Why would anyone want to go and live in Medellin, Colombia? Because it’s an incredible city, one of the most innovative in Latin America, with a great quality of life, burgeoning food scene, friendly locals, and awesome nightlife.
In this post I’m going to try to answer most of the questions that friends have asked me for tips on living in Medellin, and why exactly I’ve chosen to call this place home for two years now.
What To Expect From Living In Medellin Colombia
Is Medellin Safe?
This is always the biggest question or concern from new visitors… Medellin… Like that show Narcos? The city and country best known for Pablo Escobar, guerrillas, kidnappings, and cocaine — that’s the reputation, unfortunately.
Thankfully, things have changed dramatically in Medellin since the bad days of the 1990s. Medellin is bursting with development, opportunities, and forward looking locals. In two years, I’ve experienced no crime whatsoever. The city is as safe as any other in Latin America, and I feel more than comfortable on a day-to- day basis.
That isn’t to say that things are perfect here though, you should still take common sense precautions not to show valuables in public, remain aware of your surroundings, and don’t wander around strange areas after dark.
Medellin feels as safe as any big city in the USA and is much safer than its previously dangerous reputation would suggest.
Public Transportation in Medellin
Medellin has a well developed public transportation system. It is the only city with a metro system in Colombia, featuring two lines that will take you most everywhere you’d want to go in the city.
There are also two different metro cable (gondola) lines integrated into the system which will take you to the hillside barrios. Medellin’s innovative approach to public infrastructure has won it awards and turned it into a model city for how to invest in and integrate poorer communities.
Beyond that, there are street cars, bus rapid transit lines (which act like a street level subway system with designated lanes and stops), to help you get around this bustling city.
There are also your standard city buses which are cheap and plentiful (about 75 cents) and tons of taxis which can take you all the way across town for $5-10 (the taxis are metered, so no haggling over prices with the drivers).
Weather in Medellin?
Medellin is nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” due to its consistent year round climate owing to its location in the tropics and relatively high position in the mountains (around 5,000 feet above sea level). Temperatures are usually in the low 80s year round during the day, and in the mid-50s at night which means you don’t need anything more than a sweater and you can sleep with just a sheet on the bed.
There are only two seasons, rainy and dry. Thankfully, during the rainy season the rains are fairly predictable in that they arrive in the late afternoon in a heavy downpour that usually lasts for a few hours and then dissipates.
Food in Medellin Colombia
Colombian food isn’t famous internationally, and it occasionally has a bad reputation amongst international travelers for being bland and simple. While it’s true that the typical local meals aren’t heavily seasoned with spices, I find the food to be hearty and delicious.
A typical fixed meal, “menu of the day” will get you soup or beans, the main plate which offers up a small salad, rice, avocado, fried plantain, and a portion of meat (chicken, beef, chicharron), as well as a glass of fresh fruit juice (which are undeniably delicious and flavorful).
For lunch you’ll also be able to eat a soup called ajiaco, usually made with chicken and three kinds of potatoes, corn and an herb called guascas. If you’re a cheese lover I recommend arepas – round thick pancakes made of ground maize dough or cooked flour, usually stuffed with cheese.
Best of all, this big meal will only cost you around $3. Some even include a small dessert.
Cost Of Living In Medellin
The cost of living — see my monthly expenses here — and general quality of life are two of the things I love most about life in Medellin. I was able to rent a nice, simple three-bedroom, two- bath apartment (not super modern or fancy), with an awesome balcony and view for only $330 per month without utilities in one of the best neighborhoods in town (Laureles). I have friends back home in Seattle that are paying $1,000 per month for a studio.
A nice meal out will cost you about $10, a local beer will set you back $1. You can even find a 15-course molecular gastronomy meal from a world-class chef for only $60 — the same thing in D.C. or Chicago would set you back $300 or more.
Everything is a fraction of the price compared to the States. I had a dental crown done for less than $300 in a place indistinguishable from a dentist office back home, except for the Spanish spoken by the staff.
Working In Medellin As An Expat
Most expats who come to live in Medellin long-term either come as retirees or as so-called digital nomads. Medellin has become a hub for remote workers who make their living online via their laptop — which is what I do, as well.
Throughout town there is a burgeoning cafe scene which offer high quality Colombian coffee and fast internet to get your work done.
There are a number of new co-working spaces popping up around the city as well which offer a more dedicated and communal atmosphere for those who need to get work done. The Poblado neighborhood has the largest selection of co-working spaces with Laureles running second.
Visas to Colombia
Visas to Colombia are simple for most Western countries. Upon arrival they will give you 90 days, just before that expires you can request another extension of 90 days at one of the immigration offices in any big city. That gives you 180 calendar days in country per calendar year.
So if you leave the country for a month or two during that time, they don’t count against your 180 day limit. Remember though that limit is per calendar year, so if you time your visit to arrive in July, you can get six months in one year, then leave the country briefly to Panama or Ecuador and re-enter Colombia in the new year for another 180 days, effectively giving you a full year in country.
Student visas are another popular and accessible option for those looking to stay in country longer.
All-in- all Medellin is an incredible city, one that unexpectedly captured my heart and made it my home away from home. Whether you plan to visit for a week or for a year, there’s so much to see and do in Medellin, Colombia.
If you have any questions about living in Medellin, don’t hesitate to reach out or leave a comment below.
Post written by Ryan. Ryan is the author of Big Travel, Small Budget and the blogger behind Desk to Dirtbag, detailing his travels and outdoor adventures after leaving his Washington, D.C. desk job. Since then he has spent a year road tripping across the American West, living as an expat in Medellin, and driving from his hometown of Seattle to Medellin. Right now you can find him road tripping across all of South America.
Sunday 8th of May 2022
My wife and I will be visiting Medellin in July for only 3 weeks. Would like to have coffee with any retirees who have moved to the city. If there is a regular gathering of expats or a place to gather on the ground information about living in Medellin, please let me know. We have been living in Costa Rica for almost 4 years now. Glad to exchange impressions of life here.
Tuesday 7th of April 2020
My knowledge of Medellin, Colombia goes as far as Season 1 of the famous Narcos television show which I binge watched 2 years ago. I have always been fascinated by Colombia, and keep researching on how to visit and the activities to do while there. Your article provides a perspective on what to expect and actually gives a very beautiful side, one that the media keeps ignoring. The fact that you actually got a 3-bed apartment for $330 is already driving me nuts, I feel like I could check in there tomorrow and stay for the next 1 year, only that the COVID-19 havoc is stopping me. You can imagine that my rent is currently north of $2500 for a simple studio, and my living costs monthly currently around $600. I think based on the info you provide here, I would get a lot of value for my money in Medellin. Just to ask, is there any insecurity or discrimination against foreigners?
Wednesday 24th of June 2020
Yeah, if I'm going to be quarantined in my apartment for months on end, it is nice to be somewhere that is more affordable, anyway! :) I'm still in Medellin, going on 3+ months of lockdown right now and we can only go out a few days per week depending on the last digit of our ID (for grocery shopping and necessary errands). I'm not sure what your ethnic or racial background is or whether you mean in light specifically of COVID-19... But so far as I can tell, there has been animosity toward me as an American ever. Not during nor before COVID. I was a bit worried about that when I first started going out for groceries in quarantine. In general, there has always been some insecurity here and you should take precaution with your valuables when out in public. We have yet to see what it will be like post-COVID, but I do know that many people are hurting economically here, so I worry that insecurity will rise whenever things start opening up more. We will see...
Tuesday 16th of July 2019
Hello. Can you please date this article and subsequent posts? Thanks! L
Friday 19th of July 2019
Nobody answered the question about finding a studio or small apartment from $300 to $400 per month Why write that you can
Tuesday 2nd of April 2019
It looks like lots of questions but no answers in this forum I guess it's all smoke n mirrors????
Friday 19th of July 2019
No smoke and no mirrors, but this was a guest post by me, so Anna didn't have the answers, and I wasn't aware of all the questions here. I'm always happy to help people that reach out to me.
Monday 1st of April 2019
I am planning to move to Medellin, Colombia this summer. I've spent a lot of time in Colombia and other countries in South America, and look forward to returning. However, I have a unique situation and I'm unsure how to approach my visa:
1. I plan to live there for at least 1 year, maybe more. I do not want to bank on a Toursit Visa, and I fully understand the implications of the 180 time-frame, etc. I may be there for up to 2 years, so I don't want any (minimal) interruptions. 2. I will be working remotely for a software company based in the US. I am not contracted or employed by any Colombian companies. 3. What type of visa should I apply for with this type of work situation? 4. Is it easier to start with my tourist visa, and then immediately apply for a more permanent visa once I am down there? 5. From what I understand - the only way to get a non-tourist visa is to visit the consulate in person, and I live in Denver (I'd have to travel to LA or somewhere else). 6. What is the best option here?
Friday 19th of July 2019
I would still recommend coming here initially on a tourist visa. Colombia has tightened up some of its visa restrictions, so the only viable one for your situation would probably be going for a student visa to stay past then... Remember if you come this summer, you can stay six months this calendar year, leave the country, and come back in January 2020 and get another six months. You'd get one year, but then you'd have to apply for a student visa and take Spanish classes or study something at a local university.