Americans who retire in Columbia are joining a growing group of adventurous older adults in search of a change of scenery, a better climate, fresh cultural experiences and, perhaps most importantly, a lower cost of living during retirement. Colombia is known for its beautiful scenery, quaint colonial towns, ancient ruins, pristine beaches, dense Amazon rainforest – and an increasing number of expats.
This was not always the case. In the past tourists and expatriates alike generally avoided Colombia due to fears about violence, drug trafficking and turmoil from an ongoing civil war. Since the early 2000s, however, the country has worked hard to rebrand itself, and it's now definitely safer to travel to Colombia. Statistics show a notable drop in violent crimes – and a simultaneous uptick in employment, foreign direct investment, economic growth and international tourist arrivals.
Thinking about retiring abroad and wondering if this South American country should be on your short list? Here are four reasons why Americans head to Colombia for the next chapter in their lives.
1. A Low Cost of Living
A key factor for many (if not most) people deciding to retire abroad is to secure a lower cost of living – something that’s possible in Colombia. As of October 2018, A couple can live comfortably for about $1,300 per month there if they own a home – or about $2,200 if they’re renting an apartment – according to International Living, a publishing group that covers living and retiring overseas. Considering that the average Social Security payout is $1,413 a month (or $2,340 for couples when both receive checks), you might be able to cover your basic living expenses with your Social Security benefits alone. Whether you are an American or a Colombian citizen, you can collect your benefits while living in Colombia, either through the mail or via direct deposit.
2. It’s Close to Home
Even if you enjoy living abroad, chances are you’ll want to come back to the U.S. every now and then to visit friends and family or attend a special event. Colombia is a short and fairly inexpensive trip from many U.S. locations. Nonstop flights between Bogotá (Colombia’s capital city) and New York City, for example, take under six hours and can cost less than $500 round trip, depending on when you travel. It takes around three-and-a-half hours to fly there from Miami, and fares are between $350 and $400. An added bonus: Colombia is in the same time zone as the U.S. (either Eastern or Central, depending on the time of year), so jet lag probably won’t be an issue.
3. Excellent Healthcare
Unlike many low-cost retirement destinations, Colombia has a solid infrastructure, and you’ll find good roads, public transportation and reliable utilities (including internet), plus excellent healthcare facilities. In fact, according to the World Health Organization’s most recent ranking of the world’s health systems, Colombia came in at number 22 – ahead of Canada (30) and the U.S. (37). The country has modern hospitals and clinics that use the latest technology and equipment.
4. Rich Biodiversity
Colombia is the world’s second-most-biodiverse country, ranking right behind Brazil (which is about seven times as large). There's a rich variety of geography, including tropical rainforests, mountains, glaciers, rivers, plains, deserts and coasts on two oceans (the Caribbean and the Pacific), with coral-reef islands and atolls. About 10% of the earth’s species are found in Colombia, including more than 1,800 species of birds, over 450 species of mammals, and some 4,000 species of orchids – more than any other country. Because Colombia sits close to the equator, you can enjoy the rich biodiversity with a nearly perfect climate year round. Of course, the country is diverse in other ways as well, and it’s easy to find something to do, whether you’re interested in birding in the Amazon, exploring mysterious ruins, shopping or enjoying a night on the town.
The Bottom Line
Colombia has made great strides in transforming itself from a place troubled by war, rebels and gangs to a largely peaceful country that’s increasingly attractive to tourists and expats alike. Still, travelers – whether there for a short visit or on a longer-term basis – should pay close attention to the U.S. Department of State’s travel alerts and warnings.
A recent Colombia Travel Advisory (updated June 28, 2018) notes that many tourists can journey without problem to and throughout Colombia, but certain areas should be avoided, due to crime and terrorism. These include Arauca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cucuta).