disclaimer: Don’t believe any of this. In other words, when seeking advice and guidance as an expat, keep your own counsel, or pay for expert advice. What follows is based on our experience, and may not match yours. After two years in Medellin, we feel somewhat qualified to comment on certain things, though we learn something new every day.)
Our apartment is located roughly at the heart, and we 'heart' Medellin.
We left the U.S. mostly for a more temperate climate, that is, to escape frigid weather and its health & comfort implications, and to live in a place we could easily afford. We moved here for other reasons as well, namely Colombia's inexpensive health care system, its much reduced cost of living, easy access to the U.S., its world class infrastructure, progressive governance, ultra modern and efficient public transportation, and much more.
Considering a move to Medellin? This post addresses some immediate concerns you may have, and, again, is solely our experience. When we first arrived here, we stayed for a month at an AirBnB in Laureles, a suburb on Medellin's west side. We found an apartment soon after, but it proved to be temporary until we found what we really wanted.
Thus our first bit of advice: Selecting an apartment should be delayed until certain things are better known: Access to basics like markets, malls, bill paying sites, (there's no postal system in Colombia), walkability, access to public transport, noise level, (very important), air quality which does vary across the city, and even simple things like where friends have chosen to live.
Medellin offers a wide variety of apartments for rent or purchase
(Photo courtesy of Medellin Guru)
Apartments are plentiful, and the range of prices is wide. We pay about $750/month USD for our 1,100 SF apartment. It's not difficult to find a place for as little as $450/month, depending on ones preferences of location. At the end of this post I list our average monthly cost of living figures. Many expats purchase property in Medellin. It's personal preference, of course, considering long-term investment potential, the benefits of ownership, minimal building/condo fees here, and a sense of permanence. We're committed renters, only because we prefer the latitude that renting offers. Establishing a mortgage is possible in Colombia, but there are age restrictions, and due to certain legal rulings, banking in Colombia tends to be more complicated and heavily scrutinized than elsewhere due to past money laundering schemes. (Thank you ever so much Mr. Escobar)
Expats wishing to rent an apartment may require a 'fiodor,' a co-signer. There are ways around this dilemma, such as an offer to pay several months rent in advance, and/or depositing a CD or other financial instrument as proof of liquidity in a bank. Our experience has been that deposits on apartments are not required, and not even allowed for unfurnished units. A word of caution: Rental/Real Estate agencies don't operate as they do in, for example, the U.S. There's no MLS system in Colombia, so it's common to see several agency signs in the same unit. Rental agencies will take a small portion of each month's rent, so working directly with an owner, if possible, is potentially better, often resulting in a lower rental cost. Rumor has it that monthly costs automatically rise when expats walk into an agency office. We cannot confirm or refute this so called 'gringo-bingo,' but it's entirely possible. (I'll discuss wealth disparity and its ramifications in an upcoming post.)
Selection of monthly rental costs in Medellin
(Current exchange rate (12/26/18) was .00031COP/dollar. So $1,600,000 COP=$488.00 USD)
As you can see, there's a wide selection to choose from among rental units. Colombia is on the metric system, so an apartment with 110 square meters is 1,185 SF. These are examples only, and it's been our experience that websites are not updated often. (Also, the 78 square meter unit advertised for $13,000,000/Month has to be a typo. Likely it's $1,300,000, which is $450.00/Mo USD)
Hints on locating the perfect apartment:
Camp out at an AirBnB in a location you might like for at least a month. Better yet, book a month long stay at three or four locations. During fiesta time, try to be present overnight at every location you consider. Colombianos have 18 fiestas per year, and celebrations are loud, often lasting all night and into the morning. If raucous music and wild celebrating isn't your thing, you'll want to know the neighborhood prior to signing a lease. Medellin is a city of 3.5 million souls, so it does have certain big city woes, and noise is one of them. Speaking of a lease, try to sign for only six months at first. It may bump up the rent, but you might be glad you can opt out and move elsewhere. The best advice is to slow down, take your time, make sure the apartment is right for you. There are plenty of apartments to pick from. Plus, until you obtain a Cedula for residence in Colombia, no one will rent to you anyway. (A future post will deal with Visas/Cedulas etc.)
Medellin Colombia Barrios/Comunas etc.
(Note: The map is oriented east/west. The city is north/south)
Don't purchase furnishings for an apartment before moving in. Rental contracts have found their way to a shredder when an owner gets a better offer. When looking for furniture, keep in mind that means you'll need most everything. An unfurnished apartment is just that: Unfurnished. You'll likely need to purchase a refrigerator, washer, (very few people own a clothes dryer in Medellin), beds, TV, assorted other furnishings etc. It may be wise to measure certain areas of an apartment before buying things that may not fit. For example, check the size of the elevator. If it's too small for the mattress you bought, and delivery personnel have to schlep it up the stairs, they may charge you extra per floor. And speaking of elevators, avoid buildings with only one, especially if the apartment is on a higher floor. Elevators do go down for maintenance.
As per the above map, many expats/extranjeros settle in El Poblado, Laureles, or Belen. There's no 'bad' area of Medellin, but there are parts of town where we spoiled gringos may not be comfortable. There are many attractive properties for rent & for sale in Envigado, Itagui, & Sabaneta, which are separate cities, but considered part of Medellin. (A future post will cover safety in Medellin. For now, here's our response to questions about danger: The danger is that you'll want to stay.)
Our current average monthly costs:
Apartment rent: $2,400,00 COP/Month. ($735/Month USD) This is only the rent, no utilities. The Colombian government dictates an annual COLA which hovers between 4% & 6% per year. We enjoy telling friends in the U.S. we're paying 'only' 2 million four hundred thousand a month for rent. We don't own a car, and don't wish to, so we have two parking spots in our building that we rent out, thus reducing our cost by $35.00/Month. So our rental cost is effectively $700/Month, depending on the exchange rate.
EPM: (average) $75.00 USD/Month. EPM is the power utility in Medellin for electric, gas, and water.
EPS Healthcare: $30.00/Month USD. Yes, thirty bucks a month total, for two of us. (more on this in a later post.)
Claro phone service: $45.00/Month USD
Une: Internet ISP, $35.00/Month USD (for 20 gigs) WiFi is free in all city parks here, and signal is strong & steady.
Food: Average cost to eat/cook/bake etc. $100.00/Month USD. Street vendors & markets are plentiful, & extremely cheap. Note: We don't 'stock up' on vegetable items, because preservatives are not used here, so items won't keep. Fresh is good.
Eating out: Average cost, $200.00/Month USD. It's difficult to spend more than $50.00 for two meals at a high quality restaurant in Medellin. For lunch, we often order the 'menu del dia,' menu of the day. They're scrumptious and filling, and rarely cost more than $5.00 apiece.
Entertainment: Average ticket price at Teatro Metropolitano, $8.00 to $12.00 apiece. For world class concerts & performances, Teatro can't be beat.
Transportation costs: We tell people we have 23 thousand cars, and they're all yellow. Taxis are plentiful, cheap, and readily available. The Medellin Metro is a superb, clean, efficient, safe, world class, integrated rail transport/bus/cable car system that is also very inexpensive. Bottom line: We can travel anywhere in Medellin for less than $10.00, so why own a car?
Misc: Tips/ATM fees/Clothing/personal items etc.: Average cost likely $50.00/Month USD.
Total average monthly cost to live in Medellin: Around $1,300.00/Month USD.
This does not include costs to travel outside the city, air fares, unforeseen expenses like out of pocket medical expenses etc. It does not include taxes, which will be the subject of a future post. (It's mandatory to file tax returns in Colombia, though tax liability is likely not an issue for expats, unless their income is off the charts high. But filing is mandatory.
With Colombiano amigos at the annual Alumbrados Navideños, Christmas lights of Medellin
As mentioned, this information is based on our experience. If you're contemplating a move to Medellin, we hope this helps. In future posts I'll address the following items concerning retirement in Medellin Colombia:
Post #2: The people of Medellin, attributes, perspective, history, likes/dislikes, dress code, irritations, wealth disparity, important dates & historical figures, the role of religion in society, and much more.
Post#3: Obtaining residency in Colombia.
Post #4: Healthcare/Insurance etc.
Post #5: Weather/climate/what to expect
Post #6: More cost of living. Details.
Post #7: Expat frustrations. Dealing with differences etc. Safety.
Post #8: Language. Spanish is not an option.
Post #9: Do's & Don'ts. Customs & protocols in Colombia.
Post #10: Why we love living in Medellin.
Links for more information.
Medellin Guru: A newsletter/blog about life in Colombia & Medellin
Cuenta con Vos: From the Medellin mayor's office. Alcalde Federico Gutierrez records city stories once a week. (All in Spanish)
Sapiencia: A site with volunteer opportunities, again promoted by Alcalde Gutierrez & Cuenta con Vos. (I talk to you)
Medellin Living: Aimed more at younger folks, this blog has lots of info.
Definitive Guide: From a fellow who calls himself 'Desk to Dirtbag'. I especially liked his admonition against the Escobar tour.
I'll close with a must-see list, and my own admonition. While in Medellin, must-see places are: The MetroCable system to Parque Arvi, Pueblito Paisa, Christmas lights (December-January), city parks, Parque Explora & El Planetario, Jardin Botanico, Museo de la Memoria, Botero Plaza & Museo de Antioquia, the Carabobo/El Hueco & Parque de las Luces, Communa 13 & the Escaleras Electricas, Mercado del Rio, Museo de Arte Moderno (MAMM), El Castillo in Poblado, Parque de los Descalzos (Barefoot Park), Museo de Agua, Medellin Flower Festival (August 2nd thru 11th 2019), and much more.
DO NOT--Please do not attend a Pablo Escobar tour, or any tour associated with Narcotraficantes. The people of Medellin have worked very hard to put that sad, blood-soaked epoch behind them, and they do not appreciate tourists extending those tragic memories. Very soon one of Escobar's houses will be destroyed by the city, and a public park dedicated to victims of those awful years will be built to replace it. Please help erase these awful memories; stay away from tours that continue to exploit them.
The danger of visiting Medellin
You'll want to stay.
Enjoy the post. The next one will cover the wonderful people of this city we've called home for 2 years. Thanks for reading.