How much does living in Colombia cost? Travelers to Colombia will agree: Colombia is a cheap country to travel. However, there is a big difference between the cost of living and traveling in Colombia. You might expect otherwise, but Colombia is certainly not a very cheap country to live in. How expensive is living in Colombia? In this article, I discuss in detail the costs involved.
This article is updated in june 2023.
Class differences in Colombia
Colombia has immense class differences. The big cities have estratos, or in other words, the different neighborhoods are divided by socioeconomic class. There are 6 estratos, with estratos 1 and 2 being the poorest neighborhoods, estratos 3 and 4 are the middle class and in estratos 5 and 6 live the wealthier population. Often, living in a higher estrato is also safer. Most of Bogotá’s residents live in estratos 2 and 3. If you live in a higher estrato, you pay more for everything. For example, the cost of housing, rent, service charges, water, gas and light (because the richer population pays this for the poorer people), and even costs for the Internet or a telephone subscription, are higher.
In addition, the cheapest stores and restaurants are not that widespread in higher estratos, so you automatically spend more for eating out or shopping. Do you want to live cheaper? Then avoid estratos 5 and 6 or move outside the big cities, where everything is cheaper.
A Colombian salary
The minimum wage in Colombia is 1,160,000 pesos per month (2023). Converted, this is about 243 euros / dollars (depending on the exchange rate), an amount that often is used to support entire families, something almost impossible to do. Just for comparison, the minimum wage in the Netherlands is 1995 euros (2023), and about 1160 dollars in the USA. This is a pretty good salary in Colombia. By the way, it is quite possible to earn a lot in Colombia and live a very good life. However, this is especially for the highly educated; hairdressers or house cleaners are near or at the minimum wage. In addition, a significant portion of the population has no job at all, people who are busy every day trying to figure out how to get money.
How much does living in Colombia cost?
While many things are cheap in Colombia, grocery shopping is not always one of them. Local products such as vegetables, fruits, lentils, beans and rice are cheap, but if you want honey, a bar of chocolate or a jar of chocolate spread, you pay sometimes more than in the Netherlands or the USA. Even a bottle of mineral water costs more here. The same goes for products imported from Europe or the US, which are more expensive. Low-income Colombians live very basic lives and often buy only local products. Just like in any other country, you can choose from different supermarkets in different price ranges. Such as the D1, a way cheaper supermarket than, say, Carulla.
Outside the bigger cities about everything is cheaper, also groceries.
Fixed housing costs
How high the cost of living in Colombia is depends mainly on which estrato you live in. Thus, there are already big differences in fixed costs between living in estrato 4 or 5. I lived my first years in Colombia in estrato 5 and paid over 100 euros a month in service charges alone. Quite a high amount I think. Added to that, are mortgage payments and gas, water and light. Gas is not expensive, water is. A total of 500 euros or more per month, easy. Fortunately, there is no heating here, which already saves a lot of money. I also have a phone and internet subscription. I also pay for YouTube Premium and Neflix, what is a bit cheaper in Colombia compared to The Netherlands. For my mobile subscription with 60 GB of data and 200 call minutes, I pay 58,000 pesos per month (12 euros).
When I went to live in Sopó, where almost all houses are estrato 3, and paid considerably less for both rent and gas, light and water. About 270 euros a month in rent and about 50 euros a month in gas, light and water (2020). So living in a Colombian village is a lot cheaper than in the big city. Upon returning to Bogotá, I lived for a while in estrato 6, where I paid almost 1,500 euros a month for rent. Now (2023) I live in estrato 4, where life is considerably cheaper.
Health insurance in Colombia
There is no space in this blog to completely explain the healthcare system (here you can read all about health care in Colombia), but in short, there are a lot of differences in healthcare as well. Prices depend on your salary and the insurance you choose. In addition, there are several options for getting insurance. I myself have basic insurance plus supplemental insurance and pay 90 euros a month for it. However, if you want the best of the best then you will definitely pay double. Then again, the healthcare is much better. Privately, you can also arrange a lot, from a consultation with a doctor to getting an X-ray. The costs depend on the clinic or hospital, but usually many times cheaper than in the US. But incredible expensive for Colombians who earn the minimum wage.
If you have own business in Colombia, like me, you pay according to your salary and so that is different every month. The more you earn the more you spend on pension and healthcare. That can add up to almost 1,000 euros a month.
You can buy many medicines from the pharmacy here without subscription. There are two types: generic and commercial. Obviously, you pay much less for the generic drug. I myself use cetirizine for allergy, for which I pay (depending on the brand and pharmacy) about 5,500 pesos (1.15 euros) for 10 pills.
Education in Colombia
In Colombia, there is public and private education. For the poorer population, it is impossible to send your child to a private school, so these children automatically end up at a public or low-cost private elementary school and then at a low-cost university (if at all possible). However, if you want a good education, you quickly end up at an expensive private institution. The education at such a private elementary school is very good, but for that you pay a minimum of 450 euros (!) per child per month. For that matter, double is also possible. If your child wants to attend a good university, parents can expect to pay around 6,000 euros per semester, with outliers to 8,000 euros per semester for the top universities. This does look very good on your resume. Read more about basic education in Colombia here.
Decorating your home
Another thing that is quite expensive in Colombia: home furnishings. Of course, you can make it as expensive as you want and you can buy it cheap if you go to a neighborhood where they sell cheap stuff, but if you want a bit of quality you will spend a lot of money. Also, electronics such as a television, a laptop, lamps and clocks are expensive. But you also pay a lot for bedding, furniture and tablecloths. A quilt at the Falabella costs about 100 euros. It can be cheaper, but that is reflected in quality.
In Colombian society, clothing is quite important and in various workplaces you are expected to walk around well-dressed. Getting your clothes in a cheap store in Chapinero is then not an option. So you quickly end up at large luxury shopping malls where prices are at US levels or even higher. Esprit, for example, I find really expensive for someone with a Colombian salary. When I bought new clothes recently, I spent as much as I would have spent in The Netherlands. Here you find a mini-guide for shopping in Bogotá with all the good shopping malls in a row.
Going to the gym
Even the gym is divided into price ranges. For example, at the same gym in a poorer neighborhood, you pay significantly less than in a richer neighborhood. In Bogotá I pay 1,125,000 pesos a year (about 230 euros), in Sopó only 10 euros a month.
I love eating out in Colombia, the service and the low prices. Or well, low … by US and Dutch standards. The cost of a complete meal including drinks varies greatly. So you can get completely stuffed with all kinds of goodies in a cheap restaurant for only 10000 pesos (2 euros), while at the more expensive restaurants, such as Crepes & Waffles, WOK or Oliveto, you can easily spend 8 to 15 euros (30,000 – 70,000 pesos) for a complete meal. For travelers in Colombia fantastic prices, but you understand that the aforementioned restaurants are not for the population on minimum wage or slightly above. In a village, eating out is often cheaper.
Public transportation and cabs
Bus transportation in Bogotá is extremely inexpensive. Purchasing a bus pass costs 3000 pesos (1 euro) and for a ride you pay 1700 (56 euro cents) or 2000 pesos (66 euro cents). However, if you earn a minimum wage and you have to take the bus to and from work at least twice every day, you will therefore pay a minimum of about 70,000 pesos (23 euros) per month for public transportation. That is 15% of the monthly salary, a lot. The cab is also cheap compared to other countries. From the airport to our house, a ride of easily an hour, costs up to 30,000 pesos (6 euros).
Withdraw cash in Colombia
Taking money out of the wall also costs money. Unless you do it at your own bank. Read all about money matters in Colombia here.
What things are cheap?
Many things in Colombia are cheap. Getting a haircut for only 10000 pesos (2 euros), for example, as well as having your nails done, including a full manicure. It does depend on where you go. When I get my nails done at Gran Estacion mall, I easily spend 15 euros. Having a coffee or tea in a typical Colombian restaurant also costs almost nothing. A house cleaner is cheap. And once we got near Villa de Leyva a flat tire with the car. To fix the tire, we paid no more than 10,000 pesos (2 euros).
How expensive is living in Colombia?
How much living in Colombia costs depends on what you want and what you are able to do yourself. And from where you live. If you want to live in an expensive neighborhood in a big house, walk around in nice clothes and buy bread with chocolate spread every week, you will live quite expensive. If you live more basic, in estrato 3 or 4, eat local produce and go out to cheap restaurants, then life in Colombia is a lot cheaper. The cheapest you live out of the big cities. I myself live now (2023) a lot more expensive than in Sopó, but much cheaper than when I lived in El Chicó and in Chapinero Alto, both neighborhoods in Bogotá. Do you want to raise children in Colombia? Then you can count on a lot of extra (high) costs.
Are you traveling in Colombia? Then you picked a cheap country, with great food for little money, good hotels for much less money than in the US and with domestic flights or bus rides for a good price.
Had you estimated Colombia to be expensive or cheap to live in?
** This article is written from my own knowledge and experience of living in Colombia. In addition, of course, prices can change, as can the exchange rate. Right now (June 2023), the exchange rate is favorable for when you earn in euros or dollars. For that, you get a lot of pesos now. If you earn in pesos, then you have it a little more difficult. For current prices in euros, always consult an exchange rate converter.
** Update: This article first appeared on Feb. 8, 2017, and was updated in June 2023.