Bogotá is the largest city in Colombia and it has many expats living in the city due to having many job opportunities. But there are downsides to living in Bogotá. So, we look at 12 Bogotá downsides for expats living in Bogotá.

We previously looked at downsides to living in Medellín. Also, we looked at the downsides to living in Cartagena and the downsides to living in Cali plus the overall downsides to living in Colombia. And several Medellin Guru readers asked for us to also look at the downsides of living in Bogotá.

In addition, we previously compared Medellín vs Bogotá in 17 categories to see which is the better city to live in for expats.  And in that comparison the two cities tied if the 17 categories were equally weighted.

I have seen some posts on the Internet that looked at the pros and cons of Bogotá. But these all tend to miss some of the downsides of living in Bogotá.

The biggest benefits to living in Bogotá include the job opportunities in the huge city, education options, having many things to do, having a very large selection of restaurants and night life and having good travel access with Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport being the largest airport in Colombia with flights to more destinations.

But there are also several downsides to living in Bogotá. I am originally from the U.S. and have lived in Colombia over eight years and have spent over seven months in Bogotá. So, the following list of downsides to living in Bogotá is an expat’s perspective based on my experiences in the city and in Colombia.

Furthermore, not all these Bogotá downsides apply to everyone. Some of these downsides can be overcome or avoided.  And the following list of Bogotá downsides is in no particular order.

Icy snow in Bogotá in November 2007, photo by Dianib

Icy snow in Bogotá in November 2007, photo by Dianib

1. Climate and Weather – Bogotá Downsides

Bogotá is located at a high elevation. So, the climate is cooler than in many other cities in Colombia.

In Bogotá, the temperature during the year averages 58 °F (14.5 °C). The daily average high temperature in Bogotá ranges from 65.5 to 68.4 °F (18.6 to 20.2 °C). And the daily average low temperature ranges from 45.7 to 49.5 °F (7.6 to 9.7 °C).

The all-time record low in Bogotá was 19 °F (-7.1 °C) and Bogotá experiences ice/snow on rare occasions. In addition, Bogotá has experienced some hailstorms. Also, most apartments and houses in Bogotá don’t have heaters in my experience, so it can get cold at night.

Also, the rainiest months in Bogotá are April, May, October and November, during which the typical days are mostly overcast with some rain in 18 to 20 days of the month.

While some expats may prefer the cooler climate of Bogotá, most expats I have talked to prefer a warmer eternal spring climate. Colombia has three cities with eternal spring climates: Medellín, Pereira and Bucaramanga.

Traffic in Bogotá, photo by Alexander Blum

Traffic in Bogotá, photo by Alexander Blum

2. Traffic Can be Bad – Bogotá Downsides

Colombia was ranked as one of the world’s worst places to drive in terms of driver satisfaction based on a study done by Waze. Colombia had several cities in that study that ranked as some of the worst in terms of traffic, including Bogotá (7th worst) and Medellín (8th worst).

Traffic is a downside of living in Bogotá. And traffic reportedly is one of the biggest concerns of expats living in the city.

Bogotá is the largest city in Colombia and traffic is frequently bad in the city in my experience. In my opinion, Bogotá has the worst traffic out of the cities in Colombia, followed by Medellín. But in my experience, the much bigger cities of São Paulo and Mexico City in South America have worst traffic than in Bogotá.

I also recommend the Waze app for smartphones when in Bogotá. I use this app and it has saved me so many hours from being stuck in traffic in Bogotá. Using Waze, you can find out how long it will take to get to a destination and the best route to use. Frequently the best route avoids traffic.

3. Cost of Living is High Compared to Other Cities in Colombia – Bogotá Downsides

In general, Bogotá is generally considered to have the highest cost of living out of the cities in Colombia, followed by Cartagena.

If you compare Bogotá with other cities in Colombia using the Expatistan or Numbeo cost of living websites, these sites will typically show Bogotá as the more expensive city to live.

Similar apartment properties I have seen in Bogotá in estrato 5 or 6 neighborhoods tend to rent for or sell for at least 15-20 percent higher prices than in Medellín – or even much higher.

I have seen a few expensive new properties in Bogotá in estrato 6 selling for about 12 million pesos per square meter, which is much more expensive than the most expensive properties currently being sold in Medellín

Other costs like groceries, restaurants and other things tend to be at least 4-10 percent cheaper in Medellín in comparison to Bogotá.

Grey smog over the city of Bogotá

Grey smog over the city of Bogotá

4. Pollution – Bogotá Downsides

The World Health Organization (WHO) previously reported that two cities in Colombia are ranked in the 10 most polluted cities in Latin America: Medellín was ranked #9 and Bogotá #10. So, pollution is a major problem in both cities.

Bogotá is a huge city. And when I have visited Bogotá I sometimes have seen a thick gray smog layer over the city.

The southwest part of Bogotá reportedly has pollution with an annual average of 30 micro-grams of PM2.5 particles per square meter of air, which is three times the level recommended by WHO. And during peak hours, when most vehicles are on the busy streets, the PM2.5 level can peak at over 80 micro-grams.

But Bogotá and Medellín don’t have the worst pollution in Latin America. According to WHO, Santiago, Chile and other towns in Chile; Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; Cubatão, Brazil; as well as some towns in Costa Rica all have worse pollution levels than in Medellín or Bogotá.

Also, pollution is worse than in Bogotá in many other cities in the World. According to WHO there are over 600 cities and towns around the world with worse pollution than Bogotá.

5. Altitude – Bogotá Downsides

Bogotá is located at a high elevation of about 8,660 feet (2,640 meters), which makes it one of the highest country capitals in the world. Only Bolivia and Ecuador have higher capitals.

Bogotá’s high altitude means that it is possible to experience physiological effects. Bogotá is at the low end of the altitude scale for possible physiological effects. Also, the air is thinner at the higher altitude of Bogotá.

When visiting Bogotá, it’s possible to notice fatigue, heavier breathing, a faster heart rate, a slowdown of digestion and even an increased need to urinate. In addition, headaches are a common result of the higher altitude.

It normally takes a few days for your body to adjust to the higher altitude in Bogotá. When I travel to Bogotá, I typically experience some headaches and get tired easier the first few days I am in the city. The body needs some time to adjust to the thinner air in Bogotá. It is also recommended to not drink alcohol or do heavy exercise for at least the first 48 hours after you arrive at an altitude above 8,000 feet.

Shorter-term visitors to the high altitude in Bogotá are the ones that normally experience physiological effects. Several studies have shown that the approximately 140 million people worldwide who live full-time at altitudes above 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) ultimately adapt to the lower oxygen levels.

But be careful in Bogotá as there are some preexisting medical conditions that may be of concern at higher altitudes and precautions should be taken.

6. Spanish is Required – Bogotá Downsides

I have met several foreigners that have been living in Bogotá for several years that don’t speak much Spanish. But most Colombians in Bogotá (and the rest of the country) generally don’t speak much English. So, to be independent you will need to speak some Spanish.

It is difficult to get by living in Bogotá without speaking some Spanish. Only a few of the locals in Bogotá speak English. And most of the people that you will interact with on a typical day, such as store clerks, taxi drivers and waiters will speak little to no English.

But in my experience, many of the executives at large companies and some of the staff in hotels and restaurants in Bogotá speak English.

Bogotá is the capital and business center of Colombia and it likely has the biggest expat community out of all the cities in Colombia due to all the large multi-national companies in Bogotá. However, this expat community in Bogotá is still relatively small in comparison to the overall metro population of Bogotá of about 10.7 million.

In addition, Education First ranks the English proficiency in Colombia as low at 48.90 on a 100-point scale.

(Note this downside is not unique to Bogotá, it’s a Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia)

Colombia income taxes and IVA taxes

Colombia income taxes and IVA taxes

7. Need to File Taxes Twice and High IVA Tax – Bogotá Downsides

If you are an expat from the U.S. living in Colombia, you likely will have to file taxes in both the U.S. and Colombia. You are considered a tax resident in Colombia if you stay in the country for more than 183 total days during a year, whether this time is continuous or not. In addition, Colombia taxes the worldwide income of tax residents.

Just because you have to file taxes in Colombia doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay income taxes. Colombia has several deductions plus you can subtract some income taxes paid in another country from income taxes due in Colombia. We previously looked at filing income taxes in Colombia.

Colombia also has a 19 percent IVA tax (a value added tax – VAT) on many products, which makes buying many things more expensive. The IVA tax used to be 16 percent but was increased to 19 percent in February 2017. But some grocery items such as milk, eggs and fruits and several other items are exempt from the IVA tax in Colombia.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia)

8. Cars are Expensive – Bogotá Downsides

Cars can be quite expensive in Bogotá due to import duties in Colombia of up to 35 percent. Reportedly over 60 percent of the vehicles sold in Colombia are imported. So, many models of cars sold in Bogotá and other cities in Colombia can be more expensive than in the U.S.

Colombia has a free trade agreement with the U.S. that went into effect in 2012. The agreement is phasing out the import duty for vehicles over a 10-year period but there are still import duties.

In addition, Colombia has free trade agreements with several other countries. These other agreements are also phasing out import duties for automobiles. Over time this will help reduce the costs for imported vehicles sold in Colombia.

When living in Bogotá, you should expect to pay more for a car than in the U.S. Also, there are also ongoing costs with owning a car including insurance, maintenance, taxes and gasoline.

But it is possible to live in Bogotá without a car. Bogotá has its elongated Transmilenio bus system and also public buses, which are inexpensive. In addition, Bogotá has relatively inexpensive taxis.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia)

Transmilenio station in Bogotá at Calle 106, photo by Pedro Felipe

Transmilenio station in Bogotá at Calle 106, photo by Pedro Felipe

9. Public Transport: Transmilenio – Bogotá Downsides

The Transmilenio bus system in Bogotá is arguably another downside of living in Bogotá. The Transmilenio system is way over capacity during the peak hours.

During peak hours on the Transmilenio it is so completely jam packed you can’t even get off the buses. Passengers at stations don’t give the right of way to departing passengers with some aggressive pushing and shoving. So, it is nearly impossible to exit in my experience. So, I never use Transmilenio in Bogotá during rush hour when I am in Bogotá.

In addition, Transmilenio doesn’t go everywhere in the huge city of Bogotá. So, there are many places in Bogotá where you would need to catch a local bus or taxi.

Bogotá is the largest city in Latin America that doesn’t have a rail-based metro system. And the smaller city of Medellín in Colombia has a very comprehensive metro system.

10. Crime is a Major Concern – Bogotá Downsides

Crime and safety are major concerns of expats considering moving to Bogotá and expats living in the city.

There are parts of Bogotá where you shouldn’t go, particularly after dark, and you’ll need to learn these. Like any big city some neighborhoods in Bogotá are not really safe at night.

In a survey of 12,548 Colombians in 2015, in terms of feeling safe in their city (slide 40), Bogotá was ranked the worst out of all the cities in Colombia surveyed. Only 14 percent of respondents in Bogotá felt safe in their city.

Safety in Bogotá has improved significantly over the past several years. But street crime is still common in Bogotá and other cities in Colombia. So, there is a need to take certain basic precautions when it comes to being vigilant about your personal safety in Bogotá. But this is no different in this regard than many other cities in other Latin American countries.

USD to COP 10-year exchange rate history, source XE.com

USD to COP 10-year exchange rate history, source XE.com

11. Exchange Rate is Volatile – Bogotá Downsides

When living in Bogotá in Colombia pretty much all of your costs will be in the local currency – Colombian pesos (COP). The exchange rate over the past three years has been very beneficial if you have U.S. dollars (USD) or another Western currency. But the exchange rate has fluctuated dramatically over the years. So, it hasn’t always been like now.

Over the past 10 years the exchange rate has ranged from 1,745 to 3,438 pesos to the USD. So, your cost of living in Bogotá in terms of USD will fluctuate. Over the past three years the exchange rate has ranged from 2,708 to 3,438 pesos to the USD. This is a much higher exchange rate range than the prior seven years.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia)

12. Customer Service – Bogotá Downsides

You will need patience and tolerance living in Bogotá or other cities in Colombia. If someone says they will be there in 30 minutes it may be in two hours, tomorrow may mean sometime later in the week and so on. Don’t expect someone to be on time for a date. It’s a pleasant surprise when they are. Colombians don’t come from a service-oriented culture. So, customer service can at times be very slow.

North Americans and Western Europeans used to their more well-oiled realities will run up against their share of disorganization, poor service, long lines and bureaucracy in Bogotá and Colombia, which can range from mildly frustrating to infuriating.

However, this is no different than many other countries in Latin America. I have experienced similar issues in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and several other countries in Latin America.

(Note this is another Colombia downside that is also a downside in other cities in Colombia)

View of Bogotá from Monserrate

View of Bogotá from Monserrate

The Bottom Line: Bogotá Downsides – the Downsides of Living in Bogotá as an Expat

The bottom line is that no city is perfect and every city has downsides. Also, some of the above Bogotá downsides listed above really apply to any city in Colombia. For example, five of the downsides (the exchange rate, customer service, taxes, need for Spanish and expensive cars) can apply to any city in Colombia.

Also, before deciding to live in a city like Bogotá it’s important to understand all the downsides when comparing to other cities in Colombia or in other countries. Some publications tend to praise Bogotá as a place to live but they don’t really discuss all the downsides.

So, hopefully the above article will help communicate some of the downsides of living in Bogotá from an expat’s perspective.

To each his own. Some expats prefer living in Bogotá. To me, Bogotá is an interesting city and I enjoy visiting the city. There are so many things to do in Bogotá. And it has a great selection of restaurants. But I prefer living in Medellín with a warmer climate and lower cost of living.

In addition, we have looked at 11 downsides to living in Medellín and 11 downsides to living in Cartagena. Also, we looked at 8 downsides of living in El Poblado, the most popular neighborhood for expats in Medellín.

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