Living cheap in Medellín is possible. The low cost of living is an advantage of living in Medellín for foreigners and we provide 15 tips for living cheaper in Medellín.
We recently published an article about the Medellín cost of living for a family. And we received many questions from readers about how we were able to drop our cost of living from 2017 to 2019, even after having a baby. Many readers wanted to know more about living cheap in Medellín.
Our cost of living dropped 36 percent in Colombian pesos over the past two years and 46 percent in terms of USD, even after having a baby.
So, we now provide 15 tips for living cheap in Medellín, which helped us to drop our cost of living in Medellín substantially over the past two years.
Also, we previously looked at 14 surprisingly cheap things in Medellín for foreigners. And here are our 15 living cheap in Medellín tips:
1. Living Cheap by Renting or Buying Where Property is Cheaper
There is a wide range of prices for rental properties and buying property in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley.
El Poblado is the most popular neighborhood for foreigners in Medellín. But El Poblado has several downsides including a higher cost of properties when renting or buying. So, many foreigners live in other neighborhoods in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley.
We previously looked at unfurnished apartment rental costs in five neighborhoods in Medellín popular with foreigners. Also, we looked at unfurnished apartment rental costs in six inexpensive neighborhoods.
We found that you can save 9.6 to 33.5 percent for renting unfurnished apartments in 10 different neighborhoods compared to renting in El Poblado, as seen in the following table:
So, you can save money on rent by living in Envigado, Laureles-Estadio, Belén, Sabaneta, Itagüí, La Estrella, La América, La Candelaria, Bello and Buenos Aries compared to renting in El Poblado.
In addition, El Poblado tends to have much higher prices for buying properties than many other neighborhoods in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley.
We recently surveyed 300 3-bedroom apartments for sale in nine neighborhoods and found that the cost per square meter was 12.8 to 36.2 percent higher in El Poblado than in other neighborhoods.
The bottom line is where you decide to live can have a big impact on your cost of living in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley.
2. Take Advantage of the Many FREE Things to do in Medellín
It turns out that many of the best things to do in Medellín are totally FREE.
Medellín offers tourists visiting the city and people living in the city many free things to do that are absolutely free of charge. So, if you are on a tight budget it is quite possible to see many of the best things to do in Medellín for FREE.
We previously looked 21 of the best FREE things to do in Medellín. The bottom line is there are many things to do in Medellín that are completely FREE.
3. Living Cheap by Shopping for Groceries at Places Other than Exito and Jumbo
After rent, groceries are our second biggest living expense.The easiest way to grocery shop in Medellín is to go to a big store like Exito or Jumbo where you can buy everything.
But this won’t be the cheapest option. By smart shopping you can easily save over 30 percent compared to the prices at Exito or Jumbo.
In 2014, we were averaging about 1,200,000 pesos per month when we were just shopping at Exito and Jumbo.
We have been able to cut our grocery costs substantially over the past few years. Our grocery costs for a couple with a baby are now averaging less than 800,000 pesos per month.
We were able to cut our grocery costs by shopping at discount grocery stores like PriceSmart, Justo y Bueno and Tiendas D1. At these discount stores, prices for many products are typically at least 30 percent cheaper than at Exito or Jumbo. Also, we sometimes shop at Central Mayorista and Plaza Mayorista where you can find very inexpensive fruits and vegetables.
In addition, we have a detailed guide to grocery shopping with tips for saving money. Furthermore, we don’t recommend shopping at Carulla, which has the highest grocery prices in the city. You can find cheaper groceries on average at any other grocery store in the city.
4. Sign Up for Puntos Programs at Exito and Jumbo
If you shop frequently at Exito and/or Carulla you should sign up for Puntos Colombia, which is a program that used to be known as Puntos Exito. Puntos Colombia is a frequent shopper program where you accumulate points for each purchase. You can use these points to purchase items in the future.
Puntos Colombia is essentially like getting 1 percent cash back on your purchase that you can use for future purchases. With the program you get 1 punto for every 700 pesos in purchases. And that 1 punto is worth 7 pesos. You will be asked if you are in the Puntos program at checkout line. Just provide your cedula number and make sure the puntos show up on your receipt.
In addition, if you shop at Jumbo you should sign up for Jumbo’s puntos (points) program known as Puntos Cencosud. Puntos Cencosud is a frequent shopper program where you accumulate points for each purchase. You can use these points to purchase items in the future.
To sign up for Puntos Cencosud you just need a Colombian cedula ID. You can sign up at any of the Jumbo stores.
5. Shop the Discount Days at Grocery Stores
Find out the discount days at grocery stores. For example, Exito has a 20 percent discount on fruits, vegetables and meats on Wednesdays.
In addition, the La Vaquita grocery store with locations in El Poblado, Laureles and Sabaneta has a 25 percent discount on fruits and vegetables on Wednesdays and Fridays, a 10 percent discount on meats on Tuesdays and Fridays, 20 percent discount on chicken on Tuesdays, 20 percent discount on fish and seafood on Thursdays and 30 percent discount on wine on Saturdays.
Also, the Merkepaisa grocery store in Sabaneta has 20 to 30 percent discounts on some products every day of the week.
Find out the discount days at grocery stores near where you live. And stock up during these discount days and you can lower your monthly grocery costs.
6. Live in a Lower Estrato for Lower Utility Bills
Residential properties in Colombia are ranked in a socioeconomic scale, which are known as “estratos” (stratum). We previously looked at estratos in Colombia.
it is important to understand that homes in the higher estrato neighborhoods in Colombia pay higher utility rates to help subsidize lower utility rates in the lowest estratos.
Homes in estrato 5 and 6 pay higher utility rates to subsidize lower utility rates in estrato 1, 2 and 3. And homes in estrato 4 doesn’t pay extra or receive subsidies.
For example, the following table shows the price for Claro’s following triple play service in Medellín, which has prices that vary by estrato:
- 10 Mbps Internet
- 100 regular TV channels + 60 HD channels
- Fixed line (fijo) telephone service with unlimited calls to fixed line phones
Also, the higher estratos 5 and 6 will have higher utility rates for electricity, gas and water services. While estrato 1, 2 and 3 have lower subsidized rates for electricity, gas and water services.
7. Use the Metro and Buses for Transportation
It is quite possible to live without a car in Medellín. I have lived without a car in Medellín for over eight years. And the majority of expats living in the city (reportedly over 80 percent) do not have a car.
You can use the inexpensive metro and buses for inexpensive transportation in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley.
The Medellín meto system the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. But this mass transportation system is much more than a rail-based system.
Medellín’s metro system is a comprehensive transportation system that integrates two rail lines, a Tranvía tramcar line, five Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus line and even hundreds of small feeder metro buses.
The 2019 standard Medellín Metro fare with a Civica card is only 2,255 pesos. And the fare is 2,550 pesos if you don’t have a Civica card.
We highly recommend getting a Civica card for the Medellín metro system, as you save 295 pesos (11.6 percent) per standard trip with a Civica card. Plus, you avoid having to stand in lines to buy fares.
Also, Medellín has extensive bus routes in the city with inexpensive fares that are typically between 2,100 to 2,300 pesos. And Medellín has Encicla, which is Medellín’s free city bikes system that permits you to borrow bikes from 60 stations throughout the city.
In addition, Medellín has inexpensive taxis but the metro system and buses are cheaper ways to get around the city.
Where you decide to live also has an impact on your transportation costs. We live about a 10-minute walk from a metro station and use the metro all the time.
Also, within easy walking distance from our casa (house) are four supermarkets, two parks, two malls and over 50 restaurants. In addition, we can catch buses one block from where we live to go many places in the city. So, we rarely use taxis anymore.
8. Fly for Cheap in Colombia
Fortunately, domestic airfare can be quite inexpensive in Colombia making cheap flights in Colombia possible between the major cities. Also, we recommend booking at least two weeks in advance to find the cheap 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.
Also, buses are frequently ice cold as they tend to have the air-conditioning turned on full blast. It’s also common to hear loud Latin music on buses, which can be tiresome on a 10-hour bus ride.
Avianca is the largest airline in Colombia with the most flights in the country. Avianca serves more than 100 direct destinations in 26 countries. And it has nearly 6,000 weekly flights with a fleet of over 180 aircraft.
If you use Avianca for domestic flights in Colombia, if you want cheap flights make sure to book on Avianca’s site as if you are in Colombia and pay in pesos. If you do this, you will get a price that can be 50 percent cheaper (or even cheaper) compared to booking in the United States in U.S. 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.
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 domestic flights it is very important to book in advance to lock in cheaper fares.
9. Buy Cheap Generics at the Drug Stores
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. Also, many pharmacies offer domicilio (delivery) services for free or a low price.
In addition, pharmacies can be found in many shopping malls as well as many of the large supermarkets like Exito and Jumbo.
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. In addition, the antibiotic Amoxicilina (Amoxicillin) can cost only 7,500 pesos for a 30-pack of 500 mg generic capsules.
10. Use the Airport Bus for Going To and From the Airport
There are several ways to get to and from the José María Córdova international airport in Rionegro including white airport taxis, yellow taxis, colectivo (shared) taxis, airport buses, private drivers and Uber.
The cheapest method to get to/from José Maria Córdova airport is the official Aeropuerto-Combuses airport buses, as the 2019 fare is only 10,000 pesos. This is about 86 percent cheaper than taking a white airport taxi.
The airport buses are inexpensive and reliable option in my experience. When going to the airport you can catch an airport bus at the bus stop across from San Diego mall or behind the Nutibara hotel in El Centro.
The airport buses leaving the José Maria Córdova airport operate 24 hours per day. And from Medellín to the airport the airport buses operate from 3:30 am to 10:00 pm.
There are six different ways to get to Medellín from the international airport ranging from inexpensive buses to taxis and private drivers. These options have a wide range in prices from 10,000 to about 117,000 pesos ($3 to $35).
11. Shop at El Hueco
El Hueco is an area of El Centro in Medellín that is full of thousands of small shops of all types with good prices. This is an area of Medellín where you can find the cheapest prices for almost anything.
You can find so many products in this area with typically the cheapest prices in the city. You can find clothing, shoes, baby items, toys, home improvement items, sports equipment, textiles, art supplies, furniture, watches, jewelry and so much more.
You can find almost anything but it may take some time to search in the large area.
El Hueco is an area with a mix of small shopping malls, standalone shops as well as street vendors. This is a big area with reportedly over 80 small centro comercials (shopping centers) filled with thousands of small shops. And many of these shopping centers are interconnected.
In addition, there are thousands of small standalone shops and seemingly countless street vendors. In total, there reportedly are over 12,000 shops in the area that employee over 45,000 people.
12. Shop the Sales
Many stores in Medellín frequently have sales. For example, the big box retailers Exito and Jumbo frequently have sales for TVs and appliances. Also, Alkomprar and Ktronix frequently have sales for TVs and appliances.
I personally would never pay full price for TVs or appliances in Medellín, as you can find them on sale all the time.
13. Use Free Wi-Fi and WhatsApp
Free Wi-Fi is available many places in Medellín. Most malls in Medellín have free Wi-Fi and many restaurants and cafés have free Wi-Fi.
Also, some of the metro stations and some of the parks in Medellín have free Wi-Fi. For example, Parque Lleras in El Poblado has free Wi-Fi available.
By using free Wi-Fi available in many places in the metro are, you aren’t using data on your cell phone. So, you save on data charges.
Also, most people living in Colombia use WhatsApp to call and send messages, which is free when you use Wi-Fi. WhatApp is a very popular messaging map that has taken over SMS texting in Colombia and other countries throughout the world. In addition, with this app you can make calls, send photos and have group chats.
Almost everyone with a smartphone in Colombia uses WhatsApp, as with this app there is no cost to message and call friends when using Wi-Fi. In addition, we included WhatsApp in our list of the 20 best mobile apps to use in Medellín.
14. Use a Prepaid Cell Phone
Basically, with cell phones in Colombia you have two options: a prepaid (prepago) plan where you pay for minutes in advance and a postpaid (postpago) plan that is a monthly plan.
In general, a prepaid plan is typically cheaper unless you make a lot of calls or need a lot of data. My Colombian wife has a prepaid plan and she normally spends less than 25,000 pesos per month, as she primarily uses WhatsApp for calling and sending message when she is in places with free Wi-Fi or is at home.
Postpaid monthly plans are more expensive and start at about 55,000 to 58,900 pesos per month for a plan with 8 GB of data and unlimited calls.
Also, it’s very easy to get prepaid (prepago) mobile services established in Colombia. And you can recharge cell phones in so many places. Postpaid plans require a cedula. So, unless you have a visa, you can’t get a postpaid plan. In addition we have a detailed guide to buying and using cell phones in Colombia.
15. Eat the Menú del Día Lunch Specials
We sometimes eat out for lunch and there are several “menú del día” lunch specials at small restaurants in Sabaneta that range in price from only 8,000 to 10,000 pesos, which is a good deal.
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.
Also, we frequently 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.
We live near Parque Sabaneta in Sabaneta, which has several street food options around the park and many restaurants nearby that have menú del día lunch specials.
The Bottom Line: Living Cheap in Medellín: 15 Tips for Living Cheaper in Medellín
There are many ways for living cheap in Medellín and we provide 15 tips for living cheaper in Medellín. Living cheap is possible in Medellín by following our tips above.
The biggest expenses for most foreigners living in Medellín are normally for housing costs and groceries. Several of our tips above can help reduce housing and grocery costs to enable living cheaper.
The bottom line is when looking at cost of living in Medellín, 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.
I have met several couples living in Medellín with a budget of less than $1,400 per month and some couples with budgets of about $2,000 per month. I also have met some couples with budgets of over $3,000 and a few with budgets of over $4,000 per month.
It’s possible to live a wide range of lifestyles in the city that will impact your Medellín cost of living. But following some of our tips above can help reduce your cost of living in Medellín regardless of the lifestyle you live.
Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.