Why Medellín? This is a question I have received countless times since I started living in Medellín over seven years ago. I have been asked “ Why Medellín?” by many friends, family and coworkers in the U.S. In addition, I have been asked “ Why Medellín?” by many tourists visiting and considering living in the city.
Medellín still has a bad reputation to overcome from the days of Pablo Escobar, but Pablo is long gone. However, when the average American hears “Medellín” thoughts tend to turn towards the scenes in the popular Narcos series – drugs and widespread violence and Pablo Escobar.
Once you start living in Medellín, you come to realize that the current reality in the city is very far removed from the time of Escobar and the violence depicted in the Narcos series. The city has achieved a remarkable turnaround since the time of Escobar, who died over 23 years ago.
So, I decided to put this list together to answer the question “ Why Medellín ?” I have traveled to over 40 countries and have yet to find another place to live I like better than Medellín.
The following is a list of 27 reasons why I chose Medellín and continue to live in Medellín. Note these reasons are in no particular order. Also the above photo is of El Poblado taken from Pueblito Paisa.
The climate in Medellín is one of the main benefits of living in Medellín. Medellín is even known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera”, the city of eternal spring. The climate was one of the main things that originally attracted me to Medellín.
Medellín has a comfortable climate that is consistent year-round due to being located at a high elevation of about 4,900 feet and also being near the equator. The city’s average annual temperature is 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). The average temperature in the city typically only varies by about 1 °F during the year. During an average day in the city the temperature typically ranges from 63.2 to 82.1 °F (17.4 to 27.8 °C).
The climate makes it possible to live without air-conditioning or heating, which I have done for over seven years. And I am now spoiled by the climate and dislike going places with cold temperatures and snow or hot temperatures.
2. Cost of Living
The relatively low Medellín cost of living is another of the main reasons I started living in the city after I discovered it over seven years ago. In the past year, our cost of living for a couple has averaged less than $2,100 per month and we live in a nice apartment.
Many expats living in Medellín I have met have a budget of less than $2,100 per month. In addition, I have met several single expats that have lower budgets, some even with budgets of less than $1,000 per month, typically living in shared apartments. But other expats I have met have budgets of over $3,000 per month and some over $4,000 per month. There is a wide range of monthly budgets for expats living in Medellín.
We recently renewed our apartment lease for another year for less than $425 per month. This is for an apartment with:
- Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, about 110 square meters (1,184 square feet)
- Kitchen with granite countertops, oven, and gas cooktop
- Gas water heater (tankless)
- Upper floor in a high-rise building, with two large balconies
- Pool, sauna and small gym in building
- 24×7 security
- Estrato 4 neighborhood in Sabaneta
3. Good and Inexpensive Medical Care
Medellín has seven of the top 49 hospitals in Latin America, according to a study in 2017 by América Economia. About 41 percent of the best hospitals in Latin America are found in Colombia. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia’s health system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked. This is ahead of the U.S. (#37), Canada (#30), Germany (#25) and Australia (#32).
In Medellín it is possible to have access to world-class healthcare at a fraction of the cost compared to healthcare costs in North America or Europe. Costs for healthcare in Colombia can be significantly lower than the costs found in the U.S. It’s possible to find costs that are from 50 percent to even over 70 percent less expensive. Medical insurance is also relatively inexpensive in Colombia in comparison to the U.S. and Europe.
4. Good Metro and Inexpensive Public Transportation
Medellín has a modern metro system, which is the only rail-based metro system in Colombia. The Medellín Metro is a comprehensive and inexpensive system. 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 addition to the Metro, Medellín has extensive bus routes in the city with inexpensive fares as well as very inexpensive taxis. So, it is quite possible to live without a car in Medellín. I have lived without a car in the city for over seven years. And the majority of expats living in the city (reportedly over 80%) do not have a car.
5. Close to the U.S.
If you need to travel to the U.S. for work or to see family/friends, this is much easier and cheaper to do from Colombia than from other countries in South America like Brazil, Argentina and Chile. And it is much less expensive than traveling from Europe or Asia. There are several direct flights daily to the U.S. from Medellín. Furthermore, it’s only about a three-hour flight to Florida.
6. Not Overrun with Expats
Medellín is still an emerging market for expats. You won’t yet find expat retirement compounds in Medellín or in other cities in Colombia like you can find in some places like Panama or Mexico. In addition, there likely is only a few thousand expats currently living in Medellín. However, some may view not having a large expat community as a downside.
In Medellín, if you live outside of El Poblado you will rarely see expats. For example, I have lived in Sabaneta for over two years and have met less than 10 expats living nearby and rarely hear English being spoken.
7. Visas are Easy to Get
Colombia has over 15 different visa options. And in my experience, it isn’t very difficult, time consuming or expensive to get a Colombian visa. For example, the retirement visa (TP-7) currently requires a retirement income of about $750 USD and the visa costs $263. And there aren’t many documents required and visa applications are done online. I have received three Colombian visas that I applied for myself. I found that each visa was straightforward and easy to get.
Colombia is changing it’s Colombian visa rules in December 2017, which is a significant change that adds more categories.
8. Same Time Zone as the U.S.
This is a big benefit if you need to talk to people in the U.S. compared to living in Asia or Europe. Colombia is the same time zone as EST or CST in the U.S., depending on the time of the year. And Colombia doesn’t do daylight savings.
9. Stable Economy and Government in Colombia
Colombia has been experiencing solid growth over the past several years that has been faster than the average in Latin America. Compare this to the more challenged economies in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.
Colombia has maintained strong economic fundamentals, including openness to global trade and finance. The relatively sound economic policies in Colombia have contributed to GDP growth averaging over 4.0 percent annually over the past ten years. In the past 55 years, Colombia’s GDP has contracted only once, in 1999.
In addition, Colombia is Latin America’s oldest and most stable democracy. For more than a century, the country has experienced peaceful changes of government every four years.
10. Diversity of Colombia
Colombia is the second most bio-diverse country in the world, after Brazil. Colombia has a diversity ranging from snow-capped mountains to beaches, thick jungles to vast plains, small pueblos to bustling cities. Also Colombia is the only South American country bordered by two oceans. I have traveled throughout the country over the past 10+ years and many of the landscapes in Colombia are breathtaking.
11. Friendly and Welcoming People
In my experience in over seven years living in Medellín, if you make the effort, and take the time, Paisas and Colombians are generally friendly and welcoming. In many cases they will go out of their way to help you and make you feel welcome in their country. Paisas are proud of Medellín and Colombians are proud of their country.
12. Reliable and Inexpensive Infrastructure
The utilities (electricity, water and gas) and triple play services (Internet, TV and phone) in Medellín have been very reliable in my experience over the past seven years. During this time, I only experienced three Internet outages with Claro and these were each resolved within an hour after calling the company. We currently have 10 Mbps Internet services but speeds of up to 100 Mbps are available.
In addition, I only experienced three power outages in over seven years. And one of these outages I was informed about by the provider EPM beforehand, which was due to maintenance.
With no need for air-conditioning or heating our utility costs are low. Our utility costs (electricity, water and gas) have averaged only 141,417 pesos ($46) per month over the past six months. And our triple play services (Internet, TV and phone) from Claro with 10 Mbps Internet and several hundred TV channels for two TVs costs only 178,311 pesos ($58) per month.
13. More Holidays than in the U.S.
Colombia has more public holidays than in the U.S. or countries in Europe. Colombia currently has 18 public holidays and 12 of these are Catholic holidays. Only two countries in the world have more public holidays – Sri Lanka and India – according to this. In addition, we have a detailed guide to Colombia holidays.
14. Family is Important
I have found that Colombians are very family-centric. Family is very important to Colombians – they celebrate holidays with large family gatherings. They are also able to depend on families when times get rough. From what I have seen it appears that in Colombia people tend to work to live and spend time with their family and friends. While in the U.S. they tend to live to work.
15. Music and Dance
In Medellín, it is possible to dance Salsa any night of the week. But in Colombia the music isn’t just about Salsa. The country has a rich music and dance culture with many other types including Bambuco, Champeta, Cumbia, Currulao, Mapalé and Vallenato. Colombia is culturally rich and a diverse country, and its dance and music reflect this.
16. The Exotic Fruits of Colombia
Being the second most bio-diverse country in the world, there is a very wide variety of exotic fruits to be found in Colombia. Many of these you can’t find in the U.S. Since living in Medellín for over seven years, I have tried at least 30 exotic tropical fruits that I never found in the U.S.
I particularly like the Cherimoya, which can be characterized with a flavor that is a blend of banana, papaya, peach, pineapple and strawberry. Mark Twain even called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men.” In addition, I like the Mangosteen that is a pretty unique sweet, tangy and juicy fruit. Unfortunately, Mangosteens can be difficult to find. Another favorite is the Pitahaya, aka dragonfruit, that tastes similar to a kiwi.
17. Football (aka “soccer”)
Watching football (fútbol) is a national pastime in Colombia. The Colombia national team is currently ranked fifth in the FIFA World Rankings. They had a good showing at 2014 World Cup making it into the quarter finals. It’s a national pastime watching games.
Going to a Medellín Atlético Nacional in Medellín is a memorable experience. I used to live in Estadio near the stadium and I have gone to several games over the past seven years.
18. Festivals, Festivals and More Festivals
There seems to be a festival somewhere in Colombia every week of the year. Medellín is best known for its Feria de las Flores (flower festival), Pasto is known for its Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (Carnival of Blacks and Whites), Barranquilla has its Carnival, Cali has its Feria de Cali and Manizales also has its Feria de Manizales.
There are well over 100 festivals in Colombia each year, so get ready to party. It doesn’t take much of an excuse for Colombians to have a party. Most of December each year in Colombia is full of parties.
19. You Can Drink the Water
In several of the bigger cities in Colombia like Medellín, Bogotá and Pereira the tap water is safe to drink. But I wouldn’t recommend drinking tap water in the coastal cities like Cartagena and Santa Marta. And while the water is safe in Medellín, I have met several expats living in Medellín that use water filters.
20. Colombians are Happy and Positive
In my experience, Colombians in general are happy and positive people. There have even been a number of global happiness surveys over the past few years and Colombia frequently ranks in the top three. And several times has been ranked number one. For example, here’s a survey from WIN/Gallup in 2015 where Colombia was ranked the happiest country in the world.
Colombians have been through much over the past 30 years. Now that the homicide rate has decreased dramatically, there is a peace agreement with the FARC, the Colombian economy is growing and tourism is booming, there is much to be happy about.
21. Low Cost Personal Services
Salaries are low in Colombia so having a housekeeper is much more affordable than in the U.S. I have meet several expats living in Medellín that have full-time housekeepers and some that have weekly cleaning help. Electricians, appliance repair people, plumbers and doctors that do house calls and other personal services are much cheaper than found in the U.S. or Europe.
22. Inexpensive Delivery (Domicilio) Services
Getting things delivered (domicilio) can be very inexpensive in Medellín. It typically costs only 1,000 to 3,000 pesos and sometimes is even free. Most restaurants and drug stores in Medellín offer home delivery services. You can also find many other types of places that offer delivery services including some grocery stores, laundry and dry cleaners, butchers, veterinarian services, doctors and many others.
23. Electronics and Many Other Things are Inexpensive
You can find many electronics in Colombia, such as computers, tablets, TVs and other electronics, for similar prices as in the U.S. In comparison, in Brazil electronics are very expensive. I have seen computers and cell phones in Brazil are about double the price as in the U.S. That is why when traveling to Brazil from Colombia I have seen Brazilians bringing electronics they bought in Colombia with them, as electronics are much cheaper in Colombia when compared to in Brazil.
In several other countries in Latin America electronics and many other products are quite a bit more expensive than in the U.S. and Colombia. Colombia has free trade agreements with several countries, which results in lower prices for imported items. Compare this to more protectionist countries like Brazil and Argentina.
24. An Innovative City
Medellín has a history of innovation. In 2013, Medellín was 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.
Medellín’s homicide rate also plunged nearly 80% from 1991 to 2010. The city built public libraries, parks, and schools in poor hillside neighborhoods and constructed a series of transportation links to its commercial and industrial centers.
In 2016, Medellín was also named the winner of the biennial Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize. Medellín was praised for its compelling story of a city that transformed itself from a notoriously violent city to one that is a model for urban innovation within a span of just two decades.
25. A Clean City
I have been to over 30 cities in Colombia and 10 other countries in Latin America. And Medellín is the cleanest city I have found so far in Latin America. I have observed workers in the city even scrubbing cement power poles. It is obvious that Paisas are proud of their city.
The metro system in Medellín is spotlessly clean. It’s cleaner than any metro system I have been on in other parts of the world. When my father visited recently he was surprised when I told him the Medellín metro system was 20 years old. He said it looked new.
26. The Views in the City
Medellín is located in a valley and is surrounded by mountains. This provides for many spectacular views throughout the city.
Many apartments in the city have fantastic views in my experience. Two of the apartments I lived in had incredible views of the city and the mountains surrounding the city.
27. The Women
And last but not least, Medellín (and the rest of Colombia) has a reputation for having beautiful women. I have a beautiful Colombian wife who I met in Medellín over four years ago. But in my experience, it can take time to find a “keeper”.
The Bottom Line – Why Medellín?
To me, the best answer to “ Why Medellín?” is that there are many benefits of living in Medellín that greatly outweigh the downsides. I am happy I discovered Colombia over 10 years ago and moved to Medellín over seven years ago.
But there are also downsides to living in Medellín. These downsides include pollution and traffic in the city. We look at the downsides of living in Medellín on this site.
If you have additions to this list of reasons for “ Why Medellín ?” please include them in the comments.
Editors note: updated article on December 11, 2017 with new Colombian hospital rankings.