Medellín vs Costa Rica, which is really the better place to live? Both places have been rated as two of the top foreign retirement locations. So, which is really better? In our Medellín vs Costa Rica comparison, we comprehensively compare the two places in in 20 categories to see which is the better place to live in for expats.

We previously wrote about 11 reasons why Medellín is considered a top foreign retirement location. The foreign retirement publications have for several years have been touting both Medellín and Costa Rica as top foreign retirement locations.

International Living ranked the country of Costa Rica as its fourth best foreign retirement location in 2017, which is ahead of Colombia that was ranked number five. And International Living in 2018 ranked Costa Rica as its top foreign retirement location, ahead of Colombia which it ranked number six in 2018. But Medellín is in several ways is arguably a better place to live.

Costa Rica is located in Central America with Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Medellín is a city located in a valley in the Colombian Andes Mountains in Colombia. And mountains surround Medellín with a river running though the city.

Many retirees in Costa Rica choose to live in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, which is the area surrounding the capital city of San Jose. Other expats choose to live near the water and the Guanacaste province on the northwest Pacific coast is popular with expats. And other expats choose live in other parts of Costa Rica.

Many expats I have met living in Medellín prefer Medellín. And expats living in Costa Rica tend to prefer Costa Rica. But 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 seven years. But I have traveled several times on business and vacation to Costa Rica. In my opinion, both places have their pluses and minuses. No place is perfect.

We also have compared on this website:

Note, the following 20 categories in this Medellín vs Costa Rica comparison are in no particular order. In addition, in some categories in this article we compare the largest city in Costa Rica, San Jose to Medellín, as it is not fair in some cases to compare the city of Medellín to the entire country of Costa Rica.

And where possible, we provide some statistics to back up how we chose the winner of each category in our Medellín vs Costa Rica comparison.

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of San Jose, Costa Rica, photo by Andy Rusch

View of San Jose, Costa Rica, photo by Andy Rusch

1. Cost of Living – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Medellín arguably wins here. Apartment properties I have seen in San Jose, Costa Rica tend to rent for or sell for about 35-50 percent higher prices than similar properties in Medellín. And sometimes even higher. I have seen some rental properties with 60 percent higher prices in San Jose compared to similar properties in Medellín. And property prices in Costa Rica can be even higher along the coasts.

The cost of living in terms of USD or Euros has dropped in Medellín over the past few years due to the weakness of the Colombian peso. And in Costa Rica the cost of living has increased due to inflation as well as the increased number of expats in the country driving up some costs.

In addition, the cost of living sites Expatistan and Numbeo report that the cost of living is higher in San Jose than in Medellín. So, in general the cost of living is higher in San Jose than in Medellín.

However, you should also factor in taxes into the cost of living. Colombia has a higher IVA tax than Costa Rica, which is included in the prices of goods sold in stores. And Colombia taxes the worldwide income of tax residents while Costa Rica only taxes local income.

A number of expats living in Costa Rica try to avoid the high cost of living in San Jose by living in a much smaller city or town in Costa Rica. But if you live outside of San Jose you lose some of the benefits of the big city. Plus, you will need a car.

Three different expats I have met in Medellín over the past year that used to live in Costa Rica told me their cost of living is now lower in Medellín by about 30-40 percent.

2. Climate – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Its a tie in this category. 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 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).

Since Costa Rica has many elevations from the coasts to the mountains with different temperatures, in this climate category we compare Medellín with just San Jose instead of the entire country of Costa Rica.

In San Jose, the temperature during the year averages 58.5 °F (14.7 °C). The daily average high temperature in San Jose ranges from 80.8 to 86.5 °F (27.1 to 30.3 °C). In San Jose, the daily average low temperature ranges from 64.9 to 66.6 °F (18.3 to 21.3 °C).

It rains more often in San Jose than in Medellín. In San Jose during the rainy season (May to October) it rains over 8 inches (210 mm) in five of the six months.  In Medellín, only in October during the year it typically rains over 8 inches (210 mm).  For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 77.6 inches in San Jose.

In both Medellín and San Jose it is quite possible to live without air-conditioning or heating. But along the coasts and at lower elevations in Costa Rica, air-conditioning is required by most people.

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 Costa Rica

Medellín wins here. Medellín has seven of the top 49 ranked hospitals in Latin America while Costa Rica only has one.

San Jose and the entire country of Costa Rica only has one hospital on the top Latin American hospital list – Hospital Clínica Bíblica. This private hospital in San Jose is reportedly the largest hospital in Costa Rica with less than 100 beds. And it is ranked #7 out of the top 49 hospitals in Latin America.

In comparison, Colombia has 20 of the top hospitals in Latin America. And Colombia’s healthcare system has been ranked as the best healthcare system in Latin America by the World Health Organization (WHO). 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).

In comparison, Costa Rica’s healthcare system is ranked lower by WHO at #36 out of 191 countries. But International Living in 2018 claims that Costa Rica has better healthcare than in Colombia. This is questionable as Colombia’s healthcare is ranked higher by WHO and Colombia has 20 of the best hospitals in Latin America compared to only one in Costa Rica.

Here is a list of all the top ranked hospitals in Medellín and Costa Rica, with the rankings in the top 49 hospitals in Latin America:

  • Hospital Clínica Bíblica – San Jose, Costa Rica – #7
  • Hospital Pablo Tobín Uribe – Medellín – #9
  • Hospital Universitario de San Vicente Fundación – Medellín – #16
  • Clinica Las Américas – Medellín – #18
  • Hospital General de Medellín – Medellín – #26
  • Clinica Universitaria Bolivariana – Medellín – #32
  • Clinica El Rosario – Medellín – #33
  • Clinica Medellín – Medellin – #47

Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. And Medellín wins this category due to having seven of the best hospitals in Latin America and Colombia being ranked by WHO with a better healthcare system than in Costa Rica.

4. Traffic – Medellín vs Costa Rica

The two places arguably tie here. Waze conducted a survey in 2015 that ranked Costa Rica as the eighth worst country in the world to drive in. And Colombia was ranked 13th worst in the world. Furthermore, another survey by Waze last year ranked Medellín and San Jose as two of the worst cities for traffic in Latin America.

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

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

In my experience, both Medellín and San Jose can have equally bad traffic.

Medellín's Metro

Medellín’s Metro

5. Public Transportation – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Medellín wins here. Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. And it has been in place for over 20 years.

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.

In comparison, San Jose and Costa Rica don’t have a metro system.

Both Medellín and San Jose have extensive and inexpensive bus routes plus inexpensive taxis. Taxis in both cities use taximeters. But outside of San Jose in Costa Rica the taxis may not have meters.  And in general, taxis are more expensive in Costa Rica than in Medellín.

Due to Medellín’s world class metro system, Medellín wins this public transportation category.

Buses lined up in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica, photo by Arnold Reinhold

Buses lined up in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica, photo by Arnold Reinhold

6. Safety – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Costa Rica wins here. Costa Rica generally has lower crime rates than is found in the city of Medellín.

In 2016, the reported homicide rate in Costa Rica was 11.8 per 100,000 habitants. This was a record high in Costa Rica’s history and continued a three-year upward trend. Some of this violence in Costa Rica is driven by competition among groups engaged in the sale and transport of drugs.

In 2016 in Medellín, there were a total of 534 homicides reported, which was up 7.9% compared to 2015. 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.

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

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.

Turrialba Volcano eruption, photo by Rodtico21

Turrialba Volcano eruption, photo by Rodtico21

7. Pollution – Medellín vs Costa Rica

It is arguably a tie here The World Health Organization (WHO) previously reported that Medellín is ranked #9 in a list of the 10 most polluted cities in Latin America.

Medellín’s biggest issue is that it’s located in a canyon. And mountains surround the city. 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 clean the atmosphere.

But Medellín doesn’t have the worst pollution in Latin America. According to WHO, Santiago, Chile and other towns in Chile, Lima, Peru; Monterrey, Mexico; Cubatão, Brazil; as well as some towns in Costa Rica all have worse pollution levels than in Medellín.

Costa Rica in general has less pollution than Medellín. However, Costa Rica and San Jose in particular has a big problem with volcanic ash. The Turrialba Volcano near San Jose erupts on a fairly regular basis. Twice when I visited San Jose the city was coated in volcanic ash. In general, Costa Rica has less air pollution than found in Medellín. But Costa Rica has a problem with volcanic ash.

In addition, Medellín is the cleanest city out of over 30 cities I have been to in Latin America and you won’t see much litter.

Checkin area at San Jose's Juan Santamaria Airport, photo by Eric T Gunther

Checkin area at San Jose’s Juan Santamaria Airport, photo by Eric T Gunther

8. Travel Access to North America, Europe and Latin America – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Costa Rica wins hereSan Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport has non-stop flights to over 30 international locations in North America, Europe and Latin America.

From San Jose, you can fly non-stop to Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, Orlando, Toronto and Washington D.C. in North America. And starting in April 2018 to New York City.

From San Jose, you can also fly non-stop to, Frankfurt, London, Madrid and Paris in Europe and seasonally to Munich. In addition, from San Jose you can fly non-stop to over 15 different cities in other countries in Latin America.

However, one major problem with the airport in San Jose is that it sometimes closes due to volcanic activity. One time when I was traveling to Costa Rica on business my flight was cancelled due to the Juan Santamaria airport being closed due to volcanic ash.

Medellín’s José María Córdova international airport (MDE) is the second largest airport in Colombia. This airport has non-stop flights to nine international locations in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. And on November 9, 2018, a 10th international destination will be added for Medellín when Spirit starts flights twice a week to/from Orlando.

From the MDE airport there are non-stop flights available to Fort Lauderdale, 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 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 non-stop to many more international locations from San Jose’s Juan Santamaria airport. So, Costa Rica wins this category.

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

9. Things to Do – Medellín vs Costa Rica

The two places arguably tie here. Both Medellín and Costa Rica have many things to do.

TripAdvisor has 123 things to do listed in just San Jose and well over 950 listed in Costa Rica. And it has 187 things to do listed in Medellín and several hundred more things to do listed in pueblos within a few hours of Medellín. In addition, TripAdvisor has thousands of things listed to do in Colombia.

While this is unscientific, it helps to demonstrate that there are literally hundreds of things to do in the city of Medellín and nearby and hundreds of things to do in Costa Rica.

Colombia is a much larger country than Costa Rica. So, there is obviously a much bigger variety of things to do throughout Colombia. Furthermore, Colombia is the second most bio-diverse country in the world after Brazil.

Beach near Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, about 3.5 hours’ drive from San Jose

Beach near Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, about 3.5 hours’ drive from San Jose

Costa Rica has beaches on two coasts but so does Colombia. And the beaches in Colombia in Cartagena are only about an hour flight from Medellín. Since Medellín and its nearby pueblos and Costa Rica both have hundreds of things to do they arguably tie in this category.

Parque nacional Volcán Poás in Costa Rica, photo by Oliver Pitzke

Parque nacional Volcán Poás in Costa Rica, photo by Oliver Pitzke

10. Restaurants and Nightlife – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with a metro population of about 4 million. While San Juan’s metro population is only about 2.2 million. In fact, Medellín’s population is about 80 percent of the population of the entire country of Costa Rica, which is about 4.9 million.

If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists only 610 restaurants in San Jose but over 1,150 restaurants in Medellín. So, you will have a bigger choice of restaurants in the larger city of Medellín.  Medellín also has many more restaurants than any of the smaller cities or towns in Costa Rica.

Medellín also has many more nightlife options. You can find bars, nightclubs, music and pubs of many styles in Medellín found in areas like Parque Lleras, La 70 and La 33. In comparison, in San Jose, there are fewer nightlife options available. And the smaller cities in towns in Costa Rica have even fewer nightlife options.

11. Currency – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Its a tie here. Both Colombia and Costa Rica use foreign currencies. So, as a foreigner you will need to exchange money in both places. Colombia uses the Colombian peso and Costa Rica uses the colon.

But the fluctuating exchange rate in Colombia has been more beneficial over the past few years making the cost of living lower in Colombia in terms of U.S. dollars.

For example, four years ago, the exchange rate in Colombia was about 1,925 pesos to the USD. And the exchange rate is now 2,958 pesos to the USD. This makes real estate and other products in Colombia priced in pesos cheaper in terms of U.S. dollars than four years ago.

But this fluctuation can work with you or against you if you have a currency like the USD. For example, two years ago, the exchange rate in Colombia was higher than it is now at about 3,330 pesos to the USD.

In comparison, the exchange rate for the Costa Rican colon hasn’t been anywhere near a volatile.  Four years ago, it was about 500 colons to the USD and it is now 568 colons to the USD.

12. Taxes – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Costa Rica wins here. Costa Rica can be considered a tax haven for foreigners with incomes in another country as tax residents in Costa Rica are only taxed on local income. While in Colombia tax residents are taxed on worldwide income.

In addition, DIAN (the IRS of Colombia) previously ruled that foreign pensions are taxed in Colombia but this reportedly changed in 2018 and foreign pensions are now exempt up to a limit.

If you need to file income taxes in Colombia you may not have to pay taxes depending in your individual situation. For example, I have lived in Colombia for over seven years and only had to pay income taxes in Colombia in two of those years.

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, you can exclude 25 percent of your salary (up to a limit) from taxes.  Also, some income taxes paid in another country are subtracted from income taxes due in Colombia.

Furthermore, we highly recommend talked to a tax professional to understand the tax implications before moving to another county.

Property taxes in Costa Rica are typically about 0.25 percent. And property taxes in Colombia typically range from 0.3 to 3.3 percent.

The IVA tax (VAT tax) is higher in Colombia at 19 percent for many items. In comparison, the tax for most items in Costa Rica is currently 15 percent. But there is a proposal in Costa Rica to reduce this to 13 percent. But keep in mind that Colombia has more free trade agreements, so there are import duties on more imported items in Costa Rica.

In addition, with the much lower cost of living in Medellín it is possible that even if you have to pay income taxes in Colombia, your total cost of living including taxes can be lower in Medellín than in Costa Rica.

13. Job Opportunities – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Medellin wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with nearly double the metro population of San Jose. So, clearly there are many more job opportunities in Medellín. And the smaller cities and towns in Costa Rica have even fewer job opportunities.

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 city for foreigners. This is particularly the case if you don’t speak Spanish fluently. Fluency in Spanish is typically required for the best jobs in both Colombia and Costa Rica.

In both Medellín and Costa Rica 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 city. And competition is fierce, particularly in Medellín. But there are more English teaching jobs available in the larger city of Medellín.

The new Language School building at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín

The new Language School building at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín

14. Education Options – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Costa Rica edges out Medellín here. Costa Rica reportedly has over 60 universities and five of these are public. And Medellín has a smaller number of universities, as it is reportedly home to less than 40 universities.

And with a bigger expat population in San Jose, it apparently has more Spanish language programs available than are found in Medellín.  However, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in Colombia for foreigners. In addition, both Medellín and San Jose each has over 10 bilingual schools available for children.

Both places have many education options. But since Costa Rica has more universities and more Spanish language programs it edges out Medellín in this category.

15. Internet Availability and Infrastructure Reliability – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has high-speed Internet of up to 300 Mbps speed available. And the infrastructure for Internet, power and water tends to be less reliable in Costa Rica.

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 Costa Rica, both Cabletica and Tigo offer up to 100 Mbps Internet speed. But this high-speed Internet in Costa Rica is typically more expensive than in Medellín and isn’t available everywhere. Outside of San Jose in Costa Rica it is more difficult to find high-speed Internet.

One expat I met living in San Jose is paying more for just 10 Mbps Internet service than I pay for triple-play service from Claro in Medellín with 10 Mbps Internet, HD TV service for two TVs and landline phone service.

Furthermore, the highest speed Internet in both places will normally be available only in the newest apartment buildings. In older buildings, you may be limited to lower speeds.

The last time I was in Costa Rica I talked to several expats living outside of San Jose that experienced relatively frequent electric and water outages and less reliable Internet.  One expat in San Jose told me he experienced power outages almost every month.

I only experienced three power outages in over seven years living in Medellín. And one of these outages I was informed about by the provider EPM beforehand, which was due to maintenance. In addition, I only experienced three Internet outages with Claro in Medellín and these were each resolved within an hour after calling the company.

In general, the infrastructure is more reliable in Medellín and services are less expensive. So, Medellín beats Costa Rica in this category.

16. Economic Freedom, Ease of Starting a Business and Corruption – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Medellín edges out Costa Rica here. Since both places are in different countries it is good to compare the countries in terms economic freedom and ease of starting a business and 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 #37 out of the 180 countries it ranks in terms of economic freedom in the world.

Heritage Foundation also ranks Costa Rica with a “moderately free” economy.  It currently ranks Costa Rica #65 out of 180 countries in terms of economic freedom. So, Costa Rica’s economy is considered to be less free than Colombia’s economy. In Costa Rica, excessive government bureaucracy continues to discourage dynamic entrepreneurial activity.

Furthermore, it is much more difficult to do business in Costa Rica than in Colombia.  The World Bank ranks Costa Rica #61 out of 190 countries in the world in terms of ease of doing business. In comparison, Colombia is ranked #59 in terms of ease of doing business. So, if you are looking to start a business this will be a bit easier to do in Colombia.

Corruption is found in both countries but corruption is somewhat more prevalent in Colombia. Colombia is ranked #90 out of 176 countries in terms of corruption perception by Transparency International. And Costa Rica is ranked #58.

Since Colombia is ranked with a freer economy and is ranked a bit easier place to do business, Medellín edges out Costa Rica in this category.

Inside City Mall in Costa Rica during Christmas, photo courtesy of City Mall

Inside City Mall in Costa Rica during Christmas, photo courtesy of City Mall

17. Shopping – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has more Western style malls and more shopping options than the smaller city of San Jose in Costa Rica.

The largest malls in the Medellín metro area include El Tesoro, Los Molinos, Mayorca, Oviedo, Premium Plaza, Puerta del Norte, San Diego, Santafé, Unicentro and Viva Envigado.

Santafé mall is one 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. The Medellín metro area has many malls and we have looked at the 13 best malls in Medellín.

Some expats in Medellín that moved from Costa Rica told me they were amazed when they saw the huge variety of items found in Santafé mall and the other large malls in Medellín.

The largest mall in Costa Rica, City Mall, located in San Jose is smaller with about 330 shops. You can’t find many of the large scales malls like are found in Medellín in the smaller city of San Jose.

The bottom line is that Medellín has many more and larger malls and more shopping options than are found in San Jose or the smaller cities and towns in Costa Rica. So, Medellín wins this category.

Santafé mall in Medellín

Santafé mall in Medellín

18. English Proficiency Levels – Medellín vs Costa Rica

The two places tie in this category.  In both cities, you will frequently find some English speakers in hotels and nicer restaurants. And even a few of the taxi drivers and shopkeepers in both Medellín and Costa Rica speak some English. Also, executives at larger companies in both cities typically are bilingual.

But in everyday life in both Medellín and Costa Rica you will be challenged to find English speakers.

Education First ranks Costa Rica in its English Proficiency Index with a score of 50.53. And Colombia is not far behind with a score of 46.54 (a higher number signifies that more people speak English).

I have seen some publications claim that most people speak English in Costa Rica. This is simply not true in my experience. The bottom line is that some Spanish is needed in either Costa Rica or Medellín. Or you will need to depend on someone bilingual.

19. Expat Community – Medellín vs Costa Rica

Costa Rica wins here. Costa Rica has nearly 13,000 expats from the U.S. and nearly 2,000 from Canada and the UK living in Costa Rica according to International Organization of Migration.  Likely up to half of those expats live in San Jose, the largest city in Costa Rica.

The entire country of Colombia has nearly 19,000 expats from the U.S. and over 2,200 expats from Canada and the UK living in Colombia according to International Organization of Migration. But a majority of those expats living in Colombia likely live in Bogotá, which is the largest city and business center in Colombia.

The expat community in Medellín is likely much smaller and unfortunately there aren’t statistics for Medellín. However, I would estimate there may be less than 4,000 expats from North America and Europe living in Medellín. In addition, the expats in Medellín are less noticeable in the much larger city of Medellín.

However, both places have active expat populations that are fairly well organized. Medellín has large expat groups on Facebook like Medellin Expats and Digital Nomads Medellin that are active with several thousand members each. Costa Rica also has a sizeable Gringo Expats in Costa Rica Facebook group with over 15,000 members that is active.

In addition, in both Costa Rica and Medellín there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month.

20. Ease of Getting a Visa – Medellín vs Costa Rica

The two places arguably tie in this category. Colombia and Costa Rica both have a number of visa options and the visa processes for both countries are fairly straightforward.

Both Colombia and Costa Rica have retirement (pension) visas with relatively low-income requirements. In addition, both countries also have investor visas with lower investment thresholds than many other countries.

As an example, Costa Rica’s retirement visa requires a minimum retirement/pension income of $1,000 per month.

In comparison, Colombia’s new retirement visa (a migrant visa of category 11) requires a minimum retirement income of three times the minimum wage in Colombia.

The minimum salary in Colombia is 781,242 pesos per month in 2018. So, you would need an income of only 2,343,726 pesos per month ($782 USD the exchange rate of 3,000 pesos to USD) to qualify for this retirement visa. The Colombia retirement visa fee is $282 USD including the processing charge, which is similar to the visa fee as in Costa Rica.

The visas in Costa Rica visas typically require more paperwork like a criminal background check. In addition, visas in Costa Rica reportedly can take much longer to get. And several expats I have talked to in Costa Rica recommend using a lawyer in Costa Rica for visas. The cost of hiring a lawyer for a visa in Costa Rica is typically between $600 to $2,000 per person.

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

After having most Colombian migrant (M) visas for five years (or two years for the new migrant marriage visa) you can apply for a Colombian resident visa that is good for five years.

The square in front of the National Theatre of Costa Rica in San Jose at twilight

The square in front of the National Theatre of Costa Rica in San Jose at twilight

The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Costa Rica

In our Medellín vs Costa Rica comparison:

  • Medellín wins in nine of our 20 categories.
  • Costa Rica wins in five of our 20 categories.
  • The two places tie in six categories.

So, in this unscientific and somewhat subjective Medellín vs Costa Rica comparison of 20 categories, Medellín wins if you equally weigh the categories.

If having a lower cost of living, better healthcare and having good public transportation were your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you. And if having a bigger expat community, having better flight access to North America and Europe and being more of a tax haven, then Costa Rica would win for you.

I have met several expats in Medellín over the past three years that moved to Medellín from Costa Rica. The most common reasons I heard from these expats about why they moved to Medellín were: a lower cost of living, better healthcare and the excellent Medellín metro system.

Both of these places in our Medellín vs Costa Rica comparison have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it having a low cost of living, good healthcare and good public transportation.

The bottom line in our Medellín vs Costa Rica 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 January 6, 2018 with the new 2018 Colombia minimum wage information and International Living’s 2018 top foreign retirement location information.

Editors note: updated on September 9, 2018 to add new Medellín flights from Spirit to/from Orlando that start on November 9, 2018 with flights twice a week.

Editors note: updated on October 8, 2018 to add the new Viva Envigado mall, which is the largest mall in Colombia.

Editors note: updated on November 1, 2018, with updates to Claro’s fastest Internet speed.

Editors note: updated on November 5, 2018 to add information that foreign pensions are now tax exempt in Colombia.