How Much Does It Cost to Live in Colombia?

Colombian woman

The country of Colombia is not in my World’s Cheapest Destinations book, but it will be in my upcoming one out later this year on cheaper living abroad. It has a whole lot going for it as a place to live and while it’s a country on a roll in terms of its economy and strong currency, it’s still a great value for those who settle there temporarily or permanently.

RTW DaveTo get the scoop on what they spend on a regular basis, I got in touch with two expatriates living in Colombia. David Lee, best known for his blog GoBackpacking.com, lives in one of the most popular cities for expats, Medellín. He often talks about his experiences there on another blog, Medellin Living, and has an e-book out for people traveling there.

I also spoke with Bogota resident Jeff Jung, who runs the great Career Break Secrets site and is author of The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook.

taking a career breakCompared to a big US city, your living expenses are significantly lower in Colombia. Jeff estimates that he spends about half what he did in the USA overall. Dave’s expenses rarely top $1,800 a month, which again is about half what many people of average means spend per month in the states, Canada, or Europe. And they probably go out far less on that budget.

What do you spend on rent living in Colombia?

“My last apartment in the north of Bogotá ran 1,100,000 per month + HOA fees (called administración) of of 100,000,” says Jeff Jung. That comes out to about $630 US. “Renters should find out both parts of the cost when looking for an apartment. You could find something decent (old but decent) for as low as 800,000 and spend up to 2,000,000 per month for rent only. In US dollars that’s a range of approx $400-$1000 (or more for higher end places). I’m quoting unfurnished prices so a furnished place might start closer to US$500. Gas and electricity will run about $15 and $50, respectively, per month. Cable and internet can run closer to US pricing at $50-80 per month. A common money-saving tactic of Bogotanos is to live with others so you can get a larger, nicer place with all common housing costs shared.”

Medellin view

Dave’s view

David Lee does just that in Medellin, sharing a spacious three-bedroom apartment with a view in a very desirable neighborhood. His share averages between $330 and $340 with utilities. Those utilities are a shade over $200 per month for the three of them for electricity, gas, cable TV, fast internet, land line phone.

Colombian parilla

Barbecued meats platter

What does it cost to eat out in Colombia?

travel living MedellinDave and Jeff agree that a decent “meal of the day” lunch will run you about $5. You can certainly pay less at places where local workers eat, or spend a few dollars more and get much better quality. That’ll generally get you a soup, a main meat dish with a side or two, dessert, and a fresh juice or something else to drink. “That can easily go up in Bogota to $10-15 depending on where you eat,” says Jeff.

Naturally dinners can run the gamut, from cobbled together street for for a couple dollars up to high-end restaurants that will cost nearly as much as you would spend in Europe.

How much does it cost to get around?

City buses are around 60 to 75 cents one way. A one way on the nicest “TransMilenio” in Bogota will run you about 90 cents. The Medellin metro is about 85 cents. See the “bargains” part below for taxis.

Intercity buses start at around $8 for a couple hours and can cost as much as $55 for long overnight routes, so sometimes it’s worth it to double that and fly. The two most expensive routes in the country are Bogota to Cartagena and Bogota to San Andres, Jeff says, but there are frequent specials if you book ahead. You can sometimes find internal flight fares as low as $55 and often the longest routes are going for around $100.

What are some of the best bargains in Colombia?

“Taxis are plentiful and cheap,” says Jeff. “The basic fare is about $1.80 and an expensive taxi ride will cost you $10—that’s traveling a long distance across Bogota. Taxi drivers are not tipped.” Dave says in Medellin he generally pays 4,200 – 10,000 pesos ($2.30 – $5.50).

Dave points to the great nightlife in Colombia as a bargain. He says going out to clubs and having a blast is not going to set you back very much in Medellin compared to a place like London, Las Vegas, or New York City. In a nightclub the usual routine is for the group to get bottle service. You pay $30 or so for a 750ml bottle of rum or aguadiarte (the favored anise flavored local spirit) and you get ice and mixers. “Colombians go out in groups,” he says, “so if there are five of you that’s $6 a person. Very few places have a cover charge. If they do its generally a couple dollars and at the most, maybe the equivalent of $12 at the very fanciest place.”

What can you get for a buck or less in Colombia?

A one way city bus ride; a whole lot of different street food (empanada, arepa con queso, boiled/salted potatoes); a 600ml bottle of water; a local mass-market beer; a tinto coffee or two; a glass of juice from a stall; a kilo of seasonal fruit or vegetables; an hour online at an internet cafe.

What are the pros and cons of living there?

Ask people what they like about Medellin and the weather usually comes first in this placed nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring.” Dave says, “You can wear a t-shirt and jeans day or night pretty much all year. ” There are two rainy seasons though, which can range from mild to ongoing deluges from year to year and Dave says if expats complain about something, that’s usually it. Bogota is higher and colder. It has the big city attributes on the plus side (museums, great restaurants, the arts), but also more of the normal big city problems.

Bogota Colombia

Central Bogota

While the crime and personal danger situations have improved dramatically in Colombia over the past decade, Medellin and Bogota are still big cities in a country with substantial income inequality and lingering drug gang activity. “I have been robbed, so I can testify that it’s a real risk,” says Dave. “But that’s true in almost any city in the Americas.”

The music, the beautiful women, and the gorgeous countryside get high marks from visitors and residents, plus the relatively low labor costs mean that almost no expat cleans their own apartment or does all their own gardening work if they have a house.

The Colombian visa situation:

You get three months in Colombia upon entering the country as a tourist. To extend that another three months you can either leave the country and return or go apply for an extension for about $40. But you can only stay six months of a calendar year this way, so you have to get out after that. There are supposedly 17 different kinds of visas in Colombia, so if you want to stay longer, it’s best to hire an attorney to sort it out. Dave obtained a business visa by showing a steady stream of income and what he was working on. It’s good for 19 months. He says some digital nomads opt for an “independent activities visa” which is more ambiguous. Those who have found local love can apply for a “civil partnership visa.”

To find out more:

Career Breaks Jeff

Jeff Jung

Dave helpfully broke down his living expenses over three months a year ago in this blog post. He says he has since cut his gym membership cost in half through a promotion at the same place he was using before—the best in the city.  See lots of details in his Medellin Living website or get his Medellin Travel Guide book in PDF form or for Amazon Kindle. He’s on Twitter at @rtwdave.

Jeff has lots of advice for anyone ready for a career break on his Career Break Secrets website and in his Career Break Traveler’s Handbook, available in paperback or Kindle versions. Follow him on Twitter at @CareerBrkSecret.

Want to keep up on the progress of my living cheap abroad book coming out later and get tips for moving abroad? Get on the list.

Comments
  1. Jerry

    Hmmm, after just looking at the first two photos, I’m getting a good sense of why a single man would want to move to Colombia. Too bad I’ve got a girlfriend already.

    • BigRatBalls

      you do know you have the option of breaking up right?

  2. Lisa Niver Rajna

    Tim, Thanks for the good information on Colombia from Dave & Jeff. We enjoyed Cartagena for New Year’s Eve in 2010 and want to return.
    Happy New Year!
    Lisa
    We Said Go Travel

    • Sandra

      Hi – I have a question. There are teaching jobs available at diff cities in Colombia with the pay quoted as 1.5 mil pesos. Is that a livable salary?

  3. Wesley

    You make me wanna move to Colombia.
    Great blog post

  4. Pink Diamond

    I visited Colombia a few years back as a backpacker. I agree, everything in Colombia is way cheaper than in US. But of course, I can’t really compare the two because they’re very different.

    Anyway, I love Colombia.. especially Bogota. It’s one of my favorite places on earth. Why? It’s because of the people and the colorful culture surrounding it. I’m happy that its tourism is booming now. In fact, one of my favorite travel show (Raw Travel) will be featuring Bogota and other awesome places in Colombia this week. Here’s a preview of the episode, if you don’t mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsEYEJnkbH0

    I’ll be visiting this awesome country in 2016. Can’t wait.

  5. Bhenni

    Some day, I will go to Medellin and I will find it to be a place for me based on everything I have read. It sounds almost perfect.

  6. Jeanette Todd

    I always wanted to live in another country but isn’t too sure if I will be able to do so financially. But thank you for sharing this post, it gave me an idea on how and where to start somehow.

  7. lew hutch

    i am a turest living in colombia , and leased a house the roof started leaking , and the shower was not grounded, so i moved out , can the owner get a duncea aginst me for 2 mo. rent

  8. will hart

    While you have to consider economics in any move, I don’t think it should be the deciding factor…you have to love the country you want to go to the all the trouble to actually live in. You to want to be there so much that you learn the language and customs…you will have culture shock, especially if you are an American. I have lived in Canada, Sweden, currently in Mexico but from the US…

  9. will hart

    One final point, I don’t consider the prices you are quoting above to be all that cheap. Never compare prices in any country with the one you came from…compare them to other similar countries in the region. I only pay $150 for 1 bd apt. here in northern Mexico and it is walking distance to the beach. You have to pay the prices the locals pay for everything if you intend to live there…

    • Tim Leffel

      True on both counts Will, and I cover both these points extensively in my book. But reality is, most expats will always compare costs to home and even if they are paying what locals pay, will consider the value in relative terms. Unless they’ve been away a decade or two and have forgotten what it used to be like.

    • mark smith

      Where in northern mexico are you talking about. I want to live in mexico and will only have $832 a month to live on. Please inform me if this doable.

    • penny

      Where in northern Mexicoo do you live?

  10. Nico

    I think the guys mentioned in the article live “pretty” basic life’s judging from what they spend on rent and food. You are hard pressed finding an apartment in a desirable area of bogota for $1.100.000 COP per month. I understand medellin is cheaper, for obvious reasons.
    The food they are referring to is very basic fare. It is called Ejecutivo.
    You can live cheaply if you live like a local.
    If you want to live well and have the means, Colombia is not a cheap place to live.

    • Tim Leffel

      No, these aren’t people living on a budget. They’re professionals. You can see more in my book or on MedellinLiving.com run by David Lee for exact prices people are paying right now there. And Colombia is far cheaper now than when I wrote that post thanks to the exchange rate against the dollar, which is currently around 2,500.

    • Phil

      I live in La Paz, Bolivia and have just been to Bogota for 4 day break – first time back for about 11 or 12 years. I was surprised at just how cheap it was , certainly cheaper than La Paz for the majority of things. Probably things like local produce, veg/fruit etc is about the same, but for anything imported like electronics, brand name clothing, trainers etc (and anything else you can think of that would be imported in Bolivia – which is most things as there is very little manufacturing) it was considerably cheaper , often up to 50% cheaper.
      It is a very modern city and the people are friendly, mostly well educated and very civil.
      I would definitely say it IS a place you could live well for cheaply – and that’s coming from a country people often think of as cheap (although Bolivian prices have certainly risen a lot in the past 5 to 10 years).
      N.B – checking on XE now the exchange rate was 3,311.55 COP to the US dollar – i pretty much was calculating most things against 3000 to USD for my conversions and it seemed very cheap to me.

  11. Edgardo

    I absolutely loooooove Medellin. My wife is Colombian so I might be a little biased here. I have been touring a lot to Medellin and everything about it is great. There’s also little towns around the area that are very good too. Nightlife is great and super cheaper than home (I live in Orlando). One day we spent about $100 in groceries and it was about 3 taxis to take them to the apt.

  12. Fred

    I love Colombia! I’ve been living in Medellin for 3 years now and I love it more every day. What I really enjoy about Colombia are the people. They are so friendly, nice, inviting and grateful. I recommend visiting Colombia to every one.

  13. Anna Colaljo

    Great Blog! Planning to move there in Colombia and buy a new house that have at least 2 bedrooms. I often go to Colombia together with my sissy and I am so happy for the cost of living there which made me decide to move there.

  14. Irene

    I am living on my former spouses Social Security which is 700.00 per month till my social security matures…is that enough to live in say a place like Minca Colombia?

    • Tim Leffel

      Plenty of locals live on that, but you’ll need to be especially frugal of course. You’ll be better off than you would be on $1,400 a month at home, but that’s still not much to live on comfortably. I’d try to supplement that in some way.

    • Noah

      Hi Irene I am looking to move there and share a nice place
      Please contact at nypdhomicide@aol.com
      Noah

  15. Zara B

    Hi. I am South African, looking to live in Colombia and work as an English teacher. Any suggestions?

    • nathan matthews

      Yeah, I happened to be checking around (randomlatenightwebsurfing)Look on Craigslist for jobs. Just type in the nearest major city to your destination. I was looking at Bogota and Medellin jobs and it seemed like 50% of the job opportunities available were for teaching.Either teaching English language classes or simply teaching in English. Good luck.

  16. Noah

    Does any young lady wish to move to Columbia and split expenses with a 64 year old retired Federal Agent?
    I dont smoke or drink or use drugs
    Interested in moving in the next 6 months and starting a business there
    Please contact me at nypdhomicide@aol.com
    Noah

  17. Phoenix

    Trying to find semi rural property to buy in 2017/2018. I am in the planning stages of relocating. I have one year left on my mortgage and I want to sell my indianapolis home and buy in Colombia with the possibility of opening a small eatery or ice cream shop with fresh local ingredients to supplement my retirement. My online searches mainly find apartments or urban properties. Any suggestions?

    • Tim Leffel

      You need to go there and spend some time. You can’t research from a desk chair in another country.

  18. Darya

    Hi I’m a 18 year old girl and I wanna move up Bogota for education. How much is an apartment in a northern good area? How much I need In every month for a good life in Bogota? Is it safe to live lonely??

  19. Sam

    Hi Jeff,

    I am a grad student pursuing my Master’s in sustainable development with a focus on social innovation. From what I have read Medellin is and up and coming hub of social innovation and development. Do you know any NGOs or organization that I could look into for my internship and thesis research? I speak fluent Spanish but haven’t been very successful in my search so far

  20. Lonecowboy

    Im Cdn. looking to immigrate to Colombia with just Canadian pension ($900 Us). Would love to live near northern coast. Is it do-able living w the locals? is it safe? Is it cheaper that Mexico or more.?

  21. Dean

    No one mentions how bad the traffic is in Bogota and Medellin. Also in Medellin the climate is not ‘springlike’ it is hot, in the upper 80’s and when the ecuadorian sun is shining you will be sweating! Most people in Colombia earn much less than $1000 USD a month! Even people with degrees. Now the peso is rising along with most prices in Colombia. I just finished 5 months in Armenia after one month in Medellin. I decided to return to Ecuador after all.

  22. Chelsey D.

    Hi, Tim! I am considering relocating to Columbia in 2017 to look for job opportunities to teach English. I read that most commonly people relocate to a country in Latin America first, and then begin their job search. I am trying to figure up how much I should have in savings. Any suggestions? Also, is it worth it to get a working Visa if I plan to be teaching 6 months to 1 year? The idea of getting an attorney and going through all of that seems a bit overwhelming (and expensive). Especially taking into consideration that I read many people basically work their “illegally”. I do also read that this arrangement can cause you to lost out on benefits or be taken advantage of. Is that likely?

    • Tim Leffel

      Chelsey, there’s little point in sorting this all out ahead of time. It’s easier to find a job and easier to figure out what kind of visa you need after you get a job. I think there are 17 options in Colombia, so just go in on a tourist visa to start.

  23. mike albanese

    Hi
    My name is Mike. I currently live in uhmerica and want to move to Columbia. My point is folks. . .Learn how to spell your new home country.Colombia not Columbia. Well we all have pet peeves.

    piece.

    OK kidding.

    Peace

    Mike

    • Tim Leffel

      It’s an easy one to forget since there’s Columbia Sportswear, Columbia University, Columbia MO, a Columbia street in nearly every U.S. town. Then to confuse things further his name was Cristoforo Colombo really but called Cristóbal Colón in Spanish and in Portuguese Cristóvão Colombo.

  24. Crissy Kelley

    Hi. I was wondering if this is a good country to live in if you need continuing medical care. (Severe clotting disorder). If so, is the medical care good only in larger cities or in smaller ones as well?

    Thank you,
    Crissy

    • Tim Leffel

      In the big cities it’s quite good. The countryside would not be a good idea.

  25. Ruben Contreras

    Bogota, while on vacation during my Peace Corps tour of duty, was a total pleasure.
    Cosmopolitan; different country-dinners every night…

  26. Jesse Alexander

    I’ve got $25,000 saved up. How long will that last in medellin?

    • Anon

      Seems like 1 year based on Jeff’s 3month budget in 2014

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