While many outsiders view Bogotá as a place with an affordable cost of living, they can only know the truth when they live and work in this city for an extended period of time. As someone who moved here from New York, I was initially very excited to be able to spend my hard-earned dollars on many of the city’s affordable goods.
But as time passed, and I settled in, I eventually began to realize that most people who earn a living in pesos cannot keep up with the rising cost of living. The consumer price index is just under half that of New York City while the rent index is 87% less than that in the Big Apple. To many, this seems inviting. But don’t tell that to Bogotanos, who will say that this research doesn’t take into account the salaries employees earn.
With the minimum wage at just over $500,000 pesos per month, far too many have to make tough choices on what and where to spend. If a beer at your local watering hole in Manhattan goes for U.S $5.00, similarly, clubs near the Centro Andino and the Parque 93 are charging $10,000, sometimes $14,000 pesos for a local brew. “There’s no balance between people’s salaries and how much things cost,” says Antonia Angel, a fashion designer. “You make money to survive. But sometimes there’s just not enough left over to have fun.”
That makes sense when real estate prices are at an all time high. Obviously, the more expensive places are clustered around Chicó and Rosales. But don’t be fooled. Real estate across the city is rising sharply and smaller rentals in Cedritos or La Macarena will start at $1 million pesos. With an exchange rate of roughly $1800 Colombian pesos per dollar, that’s close to U.S. $600 for a modest city pad. Then add the monthly administration and obligatory services.
“It’s not a far cry from New York,” says Cristian Jackson, a Colombian businessman who lived in the U.S. for many years. “When you come to a city like Bogotá, you got to take into account that the country is gaining popularity.”
New York apartments are commonly more expensive with less space. But still, the culture here is definitely comparable as residents now “live to work” in order to afford the lifestyle. According to the bi-annual rating from the Swiss Bank UBS, Bogotá is considered among the most expensive cities in Latin America along with Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Caracas.
In any big city, public transit is going to be essential to get around town and avoid the traffic. In terms of Bogotá, public buses and TransMilenio are basically the only way to go. But much like in other metropolises, the rates go up yearly. Here, we’ve seen the price of a bus ride increase from $1,200 pesos to $1,450 in a matter of months. TransMilenio costs $1,700 for a very crowded ride.
Though it’s hard for commuters to complain, with gas prices above U.S. $4.25 a gallon, many in Bogotá are coming to their senses over owning a second vehicle.“Sometimes, I think it’s pointless to own a car,” says Julio Ortega. “I go to work hard everyday to make a salary, only to spend millions filling my tank, every year.” This without mentioning the obligatory taxes and the almost-on-par with NYC price of parking!
As a foreigner, I expected my pesos would purchase more than my greenbacks. Now, I realize that the capital of Colombia is comparable to any American city, where you’ve got to work, to “live.” And this also means being more selective where to have that U.S. $9.00 after work cocktail.