8 Expensive Things in Medellín

The Chevy Spark, one of the best selling cars in Colombia
The Chevy Spark, one of the best selling cars in Colombia

In January, I looked at 10 surprisingly cheap things in Medellín, which contribute to the low-cost of living in the city. I also recently provided an updated look at our cost of living for a couple in Medellín here.

Apartments also tend to be cheaper in Medellin than in the United States, which was covered in a post on this site looking at the cost of renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín.

But not everything in Medellín is cheaper than in the U.S. This article looks at eight expensive things in Medellín, items that tend to be more expensive than in the U.S. Note the list is in no particular order.

1. Automobiles

Cars can be expensive in Colombia due to import duties of up to 35 percent. Over 60 percent of the vehicles sold in Colombia are imported resulting in many models of cars being more expensive in Colombia than in the U.S.

However, the free trade agreement between Colombia and the U.S. that went into effect in 2012 is phasing out the import duty for vehicles over a 10-year period.

Colombia has more free trade agreements with other countries that will be phasing out import duties for automobiles that will help cut costs for imported autos over time.

Medellín has several automobile dealerships, which tend to be significantly smaller than the large auto dealerships found in the United States.

There is also a growing used vehicle market in Medellín. If you want to own a car, the used market may be the best way to avoid the high initial new car cost.

Perhaps the largest online portal to look for new and used vehicles in Colombia is Carroya.com. Looking at this site it is possible to see some of the higher prices for vehicles in Colombia.

For example, a new Honda Fit 2015, sells for 45,990,000 pesos ($17,810) in Colombia, which is a car with a $15,650 MSRP in the U.S.

Small cars are very popular in Colombia. The top two selling cars in Colombia last year were reportedly the Chevrolet Spark and Sail. The Spark Lite starts at 20,390,000 pesos ($7,894) and the Sail starts at 30,050,000 pesos ($11,635).

Both the Spark and Sail are manufactured in Bogotá by GM Colmotores. Besides GM, Renault and Mazda also produce cars in Colombia.

Note that Colombia does not allow the shipment of used cars into the country.

However, with the inexpensive taxis, metro and buses in Medellín it is possible to live without a car and avoid this significant expense. I have resided in Medellín for nearly four years without a car.

Esso gas station in Belén
Esso gas station in Belén

2. Gasoline

Despite being a major Latin American oil exporting country, Colombia doesn’t have enough refining capacity so it must import a substantial proportion of refined oil products, with the U.S. being the primary source.

If you own a car in Medellín, you will be paying higher prices for gasoline than in the United States. Gas prices in Medellín have dropped recently to about the lowest prices in terms of Colombian pesos since 2010.

At a Terpel gas station near Los Molinos mall in Belén, I recently saw a price of 7,840 pesos ($3.04) for a gallon of regular and 7,800 pesos for a gallon of diesel.

In the U.S. according to the AAA Fuel Gauge report regular gas is currently averaging $2.46 per gallon of regular.

In nearly four years of living in Medellín, I have never seen gas prices that are cheaper than in the U.S. So if you own a car in Medellín, you will be paying more than in the U.S. to fill it up.

Libreria Nacional in Premium Plaza mall
Libreria Nacional in Premium Plaza Mall

3. Books and Magazines

Colombia doesn’t have a very large publishing industry, and there aren’t that many bookstores in cities, except in Bogotá.

Hardback Spanish language books are expensive in terms of the minimum wage. Many I have seen cost 60,000 pesos or more, which is almost 10 percent of the monthly legal minimum wage in Colombia of 644,350 pesos.

In Medellín, you can find bookstores in some but not all the shopping malls. Plus there’s Panamericana in El Poblado, which is a large bookstore with a limited choice of English titles.

English language books and magazines are harder to find in Colombia and are expensive. If you miss reading the latest bestseller, it is cheaper to buy them on Amazon in electronic format if available.

At the Liberia National bookstore at Premium Plaza, I saw an English language Economist magazine selling for 26,500 pesos ($10.26) with a U.S. cover price of $7.99.

I also saw a recent English language bestseller paperback selling for 24,600 pesos ($9.53) with a U.S. cover price of $7.99 as well as a hardback book that sells for $20.99 in the U.S. selling for 69,900 pesos ($27.07).

4. Taxes

Colombia doesn’t have very high property taxes, so if you own property in Medellín you won’t get hit by very high property taxes like you will in many states in the United States.

However, Colombia does have a 16 percent IVA tax (a value added tax) on many products, which makes buying many things more expensive. Some grocery items such as milk and fruits and several other items are exempt from the IVA tax.

In addition lower cost computers and tablets are also exempt, which can make some computers and tablets less expensive than in the United States, which we previously looked at here.

If you need to pay income taxes in Colombia, the country has progressive tax rates like in the U.S. that max out in Colombia at 33 percent.

Note that an individual is considered a Colombian resident for tax purpose if he or she stays in Colombia for more than 183 days during a year.

Taxable income ranges in Colombia are based on the UVT (tax value unit), which is 28,279 pesos for 2015.

The tax rates in Colombia are:

  • 0 percent for UVT 0 to UVT 1,090
  • 19 percent for UVT 1,091 to UVT 1,700
  • 28 percent for UVT 1,701 to UVT 4,100
  • 33 percent for UVT 4,101 and above

So your first 30.8 million pesos ($11,925) in income in 2015 is not subject to income taxes in Colombia. The tax rate is then progressive up to a maximum of 33 percent for income higher than 115.9 million pesos ($44,875).

Everyone’s tax situation is different, and we are not tax experts so if you think you may be liable for Colombian income taxes, we recommend talking to a tax expert.

Claro store in Los Molinos Mall
Claro store in Los Molinos Mall

5. Smartphones

We looked at buying and using cellphones in Colombia at the end of last year. Smartphones tend to be more somewhat more expensive in Medellín and other cities in Colombia than in the United States.

Last year I bought a new unlocked Samsung S5 Mini in a store in Monterrey with a price of 900,000 pesos ($379). On Amazon the same unlocked cell phone sells for $326.

Falabella is currently selling an unlocked 16GB iPhone 6 for 2,099,900 pesos ($813) and unlocked 16GB iPhone 6 Plus for 2,449,900 ($949). On Amazon an unlocked 16GB iPhone 6 sells for $715 and unlocked 16GB iPhone 6 Plus for $809.

The bottom line is that you can save some money on unlocked smartphones by buying in the U.S. to use in Colombia.

6. High end computers and other electronics

High-end computers that are subject to the IVA tax will typically be 15-25 percent higher cost in Colombia than in the U.S.

Many other electronics like televisions can be more expensive as well but if you shop around looking for the fairly frequent promotions, you can find prices that are similar to what is found in the U.S.

When I started traveling to Colombia from the U.S. in 2006, I often saw Colombians checking flat screen televisions and carrying laptop boxes on planes. But I haven’t seen this on recent flights as prices have dropped in Colombia.

Now I have seen this phenomenon on flights from Colombia to Brazil. Brazil has very high import duties that can essentially double the cost of electronics so Brazilians are now coming to Colombia to buy electronics.

Hair care products at Jumbo
Hair care products at Jumbo

7. Drugstore Items

Something I quickly noticed when I started living in Colombia is the higher cost of many drugstore items I normally buy – like shampoo and other hair products, toothpaste and toothbrushes, shavers and shaving cream and many other items.

Most imported drugstore items in Medellín tend to be more expensive than in the United States.

For example, at Jumbo I saw Gillette 200 ml shaving gel selling for 19,900 pesos ($7.71). The same product sells for $4.59 at CVS in the U.S. – making it 68 percent more expensive in Colombia.

I also saw Dove 400 ml shampoo selling for 14,300 pesos ($5.53), which sells for about $4.99 at CVS in the U.S. – about 11 percent more expensive.

I recommend looking for sales promotions to cut the cost of drugstore items in Medellín. Both Exito and Jumbo often have sales of drugstore items – such as buy one get one 50 percent off.

8. Fast food

Fast food places tend to be more expensive in Medellín and other cities in Colombia than in the U.S. I don’t really understand why this is because labor costs in Colombia are lower than in the U.S.

For example, Dominos in the U.S. costs $5.99 for a two topping medium pizza, here in Medellín the same two-topping medium pizza from Dominos costs 21,900 pesos ($8.48) – 42 percent more expensive.

Frisby, which is a favorite fast food chain in Colombia, sells relatively expensive chicken. For example, at the Frisby in Los Molinos mall in Belén, a combo with two pieces of fried chicken with rice, potato salad and a small soda costs 18,800 pesos ($7.29).

The Bottom Line

Many things in Medellín are cheaper than in the U.S., while some things have similar prices. But some items like the ones found on this list are typically more expensive in Medellín than in the U.S.

Several things on this list can be avoided like cars and gasoline if you choose to substitute inexpensive taxis, the metro, and/or buses. For drugstore items you can change brands and use lower cost local brands.

You can also choose to buy a smartphone in the U.S. where they tend to be cheaper. And of course you can choose not to eat at the fast food places.

Ultimately, while some things may be more expensive, the overall cost of living in Medellín is lower than in the U.S.

We are also curious, what are some additional things in Medellín readers have found that are more expensive than in the U.S.?

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  1. You point out all these things that are more expensive in Colombia and then at the end of the article you say many more things are less expensive, but you don’t say what they are. Other than rent (which is increasing significantly) and local food, what is less expensive?

    • The beginning of this post has a link to my post about 10 surprisingly cheap things in Medellín. Rent is not increasing in my experience – my rent for a 3-bedroom unfurnished apartment been the same for the last three years in terms of pesos. But with the strength of the U.S. dollar my rent has dropped by about 33% since a year ago in terms of U.S. dollars.

  2. Great piece! It’s good to know what’s cheaper and what’s more expensive. To this list, I would add:

    1) Home goods and home decor, generally speaking. You can have furniture made MUCH more cheaply than in the US, but buying anything from a rug to a ready-made end table to something to hang on the wall (although framing is MUCH cheaper) is gonna cost some serious dough. Same too for most towels and such, unless you head to El Centro and a few other lower cost purveyors.

    2) TOYS. Toys by major US name brands are out-of-control expensive. Crazy expensive. I have heard (though don’t know if this is accurate) that slowly this should improve under the trade agreement, but wow, quality toys will cost you. A Buzz Lightyear toy, for example, is exponentially more than in the US. If you have kids, stock up each time you are in the States.

  3. Maybe I haven’t been to the right places yet but clothing and shoes seem to be more expensive here than in the US and some brands are difficult if not impossible to find. Oh well, there are other choices.

    • Clothing and shoes that are manufactured here are definitely less expensive than in the U.S. Levis is one brand from the U.S. that is manufactured here – you can find Levis for less than $25. Jeans are very cheap here compared to the U.S. You can also find local brands to replace U.S. brands. Plus you need to get out of El Poblado where the costs are the highest – some of the best places to buy clothes and shoes are El Centro, Mayorca mall and the large Puerta del Norte mall found at the Niquia Metro station.

  4. Makeup!!…. it’s cheaper to buy makeup online (amazon, walgreens, ulta, etc) and pay for a carrier to bring it to your home in Medellín than buying it here.

  5. i was looking at the KIA SOUL car to purchase and it was higher than previously. the price of condos keep dropping if you can afford them. i will be placing an order with AMAZON today part of which is sunblock which is off the charts here. the dollar giveth…the dollar taketh away.

    • I feel you on the high cost of sunblock, especially the bottles of mist type spray by companies like Banana Boat. They can easily be double the cost ($20 vs $10) with far fewer options to choose from. I’m always shocked when I go back to the USA and see a pharmacy fully stocked with a hundred varities.

  6. Great article Jeff. By UK standards cars and fuel seem very cheap particularly with the excange rate the way it is. I can’t believe the difference since I was there in 2012/2013. It must be getting on for a 25 percent improvement if you are changing UK pounds. Do you have any idea of what other costs are involved in running a car in Colombia (road tax, insurance etc)?

    • Hi Peter,

      There are insurance costs and annual taxes required for having a car in Colombia.

      Colombia requires Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Tránsito, more commonly known as SOAT. The coverage provided by the SOAT insurance in the event of a traffic accident is as follows:

      – Medical and surgical expenses, up to the amount of 800 X the minimum monthly wage
      – For permanent disability, up to 3.4 million pesos.
      – In the event of a death, 600 X the minimum monthly wage, plus 2.8 million in funeral expenses

      The cost depends on the type of vehicle and engine size. For family cars I understand Sura charges roughly between 250,000 pesos to 350,000 pesos for a year.

      Additional, comprehensive vehicle insurance is voluntary and covers the owner and the vehicle in the event of an accident, theft of parts and vandalism, theft of the vehicle, causing damage to third party property, and causing injury or death to a third party. Depending on the type of insurance policy taken out, a driver can also be covered for legal costs. I highly recommend comprehensive coverage as many don’t have insurance other than the required SOAT. Comprehensive coverage has too many variables to give you an idea of cost. You would have to contact an insurance company like Sura. A friend told me recently that a very basic policy for a low end car will start at about 50,000 pesos per month.

      Taxes are also levied for new and used vehicles in Colombia, except for the following: bicycles, scooters and motorcycles up to 125 cc engine displacement. I haven’t had a car so I am not sure of the annual tax rate. It should likely be stated in a table somewhere on the Transport Ministry website.

      The high cost of cars in Colombia (compared to the U.S.), plus higher cost gas than the U.S., plus the ongoing costs for car insurance and car taxes can all be avoided by using cheap taxis, the cheap metro and cheap buses.

  7. After spending 26 years in Colombia and then 15 and counting in the US is still frustrating to travel to Colombia and realize that you can’t really buy anything affordable. Everything I consider is very expensive considering that the minimum wage is very low. Things like shaving cream shouldn’t have those tags. But the worst of them all that you forgot to mention is the tax 2 x 1000. If you own a banking account and if you withdraw money you pay 2 pesos for every 1000. This was supposed to be a temporary thing at the end of the 1990’s but somehow it became 3 x 1000 and they still have it … 15000 years later !!! And if you think 2 or 3 pesos is nothing think again because in the long run and if you handle salaries for other people
    and company expenses is a lot of money. People started using cash mostly instead like a century ago (going backwards, I know) by that carries a lot of risks because petty crime is big in Colombia and goes unresolved.

      • Yes, things are expensive if you are receiving the minimum wage in Colombia. This post was intended for foreigners to compare to costs in the United States. The 3 out of 1000 pesos tax for transactions using banks in Colombia can be avoided if you don’t have a local bank account – if you are a foreigner with a bank account in another country.

        • Hello,
          You say that the 3/000 Colombian bank tax can be avoided if you are a foreigner with a bank account in another country.
          Currency exchanges are good at the moment but…unless you do trading, what about the cost on both ends of sending foreign money to Colombia?

  8. Question gents (love what you do btw, thanks for all your hard work),

    What are the taxes required to register a car in MDE and what’s insurance like? And can you sell a car if either of these has not been paid?

    Kind of OT but this seemed like the best place to post.


  9. Thank Jeff for your informative information.

    I’m planning on moving to Colombia next year, I’m planning, learning as much as I can before I make the trip. I would like to drive as far as I can, then ship the vehicle the rest of the way. Do you know if its easier and cheaper to ship the vehicle to Ecuador and drive up through the border or shipping the vehicle to Cartagena.?

    Any help, information or direction would be a God send.
    Thank you for your insightful comments.

    Joseph Bosworth