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No traveler can plan a trip without keeping the budget in mind. Because of that, I tracked our cost of living in Colombia to help others understand what they’re going to spend.
However, let me just start by saying that I didn’t backpack through Colombia like most people who travel the gringo trail in South America. Instead, I used Medellin as my home base and took short trips to other cities.
For expats planning on living or working in Medellin, this post is for you. Even if you’re just passing through, though, you can still find some useful estimates.
My husband and I lived in Medellin for six months from January 2017 to July 2017 ad this is our complete cost of living in Colombia, broken down into two main sections: Cost of travel in Colombia (for weekend trips and getaways) and cost of living in Colombia (for accommodation, groceries, and necessities).
1. Cost of Travel in Colombia
Flights in Colombia
You’ll quickly learn in South America that while international flights will empty your bank account, domestic flights are dirt cheap and Colombia is no exception. Our budget in Medellin wasn’t high but we still we’re able to afford plenty of weekend trips.
Compare flight prices on Skyscanner to find the best deals. The cheapest budget airline is almost always VivaColombia, but for just a little more legroom and less risk of cancellation you can grab Avianca tickets for a great price as well. During our stay, we flew to Bogota, Cartagena, and San Andres (and had flights to Cali that were cancelled). All flights listed below are round trip from Medellin
- Bogota $48 roundtrip per person – $96 total
- San Andres $66 roundtrip per person – $133 total
- Cali $32 roundtrip per person – $64 total
- Cartagena $60 roundtrip per person – $180 total for 3 roundtrip flights
Buses in Colombia
So, Colombia is HUGE. You can take buses to most of the destinations listed above, but a lot of them are 10 to 12 hour rides as opposed to a one hour flight… to me, that’s not worth it, so you’ll have to google those prices on your own.
However, we did take buses to some destinations that were close to Medellin, like Guatape, Santa Fe, and Jardin. The trips ranged between one to for hours each and the buses were pretty comfortable. One the longer trips they stopped for a bathroom break, and often let vendors on to sell us snacks and drinks. Only one of my trips out of about 12 had a crazy driver and the rest honestly seemed pretty safe.
All the prices listed below are round trip from Medellin:
- Guatape $4 roundtrip per person – $8 total x 4 trips
- Santa Fe $6.50 round trip per person – $13 total
- Jardin $16 round trip per person – $32 total
Taxis/Uber/Metro in Colombia
We mostly used Uber to get around when we first arrived, but then switched to taxis about a month or two into our stay. Daniel was sick of being stuck sitting in the front seat (a precaution taken by Uber drivers to disguise their controversial occupation) so they had to go.
In Colombia taxis tend to be the same prices as Uber, and when Uber is surging taxis are certainly a cheaper choice. I read a lot that some may be dangerous and rob you, but we’ve taken a lot throughout our months here and I never once felt unsafe or on edge.
Finally, the metro is another choice for getting around the city. It costs less than a dollar a ride and runs mostly in a straight line through the city.
We living in Envigado, the very south of the city, and to get from Envigado to Poblado by taxi costs around $4 and getting to the city center is closer to $7. These numbers below are complete estimates.
- Day to day taxis I have no idea. Maybe $60 per month?
- Airport Transport Envigado to the Airport (and back) is a set tariff of $24. This adds up to $300 for our 4 trips plus arriving and leaving the country
Hostels and Hotels in Colombia
You can spend as much or as little as you want on accommodation during your travels here, it honestly just depends on your budget and your standards (but usually your budget). We stayed in hostels in almost every city we visited, and in one Airbnb here in Medellin.
- Bogota $67 total/per couple for a private room & breakfast at Hobu Hostel for 3 nights.
- Cartagena $51 pp for a dorm bed for 3 nights at Hostal Papaya Getsemani.
- Medellin $70 total/per couple for a private apartment in the mountains for 2 nights.
- Jardin $86 total/per couple for a private room & bath with breakfast at Kantarrana Hostel for 3 nights.
- Guatape $8 pp for a dorm bed for one night.
- San Andres $217 total/per couple for a private room for 6 nights (3 without aircon, and 3 with).
- Cali (booked, but trip was ultimately cancelled) $20 pp for a dorm for 2 nights.
2. Our Cost of Living in Colombia
Furnished apartment rental in Medellin
When we showed up in Medellin we had an Airbnb prebooked for a month to give us enough time to get our bearings and find a 5-month long-term lease. The Airbnb was in Itagui, a neighborhood I wouldn’t personally recommend after staying there. Although our gated complex felt very safe, an alarming amount of Uber drivers told us we were going to get mugged.
Our longterm lease is in Envigado, which is cleaner, more walkable, and safer. We chose this neighborhood mainly to keep our cost of living in Medellin down because its much cheaper than the most popular Poblado neighborhood.
Both were furnished, two bed/two bath apartments with pools. Our long term lease also has a gym, two balconies, and is extremely modern. So while it was more expensive than than the Airbnb, I believe it is also a better value. A good budget in Medellin for rent can range anywhere from $600 to $1000 a month for an apartment, but you can cut that drastically for a shared or unfurnished home.
- 1 month Airbnb in Itagui: $473
- 5 Month Rental in Envigado: $575 per month
Because we work from home, we eat out less and our grocery budget may be a bit higher than most. I try to eat out only once a work week, but we usually don’t cook much on weekends. So this budget encapsulates about 17 of 22 weekly meals for two. One of the two is large hungry man. In total, we spend about $350/month.
It’s such a waste of money, but I love it. We usually eat out about five meals a week together. Just like anything else, meals can be as cheap or expensive as you want. It’s easy to grab two empanadas for a dollar, or drop $100 on a four course meal. It all depends on you neighborhood, preference and budget (but mostly budget). In total, we spend about $400/month for this category.
Alcohol is pretty cheap in Colombia. Club Colombia, my favorite beer brand here, usually only costs a dollar or two at the bars and is even cheaper if you buy a 6-pack and pregame at home. You can also get bottles of wine for as low as $5 each.
Additionally, If you play your happy hours right you can get mixed drinks from $2 each even in neighborhoods like Poblado, but it’s also common to pay $8 or more. Daniel and I would usually budget about $150 to $200 total a weekend for food, drink and activities and found it sufficient. If you’re just passing through, though, I definitely suggest budgeting more. In total, we spend about $200 month on alcohol. Of course, an easy way to reduce your cost of living in Colombia is to cut out alcohol all together.
Our utility payments in our leased apartment include internet, cable (why), telephone (seriously, why), water, and gas. Heat and air are pretty unheard of here because the climate is so temperate, and weren’t needed. In total, we pay $25/month for utilities.
US phone plan
I payed my phone off before I left the US and joined a Sprint month to month international plan. Honestly, it’s been great and I really recommend it. The total cost is about $30/month, but I got to keep my US phone number (necessary for business) and can call any country for free, so moving from Colombia to Peru will be a breeze in that regard.
Most importantly, I get 1gb of international data. It’s not a lot, but it will definitely get you by if you stay off snapchat, and has been extremely helpful to have at times. However, purchasing a SIM card in Colombia rather than using an international plan is cheaper and will help you reduce your cost of living in Colombia.
I find this fact hilarious: Laundromats are expensive and rare here in Medellin, so it’s common for Colombians to rent washing machines and have them delivered to their homes for the day to use instead. Seriously amazing.
Luckily our furnished apartment came with a washing machine so this cost was zero for us, but if you’re passing through you can find people to pick up, weigh, wash, dry, and deliver your clothes back to you if necessary. Idk why I wrote this because I don’t know how much it costs, but I wanted to share my washing machine fun fact 🙂
Luckily my parents love me so I’m still on their health insurance until my 26th birthday (in October yikes). However, Daniel is a year older than me and is on an international health insurance plan that covers him in any country except the US.
The total cost is $500/year split into two payments. Neither of us have had to use a doctor or hospital here, but just like in most places, I’ve read it’s infinitely cheaper than getting healthcare at home. I’ve also found that a lot of medications are over the counter and super easy to buy here in the pharmacies. In total, we paid $250 for 6 months of health insurance for Daniel.
90 day visas are free upon arrival for Americans, but we had to pay $30 each to extend our visa for another 90 days. It was super easy to make an appointment on the Migracion Colombia website – they even had a chat feature and answered my questions in English. We got started with the process about a month before our deadline just to be safe. After that, it only took a couple hours to complete it downtown.
Don’t even get me started. First, Daniel left his laptop on the balcony in the rain. Then, I left my phone in a taxi and had to buy a new one. ONE WEEK LATER I dropped my laptop and it wouldn’t turn on, and I had to pay for those repairs as well.
A used iPhone 6 from Craigslist (in the US, my parents brought it down for me) was $275. It seems like Apple products here are less plentiful and more expensive than they sell for at home, but luckily repairs are cheaper. The total cost for our laptop repairs was $300 from IHouse Medellin and so far so good. In total we paid $575 in 6 months because we’re dumbasses – if you’re not, you can cut this out of your expected cost of living in Medellin.
Our Total Cost of Living in Colombia was…
$11,650 for 6 months in Colombia, so our cost of living in Medellin comes out to $1940 per month.
This will cover a couple who lives in a long-term rental and travels on weekends, but of course you can apply these numbers to any plans you have in the country.
I hope this breakdown of our cost of living in Colombia helps you plan your own trip, and of course if you have any questions about the country feel free to comment below!