Let’s face it, the cost of living in Colombia is one of the main reasons so many people are considering retiring in Colombia.
We’re going to check out current costs to see what you can expect in terms of standard of living, keeping in mind a base-line income of $1200 (USD) per month.
The coin of the realm here is the Colombian Peso, abbreviated in money markets as the COP. The $ sign is in accepted use and the informal short form is often seen as COL$.
This currency, along with many others, has seen some wild fluctuation during 2015 as the US dollar has strengthened. In July of 2015 the Colombian Peso was trading at about 3800 to a USD, dropping briefly as far as 2800 in October 2015 and May 2016, and at the time of this writing (June 2016) leveling out at 3200.
We need to make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to standard of living and the associated costs. My experience in Central and South America is that if you’re looking to replace your life in the USA or Europe (for example) with an identical life in Colombia, but at less cost, that’s possible.
However, if you want a jar of Jiffy peanut butter at the grocers it’s going to cost a lot more than buying peanuts and a little oil and using your blender. Minor changes in lifestyle will garner you a greater level of savings.
Replace grocery shopping in the supermarkets ("almacenes" in Colombia) with a visit to the many local markets or "mercados" where you can buy locally produced fruit and vegetable and a ton of other things.
The prices I’m going to present you are average prices for commodities in the market place. By average I mean across the country.
Just like precipitation and temperature, food costs vary by location as well. In general, everything in Bogotá is twice the cost of everywhere else. That applies to things like rent and dining out. You’ll find dining out more expensive in tourist areas as well. A Mickey D meal in Cartagena will be about 50% more than in Medellin.
Here’s a list of foodstuffs from the market: costs are an average from all over Colombia.
These numbers come from the Numbeo website, which allows you to thoroughly investigate costs by city and country and currency as well as make city-to-city comparisons. It’s an invaluable tool.
Again, location plays a major role but the prices are reasonable enough that it may be overlooked. A three course meal for 2 people in a mid-range restaurant in Bogotá will run you about $20 (USD). The same meal in Medellin will be about $16.
Yes it’s 25% higher in Bogotá but will only become significant if you eat out every day! Even then, at $10 per person it’s pretty reasonable.
Much the same comparison holds true for fast-food restaurants, beverages (with the exception of wine which is comparatively expensive everywhere at between $8 - $12 per bottle) and inexpensive restaurants.
A one bedroom apartment in the City center in Medellin can be had for about $175 and outside the City Center for $225. Utilities including Internet are about $75. (These units will typically be unfurnished.)
Three bedroom rents range from $300 to $350 plus utilities. In Bogotá rents will be at least twice this amount. Needless to say there are many places more expensive than these numbers, but they are indicative of the cost of living.
The minimum wage in Colombia is $644 COP or about $200 USD. This is payment for a workweek of 44 hours, 8 hours per day Monday to Friday and 4 hours on Saturday. There can be either a verbal or written contract. The law provides for vacation pay and severance pay as well.
Many people pay less than this, don’t register and don’t deduct taxes. This is particularly true of part-time arrangements. However it’s a double-edged sword. The help can report the employer and they will be subjected to fines. All in all, probably it’s better to follow the law.
Costs are much lower in general than in many Western countries. The caveat to that statement is the understanding that imported goods will be more expensive than in their places of origin. This applies particularly to electronics, appliances and manufactured goods in general. Wise choices can lead to considerable savings.
We are well on our way to satisfying the base-line requirement of living on a $1200 income, but we will have a much closer look at real estate costs, in a future article.