Medellín has been under quarantine due to coronavirus since March 20. And Jeff, the founder of Medellin Guru, looks at how life as an expat from the U.S. with a family in Colombia has changed during the quarantine in Medellín and Colombia.

I am a U.S. citizen who has lived in Medellín for over eight years. I am married to a Colombia and we have a young baby. Also, we live in Sabaneta, which is the smallest municipality in Colombia that is located south of Envigado and Medellín in the Aburrá Valley.

Life has changed dramatically for us over the past month living in the Medellín metro area due to the coronavirus pandemic and Colombia taking dramatic steps including quarantines to contain the spread of coronavirus in Colombia. We have now been under quarantine in Medellín for a total of 16 days.

But life has changed not only in Medellín and Colombia. Life has changed dramatically around the world with reportedly up to a third of the global population currently under quarantines and lockdowns.

Colombia’s Measures to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus

Colombian has acted faster than most countries in putting in place measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus:

  • March 12 – banned cruise ships to Colombia.
  • March 12 – banned events with over 50 people.
  • March 14 – closed schools nationwide until April 20.
  • March 16 – closed Colombia’s borders.
  • March 16 – banned non-nationals and non-resident travelers to Colombia.
  • March 16 – banned events with over 50 people.
  • March 20 – adults older than 70 in Colombia must stay isolated in homes except to buy groceries and medicines, use health services and access financial services until May 31.
  • March 20 – city quarantines in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena for four days.
  • March 23 – banned international travelers to Colombia.
  • March 24 – started a nationwide Colombia quarantine and people must stay isolated in homes except one person per family can leave to buy groceries and medicines, use health services and access financial services until April 13. And on April 6, this quarantine was extended to April 26 at 11:59 pm. And on April 20, the quarantine was extended again to May 11. So, the national quarantine is now for 47 days.
  • March 24 – banned domestic flights in Colombia during the national quarantine.

The first of the Colombia measures to impact me personally was on March 16, when Colombia banned events of over 50 people. So, I had to cancel our March 2020 Medellin Guru Meetup event planned on March 30, as our events averaged over 175 attendees for our previous 14 events.

Medellín's quarantine started on March 20 for four days

Medellín’s quarantine started on March 20 for four days

Life as an Expat: Medellín Quarantine – March 20 to March 24

I happened to see in the local news something about Bogotá planning a simulated quarantine and did not think much about it. But it was a surprise on March 19 to find out that Medellín was also planning a quarantine for four days starting on March 20 with only one day notice.

Some of the biggest cities in Colombia were quickly locked down under quarantine on March 20 for four days including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena.

The Medellín quarantine permitted you to go out to grocery shop and go to pharmacies. In addition, you could take pets out for a maximum of 20 minutes and in near your residence.

Before the quarantine in Medellín started, I saw lines at grocery stores in Sabaneta with people appearing to stock up. And I went to a grocery store and saw they were already out of stock of items like toilet paper and bleach. So, I decided to go to Central Mayorista in Itagüí.

Grocery store at Mayorista the day the Medellín quarantine started, fully stocked and no lines

Grocery store at Mayorista the day the Medellín quarantine started, fully stocked and no lines

At Mayorista, there are four grocery stores. And I found them fully stocked without the lines in Sabaneta. So, I went shopping there avoiding the lines at grocery stores in Sabaneta.

Over the next four days during the quarantine, I only went out to walk our two dogs and to buy a few things at small local tiendas and pharmacies near our casa (house). And my Colombian wife stayed home with our baby. I am the designated shopper for our family while my wife stays home with the baby.

Colombia'a nationwide quarantine started on March 24 for 19 days

Colombia’a nationwide quarantine started on March 24 for 19 days

Life as an Expat: Colombia Quarantine Started on March 24

On March 20, Colombian President Iván Duque ordered a 19-day mandatory preventive quarantine throughout Colombia, which is the most drastic measure, until now, to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. And on April 6, this quarantine was extended to April 26 at 11:59 pm. And on April 20, the quarantine was extended again to May 11. So, the national quarantine is now for 47 days.

The nationwide Colombia quarantine was similar to the Medellín quarantine and permits one person per family to leave the home to grocery stop, go to pharmacies and banks. In addition, it permits one person per family to take pets out.

Since, once person per family is permitted to go out grocery shopping and to pharmacies and banks plus could take our dogs out, my wife and I both thought things would not be much different than during the four-day Medellín quarantine.

But we were wrong. On March 25, Sabaneta (where we live) and several other municipalities in the Aburrá Valley quickly implemented Pico y Cedula, which limits the days that you could go out shopping and banking during the quarantine based on the last digit of your cedula (or passport),

So, instead of being able to go out shopping any day of the week, I was now limited to going out only twice per week.

Line to enter the La Vaquita grocery store in Sabaneta with Pico y Cedula during nationwide quarantine

Line to enter the La Vaquita grocery store in Sabaneta with Pico y Cedula during nationwide quarantine

Life as an Expat: Pico y Cedula Restriction

My first experience with Pico y Cedula in Sabaneta was on Thursday, March 25. I first went to a Justo y Bueno store near our casa (house) and found it has been picked clean with many items out of stock but I was able to find a few things we needed.

And the nearby Vaquita grocery store had a long line just to get in the store. I waited in this line for about 50 minutes and they checked my ID twice, I had to wash my hands with soap and water and hand sanitizer before entering and they scanned my temperature as I entered the store.

But once inside the grocery store it wasn’t very full, as they were limiting how many people were in the store. So, I was able to shop quickly and there wasn’t a line to checkout. In total, I spend nearly two hours shopping that would normally take about 45 minutes.

Pico y Cedula schedule in Sabaneta

Pico y Cedula schedule in Sabaneta

On Thursday April 2, I could leave the house again under Pico y Cedula. So, I left to buy a few groceries and pay rent. I went first to Vaquita for groceries but found the line was much longer than on Thursday. I decided I wasn’t going to wait in line for over an hour to grocery stop and went to pay rent.

Normally I would go to the real estate agency office to pay rent. But this office was closed due to the quarantine. So, I found I had to pay at Bancolombia. I went to Bancolombia in Sabaneta and found a huge line around the block with about 80 people in line. And this line was in the sun and I talked to someone near the front of the line who said she had been in line for about 1.5 hours.

So, I decided I wasn’t going to wait in lines for hours in the sun in Sabaneta to go to the bank and a grocery store. I called a friend in El Poblado and he said there weren’t really lines there. So, I took the metro and walked to Oviedo mall. Bancolombia only had a line of about 10 minutes. And I went to Jumbo in Santafé mall where there wasn’t a line at all.

I estimate that I likely saved a couple hours by going to El Poblado instead of standing in the long lines in Sabaneta.

In addition on Monday, April 6, the lines were long again at the grocery stores in Sabaneta including Exito, La Vaquita and Merkepaisa. So, I took the metro the Ayura station and walked to Central Mayorista in Itagüí where there are four grocery stores. I found only one of the four grocery stores at Mayorista had a short line of three people and the other three grocery stores didn’t have lines to enter the stores.

GANA in Sabaneta during Pico y Cedula with a long line and marks on sidewalk for social distancing

GANA in Sabaneta during Pico y Cedula with a long line and marks on sidewalk for social distancing

Pico y Cedula Experiences

I have gone shopping to several places or walked by them during Pico y Cedula and here are my experiences:

  • Justo y Bueno in Sabaneta – no line, checking ID
  • La Vaquita grocery store in Sabaneta – long line, checking ID
  • Merkepaisa grocery store in Sabaneta – long line, checking ID
  • Exito at Aves Maria mall in Sabaneta – long line, checking ID
  • Bancolombia in Sabaneta – long line, checking ID
  • Local tiendas and butcher shops in Sabaneta – no line, not checking ID
  • Pharmacies in Sabaneta – no line, not checking ID
  • Central Mayorista in Itagüí – no line, checking ID
  • Jumbo in El Poblado – no line, checking ID
  • Medellín Metro stations in Sabaneta and El Poblado – checking ID
  • GANA in Sabaneta – long line, checking ID

Note that we previously looked at grocery shopping in Medellín and you can save over 30 percent compared to shopping at Exito by shopping at local grocery stores and discount stores like Justo y Bueno and Tiendas D1.

Lower price is likely why Justo y Bueno was out of stock of many items. And local grocery stores in Sabaneta have longer lines than Exito due to having lower prices.

Justo & Bueno, out of stock of many items

Justo & Bueno, out of stock of many items

We Started Using Domicilio (Delivery) Instead of Going Shopping

With the long lines encountered during Pico y Cedula in Sabaneta, I now plan to limit my trips to avoid lines and we will try to order more delivery at home.

We tried to use domicilio (delivery) three times for groceries during the quarantine so far but were successful only once. The other two times the La Vaquita grocery store we called had reached its limit for delivery orders for the day.

But we were able to order delivery several times from a local fruit and vegetable tienda and also pharmacies.

Medellin Guru’s Coronavirus Series

Medellin Guru has a series of articles about the coronavirus pandemic and the impacts in Colombia: Also, these articles are being kept up-to-date, as this is a fast-moving topic:

The Bottom Line: Life as an Expat – During Medellín’s Coronavirus Quarantine

Currently the national quarantine in Colombia is scheduled until May 11 and the quarantine could be extended or it could be slowly lifted.

Has life changed as an expat? Yes, life as an expat has changed dramatically. For example, there are no more events to socialize with others and we are staying at home all the time with the exception of taking the dogs for a walk or going shopping twice a week.

Also, everywhere people now seem to be wearing masks. And there there can be long lines at grocery stores and banks to contend with.

The biggest challenge now is that things seem to change at almost a daily basis. So, life as an expat in Medellín now means keeping up with constant change.

In general, paisas I have seen during the quarantine are much more insular than normal. And most seem to try go about their lives with as little interaction as possible.

I am grateful that I live in Colombia, which is a country that has reacted quickly to the global pandemic and taken many measures to protect citizens and residents.

I have not once thought about returning to the U.S. due to uncertainty, since life in Colombia appears to be much safer during this global pandemic than in the U.S.

Readers, how has life changed for you during the quarantine?

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Editors note: updated on April 6, 2020 to add experience of shopping at Mayorista in Itagüí during Pico y Placa and added information that the quarantine in Colombia has been extended to April 26.

Editors note: updated on April 21, 2020 to add information that the nationwide quarantine in Colombia has been extended to May 11.

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