Lifestyle on limited budget

Hi, long time since I posted and a lot has happened.

I'm an American looking to retire in Medellin or possibly Cali, though I've never been to the latter. I only mention Cali as I believe the cost of living is less and I like warm weather. I'd like to inquire what kind of life I would have living on a small pension of about $2200 monthly. The best I can tell from my visits is that my standard of living would be much lower than it is now.

Not to get into all the gory details, I lost my business and with it, my savings. Hence, I have to rely on my pension. Although I'm a professional and have commanded a good salary, at 67 I find that jobs are much more difficult to come by. I was recently laid off and can't even get an interview. Besides, after over 50 years of working, I'm ready to leave the cold winters here in the northeast and enjoy retired life.

Is a decent apartment in a relatively safe area with enough left over for food, modest entertainment, basic medical (I'm healthy), etc. possible in my circumstances?  The decision I need to make is whether to struggle to look for work so I can replenish my savings somewhat or take the plunge and retire.

Thanks.

You will have no problem with that if you have discipline. Limited travel as well.

Cali is definitely  not a safe city. And Medellin not so much either.

At today's exchange rate $2200 USD is almost 7 million COP.  Very few Colombians earn that much - you can have a good lifestyle in Medellín and cheaper surrounding areas, and even more so in Cali and its surrounding areas like Jamundí to the south which is just as hot but much smaller and still close, and Dapa to the northwest which is higher and cooler and still close, within 20 minutes or so from Cali.

Use this salary tool to see the range and average of self-reported salaries are in Colombia (although there is the option to change the language to English it does not seem to work when you do that):
https://tusalario.org/colombia/tusalari … -salario#/

For instance in step 1 if you type in "ger" for gerente (manager) and then choose "gerente de contabilidad para clientes particulares" (accounting manager for private clients) and slide the years of experience to 20, you will see in box 2 that the average salary is 3.27 million COP, less than half of what your income would be - without working.

You will get plenty of warm and even hot weather in Cali, but unless you're doing manual labor in the sun it's not bad at all (I say that even though I sweat easily, I am mostly quite comfortable there).  It can even get cool enough at night to use a light blanket.  And if you want cooler, find a smaller city or village that is higher in altitude - you can find almost every climate in Colombia, except as far as I know there is no village that is at or above the snow line on the mountains which get snow.

As far as standard of living - it's all relative.  For one thing you could say that since it's a poor country, that the majority of people have a lower standard of living.  But for someone who makes nearly 7 million COP per month as you do, it's not unusual at all for them to rent or own a spacious house, a car, have a family, take vacations, have a maid either live-in or come daily or several times a week, to eat out often - all things that in reality indicate a very good standard of living.

Colombia is a country of almost 50 million people.  The total amount of people who received pensions in 2017 according to Colpensiones, the country's agency that runs their equivalent of our Social Security, was less than 1.2 million.  Of those, only about 33,000 or 2.7% received as much as 4 to 5 minimum salaries per month, the average for that 2.7% being just over 2.87 million COP/month - about $930 USD/month.  All other pensioners, 97.3% of them, received much less, 51% only about 1 minimum salary/month, less than $270 USD/month.

In Colombia neighborhoods are ranked by estrato from 1 to 6, with 1 being very poor and 6 being very rich.  People who live in neighborhoods of estratos 1, 2 and 3 get subsidized for their energy, sewer and water costs;  estrato 4 pays the actual cost;  estratos 5 and 6 pay more for their utilities.  Most expats from the US would be more comfortable living in neighborhoods in estratos 4, 5 and 6.  And just like in the US and everywhere, there are good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, not always with a straight-line correlation to their estrato.  Rural areas especially since their estrato is determined differently than urban areas, may not reflect their classification as far as their livability and having good neighbors (or not).

Of course the contrasts in Colombia are much more visible and widespread than they are in most of the USA.  Poverty is everywhere, and it is extreme when compared to the USA.  But there are no harsh winters to survive, fruit grows on trees year-round, and as long as you have a roof over your head to keep the rain out, you can be fat and happy with very little expense.

Numbeo.com is useful for cost of living comparisons as well as some crime statistics.  Here is a comparison between cost of living in Cali, Colombia and Jersey City, NJ:
https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/c … Comparison

Here are some sites that advertise the monthly cost to rent apartments/houses in and around Cali.  Conversion from COP to USD is easy and pretty close if you just knock off the last three digits and divide by three, so that for instance 680,000 COP becomes about $225 USD (it's actually about $220 USD at today's exchange rate):
https://fincaraiz.elpais.com.co/avisos/alquiler/casas

https://www.metrocuadrado.com/casas/arriendo/cali/

https://www.metrocuadrado.com/apartamen … endo/cali/

https://www.fincaraiz.com.co/apartament … iler/cali/

Wow, thank you for all that! And how the heck did you know I live in Jersey City?!

I am accustomed to city life and all its dangers having grown up in NYC. I guess it's subjective, but I felt safe in Medellin in my visits (once for a month), even in El Centro (during the day).

I'm limiting myself to a city where there is at least a modicum of culture and things to do.  And other expats to socialize with, though I hope to eventually fit in with Colombians as I learn the language and culture better. I'm single (divorced) and will be living alone. For that reason, I don't want to live in an isolated area even though it's cheaper. I also would like to avoid having to buy a car. For a perspective, I visited Bogota once and hated it... too crowded, too much pollution, too cold. To each his own.

I thought the climate in Medellin was ideal. Cali may be a little bit on the warm side for me. An issue is my Spanish. I've practiced it lots but I seem to have a mental block when it comes to learning foreign languages. I only speak a little better than basic. Which brings me to apartment hunting. I would like for someone to show me around but am fearful of going to a real estate agent. I hear there's a big "gringo tax." Any ideas on how I could find someone trustworthy that speaks English to show me around Cali and Medellin? Of course I would pay for the service.

I am planning on visiting for 2 weeks, maybe more, at the end of March to look around. I would appreciate any help in finding people to show me around.

Thanks again.

As far as someone (or several people) to show you around, you could try showaround.com, here for Cali:

https://www.showaround.com/s/Cali,%20Va … tryCode=CO

And here for Medellín:
https://www.showaround.com/s/Medellin,% … tryCode=CO

gsusser :

...how the heck did you know I live in Jersey City?!

If you access expat.com via the internet, just below each person's screen name in a thread and to the right of their avatar, is some info about that person including a location, if they have given that.

OsageArcher :
gsusser :

...how the heck did you know I live in Jersey City?!

If you access expat.com via the internet, just below each person's screen name in a thread and to the right of their avatar, is some info about that person including a location, if they have given that.

Duh :)

Thanks for the tip on showmearound, as well as all the other great info. Do you know anyone that's used the service? It seems to be geared for sightseeing.

I haven't used showaround.com but based on the guide profiles it seems to be more than just a sightseeing service - many of the guides promise an inside view of their city, to get to know it as only a local could, instead of just superficial sightseeing which so many internet sites offer details of what to see and do for almost anywhere.

To be shown around a city by a local, to me, is much more valuable than to be shown that same city by some gringo who doesn't really speak good Spanish or understand the culture and the people and who may have been there only a short time...

Dear Mr Quechimba
I'm intrigued to know why you stated categorically that Cali is an unsafe city ?... Unless of course you're talking about road safety !
I've lived here for six years , and have not once seen or been a victim of any violence. I've been pickpocket and had a backpack stolen ... both due to my stupidity, and taking my eye of the ball. Cali is a fun city, with very friendly people, but the same rules apply here as any other place ...including London.... ...Use your head and you'll be fine.
As for $2200 a month... Put on on your dance shoes and have a wonderful retirement  !!!

Dear Poster Susser,

Welcome back to the Colombia forums of expat.com....

I agree with two posters above that you'd be on a better track to retire to Colombia with $2,200 a month rather than fight the factors that are obviously not working in your favor in the Jersey job market.

---

The Expat-friendly areas of Medellín are far prettier than what I encountered driving around Cali for several hours.  I was lost at rush-hour and attempting to get out of town.  (Some suburban areas may be 'más hermosas'.)

The lack of Expats in Cali as evidenced by the apparent continual failure to stage regular Expat meetups in that city .. would be a detriment for new arrivals, in my opinion.  It's much more favorable in this repect in the Paisa capital.

cccmedia

You could join 'Internations Cali' . ... Plenty of friendly expats here, you just need to put yourself out there!

gsusser :

I don't want to live in an isolated area even though it's cheaper. I also would like to avoid having to buy a car. For a perspective, I visited Bogota once and hated it... too crowded, too much pollution, too cold.

Although Medellín is obviously warmer than Bogotá, the problems of pollution and traffic exist in both cities.

Consider the increasingly-popular suburbs of Medellín .. and the possibility of spending several thousand (US) on a car in order to access what you like about big-city offerings.  Of course, car ownership would require a Colombia drivers license to drive the vehicle .. and that would mean meeting various requirements for the DL, probably including Spanish-language driving classes and road and off-road testing.

cccmedia

I just saw an old post in which you said you'd consider buying a home in Colombia.

Few Expat arrivals live more than a year or two in the same neighborhood or same city .. in the first place they move into.

So don't buy anything 'al respecto' for the first year living in the target area.

cccmedia

cccmedia :

I just saw on old post in which you said you'd consider buying a home in Colombia.

Few Expat arrivals live more than a year or two in the same neighborhood or same city .. in the first place they move into.

So don't buy anything 'al respecto' for the first year living in the target area.

cccmedia

Like I said in my initial post, a lot has changed since I first posted in this forum. Retiring in CO was a distant thought then. Now it's becoming more of a reality. However, there is no way I would commit to anything for probably after a year of living wherever I initially end up.

As for a car, I really want to avoid it. I gave up my car 10 years ago because it's unnecessary where I live. Other than the occasional rented car, I drive very little. At this point, I don't feel comfortable driving. And I hear unpleasant stories about owning and driving a car in Colombia. It's funny, one of the first things I thought about in relocating was making arrangements to transport my beloved bicycle. I'd sell it but it cost a minor fortune and I'd only get a fraction of the purchase price if I sold it. But I digress.

I think it might be best to get an airbnb for a month and look around. I'd have to think about the logistics of that though since I want to spend some time in at least 2 cities.

It's mind boggling - to me that is, how many little and not so little things one has to take into consideration when relocating outside the US, i.e., my bicycle. I've got my work cut out for me in researching this. I wonder, is there a dummy's guide to this stuff? :) It must be twice as difficult for a family that's relocating.

Ahh. I hate to be a wet blanket. I agree with all the positive things listed above. And what I will mention really shouldn't impact your life much. I think $2200 a month is more than enough to retire comfortably in Colombia if your not a spendthrift. 

At $2200 a month you wouldn't have to pay income tax in the US.. Or a minuscule amount. You will however need to pay in Colombia with that income if you spend more than 183 days a year in Colombia.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxation_in_Colombia
About 1/2 way down the page is the tax table. You should be able to get a ballpark number from this chart with some quick number crunching.

Due to this I have opted to spend less than 183 days a year in Colombia. As there are other country options that you can live well on those funds. While Colombia is undoubtedly the cheapest of the neighborhood, I have found Peru and Ecuador to have very reasonable  cost of living also. I just returned from almost 3 months in Ecuador and Peru and dont believe I spent anywhere near $2200 a month in either country if you take out the cost of the flights.

Picking a smaller town just outside major cities should reduce your costs also.  I live in a small town (Cajica) 30 min. to 1 hour+, depending on traffic, north of Bogota and it is a lot more reasonable than living in Bogota while still having the benefits of Bogota close by. Bogota sprawl has also brought a Price Smart and new mall out here within 5 to 10 min. of our apartment. While Bogota is one of the coldest cities in Colombia I am sure its a far cry from Jersey in the winter. LOL

The guy mentioned safety as a concern

I just said Cali sis not he safest city in Colombia. How many murders 2000 a year?

I have been un Colombia 6 years, never been robbed (in the streets anyway) and have spent time in Cali

Not a place I would choose to live in Colombia..for many reasons. So many better locations.

I have travelled the country very extensively

Dean;

I joined Internations about 1 year ago.  Moved to Cali from Washington DC area in July 2018.  I quit using Internations because it seemed to have a Bogota focus.  No activity here in Cali, and seems they want you to pay for membership (Albatross) to do anything on the site.  Is it worth it?

Moved to Cali in July 2018.  Wife (from Cali) and I bought an apartment in Cuidad Jardin area. 
I will probably transition from work to a pension by the end of 2019.  Some comments on several of your posts.
+  Cars:  So far we make do with Taxis.  Ubiquitous and inexpensive.  it is a hassle if we want to take a day trip though.  And yes, if you get a Colombian Driver's license you need to go to a driving school.  Suppose that is where they teach you to make left turns from the right lane -- and to watch for motorcycles because they are everywhere and do not obey any rules of the road.  And if you have an accident with one -- it is always the car's fault. 

+  Is $2,200/month enough?  My pension is closer to $3,000 (9,000,000 COP).  But I pay ~ $2,950,000 per month in mortgage.  $1,250,000 for health Insurance.  $380,000 HOA.   Your expenses (renting) should be less.  Health Insurance here is a bargain compared to the US.
  -  Saw a post about Colombian Income Taxes - I will have to address that myself at the end of 2019
  -  My bigger concern is the exchange rate.  For most of the 20 years my wife was in the US the exchange rate was between 1,800 to 2,200 COP to 1 dollar.  Recently, driven primarily by low oil prices, it has hovered around 3,000 COP. 
-  Long term.  My U.S. retirement income might increase by ~2% per year.  Inflation in Colombia is closer to 6 to 8% a year.  Over 10 years that can have an impact on lifestyle.

Ghagen281997 :

I joined Internations about 1 year ago.  Moved to Cali from Washington DC area in July 2018.  I quit using Internations because it seemed to have a Bogota focus.  No activity here in Cali, and seems they want you to pay for membership (Albatross) to do anything on the site.  Is it worth it?

Worth it? 

No, not if you're waiting for the organization to start offering Expat-friendly events in Cali.

Attempts to stage such events in Cali have consistently failed.

The root reason is Cali's general reputation among Expats and potential Expats as place that is dangerous and weather-unfavorable.

Compared to Medellin and Bogota, Cali has many fewer Expats .. and there are no signs this is going to change.

cccmedia in Bogota

Ghagen, thanks for the helpful info. The thought crossed my mind about the exchange rate. An unfavorable change could have disastrous consequences.  However, I think that's a risk one has to be willing to take when moving abroad or to a third world country.

I have to suggest that you at least check out Manizales.
Climate and geography has some similarities to Medellin, but Manizales is much smaller, think 500,000 people, is definitely less expensive, and it is a completely different kind of city.  I spent 3 months there this winter and loved it.

My friend I’ll be retiring outside Cali or to Circasia in the next year and will be living on a smaller pension than yourself in the beginning until SS kicks in at least. You should be fine just prioritize when and what your buying and don’t live beyond your means. Good luck to you.

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