Colombia’s Low Cost Of Living

By on May 12, 2011 Print

Time and time again, we at ColombiaBeat are asked, “How much does it cost to live in Colombia?”  The brief answer, as you probably expected, is “Much, much less than in the US and Europe,” but read on for more details.

  • Air travel:  Domestic flights within Colombia are bargains.  Aires is the most popular budget carrier within Colombia, though RyanAir will be entering the market in the near future.  Flights between the larger cities can be found for as little as $50.
  • Alcohol:  We hope alcohol does not consume a significant portion of your budget but even if it does, rest easy — Colombian liquor prices are very reasonable.  Beer runs about 80 cents a can in supermarkets, $1 to $1.75 in typical bars.  Rum and aguardiente prices are generally purchased in 1/2 bottles, or medias, which cost about $12 in bars, half that in supermarkets and liquor stores.
  • Apartments: Housing prices are much, much lower than in the US.  While it is difficult to generalize, a two bedroom apartment in a middle class neighborhood in Medellin would generally cost no more than $300 a month.  A similar apartment in the more exclusive neighborhood of Poblado might cost $800 a month.  Prices are similar in Bogota, slightly less in Cali, slightly more in Cartagena.
  • Bus travel:  Bus travel costs roughly $2.50 an hour.  For example, if you’re traveling from Medellin to Cali, the trip takes about 10 hours and runs about $25.  The buses are modern (no chicken buses here) and generally boast televisions and bathrooms.
  • Cars: The most inexpensive new cars in Colombia cost approximately $15,000.  Automobiles are heavily taxed in Colombia and for that reason most people opt for manual transmissions and do without air conditioning, which is not needed in Medellin or Bogota but will be missed in Cali and Cartagena.
  • Cell phones:  Cell phones can be found for as little as $20 though the latest iPhones are also available.  Colombian SIM cards cost about $3 and may be purchased virtually anywhere and installed immediately.  Outgoing minutes cost from ten to twenty cents; incoming calls are free.  If you require more information, please see our article specifically devoted to Colombian cell phone prices.
  • Clothes:  Colombia produces a great deal of textiles and clothing locally, and women all over Latin America regard Colombian lingerie to be the best in the world.  Clothing prices are much lower than in the US, probably less than half the price one would find in clothing and department stores in the US.  Note, however, that popular US brands such as Levi’s and Nike tend to cost more in Colombia than in the US.
  • Food:  Meals in restaurants can be expected to cost approximately $4 including soup and beverage, less for breakfast and in more modest restaurants.  While prices at the most expensive restaurants are, well, expensive, mid-range restaurants generally cost less than in the US, with impressive dinners costing no more than $15.  Supermarket prices for fresh meat and produce run about 1/2 to 2/3 of US prices; canned and frozen foods are not particularly popular in Colombia and tend to cost slightly more than in the US.
  • Gasoline:  Gasoline costs about $4.50 a gallon as of May 2011 and in general are slightly more than in the US.
  • Hotels:  If you stay at a US chain such as Marriott or Holiday Inn Express in Colombia, you can expect to pay what you would pay in the US.  However, if you are willing to stay in locally owned hotels, which are much more common, accommodations with cable television, private bath, hot water — all the amenities one would expect — are easily found for $25 and less.
  • McDonald’s:  US fast food changes are rare in Colombia.  In all of Medellin, for example, there are five McDonald’s restaurants.  Their lack of popularity likely stems in part from their prices:  a Big Mac Combo or Quarter Pounder Combo will set you back $6.50.  Burger King prices are similar.
  • Medical care:  We address Colombian health care costs in a separate article.  In a nutshell, such costs are dramatically less than in the States, perhaps one-fourth for routine care.
  • Pharmaceutical drugs:  Pharmacies seldom require prescriptions, and many items that are restricted in the US and Europe may be obtained over the counter in Colombia at very reasonable rates.  Antibiotics cost about $1, Viagra about $1.50, and many specialized drugs such as painkillers and cholesterol medication are freely available.
  • Pizza:  The most popular style of pizza in Colombia is Hawaiian, that is, topped with ham and pineapple.  That should tell you something right there.  While pizza restaurants and delivery places (a domicilio in Spanish) are common, we have encountered no gringo fans of Colombian style pizza.  Our recommendation, though we are chagrined to admit it, is to stick to Domino’s pizza delivered to your home, a relatively popular choice in Colombia.  A large two topping costs about $14 delivered, but you almost always receive a coupon with your order that allows you to order your next for only $9.
  • Taxis:  Most expats in Colombia do not own cars because taxis and public transportation are so inexpensive.  The charge to “pull the flag” when you enter the taxi currently stands at $2.25 but it is difficult to run up a fare of more than $5 unless you’re on a serious trek.  Also, while in some countries such as Costa Rica the fares from one taxi to the next can vary wildly due to doctored meters, that is not the case in Colombia.  Fares are remarkably consistent, and tipping is not expected.
  • Utilities:  Colombia grades its neighborhoods according to strata, or economic level.  The poorest neighborhoods are strata 1, the wealthiest strata 6.  Utility prices at the highest strata are similar to prices in the US because it is assumed the residents of such neighborhoods possess sufficient financial wherewithal, while those at the lowest strata fall to perhaps one-fourth typical US rates.  Interestingly, Colombia cuts some slack to its poorest citizens in this context but pragmatically.  The most disadvantaged  barrios frequently requirement pre-payment for electricity, with the meters dispensing electricity only after they are fed a 2000 peso pre-payment card.

Please let us know at max@colombiabeat.com if there are any other costs you’d like addressed.

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