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A Guide To The Pros And Cons Of Expat Life In Medellín

Medellín: A Modern-Day Cinderella Story

With our virtual event on Colombia coming up soon, I’ve been thinking back on good memories of this wonderful country…

Again this week I refer to Wendy Howarter’s recent Overseas Living Letter issue on her adopted home town of Medellín…

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I am still surprised by the reactions I get when I tell people I live in Medellín, Colombia. A few years ago, my friends and family expressed fear, concern, and disbelief. Today I hear admiration, curiosity, and even a little envy.

Medellín has come a long way in a short amount of time. No other city has graduated from the most dangerous in the world to one of the most highly acclaimed in so few years.

The second largest city in Colombia, Medellín was founded in 1616 by a Spaniard named Francisco Herrera Campuzano who constructed a small indigenous village (“poblado” in Spanish) in the area now known as El Poblado.

In 1810, Colombia won its independence from Spain, but Spain didn’t officially recognize this until 1819. Meanwhile, the city became the capital of the Republic of Gran Colombia (including what is now Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama) in 1826.

Throughout the 19th century, Medellín was recognized as a dynamic commercial center mostly exporting gold. Soon it became famous for its coffee, which you may know from the country’s native son, Juan Valdez.

Family Friendly

Colombians treasure and respect their families. Most activities and living spaces are designed for families to spend time together. Colombian children are generally well behaved.

In the Medellín area you’ll find high-quality international schools, many children’s activities such as the zoo, kids’ events at local malls like go-carts, bouncy parks, ice skating, and lights at Christmastime, and the botanical gardens.

It’s also an especially pet-friendly city (though leash laws are enforced). You’ll find public parks where dogs can run and play, excellent and inexpensive veterinarian services and grooming facilities, dog walking services, dog washers who come to your home, and more.

Shopping malls and restaurants usually welcome dogs, especially those with open air dining. Most apartment complexes have dog-walk areas within the secured grounds, and overall, pet owners are responsible and clean up after their pets. You won’t see stray animals in the streets in the city.

Convenient And Accessible

Medellín’s international airport offers non-stop passenger flights to 23 destinations in 7 countries, including Madrid, Spain, along with Miami, Orlando, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and New York.

Once you get here, you don’t need a car. After living here for more than five years I definitely don’t want one. There are many easy, inexpensive, and safe options for getting around to choose from, depending on your needs and budget.

Medellín has the only Metro system in Colombia, which includes timely trains, light-rail Tranvía (similar to San Francisco’s cable cars), Metrocable cars suspended high above the valley, outdoor escalators traversing the mountainsides, and numerous bus lines. The average cost to ride is 2,875 Colombian pesos (about 88 cents). This is the cleanest, best-maintained transport system I have ever used.

It’s difficult to narrow Medellín’s list of positives, but here’s a start:

  • Friendly—both locals and expats…
  • Low real estate prices (but increasing yearly)…
  • Colombian culture: the paisa traditions, music, and dance, plus many holidays…
  • Lifestyle options: join an expat group, live like a local, or a combination…
  • Arts and entertainment: museums, theaters, symphonies, cinemas, etc….
  • Dining: from Colombian típico restaurants to molecular gastronomy and everything in between…
  • Shopping: small tiendas to big box stores and huge shopping malls…
  • Modern grocery stores similar to Whole Foods or farmers’ markets for the freshest choices…
  • Transportation—the best in Colombia…
  • Overall cost of living: extremely reasonable, even in the most expensive areas…

On the other hand, here are some challenges to consider:

  • Governmental issues, including residency visa requirements, taxes, and setting up utilities…
  • Language: Spanish is the official language, but there’s more English every year. A basic understanding of Spanish will improve your lifestyle…
  • Pollution: Because the city is located in a valley, air pollution can be an issue. The leaders are addressing the problem but need to do more…
  • Noise: Loud music and noisy trucks and buses can be irritating…
  • Traffic: With millions of people, the traffic can be bad. Again, the city is addressing the problem, but with Medellín’s geography, traffic can be difficult…
  • Construction: Both a pro and a con—building means growth, but it also means noise, dust, and inconvenience…

Is Medellín The Place For You?

Only you can answer this question, but Medellín will check your boxes if you:

  • Appreciate modern conveniences and state-of-the-art infrastructure, especially in the medical arena…
  • Enjoy big-city living and all the amenities that come with it, and you can tolerate noise and traffic…
  • Like to interact with friendly locals and you’re willing to learn some Spanish if you don’t already know it…
  • Are comfortable with a small but tight-knit expat community…
  • Have patience and a sense of humor…
  • Enjoy a variety of foods at reasonable prices…
  • Prefer temperate weather year-round, without extreme conditions…
  • Appreciate a clean, green, walkable living environment…

Medellín is not for you if you:

  • Want a small-town or Spanish-colonial atmosphere, although each barrio has a small-town feel within the bigger city of Medellín…
  • Hate high-rise living (although other options exist for your consideration)…
  • Refuse to learn Spanish…
  • Are easily frustrated especially when people don’t follow through…
  • Need four distinct seasons…
  • Hate city traffic and noise…

Medellín offers an easy transition for your overseas adventure. Here you’ll find a first-world city, with every modern convenience you require and expect, and a distinctly different and friendly culture in a South American location only three hours from the States.

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If you’d like a chance to hear more about the sophisticated charm of Medellín—while also learning about other top lifestyle and investment opportunities around Colombia—your best chance to do it this year is just around the corner…

If you’re not already on the list to join us online this June 10–12 for our Live and Invest in Colombia Virtual Conference, it’s not too late. We still have a number of places left…

Our mission as always is for you to come away from this event knowing if Colombia is right for you… and whether you’d be happy living or investing here.

And should you fall under its spell, you’ll have all of the information and local contacts necessary to help you follow through on your own plans.

The good news with Colombia is you’re not too early (the path has been paved and help is available to guide you through your move). Nor are you too late. The exchange rate here is still very much in your favor.

All that’s left is for you to explore it for yourself…

Kat Kalashian

Posted in Live And Invest Overseas Confidential.