Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Sonja Bricker.
I arrived to Medellin in October 2016. From day one I have recorded and categorized every peso spent. 148 days later I have successfully kept my monthly expenses between $850 to $900, on average. I consider that I am living cheap in Medellín but still “Living Large”.
Both Jeff and Dave have previously written articles about their monthly living expenses. Dave provided his cost of living from the perspective of a single, working man. And Jeff detailed living expenses of a couple last year.
Here, I present the perspective of a 46-year-old single woman on a 6-month tourist visa who is not working but who is living cheap in Medellín.
Note the above photo is one of many quiet tree-lined streets in the Manila barrio of El Poblado where I am currently living cheap in Medellín.
Since my first international trip at age 15, a summer long kibbutz adventure in northern Israel, I have been addicted to travel. At 16, I spent a month in Japan on a sister-city exchange program. And at 17, I lived for a full school year in Mexico as a Rotary Exchange student and learned Spanish.
Solo bicycle trips across Europe, Asia, South America and New Zealand followed, along with a motorcycle trip in northern India. The countries kept adding up and my curiosity never waned.
However, as an adult I had never tried staying put in any international city. I continued instead to roam, backpacker style, for months at a time. Then, at age 45 I discovered Medellin. After only a five day visit in January 2015 I decided to return for an extended period.
Although I am not in position to retire yet, I was granted a year-long unpaid sabbatical from my job. Knowing I will resume earning an income helped mentally prepare me for using savings for 12 months. In order to make it work, my budget is $900 or less per month.
In the monthly expenses in this article I used an exchange rate of 3,000 pesos to the USD. This is the average exchange rate I have experienced since I have been living in Medellín.
Rent – 900,000 pesos ($300)
I spent my first month paying $425 per month for an Airbnb master suite, living with a 62 year old Colombian woman and her adult son. It was an idyllic introduction to Colombian culture.
In addition, it gave me plenty of time to find my preferred neighborhood. I believe this is a crucial foundation for living here happily.
For me, the pocket neighborhood of Manila in lower El Poblado is the perfect fit. It is extremely quiet, has a small commercial district with restaurants, shops and a D1 grocery store. It is a 10-minute walk to both Carulla and Exito as well the Poblado Metro station.
I am within easy walking distance to the Ciudad del Rio area, with the Modern Art Museum and park, plus central El Poblado and Milla de Oro attractions.
I found my room on compartoapartamento.com which lists rooms for rent in all areas of Medellin, some starting as low as 300,000 pesos per month. All it took was creating a profile, listing my price range and immediately received several offers daily.
Within a week I found my furnished room in Manila, in a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment for 900,000 a month. This price includes all utilities, Internet, weekly housekeeper, laundry service and incidentals like dish soap, toilet paper and garbage bags. My roommate in the shared apartment is Colombian and we get along well.
I believe where you decide to live is key to living cheap in Medellín. There are many more expensive options but where I live in Manila is perfect for me at this time.
Transportation – 99,000 pesos ($33)
I love walking and cycling, two free modes of transportation. I feel very safe in my immediate surroundings. I consistently walk home at night from the Milla de Oro, central Poblado and Modern Art Museum district.
Plus, I am comfortable taking the Metro at night when returning from evening events downtown. In addition, five days a week I walk to and from my yoga studio, a distance of 6 kilometers. I am rarely in a hurry and take taxis infrequently.
Immediately upon arrival I got my Civica card , so I save 13% per metro trip (2,000 pesos instead of 2,300). And am able to transfer to other lines (MetroCable, Tranvía and MetroPlus) free of charge.
Also, I enrolled in the Encicla program, allowing me free access to the ubiquitous blue bikes Monday – Friday until 8pm, Saturday until 3pm.
With the extensive metro system in Medellín as well as inexpensive buses and taxis plus bikes, it is very possible to live in Medellín without a car. This is another important factor that can make living cheap in Medellín.
Entertainment — 204,000 pesos ($68)
One of the reasons I chose to live in Medellín is the astounding diversity of affordable cultural events. Teatro Lido, Pequeño Teatro, Teatro Pablo Tobon Uribe and Centro Cultural Moravia produce theater, dance and live music on a weekly basis.
I have seen more live music and dance in four months than I have in four years in Seattle.
The Museo de Antioquia has free admission on opening nights of a new exhibition. And it generously provides free cocktails. The Memory, Pedro Nel Gomez, San Pedro Cemetery, Casa Gardeliana, Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe and University of Antioquia museums are always free.
Also, there are free movies to see city-wide and even mainstream theaters offer super discounted rates early in the day and all day Wednesday. I see at least one movie per week.
I have included bicycle rentals in this category. Since arriving to Medellin I have spent 240,000 pesos on bike rentals in order to participate in the Sunday Ciclovia and Wednesday critical mass style rides hosted by the group Siclas.
In the coming month I plan on purchasing a used bike for no more than 300,000 pesos, allowing me to eliminate rental costs and some metro fees.
Another affordable activity I love to do is hike. Medellin is surrounded all sides by trails, waterfalls and small peaks. All the hikes I’ve done can be reached by public transportation within 90 minutes.
There are numerous hiking groups on Facebook (antioquiaalaire, Arrieros Caminantes – Medellín, digitalnomads Medellin, etc.), both Colombian and expat, that offer weekly guided hikes for a 10,000-peso guide fee.
In addition, I pay $8 for NetFlix streaming.
Food/Alcohol – 617,000 pesos ($205)
Because I never go out to breakfast and rarely go out for dinner my food costs are low. Instead, I keep my kitchen well-stocked. Although more expensive than other grocery stores, I shop primarily at Carulla because it is convenient.
However, I almost always eat out for lunch – my favorite neighborhood “menu del dia” is only 10,000 pesos. Throughout the day I constantly eat street food – empanadas, palitos de queso, granizado de café, salpicon, guarapo, cut fruit, kettle corn, caramelized peanuts, churros, ice cream.
There are several good bakeries in Manila and I treat myself to chocolate croissants, brownies, cookies and slices of cake quite often. I virtually never drink alcohol.
Once I splurged on a three hour personalized private cooking class at Quiai (150,000 pesos) and learned how to make some of my favorite Colombian dishes. As a result, I enjoy cooking at home and experimenting with local ingredients.
Yoga — 200,000 pesos ($67 per month, unlimited classes)
108 Yoga is located in the Los Balsos neighborhood and offers 39 weekly yoga classes, including hot, power, ashtanga, iyengar, beginner, vinyasa flow and even a kid’s class.
The facility has four practice rooms, a lounge, smoothie bar and shop full of yoga related products. I have practiced yoga for 16 years and 108 Yoga is one of the best studios I’ve been to. On average, I take 5 classes a week.
Personal Care — 288,000 pesos ($96)
Probably one of my favorite aspects of living here is being able to afford ‘luxury’ services like pedicures, manicures and massages (85,000 pesos an hour, Mikko Sneck ) which I indulge in twice a month. This category also includes toiletry products and small gifts.
Cell Phone — ($10 USD)
I decided to continue using my iPhone 6s while here, simply paying $10 a month back home to keep it in airplane mode. Therefore, I can make and receive calls and text messages through WhatsApp whenever I have WiFi, which is free and plentiful all over the city.
Extras — 300,000 pesos ($100)
In addition to everything outlined above, I often take day trips (Guatape, Santa Fe de Antioquia, El Retiro) and buy locally made clothes and shoes.
Total per Month — 2,640,00 pesos ($880)
Not included in the above is insurance. I paid $442 to World Nomads prior to leaving the U.S. for an insurance policy that covers “Emergency Sickness/Accident Medical Expense” up to $100,000, “Hospital Advancement” up to $500 and “Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation of Remains” up to $300,000. This policy also covers baggage delays, theft, trip cancellation, etc.
The Bottom Line: Living Cheap in Medellín
For me, my quality of life is significantly higher in Medellín than in the United States for a fraction of the cost. Although I live in one of the more expensive neighborhoods, I save a lot of money on transportation, not drinking and eating like a local.
I feel I am living cheap in Medellín as I could certainly spend much more. I could also likely spend less by living in another neighborhood outside of El Poblado. But I like the convenience of the Manila barrio where I am now living.
Most of all, I am grateful for the opportunity to live in Medellin, such a beautiful, dynamic city that has welcomed me since the moment I arrived.
Sonja is from Whidbey Island, WA. She has traveled to 46 countries but never wanted to settle down in any of them until she discovered Medellin. She is currently living here in Medellín for six months until she figures out how to be a permanent resident.