The digital nomad scene has grown exponentially in the past few years, and few places have embraced it quite like Medellin. Previously dominated by cities in Southeast Asia and Europe, Medellin finally put South America firmly on the map of digital nomad hotspots. Having recently taken my work online, I decided to come see what all the fuss is about. After a bit of backpacking in Colombia, I set the bags down for a couple of months in the City of Eternal Spring. Here are some reflections on living the digital nomad lifestyle in Medellin.
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There are several reasons why Medellin is an attractive city for digital nomads. The moderate climate is certainly one of them. You don’t have the sweltering heat that comes with Bali nor the bitter cold winters you get in Berlin. There’s quite a bit of rain, but it usually doesn’t last that long and it can be quite refreshing. Overall, it’s hard to beat the climate in Medellin.
The cost of living in Medellin is not only lower than big cities in North America or Western Europe, but it’s substantially lower than other South American metropolises such as Buenos Aires, Santiago, or Lima. If you’re looking to make the shift to a digital nomad lifestyle, Medellin is a great place to get started. You don’t need a ton of money to get set up and rolling here. It’s amazing how much more you can get done when you’re not scrambling to pay the rent every month.
It’s also fascinating to see the city’s transformation in person. To go from the world’s most dangerous city to the most innovative in just a few decades is incredible. Hailing from the Detroit area, I only wish my city could have so much success in turning things around. We’ve made progress in the D, but it pales in comparison to how far Medellin has come.
While Medellin may not have as much in terms of sightseeing as bigger cities, there’s plenty to see and do here. You’ve got museums, art galleries, parks, gardens, and hiking trails to keep you busy on the weekends. It’s also a very active city, which you can experience every Sunday with the Ciclovia event. Major roads are closed to motorized vehicles and are taken over by pedestrians, cyclists, and skaters. It’s tons of fun and a great way to work off all those empanadas and Club Colombias you’re bound to indulge in.
Simply put, Paisas like to have fun. Whether it’s cheering on their football teams, tearing up the dancefloor in a salsa club, or partying until the sun comes up at an EDM show, there’s no shortage of good times in Medellin. The old adage “work hard, play harder” certainly applies here, and it’s just another reason the city appeals to the generally young, fun-loving digital nomad crowd.
Finally, the infrastructure is already in place for digital nomads to show up and get right to work. It’s very easy to find a room or a furnished apartment, co-working spaces and cafes are all over the city, and there’s a well-established community that you can tap into from day one. It may not seem easy moving all your work online and relocating to another continent, but in Medellin it really is.
The Digital Nomad Community
Medellin has joined the ranks of places like Chiang Mai, Ubud, and Prague as a veritable digital nomad powerhouse, and for good reason. There’s a huge, thriving community of digital nomads calling the Spring City home. When it comes to finding a place to live and work, you’re spoiled for choices here. Through websites such as Medellin Living and Facebook groups like Digital Nomads Medellin, it’s easy to make contacts in the city and arrange a place to live before you even arrive. People are generally quite friendly and supportive, making the transition to living here quite smooth. There’s definitely a strong sense of community and people look out for each other.
With all these people working online in Medellin, what exactly are they doing? In my short stint in the Spring City, I met web designers, app developers, videographers, yoga teachers, bloggers, and several English teachers. What’s more common is finding people who are working on several things at once. I definitely fall into this group, as I’m studying Spanish, teaching English, and managing several blogs from the road in South America. With so many interesting people doing a variety of jobs and projects online, there are great opportunities for you to find something new to work on in Medellin.
As far as meeting other digital nomads goes, you’ve got tons of chances. There’s the monthly DN meetup at Ondas Hostel, which also has weekly language exchanges that are a lot of fun. The Blogging in Medellin group tries to get together at least once a month as well. We also attended a meetup for VIPKID teachers while we were there, which was a mix of current and prospective teachers. Of course, you also have the chance to make friends at the city’s countless coworking spaces and cafes, which brings us to our next point.
Coworking and Cafe Culture
In a country famous for its coffee, it should come as no surprise that the cafe culture is huge in Medellin. You’ll find reliable WiFi, delicious coffee, and plenty of digital nomads typing away at the city’s countless cafes. Some of our favorites included Cafe Velvet in Poblado and Cafe Zeppelin in Laureles. For more details including internet speeds and typical drink prices, you can check out our post on the best cafes and coworking spaces in Medellin.
Thanks to the time difference with my students in China and the noisy nature of my job, I didn’t work in that many coworking spaces while we were in Medellin. There are tons to choose from if they work for you, with the majority being found in the Poblado and Laureles neighborhoods. Typically, you can pay for a day pass, buy a bundle to be used within a month, or just pay by the month for unlimited access. One place I did check out is the Roundhouse (La Casa Redonda) in Laureles. It’s a great place to get work done and meet fellow nomads, as they do things like host movie screenings on their awesome rooftop.
While it’s tempting to just book that one-way ticket and show up with your laptop, you might want to know a little bit about the practicalities of living in Medellin first. Citizens of 95 different countries are allowed to enter Colombia visa-free for 90 days. It’s possible to extend this another 90 days in the country or simply make a good old-fashioned visa run. However, you’re limited to 180 days in a calendar year doing this. We met several people who came to Colombia around June or July specifically so they could stay for six months, leave at the end of the year, and then return to do it again for the first half of the next year.
If you’re a digital nomad, this is probably good enough for you. Chances are you’ve got your sights set on exploring some other cities and will want to move on anyways. Those looking to stay more long-term in Medellin will have to consider other options. Studying Spanish in a university is a great way to get a visa, and it will certainly make your life easier.
As far as finding a place to live, it’s very easy to find a furnished room for rent in a place where you can pay month by month. With the explosion of the digital nomad scene, plenty of enterprising locals have fitted out apartments with things like fast WiFi and pool tables to attract tenants. You can post on the Medellin Rooms, Apartments, and Expat Info Facebook page and you’ll have offers for a room or an entire apartment within minutes. Once again, if you’re hoping to stay more long-term and get your own place there will be some more red tape involved.
Another great thing about Medellin is that you can get around via public transportation quite easily. Paisas are proud of their metro system, which is the only one in Colombia. It’s clean, efficient, and cheap. The metro hooks up to the city’s famous cable cars, which have made life easier for those who live in the mountainous neighborhoods. They’re also a great way to get an excellent view of the city. There’s an extensive bus system as well, if you can figure it out that is.
If you’d rather get around on your own two wheels, it’s easy to rent a bicycle or even a motorbike. You can also sign up for the free bike share system, which has docks all over the city. Those looking to stay a bit longer may want to consider buying a bike and selling it before leaving. When you don’t feel like pedaling or getting on the metro, you can easily hail a taxi. Uber is in a sort of gray area but is still available here. Just sit in the front so it’s not so obvious that you’re a paying passenger.
With an agreeable climate, a low cost of living, a vibrant digital nomad scene, and plenty to see and do, it’s no wonder more and more people are choosing to work from Medellin. Prior to our visit, I heard and read so much about Medellin that my expectations were quite high. I’m happy to say that it lived up to all the hype and then some. Our two months there flew by, and we’re already itching to get back.
Having spent some quality time in other digital nomad hotspots such as Bali, Chiang Mai, and Mexico City, I can tell you that Medellin definitely deserves its spot in the top tier. In a place that tourists avoided like the plague not too long ago, the locals are thrilled to have you. People are incredibly friendly and welcoming, which is something you just don’t get in places that have been inundated with tourists for decades. If I had a dollar for every time someone greeted me with a giant smile and a “Welcome to Colombia!”, I’d be able to take several friends out for bandeja paisa and a few rounds of aguardiente.
Living the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t always easy. There are concerns about visas and finding accommodation. There’s the inevitable loneliness that comes from constantly changing locations. There’s the culture shock of living in a different place where you don’t speak the language. Finding a place as nice as Medellin to settle down, even if only for a short while, was a breath of fresh air. I could easily see myself returning to the Spring City sooner than later, most likely for as long as I’d legally be allowed to. Medellin has a tendency to suck people in with its infectious energy and positivity. If you’re looking to give the digital nomad thing I try, there are few places in the world better than Medellin to get started.
Sasha is an English teacher, videographer, and blogger from the suburbs of Detroit. He has taught English in China and studied Indonesian in Bali, and is currently doing the digital nomad thing as he travels around South America. He and his wife Rachel run Grateful Gypsies, where they write about living abroad, teaching ESL, live music and more.