One of the benefits of being an expat living in Medellín is that there are many surprisingly cheap things in Medellín compared to the costs found in North America or Europe.
Since I have been living in Medellín for over seven years, I frequently get asked about the cost of living. The relatively low cost of living in the city is one of 27 reasons why I chose Medellín and continue to live in Medellín.
In the past three years, our cost of living in Medellín for a couple (with my Colombian wife) has averaged about $2,000 per month and we live in a nice apartment.
I decided to put together a list of 14 surprisingly cheap things in Medellín for expats that are used to higher costs in their home countries. This list of surprisingly cheap things is in no particular order.
Note the exchange rate used in this surprising cheap things article is 2,999 pesos to the U.S. Dollar.
One of the first things you find out as a foreigner when you start living in Medellín is that yellow taxis are plentiful and surprisingly cheap by Western standards. All taxis in Medellín use meters. This is different than on Colombia’s Caribbean coast such as in Cartagena, where taxis don’t have meters.
The following are the current taxi fares in Medellín starting on December 1, 2018:
- Taximeter starts at 3,500 pesos
- Minimum fare is 5,500 pesos ($1.80)
- Fare for every 78 meters is 100 pesos
- Fare to wait 60 seconds is 200 pesos
- The fare for an hour of contracted time is 25,200 pesos
- Fare to José María Córdova international airport is 75,000 pesos from Medellín
In my experience, you can go most places in Medellín for less than 20,000 pesos. I use taxis frequently and my fares typically range from 5,500 pesos to 15,000 pesos, with an average of about 7,500 pesos ($2.40). We also have a detailed Medellín taxi guide.
Hailing a yellow taxi on the street in Medellín is as easy as holding up your arm. During the daytime, you should be safe catching taxis from the street. However, we recommend exercising caution at night. Also make sure the taxi driver turns on the meter.
You can call a taxi company to send a registered taxi. Some numbers for taxis in Medellín include 222-2222, 444-4444, 444-5555, 444-9999 and 511-1111.
In addition, throughout the city near landmarks, metro stations, points of interest and shopping centers you will find taxi stands where taxis queue up for customers. Sometimes a person working for a taxi company will be at the taxi stand keeping them organized and keeping track for where the taxis are going.
2. Apartment Rent
Apartment rent is our biggest expense but the cost to rent an apartment in Medellín is surprisingly cheap by Western standards.
I have been renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín for over seven years. We currently live in a three-bedroom apartment in Sabaneta, which we moved into over two years ago.
We recently renewed our apartment lease for another year for less than $425 per month. This is for an apartment with:
- Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, about 110 square meters (1,184 square feet)
- Kitchen with granite countertops, oven, and gas cooktop
- Gas water heater (tankless)
- Upper floor in a high-rise building, with two large balconies
- Pool, sauna and small gym in building
- 24×7 security
- Estrato 4 neighborhood in Sabaneta
A similar apartment in Dallas, where I am from would easily rent for over $1,000 per month.
3. The Medellín Metro and Buses
No list of cheap things in Medellín would be complete without including the public transportation system, which includes the Medellín metro and buses.
Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. The Medellín metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. It integrates two rail lines, four Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus lines, a Tranvía tramcar line and even feeder Metro buses.
The Medellín Metro is well maintained, and spotlessly clean and uses electrical energy. It opened in 1995 and has two train lines (Lines A and B) and a new Tranvía (street car) T-A line that started operations early last year. The A metro line runs north and south and has 21 stations. The B line runs from the center of the city to the west and has seven stations. The new T-A line runs east from the center of the city and has nine stations.
The Metro also has four integrated cable car lines (Lines H, J and K and L) with 12 stations plus two integrated bus lines (Metroplus lines L1 and L2) with 27 stations. The Line L cable car to Parque Arví has an extra fare.
The metro fare is only 2,400 pesos. And it is cheaper with a metro card (Civica), so it is highly recommended to get one. The fare is only 2,125 pesos with a Civica card, so you save 11.5 percent. And with the Civica card you go through turn-styles to avoid the ticket window lines that can be very long, particularly during rush hour.
The Civica card is easy to sign up for with an ID (cedula or passport). And it can be recharged with funds at any station’s ticket window. Civica cards can be obtained in offices located at the Itagüí, Niquía, San Antonio, and San Javier metro stations.
Beside the metro, Medellín has an extensive bus system. The fare for the buses typically ranges from 2,000 pesos to 2,100 pesos. The lowest fare buses are typically connections to the metro. And the metro system has started adding Civica card support on some of these metro connection buses.
With the metro system and extensive bus routes, it is quite possible to live without a car in Medellín. I have lived without a car in the city for over seven years. And the majority of expats living in the city (reportedly over 80 percent) do not have a car.
4. Triple Play Internet/TV/Phone
Triple Play Internet/TV/Phone services in Medellín are lower in cost than what you will find in the U.S. There are two major Internet and TV providers in Medellín that offer triple play Internet, TV and phone services: Claro and Tigo-UNE.
We currently have Claro’s Triple-Play service with 10 Mbps Internet, HD TV service with several hundred channels (over 30 in English) for two TVs and phone service. And I am very happy with the service as it is very reliable. The cost is only 173,249 pesos ($58) per month in an estrato four neighborhood.
In my experience, the Internet service with Claro has been more reliable than my Verizon FiOS service was in the United States and is much less expensive.
5. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are inexpensive and plentiful in Medellín. And there are many exotic tropical fruits in Colombia that are hard to find in the U.S. Out of the different categories of grocery items, fruits and vegetables can be one of the cheapest categories.
The farmers’ markets in Medellín such as Plaza Minorista or small neighborhood tiendas found throughout the city typically have better prices for fruits and vegetables than the large grocery stores such as Exito or Jumbo.
As an example of the price difference, three pounds of oranges at a tienda or farmers market that costs 2,000 pesos (67 cents) may cost about 4,500 pesos ($1.55) or more at a major grocery store.
Colombia benefits from being the second most bio-diverse country in the world (after Brazil). And Colombia has a number fruits you likely never have heard of or seen before.
Since living in Medellín for over seven years I have tried over 30 different exotic fruits, which can’t be easily found find in the U.S. I particularly like the pitahaya (dragon fruit), but unfortunately, they can sometimes be hard to find. This is a tasty and sweet fruit that can be eaten by scooping out with a spoon.
6. Medication in Pharmacies
In Medellín and in the rest of Colombia, medication is typically purchased at pharmacies (farmacias), which are easy to find. And it seems like they can be found every few blocks in some neighborhoods. In addition, pharmacies can be found in many shopping malls as well as many of the large supermarkets like Exito and Jumbo.
The staff in Colombian pharmacies generally seems knowledgeable, in my experience. They will normally will have something to suggest if you tell them your symptoms. However, we recommend exercising caution when taking advice from anyone other than a doctor.
I have experienced no problems getting many drugs at pharmacies in Medellín without a prescription that would require a prescription in the U.S. Technically the pharmacies in Colombia are supposed to require a prescription for many types of drugs. Regulation was passed years ago in Colombia to halt unrestricted sales of antibiotics. But there still appears to be minimal compliance.
In over seven years living in Medellín, I have never been asked for a prescription. You can get all types of drugs like antibiotics, birth control pills, anti-depressants and erectile dysfunction pills without a prescription.
The generic drugs in Colombia can be very inexpensive. For example, a 10-pack of 500 mg generic tablets of Ciprofloxacino (Cipro), which is good to treat traveler’s diarrhea, can cost only 6,000 pesos. The antibiotic Amoxicilina (Amoxicillin) can cost only 7,500 pesos for a 30-pack of 500 mg generic capsules. And Sildenafil (generic Viagra) can cost only 4,000 pesos for a 2-pack of 50 mg pills.
7. Delivery (Domicilio) Services
Getting things delivered (domicilio) can be very inexpensive in Medellín. It typically costs only 1,000 to 3,000 pesos ($1 or less) and sometimes is even free. We have a fruit and vegetable tienda and a pharmacy near us that deliver for free.
Most restaurants and drug stores in Medellín offer home delivery services. You can also find many other types of places that offer delivery services including some grocery stores, small locate tiendas (stores), laundry and dry cleaners, butchers, veterinarian services, doctors and many others.
We use delivery services frequently to avoid the need to run to stores. I am now spoiled by the availability of inexpensive delivery service.
8. Medical Services
Medellín has nine of the top 58 hospitals in Latin America, according to a study by América Economia. And Colombia has 23 of the top 58 hospitals in Latin America. So, 40 percent of the best hospitals in Latin America are found in Colombia.
In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia’s health system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked. This is ahead of the U.S. (#37), Canada (#30), Germany (#25) and Australia (#32).
In Medellín it is possible to have access to world-class healthcare at a fraction of the cost compared to healthcare costs in North America or Europe.
Costs for healthcare in Colombia can be significantly lower than the costs found in the U.S. It’s possible to find costs that are from 50 percent to even over 70 percent less expensive. Medical insurance is also relatively inexpensive in Colombia in comparison to the U.S. and Europe.
Colombia is also starting to experience an increase in medical tourism with low costs for medical services. As an example, a heart bypass surgery in the U.S. that may cost $90,000 or more can cost less than $25,000 in Colombia. In addition, Colombia has built a solid reputation for having the highest quality of health care in Latin America.
Dental expenses at high tech dental clinics in Medellín can be up to 70 percent cheaper than in the U.S. I recently paid only $20 for a full set of mouth X-rays at full price, no insurance needed. I dropped my dental insurance in the U.S. many years ago. I have found the dentists in Medellín can be about as cheap as my out-of-pocket costs with my dental insurance in the U.S.
The salaries of Medellín doctors and dentists are typically a fraction of those in the states. This is even though they in many cases are required to have to same level of internationally recognized education and job skills.
Utility services in Medellín are provided by Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), the local utility in Medellín. The source of much of the power delivered in the city is from hydroelectric sources.
Medellín has a comfortable climate that is consistent year-round due to being located at a high elevation of about 4,900 feet and also being near the equator. The city’s average annual temperature is 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). The average temperature in the city typically only varies by about 1 °F during the year. During an average day in the city the temperature typically ranges from 63.2 to 82.1 °F (17.4 to 27.8 °C).
So, there is no need for heating or cooling with the climate in Medellín, which results in inexpensive utility bills. A few apartments in El Poblado and other neighborhoods have air conditioning, but we use a fan, which is enough during the day.
The electricity rate from EPM currently runs at 477.5 pesos (15.9 cents) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the Estrato 4 neighborhood in Sabaneta where I live. So, the rate per kWh is high, but you don’t need to use much electricity due to the climate.
Electric rates in Medellín vary by estrato. The highest rates are in estratos 5 and 6. The lower rates in lower estrato neighborhoods are subsidized by the higher rates in the wealthier neighborhoods.
Our electric bill in a three-bedroom apartment over the past six months has averaged only 70,193 pesos ($23.40) per month. This is because we don’t use much electricity without the need for heating or cooling in the city. We averaged using only 147 kWh per month over the past six months.
The average home in the states uses 901 kWh per month (in 2015), which is over six times what we currently use in Medellín. So, this demonstrates a big benefit of the climate in Medellín.
Water and gas are also inexpensive. And our total utility bill for electricity, water and gas has averaged 110,245 pesos ($36.76) per month over the past six months in an estrato four neighborhood in Sabaneta.
Medellín has many places where you can find inexpensive clothing if you venture outside of El Poblado. Due to being the wealthiest neighborhood, the shops in El Poblado tend to have the most expensive prices in the city.
In addition, Medellín is known as the fashion capital of Colombia. Two of the largest annual fashion shows in Latin America take place in the city: Colombiatex and Colombiamoda. Furthermore, there are many companies in the city manufacturing clothing.
I have found some of the best deals for clothing in El Centro and the Mayorca mall in Sabaneta. For example, I recently found men’s Rifle jeans on sale in a Rifle outlet store in the Mayorca mall, and I was able to buy two pairs of jeans for only 55,000 pesos ($18.34) each.
11. Low Cost Entertainment
In Medellín every week there are no-cost or low-cost entertainment-cultural-learning available. And there is free music in the parks (particularly during festivals) along with cultural events of every kind, which are regularly advertised online.
If you become an annual member of the Museum of Modern Art (MAMM) for 80,000 pesos, you can see independent films there every weekend for only 5,000 pesos. For an outdoor movie experience, simply head to Parque de los Deseos, which has free movies every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition, the Museo de Antioquia normally has free admission on opening nights of a new exhibition.
There are free movies to see city-wide and even the big mainstream movie theaters offer super discounted rates early in the day and all day Wednesday. The bottom line is there are countless low-cost entertainment options in the large city.
12. Domestic Airfare
Domestic airfare can be quite inexpensive in Colombia making it relatively easy to find cheap flights to travel between the cities in Colombia. We recommend booking at least two weeks in advance to get the cheapest domestic flights.
Buses can be even cheaper in Colombia but buses take a long time, so it’s a trade-off. For example, it takes up to 10 hours to go from Medellín to Bogotá. But by plane, the flight from Medellín to Bogotá is only about 40 minutes.
Domestic airfare in Colombia used to be quite a bit more expensive when I first started living in Medellín over seven years ago. But domestic airfare prices dropped when discount airline VivaColombia started service in 2012 in Colombia but has changed its name to VivaAir
On VivaAir (formerly VivaColombia), it is possible to fly from Medellín to Bogotá for less than $65 round-trip and from Medellín to Cartagena for less than $100 round-trip. But be careful on VivaAir. They have high charges for luggage. So, travel light if you want it to be inexpensive.
If you use Avianca for domestic flights in Colombia, you should book as if you are in Colombia and pay in pesos, and you will get a price that is up to 50 percent cheaper compared to booking in the United States in dollars. To do this simply choose the country on Avianca’s website at the top of their website as Colombia. And you can still use English.
Using this method on Avianca I flew from Medellín to Bogotá recently for only $70 round-trip. And late last year I flew from Medellín to Cartagena for less than $100 round-trip.
I was quite surprised at the low cost the first time I had my haircut in Colombia. This was in Cartagena when I was on vacation there in 2006. The cost was only 10,000 pesos. When I lived in Dallas, the cheapest men’s haircut I could find anywhere was for $10 USD.
Costs are generally lower in Medellín for most things than in touristy Cartagena. Near our current apartment in Sabaneta over 10 years later after my first Cartagena trip, I can find several places that typically charge 8,000 to 10,000 pesos for a men’s haircut. My wife can get her hair done for about 25,000 pesos. But she doesn’t do this often as she normally gets her hair done by her mother for free.
Near Unicentro mall, there is a strip of hairdresser shops on Calle 34 that has low prices due to competition. A men’s haircut in these hairdresser shops on Calle 34 typically costs between 8,000 and 10,000 pesos (around $3).
Getting a haircut in a shop in a mall in Medellín will be more expensive than the small barber shops or hairdresser shops (peluquerías) found on streets throughout the city.
14. Menú del Día and Street Food
I frequently eat out for lunch and there are several “menú del día” lunch specials at small restaurants in Sabaneta that range in price from 8,000 to 10,000 pesos. The menú del día normally includes a soup or salad, a main course of meat, chicken or fish plus sides of rice and/or potatoes and a drink.
I frequently also eat inexpensive street food – empanadas, hot dogs, palitos de queso, salpicon, guarapo, cut fruit, kettle corn, caramelized peanuts, churros and ice cream. There is a huge variety found in the city that normally doesn’t cost much.
The Bottom Line: Surprisingly Cheap Things in Medellín
Based on my over seven-years experience living in Medellín, you can easily find many surprisingly cheap things in Medellín that are cheaper than in the U.S.
These surprisingly cheap things in Medellín have become even cheaper over the past several years in terms of U.S. dollars, due to the exchange rate. Back in February 2013, the exchange rate was below 1,800 Colombian pesos to the USD. And the exchange rate is now 2,999 pesos to the USD and was even higher last year.
However, there are some things that are not surprisingly cheap. There are several things that are more expensive in Medellín compared to in the U.S. For example, imported cars can be quite expensive in Colombia due to duties and taxes. Here’s a list of nine expensive things in Medellín.
Also keep in mind that all the surprisingly cheap things listed in this article aren’t necessarily cheap for Colombians living in Medellín. Keep in mind that the minimum monthly salary in Colombia in 2018 is 781,242 pesos plus a transportation assistance of 88,211 pesos a month. This low minimum salary is why many Colombian households have multiple wage earners to make ends meet.
What are other surprisingly cheap things in Medellín that readers have found?
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Editors note: updated article on November 29, 2017 to update the Medellín taxi fares with new fares in the city.
Editors note: updated article on January 1, 2018 with new minimum salary in Colombia.
Editors note: updated on December 8, 2018 with new 2018 Medellín taxi fares.
Editors note: updated on December 22, 2018 with new 2018 Colombian hospital rankings.