Considering Colombia? Read This First
Colombia has made its presence known on expat radar in recent years. Following the turbulence of the latter part of the twentieth century, this Latin American destination is in the process of reinventing itself to be more attractive to investors, retirees, and others seeking new vistas outside of the U.S.
Like any emerging country, Colombia has positive and negative elements that should be considered before making a decision to move there. Discovering what the pluses and minuses are, and measuring them against your own requirements, can be an important step in deciding whether this is the tropical destination for you.
Colombia: The Positives
Colombia has made a good deal of progress in actively attracting foreigners – both to live and, more importantly, to invest – during the 21st century. The potential for return on investment and a growing expat presence have helped to accent many of these positive improvements.
A Growing Expat Presence
One of the many features of moving to Colombia is the growing expat community that can be found in places like Medellín. These enclaves make it far easier to transition to life there than you might imagine.
An important element of this growth is that the infrastructure of the country will continue to improve in order meet the demands of this foreign population. Having amenities like high-speed internet, cable television, and good cellular service will increase the value-added potential for those seeking to make a long term commitment.
Colombia has a vibrant cultural tradition that makes living there both exciting and pleasurable. The country is said to have more national holidays than any country except for Argentina.
In addition to the countless local celebrations, the salsa festivals in Cali, the celebration of Carnival in Barranquilla, or the many art festivals and museums in Medellín, it becomes easy for tourists and expats alike to become immersed in the cultural diversity that Colombia offers.
Colombia is actually made up of six distinct climates, which also include the islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific. From the mountain weather of the Andes, to the tropical beaches of Cartagena, to the Amazon rain forests of Leticia, Colombia’s weather and biodiversity makes it a unique destination to consider as an expat.
Convenient Travel Options
Many major U.S. carriers, such as Delta, United, and American offer service to Medellín and Bogotá. As the growth in tourist and expat travel increases, it can be anticipated that additional travel options will also become available.
Colombia: The Negatives
With all the progress that Colombia has made in recent years, there are still some important issues that a potential expat or investor may wish to consider. Some of the concerns are listed below.
Infrastructure Away from Major Cities
Colombia is still an emerging nation and, as such, much of the infrastructure is still in a rustic state. Once you are outside of major population centers like Bogotá, Cali, Medellín or Cartagena, modern amenities are much harder to come by.
As a result, the majority of expats tend to focus on these metropolitan areas. If you are not interested in living in a major city, finding a suitable location in Colombia may be a difficult challenge to overcome.
The breaking of the stranglehold of the cartels and the recent cease-fire between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – which brought to a close 50 years of violent confrontations – are promising steps to reducing crime in Colombia. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty concerning the future.
Colombia still has a criminal element that exists both in the cities and rural areas. The Bacrim – local crime gangs – still operate and target both foreigners and locals.
This kind of uncertainty can certainly be viewed as a detriment to expats seeking to escape similar problems in the U.S. Diligence and knowledge is required in order to avoid those areas that are known to have high incidences of violence or criminal acts.
The Language Issue
As is the case with many countries in the Latin Tropics, Colombia is predominantly Spanish-speaking. Outside of the expat areas in Medellín and Bogotá, finding large groups of English speakers may be somewhat problematic.
If you already have some ability to speak Spanish, Colombia is a great place to become more fluent. If, on the other hand, the idea of moving to a country where you need to learn a new language (just to get around) seems too hard, Colombia may not be your first choice.
Cost of Living
This item actually is both a plus and a minus. It is true that prices for many items, including rent and real estate, are less than other Latin Tropic countries. That being said, however, Colombia is not the least expensive destination in paradise.
In a very real sense, Colombia epitomizes the adage “you get what you pay for.” Highly developed expat magnets, such as El Poblado, offer modern amenities many expats crave although at a higher price than other parts of the country.
The rules for residency in Colombia are more complicated than other destinations in the Latin Tropics. While foreigners can live and own property in the country, the process to obtaining permanent or long-term residency can be too arduous for some.
Weighing Your Options
Colombia is very much a “work in progress” insofar as foreign investment and expat growth is concerned. Apart from shedding the image of its troubled past, Colombia also has the challenge of growing from an emerging country to a preferred Latin Tropic destination.
When weighing your options concerning relocation to Colombia, understanding where the country has been, what life would be like in the present, and the potential for the future are all elements to measure. As with any other country, the first step is to visit there – more than once – to see what your sense of the place is.
Asking yourself whether you can envision life in Colombia is the single most important question in the expat/investor process. When you have that answer, your future course of action becomes a clear choice.