Cost of Living Colombia 2013: My Life In A Colombian Household Under $1000 / mo

I’ve got some positive feedback about my cost of living breakdowns in the past, notably from Colombia a couple years back as well as Ecuador.

Well, I haven’t done one in awhile, so like a good blogger I thought I’d fill ya’ll in…

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Backstory: Find Rent + Food In One

At the end of January 2013, I wanted to see if I could flatline my costs, and so I looked for a place that included food with the rent.

In Colombia, you can often find these places by searching online or asking around for places ‘con alimentación’ which literally means ‘with feeding’. In other words, the señora of the house or the maid will cook for you 2x-3x per day, and it is included in the rent.

So if I could find a reasonable rent that included food, I would have already flatlined my two biggest costs, which could go a long way in reducing my overall expenditures. Sure enough, I found a Colombian household that would cook for me twice a day and give me rent (all inclusive) plus internet, at $400 / mo.

The downside to having my meals cooked for me is that I really didn’t have a say in what would be cooked. I was basically destined to have the standard Colombian meals every day– meals which aren’t horrible, their just not anything to write home about. I ended up eating a lot of plantains, white rice, french fries, soups, and a little bit of meat most meals.

So Anyways, Here’s The Breakdown:

(COP = Colombian Pesos)

Rent + Food = 700.000 COP

Mine was a private room in a house with a Colombian family, including 2 meals a day (lunch and dinner). It was a centrally located house in Medellin, near a major street and metro, and a short walk to a few grocery stores and gyms. Over all, a pretty good location near the Laureles neighborhood.

One really bad thing about this setup was the fact that the internet was not good at all. The connection would frequently be interrupted, and the top speeds would max out at 1 Mbps. Often I was staring at speeds less than a 56k modem from the mid-90s.

This meant I couldn’t have a Skype video call, and often I had to wait for YouTube videos to load. I also couldn’t have multiple internet-connecting apps active at the same time (DropBox, Skype, Firefox together, etc).

I’d say this was a major misstep as fast internet is definitely worth relocating for and so much of what I’m trying to do revolves around the internet.

Also, the noise level in the house was too high. The family had some young kids and a couple of small, bark-happy dogs who made a lot of noise. The house was also near to a street with a lot of bars that got very loud nights and weekends. On top of all this you had almost constant traffic noise, as the room literally bordered the street!

Going Out = 400.000 COP

In Medellin, I got into a habit of going out basically 2 weekend nights per week, along with a few other times through the month. This expense includes basic entrance to nighttime venues and drinks.

If you’re the kind of person who likes nightlife, I wouldn’t budget less than 100.000 COP per week for this, minimum.

Transportation = 150.000 COP

I frequently had to take a taxi from my neighborhood over to the nightlife or other popular districts like Poblado. It was often 10.000 COP one way, so that makes up the bulk of this expense. I also took the metro a few times, but a one way ticket on that only runs 1.800 COP a pop.

Phone = 40.000 COP

I have a pre-paid phone setup with Movistar, a principal Colombian carrier. I average loading about 30.000 COP every 3 weeks. I don’t use my phone that much, but it was enough to get me through.

Note: If you load 10.000 COP or more at a time, generally the carrier gives you double or triple the credit.

Misc = 150.000 COP

Occasionally I ate out (not in the house) or grabbed a snack or freshly squeezed juice on the street. I also had a few expenses like toilet paper, soap, shampoo, etc. that I’m factoring in here.

Total = 1440.000 COP or approximately $850 USD

(Using an exchange rate of 1.800 COP / 1 USD.)

Good Flatline Level BUT… Would I Do This Setup Again?

Very simply, I would not live in the same house hold again for two reasons: the noise was too much, and the internet was too slow and unreliable for my purposes. These are two problems that I think can be solved, though.

For the internet issue, the Colombian company UNE has begun to deploy a 4G LTE mobile network in Colombia’s major cities. I could theoretically sign up for this service and ALWAYS have good internet, anywhere I go in Medellin— and if I happen to travel to Bogotá, Cartagena, Cali, or Bucaramanga.

Unfortunately when I inquired about this, I was informed you have to sign up for a minimum of a year. Also, with how much I use the internet, especially with Skype calls and YouTube videos, my bandwidth needs tend to be large, and I would need probably 30 GB bandwith per month. When I calculated this out, it would cost a rather hefty $150/mo USD.

As for the noise problem, this could be solved by finding another household further away from the main streets. I’m sure there are other houses in Medellin con alimentación… I just have to spend some more time looking for one in a better location.

Theoretically I could also hire a maid to cook for me — which, if I was making a little bit more money, would make sense. I could then direct her to make the kinds of meals I want. (From what I hear, I could already afford this in a place like the Philippines or Thailand…). But right now I’m not prepared to take on that expense.

So…

I hope from this breakdown that you can see Colombia as a solid place for geoarbitrage… you can definitely get under $1000 a month if you’re serious. It’s a little harder, though, if you want faster internet or if you have special dietary requirements.

If you had experience with con alimentación acommodation? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

  • Great info. I have no experience with alimentacion and wouldn’t dream of trying it since food here is so awful but I do have a room in bogota for 250,000/month. Very happy with my set-up. Would just much rather spend less and cook my own good food, given the cheap cost and availability of fresh, local ingredients. Due to influx of foreigners all over colombia and the accompanying ‘gringo tax’ the cost of living here seems to be often over-stated. Thanks for sharing, great topic!

    • Yeah, I actually prefer to be in charge of the meals… I don’t know, I still haven’t got comfortable with finding my desired fresh, local ingredients in Colombia, though. Need to get off my lazy bum and track them down… Thanks for the comment, Matt!

  • If my roommate didn’t do the cooking, I’d definitely look into hiring a maid to come in a few times a week. One of the reasons I feel it makes sense to continue renting the same room I’ve had since 2010 is I save on this cost.

    • Roomates that cook, interesting… How often does your roomate cook for you?

  • Alejandro

    Sounds like you got your budget under control. Less going out at night, and you’ll be spending even less… =).
    Many new neighborhoods (even in Estratos 3 y 4) have way better internet speeds for $100k COP or less.

    • These internet speeds you speak of… are they landlines, i.e. hookups from UNE or TelMex? Because in my understanding a tourist can’t sign up for them without a cedula… And, I’ve found in these places that they vary a lot with their speed. Most people only have 1-2 Mbps downloads (probably because the people don’t spend all day online like I do haha).

      • I was thinking more along the lines of renting a room at a house that already has a wider connection, or suggesting an extra $50k in rent if the family subscribes to the “gold” or “platinum” plan.

  • Very encouraging that you managed this on $1000 per month as I’d likely be willing to spend a bit more than that if I went down there. Thanks for the breakdown.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • Yeah man, you can really lower your costs if you get alimentacion included with the rent.

  • Hi Ryan:

    I use Claro prepaid internet with a USB modem. It’s $55.000 for 30 days or 3 GB, but the only time I hit the GB limit was the 1.5 GB promo they gave me when I bought the modem. They turned it off then, but have yet to turn it off again for 2 months now and I blew through the 3 GB limit in like 3 days on Skype calls and video this month. Still going strong at 5.1 GB and 18 days out of 30 and they gave me a free month on my last recargar so I still have 40 to go.

    The speed can be spotty depending on the time of day, but sometimes late at night it is pretty fast.

    Scott

  • I probably spoke too soon. I may be eating into my free month which is another 3 GB. I hope not, but I’ll know soon enough. I hope not. If not, it works great as I can travel and surf from bars or anywhere.

    Hope all is well,

    Scott

    • Hey Scott- The Claro website says the speeds only go up to 1.5 Mbps download… are you getting any faster than that? (see speedtest.net to run a test)

      • It just registered 1.97. I would say this about right for this time of night. It’s slower during the days, especially evenings, but sometimes actually faster. Right now is a good time to surf.

        • Thanks for the info!

  • 30 GB? I get 5 GB in my kit in Portugal and I don´t think I used 1GB per month. My budget for a flat is 800 euros, will it go far? Thanks

    • You can get by with fewer GB if you don’t use a lot of YouTube and Skype. I use them both a lot, so I need the extra speed.

      800 Euro for an apartment will go far in Colombia, yes.

  • It seems I’m a little behind on this article by almost two years! Great article though. I’m going to Colombia next May for a volunteer assignment. I will be doing some backpacking around the country for ten days prior to the start of the assignment. I was amazed by how cheap some of the prices were though out the country!

  • Carl D

    I found a room for 400,000 all included, but not food. those kinds of places are usually for students going to a new city to study and generally are not all that great…