The relatively low Medellín cost of living is one of the 27 reasons why I started living in the city of Medellín after I discovered it many years ago. I have now been living in Medellín for over seven years.
In my opinion, the nearly perfect weather and the quality of life in Medellín, for the cost, are challenging to beat.
Since I have lived over seven 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.
This article provides 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 costs of living have changed over the past few years.
In addition, last month, Stephanie shared her cost of living in Medellín for a single woman.
Our Standard of Living
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.
I’m an expat from the United States living with my Colombian wife in Sabaneta, which is a separate municipality in the Medellín metro area. Sabaneta is located directly south of Envigado. And we live in a nice 110-square-meter, three-bedroom apartment located in an estrato four neighborhood.
We don’t have a car and travel using the metro, buses and cheap taxies. We also live within walking distance to a mall, several grocery stores, Parque Sabaneta and many restaurants and small tiendas (shops).
In addition, we live a comfortable life and travel on vacation at least a couple times each year. Also, we go out to eat a few times a week and go to the movies or go out several times each month.
Our Medellín Cost of Living for a Couple
The above table shows our actual Medellín cost of living for a couple from January 2015 to July 2017, which is a total of 31 months. The average exchange rate I experienced each year is used in the table to calculate the average monthly total Medellín cost of living in U.S. dollars we experienced as a couple.
Each of the categories in the table above is discussed below with more details along with our 2017 average monthly cost per category:
1. Apartment Rent = 1,357,143 Pesos ($411) Per Month
Apartment rent is our biggest expense but the cost to rent an apartment in Medellín is surprisingly cheap by Western standards. Apartment rent was included in our list of 14 surprising cheap things in Medellín for expats.
The above rental cost in pesos is a net price, as we rent out our parking space since we don’t have a car. But we don’t rent out the parking space all the time as there is sometimes wait between renters. So, our net rent can vary.
I have been renting unfurnished apartments in Medellín for over seven years. Furthermore, we currently live in a three-bedroom apartment in Sabaneta, which we moved into over two years ago.
We recently renewed our apartment lease for another year for actually less than $420 per month. This was due to using money previously exchanged at 3,300 pesos per USD. This is for an apartment with:
- Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, about 110 square meters (1,184 square feet)
- Kitchen with granite countertops, oven, and gas cooktop
- Gas water heater (tankless)
- Upper floor in a high-rise building, with two large balconies
- Pool, sauna and small gym in building
- 24×7 security
- Estrato 4 neighborhood in Sabaneta
A similar apartment in Dallas, where I am from would easily rent for over $1,000 per month.
2. Groceries = 678,592 Pesos ($222) Per Month
Groceries are our second biggest expense. We cook at home frequently. Weekly we shop at an Exito that is located about a 10-minute walk from our apartment.
We also shop at PriceSmart, which has good prices for many items as well as some hard to find imported items. In addition, we shop at Tiendas D1, and Makro, which both have good prices for many items. Four Tiendas D1 stores are within walking distance from our apartment.
This groceries category also includes our expenses for cleaners and drugstore items like toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner.
Our average monthly groceries cost has dropped every year for the past four years. In 2014, we were averaging about 1,200,000 pesos per month shopping at Exito and Jumbo.
As we started shopping at PriceSmart in 2015 and Tiendas D1 in 2016 as well as local butcher shops and local fruit and vegetable shops, our average monthly groceries cost has dropped each year. We also occasionally shop at Makro.
3. Dining = 574,467 Pesos ($188) Per Month
Dining is currently our third biggest expense. We typically eat at nice restaurants a few times each month. In addition, we order domicillio (takout) a few times each week when we are too tired to cook or go out to eat.
We also eat at small local restaurants in Sabaneta several times each month for lunch and dinner.
There are several “menú del día” lunch specials at small restaurants in Sabaneta that range in price from 8,000 to 10,000 pesos. 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.
4. Medical = 546,087 Pesos ($179) Per Month
The medical costs we experience during the year includes medical insurance for my wife. This category also includes contacts and glasses I purchase each year plus a few trips to dentists and doctors, as well as drugs purchased at drugstores.
I am in good health and still have medical insurance in the U.S. as a backup. In Medellín, the costs of medical care are very low in my experience. So, I decided to “go naked” last year without medical insurance in Colombia.
But I am thinking about getting medical insurance in Colombia next year and dropping my coverage in the U.S., as I rarely go there anymore.
5. Miscellaneous = 525,723 Pesos ($172) Per Month
This is a general category of miscellaneous items not included in other categories. This category includes furnishings for our apartment, books, laundry expenses plus an Amazon prime membership
For example, last year we upgraded some furniture. And this year we bought some curtains and sheets before my father visited.
Every few months we buy some things on Amazon that are cheaper or difficult to find in Colombia. With Amazon Prime many items purchased on Amazon will ship for free to Miami where I use a mailing service that forwards to Medellín for a relatively low cost.
6. Computer and Electronics = 480,987 ($157) Per Month
This category includes computers, printers, ink cartridges, TVs, tablets, cell phones and cameras as well as associated software. Each year it seems we are upgrading or replacing some things in this category.
For example, I had an old black and white laser printer that I sold last year and upgraded to a color laser printer.
7. Ground Transportation = 349,564 ($114) Per Month
This category includes our costs for using the metro, buses as well as taxis. We don’t have a car. And I haven’t found a need to rent a car in over seven years living in the city. Reportedly over 80 percent of the expats living in Medellín don’t have a car.
We can catch a bus in front of our apartment in Sabaneta that takes about 10 minutes to go to the Sabaneta metro station. And this costs only 1,900 pesos. Or the metro station is about a 20-minute walk from our apartment.
In addition, we can catch buses in front of the Exito near our apartment that have a route that goes to the Santafé mall in El Poblado. This trip takes about 30 minutes during normal hours or up to about an hour during rush hour. The cost is only 2,000 or 2,100 pesos.
We also use taxis frequently. The fare from the Sabneta metro station to our apartment is the minimum fare of 5,000 pesos. The fare from El Poblado to our apartment is normally about 16,000 pesos.
8. Clothing = 294,974 Pesos ($97) Per Month
This category is normally about 66 percent for my wife for her clothing, as she typically buys more clothing than I do. She goes shopping for clothes every couple of months for something new. While I may buy some new clothing items only a couple times each year.
9. Colombia Income Taxes = 270,833 Pesos ($89) Per Month
Over the past four years I had to pay income taxes in Colombia only two of these four years. Based on my experience I now budget 270,833 pesos per month to cover Colombian income taxes.
We covered how to file income taxes in Colombia recently. Moving to Colombia has been tax neutral for me in two out of the past four years. You may have to pay some income taxes in Colombia, depending on your personal situation. And this can also change from year to year based on my experience.
10. Vacation Travel = 215,873 Pesos ($71) Per Month
Each year we typically take a couple vacation trips. So far, this year we have taken a couple of short vacation trips to pueblos near Medellín.
Last year we traveled to Cartagena, Pereira and Bogotá for about a week each. We also traveled late last year to Curaçao for 10 days, which is an island nation off the coast of Venezuela.
11. Triple-Play Internet/TV/Phone = 178,311 pesos ($58) Per Month
Triple Play Internet/TV/Phone services in Medellín are lower in cost than what you will find in the U.S. There are two major Internet and TV providers in Medellín that offer triple play Internet, TV and phone services: Claro and Tigo-UNE.
We currently have Claro’s Triple-Play service with 10 Mbps Internet, HD TV service with several hundred channels (over 30 in English) for two TVs and phone service. And I am very happy with the service as it is very reliable. The average monthly cost is only 178,311 pesos per month in an estrato four neighborhood.
In my experience, the Internet service with Claro has been more reliable than my Verizon FiOS service was in the United States and is much less expensive.
12. Utilities (Electric, Gas, Water) = 141,417 Pesos ($46) Per Month
Utility services in Medellín are provided by EPM, the local utility provider in the city. Fortunately, there is really no need for heating or cooling with the climate in Medellín. So, the result is relatively low utility bills.
We also live in an estrato four neighborhood, which has lower utility rates than are found in estrato five or six neighborhoods like El Poblado or Laureles.
We have found that our utility services have been cheaper in Sabaneta than when we lived in a smaller apartment in Belén a couple years ago.
13. Pets = 130,089 Pesos ($43) Per Month
We have two dogs. In 2013, we bought a Pomeranian dog. And in 2016, we bought a Shih Tzu dog.
So, we have ongoing expenses for our two pets including dog food, vet services and pet hotel costs when we travel.
14. Gifts = 129,345 Pesos ($42) Per Month
This category includes gifts purchased for birthdays and Christmas.
But this category doesn’t include all gifts, as we tend to give some gifts that are bigger items like electronics and furnishings that are included in other categories above.
15. Education = 128,000 Pesos ($42) Per Month
This category includes costs for an English class that my Colombian wife is currently enrolled in.
16. Cell Phone Services = 99,876 Pesos ($33) Per Month
This is the cost for Claro cellular services for two cellphones. We both have pre-paid plans. We used to have post-paid plans but upgraded to pre-paid plans to have more Internet access.
I no longer have a cell phone in the U.S. as my Colombian cell phone with international roaming works fine in the U.S.
17. Mail Services = 89,220 Pesos ($29) Per Month
Mail Boxes Etc. has an e-box service that permits you to receive mail and packages reliably and inexpensively in Medellín from the U.S. I have used this e-box service for nearly seven years. And I successfully sent over 140 packages during this time without a single problem.
When I first started living in Medellín over seven 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. I use the Mail Boxes Etc. e-box premium service, which costs $14 per month and includes 1 kilogram free and excess grams at $0.013 per gram.
In the United States, I use the US Global Mail mailbox service in Houston as my primary mailing address. The cost is only $12.50 per month, if paid for a year in advance.
This service permits me to go online and see scans of any mail received. And I can discard any junk mail online. In addition, they can open mail and scan it for a small fee, so you can see the contents online. And they can also deposit checks.
18. Entertainment = 85,631 Pesos ($28) Per Month
This category of expenses includes our expenses for going to bars, concerts, discotecas and movie theaters. We typically have entertainment expenses several times each month. But this varies from month to month. And we also take advantage of some of the free entertainment activities found in the city.
19. Driver’s License = 53,143 Pesos ($17) Per Month
Earlier this year I got a Colombian driver’s license. The cost was 372,000 pesos for me to get a Colombian driver’s license. I averaged this cost over the first seven months of 2017 to equal 53,143 pesos per month, shown above.
This was a one-time cost that won’t be incurred again for a long time, as Colombian driver’s licenses are good for 10 years. I decided to get a Colombian driver’s license as my Texas driver’s license expires next year and I can’t renew it. And a Colombian driver’s license can be used in the U.S.
20. Hair Care = 16,000 Pesos ($5) Per Month
It costs me 10,000 pesos including tip to get my haircut at a barbershop in Sabaneta near our apartment. My wife doesn’t get her hair done that often and sometimes prefers getting her hair done by her family for free.
21. Marriage/Visa/Cedula = Zero Pesos Per Month
This is a category for expenses we incurred for getting married in 2015 and also for me getting a TP-10 Colombian marriage visa and a Colombian cedula in 2015. Since my visa and cedula are good until next year, we won’t incur any expenses in this category in 2017.
Inflation and Exchange Rate Impacts
Two of the biggest things impacting the Medellín cost of living over time for expats are inflation and the exchange rate.
Colombia experienced inflation of 5.75 percent in 2016, 6.77 percent in 2015 and 3.66 percent in 2014. The biggest inflation in Colombia during these three years was in food, which increased at an even higher rate.
But as seen in our Medellín cost of living details above, our grocery costs have dropped every year over the past three years. This was because we starting to shop at some lower cost places. So, it’s possible to substitute to avoid some impacts of inflation.
A bigger impact than inflation for expats with an income from another country is the exchange rate. The improved exchange rate in Colombia over the past two years has made the country cheaper to live in for expats compared to a few years ago.
As the above graph from http://www.xe.com/ shows, over the past two years, the Colombian peso has been trading in a range from about 2,850 to 3,460 pesos, which is a much higher range than the prior eight years.
The exchange rate typically has a much greater impact on the cost of living for expats than inflation does. It is very difficult to predict exchange rates, so it’s difficult to know how much longer the Colombia peso will stay in the range experienced over the past two years.
The Bottom Line: Medellín Cost of Living for a Couple
It is possible to have a Medellín cost of living that is lower than ours for a couple. It would be relatively easy for us to reduce several categories in our budget to get to a total of about $1,600 per month at the current exchange rate.
I have met several couples living in Medellín with a budget of less than $2,000 per month and even some couples with budgets of less than $1,500 per month. I also have met some couples with budgets of over $3,000 and others 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.
In addition, Medellín has a wide range of prices for apartment rentals. I have seen prices for apartment rentals ranging from less than $200 per month to well over $2,500 per month for unfurnished places.
If looking at cost of living budgets you see touted for popular foreign retirement locations like Medellín, be careful. In my experience, some budgets tend to leave out several categories such as medical, vacation travel, taxes, gifts and mail services.
Also, “What is the cost of living in Medellín?” is a common question by expats considering moving to Medellín. So, we included this question in our list of Medellín frequently asked questions (FAQ).
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