Editors note: this post was updated in February 2016 with an updated list.
I get asked about the cost of living in Medellín frequently as I have been living in the city now for nearly four years.
The recent change in the exchange rate with the Colombian Peso hitting a five-year low against the U.S. dollar has made the cost of living for me in Medellín now about 25 percent cheaper than over the past couple of years.
I have previously written about my costs of living (as a couple) in Medellín on this website as well as my experience in renting apartments in a four-part series – part 1 is found here, part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here.
For a change of pace from apartment-focused reports, this post looks 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.
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 ($1.90). There is also no need to tip the driver.
In my experience, you can go most places in Medellín for less than 12,000 pesos. I use taxis frequently and my fares typically range from 5,000 pesos to 10,000 pesos, with an average of about 7,000 pesos ($2.90).
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.
2. 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 quite knowledgeable. If you ask the question, “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.
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 4,000 pesos ($1.66).
Another example is Amoxicilina (Amoxicillin), a commonly used antibiotic for ailments such as ear infections, which can cost 9,000 pesos ($3.73) for a 30-pack of 500 mg generic capsules.
3. The Metro
No list of things that are cheap in Medellín would be complete without including the Medellín metro. 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).
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 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.
The metro tariff for 2015 is 2,000 pesos (83 cents). The fare is cheaper with a metro card (Civica), so it is highly recommended to get one. The fare is 1,810 pesos (75 cents) with a Civica card.
The Civica card is about 10 percent cheaper and permits you to go through turn-styles to avoid the ticket window lines. It is easy to sign up for and can be recharged with funds at any station’s ticket window.
The bottom line is that between the metro and cheap taxis (as well as cheap buses) in Medellín I have found a car is not really needed for living in Medellín, which avoids a major expense typically required for living in the states.
4. 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 8 cents) may cost about 800 pesos (33 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 starting 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.
5. Domicilios (Delivery Services)
Getting things delivered (domicilio) is typically inexpensive (usually between 1,000 to 3,000 pesos, or not more than $1.50) and in some cases free. Most restaurants and pharmacies in Medellín offer delivery service.
Name the type of food and you can likely find a restaurant with that type of food with a delivery service in Medellín.
Several of the American fast food places that don’t offer delivery in the states offer delivery services in Medellín such as Burger King, KFC and Subway. Domicilios Medellín, a site which allowing you to place orders online, features about 250 restaurants.
We frequently order meals delivered from nearby restaurants or fast food places when we are too tired to go out or cook.
There are several pharmacies in Medellín with delivery service that are open 24 hours. When you are sick you typically don’t want to go out for drugs so this is very convenient.
Many other types of places in Medellín offer domicilio services including medical services, vets and dry cleaners.
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 really 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 sufficient for me during the day.
The electricity rate from EPM currently runs about 362 pesos (15 cents) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the Estrato 4 neighborhood in Belén where I currently 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.
My electric bill in a three-bedroom apartment over the past year has averaged only 58,115 pesos ($24) 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 165 kWh per month over the past six months.
The average home in the states uses 903 kWh per month (in 2012), which is over five times what I currently use in Medellín – demonstrating a big benefit of the climate in Medellín.
7. 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 normally save up to 50 percent with the country chosen as Colombia and paying in pesos for domestic flights on Avianca.
Using this method on Avianca I have flown from Medellín to Bogotá for less than $100 round-trip and from Medellín to Cartagena for less than $120 round-trip.
8. 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 only about $26,000 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 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 is found in the states.
I was surprised at the low cost the first time I had my haircut in Colombia. This was in Cartagena when I was on vacation there in 2006. The cost was 10,000 pesos.
Costs are generally lower in Medellín for most things than in touristy Cartagena. Near my current apartment in Belén I can find several places that typically charge 8,000 pesos ($3.31) for a men’s haircut.
Near Unicentro mall, which is near where I used to live in the Fatima barrio in Belén for three months, is a strip of hairdresser shops on Calle 34 that can have even lower costs due to competition.
A men’s haircut in these hairdresser shops on Calle 34 typically costs between 6,000 and 8,000 pesos (around $3).
Getting a haircut in a shop in a mall in Medellín will be more expensive than the small barber shops or hairdresser shops (peluquerías) found on streets throughout the city.
When I lived in Dallas, the cheapest men’s haircut I could find anywhere was for $10.
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 Levi’s jeans on sale in a Silverstone store in the Puerto del Norte and I was able to buy two pairs of Levi’s jeans for only 50,000 pesos ($21) each.
The Bottom Line
Based on my experience living in Medellín for nearly four years, you can find many things here that are definitely cheaper than in the United States.
However, there are also some things that are more expensive, such as cell phones and higher end computers as well as cars.
Imported cars can be quite expensive due to the import duty (which is typically 35 percent) but 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 additional surprisingly cheap things in Medellín readers have found?