Living In Medellín, Colombia: The Expats’ Essential Guide

Medellín offers an enviable standard of living, with a low cost of living, excellent healthcare, and a lively social scene. Could it be perfect for you?

Greetings, adventure seeker! Are you ready to embark on a life-changing journey and make Medellín, Colombia, your new home?

Prepare to immerse yourself in a vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and a city pulsating with energy – a city that effortlessly blends the old with new and traditional with contemporary. 

A city view from a balcony - Medellin's high apartment blocks with mountains in the background

Our comprehensive guide is crafted exclusively for you, the discerning expatriate. It is meticulously organized to furnish you with all the indispensable knowledge and insights you need to start planning your new life in Medellín.

“Medellín isn’t merely a city, it’s a palette of experiences. It’s a canvas that you get to paint with your own personal hues of adventure, exploration, and discovery.”

In our guide, we delve into: 

  • Understanding Medellín: The city’s history, culture, geography, and climate.
  • Legal requirements: Information on visas, residency permits, and legal matters for expats.
  • Cost of living: A comprehensive breakdown of living expenses, from housing and utilities to groceries and entertainment.
  • Housing: Insights into the best neighborhoods, renting versus buying, and tips on finding your perfect home.
  • Healthcare: An overview of the healthcare system, medical insurance, and hospitals.
  • Transportation: A look at public transport, driving in Medellín, and flight connections.
  • Education: A guide to international schools and education opportunities for children and adults alike.
  • Lifestyle: The culinary scene, recreational activities, shopping, and social life in Medellín.
  • Making friends: Tips and tricks to help you find new friends and build your social circle.

Let’s start unraveling the fabric of this fascinating city and, together, craft the exciting narrative of your life in Medellín!

Understanding Medellín

A city nestled in the heart of the Andes, Medellín has bounced back from a turbulent past to become a dynamic powerhouse of culture and innovation.

A city district in Medellin with open air public swimming pools
Medellín, the Atanasio Girardo Sports Complex in the Laurels neighborhood

Let’s take a quick dive into the city’s history and culture to get a feel for what really makes Medellín tick.


The city you are considering calling home, Medellín, is a vibrant cultural hub steeped in a rich and fascinating history.

Not just skyscrapers and bustling streets, the city has a tale to tell, one that stretches back centuries. 

Medellín, once synonymous with the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar and his Medellín Cartel, has since evolved, shedding its turbulent past to emerge as a city of progress and innovation.

The story of Medellín is a tapestry of triumph and transformation, and it begins in the pre-Colombian era when indigenous tribes inhabited the Aburrá Valley.

The city was officially founded on March 2, 1616, by Francisco Herrera y Campuzano, a Spaniard, who named it ‘San Lorenzo de Aburrá.’

However, it was not until November 2, 1675, that Medellín was officially recognized as a town. 

Historical timeline

  • Industrial revolution: The late 19th century marked the beginning of the industrial revolution in Colombia, with Medellín leading the charge. The city established itself as a major center for textiles, banking, and railway construction, setting the foundation for the modern, thriving metropolis we see today.
  • 20th century: Despite enduring periods of violence in the 1980s and early 1990s, Medellín emerged stronger, focusing on urban development and social inclusion programs. The city’s transformation into a safer, more prosperous place is a testament to its resilience.
  • 21st century: Medellín has now made a name for itself on the global stage as a city of innovation and creativity. It’s a city that continues to attract expats from all over the world, drawn by its blend of modernity and tradition, its lush landscapes, and its warm, welcoming people.


  • Paisa culture: Known for their warm and welcoming nature, Paisas take great pride in their city and its transformation. You’ll find them eager to share their stories of resilience and regeneration.
  • Festivals: Medellín takes pride in its numerous festivals, most notably the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival), an annual event showcasing the city’s flower-growing heritage. This is a city that knows how to celebrate life!
  • Cuisine: The local cuisine is rich and varied, with Bandeja Paisa, a hearty platter of beans, pork, sausage, plantain, and avocado, being a beloved local dish.
A dish of rice, beans and sausages served with bread and dips
Bandeja Paisa


Known as the “City of Eternal Spring,” Medellín boasts a near-perfect climate year-round.

With an average temperature that hovers around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius), there’s no need for heating or air conditioning.

Expect plenty of sunshine, punctuated by occasional tropical showers that keep the city green and lush. 

Legal requirements

Living in Medellín as an expat entails understanding and adhering to the residency requirements set forth by the government of Colombia.

It’s not simply a matter of packing your bags and booking a flight; you must ensure you have the correct visa, understand the residency rules, and familiarize yourself with any additional legal matters that may affect your stay. 


For US and UK citizens, there are several types of visas to consider: 

  • Visitor visa (type V): Ideal for tourists, short-term business visits, or attending academic seminars. The maximum duration is typically 180 days per year.
  • Migrant visa (type M): For those intending to stay in Colombia for an extended period. This visa covers retirees, property owners, and spouses or partners of Colombian citizens. Valid for up to three years.
  • Resident visa (type R): For those intending to live in Colombia indefinitely. Applicants must meet certain conditions, such as having previously held a Migrant Visa, being a parent to a Colombian citizen, or investing in property or a business in Colombia.
Visa typeDurationAppropriate for
Visitor Visa (V)Up to 180 days/yearTourism, short business visits, academic seminars
Migrant Visa (M)3 yearsRetirees, property owners, spouses/partners of Colombian citizens
Resident Visa (R)IndefiniteLong-term residents, parents of Colombian citizens, investors

How to get a Colombian Retirement Visa (type M visa)

Getting a Colombian Retirement Visa, or the Type M Visa isn’t as daunting as it may seem, and here’s how you can easily secure one. 

Medellin cityscape - tall building among tall trees
El Poblado district of Medellín

Eligibility criteria: 

  • You’re a pensioner, at least 65 years of age (if you’re a man)
  • You have a monthly pension of at least three times the Colombian minimum wage, which currently equals about $877 USD monthly.

Required documents: 

  • A completed Formulario Único de Trámites.
  • A copy of the first page of your current passport.
  • A copy of your pension or retirement income statement.
  • A copy of your bank statement showing the requisite income.

The aforementioned documents might need to be translated into Spanish and apostilled.

Once you’ve gathered all the required documents, it’s time for you to apply for your visa online. 

Insider Tip: Hire a local translator if your Spanish isn’t up to scratch to smoothen the visa application process.

Application process: 

1Complete the visa application on the official Cancillería de Colombia website.
2Upload scanned copies of all the required documents.
3Pay the visa application fee, which currently stands at $282.
4Wait for approval. If approved, you will receive an email with your visa attached.

Residency permits 

Once you have obtained a visa, you should apply for a Foreigner ID Card (Cédula de Extranjería) within 15 days of your visa being issued or upon your arrival in Colombia.

This card serves as your official identification and is mandatory for all foreigners staying longer than three months. 

Additional legal matters 

Being aware of additional legal matters is also integral to a successful move.


  • In Colombia, the law of the land applies to all, regardless of nationality.
  • Engage legal counsel if you plan to purchase property or start a business.
  • Understand tax rules and obligations. Colombia has a tax treaty with the US, which means you are not subject to double taxation.
  • Ensure your health insurance is valid in Colombia.

Note: Always seek expert advice when dealing with legal matters. Information provided here is a guide and may change without notice.

Read more about legalities and other issues regarding your move in our Living In Colombia guide.

Cost of living

Let’s discuss the cost of living, one of Medellín’s exceptionally attractive features that make it a great place to live in. 

Little pastries - empanadas - traditional Colombian snack

With living costs significantly lower than in major US cities, it makes the city ideal for expats seeking a high-quality lifestyle without breaking the bank. 


Let’s start with housing, the cornerstone of living expenses. The cost of accommodation in Medellín varies based on location, size, and amenities.

A comfortable apartment in the city center could cost you between $550 to $1500 per month, while a similar place in the city outskirts could cost as low as $400 per month. 


Next, the cost of utilities. Rest assured, these expenses won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

Basic utilities, including electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage for an 85m2 apartment, usually run in the vicinity of $75 to $140 per month. 


Now, to the essentials of life—food. Groceries in Medellín are surprisingly affordable.

Local markets and supermarkets are brimming with fresh produce, dairy, meat, and other household necessities. Let’s break it down for you: 

ItemAverage cost
Milk (1 liter)$0.95
Bread (500g)$1.30
Rice (1kg)$1.20
Chicken Breasts (1kg)$5.70
Apples (1kg)$2.50


Finally, let’s talk entertainment—after all, life isn’t all about work.

In Medellín, recreational activities are as diverse as they are affordable.

From a $5 movie ticket to a $30 dinner at a mid-range restaurant, the city provides some great ways to unwind without straining your budget. 

Housing and the best neighborhoods in Medellín 

When it comes to choosing your ideal neighborhood in Medellín, there’s a rich tapestry of locales that can cater to your lifestyle preferences.

Medellín is a place where you can find upscale neighborhoods nestled in the heart of a captivating cultural landscape.

Some of the most sought-after areas for expats include: 

  • Poblado: Known for its lush greenery, modern high-rises, and upscale dining. Poblado is the epitome of luxury living in the city.
  • Envigado: A more laid-back option with a strong sense of community, Envigado boasts some of the best dining spots and is less touristy.
  • Laureles: If you’re in search of a more traditional Colombian neighborhood, Laureles offers wonderfully tree-lined streets and a rich local atmosphere.

Renting vs. buying – a delicate balance 

As an expat, you might be wondering whether you should rent or buy your new home in Medellín.

Medellin view with mountains in the background

Both options have their merits, yet the choice ultimately depends on your personal circumstances and ambitions. 

“Renting allows you greater mobility and flexibility, while buying is an investment and a commitment to the city.”

Consider factors such as the length of your stay, your financial situation, and your willingness to handle property maintenance. Weighing these elements will guide you in making the best decision. 

Unearth your perfect home 

Finding your home in a new city can seem daunting, but with the right approach, it can be an exciting adventure. Here are some tips to ease your hunt: 

  1. Do your research: Explore various neighborhoods, their amenities, and the average cost of living in each area.
  2. Seek local expertise: Enlist the help of reliable local real estate agents who understand the market and can guide you efficiently.
  3. Visit in person: If possible, visit the properties in person to get a real feel for the space and its surroundings.

In your quest for the perfect home, always remember that patience is key. With time, you’re bound to find a place that resonates with your style and provides you with the comfort you desire in this charming city.


Medellín’s healthcare services are exceptionally good, with Colombia ranked #35 in the world by CEO World. The United States is at #30 and Italy at #37, and Panama at #56 to give you an idea of where Colombia sits. 

The fusion of modern technology and compassionate, highly skilled professionals make for a healthcare system that is both robust and reliable.

Whether it’s general practice or specialized care, Medellín’s healthcare system is well-equipped to cater to your needs. 

Medical insurance 

Living in Medellín as an expat, it is advisable to have a healthcare plan. Colombia has a comprehensive healthcare system that is ranked as one of the best in Latin America.

The system is divided into two sectors: 

  1. EPS (Entidades Promotoras de Salud): Public health insurance covers almost 97% of illnesses and procedures. To be eligible for EPS, you need to be a resident, either through a visa or by becoming a citizen.
  2. Prepagada: Private health insurance provides a higher level of care, quicker access to specialists, and private rooms in hospitals. This is more expensive than EPS but is accessible to both residents and non-residents.

Many expats prefer international health insurance. International health insurance can be quite expensive. To ensure you get the best value for money, compare international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal. 


The city is home to several top-rated hospitals. Here are three of the most prestigious ones: 

Clínica MedellínCardiology, Neurology, Pediatric Care
Hospital Pablo Tobón UribeTransplants, Oncology, Cardiology
Hospital Universitario San Vicente FundaciónTransplants, Trauma Surgery, Pediatric Care

Medellín’s healthcare system is progressive and of high quality. It’s a city where you can have peace of mind, knowing that your healthcare needs will be met with professionalism and care.

Transportation in Medellín

When it comes to transportation, Medellín offers a dynamic and well-structured public transport system, a diverse and sometimes challenging driving experience, and excellent flight connections. 

Let’s delve deeper into each facet. 

Public transport 

Public transportation in Medellín is not only efficient but also exceptionally accessible. The city prides itself on its award-winning Metro system, the only one of its kind in Colombia. 

  • The Medellín Metro: It’s an extensive network that spans the city, connecting even far-flung areas with the city center. The Metro system includes two rail lines, four cable car lines, and two BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines.
  • Buses: A myriad of bus routes crisscross the city, ensuring that even the most remote neighborhoods are well-connected.
  • Taxis: Taxis are plentiful, affordable, and can be easily hailed from the street or booked via smartphone apps.

Driving in Medellín 

While public transport is abundant, you might find the freedom of driving more appealing. However, be prepared for a unique experience.

Driving in Medellín can be challenging, with winding mountain roads and fast-paced city driving. 

Bear in mind that Medellín operates a Pico y Placa system, a driving restriction program to reduce congestion, where the last digit of your license plate determines the days you are allowed to drive.

Flight connections 

Traveling to and from Medellín is a breeze, thanks to a well-connected air travel network. The city is served by two airports: 

Jose Maria Cordova International Airport (MDE)Located in the nearby city of Rionegro, it’s the main airport for international flights.
Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH)Located within the city limits, it primarily serves domestic flights.

With regular flights to major cities in the U.S., as well as direct flights to Europe, Medellín is an accessible and attractive destination for expats.

Education In Medellín

For the discerning expat, the quality of educational opportunities is undoubtedly a major factor in deciding whether to move to a new city. 

In Medellín, you’ll find a good range of schools that cater not just to the local populace but also to the international community.

As a haven for global citizens, the city boasts an impressive array of international schools, vocational institutions, and language academies. 

International schools 

Medellín is home to a number of international schools that offer globally recognized curriculums, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the Cambridge IGCSE.

Whether your child is starting their educational journey or preparing for university, these schools provide a learning environment that fosters cultural understanding, academic excellence, and personal development. 

  • The Columbus School: Renowned for its rigorous academics and strong emphasis on bilingualism. The Columbus School follows both the Colombian and U.S. educational systems, ensuring students are well-prepared for opportunities on a global scale.
  • El Colegio De Mi Vida: A catholic independent school with visionary leadership that promotes investigation and innovation with a state-of-the-art pedagogical model.
  • Montessori School Medellín: Based on the Montessori method, this school provides a nurturing and student-centered learning environment where children are encouraged to explore their interests and develop their potential.

Language schools 

Medellín offers numerous language schools for both children and adults. Whether you’re looking to improve your Spanish or even delve into another new language, you’ll find a multitude of options to choose from. 

SchoolLanguages Offered
Link IdiomasSpanish, English, French, German, Italian, Mandarin
EAFIT University Language CenterSpanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese

Vocational and adult education 

Medellín’s commitment to education extends beyond the walls of traditional schools. The city offers a myriad of options for vocational training and adult education.

Whether you want to upskill for your career, learn a new hobby, or continue your life-long learning journey, you’ll find a wealth of resources at your disposal. 

With its robust educational ecosystem, Medellín is a city that champions learning at every stage of life.

Lifestyle in Medellín 

Experience a lifestyle drenched in color, vitality, and exuberance in Medellín.

The city boasts an exciting culinary scene, an abundance of recreational activities, lavish shopping destinations, and a social life that never loses its sparkle. 

Culinary scene 

Medellín offers an exquisite gastronomical journey, with the city’s culinary scene being an amalgamation of traditional Colombian cuisine and international tastes.

Immerse yourself in the delicacies of the local food scene: 

  • Traditional cuisine: Must-try dishes include Bandeja Paisa, a hearty platter of rice, beans, pork, avocado, and plantain, and Arepa, a cornmeal patty often filled with cheese or meat.
  • International fusion: The city is home to numerous restaurants offering a fusion of Colombian and international flavors, a testament to its cosmopolitan nature.
  • Street food: You’ll find a variety of delectable street foods, from empanadas to exotic fruit salads, offering you a taste of Colombia on the go.

Recreational activities 

In Medellín, recreational activities are as diverse as the city itself. From exploring lush parks to hiking in the Andes, the city offers endless opportunities for adventure and leisure alike. 

  1. Hiking: Get your adrenaline pumping with a hike up the Cerro El Volador, one of the city’s seven hills.
  2. Parks: Enjoy a leisurely stroll in the Botanical Garden or Parque Explora, both favorites among locals and expats.
  3. Cultural tours: Dive into the city’s rich history with cultural tours of the Museum of Antioquia and the vibrant Comuna 13 neighborhood.


Medellín’s shopping scene caters to all tastes, whether you’re hunting for luxury brands or seeking to explore local handicrafts. 

El Tesoro Shopping ParkA high-end shopping center offering a wide range of international brands, gourmet dining, and entertainment options.
Via PrimaveraHome to local designer boutiques and charming cafes, perfect for those looking for a relaxed shopping experience.
Artesanías de ColombiaThis shop offers beautiful indigenous crafts, textiles, and jewelry, allowing you to bring an element of Colombia into your home.

Social life 

You’ll discover an energetic social life that welcomes everyone, with friendly locals, bustling bars and nightclubs, and regular cultural events and festivals.

Medellín comes alive after sundown, with the lively music and dance scene perfectly encapsulating the spirit of Medellín.

Making friends in Medellín

Building a social circle in a new city can be both challenging and exciting. But you don’t have to worry about having any lack of friends in Medellín.

With its vibrant cultural scene and friendly locals, you’ll have countless opportunities to make new friends and establish meaningful connections. 

Let’s delve into some tips and tricks to help you on this journey: 

  1. Learn Spanish – While many Colombians can communicate in English, your interactions will undoubtedly be enriched by learning the local language. Sign up for a Spanish course, or even better, go for language exchange meetups where you can practice Spanish while teaching English.
  2. Join local events and clubs – From salsa dancing lessons to coffee tasting workshops, there’s something for everyone in Medellín. Participating in these events not only gives you a chance to meet like-minded people but also a deep dive into the local culture.
  3. Volunteer – Volunteering for a local charity or community project is a rewarding way to meet locals and fellow expats alike. It lets you contribute positively to your new community while building connections.

Remember, it’s the quality of friendships that matter, not the quantity. It may take time, but the connections you build here will be worth the wait.

Here’s a handy table detailing some popular spots in Medellín for socializing and meeting new people: 

LocationType of EventsBest For
Comuna 13Graffiti tours, Hip-hop eventsArt enthusiasts, Music lovers
Poblado ParkOutdoor concerts, Food festivalsMusic fans, Foodies
LaurelesSalsa clubs, Language exchange meetupsDancers, Language Learners

Expat community 

Medellín has a thriving expat community, so you won’t feel alone. There are many social clubs, activities, and resources available to help you settle in and make new friends. 

Expat ClubActivities
Medellín Expat SocietySocial gatherings, networking events, language exchange
International Women’s Club of MedellínCultural outings, charity work, guest speakers

In summary

Medellín is not just one of the best places to live in Colombia. It is also one of the most popular expat destinations in South America. It offers an enviable standard of living for expats, with a low cost of living, excellent healthcare, and a lively social scene.

It’s a city that’s both welcoming and exciting, making it an excellent choice for your new home.

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