One of the best-kept secrets of the expat community has to be Medellín, Colombia. In recent years, this former backpacker paradise has morphed into a hub of expat activity that has deservedly pulled the curtain back on the city’s state-of-the-art urban planning. While perhaps a bit of an off-road choice for the traditional expat, like moths to a flame, it’s slowly starting to draw in those in its periphery.
Maybe you know an older person or persons who heard that the city’s average temperature is about 70 degrees and went to go check out retirement homes and within weeks were consolidating and taking a short one-way flight back to the City of Eternal Spring.
Maybe you’re one of the growing percentage of workers who find meaning and joy in being able to work remotely and your company is giving you a chance to do so, or you’ve been waiting for a sign to take an entrepreneurial leap in a low-cost startup environment.
Maybe you’re a traditionalist 9-5er with a spunky streak—Medellín is home to six of the ten companies with the highest market value on the Colombian Stock Market Exchange and, in 2018, the largest courier system in the world, UPS, moved their headquarters into the city, citing innovation, infrastructure, talent, and stability among their principal reasons for choosing the city.
Maybe your adventurous friend chose the city for a memorable destination and came back bursting with stories about the city’s vibrancy and friendliness and decided the time for an overseas adventure is now.
1) The Coworking Spaces are State-of-the-Art and Improving
A city renowned for its innovation certainly ups the ante on modern day expat centers like the coworking space and coworking café. Blooming within poplar expat neighborhoods such as El Poblado and Laureles, coworking spaces function to cultivate a sense of community amongst expats who may be full-time remote workers or taking a day outside the office for a change of pace. These spaces, which are typically paid for by the hour, per day, or by individual subscription package (note: companies will oftentimes pay for their remote workers’ coworking pass), vie for expats by offering everything from 24/7 open hours, private offices for hire, onsite gyms, exercise rooms, meditation centers and bars, flex desks, steamed milk mosaics in your specialty coffee (think #barista_art), and more.
2) Fast and Consistent WIFI
WIFI is practically nonexistent in cities like NYC and Paris without a password, but Medellín developed a free WIFI network accessible for anyone in the city who downloads the app “Medellín Free WIFI.” Beyond that, there are many dozens of cafes with free WIFI, just a buy a coffee (cheap and delicious!) and post up for a lengthy work day from your café office.
If you are more productive in your own casa, then you needn’t worry as well. The local internet companies offer cheap and reliable coverage. I pay 120,000 COP per month for 20 mpbs, and, with the exception of a handful of brief outages over the past three years (my roommates have just had to pop outside to a nearby cafe), it is quite reliable. My local company is UNE, and although they have terrible customer service, I see no reason to change because the internet is usually great.
Note: The difference in the local price between 10 mbps and 20 mbps and even 50 or 100 mbps is not substantial (at most 50,000 COP a month, depending on provider), so those negotiating a medium length Airbnb rental (say, longer than a month or two) might be able to convince their landlords to up the internet speed. For me, 20 mbps has always been more than enough, including for a roommate who ran video conferencing calls all day long with work. But it’s something that might be worth asking about. And if they try to tell you that it is way more expensive and would meet to upcharge you considerably…they are probably trying to aprovechar de la situación.
3) The Right Time Zone to Keep Your Sleep Schedule Normal
Working online is only as perfect as the time zone you work from, and in this regard Medellín gets tops marks, at least from us North Americans. Remote work has seen a massive upswing in recent years, largely due to an uncharted demographic of consumers entering the workforce: millennials, with Gen Z hot on their heels, know what it means to support a company or a brand and are applying that knowledge to their job expectations: flexibility and personal fulfillment are keys only the most innovative companies have been able to adapt to. Medellín offers a haven for remote workers and, as more US-based companies catch onto the trend, demand will rise for a space in the same time zone that also affords workers the sense of independence and autonomy outside of work that they crave. Combined with Medellin’s affordability, bases in other countries where the dollar converts even more favorably simply cannot compete with the time zone convenience. Half the year, Medellín falls in the same time zone as Chicago, while the other half it is EST like New York and Toronto. Colombia doesn’t do daylight savings time, which accounts for this change. More than anything, it’s just nice to be in the proper hemisphere. Anyone who has tried to work remotely from The Philippines or Thailand while responding to bosses or clients in the States can relate to the struggle.
4) You Can Live Your Life and Eat Cake, too
You’ve heard about Medellin’s fantastic weather, buzzing food scene, and robust expat community, but did you know that living in the City of Eternal Spring is nearly 70% cheaper than New York City? For less than $1,000 USD a month, you can rent a fully furnished apartment in a fantastic neighborhood. The time to rent was yesterday and the time to buy is now; there really is no wrong decision except to abstain from making the move.
It’s not just rental costs that are super cheap, either. One can typically expect to pay USD $0.60 for a beer in a supermarket, and usually only $2 in restaurants and bars. Additionally, any expense that requires labor instead of an actual product tends to be discounted even further (haircuts, spa treatments, nannies, etc.) I recently moved apartments, and to hire two guys for an entire 8 hour day, to move five beds, two fridges, a washing machine, tables, a Jacuzzi, and a ton of other stuff, came out to 170,000 COP total, or just under $60 USD. Even after almost four years of living in the city, some of the prices still amaze me. It’s easy for a tourist travelling through the city for just a few days, and spending time mainly in El Poblado, to not truly appreciate the cost of living advantages here. But as one integrates into the society more, and discovers where the locals shop, discounts abound.
5) The City Remains a Hidden Gem Even in 2019
Even isolating the twenty most expensive cities in South America didn’t spotlight Medellin; on the contrary, the country’s third-largest city came in 19th of the 20 countries surveyed for most expensive. The ranking seems to stand as a testament to the steady and reliable growth the city has made in the decades following its tumultuous past—investment in infrastructure and a commitment to correcting the perception of the city to foreigners has left an indelible mark on the country and cultivates a stout confidence and happiness in the city inhabitants who call Medellin home.
6) English Teaching Remains an Easy Way to Cultivate Your Love for Colombia
For many free spirits, a TEFL certificate is a way to embark on a fulfilling career while indulging wanderlust (and there is such a demand for native English teachers that even this is often not required). For some of these individuals, their arrival to Medellin brings them a feeling of belonging that they haven’t found anywhere else in the world. While the pay as an English teacher in Colombia isn’t anything to write home about (most teachers earn between $700-$1000/month), the sense of fulfillment and, more importantly, the living ability the wages do afford speak volumes regarding the potential to afford to live passionately and do what you love without sacrificing location. Additionally, if the meager local salaries scares you away, there are many Chinese companies nowadays that will pay considerably more for native speakers to give online classes. Contact Us for more details.
The range of possibilities for expats in Medellin speaks more to the multidimensional, developed nature of the city than perhaps anything else. In short, if any part of you feels drawn to exploring or engaging in what will likely become a transformative adventure, Medellin offers a plethora of opportunities.
Are you an expat living in Medellin? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience.
Considering moving, but have some doubts? Contact us with your questions.