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 barely cover rent and utilities in an American city, the same amount can provide for all your basic needs in Colombia, with a little left over for some fun.
Quality housing in Colombia is very affordable for expatriates in most cities. According to data collected by the international price comparison website Numbeo.com, the national average for a one-bedroom apartment in both central city districts and suburbs is less than $270 per month. If you plan to share housing with a spouse or friend, you can upgrade to a nice three-bedroom apartment for about $460 in central city districts or slightly less 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 over $600. However, reports from other popular cities on the Caribbean coastline, including Santa Marta and Barranquilla, quote 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 natural regions, including the coast, mountains, plains and rainforest.
Utility costs including water, electricity, garbage service and broadband Internet service average about $110 according to Numbeo.com. Cellphone rates are dependent on the service and plan you opt for; prepaid service averages about 7 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 including many of the most popular American offerings in the news, sports and entertainment categories. As of October 2015, the base rate for the cheapest package is about $21 not including installation or premium services. This package includes 103 domestic and international channels.
Colombia offers an excellent variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, typically at very low prices. For example, the average price for tomatoes is 39 cents per pound and oranges are 56 cents per pound; this is more than 75% below prices in many American cities. Staple foods including chicken, bread, pasta, rice and eggs are widely available and inexpensive. Chicken breasts cost less than $1.60 per pound on average, while rice costs about 45 cents per pound and eggs about $1.30 per dozen.
Colombian grocery store shelves are packed with ingredients to keep your pantry full and your home-cooked meals varied. Foreign-brand food items are increasingly available in major Colombian cities, but they are generally 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 food stalls abound in most Colombian neighborhoods. Numbeo.com reports an average price of less than $3 for a basic restaurant meal. Fixed-price lunch specials at mid-range restaurants are available for as little as $5, offering a great way to save on good food. A three-course dinner for two is closer to $20, excluding alcoholic beverages. Restaurant prices for a half-liter bottle of domestic beer average less than 90 cents, while a 12-ounce bottle of imported beer is about $1.75. 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 any tap water in the country at all. If you choose to buy bottled water, it is readily available in grocery stores at less than $1 for a 1.5-liter bottle.
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, yet low-cost, health care system, which delivers highly trained medical professionals and modern medical equipment and technology to cities throughout the country.
Public health, dental and vision insurance is available to expatriate residents on the same terms as Colombian nationals. Policy premiums are based on income, as are co-pay requirements for doctor visits and medications, and cost-sharing requirements for treatments, lab tests and hospitalizations. Low annual patient-spending caps are also in place, depending on income level.
Some healthy expats opt to forgo public insurance and choose to self-insure instead. 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 insurance provides to be worth the cost.
Personal and household expenses include hygiene products, cleaning products, souvenirs and much more. Most of these products are relatively cheap in Colombia as long as you stick to locally produced brands. About $100 per month should easily take care of most incidental expenses in this category. Add more for extra spending on clothes, cosmetic products, home decorating items and the like.
Public transportation is readily available in Colombian cities. Public buses average under 65 cents per ride, or around $28 for a monthly pass. Taxis start at about $1.40 plus around $2 per mile, which can add up in a hurry if you make taxi rides a habit. Motorcycle taxis and motorized tricycle taxis are common in many cities and are generally quite a bit cheaper than traditional taxis. However, 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 good options available.
The Bottom Line
A comfortable life in Colombia is possible on a $1,000 monthly budget. A single expatriate might budget the following monthly amounts: $270 for a one-bedroom apartment; $130 for utilities, Internet service and cellphone service; $200 for groceries; $50 for bus and taxi fares; and $100 for personal and household items. The remaining $250 is available to spend on things such as health care, satellite television, dining out, entertainment and travel, or it could be saved for a rainy day down the road.