We look at eight reasons why expats leave Colombia. Living in a foreign country like Colombia is not for everyone, regardless of what retirement publications may say.
Moving to a city in a foreign country is complicated. And some expats that move to Colombia leave after a year or two or sometimes after a longer duration.
We recently surveyed 140 of Medellin Guru’s clients who moved to Colombia over the past two years and found that only 10 of these 140 had left Colombia – only 7 percent had left.
Also, I have talked to a number of expats over the past eight years who left Colombia. The main reasons we found why expats leave Colombia include:
- Language barrier
- Homesick for family and friends
- Culture shock
- Family issues or illness
- Visa issues
- Temporary move
- Unable to find a job or a purpose
We look at these reasons why expats leave Colombia in more detail in this article.
1. Language Barrier
Most Colombians generally don’t speak much English. Also, most of the people that you will interact with on a typical day in Colombia, such as store clerks, taxi drivers and waiters will tend to speak little to no English.
In addition, Education First ranks the English proficiency in Colombia as low at 48.90 on a 100-point scale.
Learning a new language later in life is really difficult. So, some expats leave Colombia because of the language barrier. The effort (or lack thereof, for some) to learn the language and the occasional diminished returns, can become too much, for many. They find it easier to return home
I have met some expats that have been in Colombia for several years and still speak little Spanish. We believe it is important to learn Spanish if living in Colombia. If you don’t, you’ll feel – isolated – making good friends only with other English-speaking people, few of whom are Colombian.
You should try to learn some basic Spanish before coming to Colombia. You should be able to give simple directions, how to order food and how to buy things from a store.
If you brush up on your Spanish before arriving in Colombia, you will find it much easier to get around. Try to learn as much Spanish as possible. So, your time will be more fun, rewarding and interesting.
2. Homesick for Family and Friends
I never felt much homesickness, mainly because my family in the U.S. is geographically dispersed and I lived a long ways from my family. So, even when I lived in the U.S., I didn’t see my family very often.
However, many expats are retired empty nesters with grandchildren. Being so far away, they aren’t able to spend much time with their grandkids. For some, that’s a reason for moving back home.
However, some expats have a big social circle back home or have lived close to family for their entire lives. So, it can be difficult to leave them all behind and start over making new friends in Colombia, especially later in life.
I haven’t had difficulty making friends here in Colombia. But some expats leave Colombia because they’re homesick for their family and friends back home.
3. Culture Shock
Without adequate preparation, some expats can’t handle the culture shock of moving to and living in a different country. So they return home, usually within the first year.
For some expats, the culture shock of a new country and a different culture is simply too much to bear. Some expats move home due to culture shock and possibly one or more other reasons in this list.
A cultural difference in Colombia is the concept of “tomorrow.” In Colombia and other countries in Latin America, this is a word used to mean sometime in the future, or maybe never.
In the U.S., when we say we’ll do something tomorrow, we mean tomorrow, as in the day after today. If we say, “I’ll get around to that someday,” that means we may do it sometime or never. In Colombia, “tomorrow” (mañana) means “I’ll get around to it someday.”
Punctuality is also not a concern in Colombia. Most Colombians are very tranquilo. So. they simply don’t worry about being places on time. It is common for Colombians to show up for events or dates 30 minutes late or even later. Lateness can be very irritating for some expats.
Also, you discover in Colombia that when you ask for a factual opinion, such as directions from one place to another, you will generally get five different answers, from three different people.
The list cultural differences go on and on and for some expats, the cultural difference just keep piling on up to the point of no return.
The cultural differences in behavior and language, among other differences, can result in culture shock. And for some expats in Colombia, it’s too much to handle and they head back home.
4. Family Issues or Illness
Some expats who move to Colombia are newly retired. So, they’re in the age group that typicaly has elder parents in their 80’s or 90’s. When their parents become ill due to age, some expats return home from Colombia help take care of parents.
Also, many expats have children and grandchildren of their own back in their home country. If someone in the family falls ill or needs help because of divorce or another life circumstance, some expats leave Colombia to return home and provide support.
5. Visa Issues
I know an expat who was in Colombia on a work visa, but the company that sponsored his visa went out of business, which invalidated his visa. In order to stay in Colombia, he needed to get another type of visa or find another company to sponsor his work visa, but neither was an option for him so he had to leave.
Also, I know a few expats that had marriage visas who got divorced, which meant their visas were no longer valid and they needed to obtain different visas.
If you’re in Colombia and your circumstances change invalidating your visa, you might not qualify for another type of visa, which is why some expats leave Colombia.
We have a comprehensive guide to Colombian visas with all the visa options for foreigners.
6. Temporary Move
For some expats, moving to Colombia was a temporary move. Some move to Colombia planning to stay for a year or two, some for 5 years.
I have met a few expats that were only planning to stay in Colombia for a few years before moving to another country.
Moving to a foreign country for some expats is an adventure and most will build experiences and memories to take home with them.
7. Unable to Find a Job or a Purpose
Some expats that move to Colombia are newly retired and haven’t really adjusted to all the free time that retirement provides. And some expats move to Colombia looking to find a job.
For some retired expats, it’s common to feel aimless and unfulfilled after a lifetime of working at a job, which can cause boredom and depression. However, there are many volunteer opportunities here Colombia. You can help at orphanages, dog shelters or many charities. Also, you can teach English to children.
For those looking for a job, it’s difficult to get a well-paying job in Colombia unless you speak fluent Spanish. Plus, the jobs pay far less here in Colombia than comparable jobs back in the U.S. or Europe. Some come to Colombia to teach English, but the pay isn’t the best and English teachers I have talked to that do this typically live in shared housing.
There are ways to fill the void that retirement brings, but a few expats leave Colombia because they really miss having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Also, a few expats leave Colombia because they are unable to find a job where they can make ends meet.
The coronavirus pandemic caught many expats by surprise, some that had recently moved to Colombia. This is a new reason why some expats leave Colombia.
So, when quarantines started in Colombia and movement within Colombia was restricted, some expats decided to leave on humanitarian flights that were available during the quarantine.
I recently talked to two expats who left Colombia due to coronavirus. And in hindsight both regretted the decision, as coronavirus is now much worse in the U.S. with over 180,000 coronavirus cases reported in the U.S. on November 14. Both are planning to return to Colombia early next year.
How to be a Successful Expat in Colombia
We previously looked at how to be a successful expat in Colombia with 12 tips to be a successful expat (note this is premium content and you need to be a Medellin Guru Patreon subscriber). Our tips to be a successful expat include:
- Do your Research
- Try Before You Buy – Take One or More Trial Visits
- Find Housing
- Get a Phone
- Learn Some Spanish
- Get a Colombian Visa
- Learn About the Expat Community
- Get a Transportation Card
- Get Health Insurance
- Make Sure You are Safe
- Don’t Let Your Guard Down in Colombia (“No Dar Papaya”)
- Be Flexible
The rewards of moving abroad can be huge but there can be unexpected challenges to overcome.
Before you go to Colombia, do some research, understand the Colombian visa options, find a place to stay and have a game plan for when you arrive.
Don’t buy anything, at least at first. Not an apartment, not a business, not land to develop. Rent, rent, rent. Also, wait to ship down everything you own until you’re sure you like in Colombia (most expats don’t ship and buy new in Colombia). It is challenging enough learning to live in Colombia and understand the culture.
Make your plans, pare down your wardrobe, pack and get on that plane. International flights resumed to Colombia in September.
Most of all, you should be excited about becoming an expat in Colombia!
Medellin Guru Relocation Services
Medellin Guru offers services for expats in Colombia to help make relocations easier. In less than two years with our partners, we have helped over 550 clients with visas, insurance, expat consultations, apartment rentals and real estate services.
Many Medellin Guru readers have been asking for services to help with relocation. So, we offer a number of services.
We now have partnered to offer visa, health insurance, real estate and Spanish school services to foreigners to help with relocation:
- Visa services with Expatgroup.co
- Insurance services with Angela Berrio – including health, homeowners, car and life insurance as well as travel insurance
- Real estate services with RE/MAX Coffee Realty
- Spanish Classes from OLSA International
The Bottom Line: 8 Reasons Why Expats Leave Colombia
I have talked to several expats who left Colombia over the past eight years and we recent surveyed Medellin Guru clients. The most common reasons we found why expats leave Colombia are that they were unable to learn the language and missed families and friends back home.
Living in a foreign country like Colombia is not for everyone, regardless of how rosy a picture is painted by the retirement publications.
On the Medellin Guru website, we do not wear rose-colored glasses. We cover both the benefits of living in Colombia and downsides of living in Colombia. With our approach, we have now over 7,500 subscribers to our Medellin Guru weekly email newsletter and over 540 paying subscribers for our premium content.
Also, with the help of our partners, Medellin Guru has helped over 550 clients in less than two years with visas, insurance, expat consultations and real estate.
We recently surveyed 140 Medellin clients who moved to Colombia and only 7 percent of our clients have left Colombia.
This differs from another relocation company in Medellín, which last month announced only 6.2 percent of their clients stayed in Colombia. This other relocation company appears to no longer be offering relocation services.
We believe a majority of older expats who move to Colombia end up staying in Colombia for several years, if not much longer. In fact, Colombia was previously using the slogan, “Colombia – The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay.”
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