Pharmacist going travel developer to explore the world and to live a fearless life.
Current Location: Medellin, Colombia
Nomad Hotspot: Medellin, Colombia
Medellin in Colombia is becoming another top location for digital nomads to escape to. Nicknamed “The City of Eternal Spring” and perfect those seeking adventure, nightlife, culture, a strong economy, and beautiful women. With the drastic improvements to the country far removed from the days of Pablo Escobar, this mecca attracts nomads for it’s improved infrastructure and fast internet. The city is relatively safe if you’re smart about which areas to avoid.
I’ve updated this guide as of April 2017 and you can read about my experiences when you see the underlined parts scattered through the article. If you’re curious about something even about something I didn’t mention, just ask! I didn’t include everything in this guide.
Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America by Mark Ehrman reports that the Republic of Colombia has about 44 million inhabitants with tropical climates along the coast and eastern plains and cooler climate in the highlands.
The official currency is the Colombian Peso and Spanish is the native tongue. Catholicism is the predominant religion at 90% and 10% others.
The closest airport to this Medellin is the Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH) but most people will come in through Jose Maria Cordoba Airport (MDE). MDE has more international flights coming in and you will find cheaper flights. MDE is about 30 minutes away from the city so you’ll need transportation. You can catch a bus, a taxi (~$20), or use Latin Host ($30) to get to the city. Medellin Airport Transfer has the same service too. Check out the resources at the bottom of this post to learn more about them. My experience: I used Medellin Airport Transfer for about $30 USD to get transported to my hostel from Jose Maria Cordoba Airport. I didn’t want to get lost on the first day. My driver was really nice and met me outside of customs and took my bag. He didn’t speak English but we both understood each other enough and I exchanged some broken Spanish with driver on my way into the city which took about 30 minutes. I have him a 2,000 peso tip also.
A tourist visa allows up to 90 days in the country and becoming a citizen isn’t too difficult. You can also extend your visa to six months without leaving the country. Much better than having to do visa runs in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Medellin is known for its comfortable weather with the average in the 70’s year round. There are varied climate zones between the elevated Andes Mountains and tropical jungles give you a choice of changing temperature just by changing your elevation.
The popular districts in Medellin include El Poblado, Laureles-Estadio, Envigado, Floresta, and Sabaneta. Check out Jeff at Medellin Living for more information. Living in Laureles-Estadio, Floresta or Sabaneta is cheaper than El Poblado (Strata 6). In El Poblado district, Parque Lleras is an upper-class area where most expats go. A lot of the nightlife happens here in this sub-district of Medellin. Laureles, Envigado, and Floresta are more quiet and residential neighborhoods.
Just make sure you understand the concept of a fiador and how to get around it if you’re planning to rent your own apartment (covered in this 4-part post at Medellin Living).
Bogota is known for the culture and nightlife being a big city. The city is also higher in altitude and colder. There are many museums, restaurants, and art to experience there.
Cartagena is known for the extravagance of a beachside town. Most of the wealthy Colombians retire here with property investments. Living here is not ideal and designed more for the short-stint travelers.
Santa Marta has even nicer beaches on the northern side of the countries and sits close to the city of Cartegena.
My experience: I stayed at the Wandering Paisa Hostel in Laureles my first week, Hostel Ondas in Floresta my second week, and Casa Botero AirBnB in Floresta for the third week. Next, I moved into an apartment owned by a local in Floresta and booked it for 2 months to cut down on living costs.
I do not have experience staying in El Poblado, Envigado, or Sabaneta. All I can tell is that El Poblado is more expensive, louder, and comes with more tourists/expats. I have yet to visit any of the bigger cities in Colombia like Bogota, Cartagena, or Santa Marta.
Quality of Life
The t-shirt and jeans weather is beautiful all year round. Despite being at the same altitude as Denver in Colorado, the position in latitude prevents any snow from falling down on this beautiful city. The two rainy seasons occur around April-May and October-November so do pack accordingly!
Colombian Spanish is clear and easy to understand and spoken by locals who are very warm and friendly people who love to talk to gringos. However, not many locals speak English and there are only a few English menus. You can prepare your Spanish by taking free courses online with Memrise or Duolingo. It might be worth investing into a paid course to help you get up to speed even quicker.
Groceries and food can depend on the neighborhood you live it. Fruits and veggies are really cheap in Colombia and the farmers’ markets are the best place to snatch a good deal. Shop outside the expensive neighborhood and you can even save even more money.
Crime has been mostly extirpated as the cartels and paramilitaries have been pushed out. The crime rate is even lower than the neighboring countries and tourism is booming here. I personally felt safe here in the city and the locals are very friendly. So far, I have not been mugged, pickpocketed, or held up at any point.
The nightlife is also an exceptional feature of this country. You can have a great time with friends and buy drinks without breaking the bank!
How much do things typically cost in Colombia? From The World’s Cheapest Destinations 4th edition by Tim Leffel:
Finding a nice furnished apartment to rent might set you back about $500 dollars. Sharing space with people is definitely the way to save the most money. A spacious 3-bedroom apartment can run about $350 a month with utilities. It is recommended for the new foreigner to rent a furnished apartment before delving into buying or getting an unfurnished place. My experience: I stayed in hostels for about $10/night. My AirBnB was also about the same price range. If you’re staying all 3 months or longer, it would be wise to rent an apartment. You can find listings on many of the facebook groups or just ask your hostel if they have connections. I scored a 650,000 Colombian Pesos ($217 USD) per month for minimum 2 months that includes 3 meals a day, laundry twice per week, and a small room with private bathroom. This is an exceptionally good deal but you can also find a nice place for 550,000 Colombian Pesos ($183 USD) per month if you are patient.
It’s interesting to note that neighborhoods are stratified by income levels with strata 1 being the most impoverished and strata 6 being the most well-to-do. I’ve read online that digital nomads should aim for strata 3 and above. The prices for utilities might also run higher for those in the higher strata’s which give you more reason to stay in a neighborhood that fits with your freelance career.
A homestay arrangement is also an attractive option for those seeking to accelerate their Spanish quickly and the cultural immersion with a real Colombian family. Costs typically run for about $300 to $450 dollars for this option but you lose the risk of privacy and diet most of the time.
Maid service is about $150 to $250 for a twice weekly visit.
Medical care is also affordable and expedient compared to the states. Making appointments is a breeze without the lengthy paperwork. A doctor’s checkup is about $15 dollars and specialist is about double that. Lab work is less than $10. It’s amazing that doctors will make house calls for you and give you their personal cell phone number!
Prescription medications are cheaper with the challenge that you can find it on the shelf in much smaller stores. Most of the time, you’ll pay out of pocket or have an international plan to assist. Apparently, dental tourism is not as big here as Costa Rica or Mexico but still cheaper than what you would pay in the states.
A typical lunch meal with meat, rice, beans, and a soft drink is about $5. A steak dinner costs about $12. You can go up on the food chain if you want to shell out more money, even those comparable to high-end restaurants in Europe. The food variety here is something left to be desired but the marketplaces are filled with fresh ingredients to create meals of your own choosing. Ironically, coffee is difficult to procure since most of the beans are exported but perhaps a peek into the Juan Valdez chain is warranted. My experience: If you grab the menu meal of the day like Soncocho or meat and rice, It will run about 9,000 Pesos ($3 USD). There are other places that might run you 15,000 Pesos ($5 USD) for a lunch or dinner meal which still isn’t too bad. The highest I’ve spent so far is 22,000 Pesos ($7 USD) for a salad at a restaurant catered to more Americans. Even the name of the restaurant is in English. So my tip to you is if you eat like a local, you’ll pay local prices.
At the time of this writing April 2017, alcohol on the streets is not legal on the streets anymore! A beer is about $2 from a bar or restaurant. If you’re into the nightlife, bottle service is the way to go after you’ve round up your gang of about 5-6 friends. The split is about $5 per person with a 750ml bottle of rum or aguardiente, totaling about $30. There’s no cover charge at most places but the few that do are relatively cheap. My experience: I was charged 20,000 Colombian Pesos for 2 separate places in El Poblado as cover but it might just be because of the venue and it being Saturday night.
Getting around in a taxi is also quite cheap and drivers are not tipped. A trip might run you about $2 to $5 dollars in Medellin. Intercity buses to go long distances are about $8 per trip complete with comfort and restrooms. Flying might be a cheaper way to get around if you are going further. As mentioned Avianca is based in Colombia and situates you in a good position to travel outside the country or visiting relatives. You can find a deal for internal flights around $55. My experience: Taxis are safe and metered. You won’t have to bargain or be worried about being kidnapped. I’ve taken them in the wee hours of the morning and it was still a good experience. It might help if you have Google Maps downloaded offline on your phone so you can show them where you want to go. The easiest thing would be to tell them to drop you near a popular landmark like a metro station.
Museums are generally free or negligible in price. There are tons of outdoor activities. A zip line trip in the coffee region was about $20. A tandem paragliding trip outside of Medellin is $32. Day excursions are less than 30 minutes away to the beautiful mountain line. My experience: I’m not much of a museum goer but I do like to hit attractions. I’ll vouch that most of them are free like Pueblito Paisa, Comuna Trece, or Parque Arvi. I’ll be exploring more outdoor activities in the months to come so I’ll update accordingly.
Quick Tips & Tidbits
- Medellin named the most innovative city in 2013
- Coffee is one of the largest exports from this place for all around the world
- Avianca is based in Colombia. Copa, American, and Spirit also fly into here
- David Lee of Medellin Living is a great resource if once is considering coming here
- Brand clothing and electronics should be purchased in your home country or duty-free Panama, not in Colombia
- Visa extensions up to 6 months are about $40
- Most digital nomads go for the “independent activities visa”, giving more time in the country
- Homicide rate is 38 to 100,000 annually
- Food fare might prove abysmal for foodies who might run up their bills to add variety to their “international” tastes
- Time is relaxed here so expect to wait longer for business and other dealings
- Dating here can be challenging but not impossible if you’re slightly exotic
- If you’re adventurous, a mud bath at Volcan de Lodo el Tutumo might be your cup of tea
- If you’re doing drugs, be smart about it as enforcement officers are keen on these activities and try to blackmail you for money
- Salsa is a big scene is big here, and probably all of South America to boot
- Thursday through Sunday is when the city is most busy when people are out and about
- Become knowledgeable about market prices of rental apartments at Espacio Urbano website. This is a Spanish site where most real estate firms use for listings in Medellin.
- Medellin Digital Nomad Guide
- Medellin Language Exchange Nights
- Medellin, Colombia for Digital Nomads and Remote Workers
- A Better Life For Half The Price by Tim Leffel
- Getting Out by Mark Ehrman
- Ready.Jess.Go blog post about Cartegena, Colombia
- StoryV’s blog post about Medellin Culture and Lifestyle
- The Sweetest Way blog post about Chiang Mai vs. Medellin
- Medellin Living blog post about 2016 Unfurnished Apartments in Medellin
- Latin Host or Medellin Airport Transfer
I am so excited to be visiting here in 2017. From the fiestas to the siestas, I can’t ask for much more. The city is definitely alive with all the nomads visiting here and the vibrant Colombians sharing their culture and salsa moves! This is a place that would be awesome to bootstrap and only 30 minutes away from a visit to the luscious beaches nearby. Staying in touch with people in the states is effortless due to the similarity of time zone and the ease to fly back and forth. My experience: I have been here 3 weeks already and have to admit that I’m falling in love with this place. With the consistent weather, cheap but healthy foods, and the beautiful skyline with the lights on the valley, it’s hard not to. Let me know if you are curious about anything, I’ll do my best to share with you!