INTRODUCTION

Nomadic FIRE's Ultimate Guide to Early Retirement and Living in Colombia

Why consider living in Colombia?

On the one hand, just hearing the country’s name sparks violent images of cocaine and drug wars. On the other hand, you are reading positive story after positive story in the news about Colombia’s resurgence as the new “It” expat spot: a safe, chic, low cost, and beautiful country to visit, move, and retire to. Confused about which side to believe? Don’t be. I loved the culture and atmosphere of living in Colombia, and you can live well: maid service, a vibrant social life, frequent dinners out, fitness gyms- all for less than $1000 a month.

Safety, I’ll address this first, as it is the first question friends and family ask when I mention living in Colombia. It has been over 25 years since the days of Pablo Escobar (he died in 1993). Narcos, the Netflix show, in real life, this is not.

Colombia has enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace. When moving here, this means you’ll find yourself amid the country’s renaissance. So, set aside any stereotypes because the Colombia of old is long gone. Now the beautiful scenery of Colombia’s Caribbean coastlines, Amazonian jungles, and Andean mountains are safely and easily accessible for FIRE Nomads, Location Independent Freelancers, and Early Retirement Expats. For those looking for the amenities and nightlife of a city, Colombia’s cosmopolitan cities are statistically safer than many major cities in the US.

While still off the beaten path for most world travelers, the torrent of accolades for Colombia won’t let it stay a “hidden gem” for long. Forbes included Colombia in its list of “Coolest Places to Visit.“ CNN awarded Medellin as “One of the Five Best Cities to Retire.” While the New York Times named Colombia as the number two country to visit in 2018. Even better, Colombia’s beautiful beaches and cosmopolitan cities have the best value for cost of living you’ll find in South America. Those looking to retire and live long term in Colombia will be happy to know that the low prices even apply to the modern well-equipped hospitals and one of the Top Healthcare Programs in the World. 

In this Ultimate Guide to Living in Colombia, Nomadic FIRE gives you the insider’s view of what life is actually like living in Colombia:

  • Get realistic examples of Cost of Living in Colombia and the kind of lifestyle that monthly budget allows
  • Discover the Top 5 top things to do in when you visit Colombia
  • Get local money-saving advice from people who have lived in-country on the housing, transportation, and food
  • Learn the multiple ways that you can legally retire and stay in Colombia long term

Who am I?

Nomadic FIRE France Paris Love Locks Bridge

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. Tired of the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, a car, student loans, and countless bills; Hungry for more life experiences, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old to travel the world for the last 5+ years.


Now I show people how to improve their lives through education on achieving Financial Freedom and Retiring Early Overseas

Who is this guide meant for?

The power of Nomadic FIRE is combining Financial Knowledge with Minimalist Principles, and leveraging Geographic Arbitrage to reach Financial Freedom in 10 years or less.

I have designed this series of Ultimate Overseas Living Guides for 3 types of people:

  1. 1
    People currently working and looking to jump start their path to Financial Independence.
  2. 2
    People close to retirement and are looking for ways to shorten their timeline and Retire Earlier. 
  3. 3
    People already retired and looking to upgrade their Quality of Life in Retirement. 

What will we cover?

Get the highlights of can't miss places to visit. From the best beaches to the best nightlife to must-see nature sites, we give you the highlights of the best things to see and do in Colombia.

CHAPTER 2. EXPAT SCORES

Get an objective scorecard to compare what life is like living in Colombia. See the country's ranking and grades for things that matter to people moving to Colombia: English Scores, Quality of Life, Cost of Living, and Healthcare rankings.

Help lessen the culture shock moving to another country can bring. Learn about the culture and people of Colombia. Get local insight on cultural quirks that can surprise people moving to Colombia.

CHAPTER 4. FOOD AND DRINKS

The best part about traveling is trying new specialty foods. Get an introduction to some of the best savory eats and sweet treats to taste in Colombia. As a bonus, we provide our favorite money savings hacks from locals and expats.

CHAPTER 5. COST OF LIVING

Do you want a realistic guide of cost of living in Colombia? I provide examples of an economy budget for those looking to leanFIRE in Colombia for less than $1000 per month. If you are looking for a more extravagant lifestyle, I show a detailed breakdown of a luxury life under $2000 per month.

For the Digital Nomads among us working toward Financial Independence, here is a breakdown of the best providers in Colombia. We analyze the latest internet and cellular data packages so that you can see the best combination of price and coverage.

Colombia is a big country. I introduce you to the best Colombian cities for retirement. I give you our top choices and justify why Medellin, Cali, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Bogota deserve your consideration.

Want to rent an apartment? Interested in co-Living options? How about investing in a home? With so many different options to chose from, I give you an essential guide of things to consider, where to find, and what to avoid when looking for housing in Colombia.

Are you looking to stay in Colombia for longer than 90 days? I give you a breakdown of all the legal ways to remain in Colombia long term. *HINT* It's a lot easier than you think.

Admittedly, Colombian transportation infrastructure is not up to European standards, but there are some easy (and extremely cheap) ways to get around the country. I breakdown the best transportation modes and provide money-saving tips that only locals know about.

If you are from the US, you will find Colombian healthcare a refreshingly affordable change. Get information on the cost and quality of care available to you while living in Colombia.

CHAPTER 12. SAFETY

Usually, the first question on everyone's mind when talking about moving to Colombia deals with safety. I get it. I understand. With Colombia's history, it makes sense to be concerned. Get local information on what safety is really like in Colombia.

CHAPTER 13. BANKING AND MONEY

Moving money from the US or Europe to Colombia can be confusing. We breakdown what you need to open a bank account and the best ways to transfer money from overseas.

CHAPTER 14. TAXES

If you plan on being in Colombia for longer than six months, then there are some things you need to know about Colombian taxes. Understand what Colombian tax residency means to you. 

CHAPTER 15. PROS AND CONS

Do you think that sunny weather, warm people, and low cost of living might be good enough reasons to retire in Colombia? Are you worried that language, infrastructure, and taxes are good enough reasons to stay away? I breakdown the Pros and Cons of living in Colombia. 

This section is a one-stop resource of essential links to expats services, immigration services, and foreign consulates and embassies.

Don’t have time to read the whole 75-page Living in Colombia guide right now?

No worries. Let me send you a copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you. Just let me know where to send it (takes 5 seconds):

CHAPTER 1. What are the Top 4 Things to See and Do in Colombia

Sleep on the Beach at Tayrona National Park

Hear the waves crashing next to you, while the ocean breeze gently rustles the palm leaves above your head until you drift to sleep under the starry night. Prepare yourself for spectacular sunrise casting a warm orange glow along golden sand beaches lined with coconut trees and rainforest. 

Party at Andres Carne De Res in Chia

I overheard the perfect description of this out of the ordinary party spot as "A Cheesecake Factory had kinky sex with an Ibiza nightclub, but also happens to have great Colombian food.” Another description is “Alice-in-Wonderland gets drunk at Mardi Gras.” Regardless of the name, you don’t want to miss Colombia’s wildest night club.

Spend the day Hiking around Minca

Escape the Caribbean heat and visit this hippie bohemian town at foothills of the Sierra de Santa Marta Mountains. Breath the fresh mountain air while trekking to see organic coffee plantation, cascading waterfalls, mountain views, and colorful toucans. Stop at a local artisanal farm to see how raw cacao is made into delicious chocolate milk or rest on the world's biggest hammock overlooking the lush green forest below.

Enjoy the Caribbean vibes of Cartagena

This historical colonial city on the Caribbean coast is known for its fort protecting the walled old town, delicious food, colorful colonial-era buildings, colorful sunsets, and even more colorful people. Visit the hipster scene in Getsemani to chill at the Plaza Trinidad. Every night, flashy musical artists and street performers embodied by the unique laid-back Caribbean vibe, entertain locals and travelers at the city square.

Other Things to See and Do in Colombia

Tour Comuna 13 in Medellin

Witness firsthand the revitalization of Colombia. Learn the real history of what used to the most dangerous neighborhood in the world. Comuna 13 has transformed into imaginative street art, warm, welcoming people, and the best views of the Medellin skyline

Find the Lost City

The Lost City (Spanish: Ciudad Perdida) Trek is a 4-day guide adventure hike showcasing the stunning biodiversity of the Colombian rainforest. The ruins themselves are no slouch. The ancient city dates back to the early 14th century and pre-dates the more famous Peruvian Machu Pichu ruins. 

Visit Guatapé

Guatape’s adorable rainbow-painted buildings and colorful hued streets are Instagram-chic, but the star of this quaint town is the view from the top of El Penol. This monolithic rock is the 3rd largest in the world. Conquer the 740 steps to the top of this 66 million ton goliath for a breathtaking view of the green scenery. For less than a $5 bus ride (1.5 to 2 hours from Medellin), Guatape is a well worthwhile visit. 

Relax on Providencia and San Andrés Islands

This island archipelago offers untouched beaches, unspoiled coral reefs, and world-class diving and snorkeling. Enjoy the turquoise crystal clear Caribbean island waters, without the Cayman Islands/Turks and Caicos prices. Sit at a white sand beach bar sipping rum cocktails and enjoy a fresh-caught fish platter the size of your torso for $8. 

Camp in the Salento Coffee Triangle

View the stunning backdrop of hills and valleys that surge skyward in region where the world’s best coffee is born. While best known for coffee plantation and culture tours (This area is both UNESCO listed and the 2nd largest exporter of coffee in the world behind only Brazil), this area’s unspoiled natural beauty is an experience that should not be skipped. National parks filled with camping, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, and hot springs are here to burn off your caffeine high. 

Utilize Free Walking Tours

CHAPTER 2. Living in Colombia: Expat Life Scores

Cost of Living

Average Cost of Living in Colombia, including rent, is 70% LESS than the US. Bogota, ranked 170th out of 210 cities in the world, is the most expensive city to retire to in Colombia. 

Health Care

Colombia’s health care system ranks as the best in all of the Americas. The World Health Organization lists Colombia higher than the U.S. or Canada and at far more affordable prices. All others, including the fan favorite, Medellin, are even cheaper.

English Score

English is not commonly spoken. Only 4% of the country speaks English, which includes 63,600 US and British expats living in Colombia. Even in cities, it is advised to learn a few words of Spanish beyond “Hola.”

Quality of Life

Light years removed from the violence of the Pablo Escobar days, Colombia is now a safe tourist destination. However, diligence is required. Pre-plan activities to avoid rush hour traffic in the major cities and avoid suspect areas alone after dark.

CHAPTER 3. What is it like Living In Colombia (People, Language, and Culture)

Spanish influence on Colombian culture

Colombia was a Spanish colony for 300+ years. After three centuries, you can’t help but see Spain’s influence sprinkled into Colombian culture. Aside from the obvious architecture and language influence, Spanish Catholicism remains the primary religion.

Colombia is one of the more conservative countries in South America. Traditional gender roles are still prevalent. Even professional Colombian women I worked with still felt the pressure to stay home and look after the kids. My single male friends that were dating in Colombia were always expected to pay for everything in a relationship.

Latin machismo leans toward chauvinism here. Women expect to deal with catcalling and forward behavior by guys on the street on a daily basis.

The Importance of Family to Colombians

Most of us in the US leave home around 18 or 19 years old, usually for college or a job (yes, I know that isn’t as prevalent anymore, but it’s still the expectation). Colombians don’t generally move out of their parent’s home until they get married. It’s completely normal to make local friends, both male, and female, in their 30s who still live with their parents.

Be prepared to downshift your life when living in Colombia

Things move S-L-O-W-E-R here. Expect EVERYTHING to take longer than you expect coming from the US. Trying to follow regulations and procedures correctly will oftentimes give you a splitting headache. The process and rules are flexible and can and will change depending on who you are talking to and their mood on that day. On a day-to-day basis, this will frustrate you when trying to get a Colombia ID, registering a cell phone, or getting money transferred from the US. Learn to breathe and know that everyone, even Colombians, has the same frustrations.

Are you the kind of person that is always on time for social events? It’s time to get rid of that habit. Local attitude towards time and punctuality is best described as flexible. This attitude applies to social situations, as well as business appointments. That stunning Colombian date you have scheduled for Friday may not show. The business meeting you had scheduled with a lawyer? Better bring something to read for a couple of hours in the waiting room.

Football crazy is an understatement

Out of the places that I have lived, Colombia and Brazil are neck and neck in their love and pride for their football teams. The reasoning for football’s popularity is also similar. Football is a common denominator among all social classes. Tennis and swimming are rich kids’ sports. Get an open space and something to use as a ball, and kids, regardless of social class, can play football.

When the Colombian national team is playing a match, everyone goes nuts. I was living in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup match between Colombia and Brazil. It was absolute pandemonium.

When there is a national team match in the morning, the entire population wears yellow football jerseys. Matches are significant social events, with frenzied excitement surpassing even the Super Bowl in the US. Definitely find a bar or get invited to a friend’s house to share the energy. It is standard for companies to give their employees the afternoon off to enjoy the match with friends.

Learn to love Reggaeton and Salsa music

Colombia, particularly Medellin, is the Reggaeton capital of the world. Be prepared to hear the Latin fused with Hip Hop sounds of Reggaeton blaring from car windows and storefronts everywhere you walk in the country. Even Madonna released a song with Colombian artist Maluma aptly titled “Medellin.”

The only time Reggaeton takes a backseat to any music in Colombia is with salsa. Colombia equals salsa. It’s been a part of the country’s identity and culture for as long as people can remember. If you are at a local friend’s house for a family party and a famous salsa song starts playing, be prepared to have an aunt or grandma grab your hand for dance. The city of Cali even has its own recognized style of salsa. Salsa is everywhere in Colombia, and learning salsa is one of the best ways to meet local friends.

Most Colombians you meet will be super friendly

Locals being warm and welcoming is a common description from anyone who has visited Colombia. It’s true. Ask someone for help on the street, and if they can understand you, they will go out of their way to help you. Stay in Colombia long enough, and one of your new Colombian friends will undoubtedly invite you to a family event or party. Be prepared to be treated like a long lost family cousin, hugs, and kisses included. 

My Colombian New Years Experience
First, understand that New Years' in Colombia is mostly a family celebration at home. Unlike most New Year parties in other countries in the world, Colombians are generally not out at the clubs to party and drunkenly try to hook up to bring in the new year.


During a dinner party, I was grumbling to a German/Colombian couple how this was my girlfriend’s first holiday away from her family. I explained that we just moved to Medellin and didn’t know anyone, so we were spending the holidays alone. 


Without pause, Sebastian from Colombia invited us, people he just met, to his family New Year's party. I was so excited to experience a Colombian family party. I imagined a night filled with salsa dancing and tasty food. I couldn’t wait to see if this was true.

Fast forward one week later and my Uber approaches a beautiful gated community. My Uber driver was able to communicate with the security guard and took me directly to Sebastian’s family home. Within minutes, Sebastian’s parents, followed by the rest of the extended family greet me at the door with a “Hola” and a parade of cheek kisses and hugs. I received an overwhelming and warm welcoming from aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends alike.


After the strike of midnight and the fireworks, I was ecstatic with how the night turned out. I left with more hugs and feeling blessed that good friends fill my life. I walk away from this experience humbled and intending to make the additional effort to be extra kind to fellow travelers new to a city or are spending the holidays away from family. Special shout out to Sebastian and his family. These memories will last a lifetime.

*WARNING* If you want to feel less than welcome, bring up Colombia’s notorious past: basically, anything to do with cocaine, Narcos, Pablo Escobar, or hookers will get you a deserving stink eye. 

Colombians, as a whole, are doing their absolute best to shed their reputation. People here prefer to focus on the progress they have made, rather than from where they started. We shouldn’t throw salt into a wound.

What Language Do They Speak in Colombia

Oddly, this is a commonly Googled question, so I will address it. The primary language in Colombia is Spanish. As previously mentioned, English is still limited here, so learning Spanish is essential for someone retiring here to integrate and live in Colombia long term. 

*INSIDER TIP* It is widely said that Colombia has the most neutral and pleasant to hear Spanish accents in South America. If you are learning Spanish, this is a great country to learn.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Best Spanish Accents in South America

Did you know our 75-page ebook on Living in Colombia has even more detailed pictures and information?

Download a FREE copy of the PDF. Just let me know where to send it (takes 5 seconds):

CHAPTER 4. Top 3 Must Try Foods when visiting Colombia

Bandeja Paisa

AKA, the Best Breakfast on the Face of the Earth. Initially used by field labor to fuel their day with enough calories to work all day without stopping. Options can vary, but usually contain 3 to 4 meats (pork belly, chicken, and dried beef), rice, beans, arepas, eggs, avocado, and fried plantains. One serving can tip the scales at over 2,000 calories on a plate.

Chicharron

A Latin American classic that I have eaten in several countries around the world. Colombia still makes my favorite version. Imagine a deep fried bacon steak in your mind: Thick hunks of pork belly boiled to render out the luscious pork fat; then, the pork belly is deep-fried to a delicious crunch in their own tasty fat.

Hamburguesa-Trifasica

A late-night street food staple. Chicken, hamburger, sausage, ham, and bacon are topped with cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, caramelized onions, and crunchy matchstick French fries, then doused with guacamole sauce. A sure way to sober up after a few beers.

Other Colombian Must Try Food and Drinks

Arequipe

The Colombian version of Dolce de Leche, literally translates to “Candied Milk”. Similar to caramel but made richer by adding milk to sugar and slowly browning the concoction to a sweet sticky glaze. Delicious on a spoon or used in a variety of Colombia cakes and cookies.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Arequipe

My homemade chocolate chip cookies topped with arequipe and sea salt.  

Granadilla

A sweeter cousin to passion fruit (Maracuya in Spanish) that I have only been able to find in Colombia. Similar to passion fruit, you use your thumb to break open the hard orange skin and eat the sweet jelly-like seeds. I would break open a few of these every morning to mix with my yogurt or top my pancakes.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Granadilla

Photo Source: Frank C. Müller

Tamales

The Colombian version has few similarities to the Mexican tamales you are probably used to in the US. Both are made of masa (cornmeal), but the Colombian versions (there are several varieties) are stuffed to the brim with multiple marinated fillings (think: pork belly, pork loin, and even a whole pork rib mixed with several vegetables) then wrapped and steamed in a large banana leaf. More of a meal than the tiny and less tasty Mexican version.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Tamale

Menu Del Dia

Not a dish per se, but a style of lunch. Menu del Dia is another influence from Spanish colonial times, but this one is a good holdover. “Menu of the Day” comes from a mandated affordable lunch for workers in Spain. Most restaurants in Colombia offer a rotating daily lunch menu with multiple courses for $3 to $5. This affordable lunch usually includes a bowl of soup (or salad), a main meat dish with rice and beans, a glass of juice, and even a dessert

Nomadic FIRE Cafe Cliche

From one of my fav Menu del Dia spots, Cafe Cliche in Medellin

*WARNING* Skip the Aguardiente- A mash-up of the Spanish words agua (water) and ardiente (burning) that translates to English as "firewater". This local liquor tastes like black licorice (blagh!) and is only 29% alcohol (vs. 40% for the majority of liquors). Shots with less alcohol and taste like your childhood’s worse Halloween nightmare? Hard Pass.

What is Colombian Food Like

Unlike the US, which tends to be dinner-centric (unless you are a hipster city, then brunch for the Win!), Colombians make lunch the main meal of the day. Where an employee in the US is likely to quickly stuff their mouth for 15 minutes, while sitting at their desk working during lunch, people here take the time and enjoy a full 1.5 hour sit down meal with colleagues. In many smaller towns or rural areas, life halts for two hours, while people enjoy a proper meal with family. 

As someone that avoids starches, simple carbohydrates, and sugars in my meals, I struggled a bit in Colombia (actually, I struggle in most of South America). Colombia is carb-heavy. Every meal includes rice and many times rice AND potatoes AND bread (arepas). Sugar is a common additive in EVERYTHING, including things you might consider healthy. Freshly squeezed juice is made sweeter with added simple syrup. Vendors cut delicious fresh fruit, then drizzled it with condensed milk.

Colombians pile the carbohydrate-heavy meals with copious amounts of deep-fried food at almost every meal: chicharron (decadent hunks of deep-fried pork belly), patacones (deep-fried plantains), arepas (fried corn or wheat cakes usually topped with butter or stuffed with cheese), and empanadas (mini deep-fried pastries stuffed with meat and cheese).

Nomadic FIRE Bandeja Paisa

Simple carbohydrates, greasy fried foods, and cheap beer can be a dangerous combination. If you are looking to move just to take advantage of a lower cost of living in Colombia, be careful with your diet. You may find your waistline expanding faster than your bank account. On a related note, YAAAYYY!!! for affordable healthcare, right?

CHAPTER 5. What is the Cost of Living in Colombia

Daily living costs here are some of the lowest I have experienced in my travels. You can find a luxury penthouse with steam room, sauna, swimming pool, fitness center, maid service and a doorman for $600 per month, utilities and furnishing included. Even the high end of my expenses in a fantastic city like Medellin was only ~$1800 per month. Most expats can live very comfortably between $900 to $2000 per month for ALL living expenses.

You can view the specific detail on these budgets, including housing pictures and restaurant examples in our Ultimate Guide to Medellin.

  • Monthly Expense LOW (<$1000)
  • MONTHLY EXPENSE HIGH  (<$2000)
Total Monthly Expense LOW$ 846
COST PER MONTH
Rent- 1 Bed, 1 Bath Western Style Shared Flat- Upper Middle Class Area290
Maid Service 1 day per week/8 hours per dayINCLUDED
Total Housing Expense290
Water/Sewer/Garbage/Electric INCLUDED
High Speed InternetINCLUDED
Cable TVINCLUDED
Cell Phone- 4 GB Internet Per Month13
Total Utilities13
Personal Care Items- Shampoo, Soaps, Etc.20
Household Items- Laundry Soap, Tools, Dishes, Etc.20
Total Supplies40
Massage- Home Service 1 Session per Month35
Haircut 10 times per year4
Total Personal Luxury39
1st run movie 1 time per month2
Budget Night Out-3 beers at local bar 1 time per week25
Local Gym Membership- Weights and Group Classes11
Total Entertainment38
Home Cooked Meals 7 times per week74
Street Food 7 times per week49
Local Sit Down Restaurant 7 times per week137
Total Food260
Public Transportation-7 times per week49
Uber or Taxi-14 times per week117
Total Transportation166
Exchange Rate to $1 USD3,100

CHAPTER 6. How are the Cellular Services and Internet Speeds?

Three Important Things to Know About Cell Phone Service in Colombia

  1. 1
    You will need your physical passport, not a copy. Depending on the mood of the seller, you may need your home address, as well.
  2. 2
    If you are bringing a phone from the US, you will need to register the IMEI after 30 days, or your phone will get blocked. Registration is free, but you will need proof of purchase, so have a copy of the receipt from when you purchased your phone. Email or screenshot works. You don't have to do it when you buy your SIM card, but your phone will start getting SMSs (in Spanish) warning you about getting blocked.
  3. 3
    Prices change based on promotions, but you can expect around 2GB of 4G/LTE for less than $15 USD per month. Companies often run promotions in which they double or triple the face value of a recharge or provide additional bonus data. These promotions change constantly. Use the company app to view the latest bonuses. 

*INSIDER TIP* It will be easier if you buy and register your SIM at a carrier’s store in a mall. I purchased my SIM at a local independent shop, and they registered my phone under their name (WTF??). It may have been a language issue regardless, getting this fixed was a two-day ordeal. Also, there have been unconfirmed reports of identify theft, since they photocopy your passport. You might as well play it safe and use a company store, rather than a random shop.

There are three major networks in Colombia:

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Claro Logo

Claro is the market leader, with 4G/LTE available in all major towns and cities. You can purchase Claro SIM cards (called Prepago Facil) and top-up vouchers in their company shops, most major supermarkets, and several independent shops around the city. Locations in Colombia can be found here.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Claro Price List
Nomadic FIRE Colombia Movistar Logo

Movistar is the 2nd largest operator, with 4G/LTE in 5 main cities – Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, and 77 municipalities. SIM cards for their standard prepaid plan is called "Plan prepago por segundos" can be found in agencies and shops around the country. Tops ups can be purchased in the same locations.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Movistar Price List
Nomadic FIRE Colombia Tigo Logo

Tigo is the smallest major network in the country with slightly less 4G/LTE coverage. However, you should be fine is most of the major cities. SIM cards and top-ups can be purchased at their shops and independent stores here. Tigo was my preferred carrier, but Tigo is a little more of a pain than the other networks. Some of their packages don’t include data, so you must purchase a separate data plan. Sometimes their prices didn’t seem competitive, because they don’t reveal your recharge bonus until after purchase. However, you usually qualify for some free data promotion when you top up your SIM.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Tigo Price List

CHAPTER 7. What are the Best Places to Live in Colombia

Medellin, Bogota, Cartagena are just a few of the diverse and amazing locations to visit in Colombia. Colombia is the second most bio-diverse country in the world. You can choose to live in the warm, tropical Caribbean coastal cities, in the fresh mountain cities of the Andes, near the lush coffee plantations of the interior, or visit the lesser-known wild nature available on the Pacific coast. Colombia makes it easy to visit the country and provides several alternatives for FIRE Nomads to Retire Early and legally stay long term for a monthly cost 70% less than the US.

Medellin- My pick for one of the best places to retire overseas

When most people think Medellin, they can’t help but link Pablo Escobar, the Narcos HBO show, violence, and cocaine, but this beautiful city is far removed from that dark past. Medellín, once known as one of the world’s most dangerous cities, was named the most innovative city in the world by the Wall Street Journal.

Despite being smaller than the Capital city of Bogota, Medellin has better infrastructure. In the two main expat hubs of El Poblado and Laureles, the streets are clean and easily walkable. A European-level metro system connects the city.

Now a growing number of retirees, tourists, and entrepreneurs are flocking to the city known as the “Eternal Spring” for the best weather anywhere and an electric cosmopolitan lifestyle. The energy and vibe of Medellin’s streets are palatable. While living there, I often enjoyed impromptu street concerts, savored a growing gastronomy scene, and marveled at the giant street art murals.

Cali- The salsa capital of the world

While Cali is the 3rd largest city in Colombia, it is still a hidden gem to tourists, retirees, and expats. Cali hasn’t received the fame and positive press Medellin has, but locals from all around Colombia flock to the city for its renown nightlife.

If Medellin is known as the City of Eternal Spring, Cali has been dubbed the City of Eternal Summer, with a climate that hovers around 80°F. But Cali is better known as the Salsa Capital. If you have ever wanted to learn to salsa, this is the place to learn. It even has its own style of salsa, Salsa Caleña or Cali-style. In Cali, which has the most salsa schools and salsa teams in the world, learning how to dance salsa maybe be a better skill to learn than speaking Spanish.

Cartagena- A Caribbean postcard come to life

If you need to get away from the streets teeming with cars and crowds of people, come relax in the gorgeous Caribbean beachside city of Cartagena. Wander the sun-kissed buildings and miles of colorful streets featuring preserved, centuries-old architecture or stroll the pristine golden beaches on the islands just off the coast. Enjoy a sunny day walking around the cobblestone streets of Ciudad Amurallada or walled city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The carnival colors of the Old World buildings and colonial architecture make everywhere you look an Instagram-worthy picture. Cartagena is a travel photographer’s dream.

The vibrant Caribbean culture of the city is unique in Colombia. While I found the prices here more expensive than other cities on this list, it was much cheaper than many other Caribbean destinations in other countries. While the summers are undeniably hot and sticky, Cartagena is safely beyond the volatile hurricane zones of the Caribbean. 

Santa Marta- A Jumping Off Point to Nature

Cartagena, just 200 miles up the coast from Santa Marta gets the fame for the city’s beauty. With reputation comes the tourists, who flock to Cartagena in droves on giant cruise ships. By comparison, Santa Marta is more known as a local Colombian vacation destination. About half the size of the more well-known neighbor, Santa Marta has lower temperatures, less sticky humidity, lower cost of living, and more stunning natural beauty.

The area surrounding Santa Marta is rich in beautiful white sand beaches, National parks, affordable scuba diving, and historical jungle hikes. In Taganga, you can learn to scuba dive at one of the cheapest places in the world to get PADI certified (~$200 with accommodation included vs. $400+ in the US). Both Minca and Tayrona (see Top Things To Do in Colombia above) are day trips out of Santa Marta as well.

Santa Marta is also the jump-off point for the “Lost City Hike.” A breathtaking four-day challenge through dense jungle terrain, river crossings, and waterfalls in search of a long-lost pre-Inca archaeological site older than Peru’s Machu Picchu. While I did not get a chance to trek Ciudad Perdida myself, it is on my shortlist of things to do on my return trip to Colombia. 

Bogota- The Bustling Colombian Capital

Bogota- this mountain metropolis is capital to Colombia and home to over 7 million. If you like big cities, Latin culture, salsa music, bustling nightlife, and a wee bit of chaos – then Bogota could be your Colombian home. Are you looking for chic and sophisticated? Zona Rosa and Chapinero neighborhoods have plenty of trendy shopping and haute-dining options.

La Candelaria, the city’s cultural epicenter, is an eclectic juxtaposition between old and new, historic and modern. This historic neighborhood’s cobble stoned streets lead you through the numerous museums, art galleries, elaborate churches, and historic plazas. Bogota has it all: history, culture, music, food, dance, and art.

Download a FREE copy of this guide with even more stunning colored pictures detailing the beautiful cities to live in Colombia.  

Download a FREE 75-page copy of the PDF. Just let me know where to send it (takes 5 seconds):

CHAPTER 8. How can I find Real Estate and Housing in Colombia

Renting in Colombia

The rules for renting an apartment in Colombia are much different than the US (I’m not sure about Europe). The rules even change depending on if the apartment is furnished or unfurnished, short-term, or long-term.

If you are only looking for short-term rentals, this usually isn’t an issue. Short term leases are reasonably straight forward. However, long-term is a different ball game. Some standard terms and conditions on long-term rentals:

  1. 1
    Leases automatically renew
  2. 2
    You will need to provide 3-month written notice to terminate a lease
  3. 3
    There is a significant penalty (3+ months of rent) for early termination
  4. 4
    Landlords are obligated to pay you, if they terminate the lease early
  5. 5
    Deposits are not required, but having a Co-signer is

Because of the nuances and difficultly, most expats work with a Real Estate agent for rentals. Speaking Spanish or have a Spanish speaker with you will make the process 10000X easier. Use expat groups to find a reliable agent you can trust. If you don’t already have a network of expats to ask questions to, I have some contacts, send me a message, and I can put you in touch. 

Co-Living and Shared Apartments or Flats

Airbnb
Airbnb is the de facto choice for short term housing, whether you are looking for an apartment to share or an apartment all to yourself. You will pay “gringo price,” but it reduces your hassle.

Even after 5+ years of traveling, Airbnb tends to be my first choice when I move into a new city, at least for a short period. After a week or so, I have a much better idea of what neighborhoods I like, where my gym will be, which locations are closest to public transportation. After I narrow down which locations in a city I like best, then I choose a longer-term option.

Co-living and Co-working spaces
I am a big fan of the Co-Living concept. Finding a group of like-minded individuals who are experiencing the same ups and downs of moving to a new country helps the transition go smoother.

  • Did you know that there is a quiz night at the local café?
  • Did you know that one metro ticket also covers you for the tram? 
  • Did you know the local supermarket has 10% off fruits and vegetables on Mondays?

Co-living can provide you local knowledge that would have taken you months to figure out on your own. Many of the folks who stay in co-living spaces are digital nomads or location-independent workers. These spaces tend to organize events (yoga sessions, salsa lessons, volunteer opportunities), workshops (tax strategies for expats), or social mixers (movie nights, weekend hikes) that are a great way to be active in your new community.

Language Schools and Immersion programs shared housing
Do you want to integrate into your new city as quickly as possible? English is not commonly spoken here, so learning Spanish is highly encouraged if you plan on staying more than a few months. The fastest way to do that is through a language school.

*INSIDER TIP* an educational visa is also one of the easier ways to get a long term visa in Colombia. Check out the visa section below.

While sharing an apartment with a bunch of language students isn’t for everyone, for a short-term stay of 3-6 months, it is an ideal way to get a feel for the city, immediately build a social circle of friends, and acclimate to learning a foreign language. You can always find a more suitable place to live after your classes.
Example of Language school housing in Medellin

Facebook Groups
You only need to speak English, and most people in the groups are not trying to scam you. On the other hand, these apartments are sometimes ‘gringo priced’ meaning they are overpriced. However, if you are not a Colombian resident you will often have to pay more than the locals to avoid having to sign a contract (which requires a Colombian ID).

SneakerNet (i.e., walk around town)
Have you found your favorite coffee shop? Do you know what gym you want to join? Where do all your new friends hang out? Once you determine which neighborhood you are going to call home, start looking up. All around Medellin, you will notice hanging banners on roofs and balconies with phone numbers and the words “Alquilar” to rent or “Venta” to buy.

Just call the number on the sign and ask to look at the flat. This is the way most locals find apartments. It’s an excellent way to ensure you aren’t getting “gringo-prices” but, how is your Spanish? Did you take that language immersion class I mentioned? Then you might want to have a Spanish speaking friend handy when you call. 

Buying a house in Colombia

For people who cannot show or do not have enough monthly income to qualify for a Retirement visa based on income, buying a home is another legitimate way of retiring to Colombia long term. (See Visa section below for details)

The value of the home you buy must be equal to 350 x the minimum monthly salary in Colombia. At current rates, this would require you to buy a home for roughly 289,840,600 COP = $90,262 USD.

What can you buy for $90,000?
Here is a furnished one bedroom in a nice neighborhood from a local realtor that sold for almost that exact price.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Medellin Laureles Apartment Purchase 1
Nomadic FIRE Colombia Medellin Laureles Apartment Purchase 3
Nomadic FIRE Colombia Medellin Laureles Apartment Purchase 2

Buying property in a foreign country will be in a future article to address the different things you need to consider. For now, this article by the same Real Estate agents is a good primer.

CHAPTER 9. What are the Colombia Visa Requirements

Tourist Visa

For most strong passport holders (Americans, Canadians, and Europeans), no visa is required to visit Colombia for 90 days or less. You can extend a Tourist visa for a total of 180 days. You can extend the visa while in the country and do not need a visa run. However, Colombia only allows 180 days in a year without a visa. After that, you will need to leave the country or apply for a Migrant Visa (M). To guide you, I have written an entire post detailing the requirements for a long term visa for Colombia.

Retirement Visa

M VISA- RETIREMENT (PENSIONER) for people with Government Pensions/Social Security, $774 USD per month using current exchange rates.

M VISA- FOREIGN INVESTMENT INCOME (ANNUITY VISA) for people who generate income outside of a government pension/social security (rental property, retirement funds, etc.). $2,579 USD per month

M VISA - REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT the visa investment can be a residence or a rental property. As of 2019, your investment would be $90,262 USD.

Path to Citizenship

R VISA - REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT
A 5-Year Permanent Resident Visa. The main differences between the M vs. R Real Estate Visas are the amounts required to invest ($90,000 vs $168,000) and the duration of the visas (3 vs 5 years). After five years on the R Visa, you can apply for Colombian citizenship.

Education Visa

There are two versions of a Student Visa (M) meant for people going to a degree program (M) or (V) for people non-degree programs like Spanish Language classes. You will be applying for the Visitor Visa (V). You will be required to attend 10 hours of Spanish language classes at a government recognized university (check with your school to ensure they are qualified) each week to keep the visa valid.

Work Visa for Digital Nomads

There is technically a “Freelancer” visa whose official title is SPECIAL TEMPORARY VISA FOR THE PRACTICE OF INDEPENDENT WORK OR ACTIVITIES. I have heard only frustration from people applying for this visa. The current rules are difficult to follow, and processing times are uncertain. Your best bet would be to contact a visa company for the latest information.

CHAPTER 10. How Do I Get Around Colombia

Getting to Colombia

One of the significant advantages of living in Colombia is the proximity to the US. Whereas deciding to live abroad in Thailand or Romania is full day commitment of travel, Colombia’s major cities (Medellin, Bogota, or Cartagena) are a 3-hour $100 flight from Florida. If you need to fly home to see your friends or if you miss your Gram Gram, you can take a quick weekend trip to say hello. Colombia is even in the same time zone as the East Coast of the United States. 

Traveling in Colombia

Public Transportation- Getting around in Colombia’s cities is a bit maddening at times. Compared to Europe, the standard of public transportation is pretty bad. Aside from Medellin, which has a fantastic metro, the major cities of Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla have rapid transit bus systems. While the buses are a cheap way to get around town, you will find using a Taxi or Uber significantly easier.

Colectivo- is a small van or bus with space for 6-12 people. They are not “Public Transportation” per se, but locals use them as public transportation. These minivans are usually little businesses for a local entrepreneur who drives around a semi-designated area and picks up anyone on the street who sticks their hand in the air for a ride. At its most chaotic, they have no specific route, so you will need to communicate to the driver where you would like to go, and if he agrees, he will provide a price.

Taxi
Taxis in Colombia are not the blatant scams that taxis are in many other countries (looking at you Romania), nor are they generally risky gambles (looking at you Peru).

Aside from an occasional shady operator, as a rule taxis are convenient transportation in Colombia. How taxis work will depend on the city. In Medellin, the taxi is on a meter and can be trusted to honor the metered price. In Cartagena, you will need to negotiate a rate each time you need a taxi. In Santa Marta, taxis generally have a fixed rate to take you anywhere in the city.

To be on the safe side, always ask the price or at least an estimate (“mas or meno” is “more or less” in Spanish) BEFORE you get into the cab.

Uber is technically illegal in Colombia, and the enforcement varies. I can’t guarantee that an Uber driver will pick you up. I suggest to give it a try. Make sure you sit in front next to the driver and do your best to be inconspicuous to the casual observer. Your Uber driver is taking a risk in picking you up. Try not to abuse that privilege. 

*INSIDER TIP* Cabify is an excellent alternative to Uber. I switched to this app near the end of my stay when getting an Uber became more difficult. Cabify is basically Uber, but using real taxis. The app even allows you to use a credit card. 

Intercity Buses- When I complain about buses in Colombia, I speak specifically to city buses. They are uncomfortable, disorganized, dirty, hot, and challenging to use.

Long-distance buses in Colombia are another matter. The premium buses, like Berlinas Del Fonce, are plush and comfortable with air conditioning, reclining seats, power outlets, and entertainment screens. You can even purchase the tickets online for added convenience.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Berlinas Bus Lines

Amenities when riding Berlinas del Fonce Bus Lines

Domestic Airlines- Viva Colombia is the low-cost carrier for Colombia. Think of them as Spirit airlines in the US or Ryanair in Europe. The prices are low, but anything additional will have additional costs. Basic fare includes a small handbag/personal item to carry on. Adding a normal size carry-on or checked luggage at check-in will cost an additional $30 on a domestic flight. 

*INSIDER TIP* Use the Colombian version of airline websites to save 50% or more on airfare.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Avianca US

$80 flight available on Avianca US site 

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Avianca Colombia

Same flight for $45 available on Avianca Colombia site

Nomadic FIRE Colombia LATAM US

$68 flight available on LATAM US site

Nomadic FIRE Colombia LATAM Colombia

Same flight for $34 available on LATAM Colombian site

Nomadic FIRE Colombia LATAM Colombia 2

$31 option not even available on US website

CHAPTER 11. What is the Quality of Healthcare and Health Insurance in Colombia

While getting sick in the US brings about an anxiety-inducing attack on our retirement savings, Colombia’s health care is known for being Low Cost, high quality, and accessible to everyone. Even as an expat , once you establish residency, the public healthcare system, EPS (Entidades Promotoras de Salud), becomes available. You can be accepted into the plan, even if you have pre-existing conditions. For as low as $95 per month (or 12.5% of your gross monthly income), you can get access to the top healthcare systems in either North or South America.

The healthcare system in Colombia is BETTER than the United States

We are talking about state-of-the-art hospitals, internationally trained doctors, quality of care, and medical standards just as rigorous as those in the United States. Accessible for every resident and at a cost SIGNIFICANTLY lower than the US. So if you’re worried about the state of health care in the US or the cost of medical insurance if you Retire Early, Colombia is the answer. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia 22nd in the world (out of 191 countries) for healthcare quality. That surpasses Canada, which ranks number 30. The US? Yeah, they drop several spots further down to number 37. 

Best Hospitals in Latin America

Over 40% of the top hospitals in Latin America are in Colombia (24 out of 58).

CHAPTER 12. Is Colombia Safe To Live In

I addressed this in the very first part of the article because I know it is one of the first things on anyone’s mind when you think about Colombia. The short answer is as I stated earlier is- “YES.”

The longer answer is, “It Depends.” I know most expats and people visiting Colombia will think me hedging a little is me just feeding into the Colombian stereotype. But the reality is I feel that I must be fair and unbiased in my assessment.

My girlfriend and I moved to Colombia without hesitation, and we happily will do it again. But I wouldn’t necessarily try hard to persuade my mother to visit here by herself. There are some elements where you must be cautious. This caution is true in most major cities in the US, as well. There are neighborhoods that you would like to avoid at night.

The reality is if you keep your wits about you, don’t put yourself in dangerous situations (i.e., buying drugs or hookers), and stay in the expat or tourist areas, you will be fine. The days of drug shootouts and kidnappings are in the past, but petty crime is still common (like every major city around the world). Pickpockets and muggings still occur, particularly late at night, when criminals know people are drunk and less likely to be alert. I always recommend taking a taxi or Uber home after a night out, rather than risk walking home in the dark.

*WARNING* No Dar Papaya- Don’t Give Papaya
This is a Colombia saying that essentially means don’t be stupid with “sweet” things: Don’t flash your expensive watch or jewelry. Don’t carry large sums of cash. Don’t leave your cell phone or handbag on the table. Simply put, don’t make yourself a target. 

CHAPTER 13. How do I access my money overseas: Banking in Colombia

How to open a bank account

Where opening a new bank account in the US can be done online, you must open Colombian accounts in person. Be prepared for a bit of a run around when opening an account. Bureaucracy is terrible in banks. Processes and rules are not straight forward. Maybe you will get lucky and have a great experience, but the odds are about 50/50.

Different banks will give you different requirements. Some will say that you need a Cédula de Extranjería (Colombia resident ID). Some will say that you only need a passport. Others will require that you have already lived in Colombia for at least six months. If you know a fellow expat who had an easy time opening their bank account, see if you can get the name of their bank rep. Sometimes it will depend on who you get and what kind of day they are having. The account opening process can take up to a week or longer. 

*REMINDER* US Citizens
If you have more than $10,000 in total ACROSS ALL YOUR FOREIGN BANKS, you need to file an FBAR (Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) with the IRS when you file your taxes.

https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/report-of-foreign-bank-and-financial-accounts-fbar

Best way to access your overseas cash

Bank wires cost money, so I try to use them as little as possible. Also, depending on the bank, some local banks give you terrible exchange rates, in addition to charging you wire fees.

My recommendation is to open a Charles Schwab account before you leave the US. Have all your US deposits go to that account and use the ATM to withdraw any cash necessary.

ATMs are widely available and have English translations. Some ATMs will have transaction limits on how much you can take out. If you need more money, just do another transaction. 

*INSIDER TIP* Using Charles Schwab instead of a local bank.

With Schwab, you do not get charged any transaction fees when withdrawing money from an international ATM. Schwab will also REFUND you for any fees the local bank charges you to use the ATM. Market exchange rates are used to convert to Colombian Peso, so Schwab isn’t making any additional money on the exchange. I’ve been living overseas since 2012, and this is the best way I have found to move money internationally.

CHAPTER 14. If I live in Colombia, do I need to pay Colombian Taxes

I’m not a Colombia Tax Attorney, nor do I play one on TV. Always consult with a local Tax Attorney or Accountant for specific tax strategies.

Tax Residency in Colombia

If you are considered at Tax Resident in Colombia, your worldwide income is subject to Colombian tax.

If you live in Colombia for more than 183 days over 12 months, you are considered a tax resident by the Colombian government. Note that is 183 days (continuous or non-continuous) over a rolling 12-month period, UNLIKE the 180 days over a calendar year clause that affects your visa and immigration status. Confusing, I know, but be aware it’s 183 days over a rolling 12 months.

As an example, if you move to Colombia on August 1, 2019. 183 days would take you till January 31, 2020 (the following year). Staying in Colombia until February 1, 2020 would make you a Tax Resident for 2020, even though you only lived in Colombia for 31 days in 2020. Any income you earn worldwide in 2020, including dividends paid on your US stocks, rental income from the US, even your social security is subject to Colombian tax. 

*WARNING* As of 2018, Colombia and the US Does Not Have a Double Taxation Treaty- You may be subject to income tax in both the US and Colombia. Check with an International Tax Accountant to understand how this treaty may impact you. 

KEY POINTS

CHAPTER 15. What are the Pros and Cons of Living in Colombia

Pros of Living in Colombia

Cost of Living- Live in a nicer house and enjoy an active life for less cost
Quality of Healthcare- More affordable and better than the US

Cons of Living in Colombia

Safety- No dar Papaya
Taxes-
Minimizing tax requires proper planning

CHAPTER 16. Quick Facts, Colombian Resources, and Contacts

Quick Facts

Population:

49.07 million (2017)

Location:

Bordered by Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

Capital:

Bogota

Time:

GMT-5

Same as East Coast of the US

Weather:

Tropical and warm on the coasts, with rainy season from May to November.

Useful Nomadic FIRE Articles on Living in Colombia

Nomadic FIRE Retire Overseas and Live Abroad

Find all of our articles on maximizing your life by Living Abroad. Get the insider's guide on how to legally and affordably Retire Overseas.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Retirement Visa 2

Get full details on Retirement and Investment Visas available to legally live in Colombia. Learn the about the process, required documents, and minimum investment or income levels need.

Nomadic FIRE Retire In Medellin Guide Part 1 1

Our guide to one of our favorite cities in the world to live in. Get detailed information and money saving advice on housing prices, food scene, and nightlife in Medellin.

Useful External Websites For Expats Living in Colombia


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The Ultimate Guide To Living In Colombia

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