If you’re an expat, remote worker or digital nomad, you’ve probably heard about it.
And you’re wondering…. is it dangerous? Is it a good city to live? How expensive is it?
I’m going to share everything you need to know to decide if you should visit the city of eternal spring, and how to have a great time here if you do decide to come.
Medellin, Colombia for Digital Nomads and Remote Workers
One of the reasons I got sick of Thailand, and one of the reasons I love Colombia and much of Latin America is the ease of tourist visas and other visas.
If you’re American like me (or from MANY other countries), you get 3 months just for showing up. And then you can extend for another 3 months for $28 (at the time of writing this). Not bad!
You’re allowed to stay in Colombia for 6 months per calendar year, so if you time it right and show up in July, you can leave the country quickly around New Years, and have another 6 months from January – June. Effectively 12 months in a row.
Nobody I explain this to believes me but it’s true. That’s how a “Calendar Year” works 🙂
Pretty sure that beats almost every country in SE Asia.
It’s fast. If you get a good apartment or use a coworking space you’ll have fast enough internet for video conferencing, skype, etc.
Coffee shops are fast too. You shouldn’t have a problem here. Just test it before renting an apartment.
This is from a coffee shop called Cafe Cliche. Great spot if you live in Laureles (don’t worry I’ll cover all the popular neighborhoods in a second).
Apartments are more expensive than Southeast Asia. More people have roommates here. There are large houses with many bedrooms (typically with private bathrooms). Usually a room in those is $300-500 USD.
Other people choose to have just one roommate, in a large apartment, and spend $400-800 USD per person, per month.
If you want to live alone you’ll be looking at around the same… $400-800.
You can definitely go lower if you speak spanish and don’t mind living modestly. But if you want a shiny, new, clean place with a laundry machine, big flatscreen TV, pool, blazing fast wifi, good location, those are the prices.
Hotels are also more expensive, so I suggest planning ahead. It’s not like Thailand or Vietnam where you can show up and get a hotel room for $14 by walking in. It’d be more like $40-60 per night minimum here.
If you’re new to Medellin I’d say you have 4 good choices.
- El Poblado. The most touristy. Very hilly, high rise apartments, international restaurants, shopping malls, etc. And more expensive. Most foreigners live here. I chose not to, and am extremely happy with my choice.
- Laureles. Where I chose to live. Incredible neighborhood. Flat and easy to walk around, cheaper, quieter than Poblado, but still enough events and nightlife to have fun. Plus Poblado is a $4 taxi ride away if you want a big night out.
- Estadio. Just north of Laureles. A bit rougher around the edges at night, but still safe. And it has a metro station to easily access the rest of the city.
- Envigado. Technically a separate city but basically a part of the Medellin metro area. Just south of Poblado. Also has a metro station connected with all the other Medellin stations. Very popular with expats, english teachers, digital nomads, etc.
All of the areas above have a metro station, except Laureles. In Laureles you walk to the Estadio station.
The metro system in Medellin is extremely clean, safe, and convenient. Better than New York, Boston, etc.
This is the first thing everyone asks me. Here’s the deal…
It’s safe but it’s not idiot-proof. I call places like Chiang Mai, Thailand “idiot proof”. You can walk home alone drunk at 3 AM and go down a dark alley and your odds of getting robbed are still like 1%.
Not a good idea here. You need to take taxis home late at night, or go with friends. Don’t go down weird dark streets in industrial neighborhoods at 4 AM.
But if you stick to the four neighborhoods I mentioned in the previous section you’ll be fine.
I do have friends that have been robbed in Poblado at night.. 3 AM, 4 AM, etc. It’s the richest neighborhood and very safe during the day, but that makes it a target at night. Criminals, usually on motorbikes, will look for easy (drunk or distracted) targets late at night.
My friend was crossing the street, went ahead of his friend, and then two motorbike riders separated them and took his wallet and iPhone.
I also know one other person who was pick-pocketed in Poblado. Someone pretended to be drunk and leaned into him and grabbed his wallet.
But nothing bad has happened to me in 3 months here. And I walk alone a lot.
I almost panicked and cancelled my trip here because of anxiety about how it’d be. I was afraid my taxi would get held up and robbed going from the airport to my apartment. It’s not like that. You’ll be fine.
Just leave your valuables locked up in your room when you go out, and carry a bit of cash and one card (or none).
One more thing… there’s an expression here that translates to “don’t give papaya”, but basically means “don’t tempt people by giving them the opportunity to steal from you”. Colombians consider it your responsibility to protect your stuff.
So hold your cell phone or camera firmly. Don’t walk around staring down at your phone while holding it loosely in one hand. Just use common sense and don’t give people the easiest opportunity of the day to snatch your cellphone. That’s all you need to do.
“Can I Get By With Just English?”
Not really. Unless you plan on just sitting at your laptop 24/7, you’ll need some Spanish.
If you’re lazy or just too busy to learn a language, you’ll miss out on a lot of the fun of being here. Sure you can find other gringos to hang out with but you’ll miss many of the other great experiences.
It takes 1-2 months to learn enough Spanish to get by here. Maybe less. Is it worth it? Yes. But don’t expect to walk around talking English.
Cafes and Co-working in Medellin
Plenty of other articles and sites have done a rundown of coworking spaces. I’ll just say there are plenty in Laureles and El Poblado. Not sure about other areas.
But for the cost of apartments here I prefer to just work at home. I pay for a nice apartment and it comes with a maid that makes coffee, etc. So, no need to walk to a coffee shop or coworking space every day.
Most coworking spaces start at $100 USD/month if you want one though.
There are also a lot of meetups and events for entrepreneurs and nomads. You’ll meet people whether or not you pay for a coworking space.
As for the coffee itself, Colombian coffee is some of the best in the world. And it’s cheap here. Expect to pay $1 USD for a coffee.
All good, and very easy to get around and live! Convenience stores, 24-hour pharmacies, etc. Everything a digital nomad or expat would need.
ATMs are a slight hassle because most allow only $200 USD per withdrawl. Citibank allows much more so use that if you live in Poblado (I don’t have one near me in Laureles).
But otherwise, we have every modern convenience here. Big shopping malls, electronics stores, etc.
Okay, there isn’t a beach. Medellin is high in the Andes Mountains (around 1 mile, or 1,600 meters high). There are lakes nearby though. You can take a 1-hour road trip to this town, Guatape, with hotels and boat rentals though.
You can also fly to the coast for around $50-100 USD (usually). Most people go to Santa Marta or Cartagena.
Note: While flights within Colombia are super cheap, international flights in Latin America tend to be more expensive than Southeast Asia. Much more.
Why? There are no budget airlines like the ones you’d find in Asia or Europe.
So a flight across one border… to Panama or Ecuador, could cost you hundreds of dollars one-way. You can still find deals, it’s just not as easy.
Getting into Medellin from Europe or the US shouldn’t be too expensive though. I flew from Boston and paid only $200 USD one-way.
I love it. Some people say it’s boring and lacks spice, but you get big portions, lots of meat, rice, beans, potatoes, and fresh fruit. And most meals come with a small, simple salad with lettuce, tomato, and dressing.
There are also some vegetarian places and healthfood stores if you have a special diet or if you’re a picky eater.
Food at basic restaurants will cost $2-4 per meal. It’s around twice as expensive as Thailand or Vietnam but still not bad assuming you have some type of online income.
There’s also a good amount of international food here. Sushi, Italian, Mexican, American. Hamburgers are really popular here.
I did research before coming and was worried… it seemed like every gym was super expensive because it’s considered a luxury here. Not true. I quickly found a place in Laureles that offered 3 months for $60. And it’s modern and new, and even has a hot tub on the roof. Name: 360 Fitness.
The city also has outdoor fitness areas with equipment for free. Multiple areas of town.
Everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. People here want visitors to come, enjoy themselves, etc. If someone bothers a visitor or commits a crime, the average local will be furious. That’s a good thing.
So while there’s some crime here, the 99% of people who are “good” are absolutely on your side. Which isn’t the case in every country. It’s a nice feeling!
I also haven’t faced many instances of dual-pricing, or being taken advantage of. I’ve felt very welcomed.
What about other expats, nomads, networking opportunities? There are some legit, big-time entrepreneurs here. People come here from San Francisco, New York, etc. I love it because I’m in the same timezone as New York, and meet way more Americans here, compared with Southeast Asia.
But if you want to meet a high volume of people, you’re still better off in Chiang Mai or Saigon.
There’s a LOT to do here. There are a ton of parks and places to relax. But if you’re looking to do something more active, here are some choices available to you:
- Renting motorbikes
- Renting quad-bikes or offroad vehicles
- Cable cars
- Horseback riding
- City tours (this one is free… you just tip them at the end)
If you’re a guy this is one of the best cities in the world for dating. Girls are unbelievably beautiful and take fitness and appearance very seriously for the most part.
But you need Spanish. You don’t need to be fluent, but you need to make an effort. You also need to wear the right clothes (no flip-flops or shorts! More on this in a second…)
For women- you can still find expats and Colombian guys to date here. If the latter interests you, you’ll need Spanish too, just like the guys do!
Going on dates is actually one of the best ways to practice and learn Spanish. Just pick a spot without loud music, because listening is the most difficult thing when learning, and with loud music it’s damn near impossible.
Overall Cost Of Living
I’d say $900-1300 is reasonable. You could spend $1500+. Some people spend that on an apartment alone (mostly in El Poblado… for penthouses, etc.) But you don’t need to spend that to have a great lifestyle (including a maid, hot tub, and roof deck… all of which I have, for $500 USD per month).
Expect housing to be your biggest cost here. Food is relatively cheap, as is transportation ($0.70 to ride the metro, $4 for a taxi across the city).
Mobile Phone Plans
Phone sim cards and plans are cheap, like Southeast Asia.
I’d get Claro (it’s the biggest provider so more people can call you for free in-network). They have a deal where you pay 20,000 pesos (around $7 USD) and get 20 days of call and text (not unlimited, but more than I ever use), plus unlimited whatsapp and facebook.
It’s the best deal I’ve found and it’s pre-paid. No commitment. Just go to the store every 20 days and give them a bit more cash to keep it going.
If you’re a guy with big feet like me, bring lots of shoes. You cannot buy size 13 or 14 US (or 46-48 European) here. Period. You just can’t.
Also, nobody wears flip-flops here. Nobody.
You can wear shorts during the day but nobody will wear shorts out dinner, bars, clubs, or anywhere nice at night. For guys – never wear shorts on a date or an evening out unless it’s something casual like meeting friends at the park to have some beers.
Medellin is an amazing city. For a city with 2 million people, it has an incredible amount of green space, quiet areas, and hidden gems to visit. It’s the greenest city I’ve ever been to.
It also has bike paths all over the city. You can ride for miles.
The quality of life here is high. It’s easy to be healthy, it’s easy to be fit (and plenty of other people are doing it so you’ll be motivated to do so), and it’s easy to live cheaply as well.
There’s yoga, there’s hiking trips, there are numerous expat/digital nomad Facebook groups to join, etc. You can even drink the tap water.
I can’t comment on healthcare or dental because I haven’t used any services, but I heard that’s quite good too.
This is one of the best cities I’ve ever been to, and the first city I’ve been as a location-independent worker/traveler where I’d consider buying an apartment or house.