The most common question people ask about Bogotá is also one of the most difficult to answer: is it cheap? When I told a friend who volunteered here a couple of years ago that I was coming to Bogotá to work, she jealously said, “You’ll be able to do Bogotá properly!” So clearly, this city isn’t cheap enough for some expats, or indeed for the vast swathe of its inhabitants working for less than minimum wage. Mercer’s 2012 cost of living survey ranks Bogotá as the 53rd most expensive city in the world to live in. But how much does it actually cost?
First: transport. If you live here, a daily expense and bane of your life will be figuring out how to get around the city. Like me, you might choose to live within walking distance of work to avoid the cost and trauma of the TransMilenio at rush hour. If you do decide to brave it, a journey will cost you $1,400 pesos at off-peak times and $1,700 pesos at peak times. An alternative is to travel by car, but with gasoline at approximately $3,000 pesos a litre this is expensive. As a tourist, you will probably choose the TransMilenio or take a taxi: taxis are surprisingly cheap, with an average fare about $7,000-10,000 pesos. Remember that if you take a taxi after 8 pm or on Sundays, they will add a surcharge – ‘recarga’ – of $1,500 pesos.
Your morning caffeine hit should also be quite cheap, with the price of a tinto starting from $1,000 pesos and a good cappuccino from $2,000 to $3,500 pesos. As for lunch, you can get a ‘corrientazo’ or set menu from $5,000 pesos upwards. If you pay more $10,000 for a corrientazo, it’s probably not a good deal.
Street food is good value, although comes with the fear factor of never knowing how much your stomach can tolerate. A hotdog and arepa costs around $2,000 pesos – a bargain that’s almost worth the risk. You can also get great juices and fresh fruit on the street for $1,000 pesos.
In the afternoon, if you live here or are a tourist with a spot of extra cash, you might fancy doing some shopping. Clothes are expensive although, as a friend pointed out, since there are no seasons you’re at least guaranteed to wear whatever you buy year round. In malls such as Avenida 80 you can expect to pay $30,000 – 60,000 pesos for jeans, the same for shoes and a bit more for a warm jumper (around $70,000 pesos).
If you fancy spending your hard-earned cash on a bit of culture instead, theatre tickets tend to be between $5,000 – 20,000 pesos depending on the theatre and production, and the cinema chains cost around $14,000 pesos a ticket.
So returning home to your apartment or hotel, how much are you paying for the roof over your head? I pay $450,000 pesos a month rent, plus around $60,000 pesos in utility bills. Rents in Bogotá vary, so its worth deciding in advance what your priorities are – when I first arrived I paid $350,000 pesos a month but shared a house (and bathroom!) with 18 strangers on Caracas Avenue. If you’re willing to pay slightly more and search slightly longer, you can get a nice apartment in Bogotá from anything upwards of $400,000 pesos. As for tourists, hostels in Bogotá usually cost from $15,000 pesos to $25,000 pesos a night.
If you decide to go out at night, prices really depend on where you go. I’d put myself into the student bracket- I drink before I go out, go to cheap bars where you can get a beer for $2,500 pesos and rarely pay club entry. I’d estimate that my average night out costs around $40,000 pesos. However, as a tourist or someone working full time on a good salary, you might want to splash out, in which case a night on the town could cost anything from $50,000 pesos to $80,000 pesos. Nice bars will charge from $8,000 pesos to $15,000 pesos for a drink and club covers can cost up to $30,000 pesos.
So the answer to that question at the beginning: how much does it cost to live here? In summary, taxis are cheap, food is cheap and rent is cheap when considered internationally but expensive in comparison with other Latin American cities. Clothes are expensive, and a night out can result in the horrible sensation of waking up with an empty wallet the next day. But for foreigners especially, the city still represents good value for money, never more so than when sitting with a large plate of food in front of you that costs the equivalent of a few, hard-earned, dollars.