Choosing Medellín and Why it Remains the Right Decision

Tree-lined street in Laureles
Tree-lined street in Laureles

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by John S.

After traveling to 26 countries thus far in my life, I ended up choosing Medellín as the location where I bought property. After the initial shock of others hearing that statement, most ask why?

I worked in a high-pressure job and I wanted to have a plan in place if I wanted to retire early. In 2010, I began in earnest to consider purchasing foreign property when I decided to have a Plan B.

I set my parameters to include a city that is comfortable, safe, healthy, has good year-round weather, inexpensive cost of living and has close proximity to my family and friends in the Midwest.

I visited Panama, Ecuador, Belize and Colombia to determine what would meet my expectations. While I enjoyed the places and people in each location, there was something different about Medellín. This resulted in my choosing Medellín as the place I bought property and now live.

Note the above photo is a tree-lined street in Laureles, which is the neighborhood where I live in Medellín.

My First Impression of Medellín

Arriving at the local international airport from Ft Lauderdale, I felt the cool mountain air blow against my face on the drive down the mountainside from the airport in Rio Negro toward Medellín.

My first glimpse of the sprawling city caught me. I had looked at many pictures but none of them did it justice. The scenery was inspiring. The trip down provided numerous quick views of the area of over three million people.

The red brick buildings and terra cotta rooftops somehow drained the tension from me. To this day, that trip still has the same impact on me every single time.

Medellín Colombia
Medellín Colombia

Choosing Medellín

The weather in general is great. This was one of the main reasons I originally considered Medellín.

During my time here I have experienced some hard rains, lightning that makes you jump out of your seat and sun making things warm enough to sweat.  In general, I walk every day with either a long sleeve or a dri-fit short sleeve shirt.

While the sun is warm, the shade is perfect. When the rain comes, it generally leaves just as quickly. I have no heat or cooling in my apartment but it has large windows facing both East and West. I open doors and windows to get a cross wind cooling the apartment in minutes.

Every night, temperatures cool after sunset typically to around 60 ° F.  Medellín is by far the best weather location I have experienced.

Finding a comfortable place that is safe was also extremely high on my requirements list. My Fitbit tells me I have walked over 1,500 miles on the streets of Medellín.

The vast majority of that walking has been in Laureles where I live and El Poblado where I work. However, I have also walked in Belén, Sabaneta, Suramericana and Envigado extensively.  I have found that many neighborhoods in the city are very walkable.

While I am careful about being present and aware and do my walking before midnight, I have yet to have an issue must less feel any level of discomfort. I recommend Medellín for comfort and safety to anyone including family.

My costs to live in Medellín are extremely low as compared to the U.S. I own my apartment. This limits my costs to groceries ($300), HOA ($125), utilities ($45), cable and Internet ($80), daily commuting transportation ($200), apartment cleaning ($200), 20 hours of private Spanish per month ($240) plus entertainment and miscellaneous bringing the total cost to around $1,500 USD per month.

Medellín offers a healthy lifestyle. I eat and cook fresh foods bought primarily from the public markets or farmers markets. I use the local supermarkets Exito and Carulla to fill the gaps between market visits.

Medellín has more than its fair share of fried food, white rice and bread as well as ice cream and sweets. However, the variety and quality of the fruits and vegetables here is remarkable.

Additionally, there are a wide variety of restaurants serving every type of international food you can imagine. I believe they use fewer preservatives and chemicals here than in the US grocery stores.

My Experiences Looking For and Buying Property

I researched Medellín real estate extensively. And I connected with a local company with extensive U.S. ties and over 10 years experience in Medellin properties.

I did not follow common advice and bought without renting first because I wanted to move forward. I had a very clear objective – purchase investment real estate to generate enough income to pay for all my expenses to live in Colombia.

The real estate company handled everything start to finish. Finding the right places, negotiating the price, meeting the sellers, opening a bank account to wire the money, all legal paperwork.

The process was long but relatively painless. The legal / government process was slow. It is typical to meet the sellers in Colombia, which I found unusual. The extensive documentation required opening an investment account in Colombia made me believe I was borrowing the money rather than wiring a deposit.

Taking the real estate company’s advice, I purchased two investment rental properties in Poblado. However, after discussions with my daughter, I decided to purchase my home where I live in Laureles, which is a true Colombian neighborhood. It is walkable, less traffic and extremely comfortable.

In my Laureles apartment, I did a complete renovation including new floors and kitchen as well as custom furniture. The renovation took four months and total cost including appliances was $45,000.

I am very happy with the decisions I made and would make the same ones today.

The Medellín Metro
The Medellín Metro

My Reasons For Recommending Medellín Have Evolved

My reasons for recommending Medellín have evolved over the months living here. After living in Medellín I have come to appreciate additional things about this wonderful city.

I now have a big appreciation for the inexpensive and reliable public transportation. I use taxis, the metro, Uber and just recently, the bus system. The fact that Medellín excels in this area should not be missed. Buses are under $1 and readily available.

The metered taxis are everywhere and cost around $5 for a 25-minute ride. My experience with Uber is not as easy as the U.S. depending on the time of day. The extensive metro system is less than $1 and is fast, efficient, clean and reliable. I don’t want or need a car and that fact is important particularly for older people.

After living here for a while, the number one reason I now choose and highly recommend Medellín is the Paisa people. Of course you can’t put all people in one basket and label them. But I have daily if not hourly experiences with people here and they go out of their way to help.

Whether it is a translation, directions or general help, the Paisa people standout worldwide. I have been invited to their homes, welcomed into my neighborhood and feel at home here after less than one year.

Another photo from Laureles
Another photo from Laureles

The Bottom Line: Choosing Medellín

My life in Medellín is better than I anticipated. There are hurdles such as the Spanish language and cultural differences.

However, the great things about this city far out weigh any downsides. The weather is fantastic and I really like not needing heating or cooling.  I commute often back to the U.S. and the three hour flight from Ft Lauderdale is quick and easy.

After living and working daily here, I feel far less stressed. I enjoy the daily advantages this city offers. Choosing Medellín continues to be the right decision for me.

About John

John is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa and lived over 50 years in the Midwest. He has traveled to 26 countries and chose to buy a home in Medellín, lives in Laureles and works in El Poblado. He has a resident visa. John travels monthly to Chicago’s North Shore to see family and friends. His passions include family, photography, the arts, business and travel.

Reminder: Join our Medellín Living March Meetup on March 23 at 7pm at Pizza en Leña located at Parque Sabaneta. This meetup is a good way to meet other expats like John living in Medellín as well as newcomers visiting or considering moving to the city.

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  1. John
    I too would like to retire in Medellin Can you speak about taxes. This is one of the main impediments for me about buying in Medellin. My retirement plans look like I will have to spend 50% of my time outside of Colombia. There is NO WAY I will give Colombia 1/3 of my modest retirement funds.

    • Hi Esteban,

      Colombian income taxes were previously covered on this site. See: Colombia has progressive income tax rates like in the U.S. with multiple tax brackets so it’s impossible to pay 1/3 of your income as taxes.

      The first bracket has a tax rate of zero, so over $10,000 in income would have an income tax rate of zero. There are two more brackets (19% and 28%) before you get to the 33% bracket. Also there are several deductions and some things exempt from taxes. Plus after calculating Colombian income taxes due you can subtract income taxes paid in another country like the U.S. from what is due in Colombia.

      I have met several expats living in Colombia that don’t pay much in Colombian income taxes and some that pay nothing. Everyone’s situation is different.

      You should talk to a Colombian tax accountant about your situation. A tax accountant can help you navigate all of the Colombian regulations, determine what you can deduct and what is exempt and estimate what income taxes (if any) you would need to pay in Colombia.

  2. Hi John,

    This is a great article about Medellin ! I plan to start receiving my social security benefits by the end of this year.
    I would like to apply for the TP7 pension visa, but have not found an answer as to how many days I would be able to come and go to/from Colombia over the course of the year. Thanks in advance.

  3. I feel absolutely sure John’s decision to move to Medellin had absolutely nothing to do with all those hot paisa girls;-)

  4. I first visited Medellin in 1975 and spent about a year here in Colombia from 75-78 and did not return due to the difficult years from 80-2007. I returned in 2013 to visit and ended up semi retiring here. I am a permanent resident approaching 70 living in LaAmerica/ Laureles.

    I love it here but have begun to realize that Medellin is no place to retire unfortunately. i will be selling out and moving to a kinder gentler safer more sane and much healthier locale. The pollution here is the highest in all of Colombia and some of the highest worldwide. Many days my lungs hurt so bad due to the air quality being unbearable. The streets here are very dangerous. Human life on the street here is valueless. Cars, buses, taxis, trucks, motorcycles and bicycle drivers have no regard for pedestrian traffic and one takes his or her life in their hands every day here avoiding getting killed. The city has virtually never planned to build an infrastructure that was meant to protect pedestrian traffic. This is a city of absolute chaos and desperation. The majority of the locals here earn about 8 dollars a day and that contributes to the desperation. There are pockets of affluence here but the pockets don’t represent the reality of Medellin. Don’t be fooled by affluent Americans here insulated from the reality of life here.

    • You are entitled to your opinion. But I respectfully disagree with everything you say. And I believe many other expats living in Medellín would also disagree.

      First of all, the pollution in Medellín isn’t the worst in Colombia and the pollution isn’t “some of the highest in the world.” The facts don’t back you up. According to this there are over 400 cities in the world with worse pollution than Medellín – And Medellín doesn’t have the worst pollution in Colombia on that list – Caldas ranks worse.

      The pollution also isn’t the same throughout the city of Medellín according to the city’s monitoring stations. The worst pollution tends to be in the lower parts of the valley like El Centro and Laureles. While other parts of the city tend to have less like the hills in El Poblado, Envigado or Sabaneta. Also the Oriente area to the east of the city like Rio Negro has much less pollution.

      Also I disagree with “the streets here are very dangerous” and “human life on the street here is valueless”. While it is true that pedestrians in practice don’t have the right of way but you quickly learn this after spending any time in the city. You said, “the city has virtually never planned an infrastructure that was meant to protect pedestrian traffic”. That simply isn’t true. I have walked all over the city in my nearly 7 years living in Medellín. In my experience there are sidewalks all over the city for pedestrians and most major intersections have pedestrian lights and cars/buses/motorcycles do stop at traffic lights. There are also pedestrian bridges in many places in the city to enable crossing busy roads and there are pedestrian walkways to get to metro stations. So there actually is substantial pedestrian infrastructure all over the city.

      The minimum wage in Colombia is 737,717 pesos per month that works out to over $10 per day (not $8 per day as you said) if you assume working Monday to Saturday each week. Or if you assume working Monday to Friday that is over $12 per day. Due to low incomes I have seen that many households in Colombia have multiple wage earners to make ends meet.

      Medellín isn’t a “city of absolute chaos and desperation”. Medellín was even ranked the most innovative city in the world in 2012. “Medellín’s homicide rate has plunged, nearly 80% from 1991 to 2010. The city built public libraries, parks, and schools in poor hillside neighborhoods and constructed a series of transportation links from there to its commercial and industrial centers. The links include a metro cable car system and escalators up steep hills, reducing commutation times, spurring private investment, and promoting social equity as well as environmental sustainability.” see:

  5. Great article John! I share a lot of your sentiments toward this city, such as the views driving in from Rio Negro. I’ve lived in San Diego and Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz in California, and Cuenca in Ecuador, and I’ve never enjoyed a better climate than Medellin’s. Sure, it rains a lot at certain times of the year, but that’s what makes everything so green and beautiful. It’s not quite paradise – it’s a large city after all – but it’s a pretty damned close. I’ve never regretted my decision to move here.

  6. Hi John!…great article. I was wondering what kind of work do you do in Medellin? I’m originally from Medellin but left the country for the U.S in 1965 when I was an infant. I’ve been back a couple times with my last visit in 1993 when Pablo Escobar had his grip on the city. It wasn’t a good visit so I never went back. I keep in touch with family and do read lot’s on Medellin’s transformation and am very motivated to visit and if I like what I see I may spend longer periods there and perhaps make a permanent move. However, I’m not quite ready to retirement yet and would need to find some way of making an income. I was wondering if you happen to know what the labor market is like in Medellin? Which industries are most in demand? Thanks.

  7. “He has a permanent residence visa. ”

    As far as I know, there’s NO permanent residence visa in Colombia at all. Maximum 5 years and you have to renew by year 5. How can you call it permanent if only 5 years? If you don’t renew by year 5, your “permanent residency” is no longer valid and you’ll be kicked out of the country!

    Do I miss anything???

    In addition, you must be in Colombia at least 1 day every 2 years for the 5-year residency to keep it valid (or minimum 6 months in a year if on a 1-year temp residency). And if you live over 183 days in a year in Colombia, you are considered a tax resident in Colombia (tax resident is not the same as resident). You will be liable for your WORLDWIDE incomes to the Colombia government. If you only have Social Security or don’t have a lot of money, it’s not an issue. For those with lots of money and businesses worldwide or from foreign countries, it’ll be definitely a problem.

    If Colombia government is smart enough not to tax worldwide income, ONLY Colombia sourced income, it’ll make more sense and attract more people to live there full time.

    Thoughts? Comments?

  8. Hi John,great article, Laureles is one of the nicest areas to live in the city,and I agree in all your comments about the nice weather the great public transportation (best in Latin America according to newspaper El Pais in Spain just 3 days ago and I add better than any US city too),warm and friendly people,excellent variety of restaurants, supermarkets,malls and attractions that make me choose Medellin my home since July 2015. I also traveled worldwide to more than 25 countries, my first time to Colombia was in 1992 to Cali and last year I visited Manizales, Pereira, Armenia, Ibaguue, Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta.

    I am not rich. I save money for early retirement and now Colombia is my home. A decision that I will never regret. I talk to many Colombians not from Medellin and they admire Medellin very much, they like to visit and stay here. I read a lot of articles and posts about Medellin but never such a negative and inaccurate as the one that you posted Mr. Ronal Davis. You are spreading here total misinformation to the readers,and I am glad that Jeff rebuked many of your wrong statements about this city. Probably you are a very frustrated person living here that probably didn’t speak any word in Spanish or make any effort to learn,then you are in the wrong place. The JMC airport in Rio Negro is open 24/7,the US is only 3 hours away and for your knowledge Medellin was ranked just last week Second best place in the world from expats to retire.Beside this Colombia minimum salary is 737,717 Colombian pesos a month plus an additional 83,140 cops for transportation health,that means 820,857 a month much more than the $8 that you said daily,also only about 1.5 million people receive the minimum salary in Colombia,and as President Santos state more than 60% of the population are middle class now. I lived in Sabaneta south Medellin and I never felt any contaminated air at all,only in the Centro sometimes and your picture of Medellin is way back in the 90s when yes Medellin was not a safe place to live,but now I work everywhere in Medellin and I feel safe,of course you have to take precautions and use common sense,this is my opinion and many expats living here will agree with me,I love this city and his people,and also the posts of Dave,Jeff and other bloggers that post very accurate,useful and exact information about this beautiful city.

  9. And , the women are beautiful and charming .I have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for four years . The traffic and lack of women are the worst parts of Cuenca .

  10. Medellin is cheap.
    People are nice.
    Weather is great.
    Traffic is a problem.
    Pollution is a problem.
    Security is an issue. (It is! don’t kid yourself.)
    Wouldn’t recommend investing in property. Especially if you are living off the rental income alone.

  11. HI everybody,Ijust want to make a correction,the monthly minimum salary in Colombia is 737,717 Colombian pesos,plus a government help for public transportation of 83,140 cop,for a total of 820,857 cops, a month,by mistake typing I said that was for “health” I apologize.The other stament was correct,the airport JMC in Rio Negro,is open 24/7 every day,now is a Jet Blue flight that leaves at 12.26 am to Miami,Florida and many times is delayed,plus some cargo and charter flights arriving late at night,and also for any emergency happening at El Dorado airport in Bogota,like strong winds ,fog,and bad weather that happen there many times,,this flights are redirected mainly to JMC or to Matacana airport in Pereira,so for aviation security travel the airport is open 24/7,but if your flight is cancelled or you would like to arrive early for a morning flight you can wait inside the terminal without any problem.