Located at the northwestern tip of the South American continent, Colombia is a trending hotspot for retirees and others looking for a low-cost but comfortable life abroad. While $1,000 might not even cover the rent in many American cities, the same income can provide for all your basic needs in Colombia, with a little left over for some fun.

Key Takeaways

  • If you're looking for a retirement destination that is not too far away from the U.S., that is affordable and has a warm, hospitable climate, you might consider Colombia.
  • An income of around $1,000 per month can fund a comfortable lifestyle in one of Colombia's cities.
  • A recent survey ranked Colombia eighth-best in the world as a retirement destination and second-best in South America, behind Ecuador.

Housing

Quality housing in Colombia for expatriates is very affordable in most cities. According to data collected by the price comparison website Numbeo.com, the national average as of Spring 2020 for a one-bedroom apartment in both central city districts and suburbs is less than $290 per month. If you plan to share housing with a spouse or friend, you can upgrade to a nice three-bedroom apartment for about $500 in central city districts or under $400 in outlying areas.

Some Colombian cities may prove a bit too expensive for someone living alone on a $1,000 budget. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in central Cartagena on Colombia's Caribbean coast averages about $550. However, other popular cities on the Caribbean coastline, including Santa Marta and Barranquilla, have housing prices much closer to national averages.

While you may be priced out of some locations on a $1,000 budget, cities with cheap housing can be found in all of Colombia's regions, including the coast, mountains, plains, and rainforest.

Utilities

Utility costs and other basic services including water, electricity, garbage service, and broadband Internet average about $110 per month, according to Numbeo.com. Cellphone rates are dependent on the service and plan you opt for. Prepaid service averages about 5 cents per minute, and you may be able to use your current phone in Colombia.

DirecTV satellite television is available in many parts of Colombia. Service packages include Colombian and international Spanish-language channels as well as international English-language channels. These include many of the most popular American news, sports, and entertainment networks.

As of Spring 2020, the base rate for the cheapest package is about $23 not including installation or premium services. This package includes 105 domestic and international channels.

Food

Colombian groceries offer an excellent variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, typically at very low prices. There are seasonal price changes, of course, but as of Spring 2020, the average price for tomatoes is 40 cents per pound and oranges are 42 cents per pound, well below prices in many American cities. Staple foods including chicken, bread, pasta, rice, and eggs are widely available and inexpensive. Local cheese goes for $1.35 per pound on average, while rice costs about 37 cents per pound and eggs about $1.35 per dozen.

Colombian grocery store shelves are packed with ingredients to keep your pantry full and your home-cooked meals varied. Imported brands are increasingly available in major Colombian cities but are quite expensive compared to local-brand alternatives. Sticking to locally produced foods is an important way to keep your costs down. A single person shopping carefully and cooking nearly all meals at home can easily eat for under $200 per month.

When you get tired of cooking, dining out can be a relatively inexpensive option. Cheap local restaurants and open-air food stalls abound in most Colombian neighborhoods. Numbeo.com reports an average price of just over $3 for a basic restaurant meal. A three-course dinner for two is closer to $20, excluding alcoholic beverages. The restaurant price for a half-liter bottle of domestic beer average is about 91 cents, while an import might be $1.83. Beer prices are slightly cheaper at local markets.

Water in major Colombian cities is generally considered safe to drink, while water in less-developed areas of the country is not. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that travelers to Colombia do not risk drinking tap water anywhere in the country. Bottled water is readily available in grocery stores at 74 cents for a 1.5-liter bottle.

Health Care

In 2015, International Living magazine named Colombia the eighth-best international retirement destination in the world and the second-best destination in South America behind Ecuador. The magazine praised Colombia in particular for its high-quality, low-cost health care system. It delivers highly-trained medical professionals using modern medical equipment and technology in cities throughout the country.

Public health, dental, and vision insurance is available to expatriate residents on the same terms as for Colombian nationals. Policy premiums are based on income, as are co-pays for doctor visits and medications and cost-sharing requirements for treatments, lab tests, and hospital stays. Low annual patient-spending caps are also in place, depending on income level.

Some healthy expats opt to forgo public insurance. If you are successful in avoiding major medical incidents, this strategy can end up costing you less than an insurance policy. However, it is worth learning more about how much a Colombian policy actually costs before you go this route. You may find the peace of mind is worth the cost.

Other Expenses

About $100 per month should easily take care of most incidental expenses like cleaning products, personal care items, and souvenirs. Most of these products are relatively cheap in Colombia as long as you stick to local brands. Add more for extra spending on clothes, cosmetic products, home decorating, and the like.

Public transportation is readily available in Colombian cities. Buses average under 65 cents per ride, or around $31 for a monthly pass. Taxis start at about $1.30 plus around $2.30 per mile, which can add up in a hurry if you make it a habit. Motorcycle taxis and motorized tricycle taxis are common in many cities and are quite a bit cheaper than traditional taxis. They are also more dangerous.

While purchasing a personal vehicle in Colombia is certainly possible, it is probably far too costly for a $1,000 budget, and not a necessity given the other options available.

The Grand Total

All of the above adds up to a decent life for about $750 a month, with about $250 left over for unexpected expenses or small splurges.

That's for a single person living in a one-bedroom apartment. In Colombia as everywhere else, two can live on a somewhat grander scale when costs are shared.