22 expats living in Colombia talk about making the big move to Colombia - what to bring to Colombia, hiring a lawyer for visa issues, buying vs. renting, health insurance and hospitals, the frustrations of using Amazon in Colombia and more. It's a must read for anyone thinking about moving to Colombia.
What to Bring When Moving to Colombia (and what to leave behind)
When we asked expats living in Colombia what they wish they had brought when moving to Colombia and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:
"Miss my friends, some of my regular TV programming and my boat. I should have left my old furniture, sell your stuff before moving to Colombia. They have nice stuff to buy at good prices," commented one expat who made the move to Colombia.
"3 Things to Bring: Any imported products and electronics (computer is a must) - prices higher. Unlocked cellular phone - buy chip here for $3 and no contract required, free incoming calls. VOIP phone modem such as Vonage - do not count on cheap Magic Jack or Skype (poor quality) to talk free to friends and family in USA. 3 Things to Leave: health insurance - $34/mon here, sell house - prices start $100k, anything for keeping warm or cooler - will not use as perfect climate 365 days/year," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Colombia.
"Wish I had brought my whole family, my old cars, and American football. I should have left behind most of my furniture and stuff. Be light, sell lots of stuff before moving. Keep it simple," said one expat who moved to Colombia.
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Deciding Where to Live in Colombia
When we asked expats living in Colombia to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:
"I would not consider any areas other than Medellin for relocating now. Can find lower costs in the countryside, but can be dangerous. Also would look in the suburbs of Envigado or Sabaneta (south end for a more serene life) as the central city could be dangerous and noisy. Prices in Poblado are much higher - starting above $250-500k and is an urban jungle. Found Medellin from a friend - climate is perfect 75 days, 65 nights for sleeping (other cities climate can be much colder), good infrastucture equal to USA (drinkable water - no bottled water, low cost hydroelectric, same voltage - no convertor, natural gas in ground) and products / services (from USA, we are very accustomed to finding everything we want) and the people are very friendly / helpful," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Colombia.
"Traveling through Colombia, I stumbled upon a town called Guatape 1 hour from Medellin," commented one expat who made the move to Colombia.
"I visit the area many times and was in love with the Cerritos, Cartage and Quindio area. This area is safer than the USA," remarked another expat in Cartago, Colombia.
Other expats recommend places like Bogota, Manizales, Armenia, Pereira, Bucaramanga, Popayan, Cali, Florida Blanca, Piedecuesta and Giron. Our article, 6 Best Places to Live in Colombia is a good primer for those still seeking the perfect place to live.
Healthcare Advice from Expats in Colombia
When we asked expats in Colombia what advice they would give to others seeking medical care, they said:
"Pay the higher insurance premium to insure quicker access to specialists. Have at least a working knowledge of the language as most doctors speak no English. FOS-UNAB will be open soon and will be state of the art for Colombia. Will cater to foreign nationals who want good quality medical care at roughly half the price charged in the US. Other hospitals or clinics are run by the EPS'S or insurance entities while one or maybe two are "public" and who serve all comers. My EPS is SaludCoop, one of the country's largest but as with most, is having financial concerns, paying providers, causing a terrible cash flow problem with the hospitals. Politicians vow they will change the whole system putting it totally under government control. Sound familiar," advised one expat who moved to Colombia.
"I have a carte blanche insurance policy in Colombia that covers my wife, our two daughters (who live in the US) and me for the low monthly fee of $300.00. No network, copay, deductible or pre existing condition nonsense either: the policy pays $100% of everything, period. Hospitals and clinics in Colombia are world renowned," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Colombia.
"There are three hospitals, approximately 10 -20 minutes away. All private hospitals," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Colombia.
"We have a FULL Medical/Dental policy that costs us about $31 US dollars. My husband recently had an emergency when a bone from some soup got lodged in his throat. He went to the ER at our Clinic, was sent for X-Rays, they were unable to unlodge it. He was then sent to a specialist at the Hospital. They were finally able to get it out. TOTAL Co-Pay.. ZERO!!," said one expat who moved to Cali, Colombia.
"About 2 years ago I had quadruple bypass, the best heart hospital in South America is in Florida Blanca located half way between Piedecuesta and Bucaramanga. Also in the last year they opened a International Hospital not far from the first one. I visited both facility's there are numerous doctors that speak English some were trained in the states," commented one expat.
International Health Insurance in Colombia
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Rent Before You Buy in Colombia
"Stay in the area for a while before making a desision and try and get some inside information ..someone from your own country who has lived in this place a while," commented one expat who made the move to Colombia.
"Go for it. Keep your money invested in the USA and take what you need monthly. Rent initially. Great buys for cash. $2000 usa will allow you to live like a king: Body massages $7 for an hour, Nails done over one hour $15 dollars, Papayas -- $0.40 per pound, Mangoes --$0.15 per pound, Sirloin steak -- $2 per pound, beer -- $0.50 per can, Rent - ok place $75/month, Rent - nice $150 per month, Rent -- very, very nice $250 per month, Rent -- Country club type -- swiming pool, everything, view, fantastic- $700-$800," said one expat who moved to Cartago, Colombia.
"Find a good English speaking real estate agent (Andrew - Apartments Medellin) because they will generally understand also more of your needs. The local agents tend to help their friends and do not show what you will want (no MLS services here). Look for US designed and constructed housing or you will miss all your conveniences (from experience)," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Colombia.
Housing Costs & Buying a Home in Colombia
"Costs are MUCH lower as average wages are US $300/month. With $500/month, you can live like a king. Utilities $100 (no heating or cooling required), health $50 max with insurance and co-pay, food $250 (buy local grown/made products), other $100 for restaurants ($5 dinner), taxi $5 or bus/metro $0.65/trip. Housing starts at $100k for good quality US style design - do not waste money on rent as real estate is a good investment here," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Colombia.
"Overall cost is significantly under 50% of US comps [when compared to coastal, not oceanfront Florida]. This is for city locations where many things are close by and walkable. I'm not sure houses would fare quite as well. We don't live there full time, I would be concerned leaving a vacant property for weeks or months. At least the condos have 24 hour security. Many of the mass market condos in Medellin attempt 3-4 BR 2-3 BA in less than 900 square feet making them almost unusable. However, some of the older condos are much more spacious, built during the period where people moved to apartments for better security. There is a significant discount for old vs new. The new building across the street with comparable floor plans sold at almost twice the price. Only significant (for some?) is the new building has a pool," remarked one expat in a discussion about purchasing a home in Colombia. Another expat added, "Part of the problem with buying old is the earthquake resistance. The newer buildings - if built to the latest code, now 2010 - are much more earthquake resistant."
"Look for US designed/constructed condo - real estate values here are appreciating rapidily (similar to Panama 10-15 years ago) and dollar is falling so NOW is a good time to invest here. US style housing is NOT common here - typical housing is more european (my 1st apartment) with smaller box rooms and closed in feeling, miss the US kitchen and bath design including appliances in typical housing here (my new condo is US design and is good), much construction here is NOT equal to US standards (no inspection process) and could require much money for repairs," mentioned another expat.
Hire A Lawyer or Agent to Help With Your Visa & Residency
One expat asked, "I am hoping someone can help me with getting the resident visa so I do not have to leave every three months, or need to get a 90 day extension again. I have been trying for almost a year! Now for the third time I thought I did everything required but no word. And so dam frustrated making wasted efforts, numerous long trips to their office, trying to call or chat, emailing for help. It's ridiculous, the instructions are not clear and I get only bad advice."
One expat replied, "You are probably going to be better off paying the 300,000 to 700,000 fee of an agent or attorney. The steps to get the visa are a little confusing now because of the new system. It really is hard to understand what is required and how to go about it unless you have a guide or coach. If you were following the online steps correctly you would know within a few minutes if you were approved or disapproved. It is truly difficult to get anyone at MRE Bogota (ministry of foreign relations) on chat or phone, although sometimes you get right through and can talk to an English-speaking person." Another described the process, "First you will have to get a visa as a pensionado, and hold that visa for a certain time, and then after that number of years, you will then be able to apply for a Resident visa. However, if you have a child by a Colombiana, you can then go straight for the Resident visa without any problem. Now, the rules changed at the end of last year, and I'm not sure of all the changes, but it looks like you will have to apply for the Migrant visa, as a pensionado, as you have not accumulated the number of years necessary before you apply for the Resident visa I think this is a good page to start reading, and it tells you everything you need to know and then look at the Visas section. There is a step by step guide to completing everything."
"I secured a Spousal Visa 2 years ago... it was a little bit challenging. There were offices that Walter wasn't allowed to go into with me. But once they discovered that we needed his translation skills (LOL), he was promptly admitted. Fortunately, I had ALREADY had our Marriage License 'legalized' with the Colombian Consulate in Miami, so that wasn't a problem. But we DID have to have our US Marriage License translated. We had this done at a local college very inexpensively. We also were required to travel to Bogota to get the Visa. But we were told that as all of my documentation is now on file, we can obtain my Residence Visa there in Cali," said one expat who moved to Cali, Colombia.
"Obtaining a three year visa was simple, but consumed a lot of visits to various offices. Being married to a Colombian national makes it vastly simpler and having family living there ensures the process will be nearly flawless. Having an attorney to facilitate the process is recommended; mine only charged me $300.00 USD and accompanied me to each immigrations office visit," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Colombia.
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Tips for Learning Spanish
"Don't sell short your ability to learn español. Your life in Colombia will be much richer if you speak the language," said one expat. Most expats would agree with this sentiment. What are the best ways to learn Spanish? Here are some tips from expats in Colombia:
"1. Watching Movie/Soap Operas: depends on the person but I find that that watching in Spanish with English subtitles is more helpful than in English with Spanish subtitles. Netflix has Spanish movies and also Spanish soap operas (telenovellas). I don't watch television normally or soap operas, but the Mexican and sometime Colombian telenovellas avalable on Netflix, or the Spanish language Telemundo. (Telemundo via their website is free). Whether 60 or 90 minutes, my recommendation is every day. 2. Radio in Car : listen to Spanish language station. 3. Rosetta Stone: (There are many different programs but I like Rosetta) - daily whether 15 minutes or 30 minutes. Practice and memorization , with patience that it won't happen overnight," said one expat.
"Another useful program besides the ones mentioned above is something called DESTINOS (free). DESTINOS is set up as a telenovela (soap opera) in 54 episodes of about 25 minutes each. It is a contextual type of immersion program which will help you tune your ear to spanish so that you begin to get a sense of the things that are being said. The student watching it is exposed to various types of spoken spanish (Mexican, Castilliano, Puertorriqueño, Boliviano, etc.) and the actors all enunciate very clearly but use natural cadences which I found extrememly helpful for getting my ears tuned to the language. The first several lessons may feel a bit overwhelming but if you make a concerted effort to stick with it it should soon start to augment your other study program(s) like Babbel. At the end of each episode/lesson there is a short review of one or two points covered in the lesson, but that proves to be more helpful than might expect," explained one expat.
Moving to Colombia?
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Amazon Ships to Colombia (sort of...)
Although Amazon started shipping to Colombia recently, expats living in Colombia talked about the challenges and successes they had buying items on Amazon. Some had success, but found that only a limited number of sellers shipped to Colombia. Others faced frustrations and were unsuccessful. Others found that Fedex requested duty taxes of almost 50% of the cost of the items. DHL was more reliable and didn't charge the duty taxes.
Most expats use shippers located in places like Florida that know how to ship into Colombia and having been shipping there for a long time. They include Gire Express, Caribbean Shipper and Aeropost.com.