Living In Colombia: The Expat Guide 2023

With an enticing cost of living, it has been steadily capturing the hearts of Colombia expats from all over the globe. Prepare to be utterly enchanted!

Prepare to be utterly enchanted! Colombia is a sparkling kaleidoscope of remarkable natural splendor and mesmerizing cultural heritage.

With an enticing cost of living, it has been steadily capturing the hearts of Colombia expats from all over the globe, promising them a stimulating fresh start, a thrilling new chapter in their lives.

As you begin planning your dream move to this South American paradise, you’ll soon uncover a treasure trove of delightful experiences that Colombia offers.

From the warmth and legendary hospitality of the local population to the captivating tapestry of landscapes that the country proudly adorns, Colombia has a certain magic that is waiting to be discovered.

Cartagena City | Colombia
Cartagena City Colombia | Leandro Loureiro – Unsplash

If you thrive in the pulsating rhythm of city life, the dynamic urban sprawls of Bogotá and Medellín will be your playground, teeming with energy and life.

On the other hand, if you’re a nature aficionado with an unquenchable thirst for breathtaking vistas, the serene parks nestled in the majestic Andes mountains or the pristine, sandy beaches kissing the Caribbean coast are waiting to satisfy your wanderlust.

So, whether you’re an urbanite or a nature enthusiast, rest assured, Colombia has a corner carved just for you that fits snugly with your lifestyle, ready to welcome you into its passionate embrace.

Is Colombia a good place to live for expats?

Like any country, whether Colombia is a good place for you depends on several individual factors: the lifestyle you’re seeking, your work situation, language skills, and your comfort level with adapting to a new culture.

Colombia can be a great place for expats, particularly for those who value cultural experiences, nature, and a lower cost of living.

However, potential challenges include language barriers and safety concerns.

It’s always a good idea to spend some time in the country first to see if it’s a good fit for you before making a permanent move.

With that said, many expats living in Columbia love the lifestyle that it affords them.

Living in Colombia: the basics

The population & people of Colombia

Colombia, located in South America, is the fourth most populous country in Latin America, with an estimated population of 50 million people.

Living here, you’ll notice the diverse ethnic and cultural composition of its population, which includes indigenous groups, African descendants, and a strong European influence.

Palenquera Cartagena Columbia
Photo by Jorge Gardner on Unsplash


The official language of Colombia is Spanish, spoken by nearly all Colombians.

As an expat, learning to speak Spanish can help you immensely in your day-to-day life, as it allows you to communicate with locals, navigate throughout the country, and fully immerse yourself in Colombia’s rich lifestyle.

While some people may speak English, especially in tourist areas, it’s generally not widely spoken, so be prepared to brush up on your Spanish skills.

The good news is that Colombian Spanish is considered to be one of the most neutral and easy to understand forms of Spanish spoken in South America.

Colombia’s climate

The climate in Colombia varies greatly depending on the region:

  • Andes Mountains: The Andes Mountains run through Colombia, dividing it into three branches. The climate in this region is cooler, with temperatures typically ranging from 10°C to 19°C (50°F to 66°F).

  • Caribbean Coast: Colombia’s Caribbean coast boasts warm tropical weather, usually around 28°C (82°F). Coastal cities like Cartagena and Barranquilla are usually hot and humid throughout the year.

  • Pacific Coast: The Pacific Coast region has a hot and humid climate, often characterized by heavy rainfall. This area is home to lush rainforests, diverse ecosystems, and unique wildlife.

Colombia experiences two main seasons – the “dry season” from December to March and the “wet season” from April to November.

However, being close to the equator, the country generally enjoys mild temperatures throughout the year.


Colombia is the 2nd most biodiverse country in the world, with a diverse geography that offers a variety of landscapes to explore and enjoy:

Biodiversity Colombia
Photo by Juan Camilo Guarin P on Unsplash
  • Mountain Regions: The Andes Mountains stretch over much of Colombia, providing breathtaking landscapes, rich agricultural lands, and vibrant cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali.

  • Beaches: The Caribbean and Pacific coasts offer beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and popular tourist destinations like the Rosario Islands and Tayrona National Park.

  • Amazon Rainforest: The Colombian Amazon covers a large portion of the country’s southeastern border and is home to a diverse array of flora, fauna, and various indigenous communities.

As you live in Colombia, take the time to explore these various regions and appreciate the country’s stunning natural beauty.

Major cities

Bogotá: a city of contrasts

Bogotá, Colombia’s beating heart and the most populous urban sprawl, serves a tantalizing cocktail of historical charm, cultural richness, and urban culture.

Bogota City
Bogota City | Random Institute – Unsplash

It is Colombia’s largest city, where modern architectural marvels reach for the sky alongside well-preserved colonial buildings, and historic museums bear witness to the city’s vibrant past amidst a canvas of lively street art.

Bogotá, a city that twinkles with the allure of its emerald markets, is a gastronomic paradise offering one-of-a-kind culinary adventures.

La Candelaria is the city’s cultural epicenter. It is a historic neighborhood in the city’s downtown, with cobblestone roads and old buildings in Spanish Colonial and Art Deco styles that take you to charming restaurants and numerous museums.

And for the cycling enthusiasts among you, the weekly Ciclovía event is a must-attend. It’s a time when the city’s arterial routes transform into a haven for pedestrians and cyclists, momentarily free from the hustle and bustle of motorized traffic.

You can find more information in our Living In Bogotá guide.


Medellín, once known for its troubled past, has transformed into a modern and vibrant city. Nestled in the Aburrá Valley, you’ll be surrounded by green mountains offering stunning views. Medellín is also called the “City of Eternal Spring” for its pleasant year-round weather.

You’ll appreciate the efficient public transportation, including the metro and cable cars, and the many cultural events like the annual Flower Festival.

You can find out more in our Living In Medellín guide.


Cartagena is a coastal city that offers beautiful Caribbean beaches perfect for relaxing and enjoying water sports.

Cartegena Colombia - Street View
Cartegena Street View | Photo by sara.illustration on Unsplash

The city’s historic walled center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring gorgeous colonial architecture, cathedrals, and forts. Cartagena’s rich history, lively music scene, and mouth-watering cuisine will make living there a genuinely enriching experience.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta is also located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Known for its beautiful beaches, it offers a mix of stunning natural landscapes and a rich cultural heritage.

Santa Marta is home to the famous Sierra Nevada mountains, historical sites such as the Santa Marta Cathedral, and a bustling waterfront promenade.

Minca - Santa Marta - Colombia
Minca – Santa Marta – Colombia | Photo by Niels van Altena on Unsplash


Colombia’s third major city is Cali, known for its salsa music and dance. You’ll love the energy and rhythm of the city, as many clubs and music venues host weekly salsa events.

Apart from dancing, you can also explore Cali’s lush green landscapes, including the picturesque Pance River and the Farallones de Cali National Park.


Pereira, located in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia, offers a laid-back lifestyle amid the breathtaking scenery of coffee plantations.

As you stroll along its streets, you’ll notice a fusion of architecture reflecting the city’s evolution.

Pereira’s moderate climate makes exploring the many parks and plazas pleasant. Plus, you’re just a short drive away from the stunning Cocora Valley and Los Nevados National Park.


Another city in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, Manizales, boasts stunning views of the central Andean mountains.

Its steep streets and cool, misty weather provide a unique atmosphere to live in. You can enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and birdwatching, as well as visiting coffee farms.

Manizales is also home to several universities, giving it a youthful and diverse vibe.


Rionegro is a smaller city located in the lush green hills of Antioquia. Just a 40-minute drive from Medellín, Rionegro offers both tranquility and easy access to a big city.

With its pleasant climate, beautiful parks, and historic landmarks, Rionegro is an attractive option for those looking for a more relaxed lifestyle while still being close to urban amenities.


Bucaramanga, situated in northeastern Colombia, is known as the “City of Parks” for its abundant green spaces.

You’ll enjoy a relaxed and peaceful life surrounded by nature, with the picturesque Chicamocha Canyon nearby.

The city’s affordable living costs and friendly locals add to its charm while offering a bustling commercial sector and cultural events.

In exploring these cities, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for your lifestyle and interests, as Colombia offers something unique for everyone.

For more information and ideas, read our guide on the best places to live in Colombia.

Cost of living

Housing and rent

Considering housing and rental costs is essential when considering a move to Colombia. In general, the cost of living in Colombia is relatively affordable.

For instance, a large two-story Poblado home could cost $1 million or more, but a similar home in Manizales or Pereira would only set you back $250,000 to $300,000.

Apartment living in the cities of Colombia is very common and typically less expensive than living in a detached home.


Most expats friend everything they need shopping for groceries, and you’ll find food prices to be very reasonable in Colombia.

Your grocery bill will be significantly lower in Colombia compared to the United States. The cost of living in Colombia is, on average, 66.5% lower than in the United States.

Transportation in Colombia

Transportation costs in Colombia tend to be quite affordable as well.

Depending on where you live, you might opt for public transportation, which is generally inexpensive, or use private vehicles.

Gas prices are also relatively low compared to other countries.

Utility costs in Colombia

Utility costs in Colombia, such as electricity, water, and gas, are relatively low compared to many other countries.

However, it’s essential to be aware of your usage and try to conserve energy and water when possible.

Though overall expenses are comparatively low, being mindful of your consumption can help you save even more on your utility costs.

Lifestyle and culture

Living in Colombia, you’ll quickly discover that the locals are warm, welcoming, and proud of their rich heritage.

The diversity of Colombia is apparent in the various traditions and customs across the country, which include a unique blend of indigenous, African, and European influences.

Cayo Cangrejo Colombia
Cayo Cangrejo Colombia | Photo by Darren Lawrence on Unsplash

As you immerse yourself in this vibrant culture, you’ll find that music and dance play a significant role in everyday life, with styles like salsa, cumbia, and vallenato widely celebrated.

Art and museums

Your appreciation for Colombian culture will only deepen as you explore the country’s art scene.

Colombia boasts numerous museums and a wide variety of galleries and museums, including Bogotá’s famous Museo del Oro, home to the largest collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts, and Medellín’s Museo de Antioquia, where you can admire the works of renowned artist Fernando Botero.

Filandia Colombia
Photo by Jünior Rodríguez on Unsplash

Festivals and cultural events

One of the best ways to experience Colombian culture is by attending one of the numerous festivals and cultural events held throughout the year.

From the colorful Barranquilla Carnival to the Flower Festival in Medellín, each celebration offers a unique opportunity to witness the country’s zest for life and creativity.


As you explore Colombia’s diverse culinary scene, you’re sure to find your taste buds delighted by the combination of local flavors and international influences.

Colombian cuisine is marked by regional specialties; on the coast, you’ll enjoy fresh seafood dishes, while in the Andean region, hearty staples like bandeja paisa dominate.

Don’t forget to indulge in a steaming cup of Colombian coffee, as the country is one of the world’s top producers.

Parks and recreation

Finally, take advantage of Colombia’s vast natural beauty by visiting some of the country’s national parks and recreational areas.

Park Bogota Colombia
Bogota Park | Photo by Harold Castro on Unsplash

The landscapes in Colombia range from pristine beaches and lush rainforests to towering mountains. Colombia expats find no shortage of opportunities to enjoy outdoor adventures or relax in breathtaking surroundings.

Safety and security

Crime rates in Colombia

While Colombia has significantly reduced crime rates and is a long way from when the cities were regarded as some of the most dangerous cities, it’s important to remember that crime still exists, especially in larger cities.

Petty crimes like muggings and robberies can occur, but you can mitigate risks associated with these incidents by taking precautionary measures and staying informed of local conditions.

Most expats say that they feel perfectly safe in the areas of Colombia they live in and visit.

Safety in major cities

Here’s a brief overview of safety in major Colombian cities:

  • Bogotá: As the capital city, Bogotá sees a higher number of crimes compared to smaller cities, it is considered one of the world’s riskiest cities, alongside Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro. However, areas like Chapinero Zona G, Usaquén, and Parque de la 93 are considered safer.

  • Medellín: Once notorious for drug-related crimes, Medellín has seen a significant transformation in recent years. Areas like Poblado and Envigado are popular among expats and generally safer.

  • Cartagena: This popular tourist destination can attract opportunistic criminals. Stick to well-lit areas, avoid displaying valuables, and exercise caution when visiting crowded places.

  • Cali: While some neighborhoods are relatively safe, others are best avoided. Talk to locals and fellow expats to get advice on specific areas to avoid.

Personal security tips

To enhance your safety while living in Colombia, follow these personal security tips:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings and exercise caution, especially at night or when walking alone.

  • Keep your belongings secure, and avoid publicly displaying expensive items like smartphones or jewelry.

  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash, and consider using a money belt or hidden pouch for important documents and valuables.

  • Opt for reputable transportation: Use authorized taxi services or ride-sharing apps rather than hailing cabs off the street.

  • Build connections with locals, expats, and other travelers to stay informed about potential safety concerns in your area.

It’s essential to understand the potential risk factors associated with crime and know how to stay safe in general.

By staying informed and taking some basic precautions, you can significantly enhance your security while living and exploring this beautiful country.


Colombia provides a world-class healthcare system that is considered one of the best in Latin America. In 2021 it ranked 22nd out of 191 countries, beating both Canada and the US, in the World Health Organization health system review.

Private healthcare is also available in Colombia and is generally of a very high standard.

If you thinking of getting international health insurance, you can compare the prices of leading health insurance providers.

The Healthcare system of Colombia

The public healthcare system, known as EPS, offers a three-tiered system with affordable co-payments for lab tests, imaging procedures, specialist visits, and medications.

The co-payments change annually, and many retired expats fall into the second tier.

If you prefer a more personalized service or quicker access to specialists, the private health insurance system might be a better option for you as an expat.

The cost of health services in Colombia’s private system remains quite affordable compared to other countries.

Some advantages of the healthcare system include:

  • Public health services provide insurance coverage for your spouse and children for free.

  • Colombia has many world-class hospitals and medical facilities, enhancing the overall quality of life.

Planning your expat life in Colombia

Planning your move To Colombia

Moving to Colombia can be an exciting adventure for you as an expat. You will be living in the gateway to South America with limitless opportunities for exploration.

It’s essential to do proper research and planning before making the move.

While the country offers affordable living and access to fantastic culture and nature, it’s crucial to understand the logistics and process involved in the relocation.

Visas and legal requirements for Colombia

Columbia offers three main categories of visa:

  • V type visas for Visitor Visa

  • M type visas for Migrant Visa

  • R type visas for Resident Visa

If you plan on visiting before committing to living in Colombia (and you should), you will be able to get a 90-day tourist visa (stamp) on arrival at the airport.

As an expat, you will need to look further into your visa options to consider which visa type is best for your needs and financial status.

A retirement visa is available this is an M Pension visa. You will need to have a pension of at least 3 times the minimum salary (approx $800 in 2023).

The country offers an affordable “Golden Visa” option if you decide to invest in a property or a Colombian business called the M Columbia Investor Visa. You will need to invest 350 Million Colombian Pesos, approximately $80,000 USD.

Familiarize yourself with the visa options and make sure you meet all the legal requirements before moving.

If you’re planning on moving to Colombia long term, you can follow multiple routes to qualify for Colombian citizenship.

Family life

Living in Colombia as a family can be a rich and rewarding experience. The country is known for its warm and welcoming people who value family connections.

Family Life Colombia
Photo by Sergio Aguirre on Unsplash

When settling in Colombia, you might find the quality of life to be significantly different compared to your home country.

Expats often live in apartment complexes with good security and access to amenities such as pools and gyms, making them suitable for families.

Learn more about the pros and cons of living in Colombia to ensure a smooth transition for your family.

Retirement in Colombia

If you’re thinking of retirement in Colombia, the country offers a lower cost of living compared to many other countries, with an average monthly expenditure ranging from $1100 -$1500 for a single person.

Furthermore, you can expect access to affordable healthcare in some of the best medical facilities in the world.

However, make sure you research the safety of the area where you plan to retire and remain vigilant in terms of personal security.

Doing so can ensure a comfortable and enjoyable retirement in Colombia.

Travel and transportation

Domestic transportation

In Colombia, you will find various ways to move around the country. Buses are the most popular and budget-friendly option, particularly for long-distance travel.

They are quite accessible and will take you to most places, regardless of the terrain, including the colorful and unique buses often seen throughout the country.

If you settle in one of the cities, you’ll have all of the expected options, such as buses, taxis, and ridesharing services.

In big cities like Bogotá, you can rely on the TransMilenio bus network, which is efficient and runs on dedicated lanes. Use the TransMi App to check routes and schedules.

Calí has a similar system called Masivo Integrado de Occidente (Mio) that you can use for your transportation needs.

Some highlights in domestic transportation:

  • Buses are efficient and budget-friendly for long-distance travel

  • Bogotá’s TransMilenio and Calí’s Mio make it easy to navigate the cities

  • Taxis and ridesharing services are available throughout the country

International travel

Colombia is an excellent base from which to explore the rest of Latin America and connect with other major cities worldwide.

Colombia has several international airports that connect you to the rest of the world.

The main point of entry for international flights is El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá. Several international airlines serve Colombia, offering flights to various destinations.

Don’t forget to book your tickets in advance, as prices may vary depending on the season and demand.

Apart from flying, you can also explore the rest of South America by land or by sea. Bus services are available for connections to neighboring countries such as Ecuador, Peru, or even Brazil.

Moreover, if you are planning to experience the coastal regions of Colombia, consider a trip to Cartagena, where you can find cruise ships that make stops along the coastline.

Take note of these points for international travel:

  • The main point of entry for international flights: El Dorado International Airport

  • Numerous airlines serve Colombia, providing worldwide connections

  • Buses, cruises, and land travel options are available for regional exploration

When organizing your travel in Colombia, don’t forget to take into account the diverse terrain, including the mountains and the coast.

Always have your phone handy for accessing transportation apps and information. Enjoy exploring this beautiful and diverse country!

Business and economy

Economic situation

Colombia’s economy has bounced back really well from the COVID-19 crisis. This is thanks to good government policies that have helped prevent a bigger drop in people’s incomes.

The country has put in place solid plans to manage its economy, which are helping to revive local spending.

Foreign investment and opportunities

The Colombian economy offers numerous opportunities for investment. Its abundance of natural resources, the promotion of free-trade agreements, and a low cost of living have attracted substantial foreign investment in recent years.

Colombia has a score of 65.1 regarding economic freedom, meaning its economy is considered the 60th freest in the 2022 Index. In comparison to other countries in the Americas region, Colombia ranks 12th out of 32 countries.

If you plan on living in Colombia as a business investor, you may be able to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to establish or expand businesses across various sectors.

Digital nomads in Colombia

If you’re a digital nomad, Colombia could be a great place for you to work and live. The Colombian government has invested billions of dollars into internet infrastructure to enable high-speed broadband connections across much of the country.

Colombia provides a V (visitor) type Digital Nomad Visa. To qualify, you must earn over 3 Million pesos per month ($700 USD). The type of work you do must not involve the local economy.

Colombia’s low cost of living can enable digital nomads to thrive without breaking the bank.

Furthermore, with the rise of remote work, the country has seen increased co-working spaces and shared workspaces, fostering collaboration and connections among digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and professionals.

Final thoughts on living in Colombia

With a growing economy, attractive investment opportunities, and a vibrant digital nomad community, living in Colombia could provide everything you need to succeed in your personal and professional expat pursuits.

You might find useful:

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Further places to explore in Latin America:

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