Retirement- Montevideo Vs Medellin

Montevideo Vs. Medellín? Tough Call

Dec. 5, 2012, Medellin, Colombia: Montevideo, Uruguay, and Medellín, Colombia, are two top retirement havens. Which is cheaper? Which is better?

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

"The two cities that I am presently considering are Montevideo and Medellín," writes reader Phillip D, "and I've been researching various websites, trying to work out a realistic cost of living for each.

"From what I've found so far, it doesn't look too easy to live well on a low budget in Montevideo. In fact, Uruguay looks like the most expensive of the countries that you recommend for retirement. Based on what I'm finding, it seems the more economically suitable choice would be Medellín..."

Phillip brings up a good question, one that I hear frequently about these two popular retirement destinations. Having lived in both cities, I think I can help compare the two.

First, Montevideo is a good choice within Uruguay; the cost of living is lower than in Punta del Este (the other most popular choice among expats and foreign retirees in this country), and I found lifestyle in Montevideo to be richer for a year-round resident.

Colombia's Medellín, however, provides a more upscale environment than Montevideo. In my neighborhood of El Poblado, the streets are better kept, the city is cleaner, and everything seems shiny and new. In fact, the lifestyle is higher end than anywhere I've lived in the United States with the exception of east-side midtown Manhattan...which makes Medellín an amazing bargain considering the low cost of living and of property in this city.

On the other hand, I find a cultural richness in Montevideo that I don't feel in Medellín's El Poblado. The Old World European traditions, the predominantly Italian influence, and the friendly people create an experience that I haven't been able to duplicate outside of Uruguay. And Montevideo--actually, Uruguay in general--offers the low-stress environment that comes with a truly non-confrontational culture, something I've found unique in the Americas.

Whether you prefer the Old World ambiance and tango culture of Montevideo or the upscale beauty of Medellín is a matter of personal choice. But here are a few other things to consider, as well.

First, I believe the day-to-day cost of living in the two cities is almost the same. Based on my own spending habits for food, entertainment, taxes, etc., I can't see a difference in my routine expenses Montevideo versus Medellín.

That said, you'll spend more for electricity in Montevideo than in Medellín, as you will likely use heat for three months per year and air conditioning for perhaps two months. Montevideo has four seasons (but no ice or snow), while Medellín enjoys moderate temperatures all year (average high of 78°F).

Both Montevideo and Medellín are cities where you could live without a car; although Montevideo is more convenient than El Poblado on foot, as Montevideo's terrain is fairly level and everything's closer at hand.

Both cities also have solid infrastructure, with drinkable tap water, good public transportation, and reliable, high-speed internet service at reasonable prices.

Montevideo and Medellín also both host a significant English-speaking expat community. But in neither case is the English-speaking community large enough to taint the local culture.

The cost of real estate is higher in Montevideo than in Medellín. Based on my personal experience, a Medellín apartment that sells in El Poblado for US$1,500 per square meter would cost more than US$2,500 per meter in Montevideo, in a similar neighborhood. Also, real estate transaction costs are much higher in Montevideo than in Medellín: I paid around 8.2% of the purchase price when I bought in Uruguay, compared with but 1% in Medellín.

Real estate trades in U.S. dollars throughout Uruguay, while it trades in Colombian pesos in Colombia. So Uruguay offers exchange-rate stability (with respect to your property) if you're shopping with U.S. dollars in your pocket, while Colombia offers the risks and/or rewards of buying in a foreign currency.

In both countries, however, you have exchange-rate exposure for all other expenses (aside from property purchase).

Finally, Montevideo is less convenient to the United States than Medellín. The flight to Montevideo takes more than nine hours from Miami, while Medellín is around three hours away.

If you're looking to diversify your life outside your home country or if you're in search of a safe haven, I would give Uruguay the edge over Colombia. It's easier to move money to Uruguay than to Colombia, Uruguay has a far more flexible and customer-focused banking system, and it's geographically and economically more removed from North America. In the context of diversification and safe haven, that's an important plus.

In both countries, I've found residency easy to obtain.

All things considered (cost of living, cost of real estate, cost of purchasing property, etc.), you'll spend less in Medellín than in Montevideo, especially if you live (in Medellín) outside the most expensive and sought-after El Poblado neighborhood. And, again, Medellín is also more convenient to North America.

That said, I don't think I've ever enjoyed life as much as in Montevideo. In the end, for me, the choice between these two cities was more about lifestyle than economics.

Lee Harrison

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