Despite the bad rap that Medellin, Colombia once had as a drug haven, Larry Rose decided to take a leap of faith: He retired there. He was a 66-year-old former schoolteacher looking at living out the rest of his life on a small pension.
“I couldn’t live comfortably on that little in California even though I had family there,” Larry says. “Influential magazines like HuffPo, Forbes and the New York Times travel section all raved about Medellin, calling it charming, European, with spectacular weather at 75 degrees year round. Medellin is known as the City of Eternal Spring.”
Medellin, he found, is also a thriving city
And the drug king pins?
“In the U.S. you keep seeing stories about Pablo Escobar, the drug lord. Yes, coca and marijuana are all grown in Colombia, but they’re sold in the U.S. It’s the United States that has the problem. So I moved here in 2012 and haven’t regretted a second of it.”
Larry filled us in by phone from his home in the Colombian city.
So, what is the crime situation?
We still have gangs in certain communities – in small areas, just like in Los Angeles. They’re a remnant of the old cartel, which is mostly gone. I feel safer on the streets here than in San Francisco. Gangs are only interested in fighting with each other. Pablo Escobar killed drug lords, police and politicians – he wasn’t dangerous to the populace. But when he was here, foreign investment was zero. After he left, Medellin won the 2013 most innovative city in the world award from Citibank and the Wall Street Journal.
That’s what I love about Medellin. Even with that reputation, it was able to establish itself as a desirable place to live, a city on the move. We just finished our flower fair, which people come from all over the world to see. Colombia is famous for flowers. We have 19,000 species of orchids alone – the greatest biodiversity in the world.
How hard was it to move alone to a foreign country where you didn’t know anyone?
It helped that Colombia is a short trip back to the states. It’s the closest part of South America to the U.S. It also didn’t hurt that I soon found the love of my life in Medellin -Beatriz, a librarian 15 years younger than me with a little daughter. She is just wonderful. Beautiful, gentle, smart. I met her in the library, asked her to coffee, lunch, a concert and then to marry me. The 15 year age gap is nothing here. Many American men here go out with much younger women. The Colombian people are gorgeous by the way. They’re also warm, charming, helpful and friendly. I never felt isolated.
Did you speak Spanish?
I came with no Spanish. If you have a propensity for languages, it’s easy to learn, but there’s a large expat community, mostly Americans, Canadians and Brits, living in two neighborhoods where the majority of the merchants speak English. Many expats socialize only with each other, but most of my friends are Beatriz’s family – she has a lot of brothers and sisters, all professionals who only speak Spanish. I’ve begun to be able to say what I want in Spanish, but when they talk back it’s hard to understand, and the phone is impossible.
What’s the best thing about living in Medellin?
You don’t need a car. Taxis here are incredibly inexpensive, you can go halfway across town for $5 or less. All the cabs are metered and there’s no tipping. I take cabs everywhere and I’ve never waited more than three minutes. Cars are not recommended. Your driver’s license isn’t good here. You’d have to get a Colombian license, but traffic is no fun, the drivers are aggressive. If you want to travel to local towns, busses are the way to go. Despite stereotypes, there are no chickens on the busses, they’re all Mercedes buses with restrooms and airline seats. If you want to take a trip you rent a car, which isn’t as expensive as in the States.
And of course, the weather. No snow, no earthquakes, no tornadoes, no hurricanes, no droughts. It’s in the mountains with pure air.
What’s the worst?
There’s a lot of poverty. People come from small villages to the city looking for work. But the middle class is growing. Colombia was exploited by the U.S. for much of its history and still is. The country used to be owned by United Fruit, and Chiquita banana is still here and doesn’t pay well.
And some gringos here are ultra right wing crazies. And the coffee is wonderful, but the best is exported to the U.S.
How about healthcare?
Medellin has some of finest hospitals in Latin America. It’s acknowledged to be a top medical center – originally for cosmetic surgery, but the hospitals are now as good as most in the states.
Because I’m married to a Colombian I’m eligible for EPS, their socialized government insurance. I take a lot of meds, which cost me a total $2.40 a month. You can get EPS if you have residency. To get residency you have to buy a home, invest in a business, or be here on a pension visa for three years.
Medicare unfortunately doesn’t travel, but Aetna and Kaiser do, and there are a number of private insurance companies that will cover you here, though for not very much.
Medication here is inexpensive to pay for out of pocket. Surgery is a lot less expensive than in the States, in the four digits, not five, so if you have some cash you can simply pay for treatment. For example, before I had EPS, I was in hospital for ten days and had to pay cash for a bleeding ulcer, and the total cost was $4,000. I walked into an ophthalmologist’s with a scratched cornea and she gave me meds for my eyes, checked my eyes completely and gave me a new glasses prescription, in her modern office, for $40.
You can buy local insurance, but it might be difficult if you are over 65. The solution is to fly back to Florida. It’s a three hour flight, inexpensive to Ft. Lauderdale.
What are the visa requirements?
For a pensioner visa, the first one is six months, then a year. If you want to stay, after a few months you go to the immigration office and show financial documents that you have an income of at least $19,000 a year.
[Here’s a helpful video about getting a visa in Colombia.]
Do you expect to live the rest of your life in Medellin?
Yes. My family is here now. I also have family in the U.S., including two adult kids in San Francisco, a sister in Long Island and relatives in Florida who I stay in touch with through Skype and visits.
What does Aging with Attitude mean to you?
Staying open to new experience and thriving because you’re learning new things.
Cost of Housing (and living) Cheap; a third to a half of what it would be in U.S. Larry’s pension is $3500 a month, but you can live comfortably in Medellin for $2,000 a month. For their four bedroom apartment with veranda, garage, two baths, a large living room and a dining room in one of nicest neighborhoods in Medellin, Larry and Beatriz pay $350 a month. An apartment in a luxury neighborhood with security guards and swimming pools costs more. Food is also cheap. Your bill for four at one of the finest restaurants will come to less than $70, including wine.
Expat Community Small but active. While their numbers are steadily growing, expats – about 10, 000 of them – still make up a tiny percentage of the city’s three and a half million residents. Many expats are businessmen who have pool and pizza parties where expats socialize.
Crime Manageable. You have to mind your wallet and cellphone. There is pick pocketing, and phones get lifted. In bad neighborhoods there’s violence, so you stay out of them. Everyone knows where not to go.
Human rights/civil rights Everyone votes, and civil rights are strongly enforced. Children are well taken care of, schools are excellent. Racially, Colombians are diverse, with Africans on the coast where the slave trade was, Indians throughout the country and whites of mostly Spanish descent. Most of the politicians are white. The races do mix socially, but there is there racism – just like back home.
Best places to stay if you want to check it out
Inntu Hotel Larry’s favorite, the Inntu is 4-5 stars and runs well under $100 a night. Currently a room is around $55 on Kayak.com.
Charlee Hotel A spectacular luxury hotel – first choice on Trip Advisor. Rooms range from $170 a night and up – not cheap, but fabulous.
AirBnB Larry recommends the apartment of Lina Grisales for $20 a night. If she doesn’t have availability, she’ll find somewhere for you.
This post was updated to reflect the status of Medellin as a major Colombian city, but not its capital
good for a laugh at the amount of errors. either larry is living in lala land or the writer does not know how to check his info. am a long time traveler to colombia. most of the info in this article is outdated, understandable or just wrong.
Please advise on best place to look for a furnished apt, is there a gringo post?
Hi Larry, I enjoyed reading your story. The story is 2 years old…..has anything changed in the past 2 years? I will be in Medellin Nov 4 to Nov 8 and hope to retire here.
For those interested in coming to Colombia and/or specifically Medellin to retire, here is all the visa information you’ll ever need to get you started. farinternational.com/2017-update-colombian-retirement-visa/
This post is full of errors. “To get residency you have to buy a home, invest in a business, or be here on a pension visa for three years” – NO you need a TP-7 pension visa for FIVE years before you are eligible for a resident visa. “For a pensioner visa, the first one is six months” – NO a TP-7 pension visa is good for 1 year. “After a few months you go to the immigration office and show financial documents that you have an income of at least $19,000 a year” – NO the current pension income for a TP-7 visa is about $8,932 per year at the current exchange rate. “Your driver’s license isn’t good here” – NO a foreign drivers license is good while you are a tourist in Colombia. “The country used to be owned by United Fruit” – NO that is completely untrue, United Fruit was involved in in a Banana massacre in Colombia way back in 1928 but never “owned” Colombia.
Just a quick correction. This article claimed that Medellin was the Colombian Capital: “Larry filled us in by phone from his home in the Colombian capital.”
In fact, Bogota is the Capital of the country. Medellin is a beautiful and important city, but certainly not the Capital. Medellin is the Capital of the State of Antioquia, but not the whole country.
When a reader sees errors like this in an article, it makes them wonder what other mistakes are made in the article and it does lose some of its validity. Please edit the article accordingly. Thanks.
Helow, I have been living here snce2002, first in Medelllin and now in Santa Fe. In 2013 I got a bank loan to do some fixing up on the house. I now am trying for another loan from same bank. After waiting3 months,they said I need to file taxes here on my income-..it’s my retirement plus SS and is less than$1800/month. The money is in Calif. and I get it from time to time via ATM.I hardly consider my retirement as “income”, since I worked for it all my life, and don’t consider it an excessive amount. Has anyone had something similar, and how can they tax my money in the US??? Any thoughts?
You’re considered a tax resident of Colombia for the year if you spend 183 days or more in-country in any 365 day period. Colombia asserts the right to tax your world-wide income in that case, and you are required to report it on your declaracion de renta. Do an internet search for “colombia taxation” and you can read about the 19%, 28% and 33% marginal tax rates. The 19% rate starts at an income of about $1215 USD/month; the 28% marginal rate starts at about $1500 USD/month; and the 33% marginal rate kicks in a bit over $3400 USD/month.
There is not tax treaty between the two countries but you should be able offset any taxes paid in the US – little help because the tax rates in Colombia are higher and start at lower income levels.
DIAN ( the Colombian tax agency) has published documents that specify that foreign pensions are not exempt from taxation as income.
Taxing my social security is a deal breaker. I can live in Mexico and pay zero tax on that income.
Same here. I was looking at moving to Colombia primarily because of weather as I presently live in the Philippines. I like it here a lot and have lived here for six years. No place is “paradise” but overall it is still a winner. Colombia has a comparable cost of living with more first world attributes and much better weather. Taking into account a 33% reduction in income, I feel the same. Looking at different places in Mexico that may have comparable weather with some amenities I have become accustomed to here. Then again, this may be the best place for me but was disappointed to find out about the tax ramifications ofsColombia’s taxation policies.
I am an older woman, with little understanding of the spanish language. Some friends are moving to Medellin and they have encouraged me to move there, too. I do not have a close relationship with them , so I would be basically, on my own.
On the other hand, there are two families, who had lived in Columbia, previously and refuse to go back, because of safety concerns. They said I should not go to Medellin, as a single, older woman, who does not speak fluent spanish.
I have mixed emotions, as I understand Medellin is a beautiful place and that their food is all organic. If there are still a number of American and Canadian expats in Medellin, with whom I can associate, I would reconsider moving there. I had been told that there are not many people in Medellin who speak English.
So to recap, my questions to you are: 1) If there are presently, many expat retirees (who speak english) in Medellin, where would I find them? 2)Is it safe for me, as a single, older, non- spanish speaking, woman, to move to Medellin? and 3) Do you consider Medellin, safe at this time?
I really appreciate your feedback as I want to move, soon, but need to know that I am doing the right thing.
hi, I am coming to Medellin in March. I am interested in moving there. I have a income of around seven thousands. What would that get me in Medellin? Should I buy or rent. I am very concern about health care. I only want the best of health care. I currently live in Tampa fl.
I could keep a house in Tampa and fly back every month for health care. But i would later be taken care of in Medellin or I could do both. I am 67 years old. Would I be better to rent for a year? and go from there? Or I could come up with the $200,000 and buy something there.
How hard would it be to resale at a reduced price? Any other infor would be great.
Have enjoyed reading your work for some time and tried to contact you on the ex-pat site but no luck so far. I have been to Medellin twice for about 3 months each time, staying at Carerra 83A; #34B-36 apartment in Laureles which has been quite nice except for the $900 rent for a 2 BR, 2 bath apartment, with no elevator. My trips were in 2014 and 2015. Without looking at a map, it seems your location is near to this.
Can you give me a contact there to locate a 2 br apt closer to your monthly rate for my next trip in Jan 2017?
Hi, your blog is better than all the web sites. you gave all the info I am searching for.. My income is only 1,235 a month and no savings. I am looking for a change same as you. is there any hope for me.
What is the availability of assisted living facilities in Medellin?
I was enjoying your article until you wrote about your pension being $3,500 a month. The average social security recipient in the USA receives about $1,200.
For you to write “living out the rest of his life on a small pension” is just wrong in my opinion. I live in Chiang Mai Thialand and I am considering Medellin next.
Most other blogs I have read mention $1,500 for a single person living in Medellin as a comfortable budget. Very few retirees rent a 4 bedroom home. Period.
I was so enjoying reading your story of Medellin until you started in with politics by criticizing the right. I’ve been to many countries and live in Mexico. In my experience it’s always somebody on the crazy left that brings up the whole subject of politics.
Hi, your blog is stellar..from oneSooner ( boomer sooner ) from your oil days at OU..keep up
the fine work..victor