Medellín vs Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is really the better place to live? In our Medellín vs Chiang Mai comparison, we comprehensively compare the two cities in 22 categories to see which is the better place to live in for expats.

We previously published an article about 11 reasons why Medellín is considered a top foreign retirement location. The foreign retirement publications have for several years been touting Colombia as a top foreign retirement location.

And the International Living retirement publication ranked the country of Colombia as its sixth best foreign retirement location in 2018 and Thailand is its 14th best foreign retirement location.

Several Medellin Guru readers asked for a comparison of Medellín with Chiang Mai, as we have published several comparisons in the past. Also, both Medellín and Chiang Mai are popular with digital nomads.

Chiang Mai is located in northern Thailand and it’s the second largest city in Thailand. The city has a metro population of less than 1 million. And Chiang Mia is surrounded by mountains and is located next to the Mae Ping River.

Medellín is the second largest city in Colombia located in a valley in the Colombian Andes Mountains in Colombia. It has a metro population over about 4 million. And mountains surround Medellín with a river running though the city.

Many expats I have met living in Medellín prefer Medellín. And expats living in Chiang Mai tend to prefer Chiang Mai. However, many of these expats living in one of these two places have never traveled to the other. It’s not really fair to compare two places if you have not been to both of them.

I have lived in Medellín for over eight years. But I have traveled on business and vacation to Thailand and I have been to Chiang Mai once. In my opinion, both places have their pluses and minuses. No place is perfect.

Note, the following 22 categories in this Medellín vs Chiang Mai comparison are in no particular order. And where possible in our Medellín vs Chiang Mai comparison, we provide some statistics to back up how we chose the winner of each category in our comparison.

Also, in our comparison we assume the winner is chosen based on what expats from North America would likely choose. For Asians, this comparison would be different as Chiang Mai is located in Asia.

Chiang Mai, Thailand, photo by Seashell

Chiang Mai, Thailand, photo by Seashell

1. Climate – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín wins here. The temperature during the year in Medellín averages 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). The Medellín weather and climate is a benefit of living in the city.

Also, Medellín is also known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, or the city of eternal spring. The average temperature in Medellín typically only varies by about 1 °F during the year.

In Medellín, the high daily average temperature ranges from 81.0 to 82.8 °F (27.0 to 28.2 °C). And the low daily average ranges from 61.7 to 63.3 °F (16.5 to 17.4 °C).

In Chiang Mai, the temperature during the entire year averages a warmer 78.4 °F (25.8 °C). During the entire year the average high temperature in Chiang Mai ranges from 83.5 to 97.4 ° F (28.6 to 36.5 °C). And the average low temperature during the year typically ranges from 58.8 to 75.2 ° F (14.9 to 24.0 °C).

On some days in March to July, it sometimes gets above 100.0 °F (37.8 °C) in Chiang Mai. So, with a much warmer climate cooling is definitely needed in Chiang Mai.

In terms of rainfall, in Medellín there is one month out of the year with heavy rain (October), which is normally over 220 mm (nearly 9 inches) of rain. The average rainfall in Medellín for the entire year is about 69 inches (1,752 mm) per year.

In comparison, it rains less Chiang Mai. The average rainfall in Chiang Mai for the entire year is about 44.51 inches (1,131.6 mm) per year. But during Chiang Mai’s rainy season there are two months – August and September – which normally have over 210 mm (over 8.2 inches) of rain.

Medellín arguably wins this category due to Chiang Mai having a warmer climate that requires cooling, which isn’t needed in Medellín.

2. Cost of Living – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

The two cities arguably tie here. The cost of living in similar in both Medellín and Chiang Mai. In both cities it can be much cheaper than living in the United States.

When looking at 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.

The Expatistan website estimates that the cost of living is about the same in Medellín and Chiang Mai but this is based on sparse data – only 1,194 prices entered by 127 different people.

And the Numbeo website estimates that the cost of living is higher in Chiang Mai. But this is also based on sparse data from 199 contributors for Medellín and even fewer for Chiang Mai.

Be careful of any cost of living post or article that touts that you can live in either city for less than $850 per month. In most cases such estimates are missing categories like healthcare and insurance.

It is possible to live in either city for less than $850 per month for a single person. But you will be living more like a local and likely in a shared place.

Stephanie previously shared her cost of living in Medellín for a single woman was about $1,063 USD living in a shared place.

Also, I shared our actual cost of living as a couple living in Medellín, which has been dropping but has been about $2,100 per month over the past couple of years.

I met some expat couples living in Chiang Mai that told me their cost of living was similar to ours in Medellín. And here is a post of a younger American couple with their cost of living as a couple in Chiang Mai being less than $2,300 per month (minus their blog maintenance costs).

The bottom line is the cost of living in both cities is similar and relatively low for foreigners. So, the two cities arguably tie in this category.

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

3. Healthcare – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín wins here. Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. Medellín has nine of the top 58 ranked hospitals in Latin America. And Colombia has 23 of the best hospitals in Latin America.

Also, Colombia’s healthcare system has been ranked as the best healthcare system in Latin America by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Here is a list of all the nine top ranked hospitals in Medellín, with the rankings in the top 58 hospitals in Latin America:

  1. Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe (#9)
  2. Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación (#16)
  3. Clínica las Américas (#23)
  4. Hospital General de Medellín (#28)
  5. Clínica Universitaria Bolivariana (#34)
  6. Clínica El Rosario (#43)
  7. Clínica Cardio Vid (#44)
  8. Clínica Medellín (#53)
  9. Clínica Las Vegas (#58)

WHO ranks Colombia’s healthcare system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked, which is ranked higher than many wealthier countries like the United States (#37), Germany (#25), Canada (#30) and Australia (#32).

Colombia’s healthcare system is ranked better than the healthcare system in Thailand.  WHO ranks Thailand’s healthcare system at #47 out of 191 countries, which is even lower than in the U.S.

The best hospitals in Thailand are located in Bangkok including a few that rank in the top hospitals in Asia.

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital in Chiang Mai, photo courtesy of Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital in Chiang Mai, photo courtesy of Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

Chiang Mai has several hospitals including Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai, Sriphat Hospital, Lanna Hospital, Rajavej Hospital and Chiang Mai Neurological Hospital. But none of the hospitals in Chiang Mai are ranked in the top 10 hospitals in Thailand.

The bottom line is that Medellín is a bigger city with more hospitals including 7 of the top hospitals in Latin America. Also, Colombia’s healthcare system is ranked at #22 by WHO, which is higher than Thailand ranked at #47. So, Medellín arguably wins this healthcare category.

Medellín's Metro

Medellín’s Metro

4. Public Transportation – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín easily wins here.  Medellín has a comprehensive metro system and an extensive network of buses as well as inexpensive taxis.

The Medellín Metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. Furthermore, it integrates two rail lines, four Metrocable cable-car lines, two Metroplús elongated bus lines, a Tranvía tramcar line and even feeder Metro buses. Medellín’s metro system has over 60 stations throughout the city.

Chiang Mai in comparison has a poor public transportation system. There is no metro and no public buses. The most common type of public transport in Chiang Mai is call the songthaew. This is a converted pick-up truck with two rows of back benches. The two rows can fit about 8 to 10 adults.

Songthaew transportation in Chianga Mai, photo by Love Krittaya

Songthaew transportation in Chianga Mai, photo by Love Krittaya

You wave down a songthaew by raising your hand like with a taxi. When a songthaew stops, just tell the driver the place you want to go. But songthaew drivers don’t usually understand English very well but will normally understand top tourist locations.

Tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai, photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai, photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

It is rare to see metered taxis in Chiang Mai except at the airport. More common are small tuk-tuks but make sure to negotiate the fare before starting your trip. Also, in Chiang Mai there is Uber service and a mobile app named GRAB RedDaeng, which works like Uber. Uber is also available in Medellín.

I found it more difficult to get around Chiang Mai without a car. And I would want to have a car if I lived there.

It is definitely possible to live in Medellín without a car with the good and inexpensive public transportation in the city. Reportedly about 80 percent of the expats living in Medellín don’t have a car.

Since Medellín has a comprehensive and inexpensive metro system as well as inexpensive buses and taxis, Medellín easily wins this category.

5. Safety – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai wins here. Chiang Mai generally has lower crime rates than are found in the city of Medellín.

Crime rates in general are reportedly not very high in Chiang Mai, but crime still exists in the city. Visitors who use common sense and do not take unnecessary risks will normally find their time in Chiang Mai is hassle-free

It appears that there no regularly published homicide statistics for Chiang Mai. But for the entire country of Thailand, the homicide rate tends to be low. In 2016, the homicide rate for Thailand was 3.24 per 100,000 inhabitants.

In comparison, the homicide rate in Medellín of 23 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017 was up from a homicide rate of 20 in 2015 in Medellín. But over the past few years Medellín has experienced a homicide rate that is lower than is found in St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit or New Orleans in the U.S.

Furthermore, Medellín dropped off of the list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world a few years ago based on homicide rates.

We previously looked at security in Medellín and expat safety tips. And in a survey of 12,548 Colombians, Medellín ranked higher than all other cities in Colombia in terms of citizens feeling safe in their barrio (neighborhood) – slide 41.

Air pollution in Chiang Mai, photo by FredTC

Air pollution in Chiang Mai, photo by FredTC

7. Pollution – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín wins here Chiang Mai has very serious pollution problems. Earlier this year, according to the Air Visual map that monitors air quality, Chiang Mai was ranked the sixth worst city in the world in terms of air pollution.

Chiang Mai is located in a valley and is surrounded by mountains.  So, pollution tends to stay in the city. Also, local farmers throughout northern Thailand and nearby countries practice traditional “slash and burn” typically between late February and early April each year.

Post-harvest rice and corn fields in particular are set ablaze round-the-clock in order to clear the land of plant remains while also fertilizing the soil in preparation for replanting crops ahead of the rainy season.

Unfortunately, the resultant smoke, dust and debris creates even worse air pollution in and around Chiang Mai during these months. During the crop burning months when pollution tends to be the worst, some expats even leave Chiang Mai.

The dense smog sometimes found in Chiang Mai can severely reduce visibility and even blocks out the sun. And the smog sometimes prevents inbound flights from landing at the Chiang Mai Airport.

Medellín also has pollution problems but not as bad as in Chiang Mai. WHO previously reported that Medellín was ranked #9 in a list of the 10 cities most polluted in Latin America.

Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon like Chiang Mai. Mountains surround the city of Medellín. So, pollution tends to stay in the Medellín metropolitan area. This is similar to the problem in Denver in the U.S. But fairly regular rain in the city can help clean the atmosphere.

However, according to WHO, Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile and other towns in Chile; Monterrey, Mexico; Cubatão, Brazil; as well as some towns in Costa Rica all have worse pollution levels than in Medellín.

In general, Chiang Mai has worse air pollution than is found in Medellín. So, Medellín wins this category.

Traffic in Medellín, one of the downsides of living in the city

Traffic in Medellín, one of the downsides of living in the city

7. Traffic – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai arguably wins here. In a survey by Waze in 2016, Medellín was ranked #176 in the world in terms of drivers’ satisfaction out of 186 metros surveyed.

Unfortunately, Chiang Mai and the country of Thailand didn’t participate in Waze’s survey.

In terms of traffic, the traffic can get bad in Chiang Mai, as the city has no proper public transportation system. But in general, the traffic can be worse in Medellín in my experience due to Medellín having about four times the population.

Traffic can get pretty bad in Medellín during rush hours. It can sometimes take an hour or more during rush hour to get to some places in Medellín. The worst traffic in the Medellín metro in my experience tends to be in El Poblado, El Centro and Envigado.

However, there is worst traffic in Latin America than in found in Medellín. In my experience, the traffic is much worse in the bigger cities of Bogotá, São Paulo and Mexico City.

The Chiang Mai International Airport, photo by Lerdsuwa

The Chiang Mai International Airport, photo by Lerdsuwa

8. Travel Access to North America, Europe and Latin America – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

The two cities arguably tie hereThe Chiang Mai International Airport has non-stop flights to over 25 international locations in Asia and to several domestic locations in Thailand.

But, there are no non-stop flights to the Chiang Mai airport from the U.S. or from Latin America. So, you would have to connect somewhere.

Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport (MDE) is the second largest airport in Colombia. This airport has non-stop flights to 12 international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America.

Inside Medellín's José María Córdova International Airport

Inside Medellín’s José María Córdova International Airport

From the MDE airport there are non-stop flights available to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Miami and New York (JFK) in the U.S. In addition, from MDE you can fly non-stop to Madrid in Europe. Also, you can fly non-stop to Cancún, Lima, Maracaibo, Mexico City, Panama City, San Salvador and Valencia.

In addition, there are more domestic Colombia flights available from Medellín as the city has two airports: the international José María Córdova airport and the domestic Olaya Herrera airport (EOH). From Medellín’s two airports you can fly non-stop to over 30 cities in Colombia.

The bottom line you can fly to over 25 international locations in Asia from the Chiang Mai International Airport. So, it has more international destinations and it a good airport to fly to Asia. But the Chiang Mai airport does not have flights to the U.S. or Latin America.

In comparison, the Medellín airport has fewer non-stop destination but you can fly non-stop to several cities in the U.S., several cites in Latin America and one in Europe.

So, the two places arguably tie. The Chiang Mai International Airport is better for flying to locations in Asia. And the Medellín airport is better for flying to the U.S. and Latin America.

9. Cost and Time to Travel from the U.S. – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín wins here. It is cheaper and quicker to travel from the U.S. to Medellín than traveling from the U.S. to Chiang Mai in Thailand.

It’s important to not only look at flight availability but also look at the cost and length of flights. Proximity to the U.S. is important for some expats from the U.S. that travel home for family or work.

We previously looked at finding cheap flights to Medellín. For example, it’s possible to find roundtrip from New York to Medellín for under $400 and roundtrip from Los Angeles to Medellín for under $500.

From New York to Chiang Mai, the cheapest roundtrip I found in February was $809 with a connection in Hong Kong – which is about double than the cost of flying to Medellín. And from Los Angeles to Chiang Mai, the cheapest roundtrip I found in February was $809 with a connection in Taipei.

Also, Medellín is much closer to the U.S. than Chiang Mai in Thailand. For example, it’s only about a three-hour non-stop flight from Miami to Medellín and a six-hour non-stop flight from New York to Medellín.

In comparison, it’s about 23-hour of travel time including a connection from Miami to Chiang Mai and about 20-hours of travel time including a connection from New York to Chiang Mai. Also, there are no non-stop flights from the U.S. to Chiang Mai.

Since the flights to Chiang from the U.S. are more expensive and over four times the travel time on average, Medellín wins this category.

Also, you should consider the time zone difference. Medellín is the same time as either the Central or Eastern time zone in the U.S. And Chiang Mai is about a 12-hour time difference from the Eastern time zone in the U.S.

Wat Phra Singh is a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai with a history tracing back to 1345, photo by Stefan Fussan

Wat Phra Singh is a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai with a history tracing back to 1345, photo by Stefan Fussan

10. Things to Do – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

The two places arguably tie. Both Chiang Mai and Medellín and the regions near these cities have many things to do.

TripAdvisor has over 300 things to do listed for Chiang Mai. And it has over 200 things to do listed for Medellín. While this is unscientific it demonstrates there are more things to do in the city of Chiang Mai than in the city of Medellín.

However, for Chiang Mai, TripAdvisor includes several day trips and other things that aren’t actually in Chiang Mai in its list of things to do in Chiang Mai.

But for Medellín, TripAdvisor only includes a few day trips and doesn’t include all the pueblos near Medellín as well as the other municipalities in the Aburrá valley.

If we include Medellín plus other municipalities in the Aburrá Valley and nearby pueblos, TripAdvisor has over 400 things listed to do.

The bottom line is that there are hundreds of things to do in Chiang Mai and nearby and there are hundreds of things to do in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley and nearby pueblos. So, these two places arguably tie in this category.

11. Restaurants and Nightlife – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai arguably wins here. Both Chiang Mai and Medellín have many good restaurant options. But you will have a bigger choice of restaurants in Chiang Mai.

If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists over 2,000 restaurants in Chiang Mai but less than 1,400 restaurants in Medellín. Both Chiang Mai and Medellín have many good restaurant options. But there is a larger choice of restaurants in Chiang Mai listed on TripAdvisor.

Also, I happen to love the Thai food that you can find in Chiang Mai. And in Medellín I haven’t yet found a good Thai restaurant.

In terms of nightlife, Medellín has many more nightlife options than Chiang Mai due to having a metro population of about 4 million compared to a metro population of less than 1 million in Chiang Mai.

In Medellín you can find bars, nightclubs, music and pubs of many styles found in areas like Parque Lleras, La 70 and La 33.

Chiang Mai arguably wins this category as it has more restaurant choices. Medellín has many more nightlife choices but having more dining options is more important for more expats than having more nightlife options.

12. Taxes – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

The two places arguably tie here. We highly recommend talked to a tax professional to understand the tax implications before moving to another county.

In both Colombia and Thailand, you are libel for filing taxes if you earn income in the country or if you are a tax resident.

Thailand tax residents are liable to a progressive tax on their income ranging between 0 –37 percent. And Colombia tax residents are liable to a progressive tax on their worldwide income ranging between 0 – 33 percent.

We looked at filing income taxes in Colombia last year. Colombia has many income deductions including deductions for expenses related to receiving your income, mortgage interest, health insurance, retirement savings and economic support of dependents.

In addition, in Colombia, you can exclude 25 percent of your salary (up to a limit) from income taxes. Also, some income taxes paid in another country are subtracted from income taxes due in Colombia.  And foreign pensions are no longer taxed in Colombia (up to a limit).

Thailand also has a number of deductions including a personal allowance, spouse and child allowances, life insurance, home mortgage interest and several others.

The bottom line is that it’s best to talk to a tax professional in either country to find out the tax implications of moving to the country.

Property taxes in Colombia typically range from 0.3 to 3.3 percent. And there are no general property taxes in Thailand except for a small land tax for undeveloped land. But are plans in the Thai government for a new property tax.

Also, for commercial properties (i.e. rental properties) in Thailand must pay a rental tax of 12.5 percent of the rental value or assessed rental value (whichever is higher). In addition, in Thailand there are a number of other taxes related to properties including a transfer tax, withholding tax, stamp duty, business tax and maintenance tax.

The standard VAT tax is lower in Thailand at 7 percent for many items. In comparison, the VAT (IVA tax) tax for most items in Colombia is currently at 19 percent.

13. Job Opportunities – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with a metro population that has over four times the metro population of Chiang Mai in Thailand. So, clearly there are many more job opportunities in Medellín.

Medellín has several very large employers and several multinational companies have offices in Medellín that are headquartered in the U.S.

But there aren’t that many work opportunities in either place for foreigners. This is particularly the case in Medellín if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. Fluency in Spanish is typically required for the best jobs in Colombia.

And in Chiang Mai, speaking Thai fluently is required for the best jobs.

In both Medellín and Chiang Mai you can find English teaching job opportunities if you are a native English speaker. However, the pay for English teaching isn’t the greatest in either place.

Also, to work in Colombia will require a visa. And to work in Thailand requires a non-immigrant visa and a work permit.

14. Expat Community and Expat Friendly – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

The two places arguably tie here. Chiang Mai has a larger expat community than Medellín. Chiang Mai reportedly has about 40,000 expats, primarily from North America, Australia and the UK.

The expat community in Medellín is smaller but unfortunately there aren’t reliable statistics for Medellín. However, I would estimate there may be less than 5,000 expats from North America and Europe living in Medellín. The expat community in Medellín may be smaller but it seems to be much better organized.

For example, Medellín has large expat groups on Facebook like Medellin Expats with over 15,000 members and is very active with hundreds of posts and comments each day.  Also, Medellín has the Digital Nomads Medellin Facebook group with over 5,200 members.

Chiang Mai also has some large Facebook groups but they don’t seem to be as active. The Chiang Mai Expats Facebook group has about 8,800 members but less than 25 posts per day. And the Chiang Mai Digital Nomads group has over 31,000 members but also isn’t that active with less than 30 posts per day.

In addition, in Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each week. There is normally something organized for expats almost every day of the week in Medellín.

An expat I met recently who has lived in both Chiang Mai and Medellín told me there aren’t nearly as many regularly organized meetups in Chiang Mai for expats, as there are in Medellín. But the Chiang Mai Expats Club hosts monthly meetups in Chiang Mai.

Finally, Colombia is rated an expat friendly country by InterNations. In 2018 when looking at the best and worst places for expats, InterNations ranked Colombia as #9. And Thailand is ranked lower at #18.

Chiang Mai has a bigger expat community but the expat community in Medellín looks to be better organized. Also, Colombia is rated a more expat friendly country than Thailand. So, even though Chiang Mai has more expats, these two cities arguably tie in this category.

15. Education Options – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín arguably wins here. Medellín has about 40 universities. So, there are many university choices available. Chiang Mai in comparison only has a handful of universities since it’s a much smaller city.

In addition, Medellín has many Spanish language programs available for foreigners. Also, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in Colombia for foreigners. In comparison, Chiang Mai has several Thai language programs available for foreigners.

Furthermore, both Medellín and Chiang Mai have several bilingual schools available for children. So, Medellín has Spanish language programs for foreigners and Chiang Mai has Thai language programs for foreigners. And both places have bilingual schools available for children.

However, Medellín arguably edges out Chiang Mai in this education category due to Medellín having many more university choices.

16. Internet Availability and Infrastructure Reliability – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai arguably wins here.  In Chiang Mai, it is possible to get higher Internet speeds than in Medellín.

In Medellín, it is possible to get up to 300 Mbps Internet speed from Claro. And up to 150 Mbps speed is available from Tigo-UNE. Most buildings in Medellín will have service from at least one of these two providers. And Both Claro and Tigo-UNE in Medellín provide triple-play Internet/TV/phone services.

In Chiang Mai there are several Internet providers but the four main Internet providers are AIS, 3BB Broadband, True Internet, and Sinet. And AIS reportedly offers up to 1,000 Mbps speed and 3BB offers up to 200 Mbps speed.

Furthermore, the highest speed Internet in both cities will normally be available only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings, where fiber or coax hasn’t been run, you may be limited to lower speeds.

In terms of other infrastructure like electricity and water, the two places are similar with electricity and water services considered to be reliable.

But many expats in Chiang Mai told me they don’t trust the tap water and drink bottled water, which you see being sold everywhere in the city. But in Medellín the tap water is considered drinkable.

However, since Chiang Mai reportedly has higher Internet speeds available, Chiang Mai edges out Medellín in this category.

17. Economic Freedom, Ease of Starting a Business and Corruption – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

The two cities arguably tie here. Since both places are in different countries it is worth comparing the countries in terms economic freedom and ease of starting a business as well as corruption when considering them as places to live.

The Heritage Foundation ranks countries in terms of economic freedom. It ranks Colombia as a “moderately free country”. It ranks Colombia #42 out of the 180 countries it ranks in terms of economic freedom in the world.

Heritage Foundation ranks Thailand lower than Colombia with a “moderately free country. It currently ranks Thailand #53 out of 180 countries in terms of economic freedom.

Thailand has had 19 military coups since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.  The last military coup was in 2014 and new elections, postponed three times, are scheduled for 2019.

In terms of ease of doing business, Colombia is ranked #65. And Thailand is ranked #27 in terms of ease of doing business. So, it’s generally easier to do business in Thailand.

Some corruption is found in both countries. Thailand is ranked #96 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption perception by Transparency International. And Colombia is also ranked #96. So, corruption is perceived to be similar in both countries.

Since the countries tie in corruption, Colombia beats Thailand in economic freedom and Thailand beats Colombia in ease of doing business, the two cities arguably tie in this category.

The Viva Envigado Mall in Envigado

The Viva Envigado Mall in Envigado

18. Shopping – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín wins here.  A friend living in Chiang Mai recently counted less than 15 malls in the metro area.

Medellín has more malls and we have looked at 22 malls in Medellín including the 13 best malls in Medellín. And there are five malls in Medellín with at least 400 shops each.

For example, Santafé mall is one of the largest malls in Medellín with over 400 shops. And in October 2018, Viva Envigado, the largest mall in Colombia opened in Envigado, directly south of Medellín, which also has about 400 shops.

Central Festival mall in Chiang Mai

Central Festival mall in Chiang Mai

The largest mall in Chiang Mai, is reportedly Central Festival that opened in 2014 with over 300 shops and over 250,000 square meters of floor space.

There are a few other newer malls in Chiang Mai that are sizable including Maya that opened in 2014 and Promenada that opened in 2013. Also, there is the large Central Plaza Chiang Mai Airport mall and several other smaller malls.

In addition, Chiang Mai has several night markets that have good deals for clothes, furniture and souvenirs. But Medellín has the huge El Hueco shopping area with 1,000s of small shops with cheap prices for almost everything.

The bottom line is that Medellín has many more malls and many more shopping options. This is due to Medellín having a metro population that is over four times the metro population of Chiang Mai.

19. English Proficiency Levels – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

The two cities tie here. In everyday life in both Medellín and Chiang Mai you will be challenged to find English speakers.

In both Medellín and Chiang Mai you will some English speakers in hotels and nicer restaurants. And some of the taxi drivers and shopkeepers in both cities speak some English. Also, executives at larger companies are typically are bilingual.

Education First ranks Colombia #57 in its English Proficiency Index with a score of 46.54, which is a low level of proficiency (a higher number signifies that more people speak English).

And Thailand is ranked #62 in Education First’s English Proficiency Index with a score of 45.35, which means a low level of English proficiency and a slightly lower proficiency than Colombia.

If you want to be able to speak to all the locals you will need some Spanish in Medellín and some Thai in Chiang Mai.

20. Learning the Language – Medellín vs Chiang Mai 

Medellín wins here. For those wanting to integrate, learning Thai is considered to be more difficult than learning Spanish. Some expats that move to a foreign country want to learn the local language to better integrate and be fully self-sufficient.

Spanish is more closely related to English. So, it is considered easier to learn. It’s reportedly possible for an English speaker to obtain Spanish language proficiency with about 575 to 600 class hours.

Thai has significant differences from English. And Thai is considered more difficult to learn, mainly because of all the foreign sounds. It’s reportedly possible for an English speaker to obtain Thai language proficiency with about 1,110 class hours. So, about double the time compared to learning Spanish. Also, with the Thai language you will have to learn a new alphabet.

In addition, Spanish has more native speakers than Thai. And Spanish is spoken in many more countries than Thai. Spanish is the most spoken language in the world after English.

Since Spanish is considered easier to learn and is more widely used in the world, Medellín wins this category.

21. Ease of Getting a Visa – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín arguably wins this category. Colombia and Thailand both have a number of visa options. And the visa processes for both countries are fairly straightforward.

But many of the visas in Thailand are for shorter duration. For example, the non-immigrant visas like the retirement (O-X visa) in Thailand is good for only a year and must be renewed each year. While the Colombia retirement visa is now good for three years.

Also, with non-immigrant visas in Thailand you need to report to a Thai immigration office every 90 days to report your address. This isn’t needed in Colombia. In Colombia you only have to report to immigration when your address changes.

Also, with non-immigrant visas in Thailand when you leave the country you need to protect your visa and get what is called a re-entry permit from Thai immigration. Without this your visa becomes invalid when you return to Thailand.  This isn’t needed in Colombia, which have visas that are good for multiple reentries.

Also, the income requirement for a Thai retirement visa is much higher than in Colombia. You need to show a monthly income of 65,000 Thai baht or almost $2,000 per month. The income requirement for a Colombia retirement visa is less than half that.

Thailand’s investment visas also require much larger investments than in Colombia and are only valid for one year and can’t be investments in real estate like some of the Colombia investment visas.

But Colombia’s investment visas that we previous looked at have much lower investment requirements and are valid for three years to five years.

In addition, Thailand has an Elite Residence Program with options ranging from 500,000 Thai baht (approx. $15,273 USD) for the five-year Elite Easy Access option to 2.14 million Thai baht (approx. $65,372 USD) for the 20-year Elite Ultimate Privilege option.

Colombia streamlined its visa process a couple years ago and you can apply online, fewer documents are typically required and approvals are now relatively fast, typically in about a week.

Medellín arguably wins this category with Colombia having similar visas that have lower income or investment requirements and are valid for longer periods of time.

22. Can Foreigners Own Property? – Medellín vs Chiang Mai

Medellín wins here. Thailand has a restriction where foreigners are not permitted to own land. However, a building structure on land in Thailand can be legally owned and registered in a foreigner’s name.

But it is possible for foreigners to lease land in Thailand for up to 30 years, which can be renewed twice for a total of 90 years.

Also, the 1979 “Thai Condominium Act” allows foreigners to own up to 49 percent of the total units in a property. So, if a property had 100 units, 49 could be sold to foreigners. In addition, land in Thailand can be purchased by a Thai company. But a foreigner can only hold up to 49 percent of a company’s shares.

This is different in Colombia. With regards to property purchases, foreigners have the same rights as Colombian citizens and can buy properties including land. Also, buying real estate in Colombia can provide a Colombian investment visa depending on the value of the property.

Thailand does not have an investment visa for buying real estate. It only has investment visas for projects approved by the government that increase employment, promote Thai exports, utilize its raw materials, and encourage technology transfers to Thai nationals.

Colombia does not have restrictions on foreigners buying land like in Thailand. Also, Colombia has an investment visa for investing in real estate. So, Medellín wins this category.

The Medellin Guru City and Place Comparisons

We have compared on this website:

The Wat Chedi Luang Buddhist temple from the 15th Century in Chiang Mai, photo by Jakub Hałun

The Wat Chedi Luang Buddhist temple from the 15th Century in Chiang Mai, photo by Jakub Hałun

The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Chiang Mai 

In our Medellín vs Chiang Mai comparison:

  • Medellín wins in 11 of our 22 categories.
  • Chiang Mai wins in 4 of our 22 categories.
  • The two cities tie in 7 categories.

So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Chiang Mai comparison of 22 categories, Medellín easily wins if you equally weigh the categories. But it really comes down to which categories are more important for you.

Both of these places in our Medellín vs Chiang Mai comparison have their pluses and minuses. If having a better climate, better healthcare, better public transportation and proximity to the U.S. are your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you.

And if having more safety, higher Internet speeds, less traffic and more expats, then Chiang Mai would win for you.

The bottom line in our Medellín vs Chiang Mai comparison is that 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.

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Editors note: updated on December 22, 2018 with new 2018 Colombian hospital rankings.