I have been in Colombia now for about ten months, and as a result of changing life situations for myself and past roommates, I have lived in three different apartments in my short time here. Of the three, I love my current apartment the most and I think that is a direct result of my increased knowledge about how to efficiently locate an apartment that suits my needs.
Tips for Finding an Apartment in Colombia
1. Do your research.
Colombian cities are organized into barrios (neighborhoods) and even neighborhoods in close physical proximity can be very different from one another. Walk around the areas you are interested in at various times of day – talk to locals, look around and take note of the general ambiance of the place. If possible, talk to someone who has lived in the city for awhile to get a sense of the different areas.
From my apartment I can walk to the gym, grocery store, a cafe, the soccer stadium, public transportation, and many bars/restaurants. I am a ten minute cab ride from the main restaurant/going out area in Cali. However, I commute to work about 30-45 minutes one way five days a week. For me, this is the perfect balance, however for others the commute to school would be too much. Decide what’s important to you and go with it.
3. Know your stratus.
In Colombia, services like gas, energy and water are charged based on usage and based on strata. This means that people in more popular areas of a city generally pay more than people in less desirable parts of town. For example, in Cali, people living in the barrio of El Ingenio (Status 6) pay considerably more than people living in the barrio of San Fernando (Status 4).
Many apartments in Colombia have administration fees that you pay in addition to your rent. These fees are generally for building maintenance and to pay the salary of the door person (or people). An administration fee will cost you a bit more, but if security is a concern for you, then a place with a 24 hour door person is a good idea.
5. Put on your walking shoes.
While some owners will advertise in local newspapers (like El Pais in Cali) and foreigners will advertise places like the Lonely Planet travel forum, the majority of apartments are rented by signs in the windows. The best way to find a place is to walk around a neighborhood you like, write down phone numbers, and call the owners to inquire further. If you like what you hear about number of rooms, price range, etc., then arrange to meet up so they can show you the apartment. Most will arrange to meet you that day or the next. (Note of caution: Call on weekdays as not much business is conducted on the weekends in Colombia)
6. Know your budget.
On average most teachers at my school are paying around $175 – $200 USD per month for decent apartments, however you can find places considerably cheaper or considerably more expensive depending on your taste. If you plan to renew your lease after a few months or a year, try negotiating a lower price with your landlord.
7. Balcony = essential.
You didn’t move to Colombia so you could bundle up next to the fireplace on cold winter nights. This country is absolutely stunning and the climate is generally warm (even in Bogota it heats up during the day!). Basically, in my opinion, this beauty is best viewed from the comfort of your own hammock. Finding an apartment with a great balcony is not rare, so go out there and get it!
8. Find a co-signer.
You will need a Colombian to co-sign your lease and basically give his/her word that you will be a reasonable tenant. If you find a job here, then often times they will help you with the paperwork and be the co-signers. Without employment, find a trustworthy friend to back you up.
9. Habla en español.
Many apartments or houses are rented by individuals as opposed to large real estate corporations, which means the likeliness of the owner speaking English is somewhat limited. Bring your dictionary or a friend if your language skills are not quite up to par yet. Regardless of where you are at in your Spanish skills, most Colombians will appreciate any attempt you make at speaking to them, so give it a try!
10. If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.
Walking around trying to see apartments may be frustrating at first, because you will see a lot of places and the “perfect” one may not appear until the 5th or 10th or 20th place you see. However, there are many options and they will all have something unique to offer, so if at first you do not find the place of your dreams, try again the next day.
Written by Kristin Radermacher