Colombia enters the ‘age of the expat’

Outdoor extreme sports in Colombia
Outdoor extreme sports in Colombia

An influx of expats is changing Colombia’s cultural landscape. Young people from Europe, Canada, the United States and Australia led the first waves, bringing an eclectic mix of personalities and dreams.

A young American economist now farms coffee in Tolima, while Silicon Valley techies fund startups and design apps in Medellín. A German-American carpenter brews beer in Buga, as Scottish innkeepers welcome tourists in Popayán.

Foreign retirees, especially from the United States, are leading the next charge.

Retirees I’ve met in Colombia are having the times of their lives, as you might expect. Some have opened businesses in the famed coffee region, others hang glide in Santander, a few lead tours, and others lounge in the shade.

Colombia’s outdoor scene is reason enough to retire to here, but most seniors land here for practical reasons, such as the low cost of living.

A few years back, I met a retired Texas teacher who was traveling though Colombia to find a home. After losing his pension in the economic crash, he faced an uncertain future, with Social Security his sole source of income, bringing home just under $1,000 per month.

Back then, the exchange rate hovered around $2,000 pesos to the US dollar, a far cry from the rate we enjoy today. Even so, Colombia offered him plenty of options that he’d never find in the United States.

I assured him he could live in a small town, like the one I live in, rent a home for as little as $150 USD per month, eat like a king for less than $10 USD per day, and still have money to travel around Colombia at his leisure.

In the seven years I’ve lived in Colombia, I’ve seen home prices rise every year, sometimes doubling from one to the next. Nonetheless, home costs remain low compared to properties in most U.S. cities.

For instance, you can buy a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Manizales for around $450 million pesos ($150,000 USD), compared to $300,000 in Dallas, Texas. And for $1.2 million pesos ($400 USD) you can rent a three-bedroom apartment in Bucaramanga’s trendy Floridablanca district, instead of paying $4,300 per month for a two-bedroom flat in San Francisco, California.

And then there’s the ease of the residency status. Retirees who bring home at least $2,068,365 pesos per month (just under US$700) can qualify for Colombia’s TP-7 visa.

Typically, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers TP-7 visas for a duration of one to three years, but you can renew at the end of a term. After living in Colombia for five years on a TP-7 visa, you can then apply for residency status.

If you meet the requirements, you can apply for a retiree visa as soon as you arrive. And once you get the visa, you can purchase health insurance, open a bank account, and legally sign contracts, such as a lease or mortgage.

Just this week an American friend of mine complained that insuring his family costs more than $20,000 USD per year, and his policy has a $6,000 deductible. But if his family moved to Colombia, they could get excellent health care at a reasonable price.

Colombia can claim some of the best health care in Latin America and a 2015 report in América Economía magazine ranked 22 hospitals and clinics in the country among the top 43 in the region.

Retirees pay just 12% of their income for health insurance, and one policy can cover a couple or a family with kids. Co-payments for doctor’s visits range from $2,700 pesos (less than $1 USD) to $27,900 pesos (around $9 USD) and the program caps yearly out-of-pocket expenses at $396,437 pesos (around $132 USD) to $3,171,493 pesos (a little over $1,062 USD) depending on your income.

So, yes, the retirees are coming, and who can blame them with all this Colombian goodness.


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