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The Extremely Low Cost of Living in Medellín, Colombia

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Grocery Breakdown: Comparing Cost of Living in Medellín with Canada and the United States


¿Estas Amañado?

If you haven’t been asked this yet as a foreigner, you just might not have been listening closely enough. It’s an extremely common follow-up question I get from my taxi and uber drivers, after they ask if I’m just visiting or living here. Loosely translated to “Are you content here?”, it is the local’s way of confirming that we foreigners are happy to have moved to their beloved Antioquia. The chattier drivers will continue with a line of questioning so common that I’ve probably heard it more than 100 times. Next up is, ¿porque te gusta Medellín?

The perfect weather. 

The gorgeous landscapes of the Andes mountains surrounding the city. 
The amazingly friendly local people.

There are lots of reasons to like Medellín. But during my five years of being a full-time resident of the city, one aspect of life in La Valle de Aburrá rises above all others as the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about how great it is to be a resident here: Extremely Low Cost of Living

The other day, on my designated Pico y Cedula day, I was coming home from grocery shopping with five plastic bags full to the brim with groceries, to the point where I thought they might break open and spill out onto the sidewalk. I had paid a measly 138,000 COP at the D1 in Laureles on Avenida Nutibara. 

Spending the equivalent of $35 USD for a week's worth of groceries is part of what makes life in Medellín as an expat so great

 

The fact that I had spent such a modest amount and received so much got me thinking, as I have many times before, about how incredibly cheap life can be here. 

I decided to compare this grocery bill with similar products in other places I’ve lived or spent time; areas that might be home for many expats in Medellín – British Columbia, Canada and the United States. Comparing prices with a country with the type of regional diversity seen in the United States presents its own challenges – so I decided to the use the national website for Wal-Mart. For comparisons in Canada, prices were taken from the IGA website – a very common grocery store with 194 locations across the country. Prices for beer and wine were taken separately as Canada does not allow alcohol purchases in supermarkets.

Also, I decided to write this article after I did my shopping – so there were no specifically selected products for this purpose – it is just a random grocery bill with, as you can see, quite a random assortment of products.

The following table summarizes the findings, and the methodology is outlined below. 

 

Although Wal-Mart can hardly be considered luxury shopping,  the total bill for the same products would have been more than double what it cost at D1. A quick glance at the Canadian column shows that the same products would have been more than triple the cost of D1 in Laureles. 

* To arrive at the adjusted cost for the US column, two calculations were made. The first was to convert from the imperial system to the metric system (how the US still uses the imperial system is beyond me) and the next calculation was to convert to the same size as the original Colombian purchase. See the table below for individual prices.  For example: The price of dish soap on walmart.com was $2.98 for 32.5 fluid ounces. I first converted 32.5 fluid ounces to milliliters (mL) to get 961 mL. So that’s $2.98 for 961 mL, but then I adjusted the price again to make the size the same as the original purchase in Colombia, of 500mL. So if it was $2.98 for 961mL, we can interpolate the numbers and deduce that a comparable price on walmart.com would be $1.55 for 500mL. The same calculations were done for each product individually. In the table below, the far right column indicates how much more expensive a product was on walmart.com compared to D1 Laureles. 

** For the adjusted Canadian prices, two calculations were made as well. The first was to convert from Canadian Dollars (CDN) to US Dollars, and the second conversion was to convert to the same size as the original Colombian product. 

 

At the risk of sounding like a paid spokesman for D1 (which I definitely am not) – not only all the prices fair – the quality of most items is great. While looking at these numbers, one does not need to be on their imperialistic high horse and think – well, the eggs I get back home in Texas are surely better! I don’t know that that is the case. I bought all this stuff, like I always do, because it is delicious. Tuna was the only product, among 14 compared, to be cheaper on the Wal Mart website than locally. 

 

As the table makes clear, prices for some basic grocery items are much higher in Canada than Medellín. 

Other notes about the comparisons:

  • Some items had a variety of different things I could have compared them to. For example, on the walmart.com, there are hundreds of bottles of red wine. I tried to make the closest comparison possible. That is, because the wine I bought here is on the cheap end, but not the cheapest possible, I selected a wine from wal-mart that I think is comparable in quality.
  • Where possible, I made comparisons as closely as possible. Frozen ribs vs frozen ribs. Generic OJ vs generic OJ, etc. I also tried to make the size comparisons as close as possible so there wouldn’t be deviations based on bulk pricing.
  • The total price on the picture of the receipt is different than the total price for D1 in the tables because: (i) a couple products I couldn’t find equivalents of and didn’t compare, and (ii) a couple other products I purchased more than one unit, but I only compared on a unit by unit basis.
  • Prices in Canada are already much higher before factoring in a national sales tax (GST) of 5% and a provincial sales tax (PST) of 7%. Colombian prices are subject to IVA (19%)
  • Conversions: 1 CDN = 0.71 USD / 1 USD to COP 4,000

A truly fantastic website, to make comparisons far more sophisticated than I’ve made in this article and across far more aspects of society, is numbeo.com. The data from numbeo.com backs up the general point of this article. The following are some randomly selected cities and their rankings (out of 479 cities in total) for cost of living: 

  • #6: New York City 
  • #8 San Francisco 
  • #14 Seattle 
  • #18 Washington, DC
  • #45 London, England
  • #62 Stockholm, Sweden
  • #69 Toronto, Canada 
  • #97 Vancouver, Canada 
  • #281 Santiago, Chile 
  • #295 Lima, Peru 
  • #312 La Paz, Bolivia 
  • #382 Mexico City, Mexico 
  • #455 Medellín, Colombia 

Conclusion:

If you came to Medellín as a tourist, and just spent a week eating at fancy restaurants in El Poblado or shopping at Carulla, you wouldn’t have had a chance to truly experience the cost of living benefits that Medellín offers. All over the city, there are deals to be found on basic everyday items. People who live here as expats, especially those who are fortunate enough to earn US Dollars or another international currency, can save thousands of dollars per month on living expenses. If you are reading this from NYC, San Fran or Seattle – what are you waiting for? Start to plot your move to Medellín and you’ll be amañado here in no time. 

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David Eliasson

David Eliasson

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