Since deciding that the location-independent lifestyle is something I wanted to pursue, I’ve been more conscientious about my costs.
And, since coming back to Colombia, I’ve been enjoying a decent bit of cheaper living.
All told, Colombia isn’t cheap compared to other places in South America, but compared to the major cities of the US, you will find steep discounts in a number of things that make living here very attractive. (If you are coming from California or New York, for example, you can expect to spend a lot less than back home).
There are a few highlights of awesome value around town, too. I found a place that sells bottles of beer for 1300 COP, which is less than $1. You can find private salsa lessons for under $7 an hour. You can get lunch in many places for less than $4-$5.
Strict US Dollar numbers won’t always tell the story, as you need to pay attention to the exchange rates. which right now is a little less than 1800 COP / 1 USD. All in all, though, there is some great value in Colombia.
By The Numbers
Here is the breakdown of my approximate monthly costs while living in Medellin. This would be comparable to any single guy in his 20s or 30s who wants to set up shop down here. (Note: Colombians frequently use a decimal point instead of a comma to designate thousands):
500.000 COP – Rent
You can find a nice private room and bathroom for 500.000-600.000 COP, which is about $300-$350 dollars. This includes utilities and wi-fi (and for me, laundry as well!). Of course, you can find cheaper if you spend some time looking, and especially if you personally know someone who is renting a larger penthouse where you can rent one room.
The places I looked at that were cheaper than this, though, either didn’t have as much space, were more run-down, lacked a desk, or were not in great locations for walking everywhere.
900.000 COP – Food
My spending is higher here than it should be because I never cook, and don’t store more than snacks at the house. I essentially eat out twice a day, for around 12.000-15.000 COP a pop. Occasionally, I swing a free meal or a cheaper one, but I also occasionally eat 3 times in one day or eat somewhere expensive. It turns out to be about $15/day or $450/month.
65.000 COP – Taxi and Transportation
I walk most places I need to go, because I strategically chose the location of my apartment. But I need to take a taxi when I go out on the weekends, and normally its shared. As a point of reference, you can get pretty much anywhere in Medellin, even from the north to the south, for about 12.000-13.000 COP, or less. This is about $7-$8, but is really cheap if you split it among 3 people. (Many taxi rides are in the 5.000-8.000 COP range.)
200.000 COP – Fun & Excursions
One of the things I love about Medellin is that you can go out and have a good time for relatively cheap. I rarely spend more than 50.000 per weekend on night out with drinks and cover anywhere. Note: If you tend to buy the drinks inside the clubs and bars, they cost substantially more than if you buy them at a corner store.
65.000 COP – Cell Phone
I have a prepaid cell phone and it EATS UP cash like a pig. In Colombia, you charge a phone with peso amounts rather than minutes, and each call deducts a certain peso amount based on the number you call.
I could save money if I were on a plan, and theoretically I could just do everything through Skype and Google Voice… But it’s tough calling Colombians because they all have a Colombian number. I am also hesitant to carry around a smart phone because it might get stolen like what happened to Dave, or it might get broken, like what freakin’ happened to me.
Thus I have an el cheapo phone I bought in Bogotá and charge it with pesos about once a week. I am on the network Movistar, which is the most expensive, but I hear better and cheaper things about the network Tigo. Might make the switch in the future.
80.000 COP – Miscellaneous
I have to buy my own toilet paper in my apartment, as well as shower stuff, and a few other miscellaneous things. It doesn’t amount to more than 20.000 a week, hence the 80.000 per month number.
Total: 1810.000 COP
At a conversion rate of just under 1800 COP / 1 USD, this amounts to about $1020 per month, even with a relatively high food budget. This number could be a lot lower if I cooked my food at home, but it’s either the case that I’m too lazy, or I’m paying money not to have the hassle. Honestly it’s probably not going to change…
As a side note, I honestly don’t see how Colombia is going to be cheaper any time soon, especially as word continues to get out about it’s stunning beauty, great people, and vast resources.
If you are an American who is curious about this place, now is the time to come because this country is on its way up.