We look at 30 Medellín frequently asked questions (FAQ) asked by expats visiting Medellín, living in the city and asked by Medellin Guru readers.
Over the past four years I have answered literally thousands of expat questions posted on blogs, Facebook groups and also on this Medellin Guru website and the Medellin Guru Facebook page.
I have seen many of the same questions asked repeatedly, again and again and again. And unfortunately, on Facebook groups, the answers quickly get buried and few people search for the same question being asked before.
So, to help expats get answers to Medellín frequently asked questions I have created this list that answers over 25 Medellín frequently asked questions.
Note that this Medellín frequently asked questions (FAQ) will be kept up-to-date, as is done with every article on the Medellin Guru site.
Here are 30 Medellín frequently asked questions, in no particular order:
This is one of the most commonly asked questions on the big Medellín Facebook groups that I have seen asked 100s of times over the past few years. Some people ask how to get to Medellín from the airport and others ask is it safe to take a taxi or ask about private drivers or Uber.
The bottom line is there are six different transportation options to get to Medellín from the Medellín José María Córdova international airport.
These six transportation options have a wide range in price from 9,500 to over 97,000 pesos. We look compressively at all six options to get to Medellín from the airport.
I normally use the white airport taxis to get to Medellín from the airport. And I have never encountered a problem in over 60 trips to/from the airport in the past eight years.
In addition, I have used the bus and colectivo taxis a few times. These options save money but take more time in my experience.
Medellín is generally safe to visit if you follow some basic safety tips, as you will reduce your risk of being a victim of crime. However, security in Medellín is still a major concern for expats living in Medellín and also tourists visiting the city.
Medellín still has a reputation of violence and drugs to overcome that hasn’t been helped by the popular Narcos series. What many people don’t realize is the timeframe depicted in Narcos was well over 25 years ago and that Pablo Escobar is long dead and buried.
This is another of the most commonly asked questions on the big Medellín Facebook groups.
Colombia offers instant tourist visas to citizens of many countries that are good for 90 days. These “tourist visas” are really just a stamp in your passport and aren’t really visas.
Also, it is quite easy to extend a Colombian tourist visa to enable staying in Colombia a maximum of 180 days in a year.
Colombia has a relatively new online process to renew a Colombia “tourist visa” stamp. There is no longer the need to go to a Migracion Colombia office to renew a “tourist visa” stamp unless you run into problems with the online system.
We provide a compressive and up-to-date guide to renewing a Colombia “tourist visa”.
The Medellín weather is a major benefit to living in Medellín and the city earns its nickname as “the City of Eternal Spring” (La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera) with an average year-round temperature of 72.5 °F (22.5 °C).
During the average day in the city, the average temperature usually ranges from 63.2 to 82.1 °F (17.4 to 27.8 °C).
We have a detailed guide to the Medellín weather including monthly temperatures, rain, humidity and sunshine hours. Also, we look at when is the best time to visit.
One of the downsides of living in Medellín or Colombia is that Colombia has a 19 percent IVA tax (a.k.a. value-added tax or VAT) on many products. This tax makes buying many things in Colombia more expensive.
The IVA tax in Colombia used to be 16 percent but was increased to 19 percent in February 2017.
However, if you are a foreign tourist visiting and not residing in Colombia you can get a 100 percent IVA tax refund for many products purchased in Colombia. And we provide a detailed guide to getting a Colombia IVA tax refund.
As you well know if you come here to Medellín and Colombia you will need to have Colombian Pesos (COP) to use. These Colombian pesos are different than other countries’ pesos, like Mexico’s pesos. And other currencies like the USD or Euro aren’t used here.
Remember when converting or exchanging money there is always a fee for the service. In addition, there is the exchange rate that they offer to give you. This offered exchange rate is going to be less than the current XE.com rate or Bank rate.
This is where they have hidden fees (i.e. if the current XE rate is 3,000 COP but they offer 2,600 COP). That is why knowing the current exchange rate helps you to shop for the best deal.
There are several options for exchanging money including currency exchanges, banks, ATM machines and there is even a mobile app.
One of the best ways for exchanging money with a rate as close as possible to the XE rate is to use ATM machines. And we have a comprehensive guide to exchanging money, receiving and transferring money in Colombia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia’s healthcare system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked. And no other countries in Latin America were ranked higher than Colombia. So, according to WHO, Colombia has the best healthcare system in Latin America.
In addition, Colombia’s healthcare system is ranked higher than many wealthier countries like the United States (#37), Germany (#25), Canada (#30) and Australia (#32).
In Colombia, it is possible to have access to world-class healthcare at a fraction of the cost compared to the healthcare costs in North America or Europe.
Colombia has 20 of the top 49 clinics and hospitals in Latin America, according to a study in late 2017 by América Economia. So, 41 percent of the best clinics and hospitals in Latin America are found in Colombia. And seven of these best hospitals in Latin America are located in Medellín.
In addition, we provide a comprehensive guide to these 20 best hospitals in Colombia, including the seven best hospitals in Medellín.
Colombia has one of the world’s best healthcare systems and health insurance is relatively inexpensive in Colombia in comparison to other countries.
One of the reasons that Colombia has such a highly rated healthcare system is due to a new constitution that Colombia drafted in 1991 that made access to healthcare a basic human right to all citizens of Colombia, as well as foreign residents of Colombia.
In addition, Medellín is gaining a reputation as a top foreign retirement location. Health care is important for retirees.
SURA is considered by many to be the best health insurance provider in Colombia. And we have a guide to signing up with SURA health insurance in Colombia.
Finding a nice furnished room for rent can take time and there are many options in Medellín.
There is a range of rental rooms available from budget to luxury. And when looking for a room to rent, you need to be patient and may need to see several rooms for rent before you find the perfect one for you.
Also, when an apartment has multiple bedrooms, many times the smaller bedrooms without private bathrooms are the ones for rent. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the room for rent is the best one with a private bathroom, as the owner wants to make more money.
We provide a detailed guide for expats to finding a furnished room for rent in Medellín for budget short-term or medium-term stays in the city, which can be cheaper than hotels or hostels.
There are multiple ways to find unfurnished apartments in Medellín including:
- Real estate agencies
- Newspaper ads
- Bulletin boards in grocery stores and other places
- Walking around neighborhoods
There are several websites that list unfurnished apartments in Medellín. The best of these in my opinion is the popular website Espacio Urbano, which is used by many real estate agencies to list properties for sale or rent. Also, there are literally hundreds of real estate agencies in Medellín.
We provide a comprehensive guide to renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín including how to find apartments, overcoming the fiador (cosigner) requirement and information about apartment rental contracts.
In addition, we looked at unfurnished apartment rental costs in the five most popular neighborhoods in Medellín for expats.
Also, we looked an unfurnished apartment rental costs in five inexpensive neighborhoods in Medellín.
Since Medellín is a large city with a metro population of about 4 million, Medellín has a wide range of options available for furnishing apartments ranging from ritzy furnishings to budget furnishings. So, the cost to furnish an apartment can vary widely and really depends on your taste and budget.
We provide a comprehensive guide to furnishing an apartment including finding furniture, appliances, kitchen and bedroom items and TVs and electronic.
In our furnishing an apartment guide, I also provided my actual budget for furnishing a three-bedroom apartment in Medellín, with one bedroom set up as an office.
When looking at the Medellín cost of living, it is important to consider the standard of living, which more than anything will affect a person’s or couple’s or family’s cost of living.
Since I have lived over eight years in Medellín, I am often asked what the Medellín cost of living is. So, with the help of my Colombian wife, we track our expenses every month.
And we provided our actual Medellín cost of living for a couple living in Medellín during the period from January 2015 to July 2017, so you can see how our actual costs of living have changed over a few years.
Also, Stephanie provided her cost of living for a single woman in Medellín.
Cell phone services are relatively easy to establish in Colombia for foreigners but there are a number of regulations.
Many mobile providers in other countries like the U.S. have roaming agreements set up in Colombia.
So, if you have international roaming set up on your cell phone from one of these providers it will work in Colombia. However, it will normally be much more expensive than having a SIM with a local provider.
Cell phone operators in Colombia have been rolling out 4G networks over the past several years. So, many Colombian cellphone users now use 4G networks instead of the older generation and slower 3G networks.
The three largest cell phone providers in Colombia are Claro, Movistar and Tigo-UNE. These three providers had a combined mobile market share of about 89 percent in Colombia at the end of 2017.
All of the mobile providers in Colombia offer prepaid plans (prepago) where you pay for minutes and data up front and postpaid plans (postpago), which are monthly plans.
In Colombia, the IMEI numbers of all Colombian cell phones used in the country must now be registered. When a mobile provider in Colombia encounters a non-registered IMEI, it will send a text message to the user to register the IMEI of the cell phone or it will be deactivated. You have a maximum of 20 days to register the IMEI or it will be blocked.
We also have a comprehensive guide to buying and using cell phones in Colombia.
Mobile apps can help you better navigate Medellín and the country of Colombia, find the best restaurants, chat with friends, make translations, order taxis and much more.
We provide a curated list of 20 of the best and most popular mobile apps to use when traveling to and living in Medellín and Colombia.
In the past couple of weeks, I have used these apps to message friends, call my family in the U.S., order home delivery of food from local restaurants, order taxis, translate a few words, find a new restaurant to try out and helped a taxi driver find the best route to an address.
The rules changed in Colombia in 2017 and even if you know how to drive you are now required to take classes to get a driver’s license in Colombia.
If you are a tourist visiting Colombia without a visa you can use your valid driver’s license from your home country along with your passport to drive in Colombia. So, there is no need for getting a Colombian drivers license. But this is now reportedly limited to a maximum of three months.
I obtained a Colombian drivers license early last year without having to take classes. But since I received my license, the rules changed and you are required to take classes. So, it is now more difficult and more expensive for a foreigner to get a drivers license in Colombia.
We have a guide to obtaining a Colombian drivers license in Medellín or other cities in Colombia.
Also, be careful about posts in English on the Internet about Colombian drivers licenses, as every article I have seen looks to be out-of-date or incomplete.
For lower priced computers and tablets, Colombia exempts the 19 percent IVA tax in Colombia, which helps make these items priced similar to in the U.S. But higher-end computer and tablets will be more expensive in Colombia due to the high IVA tax.
In addition to the IVA tax exemption, Colombia has been putting in place free trade agreements with several countries, which has helped reduce the costs of computers, tablets and other electronics in Colombia over the past several years.
We provide a detailed guide to buying computers and tablets in Medellín and Colombia where it’s possible to find lower end computers and tablets for prices similar to the U.S.
The bottom line is that you should buy international flights to Medellín and Colombia in advance to save money. Ideally you should buy airfare about three months in advance for normally the lowest airfares.
But not everyone can buy that far in advance. So, try to buy at least five weeks in advance for lower airfares. And if you fly on Tuesday and Wednesday the airfare will normally be cheaper.
Prices for airfare from the U.S. to Medellín and other cities in Colombia for non-peak months can normally be found for under $350 roundtrip from Florida. And airfare can be found for under $450 roundtrip from other East Coast cities and under $550 roundtrip from West Coast cities.
From Canada, a good price for airfare is under $550 roundtrip. And from Europe a good price is typically under $700 roundtrip. Finally, from Asia, you will likely be paying over $1,200 roundtrip.
There are many flight options and we have tips to save money on international flights when traveling to Colombia. And we took a detailed look at how to find cheap international flights to Medellín and Colombia.
Domestic airfare can be quite inexpensive in Colombia making it relatively cheap to travel between the major cities in Colombia.
Domestic airfare in Colombia used to be quite a bit more expensive when I first started living in Medellín over eight years ago. But domestic airfare prices dropped when discount airline VivaColombia started service in 2012 in Colombia, which is now known as VivaAir.
So, it’s now possible to find cheap flights between cities in Colombia due to more competition.
If you book in advance it’s possible to find cheap flights in Colombia for domestic destinations. We recommend booking your domestic flights in Colombia at least two weeks in advance to find cheap flights. Even further in advance you can frequently find even cheaper flights.
Over the past four years I have flown domestically over 25 times in Colombia to over 10 different cities and I never paid more than $150 roundtrip. And most of these trips cost less than $100.
But every one of these flights I booked two or more weeks in advance. For cheap flights it is very important to book in advance to lock in cheaper fares. And we have a guide to finding cheap domestic flights in Colombia.
It is relatively easy to travel with a pet to Colombia. You can travel to Colombia with a dog, cat or other household pet with only a few requirements.
Colombia does not require an import permit for personal pets from any country. And there is no pet microchip required for Colombia.
Within 10 days of travel, an accredited veterinarian from the country of origin must complete a veterinary health certificate for your pet. If you are traveling from the U.S. or Canada, the veterinary health certificate must also be endorsed by the USDA in the U.S. or CFIA in Canada.
In the U.S., the USDA has APHIS Veterinary Services Endorsement Offices in all the states where you can get health certificates and rabies certificates endorsed. Note that this endorsement should be from the state you a traveling from to Colombia.
In addition, we provide a comprehensive guide to traveling with a pet to Colombia with more details.
Questions about visas are some of the most common questions asked by expats. And Colombia made a major change to its visa policies in December 2017. So, many sites on the Internet have out-of-date information about Colombian visas.
I have seen so many different types of questions from expats about visas over the past several years. Questions have included: what are the different types of visas, how to obtain different types of visas, documents required, the process to get a visa and how to get a cedula after receiving a visa.
So, on the Medellin Guru site, we have a comprehensive series of visa articles that are kept up-to-date and should answer most visa questions. These visa articles include:
- How to Obtain a Colombian Visa with Up-to-Date Info
- How to Obtain a Colombia Retirement Visa
- How to Obtain a Colombia Marriage Visa
- How to Obtain a Colombia Student Visa
- How to Obtain a Colombia Work Visa
- How to Obtain a Colombia Investment Visa
- How to Obtain a Colombia Resident Visa
- How to Obtain a Colombia Beneficiary Visa for Relatives
- How to Apply for a Cedula Extranjeria in Colombia
21. Which City is Better to Live In?
May expat questions have been about which city in Colombia is better to live in. So, we have published several popular city comparisons that compare living in Medellin to other cities in Colombia:
- Medellín vs Bogotá
- Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga: Three Cities of Eternal Spring
- Medellín vs Cartagena
- Medellín vs Cali
- Medellin vs Manizales
- Medellín vs Santa Marta
- Medellín vs Barranquilla
Each city has positives and negatives. The best place to live is the best place to live for you. Everyone has different priorities. The only way to know which place is the best for you is to spend time there.
We also compared Medellín to some other popular places in Latin America for expats to live, including:
22. Where Should I Go to Buy Cheap Groceries in Medellín?
There are several alternatives to the big box grocery stores in Medellín like Exito and Jumbo with cheaper prices.
I have met many expats that primarily shop at Exito or Jumbo or even Carrula, which is even more expensive.
We also looked at Plaza Minorista, which has seemingly unlimited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables for good prices.
By comparing prices and shopping at discount stores, it is possible to save substantially on your grocery costs compared to shopping at Exito and Jumbo.
We were able to cut our grocery costs by over 30 percent compared to buying at Exito by shopping smart and buying more products at the discount stores.
When I first started living in Medellín over eight years ago, receiving my mail from the U.S. was one of the early challenges I encountered. Fortunately, Mail Boxes Etc. provides a solution with its e-box service.
This service provides a mailbox in Medellín that is linked to a mailing service in Miami. And any mail received at this mailing service in Miami is forwarded to Medellín. And the e-box service only costs $14 per month, which includes 1 kg of shipping per month.
Any mail or packages that are received in Miami are sent first to Bogotá to clear customs. In my experience, it normally takes 5-7 calendar days after a package arrives in Miami to be received in Medellín.
The Mail Boxes Etc. e-box service permits me to buy on Amazon and other websites in the U.S., ship to Miami and the items show up in Medellín reliably in less than two weeks.
I buy many items on Amazon each year that ship for free to Miami using Amazon Prime. So, I pay for excess shipping charges to Medellín for anything greater than my free 1-kilogram per month at $0.013 per gram.
In addition, there sometimes is a customs duty/tax that I have a pay when I pick up the package. Not everything is subject to the customers duty/tax.
Colombia isn’t well known around the world for its cuisine and Colombian food. But there are a number of delicious traditional Colombian dishes that are worth trying. We looked at 15 traditional Colombian food dishes you should try in Colombia.
I have heard some foreigners call Colombian food bland and I agree with that description in regards to the bland arepas commonly used as an accompaniment for Colombian meals. But there are many other ways to make arepas, some of which I like.
The bottom line is that Colombia has a diverse cuisine with many dishes that are tasty to many foreigners, which are worth trying.
There are many places in Medellín where you can watch the Super Bowl and other major sporting events and games from the U.S. like NFL, NBA and MLB games.
We looked at 5 popular sports bars in Medellín that have a total of 11 locations in Medellín where you can watch U.S. sporting events.
But the bottom line is that sports are popular in Colombia. So, there are many other places in Medellín where you can watch international sporting events.
Medellín is home to many excellent museums. And on the Medellin Guru site we comprehensively looked at 25 Medellín museums including museums in other municipalities in the Aburrá Valley to find the 12 best museums in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley.
In addition, these 12 best museums in Medellín were also reviewed in detail in separate museum articles on the Medellin Guru site.
Paisas love to shop and Medellín has many shopping malls. We looked at 22 of largest malls in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley to find the 13 best malls in Medellín.
But Medellín has many more (seemingly countless) small centro comericals throughout the metro area that tend to only have small tiendas. But we couldn’t possibly look all the small centro comericials in Medellín, as there are just too many of them.
However, we also looked at El Hueco, which is a shopping area in El Centro in Medellín with reportedly over 80 small shopping centers and some of the cheapest prices in the city in thousands of small shops.
Some expat families are now visiting Medellín and even living in Medellín with kids. And some expats married to Colombians have kids. So, I am starting to see more questions asking about kid-friendly things to do in Medellín.
On the Medellin Guru site, we have looked at eight kid-friendly things to do in Medellín and nearby. And we plan to look at more kid-friendly things to do.
Colombia has a growing number of Colombia Blogs by expats, as the country continues to attract foreigners.
The Colombia Blogs by expats now cover several different cities in Colombia and also provide different expat perspectives. We all experience Colombia differently and may have different interests and different ages.
We look at 27 Colombia Blogs comprehensively including the 16 top Colombia Blogs by expats in English that are still actively publishing, 3 Colombia Blogs in other languages and 8 Colombia Blogs that are no longer active (no longer publishing). We also identify 7 Colombia Blogs by expats that have been taken offline.
In addition, our guide to the top Colombia Blogs by expats is updated monthly.
Unfortunately, this is a common question from expats visiting Medellín. Pablo Escobar’s grave site in Medellín has become a tourist attraction in Medellín due to the popular Narcos series and the notoriety of Pablo Escobar.
The popular Narcos series has created demand from foreign tourists visiting Medellín who want to see Pablo Escobar’s grave and other sites related to Escobar. So, several Pablo Escobar tours now exist that will take you to Escobar’s grave and other sites.
Pablo Escobar’s grave is located at Cemetario Jardines Montesacro in Itagüí. If you do visit Pablo Escobar’s grave, show some respect for the victims and the Colombian people. Keep in mind that Escobar is long dead but is still a sensitive subject
In addition, Narcos was popular but has a number of problems. There are some good alternatives to Narcos and we look at 13 of the best Colombian movies and series.
The Bottom Line: Medellín Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
I hope this Medellín Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list is helpful for many expats. The answers are based on my over eight years living in Colombia and over four years being a blog writer about Colombia and writing for several other publications.
In addition, this list of Medellín Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) will be updated with additional questions as more questions are asked by expats.
Also, the answers to the questions in this Medellín Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) will be kept up-to-date. Things change quickly in Colombia and a goal of the Medellin Guru site is to keep all the content on this site up-to-date.
If you have any questions that aren’t in this Medellín Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list, please let us know in the comments below. We will try to answer all questions.
Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.
Editors note: updated on October 13, 2018 to add “How to receive mail from the U.S. in Medellín?” to the FAQ.