Eternal Spring on a Budget: the Cost of Living in Medellin

by Sasha Savinov

What is the cost of living in Medellin? As one of the most popular digital nomad destinations in the world, this is a question that’s being asked more and more. The City of Eternal Spring has undergone an incredible transformation from the most dangerous to the most innovative city in just a few decades, and people are taking notice. With a pleasant climate, friendly people, great public transportation, and a vibrant culture, it’s no wonder Medellin is quickly becoming a top destination for remote workers and retirees alike. You’ll be happy to hear that life in this fascinating city is quite the bargain. Having just spent a month and a half there, we’re here to shed some light on the cost of living in Medellin.

At the time of writing, $1 US = 3,015 COP.

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cost of living in Medellin

Cost of Accommodation in Medellin

Finding a place to live is the most important and biggest expense, so that’s where we’ll start. If you’re considering moving to Medellin, you’ll have plenty of choices for where to live. As it is a hot new digital nomad destination, there are plenty of people who have set up apartments to rent rooms just for you. It’s very easy to find a room for rent in a shared house with super fast wifi, a communal kitchen, and maybe even a gym/pool.

If you’re like us and need a bit more space, there are tons of fully furnished apartments available for both short and long-term stays. Those looking to stay longer can get a better deal by signing a one-year lease on an unfurnished place, but that will require a lot of paperwork.

Cost of Living in Medellin - apartment

Our apartment in Laureles.

For the past few years, we’ve been relying almost exclusively on Airbnb. This time around, we secured our accommodations from Facebook groups. The Medellin Rooms, Apartments, and Expat Info group is a great resource for finding a place to lay your head in the city, as is the Digital Nomads Medellin group.

We managed to land a great 1BR apartment just a 10-minute walk from the Estadio station in the Laureles neighborhood through these groups and also got a great deal. By booking directly with the owner and cutting out the middleman (Airbnb), we saved almost $400. The place was listed for around $1200 for the month on Airbnb, but we got it for $850.

We still love Airbnb, though, and so should you! Get $40 off your first booking when you use our referral link!

Our rent covered all utilities, including super fast and reliable internet. The apartment is in a very secure building with 24/7 reception, and there’s even a restaurant and a cafe on the first floor. While the kitchen is small, it’s equipped with a coffee maker, blender, microwave, and rice cooker and was good enough for breakfasts and simple dinners now and then. There’s a great desk and chair in the bedroom, and the kitchen table can be used as another workspace. There’s even a big flat screen TV in each room.

While it was quite a bit more than we paid in Puerto Vallarta, we were very happy with our accommodations for the month. You can definitely keep your cost of living in Medellin down by sharing a place or by renting for a longer period. This is also an ideal strategy for those coming to study in Medellin. It will help keep your cost of living as a student on the lower end.

Cost of Transportation in Medellin

Medellin is famous for its great public transportation, and Paisas take great pride in it. It’s the only city in Colombia with a metro (suck it, Bogota!) and it’s always super clean. There are only two lines, but they’ll get you to most places you’ll need to go. A ride on the metro costs 2,300 COP ($0.75), or only 2,000 ($0.65) if you sign up for a free rechargeable card.

Cost of Living in Medellin - transportation

Riding the cable car is awesome.

In addition, there are a few rapid bus lines and cable cars that are connected to the metro lines. These have helped people who live up in the mountains travel more easily to and from the city center and have played a huge part in the transformation of the city. As long as you don’t exit the station, your ride on the bus or cable car is included in a single journey ticket on the metro.

For the month, our transportation costs in the city were just $68!

If you don’t feel like riding the metro, cabs are readily available and almost always turn the meter on. Uber is also available, although it’s technically in a grey area legally. Just sit in the front so it’s not so obvious you’re a paying passenger. Rides in the city usually cost us between $2-5 depending on the distance and about $30 to the international airport which is almost an hour away.

Medellin also has a great bike share program that is free to join. We never signed up, but it’s definitely a good idea if you’re staying for a while. There are stations all over the city where you can get a bike, and then you just return it to another one. Many major roads shut down every Sunday and are taken over by pedestrians, cyclists, and skaters – a great way to get out and enjoy a ride without dodging traffic.

The great public transportation is a major factor in why the cost of living in Medellin is so low.

Cost of Utilities/Bills in Medellin

As mentioned above, our rent included all utilities. As such, we really can’t say how much you can expect to pay for things like electricity, water, and internet. For short-term rentals, these things should be included in your bill anyway.

One thing we should mention is that the tap water is safe to drink in the city, so that definitely saves you money and saves the planet by cutting down on plastic bottled water. We also had a washing machine, so we didn’t have to spend any money doing laundry!

For local phones, we paid 43,000 COP ($14) for SIM cards with Claro and one month of service. That included a few hundred minutes of calls, unlimited texts, and around 1GB of all-purpose data plus extra for Facebook and WhatsApp. Everyone in Colombia uses WA, so be sure to sign up if you aren’t already.

Shopping in Medellin

Living in Laureles, we had several choices nearby for grocery shopping. We lived just a few blocks away from an Exito supermarket, so we bought most of our essentials there. We’d usually go once a week and stock up on breakfast items (coffee, granola, fruit, almond milk, juice, yogurt) as well as some quick lunch/dinner items such as canned tuna, bread, cheese, pasta, and salad fixings. This haul from Exito set us back just 118,000 COP ($39).

Cost of Living in Medellin - groceries

A typical grocery shop for us. Simple and cheap!

For a wider variety and more imported items, the Carulla supermarket is your best bet in Laureles. You’ll find a nice deli with sliced meats and cheeses and more choices in general for other items. As it was a bit farther away from us and we didn’t do much cooking in the apartment, we didn’t shop here that often.

There are also plenty of local markets where you can pick up fresh fruit and veggies as well as other daily items. These definitely help to keep the cost of living in Medellin down if you frequent them often.

Since we’re on the road for an extended period of time and have full bags, we didn’t go shopping for much else. I bought a jersey for the local football club for about $8 and Rachel didn’t even buy any clothes. We were tempted on our walks through the Palacio Nacional market to buy some things but never did. Much of the merchandise in here is definitely knock-off, but you can certainly bargain for it! Plus it’s a really beautiful building, as it is a former government headquarters.

Cost of Food/Drink in Medellin

Cost of Living in Medellin - food

Mmmm… arepas con choclo.

Due to our tiny kitchen and the abundance of options around us, we rarely cooked at home. Typically, we had breakfast at home (a necessity when you’re up at 5:30 to teach English online), hit a local spot for the menu del dia for lunch, and then tried a new restaurant for dinner. Here are some examples of food prices in Medellin:

  • Empanadas/Arepas: 1,5000-2,500 COP ($0.50-0.85)
  • Menu del Dia: 8-10,000 COP ($2.60-3.30)
  • Local Burger and Fries: 11,000 COP ($3.60)
  • Bandeja Paisa (Medellin Specialty): 12,000 COP ($4)
  • Lunch at a Mexican Restaurant: 17,000 COP ($5.60)
  • 3-Course Dinner Plus Wine at a Peruvian Restaurant: 45,000 COP ($15)

As you can see, even going out to eat a lot didn’t really up our cost of living in Medellin. The menu del dia, in particular, is an awesome deal – you usually get a soup, juice, salad, and main course, all for less than $5 per person! I also absolutely loved the street empanadas and probably ate way too many of them.

When it comes to cafe culture, Medellin is a great place to be. Especially in the neighborhoods of Poblado and Laureles, there are tons of choices for places to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. A cup of coffee usually costs 2,500-3,000 COP ($0.85-1), or slightly more for something fancy. If you go local and sip your coffee from a tiny plastic cup (called a tinto) you bought from a street vendor, you’ll only pay 1,500 ($0.50)!

Check out our guide to the best cafes and coworking spaces in Medellin!

It’s no secret that we like to party (sorry if you don’t). Local beers such as Aguilla and Club Colombia cost around 15,000 COP ($5) for a 6-pack in a store, and usually cost 3-4,000 COP ($1-1.30) for a bottle in a restaurant or run-of-the-mill bar.

Cost of Living in Medellin - nightlife

Partying at 3 Cordilleras brewery.

There are also a few craft breweries in Colombia, such as the local 3 Cordilleras or the Bogota Beer Company. You can find bottles of 3 Cordilleras in lots of establishments for about 9,000 COP ($3) per bottle. A better deal is going to the brewery on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. You get five beers and live music for 25,000-30,000 COP ($8.30-10) depending on the night.

Wine and cocktails are not big in Colombia and thus you pay a premium for them. If locals drink anything other than beer, it’s usually Colombian rum and Coke or their own fire-water called aguardiente. It tastes like licorice and gives you a nasty hangover due to all the sugar, but at least it’s cheap. A shot (called a trago) usually only costs around 3,000 COP ($1), so give it a shot and mix it up with some locals!

Cost of Health/Wellness in Medellin

Cost of Living in Medellin - gym

360 Fitness in Laureles.

Paisas are a very active people, so there are tons of options for getting exercise in the city. There are high-end gym chains such as Body Tech and Smart Fit that have several locations and come with a higher price tag. These can run upwards of $100 a month, so we went with a more local option.

A few blocks from our apartment, we found 360 Fitness. This local gym isn’t anything special, but it has all the equipment you need for a good workout plus CrossFit, spinning, and other classes in the mornings and evenings. They even have a cold jacuzzi on the rooftop! We paid 70,000 COP ($23) each for our month-long membership, which did not include any signup fees.

If you’re staying in Laureles, you can always hit the massive sports complex there for a workout. There’s a skate park, a free outdoor gym, a track, basketball and volleyball courts, and a few swimming pools. I’m pretty sure you have to pay for some of those things, but we never investigated. We were there during rainy season, so there weren’t many days that were great for an outdoor pool.

Cost of Living in Medellin - El Volador Park

Playing with our drone at El Volador.

Thanks to its location in a valley, you can always just go for a hike in the surrounding mountains. We particularly enjoyed going up to El Volador park, which is just a short walk from Laureles. It’s a relatively easy hike, and the views from the top are well worth the effort. Free things like this kept us fit and kept our cost of living in Medellin low.

As far as medical stuff goes, thankfully we didn’t have to do too much of it. Rachel visited a gynecologist and paid 160,000 COP ($53) for a check-up. We also had to pay a visit to the dentist for some much-needed work. A deep-cleaning set us back 150,000 COP ($50) each, and we both needed composite fillings that were about 500,000 COP ($165) each. We went to the Alta Estetica office in Laureles and can highly recommend them.

Cost of Activities in Medellin

Cost of Living in Medellin - Real City Walking Tour

Exploring the city on the Real City Walking Tour

While Medellin doesn’t have a ton of tourist attractions, there are plenty of things to do here to keep you busy when you’re not working. First of all, we highly recommend Real City Tours to get to know the city. Their free walking tour is amazing and it’s the first thing you should do to get to know Medellin.

We also highly recommend their Barrio Transformation tour ($18/person), where you see up close and personal the massive changes that the city has gone through. Their guides are very passionate and knowledgeable and obviously take pride in what they do.

Another can’t miss tour is a visit to Communa 13. This was once the most dangerous neighborhood in the most dangerous city, and wow has it come a long way! Escalators have helped the residents get more connected to the city and opened opportunities for them, and a thriving art and music scene has replaced drug dealing and violence. Several operators run tours here, so take your pick. We had a great afternoon with Zippy Tours on their free tour.

Even though these tours are “free,” please give your guide a decent tip ($5-10 at least). They work very hard and dedicate a lot of time and energy to these tours.

Cost of Living in Medellin - Spanish classes

Study Spanish in Medellin!

If you’re going to be staying a while, you’ll want to brush up on your español. There are several places to study Spanish in Medellin, but my vote definitely goes to Colombia Immersion. With locations in both Envigado and Laureles, you can choose between two of the city’s best neighborhoods. They have a variety of options, from intensive group classes (550,000 COP/week) to part-time evening classes (110,000 COP/week). They also do tons of cool activities, such as a weekly language exchange and field trips.

Cost of Living in Medellin - football games

Voy a Nacional!

You can’t stay in a South American city and not experience a live football game, so be sure to catch at least one. It shouldn’t be hard since Medellin has two teams – Nacional and Independiente. You can join the Medellin Football Tour for 85,000 COP ($28) that includes round-trip transport, a souvenir, and your ticket. If you just show up, you can score a good seat for 37,000 COP ($12). The beer inside the stadium is non-alcoholic, so be sure to get your pre-game on!

One Month of Expenses in Medellin

Cost of Living in Medellin - activities

A great place to live!

We use the awesome app called Trail Wallet to track our expenses, and we highly recommend it. We spent an entire month in Colombia’s Spring City (aside from a 2-night trip out to Guatape), so we feel like we can give an accurate depiction of the cost of living in Medellin. Here’s a breakdown of our total costs in USD:

  • Accommodation: $905
  • Food and Drink: $972
  • Transportation: $116
  • Entertainment: $190
  • Misc.: $1,040 (includes doctor and dentist visits)
  • TOTAL: $3,223

If you take away the pesky dental work and the doctor visit, we spent just over $2,000 for the two of us to live in Medellin for a month. We lived in a nice apartment in a very desirable location and ate out multiple times every day. For fun, we joined several tours, hit a few football games, and even took a great 2-night vacation. We had a gym membership and hit a few coworking spaces and cafes for a change of scenery.

All in all, it was a great month and it didn’t break the bank. Between the two of us, we managed to earn $4,550 for the month of October. Even with our big dental bill, that means we saved around $1,300 for our month of digital nomad life in Medellin.

If you shared an apartment, cooked at home, and went out less, you could easily have a super low cost of living in Medellin. We had an amazing time calling the city home for a short while, and are already planning our return visit. Forget what you’ve seen on Narcos and get down to Colombia to check this incredible city out. You won’t be disappointed!

 

Have you been to Medellin? What did you think of the city? If not, what more would you like to know about it? Leave a comment and let us know!

4 comments

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4 comments

Koen December 1, 2018 - 12:03 am

Very useful information and a very pleasant (for lack of a better word) article. Thanks.

And yeah, Medellín is fantastic.

Reply
Rachel Story December 3, 2018 - 11:47 am

Thanks, Koen! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Medellin is a fantastic city and we can’t wait to get back!

Reply
Dan December 27, 2017 - 5:52 pm

I’m currently in Medellín and found this article very inspiring! I love to workout and didn’t even realise there was a big sports complex in Laureles. Thanks for the tip… I’ll be sure to check it out tomorrow 🙂

Reply
Sasha Savinov December 28, 2017 - 9:46 am

Hey Dan, Thanks for commenting! We definitely aim to inspire people to give living in Medellin – or really abroad anywhere – a try. It’s really affordable and you get a great bang for your peso in the Spring City. Too bad we missed you there, but we’ll definitely be back! That sports complex in Laureles is pretty great. We never got to use the pools as it was rainy and chilly most days we were there but they’d be great in warm weather.

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