We recently looked at 14 surprisingly cheap things in Medellín for expats, which can be much cheaper compared to the costs found in North America or Europe. However, not everything is cheaper in Medellín. This article looks at nine expensive things in Medellín that tend to be more expensive than the costs found in the United States.

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.

But I have also found several expensive things that are typically more expensive in Medellín than the costs found in the United States. But it is also possible to avoid some of these higher cost expensive things with alternatives. So, we also look at alternatives and ways to save on some of these expensive things.

The following list of nine expensive things in Medellín is in no particular order.

Note this article uses an exchange rate of 2,973 pesos to the USD.

Smartphones

Smartphones

1. Smartphones

Smartphones are usually more expensive in Medellín and other cities in Colombia than in the United States.

In 2014, I bought a new unlocked Samsung S5 Mini smartphone in a store in the Monterrey mall in Medellín with a price of 900,000 pesos ($379 at the time). On Amazon at the time, this same unlocked cell phone was selling for $326.

Falabella in Medellín is currently selling an unlocked 256 GB black iPhone 7 for 3,579,990 pesos ($1,204). On Amazon, the same unlocked phone sells for $935. So, this phone is 29 percent more expensive in Medellín.

The bottom line is that you can save some money on unlocked smartphones by buying in the U.S. to use in Colombia. But keep in mind that IMEI numbers of all cell phones Colombian cell phones must now be registered.

You can register cellphones at the stores of any of the mobile providers in Colombia (Claro, Movistar or Tigo) when you buy a SIM card. However, most stores will now ask for a receipt for the cellphone to prove that you own it. So, make sure to bring a receipt with you.

It is possible to buy used smartphones in El Centro in Medellín with low prices. Behind Hotel Nutibara in El Centro is Centro Comercial Opera, which is a small mall with many small shops that specialize in selling cell phones. You can find shops selling both new and used cell phones in this mall.

In 2016, I bought a used unlocked dual-SIM Samsung J3 smartphone in one of these small shops and only paid $100. But make sure to get a receipt, so you can register the phone.  Also, we have a comprehensive guide to buying and using cell phones in Colombia.

Domino's Pizza in Sabaneta

Domino’s Pizza in Sabaneta

2. Fast Food

Many fast food places tend to be more expensive in Medellín and other cities in Colombia than in the U.S. This doesn’t make sense though, as labor costs in Colombia are much lower than in the U.S.

For example, Domino’s in the U.S. sells two 2-topping medium pizzas for $5.99 each. While here in Medellín each 2-topping medium pizza from Domino’s costs 24,900 pesos ($8.38). So, a medium Domino’s pizza is 40 percent more expensive in Medellín than in the U.S.

Frisby, which is a popular fried chicken fast food chain in Colombia, sells relatively expensive chicken. For example, at the Frisby in Mayorca mall in Sabaneta, a combo with two pieces of fried chicken with rice, beans and two small arepas costs 21,100 pesos ($7.09).

But instead of eating at the fairly expensive fast food places in Medellín, there are many small neighborhood restaurants in Medellín as an alternative. It is possible to find many small local restaurants in Medellín, which have inexpensive “menú del día” lunch specials.

These lunch specials normally range in price from 8,000 to 12,000 pesos. Furthermore, 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.

3. Taxes

Colombia 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. Some grocery items such as milk, eggs and fruits and several other items are exempt from the IVA tax in Colombia.

In addition, lower cost computers and tablets are also exempt from IVA taxes, which can make some computers and tablets in Colombia similar in price to the U.S. For example, I bought a lower-end iPad last year that was selling for about the same price as the same model on Apple’s website in the U.S.

If you own property in Medellín, you won’t get hit by very high property taxes, as Colombia doesn’t have high property tax rates. Some states in the U.S. have much higher property tax rates. Colombia also has a wealth tax for individuals with a high net worth that ranges between 0.125% to 1.5%. The wealth tax has a high threshold and reportedly this wealth tax may be eliminated in 2019.

If you need to pay income taxes in Colombia, the country has a progressive tax system like in the U.S. The income tax brackets in Colombia range from zero percent to 33 percent. In addition, an individual is considered a Colombian resident for tax purpose if he or she stays in Colombia for more than 183 days during a year.

The taxable income brackets in Colombia are based on the UVT (tax value unit), which is 31,859 pesos for 2017.

The tax rates in Colombia are:

  • 0 percent for UVT 0 to UVT 1,090
  • 19 percent for UVT 1,091 to UVT 1,700
  • 28 percent for UVT 1,701 to UVT 4,100
  • 33 percent for UVT 4,101 and above

Your first 34.7 million pesos ($11,680) in income in 2017 is not subject to income taxes in Colombia. And the tax rate is then progressive up to a maximum of 33 percent for income higher than 130.7 million pesos ($43,947).

However, there are also a number of tax deductions that are possible in Colombia including 25 percent of your salary (up to a limit), expenses related to receiving your income, Colombia health insurance and several others.  You can also subtract some income taxes paid in another country from income taxes due in Colombia.

We cover Colombian income taxes in more detail on this site. If you think you may be liable for Colombian income taxes, we recommend talking to a tax accountant.

Chevrolet Spark - the most popular car sold in Colombia, photo by IFCAR

Chevrolet Spark – the most popular car sold in Colombia, photo by IFCAR

4. Automobiles

Automobiles can be quite expensive in Colombia due to import duties of up to 35 percent. Reportedly over 60 percent of the vehicles sold in Colombia are imported. So, many models of cars sold 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. Colombia has additional 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.

Medellín has several automobile dealerships. These dealerships are all much smaller than the large auto dealerships found in big cities in the U.S. Furthermore, there is also a fairly strong used vehicle market in Medellín. The used car market may be the best way to avoid the high new car cost in Medellín. Note that Colombia does not allow the shipment of used cars into the country.

One of the largest online sites to look for new and used vehicles in Colombia is Carroya.com. On this site, you can see some of the higher prices for vehicles in Colombia.

For example, a new Honda Accord EX-L V6 2017, sells for 129,990,000 pesos ($43,723) in Colombia, which is a car with a $29,695 MSRP in the U.S. So, it’s 47 percent more expensive in Colombia.

Small cars are very popular in Colombia. The top two selling cars in Colombia last year were reportedly the Chevrolet Spark and Chevrolet Sail. These two cars have been the most popular cars sold in Colombia for the past few years. The 2017 Spark Life starts at 22,800,000 pesos ($7,669) and the 2017 Sail LS starts at 31,990,000 pesos ($10,760). The Spark and Sail are manufactured by GM Colmotores in Bogotá. Renault also produce cars in Colombia.

Don’t forget there are also other costs involved with owning a car including a Colombian drivers license, insurance, maintenance, taxes and gasoline. But it is possible to live in Medellín without a car. 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.

In addition to the Metro system, Medellín has extensive bus routes in the city with inexpensive fares as well as very inexpensive taxis. So, it is very possible to live without a car in Medellín. I have lived in the city for over seven years without owning a car . And the majority of expats living in the city (reportedly over 80%) do not have a car.

5. Gasoline

Colombia is a major South American oil exporting country. But Colombia doesn’t have enough oil refining capacity. So, it must import a big portion of its refined oil products. Reportedly the U.S. is the primary import source for refined oil products in Colombia.

In Medellín there are reportedly over 100 gas stations, including 40 Esso Mobil, 33 Terpel, 20 Texaco and 10 Zeuss stations. Gasoline prices are higher in Medellín than in the U.S. A recent price I saw was 8,750 pesos ($2.94) per gallon for regular at a Terpel station.

According to the AAA Fuel Gauge report, regular gas in the U.S. is currently averaging $2.36 per gallon of regular. In Texas, where I’m from, the average is even lower at $2.16 per gallon.

In over seven years of living in Medellín, I don’t recall ever seeing gas prices in Medellín that were cheaper than in the U.S. So, if you own a car in Medellín, you will be paying more than in the U.S. to fill it up.

iShop in Santafé mall

iShop in Santafé mall

6. High End Computers and Other Electronics

High-end computers that are subject to the Colombia IVA tax will typically be 20 to 33 percent higher cost in Medellín than in the U.S. Lower-end computers and tablets are exempt from the IVA tax and can be found in Medellín for similar prices as found in the U.S. in my experience.

For example, a high-end Apple Macbook Pro laptop (15 inch, 2.9 GHz, with 16 GB of memory and 512 GB drive) I recently saw selling for 10,999,000 pesos ($3,699) at the iShop in Santafé mall in Medellín. And this same model sells for $2,799 on Apple’s website in the U.S. So, this computer is about 32 percent more expensive in Medellín.

But lower-end computers can sell for similar prices as in the U.S. I was able to buy a lower-end Apple iMac a few years ago for about the same price as the same model listed on Apple’s site. See our guide to buying computers and tablets in Medellín and Colombia.

Many other electronics like televisions can also be somewhat more expensive primarily due to the high IVA tax in Colombia. But if you shop around looking for the fairly frequent sales in places like Exito and Jumbo, it is possible to find prices that are similar to what is found in the U.S.

When I first started traveling to Colombia from the U.S. in 2006, I saw many Colombians checking flat screen televisions and carrying laptop boxes on planes. But I haven’t seen this on flights in recent years, as the prices for electronics have dropped dramatically in Colombia over the past several years.

But I have noticed this on flights from Colombia to Brazil. Brazil has very high import duties. I have seen electronics in Brazil can be double the cost in the U.S. So, some Brazilians now even come to Colombia to buy electronics, where they are much cheaper.

Hair care products at Jumbo

Hair care products at Jumbo

7. Drugstore Items

Many imported drugstore items tend to have higher costs in Colombia than in the U.S.  This includes things like deodorant, shampoo and other hair products, shavers and shaving cream and many other items.

At Jumbo recently, I saw Speed Stick 3 oz. deodorant selling for 16,160 pesos ($5.43). The same product sells for $3.59 at CVS in the U.S. – making it 51 percent more expensive in Colombia. I also saw Dove 400 ml shampoo selling for 17,920 pesos ($6.03), which sells for about $5.49 at CVS in the U.S. – so, about 10 percent more expensive in Medellín.

It is possible to shop when there are sales to save on drugstore items in Medellín. Both Exito and Jumbo often have sales of drugstore items – such as buy one get one 50 percent off. Also, by shopping at PriceSmart or Tiendas D1 it is possible to save money when buying many drugstore items.

Panamericana bookstore in El Poblado

Panamericana bookstore in El Poblado

8. Books and Magazines

In my experience, cities in Colombia don’t have many bookstores (except for Bogotá). So, there aren’t many bookstores in Medellín. And the cost of books and magazines tends to be high. In addition, Colombia doesn’t have a very large publishing industry

Spanish language hardback books can be very expensive in terms of the minimum wage in Colombia. Some hardback Spanish language books I have seen cost 70,000 pesos or more. This is nearly 10 percent of the monthly legal minimum wage in Colombia, which is 737,717 pesos in 2017.

In Medellín, there is a large Panamericana bookstore in El Poblado. Also, you can find Liberia National bookstores at some of the malls in Medellín. It’s possible to find some English titles at these bookstores, but the selection will be quite limited.

In my experience, it is difficult to find English language books and magazines in Colombia. And they will be expensive. For example, at Panamericana last week I saw a recently published English language paperback book selling for 39,000 pesos ($13.12). But the cover price was only $7.99 USD. So, it was 64 percent more expensive in Medellín than in the U.S.

I also saw at Panamericana a set of five books by George R.R. Martin selling for 152,900 pesos ($51.43).  The same set is selling on Amazon for only $29.97. So, it’s 72 percent more expensive in Medellín.

If a book is available in electronic format on Amazon, it’s normally better to buy in electronic format as it will almost always be much cheaper than buying a physical book in Colombia.

9. Makeup

Makeup can be quite expensive in Medellín. Each time I go to the U.S., my Colombia wife normally has a list of makeup to buy for her. In addition, my wife buys some makeup products on Amazon that we ship to Colombia and it’s cheaper than buying the same imported makeup products in Medellín.

My wife always says “tan barato” (so cheap) when looking at many makeup products on Amazon. I have the Amazon Prime service, so many products purchased on Amazon ship for free to Miami. And I use the Mail Boxes Etc. e-box service to reliably receive the Amazon packages shipped to Miami in Medellín.

The Bottom Line – Expensive Things in Medellín

There are many things found in Medellín that are cheaper than in the U.S. We previously provided a list of 14 surprisingly cheap things in Medellín. There are also several things with similar prices, like appliances. And there are some expensive things in the list above that are typically more expensive in Medellín than in the U.S.

Some of the expensive things in our list above can be avoided by substituting. For example, you can avoid the high cost of cars and gasoline by deciding not to have a car and using the inexpensive metro, buses and taxis in the city. You can also substitute the typically inexpensive menú del día at local restaurants for expensive fast food.

For some expensive things like drugstore items you can shop the sales or at PriceSmart to save some money. And for some expensive things like smartphones and high-end computers these items are normally cheaper to buy in the U.S.

The bottom line is that while some things may be more expensive in Medellín, the overall cost of living in Medellín is still substantially lower than in the U.S.

Also keep in mind that the expensive things listed in this article are even more expensive for Colombians living in Medellín. The minimum monthly salary in Colombia is 737,717 pesos plus a transportation assistance of 83,140 pesos a month. This low minimum salary is why many Colombian households have multiple wage earners to make ends meet.

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