When picking a destination, the cost of living is definitely a factor to consider in the expat-planning process. If someone had told me: “You’re able to move to Medellin, Colombia, and live off of $500 dollars a month,” I wouldn’t have believed it.
In the Fall of 2015, I accepted a job as an English Teaching Fellow in a public school in Medellin, Colombia. I received a living stipend of 1,500,000 COP (about $500 USD), which included my basic living expenses and local healthcare insurance (EPS).
Let’s Do Some Math – Living On $500 A Month
Back in 2015, the Colombian exchange rate was 3,000 COP to 1 USD, so I budgeted accordingly for my $500 USD a month salary. While this might not sound like a lot, in January 2020, Colombia’s monthly wage medium was at COP 877,803 ($270 USD) with a transportation subsidy of COP 102,854 (around $34 USD), according to Finance Colombia. Believe it or not, relative to the average salaries of other public school teachers, my monthly stipend of 1,500,000 COP ($500 USD) was a good salary.
Pre-Pat Planning – Medellin, Colombia
The cost of living in Medellin, Colombia depends on the rating for that neighborhood.
Colombia uses an Estrato System, which ranges from 1-6. This scale is used to determine the cost of living, such as rent and utilities: electricity, natural gas, water, and telephone and internet service. A score of 1, 2, and 3 is common in lower-class neighborhoods like the Comunas. 4, 5 and 6 represent the higher-class neighborhoods like Poblado, Laureles and Estadio.
When planning to move to Medellin, Colombia, please make sure to consider the Estrato rating of the neighborhood you are interested in, because these ratings determine the cost of rent and utilities.
Housing in Medellin, Colombia
Most of my budget allocation was for my rent. When I first moved to Colombia, I lived in a shared three-bedroom apartment in Laureles. It is one of the top neighborhoods for foreigners in Medellin because it is close to restaurants, shops, nightlife, and public transportation.
Laureles scores high on the Estrato scale. With a 5 or 6, rents are also higher. For this reason, I received COP 500,000 (about $166) rent subsidy, including internet and utility expenses. This is common in Colombia. They often rent out apartments all-inclusive.
There are ample budget-friendly options for transportation In Medellin. Whether you are taking the bus, the metro, an Uber, or a taxi, getting around won’t break the bank. I took the bus to work. Both ways cost $0.75 for a total monthly budget of 150,000 COP (about 50 USD).
The metro in Medellin is affordable, especially if you get the “Civica” with a standard fare of only 2,355 Pesos (that’s about $0.72).
Medellin Food and Nightlife
One of the many incredible aspects of living in Medellin, Colombia, is the opportunity to eat well, even on a tight budget.
However, nightlife and eating out can quickly burn through the budget, depending on the lifestyle. For groceries and restaurants, I budgeted 465,000 COP/month (about $155 USD). Instead of buying groceries at the big supermarkets where the product may not be fresh and more expensive, I would go to the local markets where the produce is much fresher and often only half the price. When dining out, I would look for restaurants with “Menu Del Dia” (Menu of the Day) options. Colombia’s Menus Del Dia are fantastic, because they comprise a pre-set meal that includes a juice, soup, salad, and main dish, plus a dessert for anywhere between 9,000 – 18,000 COP (that’s $3 and $6).
My miscellaneous expenses included my phone plan at just 40,000 COP ($13) a month and a cushion for unexpected expenses, even weekend getaways close to Medellin. While the $500 dollars-a-month lifestyle may not be for everyone, the low-cost of living in Colombia has many people flocking to the Americas when looking to work abroad.
The cost of living continues to increase each year in Colombia, though. I would advise any expat to come with some savings, especially if planning on traveling a lot, wanting to enjoy a luxurious dinner once in a while, or just to have funds available for traveling back home.
My Shoestring Budget in Medellin
|Item||USD per Month|
|Food & Nightlife||155|
How far can you make your dollar go when moving abroad? Share your thoughts with me!
by: Erin Colton-Enberg