You'll Enjoy a Low Cost of Living in Colombia

One of the main benefits of living in Colombia is the low cost of living. And what’s more, it’s a low cost of living in a country that offers many of the first-world amenities and infrastructure that you’d expect in a much more expensive location.

The cost of living in Colombia depends on several factors, including the city and neighborhood in which you choose to live. In major cities, such as Medellín and Bogotá, home and apartment prices often rival those you’d find in North American cities. For instance, an American expat living in Medellín’s upscale El Poblado neighborhood pays about $1,250 a month to rent a three-bedroom high-rise apartment; however, there is a very wide range of prices available throughout the city, beginning around $500. While you can pay $1 million or more for a large two-story, El Poblado home, a comparable home in cities such as Manizales or Pereira will cost $250,000 to $300,000. Apartment (or condo) living in the cities is very common, and usually less expensive than free-standing homes. Modest houses in the country and smaller towns are less expensive than the cities. Oceanfront or ocean view properties are more expensive than those located several miles away from the water.

Colombia uses a tiered, estrato system to determine the cost of utilities, including electricity, natural gas, water, and telephone and internet service. The system assigns an estrato number to neighborhoods based on the average income of its residents. Lower estrato neighborhoods pay lower rates than higher estrato neighborhoods. For example, if you live in an estrato 2 neighborhood, you will pay much lower rates than folks living in an estrato 6 neighborhood will. The system applies subsidies to lower estrato residents. I live in an estrato 5 so I pay a premium for my services. So, when looking for a home to buy or rent, choosing a mid- to low-level estrato can lead to a big monthly savings. Most expats feel comfortable living in estrato 3 or higher

Since your cost of living will depend on the city and neighborhood in which you choose to live, we´ve given you a range that covers city, country, mountains, and ocean. The estimates are for middle-of-the-road living. Of course, if you want you can find penthouse apartments, luxury homes on the ocean, eat fine dining every night, or have hired services to cook, clean and chauffer every day. The beauty of Colombia is that you can find a lifestyle to fit your budget.

Here is a sample budget for a couple:

UtilityU.S. $
Rent (two-bedroom, two-bathroom)$325 – $1,300
Electricity (no heat, but air on the coast)$35 – $100
Water & sewer$15 – $30
Gas (cooking & heating water)$10 – $20
Trash pickup$5 – $20
Internet (20megs)$15 – $20
Phone – landline (no long distance)$15 – $20
Cable TV (basic package)$10 – $30
Cellphone (post-play basic plan)$15 – $30
Maid service (once per week)$40 – $60
Health plan (basic public plan)$40 – $80
Medications (copay for mid-tier)$10 – $25
Transportation (bus, taxi, Uber, Metro)$40 – $75
Groceries (mix of local & imported – no alcohol)$250 – $400
Dining out (2/week)$100 – $300
Movies/theater/concert (1/week)$20 – $60
Clothing (basic local brands)$60 – $100
Miscellaneous (personal care, hairdresser, manicure)$25 – $50
Monthly total:$1,030 – $2,720

Dining Out Costs

Entertainment, including dining out, is another factor that significantly impacts your cost of living. Preparing your own meals using fresh, local food from nearby stores will certainly keep your food budget low. However, you do not need to skimp on dining out. Most cities have a variety of restaurant choices from menu del día to mid-range prices to fine dining. Prices tend to average about 50% to 60% less than those in the U.S.

Transportation Costs

If you decide to buy a car in Colombia, prepare to pay high gasoline prices—on average it’s $2.75 per gallon. However, you don’t need a car in most towns and cities. In major cities, such as Medellín, Bucaramanga, and Bogotá, you’ll pay just under a dollar for a local bus. Taxis are downright cheap, especially in towns and mid-sized cities. In cities such as Buga, the minimum taxi fare runs around $3. In Manizales, you can take a taxi from one side of town to the other for under $5. Even in the city of Medellín it is very inexpensive to use taxis as your form of transportation. Most around-town trips will cost less than $5. Not all cities have metered taxis, so if you find yourself in an unmetered one, be sure to agree on the fee before you get inside and the driver takes off. Uber services continue to grow in popularity in the larger cities of Medellín, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, and Pereira.

Bus fares between cities vary greatly, but remain low compared to transportation costs in many other countries. A bus ticket from Bucaramanga to Bogotá costs around $25 for an 11-hour journey. The bus fare from Líbano to Bogotá costs $12.50 and Bogotá to Cartagena costs $58. Rapido Ochoa is one of the largest bus companies, with good online access to routes and online purchasing of tickets. The fare from Medellín to Jardin is $14.

In recent years, the cost of domestic airfares has plummeted, making it very affordable to see more of Colombia. In many cases, you can fly between major cities for about the same price as taking a bus. For example, on Viva Air airlines (website: www.vivaair.com), you can fly from Medellín in the mountains to Cartagena on the coast for as little as $70 round trip.

Sports and Leisure Costs

Fitness clubs in major cities cost about $50 a month. However, some private sports facilities offer great deals. For instance, for around $15 you can buy a day pass to play tennis and work out in the gym at Bucaramanga’s private Club Union. At Bucaramanga’s Ruitoque Country Club, you can play a round of golf on a course designed by Jack Nicklaus for $12 on weekdays and $20 on weekends.

Cinemas cost about $4 to $5 in the evening or about $1 more if you choose a luxury seat in the preferencial seating section. And like American cinemas, Colombia’s movie theaters offer substantial savings on matinees. Concert tickets to see a local or regional band typically cost $5 to $10, and many city orchestras regularly offer free concerts. If nightclubs are more your style, door charges run between $5 and $10, but often include free drinks before midnight.

Most major museums charge entry fees between $1.50 and $5 and many offer free admission on Sundays. Exclusive events, such as Popayán’s annual international food congress, cost $200 or more for a five- to seven-day pass. And if you attend a major concert, such as a performance by the Rolling Stones or Madonna, you can expect to pay the same lofty price you’d pay in the United States.

Clothing Costs

Clothing costs typically run high in Colombia. For example, a pair of Levi’s jeans will set you back around $80, nearly double the amount you’d pay in many U.S. department stores. A three-pack of athletic socks costs around $10 and an everyday summer dress runs around $55. However, in the larger cities you can find outlet malls and in Medellín there is the famous El Hueco (the hole) which is the city’s bargain center. Beginning at the San Antonio Metro stop and going for blocks and blocks, there are thousands of small stores (tiendas) and street carts selling everything imaginable.

However, some things are a bit cheaper, especially leather goods made in Colombia. A leather bag at Arturo Calle, Colombia’s most popular men’s store, costs about $75. The same bag would cost $120 or more in the U.S.

Alcohol Costs

Colombia is known for its coffee, not its wine. The country imports wine primarily from Chile and Argentina. You can also find wines from Europe in some specialty stores, especially in the larger cities. Prices tend to be 10 % to 20% higher than in the U.S. when buying bottles in the stores.

I have several expat friends in Medellín who are wine-lovers. They have purchased wine suitcases and fill them up when they are in the States. Bringing wine into Colombia is not an issue and there are no customs fees as long as you declare it when you enter.

Hard liquor is more expensive than in the U.S. Many expats buy bottles at the duty-free shops when then are returning to Colombia. They also have friends and family do the same when they are coming for a visit.