In retrospect, would you move again to Colombia?

Hi all,

If you had to look back on your expat experience in Colombia, would you heartily say "let’s do it again"?

From the preparation stage to your actual everyday life in your new country, what did you enjoy the most?

Would you do certain things differently? Could you tell us why?

How would you describe the benefits of your expatriation in Colombia so far?

Thank you in advance for sharing your experience. We look forward to hearing from you!


Dear Christine,

After six years of living in Colombia, buying a house, renovating and extending it, sending our son to a local International School, driving a car and my wife trying to start a business.......unfortunately my advice is visit, rent but do not stay.

Colombians are very welcoming at first and the country is a new exciting experience with a lot of variety so it is great to visit.  Rent for a year to live and assess the country before moving.

We have found Armenia Quindio to be boring, old fashioned even backward and very very corrupt at all levels.  Hence services and service industries are very poor.  The people are also not well paid.  A lot of the so called professional middle classes are not to be trusted and will promise the world and deliver very little.  People have stollen from our house, run off with deposits, delivered poor and unsafe work and run away etc.  Construction and contracting is appalling.  The banking system is very very backward and you must have a cedula identity document before you can open an account.  Moving money is difficult.  The legal system is slow and corrupt. 

Most of the restaurants are very old fashioned and do not know how to serve international food.  There are few bars and just cheap night clubs, no sophistication at all or international perspective.  Hence it gets boring after a year as there is little to do after visiting the parks etc.  People stay within their private family groups and once you insist on everyone paying their fare share at a bar or restaurant then you find that your new friends disappear.

Internet, electricity, TV services are poor and slow.   Be very wary of living in a housing condominio......there are regular problems with poor administration and funds disappearing.  Better to stay in an apartment block or your own villa but you will then need your own security.

The driving is atrocious, especially the motorbikes.  Most people buy a license and few have driving lessons or proper tests.   More worrying is that security has become an issue again, with a lot of theft.  Life is cheap.

On the positive side medical and dental care remain at a high standard for private care.  The private schools are quite good.  The north of Bogota remains an oasis of normal international life and standards.  The girls are pretty too!

This has also been a painful realisation for my Colombian wife too and consequently we have decided to leave.  My son is itching to leave and return to Europe.  I myself have already left.

In sad conclusion, my advice is visit and have a great time. If you want to stay then rent first for a year and you will discover most of the above and do not bring your belongings into the country.

I think most people, whether you plan to stay or not, recommend you rent a while before buying or building.  Buying or building from the start is definitely NOT recommended.

John, I appreciate your honest perspective.  It happens to coincide in many points with that of my Colombian wife and myself.  She surprised me recently by saying she did not want to return to live in Colombia, when I retire.

She has a large family there in Cali and several other cities, and we still plan to visit them and stay for no more than 6 months at a time - this because under current tax law if anyone stays in Colombia 183 days or more in any 365 day period, Colombia considers them a resident for tax purposes and claims the right to tax their worldwide income - and the tax rates are higher and begin at a lower income than those of the USA.  With the "reforma tributaria" being discussed the possibility of raising the rates even further will likely become a reality, perhaps as soon as this year.  There is as yet no tax agreement between the US and Colombia that would prohibit double taxation but they already do have agreements in place to report the incomes of nationals in one country to the other country's tax agency.

As somewhat of an outsider I still feel much attraction for Colombia - the birds, the outdoors, the different culture and the people all appeal to me so much that I was willing to live there.  It can be a magical place (especially if you do not have to work there).  And our family ties there have allowed me to partake of an in-depth experience of Colombia perhaps not seen by all who go there.  My wife's family are all proud, honest and hard-working and they have made me a part of the large extended family with no reservations, as well as with families of their close friends.

I had the advantage of being exposed to Latin culture many years ago in Ecuador, when the country's population was less than one-third of what it is now.  My Spanish language fluency is good.  So many things like the slower pace of life, things that don't work, the bureaucracy, crime, etc. etc. are not new to me and in fact I have seen much improvement overall.  But your post points out honestly many things that potential expats from more developed countries may not find acceptable.  It's wise to go into this expat thing with one's eyes wide open!

I am in agreement with John Morrison. I loved my 2 years in Colombia and I rented a lovely apartment for $210/mo outside of Cali Colombia but I am very glad that I did not buy for the exact reasons that John stated. I loved many of the things that John M. loved in Colombia and will be back there to visit on vacation. The time I spent there now is wonderful memories to me but I was ready to come back to California and work and live a more sophisticated life style here. Every thing John says about Colombia is true, both the good and the bad. Even if you have money to spend, it gets confining after while. The problems there are so true. Also, once I was not willing to pay the whole bill people no longer wanted to go out to dinner very much or go traveling within the country. Money is very tight for 99.9% of the people thus they do many or most activities in a family or extended family environment and stay home and/or have parties at home or go to the river for the day. It is cheap entertainment that way. I am not criticizing - it just is what it is. It also made me realize that I have a good lifestyle in the U.S. and it made me appreciate the U.S. more.  The Colombian people taught me to take advantage (in a good way) of so many free or cheap things that you can do in the U.S. With that said: I can't wait to go to vacation next winter in Colombia and take in the heat, the birds and animals and beaches and all the wonderful treasures of Colombia. But, I love living in the U.S.A!!!!! I would like to hear other opinions.

I have only been living in the country for seven months now.  But already I bought a new apartment and a motorcycle.  I am not fluent in Spanish but this has not limited me from going out and exploring my surroundings.  The people never bother me and there was only one incident where the people maintains the ATM's withdrew money from my account but my bank in the states was able to retrieve.

I have visited Cartengena and plan on visiting many other places within this country.  My wife and I go to neighboring towns on our motorcycle on the weekends.

I like that I can phone the Dr. to visit our apartment if needed.  I like that groceries are delivered free of charge. 

There are somethings that in miss in the states.  But I decided to embrace my new surroundings and the people.

I have been living in Medelllin, in a rented apartment in Poblado with a great location within walking distance to Oviedo CC & Santa Fe CC [malls], since last June. However I had visited Medellin on vacations 13 times in the previous 9 years.... so I got to know Medellin fairly well before I came to live here last June.

My apartment rent, though a bit high for Colombian rates, includes all utilities, local phone service, 400 channels of cable TV, true high speed Internet service which is very reliable, monthly maid cleaning service, high tech modern clothes washer and separate clothes dryer. It is a 2 bedroom apartment with a den (I use for an office), 2-1/2 baths, and a very big balcony where I placed a gas BBQ. It has 24/7 armed guard service and security gate entry point staffed by a guard 24/7.

I truly love the life here! The weather is perfect year-round, with no need for heating or air conditioning. The city is very green and beautiful. The people are friendly and generally easy to talk with using my limited Spanish.

I really enjoy their two major annual events - La Feria de Las Flores (going on now for 55+ years), and their Alumbradas de Navidad from early December to early January -  both are spectacular to see and photograph.

There is an almost endless variety of fine restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world here in Medelllin. I have reviewed over 25 such restaurants so far on The food is excellent and the service is almost always superb. And the city just finished its annual Medeillin Gourmet Month (April) where 75 quality restaurants around town all featured 3 pre-fixe dinners at a set price of about $12 (39,000 pesos) or $18 (59,000 pesos) per person including a glass of wine too. The US Dollar exchange rate remains high at about 3,000 pesos to the dollar.

And Medellin is anything but boring! There are many wonderful things to do throughout the year. Great night life with many clubs and discos, along with so many top quality restaurants.

I agree that traffic is bad, especially at rush hours, and drivers of both vehicles and motorcycles seem not to obey common traffic laws. So I just happily use the low-cost taxis and avoid the hassles of driving here and maybe having an accident. No problem with taxis.

Due to various Colombian and USA financial reporting laws, I choose not to have any bank accounts here. My bank accounts remain at my California bank, where I use their Bill Pay function online to easily pay my USA bills with checks sent by my bank to those companies I owe money to. And I use Colombian bank ATM machines whenever I need Colombian pesos to spend as cash here, with my bank charging a flat $5 fee for each cash withdrawal.

I use a Colombian freight forwarder in Miami to ship things I order from USA to be delivered direct to my apartment door. They (TCC Box) take care of all the Colombian Customs paperwork and duties, and all for a reasonable fee (must lower chipping costs than using FedEx or DHL or other shipping companies I had explored online).

This includes drugstore items, prescriptions, supermarket foods, nutritional supplements (oddly Colombian duty-free items), clothes, computer accessories (tho most I can get here OK) and more.

As for Colombian income taxes, I am here on a Colombian Pensioner Visa, so I will soon be meeting with a Colombian tax adviser to file my Colombian income tax form. BUT i understand that after Colombia calculates the amount of their income taxes I will owe.... they then deduct all of the federal and state income taxes I paid in USA, usually leaving a small balance due or nothing due!

That is great. I embraced it when I was there also. It just was time to leave for me. That does not mean that someone else can not be happy living there for the rest of their life. It just was not for me for the rest of my life but I can't wait to go back this winter for vacation.

John Morrison is 100% correct.  This happens all over Colombia.  My recommendation is come visit, stay a while but don't buy or stay permanently. Keep your eyes wide open,and don't set any attachments that you can not leave as soon as you see the need. People are very nice in the beginning but as soon as you stop paying for everything the friendships end.  If you open your house to people they will take half of everything you have if not more. I had so much stolen from me that I stopped bringing anything I felt was a small luxury (pillows, bed sheets, socks, underwear, food, towels).  Locals will ask you to be the godfather or mother to their children then expect for you to pay for the child's elementary and H.S. education, birthday parties, communions, vacations and anything they need, and college. They are very forward after you make those commitments.  Don't open a bank account.  I had people calling my home trying to find out where I had my bank account opened.  Don't answer to any personal question to anyone over the phone or in person.

The motorcycle drivers make life dangerous.  Most of them have not taken a class or the driving requirements so they don't understand why cars don't behave like motorcycles.  My father  had to stop driving because in two occasions a motorcyclist jumped the medium in the highway, actually drove his motorcycle in-between a narrow space of the high walled cement divider as he was passing by and got his cycle caught on his front bumper.  Did not kill him, but it almost killed my dad (he was so scared).  Twice in the same year at different location!, I am not sure it was not the same cyclist.

Colombia is great for short vacations.

I agree with most of what is written.  There are no guarantees that moving to Colombia will make you happy or if you will find the love of your life. 

For me, I was lucky to find an educated woman.  My wife prior to our marriage paid half of the mortgage, all of the utilities, cable, food and insurance for her brother.  All the while, the other family members sat back and watched their back accounts grow fat.  The family based the freebies on helping to raise my wife's 17 yr. old.  I quickly introduced her family to the democratic ways and stopped the socialist movement.  Now my wife no longer pays for anything within the household but only the mortgage.

I will step in to help pay for a doctor visit and we do bring over extra food whenever we visit.  You'll understand the concept that if you give a mouse a cookie, he'll ask for a glass of milk.

When we were dating, I would ask my wife if she needed me to send her any money?  She would state no but thank you.  Perhaps not fail safe...But when you first start dating and the other person is asking you for money.  Take my advice and run for the hills. 

As stated earlier, do not open a bank account here. This advice was given to me by my tax accountant.  I also recommend that your receipts on any withdrawals from ATMs has I have had stolen from by account when I withdrew money.  Also, never withdraw large amounts of cash from ATMs unless you are in a public area such as the mall.  You need to think that you are being watched at all times.  If you are in a bank be aware of anyone using a cellphone, even the teller.  They may be calling someone to alert them of your cash withdraw. 

Colombia can be a great country to stay.

What about Mexico? 

Places such as Agucalientes ( and Medrida (Yucatan) are on top of the list of best places to visit in this country. Most services, hotels and products are a lot cheaper than in Colombia. The only exception are restaurants; they are more expensive than in Colombia.

In accordance to Numbeo, you would need around 1,390.80$ in Aguascalientes to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 2,329.27$ in Cartagena (assuming you rent in both cities); (1 USD = 17 MxPeso).

Colombia will become more expensive and even more dangerous in the near future; The political stability may also change once the peace negotiations with the FARC are compleated.

Mexico  is safer than Colombia? In Mexico, the drug lords are all but running the country. The government is increasingly too weak to control them. Drug connected killings are much more common now in Mexico, than the FARC is causing now in Colombia. And Colombia's military and police forces are at least significantly more effective and powerful than they are in Mexico.

I remain a happy resident of Medellin.

I've been to Mérida, México several times (a long time ago) and while it's a great place, you'd better like HOT HOT HOT weather to live there.  Same with Campeche, and Quintana Roo and that whole area of México.  I would doubt that it's any cheaper for the same quality of life, than most areas in Colombia.

I love México but Colombia has IMO so much more to offer as far as varied climate in just a short traveling distance, in different styles of living especially for those expats who do not need to work, in things to do and places to go, in the people's attitude towards government (they all still want socialist programs but they realize the corrupt government will never do much to help them so they have to do it for themselves), in the growing and active economy, and in their friendly attitude towards extranjeros.

You must realize that approximately 50% of the population of Colombia lives at the minimum wage level or less:  $689,454 pesos per month or $233.08 USD at today's exchange rate.  And that only about 50% of the population has "formal" employment meaning employment by an established/recognized company, the rest have only "informal" employment meaning they are on their own, at best they are "self-employed". 

The disposition of the FARC remains a thorny problem as they don't want to go to jail no matter what crimes they have committed against the people, but so many people think they MUST pay, in spite of Santos' efforts (it seems to many) to let them off scot-free and have the taxpayers in Colombia pay for their rehabilitation.

Colombia is not called Locombia for nothing.  But I would still feel more at home and safer in Colombia, than in México.  In large part this is probably because my wife is a colombiana and her wonderful family that has welcomed me with open arms, is also in Colombia and with whom I feel very much at home.

Nevertheless my plan due to the tax situation and the upcoming proposed "reforma tributaria" which will raise taxes on everyone, is to spend no more than 180 days there in any given 365 day period to avoid punitive taxes (search 'colombia taxes') on my retirement income from the USA to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds - spending about half the year in the USA, and half in Colombia.

Dear Bill,

It is an cliche that Mexico is full of  drug lords and that they are influencing the daily live of the habitants. I will not negate that the mexican government is unable or unwilling to pacify the criminal unrest but this has nothing to do with the daily live of people not involved in political actions.

As far as Colombia is concerned, the FARC is only one of several criminal forces but not an urgent problem to the overall security as of now, but once the (unfavorable) peace agreement is signed in, the situation  will become more difficult and the unsolved problems  with the FARC (and other groups) become visible for the normal citizen. The fact that the president Santos with a 15% acceptance is leading this extremly important project says everthing to me.

Some colombians are just hypnotized by the word peace; but they hardly know the implications of a badly negotiated agreement.

Medellin is a nice place where I lived for about 2 years and I thought to move back, probably to Rionegro but it will be only for a short time...



I agree with many points that have already been stated ,I myself have been here just over 2 years and yes in the beginning I was very impressed with Medellin its clean , organized, a metro running through the city and the people are very polite however in September I will be moving on ......
I am fluent in spanish having lived 14 years in Barcelona so that was never part of the problem , over the past year I feel there is very little to do here unless you want to go to nice shopping malls everyday , also this is definitely not the 'city of eternal spring ' summer maybe because I am tired of walking outside and sweating within minutes its so humid here !! I long for a  cold winter !
Furthermore the traffic is a major issue ,basically there are too many cars on the road and they don't have the infrastructure to handle it and believe now it has major pollution problems as well noise pollution ( I despise the sound of super bikes  ripping through the city at ridiculous speeds )
Coming from Europe the first thing that disappointed me here was the food and unfortunately my opinion has not changed , its mediocre at best and as for the wines ..... well lets not go there !
Finally something that I honestly didn't noticed in the first year of living here but something that gradually got underneath my skin and that is the short days here ... 18:30 everyday of the year without fail its dark and now its driving me nuts !! I miss those long summer nights where you can enjoy the summer evening over a 2 hour dinner with a great bottle of wine ( or two ) I think I am a bit stir crazy these days !
I have had a interesting 2 years here and I was fortunate  not to buy and just rented a room ,made some good friends and had some great trips to the coast but i guess its time to return to Europe ,it will be quite nice to go out and not have every person in the street/cafe/bar/bus etc staring at you because of blond hair and blue eyes !!

I agree with you that Colombia is A LOT safer than Mexico. Medellin is as safe as many cities in the US. It is safer than Detroit and some other cities in the US. If I had to live in Colombia, I would want to live in Medellin. As far as Mexico goes, it is very very dangerous right now. I have friends in the US that are caring for their cousins that are 15 year old males. The Cartels in Mexico are forcing the young boys to be in the cartel. If they decline, then the Cartel forces them or kidnaps and kills family members. It is really bad and is also spreading.

@Jett: The short days all year 'round drove me crazy too! I got so so tired of never having long summer nights. I got very bored in Cali. The Medellin weather is better and I thought there was more to do but you are spot on as far as the pros and cons of Medellin. As I said in my other post, I enjoyed my time in Colombia and will look forward to coming back and visiting but I am very happy to be back in California again. Also, I will not have people staring at me all day or night because of the blond hair and blue eyes. I know how you feel. I am German and Swedish.

The thing that drives me crazy about Medellin is the smells of gasoline coming from cars, the noise pollution where you can or are forced to hear some 10 songs all at the same time in the same block. Same thing in a bus.  I cannot imagine someone sick inside their homes or maybe even dying and having to breath ones last breath amongst all of the noise and smell. Worse yet, if one has mastered the language.  Breathing a last breath while listening to a collection (all at one time) of really filthy music being broadcasted nice and loud.  Even in the secluded corners of the mountains one finds that, if there is a small shop they usually install a high speaker where they will broadcast loud music starting Friday evening all the way until the early hours of Mondays.  If you happen to be unlucky enough you might have 2 or 3 small tiendas in the same area, and then you will have to listen to 3 different kinds of music all weekend long.  How in the heck can people rest?? then mix a bunch of light that has to shine all night long in almost every area of town, then add the gasoline and fume smells from all types of motor vehicles. There is usually a lull of silence of maybe half an hour before the avocado sellers, pineapple sellers, papaya sellers, milk, mazamorra and all other sellers start yelling early in the morning. 
There has not been a single night in Medellin where I have not heard gun shots at a distance or even near by.  I have spent some early mornings counting gun shots and trying to figure out how far away they are. Medellin is not that great of place to live either.  In the last years I have spent a weekend or longer in almost every corner of the city, and I have not enjoyed any of it. Almost forgot to mention the heat and humidity and lack of airflow in the city, mix that with all of the dust and motorcycles. It is not that much better in the mountains.  No soon one finds a good area quiet and semi-clean one finds that everyone starts moving around the area and bringing the same noise and the petty theft. I have spent the last 3 years removing large plastic bags from the ground trying to allow the earth in my farm to breath.
I was horrified when I found that all of the plastic bags in which agricultural supplies, groceries and fertilizers are packaged get buried right in the spot where the bag is opened.  Most of the earth in the area where I live has no worms.  They have been killed off by poor land management. Yet every week I see thousands of fertilizer empty bags, potato chip bags, bottles, shoes, anything you can imagine thrown by the side of the mountain roads. Yet I am still digging out plastic bags.  I am saddened,  after actually seeing it in black and white. Colombians are educated enough to do much better for their land, and themselves.

In accordance to NUMBEO, crime in Aguascalientes is low and in Medellin is high, pollution is very high in Medellin and very low in aguascalientes:

Index   Info    Medellin    Aguascalientes
Crime Index:       57.08       25.39
Safety Scale:       42.92       74.61

Index   Info                  Medellin    Aguascalientes
Pollution Index:                 66.80       17.24
Pollution Exp Scale:       132.74       77.5

Re: The crime indices

Isn't crime usually higher in big cities in any country? I do not think this says much.

Agree with every point "Medellin_bound" made. Sounds like a rant I would have written, to the T. We're moving abroad because the noise pollution is keeping me from sleeping and working here. I've tried for 6 years, in 3 departments, in big cities, small cities, towns, and farms. Crazy loud everywhere.

I started to write


Mexico has a plenty of mid sized cities with populations  from 500 000 to 1,500 000 and 1 large city: Mexico D.F. with 8.8 million habitants. If you compare Mexico D.F. with Bogota, the values of the crime comparison are very similar, but the population of Bogota is only about 6,7 millions  or about  2 millions less than this of Mexico D.F....

Best, Gerd

Yes!!!  And...I may have done some things differently, but pointless to try to go back in time, right? ***

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