Article / November 27, 2020

Retiring Abroad in Colombia

Thinking about retiring abroad?

If you’re looking to lower your living expenses while experiencing a unique and enchanting location, Colombia might be the right choice for you. Let’s take a look at why so many retirees are venturing to Colombia to live out their golden years.

Panoramic view of Guatape from the Rock (La Piedra del Penol), near Medellin, Colombia.

Retiring Abroad in Colombia

There are as many as 60,000 Americans living in Colombia as expats, and for good reason. The general big-picture cultural take on Colombia is that it’s laid-back and friendly, and locals are generally warm and welcoming towards expats. Most people speak basic English, and are willing to make the extra effort to communicate.

In terms of buying and owning property, Colombia grants foreigners the same legal rights as natives. The Colombian government recognizes the importance of foreign investment, and anyone with sufficient funds and a valid passport can purchase property. This can also be an easy way of acquiring a residency visa.

In terms of retiring abroad, it’s also pretty easy to do. It’s easy to get a three-year renewable Colombian retirement visa as long as you can show a minimal guaranteed-for-life annual income of at least $750 via Social Security or $2,500 from a private pension or 401(k). The figure changes each year (usually in an upward direction), but it’s based on the metric of three times Colombia’s minimum wage.

If you remain a US citizen, you still have to file annual tax returns in the US, and you’ll need to pay taxes in Colombia as well, but by taking advantage of certain Colombian tax credits and exemptions, it’s easy to avoid double-paying on the same income.

The cost of living varies, of course, depending on location and lifestyle, but it’s possible to retire in Colombia for $1,000–$2,700 a month, depending on your appetite for luxuries.

This is largely thanks to the highly favorable exchange rate that has been heightened by the pandemic. Colombia’s currency is closely linked to the price of oil, the country’s primary export, so when the glut occurred in March, the USD-COP exchange rate shot up to a whopping COP 4,200 to the dollar – an increase of almost 33%. Although it has dropped slightly since then, anyone carrying dollars or euros still has some pretty hefty purchasing power.

USD to COP, historic

For reference, a meal at a nice restaurant might run you abut $10, and a cheap one (the ubiquitous menú del día, a daily special consisting of a soup, juice, a protein, a salad, a rice dish, and sometimes dessert) can be as little as $2. For most goods and services, prices are 50%-60% of what you might expect to pay in the US.

Editor’s Note: I’ve lived in Colombia for about a year and a half now and I’m still blown away by how cheap things are. Last week I ordered a large 3-topping piece from a local joint – easily enough for 4 people – a paid a grand total of $8 for it. You feel like a king.

A Top-Tier Healthcare System

It’s also worth noting that expats praise Colombia’s healthcare system for its quality and affordability. The WHO ranks Colombia healthcare 22 in the world, which is better than both the US (ranked 37) and Canada (ranked 30). Colombia’s national healthcare plan, the Entidades Promotoras de Salud, is available to any expat, with premiums averaging a very reasonable $75 per month.

If you’re looking for a more extensive plan, private options are available for a fraction of their US cost. Inpatient and outpatient surgeries are widely available, and Colombia is home to some of the highest-rated hospitals on the continent. Not only that, but many medications that require a prescription in the US are available over-the-counter in Colombia for a very low price.

For those considering retiring abroad, if you’re looking for a top-tier healthcare system that won’t cost an arm and a leg, Colombia has you covered. Many expats choose to retire in Colombia for that reason alone.

Something for Everyone

Colombia has no shortage of cultural and topographical profiles. If you want hot and steamy (weather or otherwise), Caribbean coastal cities such as Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta are lovely options. More temperate climates (think spring-like conditions year-round), then the lush mountains in the “coffee triangle” with cities such as Pereira, Manizales, and Armenia might be for you, or perhaps another mountain city such as Medellín. Here are some of the most preferred options.

Bogotá: If you like the big-city life, then the capital might be for you. With its population of nearly 7.5 million, Bogotá is a thriving metropolis, located in the center of the country. On a high plateau at an elevation of 8,600 feet, some find it a bit colder both culturally and climatically relative to many other places in Colombia, and as a major city it’s also more expensive.

Medellín: Colombia’s second-largest city (population around 3 million, elevation 5,000 feet) is quite a contrast from Bogotá, warmer both in weather (year-round highs in the 80s F and nighttime lows in the 60s F) and friendlier for a city of its size. Expat-favored areas include Laureles (an arts district), El Poblado (a night-life hotspot), and the beautiful hillsides of El Retiro, outside the city, where several of Farmfolio’s team members are based.

Rionegro: If you want a smaller place but like the region where Medellín is located, Rionegro is worth exploring. It offers less hustle and bustle with its population of 128,000 but is only a 45-minute drive from Medellín. Its higher elevation of 7,000 feet also makes it cooler temperature-wise with year-round daytime highs in the mid-70s F and evening lows down to 50 F.

Salento: Maybe you want a tranquil smaller-town kind of life. In that case you might want to check out a place like Salento in the “coffee triangle” area. With a population of only 8,000 and a temperate climate (elevation 6,200 feet) there’s a mix of urban and rural living here that’s hard to achieve elsewhere. Charming and quaint, it is a frequent tourist destination with an established international community.

Mid-sized cities of the coffee triangle include Manizales (population 435,000, elevation 7,000 feet) and Pereira (population 470,000, elevation 4,600 feet). They offer all the amenities of somewhat larger city, cooler temperatures, and of course fantastic coffee.

Of course, if you’re looking for hotter temperatures and don’t mind a ton of tourists, Colombia’s Caribbean coast has cities like Cartagena (population of near one million), Barranquila (population 1.2 million), and Santa Marta (population 500,000). Santa Marta has the distinction of being the oldest city in Colombia (founded in 1525 by Spanish settlers and conquistadors) and is considered the second-oldest city in all of South America.

Colombia’s cheap cost of living, excellent healthcare system, and variety of beautiful locales have attracted tens of thousands of retirees from all over the world. if you’re looking for a welcoming, culturally rich, naturally spectacular place to retire, give Colombia some serious thought.

Read more from Farmfolio. 

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