Cost of Living in Medellin, Colombia

Colombian pesos

Colombian pesos

The cost of living in Medellin, Colombia has always been a big draw for me. The quality of life, for the cost, is hard to beat, in my humble opinion.

I’m often asked how much money one needs to live comfortably here, but it wasn’t until last month, my 19th in the country, that I finally tracked all my expenses (thank you CashTrails app). I could’ve provided estimates, but I believe actual data is more legitimate.

A Word About My Standard of Living

Before we get into the details, I want to share some insight into my standard of living, because more than anything, this is the variable that will affect a person’s cost of living in Medellin.

I’m a self-employed travel blogger, and for the most part, work from home. I don’t live on a set budget every month. I pay for 99% of what I write about on this blog, from meals at restaurants, to bottles of rum in discotecas, and domestic travel.

I average two dates per week, and pay for everything. Sometimes it’s a nice dinner out, or dancing, and other times there’s no cost at all.

My Monthly Cost of Living

Rent = 600,000 pesos ($340)

Rent is my single biggest monthly expense. I rent a room in a 3-bedroom apartment with two Colombians. The 20th floor apartment is located in Ciudad del Rio, a new development in Poblado, along Avenida Las Vegas.

We all get along really well, so even if I wanted to spring for my own place, I’m not sure I would. I’ve grown to appreciate the company, and my roommate’s home cooking.

The first year I lived in the apartment, I was getting an amazing deal, just 450,000 pesos/month ($253). All utilities included. Even at 600,000 pesos/month, it’s on par with the normal cost of a room rental in Poblado.

Food = 1,022,000 pesos ($575)

Overall, food is my biggest expense per month. I contribute 100,000 pesos ($56) toward communal groceries for the apartment, and the rest is spent buying food on my own, whether at the store, or in restaurants.

One of the things I enjoy most about living in Medellin is that I can feel comfortable going to any restaurant in the city, alone, with friends, or on a date, and know I won’t break the bank.

My most expensive meal so far was my first visit to El Cielo with a friend, which cost me $100 (including shared bottle of wine, tax, and tip). It turned out to be one of the best meals of my life.

On the flip side, you can easily find set lunches (menu del dia) in typical restaurants for just $3 – $4, and even less depending on the neighborhood.

Ground Transportation = 212,000 pesos ($119)

This includes the metro, buses and taxis. In reality, it’s almost all accounted for by taxis, my preferred transport within the city.

When it makes sense, I do take the metro, but if a taxi takes 10 minutes, and using the metro (combined with walking to/from it) will take me 50 minutes, I’ll pay for the taxi.

General = 416,000 pesos ($234)

The general category is miscellaneous stuff, which was mostly for the apartment in January. I bought new sheets and pillows for my bed ($126), a yoga mat ($50), and a scale ($45).

I could’ve bought cheaper versions of everything, but this apartment is essentially my home, so I don’t mind spending more on certain things (like I would do if I were living in the USA).

Many of the things I bought in 2010, including the bed, floor lamp, and fan, were all still here when I returned. In other words, they were all investments that continue to serve me well.

Clothes = 338,000 pesos ($190)

Again, when I’m not traveling, I tend to buy a few extra items of clothes so I’m not wearing the same three shirts every week. In January, I spent more than usual on clothes as it was my first month back in Medellin.

The most expensive item I picked up was an Adidas running shirt for the gym. I tried on two similar ones in the store, and took the one I liked to the register, only to find after the girl rang me up that it was twice the cost of the other one (about $80).

I also bought a pair of Rifle jeans, and some extra socks and boxers to reduce the frequency I’m doing laundry.

Gym = 181,000 pesos ($102)

When I’m living in Medellin, I’m not traveling, and therefore I try and focus on improving my health and fitness. I have friends who’ve used the free outdoor gyms, but I prefer one with cardio equipment and a full array of machines and weights.

Since 2010, I’ve been using Bodytech Gym, which is the most expensive one in the city. They require a minimum 3-month membership, unless you want to pay for 10 credits (with each credit valid for one day). In January, I paid the full 3 months, or $306, but for the purpose of this exercise I divided that by three.

I continue to use Bodytech because it’s convenient to where I live, and I know that increases the odds I’ll go often. Other gyms, such as Forma, and Dinamo in Envigado, are less costly.

Update: In December 2013, I bought a 12-month membership on sale for 30% off. The cost was 800,000 pesos, or about $414. Even if I’d paid full price, that’d have been around 1.1 million pesos, or about $600, which is more in line with a US membership ($50/month). Also, I’ve recently learned membership costs vary depending on where the Bodytech is located (expect Poblado to be more expensive than Belen, for example).

Nightlife & Alcohol = 144,000 pesos ($81)

Includes cover charges at any bars or discotecas, ($31) and alcohol ($50).

Halfway through January, I challenged myself to drink less alcohol, so that portion is unusually low. And as a result of the challenge, I’m not going out and partying as much as I’ve done in the past.

Private Dance Classes = 125,000 pesos ($75)

I began taking private, one-hour salsa lessons again, and while you can probably find a cheaper rate than $18.75, I think I have the best teacher in the city.

Personal Care = 84,000 pesos ($47)

This category is where I put all my toiletry and pharmacy purchases.

Summary

Rent = 600,000 pesos ($340)

Food = 1,022,000 pesos ($575)

Ground Transport = 212,000 pesos ($119)

General = 416,000 pesos ($234)

Clothes = 338,000 pesos ($190)

Gym = 181,000 pesos ($102)

Nightlife = 144,000 pesos ($81)

Dance Classes = 125,000 pesos ($75)

Pharmacy = 84,000 pesos ($47)

January Total = 3,122,000 pesos, or $1,755 USD

Over the years, I’ve found there’s no ideal month to capture. Some months I travel to new parts of Colombia, some months I don’t. Some months I shop a lot, or go on a lot of dates, and others, I don’t.

I’ve always estimated my cost of living in Medellin, Colombia to be about $1,500 per month, and had I not spent money on new clothes, and bedding, that’s about what I would’ve spent in January 2013.

I’m going to continue tracking my expenses, and do a follow-up post in April, which will include three months worth of data.

About David Lee

David is a professional blogger based in Medellín, Colombia. His other blog is Go Backpacking. Connect with him on Facebook and Google+.

Comments

  1. Hi. Thanks for the info. That is why I like your blog, everyday life in Medellin. I´m not going back for another year but it gives me a good idea of the costs. Thanks.

    • Dave, this is a very informative article. I plan on coming down for a month in April and would love to have shared living arrangement like you shared. I would love to connect with you to share ideas and advice. Please contact me via my email so we can discuss my upcoming stay. I spent 3 weeks in Barranquilla last year and fell in love with the country. Medellin here I come…

  2. What about your cell phone?

    • Looking through my records, I forgot to record that info. I use a cheap, $20 phone, mostly for text messages.

      I spent no more than 30,000 pesos ($17) toward buying minutes for Tigo in January. A negligible amount. I only use my smartphone in the apartment, with the WiFi.

  3. As Diego said, thanks for the info Dave. I appreciate seeing what it would take to live comfortably in Medellín.

    My two thoughts are that rent and food are the easiest things to save on in Medellín. For some, like yourself, their home is their office and spend a lot of time entertaining guests. For others they only go home to sleep and therefore it doesn’t make too much sense to spend a lot on rent. As for food, your readers greatly appreciate you restaurant reviews. Tomasa and I have used your restaurant guides to select restaurants for special occasions. However, if you ever find a Colombia girl to settle down with that goes to the Minorista for groceries and is a mean cook that will cut anyone’s food budget significantly :)

    • Totally agree on food Kevin. If I stuck to my Colombian roommate’s cooking for lunch and dinner during the week, I’d be paying A LOT less for food every month.

  4. Thank you so much for that! It really is appreciated!

    I am heading down to stay stay in medellin for 6 months, and have a ball park figure in term s of living at ~ $1500 to 2000.

    I don’t drink or eat out but tend to splurge more on going out, so hopefully in line with your spending.

    Quick question, do you have any insurance at all? Be it health cover or insurance go valuables?

    Again, many thanks, it really is appreciated.

    • Glad you found the info useful, Tomas. Even splurging on nightlife by going out a few nights a week won’t cost much. Especially if you stick to bottles of aguardiente or rum, and are splitting the cost with friends (as most do here).

      The exception is if you want to hang out in the VIP areas, with minimum spends required. Even then, with a group of guys it’s not nearly as expensive as the US or Europe.

      It’s not easy to find international property insurance that covers an American in Colombia, as many companies don’t cover countries on the US State Dept warning list.

      That’s why I was so excited to find Clements (http://clements.com) based in NYC. I get $5000 in coverage for about $160 per year, and they don’t have the warning list exclusion.

  5. timely post and thanks for the info. just to follow up on tomas’ question – do you carry any type of health insurance abroad?

    • Yes Mike, since I’ve been spending more than 6 months per year outside the USA, I have IMG’s Global medical health coverage (http://www.imglobal.com/). Premiums are about $300 per quarter (you get a discount if you pay annually).

      This is more than just emergency/medical evac coverage. This is a full health insurance plan, and when I’m in the USA, I get access to a PPO network of providers.

  6. I’m amazed that your booze category was only 144,000, I don’t go clubbing much but I like to drink and have fun, that said at a nightclub 1 bottle of pretty much anything other than vodka/guaro is gonna set you back like 140,000 or so.

    I’m really trying to find a similar article though for buying not renting if you know anyone. I’m gonna buy an apartment, likely in Bello where all the new developments seem to be but I’m trying to accurately assess what expenses will be monthly during say the 11 months a year I’m not there, without a renter to make sure I don’t actually NEED one.

    • Hey Brett, like I said, I began making a conscious effort to cut back on alcohol in mid-January. I’ve only had 5 drinks in the last 3 weeks, and 3 of them were at a friend’s house.

      I’m also dating someone right now who rarely drinks, so that makes it even less expensive. Not only am I not buying for myself, I’m not buying for her either. Trust me, I spent a lot more on alcohol between 2009 and today :)

      I don’t know anyone off the top of my head who’s bought real estate here, but if I find someone willing to write a similar article, I’ll make it happen.

    • Hey Brett, my wife and I have been looking at real estate throughout Antioquia and other parts of Colombia. What kind of advice are you looking for?

    • Brett, I can recommend you this company to invest in Real Estate: http://www.coninsaramonh.com/ . They will asist you in buying a property wether you want to get a new or second hand and it is also a letting agency, the will be in charge of renting it out for you and put the money in your bank account, so you don´t need to worry about anything.

  7. Great article Dave. Ive spent time in Medellin & in Cartagena & its amazing the difference in price between the 2 cities. This breakdown is great. Im sure you could live a little leaner & meaner but with $1500-$2000 p/mth you can have a great standard of living in city like Medellin.

  8. Thanks for writing this up Dave. You spend roughly what I spend too. I’m going to be referring people who write me asking about a budget to check this post out.

  9. Please contact me via email. My daughter is going to be visiting there for an extended period of time. I am a frantic Mom with a few questions.

  10. You were going to follow up, tracking expenses over a longer period. Did you do that?

  11. Very informative breakdown. Wonder if you could provide a ball-park estimate on a 1 or 2 bedroom apt in a nice area. Don’t really want roommates at this point in my life.

  12. Andrew Gold says:

    Hey guys, great site Dave. Just to say, depending on what you are used to, I think you can live a lot cheaper than that here. I am not at all conscious of cutting back in my life here, and I live on about 700USD per month. I make no sacrifices and go out whenever I want – I have a nice room in an absolutely beautiful apartment with two shared pools, steam room, sauna, cleaners who wash and iron my clothes! It’s not in the best area – La Mota – but it’s not bad either. I try not to take taxis – just buses really – but at night you sort of have to!

    Alcohol is less than a dollar per beer, so it’d take a lot of drinking to spend too much in that department! But if you like your spirits, that’s a different matter. I still feel I live a pretty luxurious life here, better than what I had on a $70.000 salary in London – so if I had to make cutbacks, I could easily knock a couple hundred dollars off my monthly spend, by going to the markets to do my shopping, never eating out etc. Many Colombians live off of much less than that with entire families to feed.

    What I’m saying is, I really believe you can live here and do OK (though not great) on 400 dollars a month. It just depends on what you are used to and what you find comfortable! I see what Dave is saying though, if you are into buying clothes (I don’t think I’ve had a new clothing item for like 5 years!), going to the gym, taking classes etc, your monthly spend will start to rise… I think I spend about half what Dave spends on food – weekly shop comes to about 75.000 ($38), and I’ll have a 20.000 ($11) dinner maybe 2-3 times a week.

    Hope this helps people!

    • Hi Andrew, thanks for sharing your monthly budget.

      One of the reasons why my food costs are so high is I eat out a lot to familiarize myself with the restaurant scene in Medellin. If I like a place, I know I’ll write about it, so some of my food costs are actually treated like business expenses.

  13. Dennise Ardila says:

    Hi Dave, great article! I visited Medellin,El Poblado area, for the first time last week and fell in love with the weather, the super nice people, the food and was very impressed with how extremely clean everything is. My husband is Colombian, I am from Puerto Rico and we have two kids. We would love to move there and spend about a year to see if we can stay. We are US citizens living in Atlanta, what would be your recommendations for us to find a job? My husband is a sales rep for a Budweiser dist company and I am an insurance agent. Thanks!

    • Hi Denise, I’m glad you had a good time.

      I’m not very familiar with the job market in Medellin, as I work for myself as do many of my friends. I do believe Spanish is important (I can’t imagine it not, given how few speak fluent English here).

      One site you might want to check out is the new http://jobscolombia.com.co/ which aims to partner foreigners seeking jobs with Colombian companies willing to set aside certain positions for them.

  14. Hi Dave,

    Some really good stuff on your blog. Thanks so much for providing good info out here. I had some questions, and sent you an email, hope to have some great feedback from you :).

    Thanks again for sharing your outlook on living in Medellin.

  15. Jose Fernando Duque says:

    Hi Dave What about medical insurance, it;s a must to have some type of EPS in this country, Did you include this item in your monthly budget? Unless a person gets a good salary it”s hard to pay for the many bills in this town, I still think cost of living here is very high, thanks

    • No, as you can see, I did not factor in my medical insurance premium. In 2013, I was paying an average $160 per month for my coverage through IMG Global (a policy specifically for expats and those who live or work outside the USA for at least 6 months a year).

      I don’t have any information on the cost of medical insurance within Colombia. I’ve always paid cash for medical and dental services here, as the cost is much lower than in the USA, and not nearly enough for me to reach my insurance deductible.

  16. Great post! I’m thinking of moving to Medellin in the next couple months, this is really helpful. Glad I found you guys! Quick question: I telecommute and use Skype every day. Do you know if the wifi in Medellin apartments is generally pretty reliable? Thanks David!

    • Generally yes, but you should do speed tests for internet access in any apartment you look at to get a feel for the speed (don’t just take a person’s word for it). You can download a mobile app to do so with your phone if you don’t want to carry around a laptop.

      My apartment has 5 MB download, and like <1 MB upload. It’s fine for most of what I want to do, and can even stream video content decently.

      • Awesome, thanks David! Great tip about using a phone app…I didn’t even know they existed. Also just got my first Medellin Living Newsletter, looks great. Congrats on the Live and Invest Overseas conference!

      • The two furnished apartments I rented in Medellín a few years ago had 2 MB download speeds for their Internet. In my last two apartments I have furnished I have installed Internet from Claro with 10 MB download speed. Both Claro and UNE advertise availability of Internet speeds as high as 50 MB in Medellín.

        In terms of reliability, my Internet service over the past two years in Medellín from Claro has been more reliable than my Verizon FiOS service I had in the US.

  17. Dee Thacker says:

    Dave-what about my disability checks and medicare and medicaid. Will they transfer and how to go about doing it? Love your posts and how you always answer all questions.
    Thanks, Dee

    • Hi Dee, Medicare and Medicaid don’t work in foreign countries. Retirees who are moving to a foreign country cannot use Medicare to pay for health care while they are living overseas. The options for retirees are to buy private coverage, to pay into a government-sponsored system in the new country of residence or to go without coverage. Look at: medicare.gov/coverage/travel-need-health-care-outside-us.html for more details.

      However if you live outside the US and you return to the US for treatment you will still be covered by Medicare Part A. Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient services, charges a monthly premium. Unless retirees continue to pay the premiums while they are overseas, they will not automatically be covered by Medicare Part B when they return to the United States.

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