The Cost of Living in Colombia in 2022
A breakdown of the average cost of living in Colombia in 2022. From rental and food prices, to transportation and credit cards.
For the majority of expats, travellers and digital nomads with dreams of immigrating to Colombia, one of the main benefits is the low cost of living in Colombia. Despite recent global inflationary price increases, the cost of living in Colombia in 2022 is still remarkably low.
This low cost of living is especially true for those of us blessed to benefit from a favourable Dollar or Pound Sterling exchange rate against the Colombian Peso. As of August 31 2022, 1 USD is equal to 4,425.45 COP and 1 GBP is equivalent to 5,132.39 COP. These are some of the most favourable exchange rates we’ve ever seen, and they play a large factor in why Colombia is increasingly one of the world’s top destinations for expats, foreigners and digital nomads looking to live and work abroad.
The extra spending power one enjoys in Colombia aside, the cost of living in Colombia varies wildly based on the type and size of accommodation, location and the neighbourhood strata or ‘estrato’ - Colombia’s unique system of socioeconomic stratification by neighbourhood or area.
The cost of renting in Colombia
Here in Pereira in the ‘eje cafetero’ coffee region of Colombia, you can still find a simple but decent and spacious unfurnished apartment for less than 1 million COP per month ($225 USD) in a estrato 3 or 4 area. An even nicer unfurnished apartment in one of the many ‘conjunto cerrados’ ( private gated community) with the communal pools, gyms and play areas they usually provide, will put you into the 1-2 million COP per month range($225-450 USD) . In 2021 I lived in one of the largest and nicest conjunto cerrados in Pereira and I paid just 1.2 million COP per month ($265 USD) for a 3-bedroom unfurnished apartment. The conjunto had 24/7 security, a nice swimming pool, a gym, kids play areas and games rooms, a football pitch, a basketball court, a running track, a BBQ zone, a communal building and even a dog park. Outstanding value for money!
If you want to be in one of the more cosmopolitan expat hotspots of Medellin or Bogota, then a nice 3-bedroom unfurnished apartment in a decent estrato 3 or 4 area will set you back somewhere between 1.5 - 2.5 million COP ($335 - $560 USD). And for the ballers among you, the upscale El Poblado district of Medellin offers numerous luxury penthouses with price tags to rival those of Miami or New York. Furnished or unfurnished rental apartments in El Poblado, Medellin usually start around 4-5 million COP per month ($900 - $1200 USD) and then go up to, well, the skys the limit! I’ve seen fully furnished penthouse apartments recently renting for 17.6 million COP per month ($4,000 USD).
What is a Conjunto Cerrado in Colombia?
One of the great things about renting an apartment in Colombia is the prevalence of the aforementioned ‘conjunto cerrado’ - a gated residential community managed by a private company. The perks of living in a ‘conjunto cerrado’ are numerous, and for an expat or Digital Nomad who is new to Colombia I would highly recommend finding a decent one of these gated communities to live in. The benefits include 24/7 private security guards, plus communal facilities such as a swimming pool, kids play areas, gyms and some even have saunas and turkish baths.
I’ve lived in four different conjuntos since I moved to Colombia, and the premium you pay on the rental price is totally worth it for the extra security and facilities. Sometimes the conjunto will have some overbearing rules, but in general they are great places to live, especially for families with children. A conjunto cerrado will also usually provide much more peace and quite compared to the regular ‘barrios’, which as many expats and foreigners have discovered can often be the scenes of all night parties and blaring loud music. Most conjuntos list the apartments they have for rent on a noticeboard in the reception, so a great way of finding an apartment in a conjunto cerrado is to just walk around and visit a few in person. By visiting in person you can get a better feel for the place than just looking at photos online. Decide which you like best in terms of facilities, location etc and then check the noticeboard in reception or ask the security guards if they have a list of current properties for rent. Some of the best apartments are sometimes not listed online and this is a great way to find a place to live in Colombia.
The ‘Estrato’ System in Colombia
The strata system in Colombia is unique, and can be confusing for expats and foreigners who haven’t encountered such a system before. Colombian neighborhoods and properties are all designated a strata, or ‘estrato’, that ranges from 1-6. Estratos 1, 2 and 3 are generally considered the neighborhoods with the poorest socioeconomic status, and they receive subsidies on their water, gas and electricity utility bills. Estratos 5 and 6 are considered the most wealthy and they pay a premium on their bills which supposedly pays for the subsidies that the estrato 1 and 2 neighborhoods enjoy.
The idea is that those with greater wealth pay extra to help out the poorer communities. In theory it’s not a bad idea, but as a system it has several flaws. The main flaw is that the categorization of ‘estrato’ for many areas is outdated and does not reflect the true socioeconomic status of the residents. For example, there are areas in the center of Bogota that are ‘estrato’ 1 or 2, yet these properties house commercial Hotels that generate huge wealth. On the flip side, there are many people who managed to buy a property in an ‘estrato’ 5 or 6 neighborhood, only to have their financial circumstances change later. Those residents then have to continue paying a premium on their utility bills, even if they may in fact be far less financially capable compared to some residents of an estrato 1 or 2 neighborhood.
The Cost of Utility Bills in Colombia
Utility bills in Colombia in general are not expensive. For water, gas, electricity and local garbage collection you can expect to pay somewhere in the range of $180,000 COP to $510,000 COP per month ($40 USD to $115 USD) Source. This can vary depending on where you choose to live of course. If you decide to move to the Carribbean coast of Colombia or one of the hotter climate cities such as Cali, then you can expect to pay more for electricity due to the need for air conditioning. Climate is a big reason that many expats choose to make Medellin or cities like Pereira in the eje cafetero coffee region their home. These regions enjoy a temperate climate year round and this drastically reduces the need to spend energy on air conditioning.
The Cost of Internet and Cable TV in Colombia
Home internet, fixed phone lines and cable TV packages are also very inexpensive in Colombia. The main providers are Claro, Tigo and Movistar. The customer service of all three of these companies is notoriously bad, and depending on who you ask they will tell you different horror stories about each of them, but in general Claro is the provider with the largest coverage and probably the most reliable service. For a broadband home internet connection, fixed phone line and Cable TV package you’re looking at somewhere in the range of $100,000 - $300,000 COP ($22 - 65 USD) per month, depending on the internet speed and TV package that you choose. The coverage and speed available varies on area, so before you rent an apartment it’s worth checking on what internet providers have coverage, and at what speeds, in that area.
Where to Live in Colombia
You may assume that given the subsidized utility bills, that estrato 1 and 2 properties would be in greater demand in Colombia. But the subsidy they enjoy is generally quite small, and estrato 1 and 2 neighborhoods are usually the areas with the poorest quality buildings and higher rates of crime. So if you’re an expat or Digital Nomad looking for an apartment or house to rent in Colombia. I would recommend aiming for a property in an estrato 3 or above neighborhood of your chosen city. Ideally, you would want to rent in a ‘conjunto cerrado’ as these provide the best value for money in terms of security, facilities and the quality of the buildings. In a country known for seismic activity, it makes sense to ensure you’re living in a property built to resist earthquakes, and most of the properties in estrato 1 or 2 are not built to that standard.
Colombia is increasingly one of the world’s top destinations for expats, foreigners and digital nomads looking to live and work abroad.
Grocery Shopping and Food Prices in Colombia
After renting an apartment or house in Colombia, your next major expense is going to be groceries and eating out at restaurants. Food prices in Colombia have been increasing recently thanks to global inflation and rising oil prices, but Colombia still offers a wildly reduced cost of living in terms of food shopping compared to the US or Europe.
For our family of four, we spend on average around $800,000 COP per month ($180 USD) on groceries. My wife and I dine out at least once per week in upscale restaurants and the bill usually totals around $150,000 - $250,000 COP ($35 - $55 USD). However we are not big drinkers and rarely order alcoholic beverages, so for those of you that do enjoy a tipple you should expect to pay more.
Colombian Lunch - Traditional Colombian Foods
Lunchtime is a big deal in Colombia. Most working people receive a 2 hour break at lunchtime and the traditional lunch that most Colombians enjoy in the working class restaurants and cafeterias are known as ‘Almuerzo Ejecutivo’ (Executive Lunch) or simply ‘Menu del Dia’ (Menu of the Day). These lunches usually cost very little, somewhere between $6,000 COP and $20,000 COP ($1-5 USD) and will always consist of some type of soup as the starter ( Sancocho, Mondongo, Ajiaco and Caldo de Costilla are favorites ) and a main course that will always include white rice or potatoes, some form of protein such as chicken or meat, traditional beans or lentils, and either salad or some other form of vegetable, and a glass of home-made juice.
The traditional restaurants that serve these very inexpensive lunchtime meals keep their costs so low by having a very limited selection of options available, which change on a daily basis, hence ‘Menu of the Day’. In many of these working class restaurants they won’t have a menu to look at, they will simply ask you to choose from the small list of soups, meat and beans available that day. Usually there will be 2 or 3 options of each available to choose from, depending on the restaurant. Some of the smaller ones will only have 1 or 2 options to choose from and if you go late in the day it’s possible they have run out of some of the options.
This style of service can sometimes be confusing to expats and foreigners who are accustomed to restaurants having a large menu of different meals available all the time, but this is a cultural phenomenon in Colombia that has arisen as a byproduct of the poor economy. These traditional Colombian lunches are however very popular with foreigners due to their traditional home-cooked style and extremely inexpensive price. When I first arrived to Colombia in 2015 I would eat lunch almost every day in a traditional restaurant that charged just $4,500 COP for a full meal, just 1 US Dollar!
Colombia Transportation - The Costs and Recommendations
Once you have your housing, utilities and monthly food costs covered, you’re going to need to budget for local transportation costs in Colombia to get you from A to B when you’re exploring the country. In Colombia, transportation is extremely affordable and most foreigners live long-term using solely private transportation services such as Uber, InDriver, Didi and regular Yellow Taxis that you can flag down on the street.
Taxis and Rideshare Apps in Colombia
In Colombia a Yellow Taxi journey will have a minimum fare of just $5,000 COP ($1 USD), and for most journeys in the larger cities you can expect to spend anywhere between $8,000 COP and $25,000 COP ($1.80 - $5.50 USD), depending on the distance. Private rideshare apps like Uber, InDriver and Didi are technically illegal in Colombia but are still used daily by millions of people, and millions of local Colombians make their living from these private rideshare apps. These apps are popular because the prices they charge are generally lower than the Yellow Taxis and they usually provide a better service with cleaner interiors, newer models of cars and greater security.
In Colombia many Yellow Taxi drivers have gained a bad reputation for being rude, having bad and dangerous driving habits and for overcharging customers. There is a lot of controversy in Colombia around rideshare apps. The Yellow Taxi companies and Taxi Drivers Unions hold a lot of political and financial power and protests and strikes by Yellow Taxi drivers are common. So far the government has given the Yellow Taxi industry support by banning popular ride-hailing apps, but they continue to be used daily all over the country. You don’t face any legal risk by using a rideshare app as a customer however, the legal sanctions are for the drivers who earn a living on the apps. It’s very common when using a rideshare app to be asked to sit in the front seat, this is because lone back-seat passengers are a telling way for the authorities to spot an illegal rideshare driver. Cars suspected of operating illegally on rideshare apps will often be pulled over for questioning and drivers found to be operating on these apps can be fined and have their vehicle impounded.
Buses in Colombia
For inter-city transport, the cheapest and most commonly used option among locals is the national and regional networks of bus companies that offer inter-city transport services all over Colombia. These buses are very inexpensive, and many expats, tourists and backpackers on a budget in Colombia use them to get around and explore Colombia. A one-way ticket to travel from Pereira to Medellin (4-8 hour journey depending on the roadworks) by bus, costs just $60,000 COP ($13 USD), whereas a journey from Pereira to Cali by bus costs as little as $40,000 COP ($9 USD).
Personally I am not a big fan of the bus services in Colombia, they are often cramped and uncomfortable and the drivers usually drive extremely fast with little care or respect for basic road-safety rules. I’ve taken multiple bus trips all over Colombia, and whilst it’s a great option if you’re on a tight budget or are looking to explore some of the many small towns and pueblos that are only accessible by road, I would highly recommend hiring/buying a car, or using domestic flights, if you have that option available.
Domestic Flights in Colombia
In Colombia, domestic flights are very inexpensive. You can fly from Bogota to Medellin or Pereira for as little as $100,000 COP ($22 USD) per trajectory. The main budget airline for Colombia is Viva Air ( previously known as Viva Colombia ), but in my opinion Avianca, which is the premier airline for region, is often just as affordable and provides much better service. Viva Air attract customers with very low ticket price offers on their website and marketing. But once you begin the booking process to buy a ticket online you will find that the taxes, fees and baggage charges with Viva Air all start to add up and often the flight tickets with Viva Air are just as expensive as Avianca, if not more so. Viva Air also has a reputation for providing terrible customer service, although I’ve heard complaints about Avianca too, but in over 7 years of using Avianca I’ve never had a flight be delayed or cancelled.
Avianca in my experience have a much better online booking system and clearer pricing. Avianca is also a member of Star Alliance and Lifemiles so you can use your accumulated miles from your Credit Card purchases to help purchase tickets with Avianca. In 2021 I flew to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast of Colombia with my son completely for free, using only Lifemiles I had earned from grocery shopping with a Lifemiles card.
Buying a Car in Colombia
If you’re planning on establishing yourself in Colombia as an expat over the long-term, you may want to consider purchasing your own vehicle as a means of transport. Buying new and used cars in Colombia is one of the few things that are actually more expensive here than they are in Europe or the United States. Latin America is not a big producer of cars, so almost all of the vehicles sold here are manufactured abroad and imported to Colombia, which helps to inflate the prices of cars sold here.
Used cars in Colombia tend to depreciate in value far less quickly than they do in the UK, in my experience, and for this reason the used car market in Colombia is much more expensive than it is in the UK. In the UK, you can easily find a used car in good condition with less than 10 years on the road for £1,000 - £2,000 ($1150 - $2300 USD or $5-10 million COP). Whereas here in Colombia the market for good condition used cars under 10 years old starts at around $25-$30 million COP (£5,000 - £6,000 or $5500 - $6700 USD). If you’re in the market for a used car in Colombia, I would recommend you not entertain the purchase of any vehicles below the $30million COP mark. This is a good benchmark for a quality vehicle here in Colombia, those below that price tend to be in much worse condition and/or have many more miles on the clock.
Loans and Credit Cards in Colombia
Although used and new cars are more expensive here in Colombia, it is also much easier to obtain credit and financing for the purchase of a vehicle in Colombia. In my experience, obtaining credit in general is much easier in Colombia compared to the UK and a large percentage of Colombians purchase new vehicles using loans and credit financing options. For expats and foreigners however, it can often be a challenge to prove your earnings and establish a credit history in Colombia, which is necessary in order to access lines of credit.
The DataCredito System in Colombia
In Colombia the national credit rating database is known as ‘DataCredito’, this is where a record of your past and existing credit accounts are stored, along with your payment history and credit rating score which is based on your overall credit history profile. It’s not just bank accounts, loans and credit card accounts that are stored in the DataCredito system, but also details of your landline and mobile phone contracts, TV and internet accounts and other forms of contractual financial obligations.
Building a Credit Score in Colombia
If you’re looking to build your credit rating in the Colombian DataCredito system, the easiest way to begin your credit history in Colombia is by obtaining a ‘pospago’ (postpaid) mobile phone contract, plus home internet, Cable TV and fixed phone line contracts. It’s also important to open a savings account ‘Cuenta de Ahorros’ with a local Colombian bank and pay money into it on a regular basis. Bancolombia is generally the easiest bank for foreigners to open a savings account with, because they do not require a RUT ‘Registro Unico Tributario’ - a Colombian tax number - whereas other banks such as Davivienda and Colpatria do require for you to have a RUT. Once you obtain a bank account and some phone or internet contracts, it takes at least 6 to 12 months to begin to build a credit rating score and establish a credit history in Colombia.
For digital nomads and foreigners here in Colombia on a Tourist Permit, keep in mind that you won’t be able to start building a credit rating score in Colombia until you have a Visa that allows you to obtain a national identity card (Cedula de Extranjeria). The DataCredito system here in Colombia is tied to your national identity number, printed on the front of your national identity card. Although it is sometimes possible for foreigners and digital nomads in Colombia to open savings accounts with just a passport, you won’t be able to build a credit rating profile in Colombia until you have a national identity card. If you already have an identity card here in Colombia, you can check your personal credit history and credit rating score in the DataCredito system by visiting this website.
The Main Takeaway for the Cost of Living in Colombia in 2022
Despite the economic instability and global inflation that we’ve seen in 2022, the cost of living in Colombia remains reliably low. Popular cost of living website Numbeo lists the cost of living in Colombia on average as 64.30% lower than in the United States, and it is unlikely that this will change to any huge degree in the near future.
For expats, digital nomads and foreign visitors to this wonderful country, the inexpensive cost of living is a huge plus, and one of the key factors in why so many foreign expats, digital nomads and travelers choose to call Colombia home. As a country with such a vibrant culture, diverse landscape, wild nature and endless things to do and places to see, Colombia is undoubtedly one of the world’s best places to live and visit in 2022.