Cali is the third largest city in Colombia with a growing number of foreigners living in the city. But there are downsides to living in Cali. So, we look at 11 Cali downsides for expats living in Cali.

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

In addition, we previously compared Medellín vs Cali in 18 categories to see which is the better city to live in for expats. And in that comparison the Medellín won if the categories were equally weighted.

I have seen a few posts on the Internet that have looked at the pros and cons of Cali. But some of these tend to miss some of the downsides of living Cali.

The biggest benefits to living in Cali include the lower cost of living and warmer climate plus less pollution than is found in the larger cities in Colombia.

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

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

Police in Cali, Colombia, photo courtesy of National Police of Colombia

Police in Cali, Colombia, photo courtesy of National Police of Colombia

1. Crime is a Major Concern – Cali Downsides

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

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

Cali remains on the world’s most dangerous city list with a homicide rate of 49.59 per 100,000 residents in 2018, which is the highest homicide rate in 2018 out of the cities in Colombia. In comparison, the homicide rate in Medellín is now about half of the rate in Cali.

In a survey of 12,548 Colombians in 2015, in terms of feeling safe in their city (slide 40), Cali was ranked the third worst out of all the cities in Colombia surveyed. Only 30 percent of respondents in Cali felt safe in their city.

Unquestionably Cali is considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America with the highest rate of homicides out of the cities in Colombia. We have a separate article that looks at safety in Cali in more detail with crime statistics.

However, there are some neighborhoods in Cali that are generally considered safe such as Granada and Santa Monica in the north and El Peñon to the west. Although we advise to take a taxi anywhere at night in Cali, which is generally the rule all over the city. And our Medellín safety tips also apply to Cali.

View of Cali from the Three Crosses hill in Cali , photo by C Arrango

View of Cali from the Three Crosses hill in Cali , photo by C Arrango

2. Climate and Weather – Cali Downsides 

Cali has a warmer climate than the two biggest cities in Colombia, Bogotá and Medellín. Medellín is known for its “eternal spring” climate and Bogotá’s climate is cooler, while Cali’s climate could be called an “eternal summer” climate.

In Cali, the temperature during the year averages 75 °F (23.9 °C). The daily average high temperature in Cali ranges from 84 to 86.4 °F (28.9 to 30.2 °C).  But the high temperature does get above 90 °F in Cali at times. And the record high in Cali is 97.9 °F (36.6 °C). In Cali, the daily average low temperature ranges from 65.1 to 63.3 °F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).

Also, in Cali the average annual humidity is 74 percent. So, Cali feels more tropical than many other cities in Colombia. In Cali it gets hot enough that most foreigners will need air-conditioning. So, the climate is considered a downside of Cali.

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

3. Expat Community – Cali Downsides

Cali doesn’t have a well-established expat community, as Cali is off the beaten path of most foreigners coming to Colombia or living in Colombia. A majority of foreigner tourists that visit Colombia visit Bogotá, Medellín and/or Cartagena. Cali gets much fewer foreigner visitors.

In Cali there is only one Facebook group that I could find – Expats in Cali – Colombia, which has less than 1,700 members.

In comparison, Medellín has several large expat groups on Facebook like Medellin Expats with over 17,000 members and Digital Nomads Medellin with over 7,000 members.

While there is not publicly available count of foreigners living in Cali or other cities in Colombia. I would estimate that there is likely only hundreds of expats living in Cali, which compares to thousands living in Medellín or Bogotá. But some expats may view not having many foreigners as a positive.

At the Medellin Guru February 2019 meetup in Medellín with over 170 attendees, you won't find something like this in Cali

At the Medellin Guru February 2019 meetup in Medellín with over 170 attendees, you won’t find something like this in Cali

4. Less of a Support Structure for Foreigners – Cali Downsides

Cali has less of a support structure for foreigners compared to the larger cities in Colombia. This is due to there not yet being many foreigners living in Cali or visiting the city.

For example, I am aware of only one visa agency in Cali, while Medellín has over eight visa agencies, which was covered in our article about visa agencies in Medellín and Colombia. In addition, there are fewer schools for foreigners to learn Spanish in Cali.

Also, in Cali there rarely are meetups for expats and when there are meetups they are small. In comparison, in Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month, which provides a support structure for new foreigners.

For example, Medellin Guru hosts the largest monthly expat events in Medellín. And our last four meetups averaged 165 attendees.  You won’t find such expat meetups in Cali due to a much smaller expat population. So, it’s more difficult to find the expats living in Cali.

Cali's MIO bus system

Cali’s MIO bus system

5. Infrastructure – Cali Downsides

Cali for many years has under-invested in its infrastructure. For example, Cali is reportedly lagging behind other cities in Colombia in terms of development of its road infrastructure and transportation system.

The MIO mass transportation system of elongated buses in Cali that was started about 10 years ago is generally considered a failure. Only 37 percent of the population uses this system and 63 percent prefer any other means of transportation including private cars or motorcycles, buses, taxis and informal transportation.

What on average could take 35 minutes via other means, on the MIO mass transportation system it reportedly now takes 65 minutes in Cali, or even 30 minutes more if you add the two minimum routes that many people must take.

So, Cali has experienced a proliferation of cars and motorcycles. Also, Cali now reportedly has a higher percentage of cars and motorcycles per its population compared to Bogotá, Barranquilla or Cartagena.

An important point is the increase in the number of cars and motorcycles in Cali combined with little growth in the road network now results in traffic jams in Cali during peak hours. Traffic in Cali can now make a journey of 5 to 10 minutes transformed into a trip of 40 to 50 minutes during rush hour.

6. Spanish is Required

I have met a few foreigners that have been living in Cali for several years that don’t speak much Spanish. But most Colombians in Cali (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 Cali without speaking some Spanish. Only a few of the locals in Cali 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 tend to speak little to no English.

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

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 Cali, 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

If you are an expat from the U.S. living in Cali, 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)

Honda Civic costs about $39,900 in Colombia

Honda Civic costs about $39,900 in Colombia

8. Cars are Expensive

Cars can be quite expensive in Cali 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 Cali 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 Cali, 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 Cali without a car. Cali has public buses, which are inexpensive. In addition, Cali has relatively inexpensive taxis.

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

USD to COP 10-year exchange rate history, source

USD to COP 10-year exchange rate history, source

9. Exchange Rate is Volatile

When living in Cali 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 Cali in terms of USD will fluctuate. Over the past three years the exchange rate has ranged from 2,711 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).

10. Questions from Friends and Family

Cali has a bad security reputation and is considered to be the most dangerous city in Colombia due to having the highest homicide rate out of the cities in Colombia. Once you start living in Cali, you come to realize that the reality in several neighborhoods popular with expats such as Granada and Santa Monica in the north and El Peñon to the west isn’t as bad as the overall reputation of the city.

But, if you are an expat living in Cali, one downside is that you will constantly receive many questions from friends and relatives from your home country.

This happens almost every month to a friend originally from the U.S. I know living in Cali. He tells me he hears the same questions over and over again. Questions like – Is it safe? If I come will I be kidnapped? Will I get robbed? Aren’t you scared living in Cali?

11. Customer Service

You will need patience and tolerance living in Cali 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.

Also, 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 Cali 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)

Iglesia de la Ermita, a neo-Gothic church in Cali

Iglesia de la Ermita, a neo-Gothic church in Cali

The Bottom Line: Cali Downsides – the Downsides of Living in Cali, Colombia as an Expat

The bottom line is that no city is perfect and every city has downsides. Also, some of the above Cali downsides listed above really apply to any city in Colombia.

For example, five of the downsides listed above (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 Cali it is important to understand all the downsides when comparing to other cities in Colombia or in other countries. Some publications tend to praise Cali as a place to live but they don’t really discuss all the downsides.

So, hopefully the above article will help communicate several of the downsides of living in Cali from an expat perspective.

To each his own. A few expats prefer living in Cali. But I prefer living in Medellín with its eternal spring climate and good public transportation system.

In addition, we previously looked 11 downsides to living in Medellín, 11 downsides to living in Cartagena and 12 downsides to living in Bogotá. Also, we looked at 8 downsides of living in El Poblado, the most popular neighborhood for expats in Medellín.

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Editors note: updated on May 16, 2019 to add one downside based on comments from readers.

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