- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Colombia Guide (PDF)
If expats contemplating a move to Colombia can look beyond the country's documented troubles, they'll find an unspoilt land with a friendly and curious local population. Colombia is a geographically diverse country. Foreigners are constantly in awe of its scenic beauty, from vast mountain ranges to green prairies and lush rainforests. Most foreigners living in Colombia are based in the capital, Bogotá, but expats should be able to find a community of expats in most Colombian cities.
Living in Colombia as an expat
One of the major considerations of living in Colombia is safety concerns. While the government has done a lot to tackle drug trafficking, the issues associated with it are still rife. Muggings, burglary and credit card fraud are common crimes. These issues have caused Colombia's popularity as an expat destination to lag behind other South American destinations such as Brazil and Argentina. That said, its expat population is nonetheless steadily growing.
Many young expats come to Colombia to work as English teachers and spend a few years exploring South America. Other thriving industries include construction, medicine, and oil and gas. Having at least a basic knowledge of Spanish will not only be advantageous in the workplace but also help in interacting with the local population.
Accommodation can be found to suit almost every budget in Colombia, though expats generally opt for a fairly small selection of middle- to upper-class neighbourhoods that offer security and proximity to public transport, grocery and department stores, and restaurants.
Cost of living in Colombia
The cost of living in Colombia is low compared to North America or Europe. Bogotá, Colombia's capital, is much more affordable to live in compared to other major South American cities including Buenos Aires, São Paulo and Montevideo. While the cost of school tuition can be high, especially at private and international schools, expats will find that private healthcare is reasonably priced. These expensive elements of expat life in Colombia are also offset by low taxes.
Expat families and children
Colombia is becoming more and more popular with families, as expats are realising it's not the drug-infested, crime-riddled country that it's made out to be in films and media. There is plenty to do here for families, from adventure-filled holidays to kid-friendly parks, museums and restaurants in the major cities. Schools are also of a good standard, and those parents who'd like for their children to keep studying in the curriculum of their home countries will be pleased to learn that there are several excellent international schools in Bogotá and Medellín.
Climate in Colombia
Expats thinking of a move to Colombia can look forward to a great general climate, which is mostly tropical but has many variations within its diverse natural regions. Colombia’s tropical forests, deserts, savannahs, steppes and alpine zones each bring their own unique set of conditions. May to November is the wettest time of year throughout the country, while December to April is the dry season.
Relocating to Colombia will be an exciting step full of new opportunities, even for the most seasoned expat. While some extra safety precautions will be necessary, new arrivals should rest assured that the warm hospitality offered by the Colombian people will ensure that they settle in easily.
Population: Around 51 million
Capital city: Bogotá
Other major cities: Cartagena, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla
Neighbouring countries: Colombia is bordered by Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.
Geography: Colombia forms part of a region known for earthquakes and volcanic activity. The Andes mountain range dominates the country and most of the urban centres are set in the mountains. There are large coastal areas and deserts along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, as well as vast areas of Amazonian jungle, shared with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Colombia also has a few remote islands near Nicaragua.
Major religions: Roman Catholicism and other denominations of Christianity
Political system: Multi-party democracy
Main language: Spanish
Money: Colombian Peso (COP)
Tipping: Tipping is common for foreigners, but locals rarely tip. Tipping in a restaurant is usually 10 percent of the bill. Some restaurants automatically add a service charge.
Electricity: 110V, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade attachment plugs and three-pin (two flat blades with round grounding pin) plugs are used.
Internet domain: .co
International dialling code: +57
Emergency contacts: 123 (medical, fire and emergencies), 112 (local police)
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side. Public transport includes minibus taxis, metered taxis and buses. Taxis are easy, safe and relatively cheap. Ride-hailing services are becoming increasingly popular in major cities. Getting a drivers' licence will often include a series of tests and a large amount of paperwork. Contact the local Colombian consulate before departure to jumpstart the process and avoid drawn-out complications.
"For advice to new expat arrivals, I would say to have an open mind. I would also immediately get to work on learning Spanish if you don’t know it already, as you’ll be able to have much better interactions with locals with it. Finally, be patient and flexible. You will almost certainly want to pull your hair out at times, but remember the warm weather, take a look at the city, and remember why you were drawn here." Check out the rest of American expat Adam's interview with Expat Arrivals here.
"Put aside all your preconceived notions of Medellín and Colombia! The Medellín of today is a far cry from the narco-terroristic days of the '70s and '80s. The people of Medellín are very proud of the strides this city has made in the past two decades to lower the crime rate, raise the standard of living in the poorest neighbourhoods, create new opportunities for all citizens, and create a culture of peace. The advice we’d give new expats is to open your hearts and minds to a different culture, a different pace, and a different way of doing things than you might be used to back home." Americans John and Susan tell of their Colombian expat experience in their interview with Expat Arrivals.
"I found living in Bogotá so much cheaper than living in my home country. Groceries from a local tienda were so much cheaper which meant my weekly grocery bill was considerably smaller than that in my home country." Read Taryn's experiences as an expat in Colombia.
Are you an expat living in Colombia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Colombia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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