Medellin Colombia, Retire with Twice The Luxury at Half The Cost, Cocaine Not Included- Part 1

Nomadic FIRE Retire In Medellin Guide Part 1
  • Quick Facts
  • Cost of Living: High
  • Cost of living: low

Medellin- Quick Facts and Cost of Living Details

Country

Colombia

Population

2,508,000

English Score

Only 4% of the country speaks English. The tested level of proficiency was average.

Social Life Score

High ranks for fun and nightlife.

Tasty Food Score

Health Care Score

Quality Of Life

Cost of Living

70% Cheaper than the US

Medellin provides city-sized entertainment, beautiful views, and the best weather in the world for less than half the cost of the US. 

I felt the pulse of this exciting city the moment I stepped out onto its streets for the first time. With an estimated population of 2.5 million, Medellin is no backcountry town or small village. This is a city: cosmopolitan, vibrant, social. I can feel the electricity as I walk the busy parks teeming with people. I smell the grilled meats and tasty fried sweet breads warming on the shops as I walk past. Salsa beats in the background music of the night. Medellin has been on my hit list of cities to visit since I first visited Colombia years ago.

But why Medellin? This is a question I have received countless times since most people equate the city to Narcos, Pablo Escobar, violence, and cocaine. So why Medellín? My friends, family, and coworkers in the US continue to quiz. After living three months here, I can say it’s the beauty of the views, the electric vibe of the city, the friendliness of the Paisas (name of people from Medellin and the surrounding region), the laidback lifestyle, the green of the city, and cost. You can’t NOT talk about the impact on your lifestyle the cost of living in Medellin allows.

Nomadic FIRE Marco Avatar

Half the cost for double the freedom

Freedom to eat out whenever you want. Freedom to not have a car. Freedom to go out with friends. Freedom to wake up to sunshine on your face. Freedom to have a maid cook and clean for you. Freedom to treat yourself to luxury, without checking your bank balance first. Freedom to live a Job Optional life.

Located in the middle of Colombia, tucked into a valley surrounded by the Andes Mountains is Colombia´s second largest city; Known as the City of the Eternal Spring (La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera, if you want to get your Spanish on). Medellín is attracting more and more expats and retirees who want to live an outdoor-based, active lifestyle in a city that has near-perfect weather, affordable healthcare, good-value real estate, and a lower cost of living than many cities in the U.S.

Say “Colombia” to just about any American a decade or two ago, and they would probably think: drug lords, kidnappings, violence. Medellín still has a bad reputation to overcome from the days of Pablo Escobar, but the man and his violence are long gone.  What a difference a few decades make. Colombia is now ranked #1 best place to retire from CNBC, Top 5 by Forbes, and #2 on The New York Times Places to Visit list.  

1) There is rarely a dull moment in the City of Eternal Spring.

The city is abuzz with culture, nightlife, museums, theaters and a serious passion for football. Not only is the great weather a plus to get some vitamin D, but it also allows a vibrant outdoor social scene. I was able to join a large Acroyoga community that met in a huge park every weekend.

There were several language exchanges and meetups each week, so I could be as social as I wanted to be with a mix of locals and expats. If you were looking for Culture and Arts, Medellin has you covered. 

The Metropolitan Theater presents a varied program of international classical music, jazz music, and dance performances. There is an International Jazz Festival in September, Colombiamoda-Colombia’s Fashion week in July, and a gorgeous Christmas lights display in December. Just a short walk from the Metro station, right in front of the Museo de Antioquia, is a large sculpture collection by Medellín native son, Fernando Botero.

Nomadic FIRE Medellin Botero 2

Make sure you rub one of Botero's larger-than-life bronze statues for good luck

2) Live well for under $1000 a month or live LAVISHLY for under $2000

If you are already considering living in Medellin to build up your retirement savings through Cost Advantaged Travel (CAT), it’s a smart move. While still off the radar of most folks, Medellin is quickly coming up as a retirement and low cost living city great for expats. Who could blame them? Medellin has beautiful weather, outstanding healthcare, is accessible from the US, easier local language, and first-rate amenities and infrastructure. Medellin is on Nomadic FIRE’s top list of places to live for people working toward Financial Independence and Early Retirement. One, life is going to be much cheaper here. Currently, the cost of living is roughly 70% less than living in the US, while still offering many amenities and luxuries not accessible to many people living in the US or Europe.

My monthly expenses ranged between $850 to $1800 on the high end. My figures include rent, utilities, telephone, internet, cable, food, entertainment, and public transport. At the low end, I still had a maid clean a shared apartment once per week. On the high end, expenses were driven mostly by a much nicer condo and eating almost all my meals out in nicer restaurants. Utilizing Cost Advantaged Travel in Medellin means you can live a comfortable lifestyle while saving substantial amounts of money for investments or retirement. Or if you are already retired, you can live a fairly luxury lifestyle for just a few hundred dollars more than the average social security or pension income.  Any extra savings can be spent to bump up the luxury factor even further or take additional vacation and holiday trips.

To get an idea, consider:

  • 1
    $4 for a sit down 3-course lunch at a popular restaurant
  • 2
    $1 for a 16oz/.5 L beer
  • 3
    $300 rent for a fully furnished shared flat in a nice expat neighborhood
  • 4
    $700 rent for a fully furnished one bedroom in a very nice expat area

3) A beautiful day in Medellin is better than a beautiful day anywhere else in the world

Nomadic FIRE Medellin View

The climate in Medellín is one of the main benefits of living in Medellín and one of the main reasons that attracted me to live there. I spent my university years in the US Midwest, where it is miserable 8 months out of the year. Winters accumulated 34”/86 cm of cold, wet, and sloppy snow. Summers were hot, sticky, and humid. After graduation, I lived in the Pacific Northwest, where we had 9 months of overcast gray skies throughout the year. To hear that there was a place called the Enteral Spring with constant sunshine seemed too good to be true.  

Seriously though, Medellin weather is AMAZEBALLS. I have traveled around the world to over 40 countries to avoid living in winter for the last 6 years. To say I am a bit snobby about the weather is an understatement. However, I am now a Medellin true believer. The city’s unique location allows a gorgeous spring-like climate year-round. In the mountains at around 5000 feet/1500 m, while simultaneously being located near the equator allows for average temperature lows of 63°F/ 17 °C to a sunny, high 82 °F/28 °C. Even better, these averages only vary about 1 °F, regardless of the season. There is never a need to wear anything heavier than a light jacket, regardless of the month on the calendar. I haven’t been into a single house in Medellin that had a heater or air conditioning. There isn’t even a need.

In contrast to hot and sticky summers everywhere else in the world, even when it’s sunny and nice in Medellin, being in the mountains creates a bug-free environment with NO sticky humidity. I am now spoiled by the climate and reference any place with cold temperatures and snow or blistering hot and humid summers as “Not as nice as Medellin.” This is seriously weather nirvana.

4) Working remotely with US clients? Need to visit family? Medellin is on a US time zone and an easy 3-hour plane ride to the US.

If you are utilizing Cost Advantage Travel before you retire and you have clients or a remote job in the United States, it doesn’t get much easier than living in Medellin. You are in the same time zone as the East Coast of the United States. No need to stay up past midnight to talk with a client in California. No reason to set the alarm for sunrise to wish your family Merry Christmas. If you need to fly home for a friend’s wedding or have a face to face meeting for work, this is much easier and cheaper to do from Colombia than from other countries in South America, Europe, or Asia.  Tickets from Florida are around $100 for 3-hour non-stop flights.

Nomadic FIRE Skyscanner Medellin e1554901163516

Medellin- Housing Summary 

The urban area of Medellín is divided into six zones, which are then divided into 16 communities called “communes.” Each commune offers a slightly different feel and atmosphere than the other. Connecting the communes is a fantastically clean, efficient, and well-run metro system on par with most of Europe and better than most cities in the US. Fares are roughly .80 cents. The bus system is a bit more confusing and will take an article on its own to breakdown. But the metro is fantastic. Uber is currently available, though like in many countries is on a legal gray area. It’s nowhere near as erratic as Thailand or Bali, but it’s not as consistent as the US. I personally only had 1 issue getting an Uber to pick me up during my entire 3-month stay, but regulations might make it harder for Uber drivers down the line. Even if Uber is not available, taxis are not at the rip or scam level that Bangkok, Bucharest, Hanoi, or other low cost developing countries are. Cabs are licensed and metered, and generally you can get anywhere you need for $2 to $5 depending on the time of day and traffic conditions.

I stayed in 2 of the most popular areas of Medellin: El Poblado and Laureles. These two areas have the highest concentrations of expats and foreigners. El Poblado with its high-rise apartment buildings, provide the most impressive mountain and city views. Laureles has a hipper neighborhood charm, tree-lined streets, and home to Medellin’s football stadium. El Poblado was the ultra-modern chic area with more tourists, while Laureles was a more laidback coffeeshop area popular with expats.
There is a friendly rivalry on Facebook groups and actual expats living in Medellin. There is friendly bickering and arguing about which neighborhood is the best. Both El Poblado and Laureles have shopping malls, universities, movie theaters, restaurants, coffee shops, world-class hospitals, banking, public transportation and a selection of grocery stores, so really it comes down to the vibe and atmosphere of the area you are looking for. A river and a short drive separate the two areas, but the odd reality is that if you live in El Poblado, you rarely venture across the river to visit Laureles. You get the same rolling-of-the-eyes reaction if you live in Laureles and your friend in El Poblado suggests meeting at a restaurant on their side of the river. It´s not because they dislike the other community. It’s not pure laziness either, as the trip is not a long commute. However, each community is self-sustaining and walkable. I can live weeks at a time, visit new restaurants and bars, walk to the gym, and go shopping all without needing to get into a taxi, Uber, or Metro to visit another neighborhood. You get spoiled living in your own little world. 

1) El Poblado- Living here is all about being surrounded by fun.

Its lively nightlife makes for a great neighborhood for tourists, backpackers, and foreigners. It has the bulk of the hotels and hostels in Medellin; all within walking distance of Parque Lleras. The area with the highest concentration of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. While the area can get a bit rambunctious on the weekends, El Poblado is the perfect area if you are looking for the young and energetic crowd out to have a good time.

This area is undoubtedly considered the posh area of Medellin. The vast majority of the neighborhoods are considered upper class, with large areas of “Upper-Upper” class sprinkled in. The neighborhood is popular among foreigners and offers all the amenities of a high-class Western Lifestyle. Full disclosure, I have only stayed at hotels in this area. I looked at apartments in the El Poblado but felt that Laureles better served my needs.

This is not to say that this Upper-class area was out of my price range. While more expensive than Laureles, El Poblado was still significantly cheaper and nicer than comparable areas in the US. An example is this shared luxury Penthouse close to Parque Lleras. It has 2 living rooms, maid service 2x a week, the building includes a steam room, sauna, and pool. A room with a private bath and workspace is $600 per month, utilities and furnishing included.

El Poblado
El Poblado3
El Poblado 2

Not interested in a roommate, but still want luxury without breaking the bank? How about a fully furnished, 2 bedroom, 2.5 baths, with a large balcony and spectacular views, private sauna, and 24-hour security for under $1200 per month?

El Poblado 1000A
El Poblado 1000B
El Poblado 1000C

2) Laureles- the Nomadic FIRE recommendation as the best neighborhood to live in Medellin.

Laureles may not have the famous name of it’s more posh sister community across the river, but its combination of attractions, cost, and vibe make it my recommendation the place to settle for a Job Optional life in Medellin.

Laureles is considered the second most exclusive area in Medellin after El Poblado. It also has the second highest income bracket in the city, but still costs less than El Poblado. The nightlife is centered around La Setenta (the 70). It an outdoor strip about 1 mile/1.6 km long, ringed with bars, shops, restaurants, and night clubs. With the immediate proximity of UPB University, the nights can get lively with 20-30 somethings sitting outdoors sharing drinks, walking to the next club, or just enjoying dinner with friends. The outdoor seating and walking distance allows for a easy night of dinner, drinks, dancing, and people watching.

My apartment was directly across from Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, where I joined the university gym for $28 per month. This university is also a popular option for learning English and offers a student visa if you want to stay for several months and start intensive Spanish language studies. About 500 meters or a 5-minute walk from the apartment was UniCentro, a large shopping mall with a Western Style supermarket (Exito) and Western-style gym (Smart Fit- less than $20 per month memberships). The mall has a large food court, multiplex movie theater, and about 270 shops. It’s not a tourist draw, so most of the shops cater to upper-class locals and expats in the area.

Compared to the heavily-touristed Poblado neighborhood, Laureles offers a similar quality of living for a lower cost. In Laureles, the price for apartments are generally about 25 to 35 percent cheaper than similar flats in El Poblado. As an example, our shared flat was a big top floor penthouse with amazing views, a big terrace with BBQ grill, lots of balconies, gym area, spacious living room and huge kitchen. All utilities, cable tv, Internet 40mb and maid cleaning once a week was only $290 USD.

Nomadic FIRE Medellin Laureles Apt 2
Nomadic FIRE Medellin Laureles Apt 1
Nomadic FIRE Medellin Laureles Apt 3a

If you were looking for something less communal, you can find your own 1 bedroom, large balcony with a gorgeous view, solid oak kitchen, office area, new appliances, leather furniture, for $710 furnished and utilities included.

Nomadic FIRE Laureles Apt A
Nomadic FIRE Laureles Apt C
Nomadic FIRE Laureles Apt B

While rental prices in the US continue to increase about 5% per year and most people getting priced out of apartments in nice parts of their city, Medellin still offers easily affordable fully furnished and beautiful housing options in walk-able upper class neighborhoods. Cost of rent plus utilities, internet, cable tv, and maid service, all for the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee per day.

Average Cost of Monthly Rent (in USD) for a 1 Bedroom in the City Center

Cheap rent, beautiful views, perfect weather, and an active social life. Excited yet? But wait, there’s more. Check out the next article on the food scene, your entertainment options, and your options in staying fit in the City of Eternal Spring.

What We Have Learned So Far About Medellin

  • A comfortable Cost of Living for less than $1000 for all your expenses 
  • Easily Affordable Apartments in Walkable Tree Lined Neighborhoods
  • Perfect Spring Weather Year Round and Beautiful View of Mountains

Excited yet? But wait, there’s more. Sign up below and view PART 2 of this article covering the cost of Food, Fun, and Festivals of the city.

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Medellin- Food Summary 

I am an unabashed "Foodie." I feel that 60% of the fun of travel is exploring a new city looking for something tasty to put in my gob. While not many expats would argue that traditional Colombian food is their favorite cuisine, Medellin does provide a variety of restaurants to be enjoyed within the city. From Peruvian restaurants that seem to be on every corner to the local cafes serving "Menu del Dia", and all the flavors in between, you’re bound to find a something that fits your taste. Even better, meals are priced at a third of what you’d pay in the US or Western Europe.

A full course meal including drinks and dessert can run you on average of about $25 to $30 per couple for a fancier restaurant, while you’ll find plenty of places to eat for under $15 per couple. Half the fun will be walking the streets in search of that next favorite “hidden jewel.”

Make sure to check out Medellín Gourmet Month.

These are 30 days I drool for in Medellin. Medellin Gourmet Month brings together the best gastronomic combinations the city has to offer for. The best restaurants pull together special 4-course meals: 2 glasses of wine, one appetizer, two main courses, one dessert and two bottles of water for $9 to $20 per person. These meals would easily be $50-$60 per person in the US.

1) Food Shopping- A World of Healthy Exotic Fruits 

Plaza Minorista José María Villa- If you like the smells, sights, and tastes of farmer’s markets, don’t miss this one. Plaza Minorista is where you can find seemingly unlimited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. The market provides an authentic experience in Medellin local city living. Plaza Minorista is *best Trump voice* HUUUWWWGE . Keep in mind that Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet. This level of bio-diversity means just about anything can grow in this country. Your nose will fill with the sticky sweet smell of tropical fruits as you navigate this labyrinth of corridors and brightly colored vegetables. But it’s more than a veggie market. It's rows and rows of fish, meats, other types of groceries, kitchen utensils, clothing, and even some tasty kitchen counter-style small restaurants. The scale of the Plaza Minorista market can be intimidating, but the extraordinary options and tropical fruits (for sale at a fraction of what you’d pay in the US or EU), makes it a worthwhile adventure.

With about 2500 hawkers, vendors, and stores teeming the market full of life and rustic baskets overflowing with vibrant produce, it's a treat for the senses. Come in the morning (many places close by noon). Experience the beautiful chaos. Sample fruits you never heard of and take pictures of fruits you've never seen. Enjoy the atmosphere, then utilize one of the counters or restaurants for a fresh and delicious cheap lunch.

I recommend a place called Aqui Paro Lucho. Lunch here is a little more expensive ($5-$7), but worth it. White table cloth tables are crammed in between busy store fronts. Lunch is served on proper plates and silverware. It's an eclectic touch of upscale eating in the lower level of a busy market. The portions are large and not what you would expect in the middle of a busy market. 

Nomadic FIRE Minorista Plaza
Nomadic FIRE aqui paro lucho

Enjoy Lunch At Plaza Minorista for about $5

*WARNING* Taking a taxi or Uber to and from Plaza Minorista José María Villa is recommended. DON'T be tempted to walk. While the distance on Google Maps is short, you are walking through some very dodgy neighborhoods surrounded by human feces, drug users, and homeless. While not outright dangerous, the smell of tropical sweat and human waste isn't worth the $2 taxi savings.

Aguacate Home Delivery- For 3 months, every morning, I would sit on my balcony, with a view of the sun peeking over the mountains. I enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of hot black Colombian coffee, while I sipped and waited. Almost like clockwork, I hear the chant of "Aggggua-CATE!". I would lean over the railing of my ten story penthouse and wave the chanting street vendor to stop. It was time for some breakfast shopping. Colombia makes it easier by having home-delivery avocado carts wandering the streets several times a day. Each vendor pushes a quaint, cobbled-together, flat wood and metal cart filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and the biggest avocados you have ever seen. Imagine the tiny Whole Foods avocado you pay $4 for in the US, then multiply the size by 3 and charge about $1.

Nomadic FIRE Aquacate 1

Delivery to your door is FREE

Nomadic FIRE Aquacate

GIANT fresh avocados

Western Style Grocery StoresThere are several supermarket chains in Medellin. You will find them reasonably well stocked with goods and items you would expect to find in a normal US supermarket. Even better, you will find the prices 50% less than comparable prices for groceries in the US or EU. Examples:

  • 1 kg/2.2 lbs of chicken breast - $4
  • 12 eggs- $1
  • 1 liter of milk- .75 cents

For luxury grocery shopping, Carulla is an upscale supermarket, similar to Whole Foods. If you are looking for freshly baked breads, imported spices, or gourmet sauces, this is your place to shop. Be prepared, the prices will be equal to the US, which comes as an eye opener when you are used to buying food for half the price.

Nomadic FIRE Carulla

Photo courtesy of Carulla

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Medellin Market

What you can buy for $15 at a local market vs a Western-style Supermarket

2) Cheap Eats- Delicious snacks or mini meals for less than $1

Street Food

Nomadic FIRE Street Food
Nomadic FIRE Medellin Arepas
Nomadic FIRE Medellin Empanadas

Menu Del Dia- As I mentioned in the start of the food section, I wear the "Foodie" label loud and proud. One of my favorite parts about Medellin is the concept called Menu Del Dia (Menu of the Day). Restaurants around the city set up a set menu, usually including a soup, main dish, a side dish, and a drink (sometimes even a dessert), all for a set price. The menu is usually served between the hours of noon to about 2 or 3 pm. This is basically a Food Happy Hour. 

An example is one of my favorite places about a 10 minute walk from my apartment in Laureles. Cafe Cliche is a French Bistro serving up some French and Latin fusion inspired lunches for around $4 to $5. For that price, a recent Menu De Dia served up a rich, creamy carrot soup, a lightly breaded Pork Milanese, steamed potato, and a ratatouille. They even toss in a glass of pineapple juice — all for less than $4.50 for every tasty, delicious morsel.

Nomadic FIRE Cafe Cliche

Photo by Cafe Cliche

*INSIDER TIP* Cafe Cliche is not just for lunchtime eats. Several nights a week, the bistro hosts language exchanges, film nights, live music, and salsa nights that attract a large crowd of expats, retirees, and locals. It's a great place to start setting up your social circle in Medellin. 

Bandeja Paisa- This 2500 calorie delicious heart attack on a platter is a traditional dish served all around Colombia’s Antioquia region. Originally a peasant dish meant to provide all the rib-sticking sustenance, calories, and protein required for a full day of manual labor on mountainous farms. These days most folks use this hearty combination of meats, rice, beans, eggs, arepas, and plantains as an excuse for a chicharron treat. Chicharron is crispy thick cut pork belly (think deep fried bacon steak) that is prevalent in all of Spain's former colonies. Bandeja paisa (Bandeja literally means platter) contains 4-5 varieties of meat: chicharron, dried minced beef, chorizo sausage (a traditional pork sausage, another native treat passed down from Spain), and morcilla (black pudding or blood sausage). 

Nomadic FIRE Bandeja Paisa

3) Date Night Dining- Mid to High End sit down meals to treat your date to for about $15 per person

Peru Mix- Fresh Seafood Ceviche: This place is a bit of a hole in the wall. Apparently, this is a franchise, but I didn’t know that when I decided to make it a date night restaurant. I’ll be honest, the interior décor screams fast food, which made me a bit embarrassed on a date, but the fresh fish is actually excellent. We had ceviches three different ways for $8, along with $4 pisco sours (the national drink of Peru). The ceviche was superb with just the right amount of tangy citrus, without feeling like I was sucking on a piece of lemon. While not exactly a special occasion fancy dinner, this place became a part of our weekly rotation of places to eat.

Nomadic FIRE Peru Mix Ceviche

Ceviche 3 ways for $8: Lime marinade, Aji Pepper marinade, and a Soy Ginger marinade

Restaurante Mistura- Japanese Fusion: With an outdoor seating area, inventive cocktails, elegant atmosphere, and a view of Primer Parque (First Park) for people watching, Restaurante Mistura in Laureles is perfect special date night location. The service was attentive, and the kitchen took great care with the food presentation. The prices reflected the more upscale ambiance and quality but were still way below an equivalent fine dining restaurant in the US. For 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, and 2 drinks, we spent less than $20 per person.

Nomadic FIRE Mistura

Photo Courtesy of Mistura

El Portal- Tres Leches Dessert: Think of the sweetness of condensed milk and richness of heavy cream combined the slight caramel flavor with evaporated milk. Now pour that decadent elixir over a soft and fluffy vanilla sponge cake, and you have the iconic Latin dessert, Tres Leches cake. A slice of this dessert would run me $8 in most restaurants in the US, at El Portal, which specializes in desserts, I get this little slice of heaven for about $2.50. Sometimes life is good as a fat kid.

Nomadic FIRE El Portal Tres Leches

Tres Leches Cake, also available in Chocolate

Nomadic FIRE El Portal Tres Leches Chocolate

3) Food Delivery- Dinner Delivered to Your Door for $1.

Rappi and Uber Eats: This may seem shocking to read, but sometimes retired people can get really lazy. Some days, even if you don’t have to work, the idea of not getting up from the couch and having a meal delivered to you in 30 minutes is VERY appealing. Luckily, Cost Advantaged Travel (CAT) helps lazy folks out in times of need. Uber Eats and the Latin America equivalent, Rappi are ubiquitous in Medellin at a prices you won’t hesitate to pay extra for. Seriously, delivery charges are about $1. Simply browse the app for your favorite restaurant or check out the 2 for 1 daily deals, enter in your address, open a cold bottle of beer (less than $1 at the market), and by the time your are done drinking, a friendly Colombian will be at your door with your dinner. A lazy kid can get spoiled by meal delivery service for less than a $1, plus tip.

Nomadic FIRE Uber Eats Delivery

  • Have heard a lot about this Marco, but your post definitely put things in a much better perspective! Living in Asia, I have always been fascinated by South America. Looking forward to part 2 🙂

  • Jenn says:

    I live in the US, but I’m going to add Colombia to my list of places to visit!

  • Erin says:

    Sounds like a great place! I love cities that don’t require a car and eveything is easily accessible! Great detail in your post.

  • Charlie says:

    This is a place I had never considered travelling to let alone retiring to. I am now going to be reconsidering my shortsightedness. Thanks so much for such a detailed and considered overview.

  • Susan Gan says:

    Thanks for the great article. I have to admit to having had some pre-conceived ideas about Colombia and never would have thought of retiring there.

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