Articles Related to Residency in colombia

 You can learn a lot about a place both from and by its taxi drivers. They're a top source of getting-to-know-a-city information and insights, and they're also a barometer of the mood of a place. In Panama City, taxi drivers are in a hurry. They honk their horns constantly. They weave in and out of traffic, from lane to lane, pushing for constant progress. They can't abide sitting still or even slowing down. They run traffic lights and ignore stop signs. They also tend to be unhelpful, even rude. A Panamanian friend describes them as "among the least appealing people on earth." I can think of a handful of exceptions, but, in general, I'd agree with my friend. 

In Medellin, the taxi drivers, like their city, are gentler and calmer, happy to stop to offer directions or even to chat. In Medellin, you rarely hear the honking of a car horn, not by a taxi driver and not by anyone else either. It's also worth noting that, in Medellin, taxis are not only ever-present, but also always painted yellow and metered, unlike in many of the places where we recommend you spend time. Again, orderly... genteel. 

Medellin is impressively green, with trees, plants, and small gardens everywhere, and remarkably clean. In the central neighborhoods, you see no litter. The metro, a point of pride for the local population, is spotless and like new. At every station and in every train we've ever ridden, I've looked for but have been unable to find even a cigarette butt or piece of gum on the ground. 

Panama is working hard to clean up and green up its capital city. The long stretch of parkland along the bay known as the Cinta Costera has dramatically changed the face of Panama City for the better. Still, while one might describe Medellin as genteel, an appropriate adjective for Panama City might be gritty. 

Walking around Medellin outside the central tourist zone, Lief and I feel like an anomaly. This is less and less true, as Medellin becomes more discovered by expats and retirees. However, in Panama City, Americans are everywhere. We have been part of the landscape in this city for a hundred years. 

From a cost of living perspective, these two cities are generally on par... depending on the relative strength of the Colombian peso. Right now, the U.S. dollar is at a five-year high versus the peso, meaning the cost of living and of buying real estate in this country is cheaper than it's been for a long time. This is a window of buying opportunity. We watch this, looking for opportunities to change dollars into pesos to cover carrying costs for our apartment in Medellin.

In Panama, where US$1 is US$1, this isn't an issue. This means no particular windows of investment opportunity, as we're seeing right now in Colombia. On the other hand, if you intend to retire on an income fixed in dollars, this can be an important plus. 

Both markets offer interesting real estate opportunities. The real estate market in Panama City, after settling post-2008, has begun to appreciate again. Today, you can buy the best this market has to offer for US$1,500 to US$2,200 per square meter. A year from now, this will not be the case. Central Panama City values are going to move up steadily from here for the next few years. 

In Medellin, meantime, you can own in El Poblado, considered the best address in the city, for as little as US$1,000 per square meter right now (resale), thanks to the dollar's surging buying power. In less central, more local neighborhoods, you can buy for less. The real estate market in Medellin reminds me of the market in Panama City when we first began paying attention to it more than a dozen years ago. 

Panama is one of the world's most welcoming countries when it comes to establishing residency. In Panama, the would-be expat, retiree, or entrepreneur has more than a dozen options for how to establish full-time residency, including the "Friends of Panama" visa option, which amounts not only to the most user-friendly, turn-key residency option in the world today but also the most user-friendly, turn-key residency option in the history of residency options. Plus, it can lead to a work permit, which is a big deal. 

Colombia, too, though, offers good foreign residency options, including one for pensioners and another for investors. The minimum investment requirement in each case can be less than for comparable options in Panama, especially, again, right now, as these are Colombian peso costs.

One practical matter that is not as straightforward in Colombia as it is in Panama is opening a bank account. It's difficult to impossible as a foreigner to open a local bank account in Colombia unless you have a personal introduction to the bank. If someone tells you otherwise, they're speaking optimistically. 

The alternative is to open an account with what's called a "fiduciary," the local equivalent of Charles Schwab. Unlike opening a bank account, this is straightforward and a reasonable strategy for dealing with local bills. The downside is that transaction fees can be high. 

The other downside to Medellin compared with Panama City is that few in Medellin speak English, whereas, in Panama City, it's possible to get by speaking no Spanish. 

In addition, Medellin (again, very unlike Panama) is not a tax haven, and taxes are high. Living here, your tax burden could increase, depending on your nationality, where you hold legal residency, and where your income comes from. The country even imposes a wealth tax (after five years of residency). Note, though, that moving to Colombia with only retirement income should be a tax-neutral event. Colombia, like most countries, doesn't tax foreign retirement income. 

Unlike Panama, Colombia imposes exchange controls. These are manageable if you plan and execute any investment in the country carefully and correctly. But, again, they're not an issue at all in Panama.

Bottom line, here's how I'd break all this down...

Panama City Versus Medellin:

Cost Of Living: It's a tie, more or less, depending on the relative strength of the Colombian peso. Right now, Colombia is notably more affordable for dollar-holders...

Cost Of Real Estate: As much as 60% less expensive in Medellin...

Climate: Way more comfortable in Medellin...

Quality Of Life: This is completely subjective and impossible to pin down. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb and say that the overall quality of life is more appealing in Medellin than in Panama City...

Ease Of Residency: Panama is one of the easiest places in the world for a foreigner to establish full-time legal residency, especially if he comes from one of the countries included in the "Friends of Panama" visa program. However, Colombia is also a very straightforward option in this regard and has been working hard these past few years to make the process ever-easier. For sure, the cost of establishing residency is lower in Colombia than in Panama...

Ease Of Banking And Doing Business: Here, Panama wins, with its international banking industry (the exchange-of-information treaty the country signed with the United States in 2010 notwithstanding); its lack of any exchange controls; the absence in this market of any currency exchange risk (as Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency); and its greater prevalence of English-language speakers...

Infrastructure And Accessibility: Another tie...

Taxes: Panama is the screaming champion on this score, a true tax haven, while Colombia qualifies as a high-tax jurisdiction, with, for example, a corporate tax rate as high as 33%. Again, though, if you're a retiree making a move with retirement income, you probably don't have to care about this...

Health Care: Top notch on an international scale in both cities... 

Ease Of Settling In: Panama City is a kind of halfway house for expats, a very easy and comfortable first step overseas. Medellin is more an emerging expat destination, though it is more discovered and therefore easier to navigate as an expat or foreign retiree all the time. Bottom line, though, Colombia is more challenging in this regard unless you speak Spanish...

Which city might be better for you? 

I couldn't say. As I remind you often, it depends on your personal circumstances, your priorities, and your preferences. What is your current situation and what kind of experience are you looking for? 

I can tell you that we've decided not to try to choose but, instead, have worked over the past few years to incorporate Medellin into our long-term retire-overseas plan. As a friend in Medellin, another expat who also divides his time between that city and Panama City, put it recently: "Do business in Panama City but live in Medellin. That's the ticket..." 

Lief and I would agree. 

Kathleen Peddicord

Editor's Note: We opened registration for our 2015 Live and Invest in Colombia Conference last week. As of this writing, 8 VIP attendee places remain available. Register now to enjoy special discounts and VIP perks.

Full details of the program we've conceived for this timely event are here

You can reach our conference team with your questions by phone toll-free from the United States at 1-888-627-8834 or by email here.

P.S. What else this week?
  • The Porte de Clignancourt has been called a "no-go zone" northeast of Paris. Publisher Kathleen Peddicord clarifies that it's still the welcoming shopping neighborhood it's always been:
"Porte de Clignancourt, where we landed unexpectedly that day about six weeks ago, is a busy, crowded neighborhood historically famous for its marché aux puces, the biggest antiques market in the world. More recently, this area at the end of Paris Metro line 4 has become known for other reasons..."
  • Retirement planning expert Paul Terhorst explains how, living or retired anywhere in the world, one way to continue your education is through free massive open online courses:
"So I took these three courses. You can choose from hundreds of others. I took my courses with friends around the world and suggest you do the same. You can exchange emails about what you find exciting, novel, or perplexing. Give it a try. It's free..."
  • Kathleen makes a bold recommendation, one of the surest she's ever made:
"Medellin, Colombia, meets all my criteria for a top retire-overseas choice. This is an emerging champion for retiring, living, investing, and owning a second home overseas. Furthermore, the current exchange rate is handing today's buyers shopping with U.S. dollars a whopping 32% discount off the cost of real estate in this country and 32% off the cost of everything else, too..."
  • Correspondent Lee Harrison looks at Cartagena, Colombia—a top retirement option on the Caribbean:
"As a long-time expat and writer, I've had the chance to visit dozens of the best colonial cities in the Americas. Among Spain's grand cities on our side of the ocean, I'd say that Cartagena is the most beautiful, with a lot to offer the potential expat..."

Plus, From Lief Simon This Week:

When I bought my apartment in Medellin, Colombia, I wrote that I don't try to time currency exchange rates when investing in real estate. I can't predict which way exchange rates are going to move any more reliably than anyone else can, so I don't try. A reader at the time wrote in to say that my position was silly and that he was going to wait to invest in real estate in Colombia until the exchange rate was where he wanted it to be.

Three-and-a-half years later, the rate of exchange between the U.S. dollar and the Colombian peso has moved dramatically in favor of the U.S. dollar-holder. Your U.S. dollars buy about 35% more right now than they did in mid-2011, when I bought my apartment. During that same period, property values in Medellin have increased by at least 35% in peso terms. The guy who was waiting for the currency to move in his favor should feel comfortable buying right now. On the other hand, he's going to pay 35% more in peso terms than I did when I bought. And I've had use of and rental income from my apartment in the meantime.

The guy who could have and who should have bought in 2011 aside, the current exchange rate is an opportunity to buy into what is a solid and appreciating market at what amount to 2011 U.S. dollar values.

The local economic dynamics remain strong. The middle class is expanding. The economy is growing. The government is stable. Perhaps most important for the investor, the 2015 global perception of Colombia is dramatically improved compared with the 2011 global perception... and it continues to improve.

Colombia has launched a tourism marketing campaign focused on showcasing the beauty of the country. Forget our troubled past and take a look at all we've got to offer, Colombia is telling the world. More foreign tourists are visiting... more foreign investors are investing.

The cost of an apartment in Medellin has appreciated 5% to 10% a year for the last four years and longer. Still, property prices in this city have remained a great bargain compared with prices in other major cities throughout Latin America. Since last October, when the U.S. dollar began its move on the Colombian peso, those bargain per-square-meter Colombian peso prices have converted to ever-greater bargains in U.S. dollar terms. Right now, as I've said, property prices when converted to greenbacks are close to 2011 levels.

This is the time to be shopping.

Focus on El Poblado in the heart of the city. Apartments here are most rentable, for this is where tourists and expats migrate, meaning big and diverse rental pools. 

El Poblado is also the high-rent district. Each neighborhood in Medellin is broken down into what are referred to as "strata," numbered from 1 to 6. Strata 6 is the highest level. In strata 6 neighborhoods you find the most expensive properties and the highest levels of services, as well as the highest associated expenses. Property taxes, electricity rates, and other property-related costs increase strata by strata. El Poblado properties are mostly stratas 4 and 5. 

El Poblado is your best bet for a property purchase in Medellin, but it's not the only part of the city that can make sense. Other, more affordable neighborhoods to consider include Laureles (another neighborhood in the city) and Envigado (the suburb just outside the city, on the edge of El Poblado).

Office space, commercial space, and even condo-hotel rooms are other real estate options that can make sense in this market. With the economy remaining reasonably strong (growth of 4.2% in 2014 and projected growth of 4% for 2015), I expect property values to continue their steady appreciation of the past half-dozen years.

I still can't predict the direction of currency markets, including this one. The U.S. dollar could continue to strengthen against the Colombian peso, or it could fall from the current 2,350 back into its general trading range of the last five years (between 1,750 and 2,050). 

Regardless, real estate in Colombia, in particular in Medellin, is a smokin' deal in U.S. dollar terms right now. Take action while you can.

 

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While this investment was conceived by colleagues in Medellin for the low-cost residency visa it provides, it is also playing out to be a solid yield play. The investment is in a rental building that has been operating for two years. Rental cash flow is throwing off an annual yield of 7% net.

Renting an apartment short term (that is, for fewer than 30 days) is technically illegal in Medellin unless your building HOA specifically allows for it. Some developers are creating inventory to overcome this restriction, developing buildings where all units are intended for use as short-term rentals. This is the case with Casa Provenza. The property is located in Medellin's Zona Rosa near Parque Lleras, a prime rental location with access to shopping, restaurants, and parks. The building was bought and renovated into three high-end apartments, ideal short-term rental units. There are also two commercial locations on the ground floor rented out long term.

This is a turn-key investment (rental and property management are in place) that allows for owner use at a discount.

Colombia is a good option for back-up residency. The physical residency requirement is not onerous. You have to be in the country only one day every six months to maintain your residency status. Compared with jurisdictions where you can't leave the country for more than a few days up to a few months a year before losing your residency, Colombia's requirements are very flexible. You could go visit your investment twice a year and keep your residency active.

In this case, your investment is in the building rather than a specific unit, so your investment risk is more mitigated than if you bought an individual apartment. 

The current exchange rate makes Colombia more interesting for U.S. dollar investors than it's been in five years. How long will this continue? I don't try to make those kinds of predictions. I act when opportunity presents itself, as it is right now in Colombia in general and in Medellin specifically. This favorable rate of exchange could be a spike. If it corrects, when it corrects, you'll wish you had taken action when you had the chance. Now's the chance. 

If the peso depreciates further, you'll still have gotten a good deal on a good residency option that should also continue to produce a decent rental yield. Bottom line, the amount of capital at risk is small.

For more information, get in touch here

Lief Simon

Continue Reading: Qualifying For Retiree Residency In Philippines

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Maybe you've noticed that there are no foreign franchises, including no fast-food franchises, operating here in Belize City. That's a remarkable thing in today's world...until you remember that historically Belize City just hasn't been home to enough population to support a lot of trade. I understand that McDonald's is finally planning to open its first restaurant here. I wish them luck.

Some countries restrict foreign investment in retail activities. A non-Panamanian can't open a shop in Panama, for example, where retail is "protected." Professions such as doctors and lawyers are also restricted to Panamanian citizens.

One way to choose where to locate your business would be based on incentives. Many countries have free trade zones, for example, where you can bring stuff in, process it, and then export it tax-free. Panama has the Colon Free Trade Zone. Belize has several established zones but also allows you to set up your own free trade zone if you want. If you wanted to start some business that needed to be in a particular part of Belize (because of localized supply of materials or labor, for example), you could apply to establish your own free trade zone in that spot. Same in Nicaragua. In fact, if your interest is export—that is, an operation where you're not selling locally but would be creating jobs—you'll find that most countries offer benefits to help.

Another business incentive to consider is residency. Many countries offer residency visas to anyone interested in starting a business, thereby creating jobs, in the country. Colombia, for example, has an attractive and affordable start-a-business, get-a-visa program. The minimum investment requirement is only US$33,300. Panama has a business investor visa, too, but it, by comparison, requires you to invest at least US$160,000 and to employ at least three Panamanians.

Tourism-based businesses are often incentivized, and many countries have government agencies that are specifically focused on developing foreign investment in tourist-related activities—hotels, dive shops, whatever. In Nicaragua, for example, the group is ProNicaragua. The incentives are typically to do with taxes—a ten-year tax exemption, say, giving you a nice window during which you can reinvest proceeds in growing your business without having to skim anything off the top to pay your tax bill.

Kathleen and I left the States years ago to start a business in Waterford, Ireland. Why Waterford? Because that was one of three markets the Irish Development Agency (IDA) was focused on developing. By agreeing to base our business in Waterford, we qualified for both a reduced rate of corporate tax and cash incentives for every Irish employee we hired up to 15.

Those were nice perks, and definitely they were the reasons we chose Waterford. However, we had targeted Ireland based on bigger-picture agendas. We wanted to be in Europe, for personal reasons, and we identified Ireland as a low-cost place to operate the kind of business we intended to operate. Our first years running our publishing business in Ireland, our labor cost was less than half what it would have been in the States.

The easiest kind of business to operate offshore is a one-man (or -woman) virtual show. A consultant or a writer, for example, can run his business from the beach in Panama, the mountains of Argentina, or a country village in France.

If you intend a virtual business that requires staff, then, as with a bricks-and-mortar operation, some places make more sense than others and some places don't make sense at all. We don't recommend starting or basing a business in France, period, unless you just really want to live in France. As a doing-business choice, this country belongs at the bottom of any list (thanks to the cost of doing business, the labor laws, the bureaucracy, and the taxes).

Panama is perhaps the best place in the world to base a virtual business that requires staff. That's why we're in Panama City right now. When we decided to launch the Live and Invest Overseas business seven years ago, we knew we'd have to move from France. We chose to relocate to Panama because of its affordable English-speaking labor force, its business infrastructure (banking, Internet, etc.), and its jurisdictional approach to taxation. Organize your operation correctly, and you can run a business in Panama tax-free.

Once you've decided where to base your offshore business, your next challenge is to develop the infrastructure it will require. Where will you bank? How will you move money around to where it needs to be? How will you process orders? How will you and your staff get paid? The answers to these questions differ depending on what kind of business you want to operate and in what country you decide to base it.

Again, we chose Panama in part because we knew it provides the kind of infrastructure we'd need. Open up a Panama corporation, and you'll be able to open a Panama bank account to support without much trouble.

One key piece of the infrastructure we require for our business in Panama is a merchant account. When we launched the business, we weren't able to get one; however, after a couple of years and a track record, we were finally approved.

What did we do in the meantime? We used PayPal. We worried initially that this might limit our ability to sell. Would our customers find it odd that the only way they could purchase from us was through PayPal? Maybe it reduced our trade some; we'll never know. But it meant we were able to be in business and to build the track record, again, that we needed to be approved eventually for a merchant account.

The other big-picture item you need to address is employees. If I had to name just one reason why we chose to build our business in Panama rather than Europe, it'd be employees. Labor laws around the world favor the employee over the employer much more so than they do in the United States, and nowhere is this truer than in France. In the United States, you can operate on a hire-at-will, fire-at-will basis. As one U.S. attorney we used to work with put it, "You can fire someone because you don't like the color of his tie."

Try that in France. You can't fire a guy in France even if you've got video footage of him stealing from you.

Things are a little better for the employer in Panama. We've had to fire several people over the past six years, and, in each case, we were able to do it with minimal wear and tear. Bottom line, you pay them off.

The other thing to know about employees in some countries is that you pay them for 13 months of work every year. In Panama, for example, everybody gets one month of vacation each year...and a "13th-month" bonus equal to one month's pay. You just factor it into your cost of doing business...

Lief Simon

P.S. Today's essay is excerpted from Lief Simon's "Doing Business Offshore" presentation at last week's Global Asset Protection and Wealth Summit, in Belize City.

The complete audio recording of this talk, as well as every other presentation from the two-and-a-half days of this special event, are being edited and bundled to create our new Wealth Building and Diversification Kit.

You can reserve your copy of this everything-you-need-to-know-to-go-offshore bundle here now pre-release for 50% off the regular price. This discount remains in effect through Sunday, Nov. 2 only.

Continue reading: How To Qualify For Residency In Belize

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The important reality to understand is that you're never going to find the "best" deal or the "best" option...because there's no such thing. All you can do is process what's in front of you. Whether you're investing in real estate or deciding on which residency path to take, the options before you today are your best options. If you don't have the time, money, or inclination to act on all of them, as my friend is doing with residency, then, yes, you have to make a choice. But don't become paralyzed trying to figure out which choice qualifies as absolutely the "best."

As for my friend setting up residency in multiple countries where he is also hoping for eventual citizenship, it works for him, but it'd be overkill for most people. I'd say that what my friend is doing amounts to extreme measures.

But you do need to do something. And my point today is that you can't let worry over the "best" something get in your way of doing anything.

We'll spend a lot of time discussing the world's best current residency and citizenship opportunities at my Global Asset Protection and Wealth Summit in Belize next month.

Meantime, here's a short list of today's "best" establish-foreign-residency options to get your thinking started: Belize, Panama, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Ireland.

Lief Simon

Airline Requirements For Nonresidents To Hold Return Or Onward Tickets

"Kathleen, since I spend most of my time in Costa Rica as a digital nomad, visiting the United States frequently, I've encountered airlines demanding proof of travel.

"I welcome Lief Simon's comments on this, but the hassle with respect to return or onward ticket requirements can be worse than he described. I believe this rule enforcement is no more than the airlines attempting to squeeze more cash out of the hapless traveler. You're correct in that it has increased in the past few years.

"An international bus ticket will not necessarily be accepted as proof of onward travel within Central America, however. Spirit Airlines forced me to buy a return ticket from Costa Rica when departing the United States for that country, despite my showing a bus ticket for Panama City, Panama. Potential visa runners should be aware of this circumstance. Since then, I've been very careful to show a ticket that returns as least as far as Florida!"

D.C.

***

"Kathleen, I am a retired airline check-in agent. I did that for 40 years. I was dealing with this issue myself in times past and having to get these people back to where they came from if refused.

"No airline is doing this to make money by enforcing the return or onward ticket rule, as Lief Simon said recently. I am surprised that you would even suggest this! It only cheapens your newsletter and reputation.

"If the person had residency, they should not have had to buy a return ticket. So I can't say what transpired as I wasn't there. If check-in was plenty early there should have been a way to explain and sort it all out. If the residency document was proper and unexpired, it should have been enough. Remember it is valid only for the named person. Often a parent is hauling spouses and children thinking theirs is good for everyone else and it's not.

"Yes, it's true. Often the solution is to buy a full-price ticket and then apply for a refund on arrival once clear of immigrations. End result no cost and not that big a deal should one carry credit cards.

"Making judgment on your experience and thinking that it should be the same for everyone else shows a lack of understanding. Had you been looking ragged, with backpack, long hair, and unbathed, believe me you would have been asked left and right. Airlines though are not to make those judgments, the immigrations officers do.

"There are people freeloading or living without proper docs all over the world. Many of them are Americans. And they do get deported far more than you would ever believe. You just don't see it as you have already grabbed your bag and gone. They are still in a holding room as you're on your way to the hotel and often much longer!"

M.W.
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Rainfall is great in Medellin (66 inches versus 35 inches in Cuenca), but the average sunny day is just a bit higher in Medellin. 

The city with the "perfect weather" for you will be a matter of your own taste.

Establishing residency is fairly easy in both Colombia and Ecuador, with low thresholds for visa qualification in both countries. In Colombia, the pensioner's visa requires an income of a little less than US$1,000 per month, while in Ecuador the level is even lower, at US$800 monthly. For an investor-type visa, Colombia's options start at around US$34,000 for a one-year temporary visa, while Ecuador requires US$25,000 for full, permanent residency.

So Ecuador has lower thresholds for permanent residency, both for the investor and the retiree.

Colombia's visa, however, is quicker and easier to obtain, with fewer required documents. Also, Ecuador imposes restrictions on being out of the country during your first two years of residency, while Colombia has no such restrictions. 

The cultural scene in Medellin is remarkably similar to that in Cuenca. This is surprising because Cuenca has around 600,000 people in its metro area, while Medellin has about 4 million. In both cities, you can enjoy orchestra, theater, art openings, museums, and a generally sophisticated cultural scene. You'll pay a fee for most of these in Medellin, while in Cuenca they're usually free. 

The infrastructure is good in both cities. You'll enjoy drinkable water, reliable broadband Internet, and dependable electricity, water, and phone service. 

Also, both cities are very walkable, and both have excellent and cheap public transit systems. If you decide to drive, you'll find traffic jams equally maddening in both cities. 

Real estate costs are cheap in both cities by Latin American standards. I prepared a survey recently that compared costs in Medellin, Montevideo (Uruguay), Fortaleza (Brazil), and Panama City. For comparable properties and areas, prices in Medellin's El Poblado are the lowest on a per-square-meter basis.

But Cuenca's prices are lower. 

A nice, two-bedroom apartment in Cuenca might cost around US$80,000...while that same apartment in a comparable neighborhood of Medellin would cost more than US$120,000. You can find Cuenca-style pricing in Medellin but not in the best neighborhoods. 

For the lifestyle you'll enjoy in Medellin, the real estate is a tremendous bargain. And the same is true in Cuenca; for the lifestyle it offers, it, too, is a tremendous bargain.

But the lifestyle in one is nothing like the lifestyle in the other, which brings us to the ways these cities differ. (As Medellin is such a large and diverse city, I'll focus on its El Poblado neighborhood for my comparisons.)

Medellin's El Poblado offers a modern, upscale ambiance. It has elegant shopping, spotless infrastructure, glistening new buildings, and more fine-dining that you can imagine. New luxury brick high-rises look down from lush, wooded hillsides. Tall trees line the well-maintained streets. And El Poblado is only one of many desirable areas in this city.

On the other hand, Cuenca is one of the Americas' premier Spanish-colonial cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old cathedral was built in 1557, the historic architecture is well preserved, and the streets are cobblestoned. You'll even see evidence of the Inca occupation from the early 1500s. Yet just outside the historic center, Cuenca also offers new, modern high-rises. So you could live in a modern home, yet have the historic center within walking distance. 

El Poblado is a First World environment; you'll be hard-pressed to find a U.S. city that can beat it. Cuenca is part of a developing country with some Third World characteristics like poor sidewalk and building maintenance. 

Access to the States is easier from Medellin than from Cuenca. Medellin has daily nonstops to Miami, while you'll need to connect (and possibly spend the night) in Guayaquil or Quito when traveling to and from Cuenca. This adds a day to the trip, as well as the cost of lodging and taxis. 

The expat community is far smaller in Medellin than in Cuenca. I can find expats in Medellin—at a local coffee shop or the Irish pub—if I look for them, and a couple of Americans are signed up at my gym. Otherwise, I don't see them around.

In Cuenca, the expat community is big, estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 people. These folks are making a cultural imprint on the city. I'd say that impact is positive. Since the infusion of North Americans to this city, there's been an explosion in the number of nice cafes, restaurants, and book shops, as well as other expat-owned services and businesses. Today in Cuenca, you can find most anything you might be looking for and, normally, an English-speaker to deal with in the process.

But whether an expat community of that size is a positive or a negative for you is a matter of choice. 

The cost of living is higher in El Poblado than in Cuenca, due in part to the exchange rates. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so dollar-holders don't feel the pinch of a weakening currency. Colombia has a strengthening Colombian peso. 

The basics in Medellin (food, entertainment, utilities, public transit, taxes, and HOA fees) cost me about US$1,850 per month. I believe in Cuenca the total cost would be about US$1,250 for the same lifestyle. Many people live for less than that in Cuenca, but I'm using an apples-to-apples comparison from my own experience.

Bottom line, neither city is expensive, but Cuenca is definitely less expensive than Medellin. 

Which is the better retire-overseas choice?

Impossible to say. Manhattan is not inherently better or worse than New Orleans, after all...but it's a lot different. And the same goes for Medellin and Cuenca.

I see Ecuador as a cultural adventure where life is as different as you can get from the United States or Canada, short of moving to Asia. When I retired to Cuenca at age 49, I shunned places like Medellin, Chile, and Uruguay, because they were too much like the States. I wanted something as different, enriching, and exciting as I could get, and Cuenca fit the bill. 

Today, I think of Medellin as a way to reward myself. It's a treat to be here. Medellin is a way to enjoy perfect weather and an elegant lifestyle that I couldn't afford in the United States. When I bought my place in Medellin 10 years after I'd left the States, at the age of 59, it was exactly what I was looking for at that stage. I wanted an elegant, luxury lifestyle at an affordable price, and Medellin fit the bill. 

And that's the real reason that Medellin is now my "ideal retirement spot"...when it used to be Cuenca. 

You've heard a dozen times that the "perfect retirement location" is different for everyone. But there's more to it than that. 

Your "perfect spot" can also change with your taste, your age, and your experience living abroad. And that's really part of the fun.

This living overseas thing is an adventure and a journey of discovery that need never stop.

Lee Harrison

P.S. Could Cuenca, Ecuador, be your dream retirement destination? The only way to find out is to come see for yourself. We're preparing for the launch of our September Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference. Put your name on the list for VIP attendee perks and discounts here.

 

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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