Apartment Rental Guide: Overcoming the Fiador Requirement

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My first apartment in Medellín, which I furnished
My first apartment in Medellín, which I furnished
My first apartment in Medellín, which I furnished
My first apartment in Medellín, which I furnished

This four-part series will cover my experiences in renting three unfurnished apartments in Medellín as well as my recommendations for furnishing apartments, which can act a guide to renting apartments in Medellín.

First a little history about how I ended up in Medellín. I originally discovered Colombia back in 2006, when I was looking for a new vacation place.  I spent several weeks in Cartagena as a break from a cold winter in the US.

I thoroughly enjoyed Cartagena, which I started describing to my friends in the US as kind of a mix of a Caribbean beach location with the vibrant history, restaurants and nightlife of a place like New Orleans.

I returned to Cartagena several times on vacation. I then started to explore other locations in Colombia, traveling first to Santa Marta, followed by San Andrés. But I met some expats that told me I had to go to Medellín.

So I planned a vacation trip to Colombia in December and decided to go to Medellín to see the Christmas lights.

To make a long story short, I had an amazing time in Medellín and was enchanted by the city, so much so that I wanted to spend more and more time in Medellín. I started spending all my vacation time in Medellín.

By late 2009 I made the decision for a trial of living in Medellín as my job in the US provided location flexibility, I just need the Internet and a phone to do my job so I have the flexibility to work from anywhere.

For my first living in Medellín trial, I rented a furnished apartment in El Poblado for a month in late 2009, which was close to Oviedo mall. This was followed by a longer-term trial of renting a furnished apartment in Fatima in 2010 for three-months.

I really didn’t like living in El Poblado, which is the area of Medellín most popular with foreigners. To me, El Poblado is relatively expensive and too much like living in the U.S.

Fatima is a more middle-class barrio in Belén within walking distance of the Unicentro mall, near the Fatima Metroplús station and near Pueblito Paisa.

Exclusive Bonus: Download The Free Step-By-Step Guide to Investing In Medellin Real Estate.

By June 2011, I decided it was time to pull the trigger on renting an unfurnished apartment as continuing to rent furnished apartments in Medellín would be expensive.

I started looking for unfurnished apartments with my moderate Spanish skills and immediately encountered a problem. I called the real estate agent numbers I saw posted on some apartment windows near the apartment I was renting in Fatima.

The agents told me the details of the apartments (how many bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.) and then when I asked to see the apartments, the agents asked if I had a fiador.

An apartment for rent, very common to see
An apartment for rent, very common to see

What’s a fiador?

Under Colombian laws a real estate agent is responsible to the property owner for collecting rent. So real estate agents require a fiador. A fiador is a cosigner who guarantees the tenant’s rent payments so the agent can go after the fiador if the tenant stops paying rent.

My understanding is that a fiador must be a real estate property owner in Colombia. I am aware that fiadors are also used in other countries in Latin America, such as Mexico and Peru.

I started becoming frustrated as every agent I called asked if I had a fiador. So to get in to actually see some of the apartments I started saying “yes.”

Unfortunately I didn’t find an apartment I liked near where I was renting in Fatima so I expended my search to the Laureles/Estadio area, which is another middle-class area of the city I was familiar with.

I looked for apartments on some real estate websites and found that many of the apartments listed on these sites were no longer available as they weren’t kept up-to-date.

So I spent some time walking around areas in Laureles/Estadio I liked and called numbers posted in apartment windows and looked at a few more apartments.

But this was a frustrating process, I heard many times things like: come back tomorrow, sorry I do not have the key, let me call the owner, etc.

Overcoming the fiador requirement

After looking at a couple more apartments, I found an apartment I liked in Estadio. This was a three-bedroom apartment in a new low-rise five-story building.

It was on the top floor and located three blocks from the Floresta Metro station and four blocks from the fútbol stadium.

The real estate agent who showed the apartment to me didn’t have experience renting to a foreigner. When I told her I didn’t have a fiador she said I needed to find a fiador to rent the apartment.

Even though I had lived several months in furnished apartments in Medellín, I didn’t know anyone in Colombia that could be this fiador. So I asked, what if I paid rent in advance?

I told the agent I could pay six months in advance. She called her lawyer about paying in advance and also the apartment owner to see if he would agree to a six-month lease – and both said yes!

Next was the apartment rental contract process. The contract was in Spanish so I spent some time on the Internet translating it. There were standard sections in the contract about the rental price, how to pay, who pays the utilities (tenant), contract renewal terms and grounds for termination.

Nothing in the contract concerned me and it looked pretty standard. There was no need for a Colombian ID (cedula) to rent the apartment, just my passport.

I paid six months of rent in advance and went to a notary to get the contract notarized and received the keys!

My first apartment building
My first apartment building
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My first apartment specifications:

  • 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, about 75 square meters (807 square feet)
  • Kitchen with cooktop and granite counters
  • Gas water heater (tankless)
  • Top floor in brand new 5-story building
  • Estrato 5 neighborhood, three blocks from a Metro station
  • Cost: 1,200,000 pesos ($637) per month

Part two of this series will look at furnishing my first apartment in Medellín, getting utilities set up and my hunt for a second apartment a year later.

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38 COMMENTS

    • Hi Tom, yes I still live in Medellín and work remotely for my US-based job. In addition, I am taking Spanish classes at Universidad EAFIT to become more fluent. I will be writing about my unfurnished apartment rental experiences in Medellín over the past three years in a four-part series.

      • Hi Jeff,
        Thank you for this website! My husband and I wish to relocate to Medelllin. We are both 34 yrs. My husband has been a technician for Pepsi Cola for 13 years and I have been the accountant and office administrator for an IP law firm in NYC for the past 15 years. Any suggestions on recruiters? Or how we can start this process ? Any feedback will be greatly appreciated!!!
        PS we are done with the NYC ON THE GO lifestyle!

        • Hi Diana,

          Sorry I don’t have any suggestions for recruiters. Note that it will be difficult to find a well-paying job in Medellín, especially if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. You may be better off finding a location independent job in the U.S. like I have.

      • Hello, and thank you for your helpful article.
        How are your Spanish classes at EAFIT coming along? Do you like them? Are you learning? I’m curious to know if there are any non-native Spanish-speaking professors at EAFIT? Do you know if your professor is a native speaker?

        Thank you,
        Guido

        • Thanks. I am no longer taking classes at EAFIT as I don’t have time and I now speak at the intermediate level, that is sufficient to communicate in most cases. All the Spanish teachers I had at EAFIT were native Spanish speakers. They have some foreigner teachers that teach English though.

          • Hi Jeff,
            Thank you for your reply. I greatly appreciate the information you provide in the reply; I find it very helpful. I will contact EAFIT! Maybe I could be the first non-native Spanish professor there?! 🙂

            best regards,
            Guido

  1. This is a great topic. I think many will benefit from this. Going the furnished route is relatively easy, but there’s not as much info on unfurnished apartments..and then the cost of furnishing it too. Very curious how this will pencil out versus the convenience of furnished.

    Also curious as to your experiences with beds. I’m a big guy (6’6″), and had a very hard time finding apartments with king size beds in Medellin. Please do your best to give as much detail as possible in your upcoming posts. Great job on this article. Enjoyed it.

    • Hi Jay, thanks.

      My part two in this series will include some of my actual costs for furnishings in my first apartment (fridge, wash machine, queen size bed, etc.). In my final post in this four-part series I will put together a more complete furnishings cost as over my three years I upgraded some items. For example, I sold the inexpensive sofa I originally bought as it wasn’t very comfortable and upgraded to a leather one imported from Canada.

      In my final post in this series, I also plan to compare my rental costs over 3 years + cost to furnish + utilities costs to what it would have cost if I had continued to rent furnished apartments.

      Regarding beds I have only bought queen sized beds but some places sell king size beds. For example, I know Fabricas Unidas sells a 2 x 2 meter size.

  2. Awesome, thank you. Looking forward to reading more about your experience. I have been living here since 2001 and have always gotten a fiador. It’s a real pain in the nalga tho and I would love to be able to avoid that since I expect to rent again in the future,

    • In over three years I haven’t used a fiador yet and I don’t plan to. You can find a few real estate agents in Medellín that will deal with foreigners without a fiador if you pay rent in advance as I have. In my experience that has been 2 out of about 25 real estate agents I have talked to over the past 3+ years.

      Or you can deal directly with the apartment owners and bypass the real estate agents where everything is more negotiable, but that requires pretty fluent Spanish. I did talk to a couple of apartment owners that would have rented apartments to me with a security deposit of one month’s rent plus the first month’s rent, but the apartments weren’t exactly what I was looking for.

      • Hello Jeff,

        I am also a fan of paying rent in advance (and have never had a fiador either). Were you able to negotiate any lower rental prices due to paying in advance? My experience has been most folks love to receive a big chunk of cash in advance and are willing to accept a substantial reduction in order to get it.

        I am a respectable older retired person of good standing and do not drink or smoke. I am also not a party animal, nor am I interested in living near foreigners.

        My holy grail is an inexpensive 2 BR in a quiet area with good neighbors (with an elevator if not a first floor).

        • I was able to negotiate a lower rent for my previous apartment by signing a year lease and paying a year in advance. The rent dropped from 1,300,000 pesos per month to 1,150,000 pesos per month.

          But you have to trust the real estate agency and make sure to get a notarized contract to protect yourself. The agency will end up paying the apartment owner each month even if they collect rent in advance.

          It may be better dealing directly with an apartment owner. You can negotiate a lower rent since the owner doesn’t have to pay a commission to the agent (normally 8-10%). I may try to do this for my next apartment rental contract to reduce my rent since I now have a lot of experience renting. You can find the apartment owner contact info by talking to the porterias in high-rise buildings.

          • Hi Amir,

            Unfortunately no. Foreigners that I know that have rented directly from owners typically have found the owners contact info from porterias or neighbors. Only a few times I have seen signs on windows for apartments/homes rented by owner.

      • Hi Jeff,

        Thanks for all the useful info! Do you have a list of real estate agents that accept 6 months up front? I’m having trouble finding one so far…

  3. Very helpful article. I’m arriving in Medellin on June 15th and will be staying 3 months and possibly 6 months. Any recommendations on short term rentals in Belen or Laureles/Estadio? I’d like to avoid Poblado as well. I have a Colombian passport and contrasena. I will be in a hotel for a week and then I will probably stay at international house until I find a place.

    • Hi Trey,

      The company run by an American where I rented a furnished apartment in the Fatima barrio of Belén for three months several years ago looks to no longer be in business (website is gone).

      If you look on Airbnb you can find several furnished apartments listed in Laureles/Estadio and Belén. You can also look on CompartoApto.com, which has listings of rooms and apartments for rent, which are primarily offered by Colombians.

  4. Good topic Jeff,

    I lived in Colombia for 1 year and just dealt directly with the apartment owners on both occasions as I lived in 2 apts. No contracts, all verbal. Month to Month NO Fiador. The first apt was very basic, the second apt was brand new and nice, but none were in a tourist zone and I have the sense that being a foreigner was an advantage, as both apt owners were enthusiastic about renting to me on my terms, that is to say, I never really waited for them to dictate terms to me for any kind of contract. I also would never go through an agency. I’ve lived in many countries and I’ve never gone through an agency to rent a place.

    My advice, walk through a neighborhood that you like, look for the signs, try to find a word of mouth situation to deal direct with the owners. Easier this way. Plus by speaking to the owners and locals you will NOT overpay because the local will tell you what fair market value is for the apartment. This is important to do unless you don’t mind paying a premium for being a foreigner.

    I basically said this is what I like, I need fast access internet and a landline, and a washing machine. The stove I bought myself. ditto the refrigerator. I asked them both if they knew where I could buy modern furniture, and I told them both that I would be painting the walls arctic white.

    In the second apartment I told the landlord that I would be installing a tile divider in the shower so the water doesn’t leak into the toilet area, and he was like hmmmmm OK.

    The point is, everyplace I’ve lived I’ve made improvements to their property as I like things a certain way, even if I’m only staying short term, it’s just the way that I am. It’s been my experience that if you
    refrain from dressing like a backpacker, demonstrate your willingness to add value to their property and inform them that you are serious but don’t want to be bothered with a contract, that you might end up in good situation, and very flexible terms.

    That’s what I’ve done and it’s worked, plus I’ve paid about half in rent as your $600.00 figure. But that was in 2006-2007 and I was not in Medellin. I was in Cartagena.

    Best of luck-

    • Walking through a neighborhood is a good strategy, which I used to find my first apartment. Not having a contract is possible for lower cost rentals found in some neighborhoods in Medellín but not something I would really recommend as a contract can protect you. Knowing the market rental rates is important, which can be found by talking with folks and also reading the local newspaper in Medellín, which sometimes publish stories about apartment rental rates and also looking at the apartment rental advertisements in the classifieds.

      Paying half or less of what I pay for rent is certainly possible in Medellin for a three bedroom apartment but not in a neighborhood I would like to live in. I am sure what you paid back in 2006-2007 in Cartagena is now more expensive.

  5. I have rented two properties in Cartagena in the two years I have been living there. Both have been rented directly with the owner. One required a fiador the other did not. Neither required paying anything up front. I think they were both happy to have them rented. The first was untenanted for two years the other for approximately a year.

    • You had good luck to deal directly with the owners. When you deal directly with the owner you can negotiate and can end up paying a lower price as the real estate agent isn’t getting their cut. But it can be hard to find the owner contact information and some Spanish fluency is required. I had opportunities a couple times to deal directly with owners and wouldn’t have needed a fiador in either case, but didn’t really like the apartments.

      A real estate agent who knows the market well can find apartments you could never find on your own. When I looked for my third apartment I looked on my own plus utilized my real estate agent. And the agent found the perfect apartment for me that I wouldn’t have found on my own.

      • This has less to do with Good luck and more to do with experienced strategy. The problem with MANY neebie expats is they search for properties ONLINE which is probably one of the biggest mistakes ever since most of the online properties are MARKETED at a PREMIUM to foreigners online. I’ve met foreigners who rent on Boca Grande and Laguito at $1,500 + per month and the same units in the same buildings were rented to locals at $500-700 per month.

        That is because many foreigners get all of their info online instead of putting boots on the ground and applying common sense in order to define what Fair Market Value really is. I’ve discussed this elsewhere last year on this blog within another topic in detail.

        I’ve seen the exact same practice in Medellin and Cali. The reality is you don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to get a fair market value deal on a nice property anywhere. It’s another story entirely if you insist on shopping online and with agents.

        Anyone can pick up a local real estate handout at a local mall or shopping center like Exito, Castellana, Vivero etc and search for real estate rentals geared towards the local market.

        You only have to be as fluent as learning how to convert Pesos into your foreign currency as most of the rentals will list the specs, barrio, pricing, and contact info.

        Been there done that in Colombia and elsewhere. I’m looking forward to returning to Colombia to visit friends in the near future. For now however I’m having much more fun on the other side of the world in the Philippines.

  6. When we moved to Santa Marta we went directly building to building (that we were interested in living in) and asked if there were apartments for rent. We ended up renting 284 meters in Bahia Linda on the 5th floor with an ocean view for 1,300,000 including administration a month (2009) which was a great deal. We dealt directly with the builder who owned the rental. Dealing with builders is an option too – ask if they have any units available for rent as many do since they don’t sell out their entire project – or some people don’t pay everything so the builder take possession of the apartment.

    Dealing with an agent means a commission of one months rent. Also, the contract will increase a fixed amount annually automatically according to the GDP..

    73s. HK2LS

    • Dealing with a builder is another option for renting apartments. I looked at a couple new apartment buildings in Medellín during my last apartment search and I found two apartments for rent by builders. Unfortunately since these were new buildings, the builder was trying to get a rental price that was higher than similar apartments in nearby older buildings.

      I just renewed my apartment lease in Medellín for another year and and the monthly rent is the same as I paid last year. So prices don’t necessarily increase annually.

  7. Hi:

    I am just one person interested in teaching Business English in Medellin. What is the price range for two bed rooms? How much would buying cheap but okay furniture for the kitchen, 2 bedroom office and living room areas/ Thanks in advance for any comments. Craig

  8. Hi Jeff,
    I have lived in and rented an apartment for 5 years in a great small little city named Manizales, Colombia. However, not much social things to do there. Therefore, I am now here in Medellin for a short time living with a friend. However, I want to get my own place, preferably in the Laurelas – Stadio area. I would be so grateful iif you could provide me the contact information of your realtor friend that I might be able to communicate with. My Spanish is about the intermediate level. Thanks, Hal

      • Hi Jeff,

        Great article. Could you also forward the contact info for your real estate agent in the Laureles area? Much thanks..

          • Hi Jeff,

            Great article. I’m looking for a place to rent, and would like to have a referral of a real estate agent. Would you mind providing the contact for your real estate agent? I’m at an intermediate level of Spanish, but does your real estate agent speak English as well?

            Thanks!

          • Hi Leslie, sorry I can no longer recommend my real estate agent as I encountered problems with him after five years. I now rent directly from an owner. If you rent from an owner you can save money as there is no commission to the agent.

        • Hey David (or anyone who can help)
          I’m currently looking for an apartment in the Laureles area with my boyfriend (who is fluent in Spanish). I was wondering if anyone could recommend an agent or apartment building or owner to rent from? We are looking at up to 2mil a month for 1-3 bedroom 2-3 bath. Any help would be amazing, we can pay about 6 months to a year up front. Thanks for any help or guidance!!!

  9. Can anyone explain exactly what a fiador has to do? We’re planning to rent a place in Envigado and a friend has offered to be our fiador, but neither of us really understands what this means. Does he have to go to a notary public and fill out a form? Is the process the same for a Colombian or a foreign fiador? Is the liability limited just to paying rent, or does the fiador incur overall liability (for example if we flood an apartment or burn a house down)?

    • A fiador must be a local property owner and is essentially like a cosigner and is responsible for paying rent if you don’t. Other liabilities I’m not sure about. A fiador will have to sign documents.

  10. Hi Jeff, aside from my travel books, you are my first step in relocating to Medellin reading all your postings. My husband and I are excited about the prospects of moving to Medellin. Nicholas