Updated: Cost of Living in Medellín for a Couple (2015)

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View from my current apartment in Belén
View from my current apartment in Belén

Last year I covered my cost of living for a couple living in Medellín, Colombia. The exchange rate has changed recently making it now cheaper to live in Medellín in terms of U.S. dollars.

This post provides an update with my cost of living for a couple living in Medellín, Colombia, over the past two months.

The relatively low-cost of living in Medellín is one of the reasons I started living in the city after I discovered it several years ago. The perfect weather and the quality of life, for the cost, are very challenging to beat.

I am often asked how much money it costs to live in Medellín, so over the past two months I tracked my expenses.

Dave also previously shared his costs of living as a single guy living in a shared apartment in Medellín.

Five-year Colombian peso exchange rate graph (Source xe.com)
Five-year Colombian peso exchange rate graph (Source xe.com)

Improved Exchange Rate

The recently improved exchange rate for the Colombian peso makes it much cheaper to live in Medellín in terms of U.S. dollars.

The Colombian peso exchange rate has been in a range from 2,126.50 to 2,453 pesos to the U.S. dollar over the past two months, which is the highest range it has been in over five years.

A Word About My Standard of Living

First I would like to share some insight into my standard of living, because more than anything, this is what will affect a person’s cost of living in Medellín.

I have a job in the United States with location flexibility, which means I can do my job from anywhere in the world with a fast Internet connection and telephone. I have now been living in Medellín for nearly four years.

I live with my Colombian girlfriend in Medellín in a three-bedroom apartment. This cost of living post details our costs in December and January for a couple living together in Medellín.

While living in Colombia, I am also taking Spanish classes at Universidad EAFIT, which was covered in a post last year. I typically travel eight to ten times each year for my job with my company paying all my travel expenses.

The expenses of my girlfriend and me
The expenses that my girlfriend and I share

* The exchange rate fluctuates each day; my average exchange rate over the past two months was 2,382 pesos to the USD, which is the exchange rate used in this post – except for apartment rental which was prepaid for a year in August at an exchange rate of 2,054 pesos to the USD.

Our Monthly Cost of Living

Apartment rent = 1,080,000 pesos ($526)

Apartment rent is now our biggest monthly cost. I have been renting unfurnished apartments while living Medellín for over three years.

My experience in renting apartments in Medellín was recently documented in a four-part series: first part is here, second part is here, third part is here and fourth part is here.

We now live in a three-bedroom apartment in the Los Alpes barrio in Belén, which is located two blocks from the Los Molinos mall. My current apartment specifications include:

  • 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, about 78 square meters (840 square feet)
  • Kitchen with oven and gas cooktop
  • Gas water heater (tankless)
  • 14th floor in a high-rise building, with two balconies
  • Pool and small gym in building
  • 24×7 security
  • Estrato 4 neighborhood (but across the street is Estrato 5)

I prepaid for a year of rent last year that is good until the end of August this year. The exchange rate for the funds I used to prepay last year was 2,054 pesos to the USD, which makes my monthly cost $526 per month.

At my average exchange rate over the past two months, my apartment rent would be only $453 per month.

Groceries = 926,094 pesos ($389)

Groceries are now our second biggest cost in Medellín as a couple living together. We cook at home often and normally shop at an Exito grocery store, which is conveniently located two blocks from our apartment in the Los Molinos mall.

Our monthly costs for groceries have dropped recently as we have also started shopping at the new PriceSmart in Medellín.

We sometimes shop at a Jumbo for a few things that can’t be found at Exito and for the sales there. A Metroplus station is located only one block from our apartment so it is an easy and inexpensive ride to the Jumbo at Premium Plaza mall.

Occasionally we shop at Plaza Minorista for inexpensive fruits and vegetables, and we occasionally travel to El Poblado to shop at a Carulla, which can have a few imported items not found at Exito or Jumbo.

This category also includes our expenses for drugstore items.

Dining = 503,100 pesos ($211)

We eat out at nice restaurants in Medellín typically a few times each month. Several times each month when we are too tired to go out or cook, we order takeout (domicillio) from nearby restaurants or fast food places.

Each month we sometimes eat lunch at small restaurants near our apartment, which typically have inexpensive Colombian food. Set lunches (menu del dia) in these small restaurants typically cost just $3 to $5 per person.

Our Lechona for New Years
Our Lechona for New Year’s Eve

Entertainment = 378,940 pesos ($159)

This includes expenses for going to movie theaters, bars, discotecas and concerts. We typically incur entertainment expenses a couple of times each month.

This category is higher than normal as it included a party for New Year’s Eve we had at our apartment for my girlfriend’s family, when we ordered a lechona (stuffed pig).

Medical = 328,900 pesos ($138)

Our medical costs include medical insurance for my girlfriend and me, glasses and contacts I buy during the year plus a few trips to the dentist over the year. I have medical insurance from IMG Global and my girlfriend has medical insurance from Sura.

My medical insurance covers me while I am in Colombia and my company offers medical insurance in the states and when I travel for business.

Ground transportation = 211,250 pesos ($89)

This includes costs for using the Metro and taxis. We almost never use buses in Medellín.

We live two blocks from the Los Molinos mall with an Exito, Homecenter, Cine Colombia movie theater, food court and many shops. So we can walk to where we do much of our shopping.

We also live one block from a Metroplus station providing access to the inexpensive Metro to get around the city. I use the Metro to go to/from Universidad EAFIT when I am taking Spanish classes.

Triple-play Internet/TV/phone services = 141,151 pesos ($59)

We have triple-play services provided by Claro with 10-MB Internet, several hundred TV channels including some in English and free local landline telephone calls. We recently added a few movie channels to our package, which makes it more expensive in terms of pesos than before.

We pay a lower rate for triple-play services in an Estrato 4 neighborhood than would be found in Estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods.

Vacation travel = 130,000 ($55)

In the past two months, the only vacation travel we incurred was my girlfriend traveling by bus to Bogotá to visit some of her family.

I expect spending in this category will be higher later in the year.

Utilities (electric, gas and water) = 126,063 pesos ($53)

Utility services are provided by EPM, the local utility in Medellín. There is really no need for heating or cooling with the climate in Medellín, which results in relatively low utility bills. We also live in an Estrato 4 neighborhood, which has lower utility rates than are found in Estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods, but higher than those in the lower estratos.

Miscellaneous = 104,936 pesos ($55)

The general category is miscellaneous stuff, which includes some small things purchased for the apartment, laundry expenses plus an Amazon Prime membership.

Several times each year I buy some things on Amazon that are much cheaper or difficult to find in Colombia. Many items purchased on Amazon will ship for free to Miami where I have a mailing service that forwards to Medellín for a relatively low-cost.

Gifts = 88,950 pesos ($37)

This category includes a few gifts purchased for Christmas. However, the bulk of our Christmas gifts this year were purchased before December so are not included.

Mail services = 78,500 ($33)

I use the Mail Boxes Etc. Ebox service in Medellín. This Ebox service provides a mailbox in Medellin linked to a mailing service in Miami. This is the solution I use to reliably receive U.S. mail (letters and packages) in Medellín.

With this service, I get a mailing address in Miami and any mail received at this address in Miami is forwarded to Medellín. This service costs $14 per month and includes a 1-kilogram package for free each month.

I recently changed from a UPS mailbox in the United States to a US Global Mail mailbox as my primary mailing address. I changed as the U.S. Global Mail mailbox is cheaper at $12.50 per month and permits me to view items I have received online.

Every six weeks or so I typically send the mail received in my mailbox in the states to my address in Miami that is forwarded and shows up in Medellin less than two weeks later.

Clothing = 69,900 pesos ($29)

I rarely buy clothes as I brought quite a few from the states when I moved to Colombia. This category over the past two months has been for a few clothing items my girlfriend purchased.

Pet = 65,550 pesos ($28)

In December 2013, we bought a Pomeranian puppy so we have ongoing pet expenses of dog food and vet services.

Cell phone services = 52,881 pesos ($22)

This is the cost of cellular services from Claro for two cell phones. I have a pay-as-you-go phone that I recharge each month with 10,000 or 20,000 pesos. My girlfriend has a cellular plan with a bill that averages about 42,000 pesos per month.

Hair care = 5,000 pesos ($2)

It only costs me 5,000 pesos ($2) to get my haircut when they have a promotion near my apartment. My girlfriend hasn’t had her hair done recently.

Other categories

When I looked at costs of living last year, I included three more categories, which we did not incurred in the last two months. I prepaid for six Spanish classes at EAFIT late last year and I have four more classes to take this year, which are already paid for.

I previously included the computer and electronics category but we didn’t buy any computer or electronics items in December or January.  I also previously had Visa and cédula expenses that are once-a-year costs that I won’t incur again until September.

The Bottom Line

With the greatly improved exchange rate and our lower spending in some categories, over the past two months we averaged spending less than $2,000 per month for our cost of living in Medellín for a couple. This is down from around $3,000 per month when I looked at spending last year.

I don’t know how much longer the exchange rate will stay at its current improved rate. However, I believe our spending will likely average less than $2,500 per month the rest of this year.

Keep in mind it is certainly possible to live in Medellín for cheaper than we do. Apartments are available in Medellín for lower costs but these aren’t necessarily located as conveniently as my apartment nor do they have all the features.

The bottom line is that Medellín has a range of options for apartments available in a big range of prices (from less than $200 to well over $2,000 per month) that can meet the needs of a lot of renters.

For a couple living on a shoestring budget, I believe this can easily be done in Medellín at the improved exchange rate for less than $1,500 per month.

Or for a couple living in a luxury level penthouse apartment in El Poblado, the most expensive neighborhood, this would likely result in a cost of living exceeding $5,000 per month.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Jeff, once again thank you for a superb article. You have a pension for writing and your examples and illustrations made for an easy an informative read. My wife and I have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for almost 4 years. We enjoy our lifestyle but I always want to have a Plan B in case the political and/or economic system change.

    I visited your beautiful city in June 2014 and instantly fell in love. This year I hope to return with my wife.

    One of the perks of living in Ecuador as a resident is that you are eligible to participate in the IESS (Social Security Medical Plan). My monthly premium is $72 and my wife pays $12. Last year she had complicated abdominal surgery and there was no charge. A similar procedure in the U.S. would have easily been $10K. So my question is are Colombian residents with a cedula eligible for SURA and what is the monthly premium.

    Thanks again for a fabulous read.

    • Lenny, the question you just postedd is EXACTLY what I was planning on asking ! I’ll be eagerly waiting for answers. Thanks !!! Blessings to you and your wife.

  2. Hey Maritza,

    I work for an international school here in Medellin. I have SURA and had a surgery. It only cost my minimum (9,800 COP the blood work ( 12,000) and my medicine. I am from the US, and could never have afforded such an operation. This and more is why I am 3 years deep in Medallo!

    • Thanks, Cia ! Your info has helped me to feel more comfortable with my idea of choosing Medellin over other citiescities.
      Is there any Internationa school in Laureles ?
      Thanks !

  3. Hi Jeff. You wrote a if very well-written, clear article. Thank you. We can’t decide if Medellin, Pereira or Bogota is the city for us so we are in the process of gathering info and thinking.. Stan

        • I use ServiBanca ATMs, which permit 780,000 pesos per withdrawal, which is $326 at the current the exchange rate. I have found other ATMs in Colombia have lower limits per ATM withdrawal. You can also do multiple withdrawals. However, many banks in the U.S. limit how much you can withdraw per day with an ATM card. My bank limits to $500 per day. Also keep in mind some banks charge fees per ATM card use and also currency exchange fees. But some like Charles Schwab have no fees and reimburse ATM fees

          • It’s worth noting that banks will often allow you (the customer) to adjust your max withdrawal limit per day. While $500 is standard, some folks consider that amount too high a risk. It’s also possible to raise that limit, but again, depends on the bank.

      • I agree that ATM’s are the way to go.

        I have been very happy with my Citigold account with Citibank. I get an exchange rate that matches closely to the rate you see that day on finance sites. I do most of my withdrawals at Bancolombia branches, which limit you to COP$600,000 per transaction, but allow multiple transactions per day. I have been able to withdraw up to COP$2,000,000 at Citibank branches. Neither Bancolombia nor Citi charge me any fees.

        The Citigold account costs $30 per month, unless you carry a huge balance (I do not), but I think it’s well worth it.

  4. A question about apartments there: I saved http://www.espaciourbano.com/ as a favorite (I think I got that site from a Medellin Living article but not sure…) so that I could get an idea of what is available and have noticed that many,many, MANY listings indicate that they have no hot water. What is the deal with that? Do Paisa’s like cold showers or am I misinterpreting the listing description – maybe there is no hot water on tap in the kitchen link or laundry but the showers have hot water?

    Thanks!

    Curt

    • Yes many of the unfurnished apartments in Medellín don’t have hot water. When I surveyed unfurnished apartments a surprising 25% in El Poblado didn’t have hot water – http://medellinliving.com/apartment-rental-costs/. Also 46% of unfurnished apartment in Laureles-Estadio surveyed didn’t have hot water. Newer apartments tend to have hot water heaters. Many Colombians are accustomed to not having a hot water heater.

      I have found that some listings on the EspacioUrbano website are inaccurate as in the text description they say no hot water heater but if you look in photos of the apartment you will see one.

      Most apartments in Medellín that have hot water use gas water heaters – either tank-less or with a water tank. I personally would avoid any apartments that have the electric hot water in showers (too dangerous for me – electricity and water don’t mix well). Some apartments without hot water have plumbing for a gas hot water heater but you would have to talk to the owner to get one installed.

      • I have become a big fan of the electric water heater installed in the shower. I do make sure that the wires are well supported to ensure they stay away from the water. We have a 220V “export” model for which we paid about COP$50,000 at Exito, and it gives as much hot water as I want as long as I want.

        In my experience, the typical central water heater installed here will not have the capacity to support anything more than a short shower and the water is often not as hot as I would like. We have been looking at central hot water systems to install in our new home, and they are very expensive compared to the US. That may explain why the ones here tend to be undersized.

        • I disagree. I have had tank-less central gas water heaters in three of the unfurnished apartments I have rented here in Medellín. In each case I had to turn the water temperature down on the water heater or the water was too hot for showers. Also the water stays hot for as long as I want to take a shower.

          Electricity is also fairly expensive in Medellín at about 15 cents per kilowatt hour in my current Estrato 4 neighborhood. Gas would be a lower cost way to heat water.

          In my current apartment I have a Haceb 5.5 liter per minute tank-less central gas water heater and I have the temperature set at the medium setting and the water flow also set at the medium setting. At a higher setting the water is way to hot for showers for my taste. I am also able to take showers for 15 minutes or longer and the temperature stays the same.

          I you want a higher water flow shower, you can also get tank-less gas water heaters that are rated for higher liters per minute, 10 liters or more.

          With the central tank-less gas water heater I also get hot water for the kitchen sink and bathroom sinks. So I prefer it over the electric water heater installed in the shower as that just provides hot water for the shower.

          I also have rented furnished apartments in Cartagena with electric water heaters in the shower and they didn’t work very well and couldn’t get the water very hot. I suspect they were lower voltage so higher 220 V would be needed. I also just don’t like the idea of electricity in a shower.

        • John –

          I’ve had the same problem at both new, 3-bedroom apartments I’ve lived at in Ciudad del Rio (Torres del Rio and now Plaza del Rio). The gas water heater is the size of a small microwave and only supports 30-60 seconds of hot water at a time. It’s scolding hot, but that’s not a good thing.

          The result is a super annoying vacillation of extreme water temperatures: freezing cold, scolding hot, freezing cold. I usually don’t wait around for the hot water to come on a second time. Living in Medellin for me has meant doing without long, warm showers which some argue isn’t a bad thing, but having always grown up with that luxury in the U.S., I miss the option.

          My Colombian roommates don’t care because they prefer cold showers (a not so uncommon thing amongst paisas).

          I hadn’t thought to add an electric water heater. Though they scare me, I’m going to look into it. How do you handle the wiring to an electricity source? My roommate’s not going to go for me running wires across the bathroom to reach the existing outlet.

          • The Haceb tank-less 5.5 liter gas water heater in my apartment in Medellín will support hot water at the same temperature for well over 15 minutes. I took a long relaxing shower this morning for probably 25 minutes as I am recovering from a difficult day of flights coming back from Mexico yesterday and the water was the same comfortably hot temperature the entire time.

            Check the settings on your gas water heater. Something is probably wrong with the settings or wrong with the water heater if “only supports 30-60 seconds of hot water at a time” and if the water is scolding hot. If I set the tank-less gas water heater in my apartment at the highest temperature, the water is way too hot but I can adjust the temperature lower. If it only provides hot water for 30-60 seconds you are likely running too much water through it for its design, which you can be adjusted with the water flow setting on my water heater. Or it possibly needs a new battery, mine needs the battery replaced each year to function correctly. Or possibly it is not working correctly and needs to be serviced.

            A tank-less water heater should function to support hot water for a long shower in my experience. I have not had a problem with tank-less gas water heaters in three unfurnished apartments in Medellín or in over 10 furnished apartments I have rented over the years with tank-less gas water heaters in Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. They all worked well to provide hot water for long showers.

            For the electric water shower head heaters in the shower I have seen in apartments in Latin America, electrical wiring was run in the wall. Electric ones I experienced in Cartagena and Rio de Janeiro just didn’t provide sufficiently hot water and they looked too risky for my comfort level with loose wires.

          • I agree with Jeff that you would be better off taking a look at adjusting your water heater. You should not be getting only 1 minute of scalding water. I you don’t already have a 220 V outlet installed in the shower (well above the shower head), then you would have to do that. I would not run wires across the room, particularly since it would probably be to a 110V outlet that would not support a good heater.

            I also agree with Jeff that a central gas unit will be cheaper to operate, and that’s what we intend to install in our new house. I do plan to use a conventional tank heater though, as it will provide a source of emergency water in case we have a prolonged outage. My recommendation for using the shower head heater was for those situations where you are in a rented apartment that either has no heater or a crappy one.

    • That survey by El Colombiano didn’t include PriceSmart or Makro, which sell in large, wholesale size packages. Also some of the small local tiendas have lower prices than the bigger grocery stores, especially for fruits and vegetables.

      • That is true, one can find certain kinds of groceries cheaper at tiendas. However, there were no tiendas within walking distance of our apartment near Centro Comercial Oviedo in El Poblado. A trip to the PriceSmart near Aeropuerto Olaya Herrera or to the Makro in Laureles would not be cost or time effective for us to buy groceries. If we moved back to Medellin, we would not choose a neighborhood solely on the basis of where we could buy the lowest-priced groceries. I guess if grocery prices are at the top of your list for your housing priority, then, by all means, find a place to live near tiendas or near the PriceSmart close to the airport or near the Makro in Laureles.