The exchange rate for the Colombian peso has hit an all time high, so it’s time to revisit one of the most popular posts from last year to see the impact on surprisingly cheap things in Medellín.
I get asked about the cost of living in Medellín frequently as I have been residing in the city now for over five years.
The recent changes in the exchange rate with the Colombian Peso hitting an all-time low against the U.S. dollar has made the cost of living for my wife and I in Medellín now about 47 percent cheaper than two years ago.
Even with inflation in Colombia that hit a seven-year high last year at 6.77 percent, if you have an income in US dollars you won’t notice the inflation due to the improved exchange rate.
This post takes an updated look at 10 surprisingly cheap things in Medellín, which contribute to the low-cost of living in the city. Note the list is in no particular order.
Note the exchange rate used in this post is 3,454 pesos to the USD.
1. Apartment Rent
Apartment rent is our biggest expense but the cost to rent an apartment in Medellín is surprisingly cheap.
I have been renting unfurnished apartments while living Medellín for over five years. My initial experience in renting apartments in Medellín was documented in a four-part series: the first part is here, the second part is here, the third part is here and the fourth part is here.
We currently live in a three-bedroom apartment in Sabaneta, which we moved into in July last year. It is located within walking distance to Parque Sabaneta. Our current apartment specifications include:
- Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, about 110 square meters (1,184 square feet)
- Kitchen with granite countertops, oven, and gas cooktop
- Gas water heater (tankless)
- 10th floor in a high-rise building, with two balconies
- Pool, sauna and small gym in building
- 24×7 security
- Estrato 4 neighborhood
Our rent for an unfurnished apartment is only 1,350,000 pesos ($391) per month. If we lived in ritzy El Poblado a similar apartment would rent for about 1,800,000 pesos ($521) per month.
We looked at unfurnished apartment rental costs in Medellín in five different neighborhoods in the city.
2. Triple Play Internet/TV/Phone
Triple Play Internet/TV/Phone services in Medellín are much lower cost than what you will find in the US. There are two major TV and Internet providers in Medellín that offer triple play Internet, TV and phone services: Claro and UNE.
We currently have Claro’s basic Triple-Play Service with 10 Mbps Internet, TV and phone services and I am very happy with it. The cost is only 137,474 pesos per month ($39.80) in an estrato four neighborhood.
Internet service with Claro has been more reliable than my Verizon FiOS service was in the United States and, of course, it is much less expensive. The cost of triple play from Claro is less expensive than just Internet services from Verizon in the US.
Taxis in Medellín are plentiful and surprisingly cheap by Western standards. All taxis in Medellín use meters. A taxi meter will start at 2,700 pesos, and the minimum fare is 4,600 pesos ($1.33).
The taxi fare so far hasn’t been increased in 2016 in the city. There is also no need to tip the driver. But don’t expect a taxi driver to necessarily have change for a 50,000-peso note.
In my experience, you can go most places in Medellín for less than 15,000 pesos. I use taxis frequently, and my fares typically range from 4,600 pesos to 12,000 pesos, with an average of about 7,500 pesos ($2.22).
Hailing a yellow taxi on the street in Medellín is as simple as holding up your arm. During the daytime, you should be fairly safe picking up taxis from the street, however, exercise caution in the evenings.
Throughout the city, and often near points of interest, shopping malls, and local landmarks, you’ll see taxi stands where taxis queue up for customers. If you see one of these, it makes the process even easier.
You can also call a taxi and in my experience they typically show up quickly – in less than five minutes in many parts of the city. A few numbers for taxis in Medellín include 444-4444, 444-1000, 444-1111.
4. Medication in Pharmacies
In Medellín (and the rest of Colombia), medication is often purchased at pharmacies (farmacias), which are easy to find, as they seem to be every few blocks.
They are also found in many malls as well as many supermarkets like Exito and Jumbo.
In my experience, the staff in Colombian pharmacies seems knowledgeable. If you ask, “What should I take if I am experiencing this problem?” they will normally have something to suggest.
Of course, exercise caution when taking advice from anyone other than your doctor. Many drugs that would require a prescription in the U.S. you can get without a prescription in the pharmacies in Medellín.
Pharmacies are technically supposed to require a prescription for many drugs, but I have never been asked for one. Years after passage of a regulation in Colombia to halt the unrestricted sales of antibiotics, there is minimal compliance.
You can get things like antibiotics, birth control pills, anti-depressants, erectile dysfunction pills and many other types of drugs without a prescription.
The generics in Colombia are typically very inexpensive. For example a 10-pack of 500 mg generic tablets of Ciprofloxacino (Cipro), which I found is good to treat traveler’s diarrhea, can cost only 4,500 pesos ($1.30).
Amoxicilina (Amoxicillin), a commonly used antibiotic for ailments such as ear infections, can cost 9,500 pesos ($2.75) for a 30-pack of 500 mg generic capsules.
Sildenafil (generic Viagra) can cost 3,000 pesos ($0.87) for a 2-pack of 50 mg pills.
5. The Metro and Buses
No list of things that are cheap in Medellín would be complete without including the public transportation system, which includes the Medellín metro and buses. The metro in Medellin is the only rail-based mass transportation service in Colombia.
The metro in Medellín is well maintained, squeaky clean and uses electrical energy. It opened in 1995 and has two train lines (Lines A and B) and a new Tranvía (street car) T-A line that opened last year.
The A metro line runs north and south and has 21 stations. The B line runs from the center of the city to the west and has seven stations. The new T-A line runs east from the center of the city and has nine stations.
The Metro also has three integrated cable car lines (Lines J and K and L) plus two integrated bus lines (Metroplus lines L1 and L2).
Note that the Line L cable car to Parque Arví has an extra fare. Two more cable car lines are under construction.
The metro fare is cheaper with a metro card (Civica), so it is highly recommended to get one. The fare is only 1,880 pesos (54 cents) with a Civica card/
The fare with the Civica card fare is about 10 percent cheaper than the regular fare and permits you to go through turn-styles to avoid the ticket window lines.
The Civica card is easy to sign up for and can be recharged with funds at any station’s ticket window. Civica cards can be obtained in the PAC offices located at the Niquía, San Antonio, Itagüí and San Javier metro stations.
Beside the metro, Medellín has an extensive bus system. The fare for the buses typically ranges from 1,800 pesos to 2,000 pesos.
The lowest fare buses are typically connections to the metro, and they have started adding Civica card support on some of these metro connection buses.
The bottom line is that between the metro and buses as well as cheap taxies in Medellín I have found a car is not needed for living in Medellín, which avoids a major expense typically required for living in the states.
6. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are plentiful and inexpensive in Medellín. Out of all the typical grocery items, fruits and vegetables are typically some of the cheapest ones found in Medellín.
The farmers’ markets in Medellín like Plaza Minorista or small neighborhood tiendas typically have much better prices for produce than the large grocery stores such as Exito or Jumbo.
As an example of the price difference, a red onion at a tienda or farmers market that costs 200 pesos (about 6 cents) may cost about 900 pesos (26 cents) at a major grocery store.
Colombia is considered the second most bio-diverse country in the world (after Brazil) and Colombia likely has a number fruits you’ve never heard of, or look like nothing you’ve ever seen.
One of the things I like about Colombia is the fruit: delicious, cheap and plentiful. I made it a mission when I first started living in Medellín to try as many Colombian fruits as I could.
This site previously covered 11 exotic tropical fruits of Colombia, but the country has many more fruits available including anona, borojo, feijoa, mangostino plus all the fruits you can find in the United States.
I like the pitahaya (dragon fruit), but unfortunately, they are a bit expensive and harder to find. It’s difficult to find them for less than 2,000 pesos. It’s tasty and sweet and can be eaten scooped out with a spoon.
I also like several of the fruits in juices including lulo, maracuyá and tomato de árbol.
Utility services are provided by EPM, the local utility in Medellín. EPM derives much of the power delivered in the city from hydroelectric sources.
Medellín is located at about 5,000 feet above sea level. It is known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ with an average annual temperature of 72 degrees, and that ranges from 59 to 86 degrees.
There is no need for heating or cooling with the climate in Medellín, which results in inexpensive utility bills. A few apartments in ritzy El Poblado have air conditioning, but I use a fan, which is enough for me during the day.
The electricity rate from EPM currently runs about 437 pesos (13 cents) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the Estrato 4 neighborhood in Sabaneta where I live.
The rate per kWh is relatively high, but you don’t need to use much electricity due to the climate.
Electric rates also vary by estrato in Medellín with the highest rates in estratos 5 and 6. The lower rates in lower estrato neighborhoods are subsidized by the higher rates in the wealthier neighborhoods.
Our electric bill in a three-bedroom apartment over the past six months has averaged only 68,523 pesos ($19.83) per month since we don’t use that much electricity without the need for heating or cooling in the city.
We have averaged using only 125 kWh per month over the past six months.
The average home in the states uses 911 kWh per month (in 2014), which is over seven times what I currently use in Medellín – demonstrating a big benefit of the climate in Medellín.
Water and gas is also inexpensive and our total utility bill for electricity, water and gas has averaged 113,051 pesos ($32.73) per month in an estrato four neighborhood in Sabaneta.
8. Domestic Airfare
Domestic airfare can be inexpensive in Colombia, which makes it relatively cheap to travel between the major cities in Colombia. To get the cheapest domestic flights make sure to book at least two weeks in advance.
While buses can be even cheaper in Colombia, it’s a tradeoff. Buses take a long time, for example, up to 10 hours to go from Medellín to Bogotá, or about 12 hours to go from Medellín to Cartagena.
By plane, the flight from Medellín to Bogotá is about 40 minutes and from Medellín to Cartagena is about an hour.
Domestic airfare in Colombia used to be more expensive. But when discount airline VivaColombia started service in 2012 in Colombia, domestic airfare prices in Colombia have dropped dramatically.
On VivaColombia, it is possible to fly from Medellín to Bogotá for less than $65 round-trip and from Medellín to Cartagena for less than $100 round-trip.
A quick tip on VivaColombia – if you’re taking anything more than hand luggage, you can pay just as much for the flight for your luggage so travel light if you want it to be inexpensive. Traveling light can mean a ticket cheaper than bus fare.
If you use Avianca for domestic flights in Colombia, you can book as if you are in Colombia in pesos, and you will get a much better price versus booking in the United States in dollars.
It is easy to choose the country on Avianca’s website at the top of their website. You can typically save up to 50 percent with the country selected as Colombia and paying in pesos for domestic flights on Avianca.
Using this method on Avianca I have flown from Medellín to Bogotá several times for less than $70 round-trip and from Medellín to Cartagena for less than $100 round-trip.
9. Medical Services
Medellín has eight hospitals and clinics ranked as eight of the best 42 hospitals and clinics in Latin America, according to a recent study by América Economia.
Colombia is also starting to experience an increase in medical tourism with low costs for medical services.
As an example, a heart bypass surgery in the states that may cost $80,000 or more costs can cost less than $25,000 in Colombia.
Another example is a knee replacement surgery in the United States that costs about $40,000 and costs only about $15,000 in Colombia.
The salaries of Medellín doctors are typically a fraction of those in the states, even though they are in many cases required to have to same level of internationally recognized education and job skills.
Medellín is probably best known for Lasik (corrective eye surgery), cosmetic surgery and dentistry. Colombia is home to many of the best cosmetic surgeons in the world.
I dropped my dental insurance in the states several years ago as I found the dentists in Medellín could be about as cheap as my out-of-pocket costs with my dental insurance in the United States.
The bottom line is that if you live in Medellín, you can have access to world-class health care in several hospitals and clinics in the city at a much lower cost than in the US.
There are many places in Medellín where you can find inexpensive clothing if you venture outside of El Poblado. The shops located in El Poblado typically have the most expensive prices in the city.
Medellín has a reputation as the fashion capital of Colombia. Two of the most famous annual fashion shows take place in the city: Colombiatex and Colombiamoda. Also many companies in the city manufacture clothing.
An example is that I recently found men’s Rifle jeans on sale in a Rifle outlet store in the Mayorca mall, and I was able to buy two pairs of jeans for only 60,000 pesos ($17.37) each.
The Bottom Line
Based on my experience living in Medellín for over five years, you can find many things in the city that are definitely cheaper than in the United States.
These surprisingly cheap things in Medellín have become even cheaper recently in terms of US dollars with the new exchange rate.
However, there are also some things that are more expensive, such as cars, cell phones and higher end computers. Last year we looked at eight expensive things in Medellín.
Imported cars can be quite expensive due to the import duty and taxes , ut it is also very feasible to live without a car in Medellín with the inexpensive taxis, metro and buses in the city.
I don’t have a car and have met only a few foreigners living in Medellín with cars.
We are also curious, what are some other surprisingly cheap things in Medellín readers have found?