Medellín vs Cuenca, Ecuador, which is really the better city to live in? Both cities have been rated as two of the top foreign retirement locations. So, which is really better?

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 Cuenca as top foreign retirement locations.

International Living even ranked Cuenca as its top foreign retirement location for several years in a row: in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.  Live and Invest Overseas has also ranked both Cuenca and Medellín as top foreign retirement locations in the past.

In our Medellín vs Cuenca comparison, we comprehensively compare the two cities in in 20 categories to see which is the better city to live in for expats.

Cuenca is a city located in the Ecuadorian Andes Mountains. There are mountains surrounding the city and four rivers run through the city. Medellín is a city located in a valley in the Colombian Andes Mountains. And mountains also surround it with a river running though the city.

Many expats I have met living in Medellín prefer Medellín. And expats living in Cuenca tend to prefer Cuenca. But many of these expats living in one of these two cities have never traveled to the other city. It’s not really fair to compare two cities if you have not been to both of them.

I have lived in Medellín for over seven years. But I have traveled twice on vacation to Cuenca and Ecuador. In my opinion, both cities have their pluses and minuses. No city is perfect.

We also have compared on this website:

Note, the following 20 categories in this Medellín vs Cuenca comparison are in no particular order. And where possible, we provide some statistics to back up how we chose the winner of each category in our Medellín vs Cuenca comparison.

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Medellín from Pueblito Paisa, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of the city of Cuenca, Ecuador

View of the city of Cuenca, Ecuador

1. Cost of Living

Medellín arguably wins here. Apartment properties I have seen in Cuenca tend to rent for or sell for about 10 percent higher prices than similar properties in Medellín. And sometimes even higher. I have seen some properties with 15-20 percent higher prices in Cuenca for comparable properties in Medellín.

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 Cuenca the cost of living has increased due to inflation as well as the increased number of expats in the city driving up some costs.

In addition, the costs of many imported items in Cuenca, particularly appliances, electronics and cars tend to be more expensive than in Medellín. This is due to Ecuador having fewer free trade agreements than Colombia has.

When I was in Cuenca I found that many imported consumer and food items are more expensive or more difficult to find. In the grocery stores in Cuenca, I couldn’t find as many imported items as I can find in the grocery stores in Medellín.

In addition, the cost of living site Numbeo reports that the cost of living is higher in Cuenca than in Medellín. So, in general the cost of living is higher in Cuenca than in Medellín.

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

Five different expats I have met in Medellín that used to live in Cuenca told me their cost of living is now lower in Medellín by about 10-20 percent.

2. Climate

Medellín wins here for most people. 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).

While in Cuenca, the temperature during the year averages a much chillier 58.5 °F (14.7 °C). The daily average high temperature in Cuenca ranges from 68.7 to 73.6 °F (20.4 to 23.1 °C). In Cuenca, the daily average low temperature ranges from 49.1 to 52.2 °F (9.5 to 11.2 °C).

In Medellín, the record low each year is typically around 46 °F (7.8 °C). And the record low each year in Cuenca is much chiller at around 27 °F (-2.8 °C).

With the colder climate in Cuenca, heating at night is needed by most people. The temperature dropped into the low 30s F at night during one of my trips to Cuenca. I’m now spoiled by the climate in Medellín and this was too cold for me.

It rains more often in Medellín. In Medellín, 10 months each year have over 100 mm of rain on average. While in Cuenca only two months each year typically have over 100 mm of rain on average (March and April). For the entire year it rains on average 69.0 inches in Medellín and 34.6 inches in Cuenca.

In Medellín it is quite possible to live without air-conditioning or heating. While in Cuenca you will likely need heating at night. However, some expats may prefer the cooler climate in Cuenca. To each his own.

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 easily wins here. Medellín has seven of the top 49 ranked hospitals in Latin America while Cuenca has none.

In fact, the entire country of Ecuador only has one hospital on the top Latin American hospital list – Hospital de Ninos Dr. Roberto Gilber Elizalde. This hospital in Guayaquil focuses on pediatric healthcare and is ranked #22 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 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, Ecuador’s healthcare system is ranked much lower by WHO at #111 out of 191 countries.

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

  • 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

In addition, Medellín is a much larger city than Cuenca with a population of about 4 million compared to about 700,000 in Cuenca. So, Medellín obviously has more medical and dental providers than are found in Cuenca. But since it’s a larger city there is also a bigger population to care for.

Good healthcare is a very important category for retirees. And Medellín easily wins this category due to having several of the best hospitals in Latin America and WHO ranking Colombia with a much better healthcare system than Ecuador.

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

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

4. Traffic

Cuenca wins here. In my experience, the traffic in Medellín is worse than in Cuenca due to having more cars on the roads and Medellín having a much bigger population.

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.

A survey by Waze in 2015 ranked Medellín with one of the worst cities in Latin America in regard to traffic. 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, Cuenca has less traffic than in Medellín. Traffic in Cuenca may mean being stuck in traffic for 30 to 45 minutes.

Medellín's Metro

Medellín’s Metro

5. Public Transportation

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, Cuenca doesn’t yet have a metro system. However, a tram system is under construction in Cuenca. But this multi-year project in Cuenca has been plagued by problems and delays.

Tram cars in Cuenca have been sitting for two years waiting for the project to complete. And on December 18, 2017, the project resumed construction after 11 months of suspension. And the tram system is now reportedly scheduled to open in late 2018, if there are no more delays.

Both Medellín and Cuenca have extensive and inexpensive bus routes plus inexpensive taxis. Taxis in both cities use taximeters.

But in my experience in Cuenca, the taxi drivers may not use the taximeters to determine fares. So, to ensure you aren’t surprised in Cuenca it is important to ask the price to a destination before you get in a taxi in Cuenca.

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

6. Safety

Cuenca wins here. The smaller city of Cuenca generally has lower crime rates than are found in the much bigger city of Medellín.

In 2016, the reported homicide rate was quite low in Cuenca at 3.2 homicides per 100,000 habitants. But this was up from 2.6 in 2015.  Ecuador has the second lowest rate of homicides in Latin America at 5.6 per 100,000 in 2016. Only Chile had a lower rate at 4.6.

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 has 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.

Similar to other cities in the world, both Medellín and Cuenca have neighborhoods to avoid with higher crime rates, particularly after dark.

Cuenca’s Mariscal La Mar airport, photo by Ciencia1.com

Cuenca’s Mariscal La Mar airport, photo by Ciencia1.com

7. Travel Access to North America, Europe, Latin America and Colombia

Medellín easily wins here. 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.

In comparison, Cuenca’s Mariscal La Mar airport (CUE) is tiny and only has domestic flights in Eucador.  It has domestic flights to only two cities in Ecuador: Quito and Guayaquil. In addition, only three airlines fly out of Cuenca: Avianca, LATAM and Tame.

So, to get to the U.S., Europe and the rest of Latin America from Cuenca you will need to connect in either Quito or Guayaquil. Both Quito and Guayaquil have some non-stop flights to the U.S., Europe and the rest of Latin America.

The bottom line is you can get to many more destinations from Medellín’s two airports non-stop than you can from Cuenca’s tiny airport. So, Medellín wins this category.

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

Inside the terminal at José María Córdova airport in Medellín

8. Pollution

Cuenca wins 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.

Cuenca has less pollution than Medellín. Cuenca is a much smaller city so there are fewer cars and buses and fewer factories. But a WHO study of pollution about five years ago ranked Cuenca in the top 25 percent of the most polluted cities in Latin America.

However, even though Medellín may have more pollution, Medellín tends to be a cleaner city than Cuenca. Medellín is the cleanest city out of over 30 cities I have been to in Latin America and you won’t see much litter.

The blue cathedral domes of the new Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Quenca

The blue cathedral domes of the new Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Quenca

9. Things to Do

Medellín arguably wins here. Both Medellín and Cuenca have many things to do in the cities as well as many things to do nearby.

TripAdvisor has 174 things to do listed in Cuenca and nearby. And it has 187 things to do listed just in Medellín. While this is unscientific, it helps to demonstrate that there are more things to do in the city of Medellín than in the city of Cuenca. This makes sense as Medellín is much larger city.

Medellín has more churches, more sights and more landmarks than Cuenca. In addition, Medellín is a more popular tourist location so there are many more hotels, more hostels and more furnished apartments available in the city.

Medellín has several natural parks including the huge Parque Arví nature reserve covering 39,500 acres with 54 miles of walkable trails with activities like hiking, biking, jogging, horseback riding, picnicking and bird watching.  In addition, Medellín has several small pueblos nearby including Guatapé, Jardín and Santa Fe de Antioquia. While Cuenca has four rivers.

10. Restaurants and Nightlife

Medellín wins here. Medellín is a much larger city that has more foreign tourists visiting the city. And Medellín has a metro population of about 4 million. While Cuenca’s metro population is only about 700,000.

If you look on TripAdvisor, it lists only 469 restaurants in Cuenca but over 1,150 restaurants in Medellín. So, you will have a much bigger choice of restaurants in the larger city of Medellín.

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 Cuenca, there are much fewer nightlife options available. And in my experience in Cuenca, if you are out past 1 pm any night of the week the city will seem like a ghost town. While in Medellín there are many nightlife options that are open later.

11. Currency

Cuenca wins here. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar. So, there isn’t a fluctuating exchange rate like you will find in Colombia, which uses the Colombian peso. So, you won’t ever need to change money in Cuenca.

In 2000, Ecuador dollarized its economy. Ecuador use currency notes from the U.S. It also uses U.S. coins in addition to local coins. Ecuador has centavo coins in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos. These local coins circulate alongside coins from the U.S.

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

For example, four years ago, the exchange rate in Colombia was about 1,950 pesos to the USD. And the exchange rate is now 2,966 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 was higher than it is now at about 3,350 pesos to the USD.

12. Altitude

Medellín wins here. Medellín is located at an elevation of about 4,905 feet (1,495 meters). And Cuenca is located at a much higher elevation of about 8,400 feet (2,550 meters).

Cuenca’s higher altitude means that it is possible to experience physiological effects. Cuenca is at the low end of the altitude scale for possible physiological effects. The air is thinner at the higher altitude of Cuenca.

The lower oxygen levels found at high altitudes can cause problems for visitors who are going to destinations higher than 8,000 feet above sea level, like Cuenca. But it is possible that some visitors may not notice this.

When visiting Cuenca, it is possible to notice fatigue, heavier breathing, a faster heart rate, a slowdown of digestion and even an increased need to urinate. In addition, headaches are a common result of the higher altitude.

It normally takes a few days for your body to adjust to the higher altitude in Cuenca. When I traveled to Cuenca, I experienced some headaches and got tired easier the first few days I was in the city.

The body needs some time to adjust to the thinner air in Cuenca. It is also recommended to not drink alcohol or do heavy exercise for at least the first 48 hours after you arrive at an altitude above 8,000 feet.

Staying well-hydrated is a good way to combat the impacts of high altitude. Mild cases can be treated according to symptoms (such as using painkillers for headaches) and should go away on their own within a few days. In addition, medicines are available to shorten the time it takes to get used to high altitude.

Shorter-term visitors to the high altitude in Cuenca are the ones that normally experience physiological effects. Several studies have shown that the approximately 140 million people worldwide who live full-time at altitudes above 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) ultimately adapt to the lower oxygen levels.

But be careful as there are some preexisting medical conditions that may be of concern at higher altitudes and precautions should be taken – as seen here.

13. Job Opportunities

Medellin wins here. Medellín is a much larger city with nearly six times the population of Cuenca. 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 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 Ecuador.

In both Medellín and Cuenca 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 wins here. Medellín is a much larger city and is home to over 30 universities. While Cuenca only has a handful of universities in the city.

Since Medellín is a much bigger city it has more Spanish language learning options available. In addition, Medellín is a more popular location for foreign tourists. So, it has more Spanish language education programs available. Most notably, Medellín has Universidad EAFIT, which reportedly has the largest Spanish language program in Colombia for foreigners.

Also, as a much bigger city, Medellín has over 10 bilingual schools available for children including Columbus, Montessori and The New School. While I found only one bilingual school in Cuenca: CEDEI Foundation. And expats living in Cuenca I met din’t know of any other bilingual schools in the city.

The bottom line is that the much larger city of Medellín has many more education options than the smaller city of Cuenca.

15. Internet Availability

Medellín arguably wins here.  Medellín has high-speed Internet of up to 300 Mbps speed available compared to 100 Mbps in Cuenca.

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 Cuenca, PuntoNet offers 100 Mbps Internet speed via its Celebrity fiber optic network. But this isn’t available everywhere in Cuenca. Other slower Internet options in Cuenca are provided by CentroNet, ETAPA and TV Cable.

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

16. Corruption, Economic Freedom and Ease of Starting a Business

Medellín wins here. Since both cities are in different countries it is good to compare the countries in terms of corruption, economic freedom and ease of starting a business economically when considering them as places to live.

Corruption is found in both countries but corruption is somewhat more prevalent in Ecuador. Colombia is ranked #90 out of 176 countries in terms of corruption perception by Transparency International. And Ecuador is ranked #120.

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 ranks Ecuador as a “repressed” economy.  It currently ranks Ecuador #160 out of 180 countries in terms of economic freedom. So, Ecuador’s economy is much less free than Colombia’s economy.

Ecuador is considered to have a democratic socialist government. Private investment in Ecuador has shrunk as costly regulations and uncertainty have made planning for expansion difficult. The repressive and restrictive political environment in Ecuador can make investment riskier.

Furthermore, it is much more difficult to do business in Ecuador than in Colombia.  The World Bank ranks Ecuador #118 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.

Santafé mall in Medellín

Santafé mall in Medellín

17. Shopping

Medellín wins here.  Medellín has more Western style malls and more shopping options than the smaller city of Cuenca. 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 living in Medellín that moved from Cuenca told me they were surprised when they saw the huge variety found in Santafé mall and the other large malls in Medellín.

The largest mall in Cuenca, Mall del Rio, is similar in size to one of the smaller malls in Medellín. You can’t find the large scales malls like are found in Medellín in the smaller city of Cuenca.

The bottom line is that Medellín has many more and larger malls and more shopping options than are found in Cuenca. So, Medellín wins this category.

Mall del Rio in Cuenca, photo by Angel Vázquez

Mall del Rio in Cuenca, photo by Angel Vázquez

18. English Proficiency Levels and Expat Community

The two cities 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 Cuenca speak some English. Also, executives at larger companies in both cities typically are bilingual.

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

Both cities have sizable expat populations that are fairly well organized. Medellín has large expat groups on Facebook like Medellin Expats and Digital Nomads Medellin that are very active with several thousand members each. Cuenca also has a Cuenca Expats Facebook group with several thousand members that is active.

In addition, in both cities there are many regularly organized meetups for expats each month.

However, Cuenca may have a somewhat larger expat community than Medellín that speaks English.  In January 2016, Tania Sarmiento, the director of Tourism for Cuenca said there were about 5,000 expats living in Cuenca.

The expat community in Medellín may be 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.

Aerial view of Cuenca and Park Calderon

Aerial view of Cuenca and Park Calderon

19. History and Culture

Cuenca wins here. Cuenca is one of the oldest cities in the Americas, as it was founded by the Spanish in 1557. The historical town of Cuenca was even designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.  And Cuenca was named the Cultural Capital of the Americas in 2002.

Cuenca has a very rich history. The origins of the first inhabitants of Cuenca reportedly go all the way back to the year 8060 BC. Cuenca was reportedly an ethnic Cañari settlement. And archeologists believe this settlement means that Cuenca was founded around 500 AD.

In the Old Town in Cuenca, you will find a number of colonial parks and plazas. This area dates back to the initial days of the Spanish conquest.

In comparison, the history and culture in Medellín is much more contemporary. While Medellín has a number of old buildings, particularly some of its historical churches, the history in Medellín isn’t as rich as in Cuenca.

Medellín has been making significant progress in inventive architecture and urban renewal with a number of bold public project in poor neighborhoods in the city. In 2013, Medellín was even named the most innovative city in the world by a competition organized by non-profit Urban Land Institute and sponsored by Citi and the Wall Street Journal.

Medellín beat out 200 cities in this competition including the other two finalists New York City and Tel Aviv. In this competition, Medellín was praised for its parks and libraries, as well as the city’s infrastructure which includes a giant escalator and cable cars. These allow the residents of the poor neighborhoods on Medellin’s steep hillsides to more easily commute to the city center, in the valley.

20. Ease of Getting a Visa

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

Both Colombia and Ecuador have retirement (pension) visas with low-income requirements. In addition, both countries also have investor visas with lower investment thresholds than many other countries as well as several other visa options.

As an example, Ecuador’s retirement visa (9-I visa) requires a minimum retirement/pension income of $800 per month. The Ecuador retirement visa fee is $500 plus an application fee of $50.

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 cheaper than in Ecuador.

Ecuador’s visas are more expensive than Colombian visas. Ecuador’s visas also require more paperwork like a criminal background check and reportedly can take much longer to get – a month or even longer.

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.

However, Ecuador’s visas are good for an indefinite time period, while most of Colombia’s Migrant visas are typically good for three years and must be renewed.

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.

View of Medellín at night from El Tesoro mall, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Medellín at night from El Tesoro mall, photo by Jenny Bojinova

View of Cuenca at night, photo by Gennaro

View of Cuenca at night, photo by Gennaro

The Bottom Line: Medellín vs Cuenca

In our Medellín vs Cuenca comparison:

  • Medellín wins in 13 of our 20 categories.
  • Cuenca wins in five of our 20 categories.
  • The two cities tie in two categories.

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

If having a lower cost of living, a warmer eternal spring climate, better healthcare and having good public transportation were your most important categories, then Medellín would win for you. And if avoiding traffic, avoiding pollution plus a cooler climate are your most important categories, then Cuenca would win for you.

I have met several expats in Medellín over the past year that moved to Medellín from Cuenca. The most common reasons I heard from these expats about why they moved to Medellín were: a better climate, lower cost of living, better hospitals, the good Medellín metro system, direct flights to the U.S., more shopping options and the repressive government in Ecuador.

Both of these cities in our Medellín vs Cuenca comparison have their pluses and minuses. I prefer living in Medellín due to it having a low cost of living, good healthcare, a good climate and good public transportation plus many non-stop flight options as well as being closer to the U.S.

The bottom line in our Medellín vs Cuenca 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 city is the best for you is to spend time there.

Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.

Editors note: updated on January 6, 2018 with the new 2018 Colombia minimum wage 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 in Medellín.