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Moving to Colombia

Open-minded and adventurous expats moving to Colombia will find an unspoilt land with a friendly and curious local population. A geographically diverse country, Colombia has all kinds of scenic beauty on offer, from vast mountain ranges to green prairies and lush rainforests. 

Most foreigners living in Colombia are based in the capital, Bogotá, but expats should be able to find a community of expats in most Colombian cities.

Living in Colombia as an expat

Many young expats come to Colombia to work as English teachers and spend a few years exploring South America. Other thriving industries include construction, medicine and oil and gas. Having at least a basic knowledge of Spanish will be advantageous in the workplace and help in interacting with the local population.

Accommodation can be found to suit almost every budget in Colombia, although expats generally opt for a relatively small selection of middle- to upper-class neighbourhoods that offer security and proximity to public transport, grocery and department stores, and restaurants.

Cost of living in Colombia

The cost of living in Colombia is low compared to North America or Europe. Bogotá, Colombia's capital, is much more affordable than other major South American cities, including Buenos Aires, São Paulo and Montevideo. While the cost of school tuition can be high, especially at private and international schools, expats will find that private healthcare is reasonably priced. Low taxes also offset these expensive elements of expat life in Colombia.

Families and children in Colombia

Colombia is becoming increasingly popular with families. There is plenty to do here, from adventure-filled holidays to kid-friendly parks, museums and restaurants in the major cities. Schools are also of a good standard, and those parents who'd like their children to keep studying in the curriculum of their home country will be pleased to learn that there are several excellent international schools in Bogotá and Medellín.

Climate in Colombia

Expats thinking of a move to Colombia can look forward to an extraordinary general climate, which is primarily tropical but has many variations within its diverse natural regions. Colombia's tropical forests, deserts, savannahs, steppes and alpine zones each bring their own unique set of conditions. May to November is the wettest time of year throughout the country, while December to April is the dry season.

Relocating to Colombia will be an exciting step full of new opportunities, even for the most seasoned expat. Though certain challenges face expatss in the country, new arrivals should rest assured that the warm hospitality offered by the Colombian people will ensure that they settle in quickly.

Fast facts

Population: Around 49 million

Capital city: Bogotá

Other major cities: Cartagena, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla

Neighbouring countries: Colombia borders Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

Geography: Colombia forms part of a region known for earthquakes and volcanic activity. The Andes mountain range dominates the country, and most urban centres are set in the mountains. There are large coastal areas, deserts along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and vast areas of the Amazonian jungle shared with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Colombia also has a few remote islands near Nicaragua.

Major religions: Roman Catholicism and other denominations of Christianity

Political system: Multi-party democracy

Main language: Spanish

Money: Colombian Peso (COP)

Tipping: Tipping is common for foreigners, but locals rarely tip. Tipping in a restaurant is usually 10 percent of the bill. Some restaurants automatically add a service charge. 

Time: GMT-5

Electricity: 110V, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade attachment plugs and three-pin (two flat blades with a round grounding pin) plugs are used.

Internet domain: .co

International dialling code: +57

Emergency contacts:  123 (medical, fire and emergencies), 112 (local police)

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side. Public transport includes minibus taxis, metered taxis and buses. Taxis are easy, safe and relatively cheap. Ride-hailing services are becoming increasingly popular in major cities.

Public Holidays in Colombia




New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Epiphany Day

9 January

8 January

Saint Joseph's Day 

20 March

25 March

Maundy Thursday

6 April

28 March

Good Friday

7 April

29 March

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Ascension Day

22 May

13 May

Corpus Christi

12 June

3 June

Sacred Heart Day

19 June

10 June

Feast of St Peter and St Paul

3 July

1 July

Independence Day

20 July

20 July

Battle of Boyacá Day

7 August

7 August

Assumption Day 

21 August

19 August

Día de la Raza Holiday

16 October

14 October

All Saints' Day

6 November

4 November

Cartagena Independence Day

13 November

11 November

Immaculate Conception Day

8 December

8 December

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

Weather in Colombia

The climate in Colombia is tropical but has many variations within its diverse natural regions. Colombia's varied landscape of forests, deserts, savannahs, steppes and alpine zones each bring their own unique set of conditions.

May to November is the wettest time of year throughout the country. Generally, temperatures will peak around 86°F (30°C) between September and November. Temperatures in alpine regions may, however, dip instead of rising during this time.

December to April is the dry season. Temperatures drop over December and January in most areas. However, few places drop below 50°F (10°C), and most places remain above 59°F (15°C) at least.

Average maximums are around 77°F (25°C) for the savannahs, at least 81°F (27°C) in the rainforests, 84°F (29°C) and upwards in the deserts. The steppes and alpine areas are the coldest areas, sometimes dropping below 50°F (10°C).

Significant rains may cause flooding and deadly mudslides, especially in Colombia's interior. While the big cities are typically the safest, expats should always heed weather warnings. In addition to flooding, earthquakes and volcanic activity are further environmental hazards to consider.

Embassy Contacts for Colombia

Colombian embassies

  • Embassy of Colombia, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 885 9279

  • Embassy of Colombia, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7637 9893

  • Embassy of Colombia, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 230 3760

  • Consulate-General of Colombia, Sydney, Australia: +61 2 9955 0311

  • Embassy of Colombia, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 3106

  • Consulate of Colombia, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 563 7727

  • Consulate of Colombia, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 9 300 6390

Foreign embassies in Colombia

  • United States Embassy, Bogotá: +57 1 275 2000

  • British Embassy, Bogotá: +57 1 326 8300

  • Embassy of Canada, Bogotá: +57 1 657 9800

  • Australian Consulate, Bogotá: +57 1 657 8030

  • South African Honorary Consul, Bogotá: +57 1 214 0397

  • Embassy of Ireland, Bogotá: +57 1 657 6060

  • New Zealand Consulate, Bogotá: +57 1 439 1666

Working in Colombia

Working in Colombia is becoming increasingly attractive to expats as word gets around about the country's natural beauty, welcoming locals, and easy-going lifestyle. Despite political instability, Colombia has made impressive economic progress over the last 15 years.

The abundance of natural resources, the relative stability of the economy, the low cost of living and the country's promotion of free-trade agreements have led to substantial foreign investment in recent years. As a fast-growing major economy, Colombia remains an attractive destination for foreign investors and entrepreneurs.

Expat entrepreneurs often find that starting a business is much less tedious than searching for a traditional job in Colombia. Entering the Colombian job market is often quite difficult for expats, though some knowledge of Spanish will make the process easier. Securing employment before arrival is uncommon.

Obtaining the necessary visas can be a lengthy and frustrating process as well. If a company wants to hire an expat, it will need to submit a document detailing the employment offer. It must also explain why it isn't hiring a Colombian for the position. Smaller companies may be reluctant to sponsor an expat's visa. 

Job market in Colombia

Due to the increase in tourism in the country and an increasing emphasis on locals learning English, a great many expats in Colombia work as English-language teachers. These jobs are plentiful and are relatively easy to secure for native speakers. Teachers can work in government-sponsored programmes, in language schools, or they can give private lessons. The pay tends to be relatively low, though. Many expats start off teaching in an effort to make connections and adjust to Colombian culture in a more relaxed environment.

Other positions can be found in industries such as information technology, mining, construction and tourism. Expat job markets are primarily centred in Bogotá and Medellín, but expats can find jobs nationwide.

Finding a job in Colombia

It can be challenging to find a job before arriving in Colombia. Colombians value face-to-face contact and prefer meeting prospective employees in person before making hiring decisions. However, expats can begin the process from home by making contacts via social media, professional networking sites and expat groups or forums.

Other expats may prove to be the most helpful resource in searching for opportunities, although job advertisements can also be found in local newspapers, on noticeboards and community forums or through online job boards. International sites like LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor are quite popular in Colombia, as are local sites like OpcionEmpleo and ElEmpleo.

Spanish fluency will be crucial when searching for a job on Colombian websites and local classifieds. Many employers won't speak English either. Ensuring all necessary documents, including resumes, have been translated into Spanish is essential.

In some cases, starting a new business in Colombia may be easier than finding a traditional job. The country is actively promoting entrepreneurship and seeking foreign investment.

Useful links

Work culture in Colombia

Fostering good relationships with friends and colleagues is central to Colombian work culture. Inland cities such as Bogotá and Medellín are more formal in their work culture, while in coastal areas like Cartagena, locals have a more relaxed approach to business.

Time and punctuality are not generally of great importance. Expats should be prepared for meetings to start late and run overtime, but they shouldn't be offended if colleagues are not punctual for appointments.

Doing Business in Colombia

Doing business in Colombia is an attractive prospect for expats, thanks to its position as one of the more stable economies in Latin America. Colombia has been enjoying strong economic growth over the last five years, with some fluctuations due to the pandemic, global economic dynamics and domestic factors. Major industries include information technology, construction, mining, shipbuilding and tourism.

Before conducting business in Colombia, expats should familiarise themselves with the local customs that will influence their dealings in the country. Colombians are warm and expressive, emphasising the importance of family and friendship. Establishing personal relationships and building trust is crucial to a successful working environment.

Fast facts

Business hours

Working hours are generally Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, with a one or two-hour lunch break.

Business language

Spanish is the official language of Colombia. Although an increasing number of businesses may have English speakers on their staff, it is advisable to engage an interpreter.


Appearance is important in Colombia. Expats should be neat and presentable and should dress conservatively in dark suits and ties for men, and dresses or suits for women. Clothing may be less formal in the warmer regions of the country.


Gifts are received well and are expected when visiting a colleague's home. Women are typically given flowers, particularly roses, while men will appreciate a bottle of liquor, as imported alcohol is expensive in Colombia. When receiving, it is polite to say thank you but wrapped gifts shouldn't be opened in front of others.

Gender equality

Although gender equality may be something of an issue in Colombian society, it should not be a problem for foreign businesswomen in the corporate world as they will be treated with courtesy and respect (though perhaps with some curiosity). 

Business culture in Colombia

The business culture in Colombia tends to be quite formal in the major cities such as Bogotá and Medellín, with a more relaxed attitude in the hot coastal regions. Engaging in small talk before focusing on business concerns is essential, and Colombians prefer doing business in person. They favour face-to-face meetings over phone calls or emails.


Handshakes are central to Colombian culture and are expected upon arrival and departure, accompanied by direct eye contact and a smile. Once business partners know each other well, greetings may become warmer, and men will embrace and pat each other on the shoulder while women kiss once on the right cheek. First names should only be used once invited to do so. Initially, expats should address everyone by their title – Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs) or Señorita (Miss) – and their surname.

Saving face

Communication tends to be quite subtle and indirect in Colombian business so as not to offend. Expats should read between the lines, using context and non-verbal cues to save face. Colombians may decline without directly saying "no". Mistakes should never be pointed out in a public setting.


Though communication may be more indirect than expats are used to, Colombians are also very warm and animated communicators. Engaging in small talk and asking about family, friends and hobbies before diving into business discussions is crucial. Trust and personal relationships are central to Colombian culture. In terms of personal space, Colombians may interact within closer physical proximity than expats are used to.


Business meetings should be scheduled a few weeks in advance and confirmed closer to the time. Since time is very flexible in Colombia, it is a good idea to leave a few hours between appointments in case meetings are delayed or last longer than expected.

Meetings do not always follow the agreed-upon agenda and will generally go on as long as needed – one should not try to rush the proceedings. Corporate lunches and dinners are a popular method of conducting business in Colombia.

Attitude towards foreigners

Colombians tend to have a positive attitude towards foreigners. They'll always ask one's opinion about Colombia and how it differs from what was expected. Colombians are eager to help their country escape its sometimes poor global reputation by welcoming foreigners and emphasising the best of Colombia.

Dos and don'ts of business in Colombia

  • Do accept invitations to social events

  • Don't offer opinions on local politics or make jokes about Colombian history

  • Do make an effort to learn some Spanish

  • Don't mistake Colombian animation for aggression, as it is an emotional culture

  • Do take time with business dealings rather than rushing things

Visas for Colombia

Depending on their nationality and the purpose of their stay, expats may need to get a visa for Colombia, whether they wish to visit, work, study or in the country. Expats should ensure they know which type of visa is required. Colombia offers many different categories of visas.

Visas are classified under three broad umbrella categories: Visitor (V), Migrant (M) or Resident (R). There are more than 30 subcategories under each umbrella category. It’s essential for expats to understand the visa rules before applying for a Colombian visa.

Visitor visas for Colombia

Citizens from particular countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France and South Africa, do not need a visa to enter Colombia as a tourist for up to 90 days. Expats should consult their local Colombian embassy to determine whether they need a visa.

There are visitor visas for foreigners who are going to Colombia for tourism purposes or to do business, participate in academic exchange and studies, do an internship or volunteer. The visa also applies to expats being transferred for work by an international company or those travelling for a working holiday. Other categories of visitor visa include those for medical treatment and digital nomads.

The digital nomad visa allows expats to work for a foreign company while living in Colombia. On this visa, which is valid for two years, expats can be in the country for up to six months a year.

The rentista visa (also known as an annuity visa) is for expats living on income from annuities, renting property, dividends or interest.

Useful links

  • See the list of nationalities that are exempt from short-stay visas on the Colombian Foreign Affairs website.

Migrant visas for Colombia

The migrant visa is intended for foreigners visiting Colombia for short trips or staying in the country temporarily. The visa is available to expats who want to live in Colombia and establish themselves but don’t meet the resident visa requirements.

Migrant visas include marriage, work, retirement and investment visas. Expats who are a spouse of a Colombian national, employed full time, a businessperson, investor, retiree or landlord could all be eligible for this visa.

The migrant visa is typically valid for three years. However, this depends on the purpose of the visit. The visa will expire if a visa holder leaves Colombia for more than six consecutive months.

Resident visas for Colombia

The resident visa is for expats who want to establish themselves permanently in Colombia. If a foreigner has held a migrant visa for longer than two or five years (depending on the visa category), they may become eligible to apply for a resident visa.

Resident visas are valid for up to five years and allow the visa holder to take up any employment in Colombia.

Useful links

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Cost of Living in Colombia

The relatively low cost of living in Colombia is a major attraction for expats. Low taxes and the availability of first-world amenities make this South American gem a great pick for those looking for a high quality of life without many major expenses.

The cost of living in one of Colombia's smaller cities or rural areas is lower than in major cities such as Bogotá and Medellín. Services and locally produced goods tend to be affordable, while imported goods are more expensive. Mercer's 2022 Cost of Living Survey ranked Bogotá, Colombia's capital, 205th out of 227 cities. This ranking is much lower than many other major South American cities, including Buenos Aires (114th), Montevideo (123rd) and São Paulo (168th).

Colombia's significant wealth disparity means expats earning in a higher bracket can enjoy a lavish Western lifestyle, but pinching pennies when necessary is also possible. Foreign currencies afford expats great purchasing power compared to the Colombian Peso (COP).

Cost of accommodation in Colombia

Although rent is likely to be an expat's most significant monthly expense, the cost of accommodation in Colombia remains affordable. Expats should note that, while the cost of accommodation in Colombia is steadily rising as its economy develops, they're still likely to find a range of options to suit their budget, particularly if they earn in a foreign currency.

Most expats settle in houses or apartments in a small number of middle- to upper-class neighbourhoods in Bogotá and Medellín, but single expats and those on a budget may opt for a houseshare or flatshare to save on rent.

Cost of public transport in Colombia

The cost of travel in Colombia is on par with other South American countries. Within the cities and smaller towns, taxis, motorcycle taxis and buses are ubiquitous and cheap. Regional buses and domestic flights are also reasonable.

Cost of education in Colombia

The cost of education in Colombia can be high, especially at private and international schools. Public schooling is free, but tuition will be in Spanish and may not meet expat standards. Most private educational institutions are either bilingual, with teaching in both English and Spanish, or international, with a foreign curriculum. Fees for the top international schools are high, as tends to be the case all over the globe, in return for a world-class education.

Cost of healthcare in Colombia

Although the public healthcare system in Colombia is generally of a high standard, most expats in Colombia will opt for private healthcare. Private healthcare is reasonably priced and the standard of care is primarily excellent. This level of affordability and quality has led to Colombia becoming a medical tourism destination.

All residents of Colombia are required to take out insurance with one of two national health schemes, depending on income. Most expats will take out additional private medical insurance to increase their coverage for specialist care or long-term illnesses.

Cost of groceries and eating out in Colombia

Groceries are likely to be one of the more considerable expenses each month. Several everyday products need to be imported into Colombia and are thus relatively expensive. Shopping at one of the large grocery store chains, such as Éxito or Jumbo, allows for a better selection but at a significantly higher cost. On the other hand, buying local products and shopping at local markets, butchers and street stalls will substantially reduce the cost of food.

The cost of eating out will vary greatly depending on the neighbourhood and type of cuisine. Most cities and towns offer a variety of restaurants to suit any budget. The cost of eating out and drinking out in Western-style bars and restaurants can be moderate to high in price.

In Colombia, lunch is the primary meal of the day. Local neighbourhood restaurants typically serve a set menu (menú del día) for as little as COP 8,000, which includes a bowl of soup, a chicken or meat dish served with rice and salad or plantains, and a fresh juice.

Cost of living in Colombia chart

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Bogotá in April 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

COP 3,000,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

COP 2,200,000

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

COP 1,550,000

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

COP 1,150,000

Food and drink

Dozen eggs

COP 9,000

Milk (1 litre)

COP 4,400

Rice (1kg)

COP 4,400

Loaf of white bread

COP 5,100

Chicken breasts (1kg)

COP 22,000

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

COP 8,200

Eating out

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

COP 90,000

Big Mac meal

COP 25,000

Coca-Cola (330ml)

COP 2,900


COP 5,500

Bottle of beer (local)

COP 3,600


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

COP 250

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

COP 72,000

Essential utilities (average per month for a standard household)

COP 300,000


Taxi rate/km

COP 6,500

City-centre public transport fare

COP 2,800

Gasoline (per litre)

COP 3,300

Culture Shock in Colombia

Many, though not all, expats are likely to experience some culture shock in Colombia. Although the culture and lifestyle may not appear completely alien, expats will notice many idiosyncrasies to which they will have to adjust.

The experience of culture shock in Colombia will vary depending on an expat's personality, lifestyle and location within the country. Western-style shopping malls, grocery stores and restaurants can be found in all the major cities, whereas adapting to life in smaller towns and rural areas will be significantly more challenging.

While Colombia is becoming increasingly popular with tourists and expats, foreigners still generate a fair amount of fascination and curiosity from locals. Expats should be ready for stares and invasive questions, well-meaning though they may be.

Dancing and football are beloved throughout the country, and Colombians are generally family-oriented. Expats will undoubtedly be invited to their new Colombian friends' homes and family events.

Cultural differences across Colombia

Colombia's diverse geography and history have given rise to distinct regional cultures and customs, making the country a rich tapestry of varied traditions. In the Andean region, which includes cities such as Bogotá, Medellín and Cali, people are often perceived as more formal and reserved, influenced by Spanish colonial history. The vibrant Caribbean region, encompassing cities like Cartagena and Barranquilla, boasts a more relaxed, expressive atmosphere, blending African, European and indigenous influences.

The Amazon region, home to indigenous communities with unique customs and lifestyles, presents a fascinating contrast to the urban centres. The lesser-known Orinoquía region, with its vast plains and cattle-ranching culture, has its own distinct music, dance, and cuisine, reflecting the strong cowboy (llanero) heritage. Finally, the Pacific region, known for its lush rainforests and Afro-Colombian communities, features distinctive musical styles like currulao and a seafood-rich culinary tradition.

Time and punctuality in Colombia 

Life tends to progress at a fairly slow pace in Colombia. The local approach to time and punctuality is highly flexible, both socially and in business. Enjoying more public holidays than most other countries, Colombians place great value on their family time, festivals and traditions. Queueing and waiting in long lines are commonplace. The practice of jumping these lines can also make visits to banks or shops tedious affairs.

Meeting and greeting in Colombia

Colombians are usually welcoming, lively and passionate. People from Bogotá, Medellín and other inland regions may be slightly more formal and reserved, while those from the coastal areas are often more laid-back and expressive. Expats should adjust their greetings accordingly to make sure they do not offend.

Appearances are important in Colombia. Personal care services such as hairstyling, manicures and pedicures, teeth whitening, and even plastic surgery are far more affordable than in many European and North American countries. Everyone is generally expected to be well-groomed and neat at all times. 

Women and gender roles in Colombia

As a predominantly Catholic nation, people in Colombia are generally conservative, with men and women expected to conform to conventional gender roles. That being said, there is a growing number of women in business, and they tend to be respected by their male colleagues. 

Like many countries in Latin America, chauvinism or machismo can be a problem. Female expats may have to deal with catcalling and harassment in the street, while men might be expected to pay for everything on a date or in a relationship.

Despite this, Colombia has made significant progress in promoting gender equality and empowering women in recent years. Expats should remain mindful of these improvements and contribute positively to ongoing change by respecting everyone, challenging stereotypes and fostering open-minded conversations around gender roles and expectations.

Language barrier in Colombia

Although the government prioritises bilingualism, the average Colombian does not speak much English. This is particularly apparent outside of the major urban centres. Learning Spanish will be essential for any expat hoping to integrate and fully adjust to life in Colombia.

The Spanish of the inland regions tends to be relatively easy to understand, but even expats who speak the language well may find it challenging to comprehend Colombians from the Caribbean coast, as there is a huge range of vocabulary and slang. Regional meanings can also vary widely. 

To overcome language barriers in Colombia, expats should take advantage of language exchange programs and online courses or enrol in local language schools, which offer immersive experiences and cater to various skill levels.

Additionally, smartphone apps and language meet-ups can provide supplementary practice and opportunities to engage with native Spanish speakers, enhancing the language learning experience. There are numerous apps to develop vocabulary and grammar skills, while yet others can facilitate language exchanges and opportunities for real-life practice. Expats should select Colombian Spanish or South American Spanish to ensure that they're learning the correct language for the region.

Safety in Colombia

Eager to put past stereotypes behind them, Colombians do their best to make foreigners feel welcome in their country. They work to put forward an image which is warm, generous and friendly. Although people are generally friendly, they can also appear oblivious to those around them.

Safety in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, but street crimes like pickpocketing and armed robbery are still common. Expats should therefore take certain basic precautions and be aware of their personal safety. Expats should also stay vigilant around roads, as Colombians tend to drive aggressively and have little patience for pedestrians. 

Even though Colombia signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, some groups have refused to demobilise. This means parts of Colombia still suffer from a war between guerillas, paramilitaries and government forces. Expats should avoid these areas.

Food and drink in Colombia

Lunch is the most important meal of the day in Colombia. In rural areas, everything comes to a halt for two hours each day as people go home to enjoy a hot meal with their families. The Colombian diet is very carbohydrate-heavy and includes a lot of sugar, with countless soft drinks, fruit salad drizzled with condensed milk and tubs of dulce de leche sold on street corners.

Drinking in public spaces is legal in Colombia, and a beer costs the same as, or sometimes even less than, a soft drink in the ubiquitous corner store tiendas. Coffee, particularly the strong and bitter tinto, is everywhere, as is freshly squeezed fruit juice. Water and other soft drinks are often sold in plastic bags, which may be unusual for expats.

In the larger cities, expats should have no trouble finding restaurants serving cuisines of any type. Imported food items will be available in the larger grocery stores, but usually with a hefty price tag attached.

Transport in Colombia

As Colombia is a developing country, the standard of public transport may be inferior to what expats have come to expect at home. Traffic in Bogotá is notoriously bad. People on the street tend to walk slowly, and chaos rules the roads. Drivers in Colombia pay little attention to stop signs, traffic lanes or indicators. Omnipresent motorcycles also completely ignore road rules as they wind through traffic.

Local buses don't stick to timetables or advertised routes. People simply hail the bus as it goes past and hop off wherever they need to. Although the buses are often crowded, street vendors and performers frequently push through the crowds to sell their wares or serenade passengers. The major cities of Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla have rapid transit bus systems, and Medellín is the country's only city with a metro.

Accommodation in Colombia

The price of accommodation in Colombia is rising as its economy develops, but most expats, especially those earning a foreign currency, will find that housing remains affordable.

When choosing accommodation, expats need to consider factors such as cost, security and location. As a result of the country's wealth disparity, expats can find accommodation to suit almost every budget. Expats will generally be limited to a relatively small selection of middle- to upper-class neighbourhoods that offer security and proximity to public transport, grocery and department stores and restaurants.

Most expats settle in Bogotá, the culturally rich and bustling capital. Another favourite city is Medellín, known as the 'City of Eternal Spring' due to its comfortable climate. Cali, the capital of salsa dancing, and Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena, along the Caribbean coast, are also popular locations.

Whether renting or buying, expats without a sound knowledge of Spanish may struggle to find and secure accommodation in Colombia. They may also be more susceptible to exploitative landlords and various scams. Expats unfamiliar with the local language and culture should enlist the help of a professional translator or a friend who is fluent in Spanish.

Types of accommodation in Colombia

The type of accommodation an expat chooses will depend on the town or neighbourhood they want to live in, their family's requirements and, of course, their budget. Generally, the further one moves from the city centre, the more choice they'll have and the more affordable the properties will be.

Modern apartment complexes in Colombia have good security and often offer amenities like a pool or a small gym. Older apartment blocks are usually more spacious and comfortable. They also tend to have better soundproofing than more modern buildings. Houses are typically expensive and are generally situated further away from the city centre.

Single expats and those on a tight budget might consider renting a room in a private home. Many have private entrances, including access to the entire house and its amenities, while allowing expats to improve their Spanish. Although Colombians tend to live at home until they get married, expats may also be able to find a room in an apartment shared with Colombian roommates (or fellow foreigners).

Furnished or unfurnished

Both furnished and unfurnished housing is available in the major urban centres, although furnished apartments are typically significantly more expensive.

Unfurnished apartments often lack many of the appliances that expats would expect, such as refrigerators, washing machines and microwaves. That said, renting an unfurnished apartment is often much more affordable, and expats staying in the country for a year or more will likely find buying their own furnishings worthwhile.

Short lets

A short let is a good option for those who may only be in Colombia for a few months. They also allow new arrivals to get to know an area before committing to a long-term lease. A short let usually offers some flexibility in the length of the rental. These properties generally come furnished, and price often includes utilities and services.

Finding accommodation in Colombia

Securing a house or apartment in Colombia may be difficult, especially for expats who don't speak Spanish. There is a high demand for properties in the more affluent areas of every Colombian city. Expats should therefore establish their budget well in advance and research their preferred neighbourhoods to focus their search.

The best way to find an apartment is to walk around the desired neighbourhood, talk to locals and look for 'se arrienda' or 'for rent' signs, and contact the owners via phone or email. Many apartments and houses are rented out by individuals rather than agencies. It is pretty unlikely that the owner will speak English, so expats should enlist the help of a Spanish-speaking friend.

Expats can also use a real estate agency, search the classifieds of local newspapers, or refer to expat forums where other foreigners may advertise available rooms or properties. There are several different online portals for people in Colombia looking for roommates or advertising apartments.

When searching the internet, expats should avoid using English sites, which generally market to tourists. Local websites will yield a more significant number of options at greatly reduced prices.

Useful links

Renting accommodation in Colombia

Renting accommodation in Colombia can be a tedious process. Rental agencies typically require expats to fill out lots of paperwork and provide references. Renting a room in a shared house or apartment is generally more relaxed and informal. 

The rental market is competitive and fast moving. Expats should definitely do some research before leaving their home country and shortlist suitable cities and neighbourhoods in Colombia that will suit their needs and budget.

The rental process

After deciding on the area they want to live in and the type of property they would like to rent, expats will typically research properties online. They would also then contact real estate agents to set up viewings.

Once they have found a suitable property and made a successful application, the estate agent will draw up the contract.

Together, both parties should make an inventory (inventario del inmueble) at the beginning of a tenancy agreement. Both parties should keep a copy for their records. They should sign the inventory and add it to the tenancy contract. It should typically include details of the contents of the property. The tenant and landlord or agent should note any damaged furniture or fittings.


Expats will need one or sometimes two Colombians to co-sign the rental agreement. These co-signers will generally need to be property owners and will be responsible for payments should the tenant default. Expats may find that local friends are either unable or unwilling to take on this responsibility, but an employer will often help with the process.

Although real estate agencies tend to be strict about this requirement, expats may be able to avoid the necessity of Colombian co-signers by paying a large percentage of the rent upfront or by negotiating directly with the landlord.

Rental contracts in Colombia usually last 12 months. This can vary from landlord to landlord, depending on the contract. Both landlords and tenants can legally terminate the contract early if the other party doesn't comply with the terms set out in the lease agreement.

References and background checks

Colombian real estate agencies require background credit checks. This may prove difficult for expats without a credit history in the country, but the landlord or agent will usually accept a salary slip or bank statement.


In Colombia, insurance companies function in place of deposits. A landlord will draw up a contract with an insurance company. This company will offer security against arrears and damage to the property.

This kind of policy should cover the property owner for 36 months' rent and a fixed amount for damage to the property. They will write the cost of the policy into the lease agreement. The tenant will either have to pay a monthly charge added to the rental price or an annual lump sum.

Terminating the lease

In Colombia, terminating a rental lease involves several steps. Firstly, the tenant must provide a written notice to the landlord one to three months before the intended termination date – the notice period should be spelt out in the rental agreement. Should the tenant fail to provide sufficient notice, they may be liable to pay compensation, typically equivalent to the rent for the remaining lease period.

It is essential for expats to carefully review the lease agreement, as it might contain specific clauses regarding early termination. Upon termination, the expat is responsible for returning the property in its original condition, accounting for normal wear and tear. Lastly, the landlord and tenant should settle any outstanding financial matters, such as unpaid rent or utility bills, before parting ways.

Utilities in Colombia

The cost of services such as water, electricity and gas in Colombia vary based on usage and strata. The strata system helps subsidise the cost of utilities in lower-income neighbourhoods. In the more desirable neighbourhoods of the city, expats will pay more for these services. Many people in rural Colombia forgo the luxury of hot water, especially on the coast, where it is sweltering and humid. Expats should be sure to confirm that their chosen property has hot water.

Although this varies between rental agreements, it is usually the tenant's responsibility to pay for services such as water and electricity. Expats should ensure that the rental agreement stipulates who pays for utilities. Utilities are generally included in the rental price of short-term leases.

Regional companies provide electricity in Colombia, and the three largest are Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), CODENSA and Celsia. The electricity provider will vary depending on location. Electricity bills are issued monthly, and expats can usually pay online or at local payment points like supermarkets or banks. Most electricity providers in Colombia offer online account management, allowing customers to easily track consumption and pay bills.

Gas supply in Colombia is distributed in two ways: natural gas pipelines and propane gas cylinders. Natural gas is available in major cities like Bogotá, Medellín and Cali, serviced by providers such as Gases de Occidente and EPM. Gas bills are issued once a month or every two months, depending on the provider and service. In more rural areas or smaller towns, propane gas cylinders can be purchased from authorised distributors and empty cyliners can be exchanged at local petrol stations.

Water supply in Colombia is primarily managed by regional companies, such as Empresa de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Bogotá (EAAB) in Bogotá and Aguas de Manizales in Manizales. Expats should expect monthly water bills which they can pay at local payment points or through online account management, depending on the provider. Water supply in Colombia is generally reliable, although water rationing may be implemented during periods of drought.

Municipal authorities manage waste management and recycling services in Colombia, contracting private companies to handle waste collection and disposal. Depending on the area, bin collection services typically run once or twice a week. Expats should familiarise themselves with the local waste disposal and recycling guidelines, as there may be separate collections for recyclable materials such as paper, plastic and glass.

Expats in Colombia should also be aware of additional utility costs, such as television and internet services. These services are generally provided by private companies, such as Claro, Tigo and Movistar. Expats can choose from a range of service packages, with monthly fees varying depending on the provider and package chosen. Account management for these services can usually be done online or via mobile applications.

Useful links

Education and Schools in Colombia

Education and schools in Colombia have shown significant improvements in recent years, and the government's commitment to enhancing its education infrastructure has led to better learning outcomes and global competitiveness.

The public education system is governed by the Ministerio de Educación Nacional (Ministry of National Education), but the standard of public schooling does vary rather widely, tending to lag behind in the more rural areas of the country.

The government has initiated various programs, such as the National Development Plan, to bridge the education gap between urban and rural areas by enhancing infrastructure, providing teacher training and implementing technology-based solutions.

Private schools in Colombia form an important part of the education system. There are also numerous international schools in cities across the country.

The school year generally starts in January and ends in November for public schools. Private schools tend to use a different calendar, starting in August or September and finishing in June.

Public schools in Colombia

All mandatory stages of education in Colombia are subsidised by the state, allowing lower-income families access to free schooling. Children can attend state-sponsored community nursery schools or daycare centres from the age of one. Children enrol in elementary school at the age of six.

Secondary education is divided into four years of compulsory basic secondary schooling (ages 12 to 15) and two to three years of optional vocational education (ages 15 to 18). Students are offered different technical and academic specialisations.

Although expats can enrol their children in public schools, many choose not to due to the varying standards of public education. Children who don't speak Spanish will find public schools extremely challenging. On the other hand, public schooling can an opportunity for cultural immersion, especially for the little ones who'd pick up the language easier than older kids might.

Private schools in Colombia

There is a large variety of private schools in Colombia, and the standards, entry requirements and fees at these schools may vary considerably. Generally, private schools have higher learning standards, smaller classes and a wider range of extra-curricular activities. Private schools are attended not only by expats but also by the children of wealthier Colombian families. 

Many private educational institutions are bilingual, teaching classes in both English and Spanish. Parents should carefully research schools before enrolling; although some schools call themselves 'bilingual', teachers may have only an intermediate knowledge of English and most classes may be taught in Spanish.

International schools in Colombia

There are numerous international schools in Colombia, most of which are in Bogotá. There are also international schools in major cities such as Medellín and Cali. Expats will find English, French, German and Italian schools in Colombia. Like many private schools, these are attended by a large number of local students.

International schools adhere to the educational model of their affiliated country. Schools will generally follow the national curriculum of this country, but many offer globally recognised qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate (IB). The teaching language is usually that of the school's country of origin, but many international schools also offer bilingual programmes.

International schools offer a high standard of education, similar to international schools across the globe. Tuition tends to be on par with private education in Europe or the United States, which is very expensive by local Colombian standards. Admission and enrolment procedures vary from school to school.

Special-needs education in Colombia

Expat parents of children with disabilities should consider an international school in Colombia, as these institutions provide the best special-needs care and education. The Ministry of Education implements policies and regulations for children with special education needs in Colombia. While the system aims to include children with disabilities within mainstream schools, there is still much room for improvement.

International schools will cater for most disabilities, including hearing, vision and other physical impairments, as well as mental disabilities. We recommend parents thoroughly research each school to ensure that their child will be accommodated, as not all international schools cater for special-needs children, or perhaps not all disabilities. Spaces at these schools also tend to fill up quickly, so parents should apply well in advance. 

Tutoring in Colombia

Tutoring can be a valuable tool for expat children in Colombia, whether they need help learning Spanish or other speciality subjects or for assistance in preparation for entrance exams or SATs. A good tutor can also boost the confidence of expat kids in their new environment or with a new curriculum.

We recommend expat parents enquire at their children's school about reputable tutors or browse for a recommended tutor on online resources such as Apprentus.

Healthcare in Colombia

Healthcare in Colombia has become known for its quality, coverage and accessibility. The country generally provides care of an excellent standard at a relatively low cost. This attracts numerous medical tourists looking for affordable treatment.

Health insurance is compulsory. All residents must be registered with a health service provider. Both public and private companies provide insurance to promote competition and a higher standard of service.

Public healthcare in Colombia

Public healthcare in Colombia can be of a high standard, but its quality and reliability are inconsistent. Patients in public hospitals often face overcrowded emergency rooms, long waiting times and a shortage of doctors.

Despite this, the level of care in the major urban centres is usually excellent, with well-trained doctors and well-equipped facilities. On the other hand, access to healthcare in more rural areas can be challenging.

Most expats in Colombia opt to have some form of private healthcare plan, at least as a backup or for medical emergencies.

Private healthcare in Colombia

Expats living in Colombia will find private healthcare easily accessible and affordable, even on a local salary. The country boasts a modern private healthcare system centred on the major cities. There is a range of insurance and treatment options for almost every budget. 

Private healthcare in Colombia also attracts many medical tourists, especially from the US, who are wooed by the high quality of care and the low prices. This is particularly true for cosmetic surgeries and dental work.

Health insurance in Colombia

Residents of Colombia must be insured under one of two regimes. The subsidised regime is for low-income families and is known as SISBEN (El Sistema de Selección de Beneficiarios para Programas Sociales). Meanwhile, the contributory regime known as EPS (Entidade Promotoras de Salud) is for those earning above the minimum monthly amount. Most expats will fall into the latter category.

The EPS contribution is part of an employee's salary. Expats with a contract that meets the minimum salary requirements must join the contributory health system. The system requires appointments to be made in advance. A referral from a GP is needed before seeing a specialist. Some services may require a small co-payment. 

Expats are also advised to take out private medical insurance, even if they pay into the national healthcare plan. Most health issues can be dealt with at one of the many hospitals or clinics, but in the case of chronic or long-term illness, it is advisable to have the extra cover in case specialist care is required. Expats can purchase private health insurance from several local or international providers.

When moving abroad with an employer, they will likely have already implemented a corporate healthcare plan. If moving independently, expats should consider purchasing private insurance to top up the services available in the public system.

Pharmacies in Colombia

There are numerous pharmacies in cities and towns across the country. Many of these, particularly the large pharmacy chains like Cruz Verde, Farmatodo and Farmacias Colsubsidio, operate seven days a week and are open 24 hours a day. Some pharmacies offer home delivery services. Medication is also available over the counter at relatively low prices compared to those in the US and Europe.

Pharmacies tend to be well stocked, and many medications that require a prescription in other countries can be bought over the counter in Colombia. While there aren't strict regulations on bringing reasonable amounts of prescription medication into the country, expats will likely find that purchasing their medication in Colombia will be significantly cheaper than in their home country.

Health hazards in Colombia

The tap water in major cities is generally safe to drink, although many houses and apartments have small water-filtration systems installed. Expats should not drink tap water outside the major urban centres unless it has been boiled, filtered or sterilised. 

Mosquito-borne viral diseases, including yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya, pose a significant threat in Colombia. Malaria is also prevalent in some rural and low-altitude areas, especially in the Pacific coastal regions, the Amazon region and some parts of the Orinoquía region. Expats should take the necessary precautions. When travelling to high-risk areas of the country, expats should use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, use window and door screens and consider antimalarial medications.

Pre-travel vaccinations for Colombia

The following vaccinations are recommended for expats travelling to Colombia:

  • Yellow fever

  • Typhoid

  • Hepatitis A

  • Routine vaccinations, if not up to date (measles, tetanus, poliovirus etc.)

Emergency services in Colombia

The national ambulance service of Colombia is called the Servicio de Atención Médica de Urgencia (SAMU). It is available throughout the country and is free to all citizens. Health insurance will typically also cover the cost of ambulance services.

In Colombia, every clinic or hospital must provide immediate medical care to anyone who requires emergency medical attention.

In an emergency, expats can call the national emergency number (123) and will be redirected to the appropriate service. If they want English-speaking operators, they can request to be connected to the Colombian tourist police (policía turística).

Transport and Driving in Colombia

Getting around in Colombia is not always a straightforward affair, as expats will soon learn. Although most cities have extensive bus and public transport systems, expats often find that using these can be an unpleasant, slow and crowded experience. Driving is an option, but heavy traffic and the prospect of dealing with the somewhat unpredictable drivers typical of Colombia make this a decidedly unappealing option for some.

Additionally, the fact that a sizeable portion of the country's south is covered in rainforest complicates matters further. Expats wishing to travel in this region will find themselves restricted to travel by boat.

Public transport in Colombia


Buses are usually the best option for public transport in Colombia. They are cheap, and most of Colombia is well connected by bus, both within and between cities. 

Most major Colombian cities have some form of rapid-transit bus system. The infrastructure for these is generally quite good, with dedicated bus lanes and well-positioned stations. In Bogotá and Cali, this bus system is known as the Transmilenio, and in Cartagena, as the Transcaribe. 

Inter-city buses are often more comfortable than inner-city buses. Most have aircon and some may screen films (although these are almost always in Spanish). Some bus drivers prefer to play music, and as such, passengers looking for peace and quiet may wish to make use of earplugs.


Medellín is Colombia's only city with an inner-city metro system. Expats will find that it is efficient, clean and safe. This is generally the extent of Colombia's passenger rail infrastructure – beyond this, there a few tourist trains and routes, but they aren't designed for everyday travel.

Taxis in Colombia

Taxis in Colombia are a cheap and convenient way to get around, though how they operate differs from city to city. In the interior of the country, taxis are usually metered. However, expats may have to negotiate a flat fare in coastal cities. A good grasp of Spanish will help avoid the 'gringo tax' that opportunistic drivers sometimes charge unsuspecting foreigners.

The best way to get a taxi is to use a call-ahead service to order one. The taxis from these companies are largely reputable. It's also possible to flag down a cab on the street. Expats should exercise caution in this case and only hail official taxis, which are yellow.

Taxi drivers are often happy to have repeat customers, and many carry business cards with their contact details so that customers can get in touch when they need a ride. This is a good idea if expats find themselves using taxis regularly and come across a driver that they find trustworthy. Motorcycle taxis are also available and can be a helpful way to bypass traffic.

Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Easy Tappsi (a Cabify app) are available in most Colombian cities. Expats who cannot speak Spanish will find these services an easy way to overcome the language barrier, as there is little room for miscommunication with drivers and no need to read Spanish street signs or maps. It is worth noting that ride-sharing services in Colombia operate in a legal grey area, and drivers may be unwilling to make certain trips.

Driving in Colombia

Colombian drivers are known for driving impulsively and unpredictably. This makes the roads chaotic and dangerous. Expats should avoid driving if possible and instead hire a driver or make an arrangement with a taxi driver. The quality of the roads in Colombia varies hugely, and traffic is a problem in larger cities.

Tourists can generally use their driving licence from their home country, but residents will have to get a Colombian driving licence once they have received a Cédula de Extranjería (a Colombian ID document for foreigners staying in the country).

Expats planning to purchase a car should be aware that in major cities, a system known as Pico y Placa has been implemented to help deal with the infamous Colombian traffic. Based on the last digit of its registration number, each vehicle is assigned two days a week during which it cannot be on public roads during peak traffic hours. 

Cycling in Colombia

Cycling is becoming popular, especially in Bogotá, which has over 186 miles (300km) of cycle paths and lanes, although some of these lanes don't connect. A local community group called La Ciudad Verde has taken to painting its own lanes to remedy this. As these aren't official paths, expats should take caution when using them.

In most major Colombian cities, such as Bogotá and Medellín, the local councils have implemented a public health initiative called Ciclovía. Every Sunday between 7am and 2pm, the cities' main roads are closed to traffic and are used by pedestrians and cyclists. This is a popular Sunday activity for families and groups of friends.  

Walking in Colombia

Colombia's reputation for crime has given many the impression that it isn't safe to travel by foot, especially within the cities. However, many expats find this an exaggeration of the situation and generally feel safe walking in busy areas. The grid system layout of the streets also makes cities such as Bogotá and Cali easy to navigate by foot. It's still best to exercise caution by not walking around at night, and walking in a group or with a partner. It's also important to stay alert and keep valuables out of sight.

Banking, Money and Taxes in Colombia

Handling banking, money and taxes in Colombia comes with its share of bureaucracy. The language barrier in particular adds a layer of complexity because many of the documents, forms and processes are in Spanish. Expats may have to enlist the help of a Spanish friend or translator.

As in any country, tax matters can become complex. It may be worthwhile for expats to hire a tax professional to ensure they remain on the right side of the law.

Money in Colombia

Colombia's currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). Unlike most other currencies, which are usually subdivided into cents or an equivalent, the peso is the lowest unit of Colombian currency. It isn't further subdivided.

  • Notes: 1,000 COP, 2,000 COP, 5,000 COP, 10,000 COP, 20,000 COP, 50,000 COP and 100,000 COP

  • Coins: 5 COP, 10 COP, 20 COP, 50 COP, 100 COP, 200 COP, 500 COP and 1,000 COP

Banking in Colombia

Banking in Colombia is a relatively straightforward process. Expats will find that opening a bank account is simple as long as they have the correct documents. It's also easy to find ATMs, and most places accept credit cards.

Some banks in Colombia have English-speaking staff to assist expats who may not be fluent in Spanish. This may, however, vary from bank to bank and branch to branch. Expats can check with their local bank branch or the bank's website to see if they offer English-speaking services or if they have bilingual staff available.

Expats should take heed currency conversion fees when using their foreign credit or debit cards in Colombia. These fees can add up quickly, especially in the case of frequent transactions and ATM withdrawals. Several international banks operate in Colombia, offering various banking services to expats and locals alike. These include Citibank, HSBC, BBVA and many others.

Bank hours in Colombia can vary depending on the bank and the location. Generally, banks in Colombia are open from Monday to Friday, from 8am to 4pm, with some banks offering extended hours until 6pm or 7pm. Many banks are also open on Saturdays, usually from 9am to 12pm.

Opening a bank account

Expats wishing to open a savings or current account can do so at a local Colombian bank or a multinational bank such as HSBC or CitiBank.

There are several documents required to open a bank account. These vary from bank to bank but usually include a Cedula de Extranjería (Colombian ID document for foreigners), passport and visa, proof of address and proof of employment and income. Some banks may ask for references or require a Colombian guarantor – employers are often willing to fulfil these requirements.

Credit cards and ATMs

Expats are unlikely to be granted a credit card from a Colombian bank unless they already have an existing credit record in the country or have been banking in Colombia for six months or more. New arrivals needing a credit card will either have to bring one from home and possibly bear steep transaction fees or else apply for a credit card with an international bank in Colombia. References from a previous bank back home can boost their chances of approval.

In major cities, credit cards are accepted just about anywhere, including shops, hotels and restaurants. Expats should, however, not be surprised if they're asked to present some form of identification before they can pay with a credit card. In smaller towns, places that accept credit cards may be few and far between. Similarly, ATMs are easy to find in big cities but can be scarce in smaller towns.

Some ATMs only offer withdrawals at certain hours of the day or place a limit on withdrawal amounts at night for safety reasons. Expats should always be aware of their surroundings while using an ATM and be wary of anyone loitering close by.

Taxes in Colombia

Tax in Colombia is either deducted monthly from a salary or paid in an annual tax return. Tax return submissions usually close around April or May each year, and there is a penalty for filing tax returns late.

Full-time residents – foreigners in Colombia for 183 days or more within a tax year – must pay tax on their total worldwide income. Those who spend fewer than 183 days a year in Colombia are only taxed on their earnings from within the country.

Due to the complexity of expat taxes, we recommend hiring an experienced expat tax professional for guidance.