The Complete Guide to Expats in Colombia

The complete guide to expats in Colombia, where to live, healthcare, cost of living, and more. Additionally, learn how you can stay in Colombia long term.

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People seek new opportunities and experiences abroad as the world becomes more interconnected. Colombia, a stunning gem in South America, has emerged as an attractive destination for expats, offering a unique blend of natural beauty, rich culture, affordability, and supportive expat communities. Are you curious about what awaits expats in Colombia? Dive into our comprehensive guide to living in this vibrant Latin American country and discover the incredible experiences that await you.

Key Takeaways

  • Colombia offers expats stunning landscapes, vibrant culture & low cost of living
  • Visas and healthcare are available for a secure experience.
  • Popular cities offer unique experiences with plenty of educational options for children.

Why Expats Choose Colombia

Colombia has become an alluring destination for expats, and it’s not hard to see why. The country offers a beautiful landscape, a diverse and vibrant culture, and a cost of living that is attractively low compared to many other countries. Combine these factors with a growing expat community, and you have a recipe for an ideal destination for those seeking a new adventure in South America.

So, what makes Colombia stand out from the crowd?

Natural Beauty

Colombia’s diverse landscapes provide a breathtaking backdrop for expats to explore, from stunning beaches to lush rainforests and majestic mountains. The Caribbean coast of the country is an idyllic destination for a holiday. The Rosario Islands and Tayrona National Park are popular places to visit, which boast stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters.

Those with a penchant for mountain scenery will find the Andes Mountains in Latin America, particularly in Colombia, brimming with opportunities for hiking and soaking in the awe-inspiring views. The Colombian Amazon, covering a vast portion of the country’s southeastern border, is teeming with flora, fauna, and indigenous communities, further adding to the country’s natural appeal.

Cultural Richness

The richness of Colombian culture is another magnet for expats, with a unique mix of indigenous, African, and European influences creating a vibrant and exciting urban atmosphere. Art lovers can immerse themselves in Bogotá’s spectacular Museo del Oro and Medellin’s renowned Museo de Antioquia, showcasing the country’s cultural heritage.

With its regional specialties, Colombian cuisine is a gastronomic delight for food enthusiasts. The literary scene is globally recognized, boasting renowned authors like Jorge Isaacs and Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garca Márquez.

Affordable Living

One of the most attractive aspects of living in Colombia is its affordability. The cost of living is, on average, 33.5% lower than in the United States, making it a fantastic opportunity to save money. Housing, in particular, is significantly more affordable, with rent prices being, on average, 80% lower than in the U.S.

For single expats, a comfortable lifestyle can be achieved with a monthly budget of $1,200 to $2,000, while families can expect to spend around $1,425.22 without rent.

With lower expenses for:

  • utilities
  • transportation
  • eating out
  • entertainment
  • healthcare

Most expats can enjoy a high-quality lifestyle without breaking the bank.

Whether you’re interested in living in a bustling city or a tranquil coastal town, Colombia’s low cost of living is a significant draw for many.

Expat Communities

A supportive and thriving expat community can make all the difference when moving to a new country. In Colombia, expats can find a warm welcome and valuable connections in the bustling expat communities across major cities like Bogotá, Medellin, and Cartagena.

Digital nomads will find a thriving coworking scene, with remote work gaining popularity and plenty of shared workspaces available for collaboration and networking. Newcomers who connect with fellow expats and locals can swiftly establish a support network, facilitating their adjustment and prosperity in their new home.

Visa Options for Expats in Colombia

Navigating the visa process is a crucial step in relocating to a new country. Colombia offers a range of visa options for different needs and durations, making it easier for expats to find the right fit. From visitor visas for short-term stays to migrant and resident visas for those looking to settle down, Colombia’s visa system caters to various purposes.

Though obtaining a migrant visa can be complex, appropriate guidance and preparation can simplify the procedure.

Visitor Visas

For short-term stays, such as tourism or business trips, visitor visas are a convenient option. In fact, most strong passport holders, including Americans, Canadians, and Europeans, don’t even require a visa for stays of 90 days and up to 180 days per calendar year.

Even better, if you'd like to stay longer than 180 days per year, the student visa and digital nomad visa are great options.

Such flexibility enables expats to delve into the unique offerings of Colombia without enduring a cumbersome visa application process.

Migrant Visas

For expats looking to live and work in Colombia for an extended period, migrant visas are an ideal choice. These visas allow expats to reside in the country for one to three years.

Exciting options like the Colombia Investor Visa, Marriage Visa, Pension Visa, and more cater to those who want to live in Colombia full-time. With various visa options available, expats can find the perfect match for their needs and goals.

Resident Visas

After holding a migrant visa for a few years (2-5 years, depending on the visa type), foreigners will be eligible for a Resident Visa. These visas are issued for five years and can be renewed, allowing ex-pats to live and work in the country indefinitely without worrying about renewing their visas every few years.

Resident visa holders also will earn time towards Dual Citizenship, further enhancing their connection to this vibrant country.

Adapting to Life in Colombia

Settling into a new country involves more than just paperwork and logistics; it’s about embracing the local culture, language, and way of life. Adapting to life in Colombia is an exciting journey with challenges and rewards along the way.

Mastering Spanish, grasping local customs and etiquette, and maneuvering through daily life constitute the essential facets of the expat experience in Colombia.

Learning Spanish

Learning Spanish is a critical skill for expats in Colombia, as it is the primary language spoken in the country. While foreigners may get away with speaking English in most of central America, a majority of Colombian's population is not conversational in English. Mastering the language not only enhances communication with locals but also facilitates deeper integration into Colombian society.

The US State Department considers Spanish an “easy” language to learn. Its structure is highly similar to English, making it more straightforward for individuals who are already familiar with English. Expats can use various language learning options, including taking Spanish classes and participating in language exchange events.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Establishing connections and cultivating relationships with locals is a pivotal part of adapting to life in Colombia. To do so, expats should familiarize themselves with local customs and etiquette. For example, Uber is technically illegal in the country. Calling an Uber typically means you'll be sitting in the car's front seat to avoid any issues (which makes for a great opportunity to practice your Spanish skills).

Expats can forge strong bonds with their Colombian neighbors and colleagues by demonstrating respect for local traditions and values.

Navigating Daily Life

As expats begin their new lives in Colombia, they must maneuver through the practical aspects of daily living, such as transportation, shopping, and social norms.

Various transportation options are available, including public transit and private vehicles. Familiarizing oneself with local shopping customs and etiquette and understanding and participating in social norms and activities will help expats feel more connected and at ease in their new surroundings.

Safety and Security for Expats in Colombia

Despite Colombia’s significant strides in enhancing safety and security, it remains crucial for expats to exercise caution and vigilance. Crime rates have decreased considerably, but expats should remain mindful of their surroundings, particularly in larger cities.

By staying informed and following the advice of local authorities, expats can enjoy their time in Colombia with peace of mind.

Crime Rates

Despite its dark past, Colombia has remarkably reduced crime rates. The country’s efforts to decrease homicides, theft, and property damage have put it back on many lists of secure destinations.

Expats can feel safer in smaller cities, but exercising a normal amount of caution in larger cities is still necessary. By staying informed and following local authorities' guidance, expats can confidently navigate Colombian cities.

Personal Safety Tips

Ensuring personal safety is of utmost importance while living abroad. Expats in Colombia should stay aware of their surroundings, keep their belongings secure, and avoid carrying large amounts of cash.

It is important to note that being street smart and avoiding situations that are precarious will go a long way to making sure you feel completely safe in Colombia. You'll typically hear stories of foreigners getting robbed, drugged, or taken advantage of after partying rather than on a trip to the grocery store.

Using reputable transportation services and following the advice of local authorities can also help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in Colombia.

Healthcare and Insurance for Expats in Colombia

Access to quality healthcare is a priority for many expats. In Colombia, expats can choose from public and private healthcare systems and various health insurance plans. The country’s healthcare system is highly ranked globally, offering excellent medical facilities and services.

Regardless of whether they choose public or private healthcare, expats can rest assured with access to excellent medical care in Colombia.

Quality of Healthcare

Colombia’s healthcare system is ranked 22nd globally, reflecting its commitment to providing world class healthcare to its residents. The General System of Social Security in Health (SGSSS) covers all residents, including expats, and is renowned for its exceptional medical education and research standards.

Major cities such as Bogotá and Medellin are home to modern hospitals and clinics staffed by highly trained medical professionals, ensuring expats can access the best possible care.

Public vs. Private Healthcare

Both public and private healthcare options are available to expats in Colombia. The public healthcare system, funded by taxes, provides essential services and treatments and is generally more affordable for patients.

On the other hand, private healthcare offers:

  • Insurance coverage or direct payment
  • More comprehensive coverage
  • Faster access to medical services
  • A wider range of specialists.

Choosing between public and private healthcare will ultimately hinge on an individual’s needs, preferences, and financial standing.

Health Insurance Options

Regarding health insurance, expats in Colombia can choose from a range of local and international plans. Some options include:

  • SURA Seguros
  • Allianz Seguros
  • AXA Colpatria
  • Seguros Bolívar
  • Mapfre Seguros

These companies offer various coverage options and benefits to suit individual needs.

While local health insurance plans are generally more cost-effective, international plans provide extensive coverage, potentially covering medical costs abroad. By researching and comparing different plans, expats can find the best insurance option to meet their healthcare needs in Colombia.

Popular Cities for Expats in Colombia

Each Colombian city offers a distinct experience and array of opportunities for expats. Here are some highlights:

  • Medellín: Known for its pleasant climate and innovative culture
  • Bogotá: A mix of history, culture, and business
  • Cartagena: Sun-soaked beaches and historic charm

There is something for everyone in Colombia.

Cali, another popular city, is famous for its salsa dancing, energetic nightlife, and access to natural landscapes. Let’s explore these cities in more detail.


Medellin, known as the “City of Eternal Spring,” boasts a pleasant climate year-round, making it an attractive destination for expats. The city has transformed itself from a turbulent past into a hub of innovation and culture. It has a vibrant expat community, thriving coworking spaces, and a booming IT hub, attracting digital nomads and entrepreneurs alike.

With its rich culture, stunning views, and promising prospects, Medellin is a top choice for expats intending to call Colombia their new home.


Bogotá, Colombia's bustling capital, offers a unique blend of history, culture, and business opportunities. As Colombia’s largest city and the city’s cultural epicenter, it is home to numerous museums, galleries, and performing arts venues, showcasing Colombia’s rich cultural heritage.

Additionally, expats can leverage the bustling job market in fields such as finance, consulting, and international development. With its dynamic atmosphere and wealth of opportunities, Bogotá is an exciting destination for expats.


Cartagena, a coastal city on the Caribbean coast, is a vibrant destination with beautiful beaches, historic architecture, and a lively Caribbean atmosphere. Expats can explore the stunning Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or relax on the sun-soaked beaches with a refreshing cocktail in hand. Just a short distance away, Santa Marta offers another fantastic option for those looking to experience the beauty of the Caribbean coast.

Cartagena's unique fusion of history, culture, and seaside charm makes it an alluring destination for expats desiring a tropical lifestyle.


Cali, often called the “Salsa Capital of the World,” is famous for its energetic nightlife and vibrant salsa dancing scene. The city is teeming with dance clubs, live music venues, and lively festivals, offering endless entertainment options for expats.

In addition to its cultural offerings, Cali also provides access to natural landscapes, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking and mountain biking. With its diverse population and unique urban culture, Cali is a popular destination for expats looking for an exciting and dynamic lifestyle.

Education for Expats' Children in Colombia

Ensuring quality education for their children is a prime concern for many expats when relocating to a new country. In Colombia, expats have access to a variety of excellent public schools, as well as private and international schools.

Whether choosing a local education or an international curriculum, expats can be confident that their children will receive a high-quality education in Colombia.

Public Schools

Public schools in Colombia offer free education and a high-quality of teaching. However, language barriers may be an issue for expat children, as most classes are taught in Spanish.

Despite this challenge, attending a public school can provide an excellent opportunity for expat children to learn the Spanish language and immerse themselves in Colombian culture.

Private and International Schools

Private and international schools serve as an excellent alternative for expats seeking education in English or other languages. These schools often follow international curricula, providing a familiar educational framework for expat children.

While private and international schools typically come with higher tuition fees than public schools, they offer additional advantages such as smaller class sizes, personalized attention, and diverse extracurricular activities.

Working and Business Opportunities for Expats in Colombia

Emerging as an attractive destination for entrepreneurs and professionals, Colombia offers a plethora of working and business opportunities. The job market, particularly in the tech industry, has seen significant growth, with renowned companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft establishing offices in Bogotá.

In addition to its thriving job market, Colombia offers considerable investment potential in various sectors, making it an ideal destination for those looking to start or expand their businesses.

Job Market

The Colombian job market presents many opportunities for expats, particularly in the tech and digital sectors. The country’s booming IT hub and highly educated workforce make it an attractive destination for digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and professionals in various industries.

In addition to the tech sector, expats can find opportunities in finance, consulting, and international development. With a growing economy and diverse job market, Colombia is an ideal destination for expats seeking new professional challenges.

Tax Considerations for Expats in Colombia:

When relocating to Colombia, expats must understand the country's tax system. Colombia operates on a territorial tax system, meaning residents are taxed on their income earned within the country. As an expat, you become a tax resident if you stay in Colombia for more than 183 days per calendar year.

As a tax resident, you will be subject to income tax on your worldwide income. However, Colombia has tax relationships with many countries, meaning that foreigners will typically file taxes in Colombia but only pay taxes in their country of origin.

It's recommended to seek advice from a tax consultant to understand your tax obligations and to take advantage of any available tax treaties between Colombia and your home country.


In conclusion, Colombia offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich culture, affordability, and supportive expat communities, making it an increasingly popular destination for those seeking a new life abroad. From navigating the visa process and adapting to local customs to securing quality healthcare and education for their families, expats can find a welcoming environment and a wealth of opportunities in this vibrant South American country. So whether you’re drawn to the bustling cities or the tranquil coastal towns, there’s never been a better time to explore the incredible experiences that await you in Colombia.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Colombia a good place for expats?

Colombia can be a great place for expats with its fascinating cities, cultural experiences, nature, and lower cost of living.

Although language barriers and safety concerns should be considered, Medellin is often considered an ideal city for expat retirees.

Where do most expats live in Columbia?

Most expats choose the vibrant cities of Medellin and Bogota as their home in Columbia, offering a wide range of amenities, international cuisine, nightlife, and culture to explore.

These cities are known for their friendly locals, diverse cultures, and stunning landscapes. The cost of living is also relatively low compared to other cities in the region, making it an attractive option for expats.

The climate in Medellin and Bogota is mild and pleasant.

Can I live in Colombia as a US citizen?

You can stay in Colombia for up to six months as a US citizen without requiring a visa. To stay longer or become a full-time resident, you will need to apply for a visa.

After living in Colombia for five years, you may be eligible to apply for a resident visa.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Colombia?

You need a minimum of $500 - $1500 USD per month to live comfortably in Colombia, with higher costs in bigger cities like Bogotá and Medellin.

In Bogotá and Medellin, the cost of living is higher than in other parts of the country. Rent, food, and transportation are all more expensive in these cities.

What are the main reasons expats choose to live in Colombia?

Expats are drawn to Colombia for its stunning natural beauty, vibrant culture, and cost of living that fits their budget. Moreover, many are attracted by the growing expat communities and the warm hospitality they receive when settling in.

Daniela Cordoba
Founder and Lead Attorney

Daniela Cordoba is a lawyer specializing in immigration and commercial law. Daniela Cordoba has helped individuals and businesses live and operate in Colombia for over a decade. She also has training in compliance with the respective accreditations to serve as Compliance Officer.

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