Medellin Living | Colombia | Interview |

Scenic views from downtown Medellin, Colombia.

This interview is with Top Travel Blogger David Lee who recently published a wonderful guide to Medellin.

Q1) As a backpacker with extensive round the world experience what made you settle on Medellin specifically as your base when you’re semi-nomadic?

Medellin, and Colombia as a whole, fill so many of my interests, including ones I never knew I had. In terms of making it a base, the low cost of living was a big incentive for me to stay.

At first glance, I loved the city’s setting in a valley surrounded by tall green mountains. The 1,500-meter altitude helps ensure a Spring-like climate year round. Being able to wear a t-shirt and jeans, day or night, reflected the perfect climate for me.

I started meeting Colombians right away through Couchsurfing, and quickly built up a social circle as I explored the city (and blogged about it). I was inspired to learn salsa dancing, and had a great time practicing in the bars and clubs.

Another thing I really like about Medellin is that the paisas are incredibly proud of their city, much like New Yorkers.

 

Q2) Colombia has an often unfair reputation of being a dangerous country for travellers. When you hear such a declaration what are your initial thoughts?

I think it was a fair reputation in the 1980′s and 90′s, however the last President did a lot during his two terms to marginalize the FARC, and improve the security situation throughout the country.

Today, I truly believe Colombia is no more dangerous to visit than other South American countries such as Ecuador and Brazil.

The good news is that as more and more travelers visit Colombia, the word is getting out that it’s not as dangerous as it use to be.

 

The annual flower parade - Medellin, Colombia.

Q3) As I’ve become more familiar with the travel blogging community in recent months, I can’t help but notice that Medellin is a hotspot for digital nomads. What in your opinion are some of the main reasons for this?

The low cost of living is a big part of it. Or to put it another way, you can have a very comfortable standard of living for a lot less than it would cost in Western countries like the US or Australia.

For example, in 2011 I was paying $275 per month (with utilities) for a room in a brand new, 3-bedroom apartment on the 20th floor of a building within walking distance of the metro. I’ve had friends who’ve rented 4-bedroom penthouses for $1,000 to $1,300 per month. The typical broadband (Wi-Fi) connection you get in a rented room or apartment is also good, which is important when you make your living online.

Digital nomads are often single, without families, which bodes well in Medellin because the nightlife is a lot of fun. For the guys, the paisa women have a reputation of being the most beautiful in Colombia, if not all of South America. Even Tim Ferriss was impressed when he spent a few weeks in Medellin on vacation earlier this year.

 

Q4) What can those considering living (or those already based) in Medellin find on your website (Medellin Living) as useful resources?

We cover a wide range of topics useful for both travelers and expats, however the main focus is the fun stuff: Medellin nightlife, the best restaurants, where to take salsa lessons, and the annual holidays and city festivals like La Feria de las Flores.

 

Q5) Without going into too much minute details, what would be a basic monthly budget for somebody looking to base themselves in Medellin with the idea that they would be frugal but not cheap?

I think a frugal expat could get by nicely on $1,000 per month. Bump that up to $1,500 if you want to go out partying a few nights every week, eat out often, and take taxis instead of buses.

Paragliding is a popular activity - Medellin, Colombia.

 

Q6) What are some recreational activities or hobbies one could consider pursuing in Medellin during their spare time?

Cycling is popular, and every Sunday certain streets in the city are closed to motor vehicles so people can get some exercise without the threat of getting run over – either biking or jogging. Alternatively, there’s also an active skateboarding community, with several public skate parks throughout the city.

Medellin is a hot spot for paragliding, and a 25-minute tandem flight costs about $45. It’s also possible to take lessons to learn to fly on your own. I know one expat who has gone a step further and learned to skydive while living in the city.

 

A gorgeous Medellin model at Fashion Week 2011 - Medellin, Colombia.

Q7) I’ve heard from others and I’ve seen a few photo essays of beautiful Colombian women. There does seem to be a reputation for some drop dead gorgeous locals. Any thoughts on that?

It’s true. Well, for me at least. But if you’re a guy who likes bleach blonde girls with blue eyes, then Medellin’s won’t be the place for you.

When I initially arrived in Medellin, I was struck by how friendly the girls were, despite my limited ability to speak Spanish. I found them very approachable, and their often amazing dancers too!

 

Q8) Are there opportunities for employment (aside from being a digital nomad) in Medellin, such as in the ESL industry?

Yes, there are teaching opportunities that are available at the local schools and universities, however it’s more difficult to get a stable, well-paying job in Medellin then Bogota. Private tutoring is also an option.

More than anything else, I’m asked about tips for finding jobs teaching English. The best advice I can give is to start your search once you’re in the city, and even then, focus on networking. Don’t rely on sending emails.

 

Salsa lessons - photo by Troy Floyd of Fogg Odyssey

Q9) How about the nightlife in Medellin? What can one expect?

The Zona Rosa, or main nightlife district, in Medellin is called Parque Lleras. There you’ll find tons of bars, restaurants, clubs, and hostels hosting the visiting backpackers.

The music in any given club is usually crossover, which entails a mix of salsa, merengue, vallenato, bachata, and reggaeton music. There are a few rock bars and electronic music clubs if you’re not a fan of Latin music.

Beyond the Zona Rosa, there are lots of other places to party in the city, so I encourage visitors to see more than just what’s on offer in the Poblado neighborhood.

 

Q10) Finally, what is the basic general Visa strategy for those looking to stay long-term in Medellin?

As with any country, there are multiple options. Tourists usually get 60 days on arrival, and can extend their Tourist Visas for up to 6 months per calendar year. Student Visas are an option if you’re willing to pay for classes, and can allow travelers to stay up to a year at a time.

If you have a Colombian boyfriend or girlfriend, and you’re living together, then you can apply for a Resident Visa based on a civil partnership. This is good for a year, and can be renewed annually. After three years, you can apply for permanent residency.

Lastly, you can apply for a Work Visa, which requires you leave the country and fill out a bunch of paperwork. If approved, it can be good for two years at a time.

David horsing around with fellow travel bloggers Marcello (far left) and Gareth.

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Bio -

Dave Lee is the Founder of Medellin Living, and Editor in Chief of Go Backpacking. He blogged his way around the world from 2007-2009, and then started Travel Blog Success to teach others how to do the same.  He’s also the author of a great travel resource for Medellin. When not writing, he can be found salsa dancing in Medellin. Follow him on Twitter @rtwdave

 

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Post November 2, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Hey Samuel, hey Dave. I don’t mean to be ‘that’ guy but my wife and I lived in Medellín on a budget of 800,000 pesos (roughly $424 U.S. dollars) a month for the two of us. However, we lived in a tiny apartment in a not so good part of town, only shopped at La Minorista, cooked every night and almost never stepped foot into Parque Lleras. I had to return to the states because our marriage papers set us back about 500,000 pesos and left me with no money.

But as David said, $1000 is enough to have a really good time in Medellín.

If you are in a serious relationship with a Colombian (especially a Colombian from a small town like my wife) expect the prices to drop my friends ;)

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Nomadic Samuel November 3, 2011 at 3:00 am

Kevin, it’s great to hear somebody enjoying living in a budget destination even lower than estimated costs. When I was in Thailand I often asked local Thai friends to do shopping or buy food for me. It’s ‘amazing’ how the prices dropped in these situations :P I also find it very difficult to give estimates to others how much it should cost to live somewhere. Two years ago when I was finishing a contract in Korea I saved my entire teaching salary by being extremely frugal. I would have never recommended my methods to anybody else but it allowed me to save hard and hit the road for two years afterwards, so it was well worth it in the end.

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Kevin Post November 3, 2011 at 4:00 am

What I enjoyed most about my experience on such a tight budget was how creative my wife and I were. Instead of joining a gym for exercise we went to free yoga classes every Sunday and went running up the hills. I walked everywhere instead of taking public transportation which changed the way I saw my surroundings positively. Instead of going out to expensive restaurants my wife prepared me fresh organic catfish soup, guarapo or other traditional dishes from her hometown. I learned to be a significantly better cook. For fun I’d bring my guitar to a park and jam with some locals or rock-climb at the Universidad de Antioquia’s free climbing wall. I didn’t need to go to the flashiest clubs in town to have a fantastic time and create relationships. HOWEVER, if I were single I probably would have gotten tired of not having the money to impress the Paísa women with a nice night on the town :P

But let’s be honest that when first arriving in a foreign destination one almost always spends a lot more money in the first few months. After getting settled in, knowing the language and making local friends this begins to change and the prices seem to plummet.

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Nomadic Samuel November 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Kevin, that’s certainly the truth. One can be creative with their budget and still have a great time.

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Abby November 3, 2011 at 1:51 am

Great interview with one of my favs! And one who was so helpful to me when I was starting out. (Although, I’m still a beginner.)

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Dave November 3, 2011 at 2:27 am

Gracias Abby. I think you still owe Colombia a visit! :)

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Nomadic Samuel November 3, 2011 at 3:02 am

Abby, I agree with you that Dave is one of the most helpful members in the travel blogging community. I’ve learned a lot from him as well & believe me when I say if you’re still a beginner I’m definitely in my infancy stages :P

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Cole @ FourJandals November 3, 2011 at 10:15 am

Would love to live here. And since it seems to be so affordable then maybe one day I will get the chance.

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Nomadic Samuel November 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Cole, I feel the same way. I’d love to check it out because there seems to be 3-4 travel bloggers there at any given time.

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gayE @ pinaytraveljunkie November 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

This is such an eye opener post for me. I also thought Colombia’s a dangerous country, but after reading this… I might start bugging the hubby to include it in our RTW trip!

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Dave November 6, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Colombia’s public image is still suffering from its recent past, but the country is a lot more secure than it use to be. Just a few days ago, the leader of FARC (which has been waging a civil war since the 1960′s) was killed.

Typical street crime is still a reality, but my message is that Colombia is no more dangerous than other South American countries (except perhaps Venezuela, which is very dangerous right now).

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Sophie November 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Very interesting! I’ve only spent one day in Colombia (in Cartagena, so beautiful!), and was very much inspired to take a closer look at the whole country. And really, Colombia hasn’t been dangerous in a very long time.

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Nomadic Samuel November 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Sophie, I’ve yet to visit Colombia but it’s a high priority. I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed Cartagena.

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Noel November 4, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Thanks Samuel for this article, brought back lots of memory of my 1-plus-year living in Medellin. The Colombians are one of the friendliest people I’ve met in my travels and they made me feel right at home when I was living there. Medellin had bad reputations in the past, but now it’s much safer but there are still areas such as the comunas that you should avoid. I lived on USD300 or less a month, renting away from the expat area, right in the centre of Medellin. Once again thanks for this great post!

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Dave November 6, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Wow Noel, $300 per month? The Colombian Peso has gained about 30% against the US Dollar since I first arrived in early 2009, but I still can’t imagine having lived on so little back then.

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Noel November 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Hi Dave, I was living in the centre, at Boston. I rented a room in a family house for quite cheap and when I wanted to go out it’s only with my Colombian friends to las cantinas where drinks were cheap :)

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Kurt W November 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

Great interview. It is awesome that Medellin is making a comeback from the Pablo Escobar days.

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Nomadic Samuel November 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Kurt, I agree – it seems to have so much to offer under the right circumstances.

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Cam November 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Sadly, we skipped Columbia during our time in South America. At the time, we were nervous about it’s reputation, but since following several expat bloggers that live in Columbia, we’re now disappointed we didn’t make the trip. It sounds like a fun place!

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Dave November 6, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Hey Cam, yea I think every traveler has skipped a destination at one time or another due to fears about safety and security. When I was visiting SE Asia, Burma had just been hit with a cyclone, and I was also concerned about going due to the political issues. I spent the extra time in Thailand instead, and then heard from every traveler who went to Burma that it was incredibly beautiful. Of course now I’d wish I’d gone!

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Stephen November 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Great interview. I had an opportunity to go to Medellin once to visit a friend (see Noel above) and really liked the city. It has lots of pluses and the crime has definitely dropped in the past decade. I could definitely see it being a base for a digital Nomad.

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Nomadic Samuel November 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Hey Stephen, I’ve heard enough great things about Medellin now that I’m very curious to check it out. Unfortunately, I only got as far as Quito when I was last in South America.

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Caz Makepeace November 20, 2011 at 8:51 am

Great to hear more about Dave’s life in Columbia. He offers so much help to everyone in the travel community.

I am always intrigued to hear more of Columbia and keen to go there after my brother who has been a long term traveller for 17 years, says it is his favourite country. Sounds like one of those special places

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Nomadic Samuel November 30, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Caz, I’m really keen on visiting Colombia as well. I can’t believe I didn’t make it part of my itinerary two years ago when I was backpacking in South America. I totally agree with you about Dave! He’s a very supportive member of the community and somebody I look up to and admire.

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Spencer December 9, 2011 at 2:35 am

I hear alot about Medellin. It is meant to be a great place despite its dangerous reputation.

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Nomadic Samuel December 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm

I think that’s definitely the truth! I’m looking forward to going myself someday.

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Terry Poole December 27, 2011 at 4:00 am

Hi Dave,
I’m arriving in Medellin on 14th Jan. to spend a week there before flying to Cali for the second week of my vacation. I have very limited Spanish skills. I would like to know if taking a taxi from the Intl. Airport to Estadio late at night is safe, or should I hang out in the Airport till morning and then take one? Other than that, is walking around Parque Lleras at night by yourself reasonably safe? I’ve read that muggers with knives hang out in the park. I’d also love to visit El Elsabon Prendido salsa bar, probably on Gringo Tuesdays. Thanks for any Info.
Terry Poole

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royal tunbridge wells hotels January 4, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Heya i?m for the first time here. I found this board and I in finding It really useful & it helped me out much. I hope to give one thing back and aid others such as you helped me.

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gary May 20, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I’m from Colorado. I was recently in Medellin for 3 weeks and will retire in Medellin next year! With this in mind I made and effort to learn allot about some inportant basics like banking, and renting. Also the ‘does and do nots’ for safety; for someone to live there. I can share this info if anyone asks me. Question: Any info on watching/getting American TV programing in Medellin? Gary

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Jeff May 5, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Hi Gary, I have triple play service from Comcel and get over 20 channels in English in Medellin with shows from the US. You can can get a channel lineup on their website. I would recommed Comcel over UNE for triple play as my experience is better Internet (10 MB) and more reliable. Comcel is not available everywhere in Medellin so if you want it you’ll need to find a place that has availability.

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Brian Moody October 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm

What is the correct procedure for an American citizen to open up a bank account in Colombia ?

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Jeff May 12, 2013 at 8:19 pm

All the banks in Colombia I have looked at have required a cedula de extranjeria (foreigner identification card) for US citizen that you can’t get unless you have a visa (resident, work, business) so it looks like a tourist can’t open a bank account in Colombia. Banks will want to see your passport with visa and address details in addition to the cedula. Some banks will accept contraseñas (temp cedulas) due to delays in receiving cedula de extranjerias from the Ministry of Migración.

Some banks may require you to have a personal reference from a Colombian resident and may also require a tenancy agreement for your home (rental contract). Banks will also want to know about the funds that will be going in and out of the account, so a copy of your contract of employment or paperwork on income that you receive from outside the country may be required. You will also need to have some money to deposit in the account in order for it to be opened (the minimum varies by bank) and there will typically also be a requirement to maintain a minimum balance. I also seem to recall that banks don’t like foreigners opening accounts with less than 6 months in Colombia.

The largest banks in Colombia include Bancolombia, Banco de Bogota, Banco Davivienda, Citibank and Banco Popular.

Colombia is still predominately a cash-based country with many Colombian citizens without a bank account or credit card. So pretty much everything you can pay for with cash including utility bills, airline tickets and hotels. You can rent an apartment without a cedula and utility bills (electric, gas, water) are tied to the address so you don’t need a cedula for that either. But my experience is that you can’t set up Internet/TV services in an apartment (i.e. Comcel, UNE) without a cedula. And you need to build a credit history and banking history in Colombia if you want to apply for a mortgage.

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Adam Beaumont December 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Sounds like an excellent place. Definitely on my places to go 2013.

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