5 Lifestyle Downsides To Living In Medellin

It’s not always peaches and cream in Medellin Colombia.

Sometimes it rains… a lot. Sometimes you’re robbed. Sometimes you go out and are surrounded by fat, unattractive girls. Rare, but it happens.

Here are some more obvious lifestyle downsides:

1. You Have To Know Spanish

This item can’t be overlooked for any English-speaking expat. The reality is that you will need to speak Spanish here, or your experience will be extremely limited and frustrating.

In fact, I know of a guy who left Medellin only a few days after arriving precisely because Spanish was so required.

Learning Spanish takes time and effort, and can really be a drag especially if you are already grinding it out at the entrepreneurs wheel. You really can’t afford to spend 3-4 hours of your peak intellectual activity learning a new language– that can be a misallocation of time if you are an entrepreneur.

It’s something I didn’t appreciate in the beginning, but learning a new language is a commitment in and of itself. If you don’t know Spanish or aren’t planning on learning it, Medellin might not be the best place.

2. You Can’t (i.e. Not Smart To) Carry Your Laptop Around The City

Unlike in the majority of cities in the USA, you don’t really want to carry around your laptop in Medellin because you risk getting it stolen.

Muggers (alas!) are common in Medellin. I personally have not been robbed, due in part to my anti-theft tactics, but I know of many expats who have been robbed here, I’d estimate around 50-60% of the expats I know who have lived here for 3+ months. Many of them have been robbed more than once, and many of them in the popular neighborhoods of Poblado and Laureles / Belen.

This can be a major concern for internet entrepreneurs, especially if they feel the need to separate their workspace from their domestic space. Think about it… you’re not going to have a car. You’ll be taking buses and the metro, mostly. And cab fares add up, especially if you’re a bootstrapper.

It’s a concern that simply does not exist in the US or in other places. Even if you’d love to head over to that cafe you saw with free WiFi, it’s not a good idea to tote around your Macbook in Medellin.

3. Your Smart Phone Is A Target Too

Along the same lines, smart phones (iPhones, Blackberrys, Samsungs, etc.) are highly targeted by muggers. I know of a lot of people who have naively flashed their smart phones around like they were in the US– only to later have them robbed at gunpoint.

As Colombia continues to grow, this will become less of a problem as the economy grows and more and more people have smart phones. In fact, I am seeing more iPhones all the time… But it is still a very real concern.

One tactic I employ is to carry a cheap phone around with me instead. That way, even if I am robbed, I’m not subjecting myself to the possible depression which would follow the loss of a sleek, $900, world-compatible iPhone.

4. The Food Is Not The Best

The food in Medellin is very basic. Paisas seem to love eating rice and beans for every meal, along with a slab of chicken or steak. They don’t have a lot of flavor. And the favorite breakfast food of Colombia, the arepa, is about as bland as bland can be. Just a corn patty with hardly any taste.

There are beginning to popup higher-end restaurants in the Poblado area, for example, but if you’re a bootstrapper you won’t be eating there much. You’ll most likely stick to the almuerzos or menus del dia.

I’m not really complaining, by the way… I could eat beans and meat most days. I’m just saying that if you need diverse culinary options without spending a lot of money, you might find Medellin lacking.

5. Blazing Internet Speeds Are Rare

After living in 4 places across various parts of town, testing the wifi in malls and coffee shops, and talking with many people about the internet situation, I’ve come to believe that blazing internet speeds really are rarely found in Medellin.

The internet is high speed cable, yes. And it’s good enough for Skype calls, yes. But…

  • There are only 2 main companies that handle the internet connections in the city.
  • There is hardly ever more than a 2.0 Mbps down, 1.0 Mbps up connection in the general access areas and basic apartment connections.

So, depending on where you’re coming from and what you need to do, this might affect you. My last trip to the US, for example, I check the wifi speed of a co-working space I was in, and it was 6.5 down, 3.0 up. Not blazing, but 3x as fast as what I’m used to in Colombia.

So, call me picky, but blazing internet saves me time. The faster a page loads, the more time I save. (I have only really begun to think of this in terms of lifestyle design in the last few months.) Prior to finding blazing speeds, I didn’t know what fast internet was… and to some 6.5 down / 3.0 up isn’t even ‘blazing’!

I hear in various parts of Southeast Asia, by the way, you can get these blazing internet speeds with regularity… in Medellin, they’re a little behind. (Note: if you know of any blazing speed hotspots anywhere in South America, please let me know!)

So, these are various lifestyle downsides to living in Medellin. They can be legitimate concerns particularly for internet entrepreneurs.

  • Esben


    Hi Ryan, long time no write. Check this link – hopefully the 4G network will make Colombia jump straight into the future.

    • Thanks for that link! A 4G network would be most welcome in Colombia.

  • Tere Yons

    I wish you would date your posts! I have no idea if these are from the last few days or the last several years!

  • I see number 3 as a plus. If you can’t go on your smart phone in public, it means that no one else can either. I can’t stand how people use their smart phones instead of looking around at the world around them.

    • Good point… Unfortunately many Colombianas seem addicted to their Blackberrys once inside a night venue.

    • Daddy-Government Knows Best

      why not just let people be free to do what they want Josh? People don’t have to do what you insist is best.

  • Bert

    Gringo talking

  • caroline valencia

    thinking about moving to Columbia Medellin, but have to work via internet high speed 30 download in Texas min I need. Can I get that in Medellin?

    • Hey Caroline – If you mean 30 Mbps, then no, you won’t find that in Medellin (yet). Hopefully one day you will!

    • Jeff

      Yes you can actually get high Internet speeds in Colombia. Claro in Colombia is advertising speeds as high as 50MB. I have 10MB Claro Internet service verified with speedtest and they also provide options for 20MB and 50MB. But Claro is not available in every building so look for an apartment building that Claro has wired.

      • Thanks for the info, Jeff! Yeah, slowly but surely things are picking up in Medellin… When I ask locals about internet speed, they still think 1.5 Mbps is “fast”. 🙂

      • Tere Yons
    • Tere Yons
  • johnhal

    Wow Ryan your off your rocker. I have been here 5 years and have never met 1 person to get robed. You are the problem, nothing but secound accounts? Have you personally had the slighest thieft probleb in Medellin? Just as I thought.

  • johnhal

    You are telling us how dangerious it is from second or third hand accounts. 5 years here and not a single close call.

  • Hellokitty008

    Hi. How are you? I’m going to be living in Cali Colombia. I work from home on the Internet and a FAST internet connection is a definite necessity for what I do. Don’t the internet providers give you your own connection like they do here in the USA? Thanks.

  • joe

    Why did this show up when I googled Medellin high speed internet. How many hidden SEO words did you squeeze out?

    There is so much misinformation here it’s absurd.

    3 mbps up in 2012 is slow? Have you been to the States where in most places where TW/at&t/comcast rule, you’re lucky to break 1 up with a package that borders 3 digits in price and throttles you like crazy. Or worse, Canada. 3 up is enough to stream 720p, it’s basically enough for everything.

    I cannot even being to address all the other nonsense here. But damn this is one beautiful gem from the link about theft prevention “If you only carry around $50, that means the maximum the thieves can possibly take from you is $50” How many advanced math courses and advanced criminal prevention coursework did it take for you to come up with this brilliant “tactic?”

    Hey while we’re on the topic of math. What happens if I’m carrying 100 dollars, what’s the maximum a thief will steal from me?

    And this awesome tactic must be so advanced that it probably took years to master:

    “if you are going to make a trip at full day light to a secure ATM to
    withdraw cash and then take it back to the place behind 3 locks.”

    Which ATM in Colombia lets you withdraw those potentially stolen 50 dollars that most locals do not even accept until you exchange them into peso? This is some advanced anti-theft tactics right there. Right along side of the recommendation to photocopy your passport to use it for store purchase IDs with your CC right before you describe some weird high tech 3 lock security where your documents should be kept unless you’re about to withdraw some money from an ATM that charges you 10-15k pesos for your 100k peso withdrawal on top of the international transaction fee assuming you’re just getting 50 bucks worth when you can bypass all but the international fees by just using it at the freaking store in the first place.

    Oh man. Whoever is unlucky enough to read this misinformed piece of crap, I just hope you read this and do a more thorough search about this amazing place. Yeah, it’s dangerous, so is South Chicago, Baltimore, LA, Russia, Ireland, Middle-East, most of Africa, bunch of places in Australia, China, India, Brazil, Canada and everywhere else where humans live. Stay inside your room and don’t go anywhere without bodyguards.

    The above article is not a lifestyle, it’s a freaking how-to guide for those who want to travel somewhere and stay in their hotel room.

  • Eddie

    Definetely agree with you about the food, one of the most dissapointing things about Colombia. Totally agree with you about the importance of learning Spanish, however i don`t thing you need to spend 3-4 hours a day learning the language. I have a blog Linguist Lifestyle which to help foreigners live and thrive in Latin America. It would be great to get any feedback