Colombia is a culturally rich country, boasting a diverse landscape and incredible scenic beauty. Although its past reputation has dissuaded many foreigners from journeying to its shores, Colombia is beginning to be noticed as a potential expat destination with much to offer.
As with any country, life in Colombia has its ups and downs. We've put together a list of pros and cons about life in Colombia, so expats will know what to expect when landing in this South American country.
Accommodation in Colombia
+ PRO: Rentals are affordable
No matter where expats choose to live in Colombia, they'll discover that accommodation is extremely affordable. While certain areas are cheaper than others, most expats live in apartment complexes with good security. Many of these complexes also have amenities such as pools and gyms. On the other hand, those wanting to live in houses will discover that they are a lot more expensive and tend to be situated further from the city centre.
- CON: Not speaking Spanish may make securing a property difficult
Many landlords in Colombia don't speak English, so expats who don't have a good command of Spanish should either enlist the help of a Spanish-speaking friend or use a real estate agent to find and negotiate a rental. Unscrupulous landlords are also more likely to try to overcharge or scam an English speaker.
Cost of living in Colombia
+ PRO: Affordable cost of living
Colombia offers expats a Western lifestyle at a fraction of the cost. Along with everyday prices being generally lower than in other major South American cities, low taxes and many first-world amenities contribute to Colombia's allure. While foreign goods come at a high price, local goods and produce are cheap, and accommodation, public transport and healthcare are also affordable.
- CON: Local salaries are generally low
If working for a local company, expats shouldn't expect to make big money. Despite this, due to the country's low cost of living, even those earning the local peso will still have access to the high quality of life in Colombia. Expats earning foreign currency, on the other hand, will enjoy even greater purchasing power and a more lavish lifestyle.
Lifestyle in Colombia
+ PRO: Access to a range of activities
Colombia is geographically varied, with various areas to explore and many things to do. From hiking Colombia's great mountains and kayaking in the Amazon to diving in the Caribbean and whale watching in the Pacific, there are endless opportunities to venture off the beaten track.
+ PRO: Easy travel around Latin America
Colombia is an excellent base from which one can take trips around the rest of South America and farther north to Panama, Mexico and the Caribbean. Flights are cheap, but other than in Bogotá, Colombian airports can be relatively small, and flights may not be direct.
+ PRO: The local people are friendly
Colombians are incredibly friendly and welcoming and will go out of their way to assist any newcomers. Expats may find themselves questioned by curious locals as to why they've chosen to live in Colombia. And, although Colombians are proud of their country, they are more than happy to share its natural and cultural splendour. Expats should find themselves with plenty of local friends in Colombia before long.
- CON: English is not widely spoken
Expats wanting to integrate and stay in Colombia long term will need to learn to speak Spanish. The average Colombian doesn't speak much English, especially outside the major cities. Even expats who speak Spanish fluently may struggle to understand different regional meanings, vocabulary and slang, particularly that of the Caribbean coast.
- CON: Muggings and burglaries do occur
Although safety has improved significantly in recent years, opportunistic crimes such as pickpocketing, muggings and robberies occur. Expats should be vigilant and take the necessary precautions to secure their personal safety.
Food in Colombia
+ PRO: Delicious local cuisine
Colombian food is highly diverse, with each region having its own traditional dishes. It can be described as a blend of indigenous and Western tastes, with a strong Afro-Caribbean influence. Dishes generally consist of meat or seafood coated in delicious sauces, featuring a range of vegetables and starches. The country is also known for its exotic fruits grown in Colombia's fertile soil.
- CON: Grocery shopping can be expensive
Although buying local produce and shopping at markets, butchers and stalls will significantly reduce the cost of groceries, many products must be imported and are therefore expensive. Shopping at a large grocery store, such as Éxito or Jumbo, will mean better selection, but costs will be higher.
Healthcare in Colombia
+ PRO: There is affordable, world-class healthcare
Healthcare in Colombia is of an extremely high standard and affordable. It has ranked 22nd out of 191 countries, beating both Canada and the US, in the 2021 World Health Organization's health system review. Colombia also houses 20 of the 49 best hospitals in Latin America. Expats can therefore expect excellent care at an affordable price while living in the country.
- CON: Health hazards
Mosquito-borne viral diseases pose a significant threat in Colombia. These include yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya, and malaria is also a problem in some regions of Colombia. Expats should take all the necessary precautions and research the prevalence of such diseases in certain areas before travelling.
Education in Colombia
+ PRO: Colombia has good schools
While the standards of education at public schools can vary, private and international schools are generally of a high standard and are popular choices among the expat population. Many private schools are bilingual or entirely international, teaching a foreign curriculum in a foreign language. Most cities also have a number of international schools, but most of these are situated in Bogotá.
- CON: Education can be expensive
Most expats send their children to private or international schools in Colombia, which offer a good education but at a very high cost. Tuition at these schools is on par with international schools in Europe. Expats earning local salaries may therefore struggle to afford these prices.
Getting around in Colombia
+ PRO: Colombia has an extensive and affordable bus system
Buses are the best option when it comes to public transport in Colombia. The country is well connected by its bus network, and tickets are cheap. There are plenty of bus stations and dedicated bus lanes, and many cities have a rapid-transit system. Intercity buses are affordable and are generally more comfortable than inner-city buses.
+ PRO: Cities and towns can be navigated on foot
Colombia is highly walkable and was designed as such. Only one in five people in the country own a car, and each city and town was designed so that, no matter where a person lives, everything they need is within a walkable distance from their home.
- CON: A lot of motorcycles on the road
One of the biggest cons of Colombia mentioned by expats and locals alike is that motorbikes are everywhere and constantly flout the rules of the road. While they're dangerous to other vehicles, pedestrians should also stay vigilant to avoid being knocked down.
- CON: There is terrible traffic in the cities
Traffic in the large Colombian metros can be headache-inducing and challenging to navigate. Pedestrians should also take care as they rarely have the right of way when crossing a street. They will generally have to take a chance and run across the intersection when they see a gap. Walkways and traffic lights for pedestrians are scarce.
Working in Colombia
+ PRO: English teaching jobs are plentiful
Due to the high demand for native English speakers to teach the local population, English-speaking expats will not struggle to secure a teaching job in Colombia. Teachers can work in government-sponsored programmes and language schools or give private lessons.
- CON: Getting a visa can be tricky and tedious
Due to layers of bureaucracy, getting a visa for Colombia is a lengthy and frustrating process. Securing employment can also be difficult, as companies must submit a document detailing the employment offer. They'll also have to explain why they aren't hiring a Colombian for the position. Many small companies will be unwilling to go through the hassle of hiring a foreigner or sponsoring their visa.