Forget Everything You’ve Heard About This Place
American Rich Holman made his full-time move to Medellin, Colombia, seven years ago. After a divorce in the States, this is where Rich chose to relaunch his life. Why?
“If I had to identify three reasons why I chose to relocate to Medellin at a time in my life when I really wanted a fresh start,” Rich explains, “they would be these: the weather, the lifestyle, and the investment opportunities.
“After my divorce, I was in no position to retire. Rather, I wanted a dramatic change to a place where I’d enjoy life more while, at the same time, regrouping financially and building something with upside. I saw the potential for all of that in Medellin.
“For me, one of the best things about living in Medellin is the weather. You have one season: springtime. We’re at 4,300 feet and near the Equator, so temperatures are consistently 72 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with low humidity. Your main dressing decision is whether to wear a short-sleeved or a long-sleeved shirt.
“At this altitude, bugs are almost nonexistent, hence no screens on windows or porches. The city is amazingly clean, even in the poor areas–no dirty bathrooms, no rotting garbage or litter in the streets, no animal feces. This is not your typical developing-world outpost. Medellin is a remarkably civilized place.
“Five of the top-rated 35 hospitals in all South America are in Medellin. Plus, the cost of health care here is about one-third the cost in the States.
“Transportation is affordable and efficient. Plenty of taxis (the average fare is US$3 to US$5) and lots of buses (fares around 70 cents). The aboveground Metro, which traverses north to south and east to west, is spotless, completely sans graffiti. The cost of a ride is about US$1.20.
“Medellin has a great educational system, with more than 32 colleges and universities, almost as many as in Boston. There is a tremendous sense of community. In almost all 60 of Medellin’s barrios (neighborhoods), on any given evening or weekend, you’ll find friends and families sitting at small outdoor bars and restaurants and on their front porches enjoying themselves, always laughing and smiling.
“If you like to party, you will have trouble keeping up with the paisas. Their energy for entertainment is inexhaustible.
“I think at least some of their energy comes from their city. This place has a vibrancy about it, a great positive energy. It just feels good to be here.
“This is an emerging economy. That translates to tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs willing to put up with some negatives and some challenges. Speaking as one who has been running a business here for a few years, I can tell you that it isn’t an easy thing. However, I believe I’m investing now to position myself for the wave of growth I see coming. There are reasons why the world’s largest computer manufacturer, the world’s richest man, and the United States’ largest private real estate investor all have this year announced business operations in Medellin and Colombia.
“The key to getting yourself established is local contacts. Without them, I’d say you’d find the process of trying to get yourself set up here overwhelming. For instance, you could meet with three accountants, four attorneys, and five branch managers of the same bank, ask them all the same question, and get 12 different answers.
“You need to source advisors you can trust and then invest in building personal relationships with them. You also need patience. Don’t come here expecting to operate by logic. That won’t work. And don’t be surprised when people over-promise and under-deliver.
“For me, the negatives and the challenges are all worth it, because, again, I see big opportunity on the horizon in Colombia, specifically in Medellin. I’m in the real estate business. Right now, real estate in Medellin, on a cost-per-square-meter basis, is the least expensive of any cosmopolitan city in the world. That alone is enough to get my attention. Layer on top of that critical current reality all the many other advantages and benefits of this city, and it’s not hard to understand why I’ve chosen to restart my life here.
“Colombia continues to suffer a stigma thanks to its past problems. There’s still a lot of ignorance in the international community. Which explains why foreigners still represent less than 1% of residential real estate buyers in Medellin. This is changing, though. And the rate of change is accelerating.
“Being a gringo in Medellin is sort of cool,” Rich says. “The locals here, the paisas, as they’re known, they like us. They’re friendly, accommodating, protective, considerate, warm, and engaging. I can’t say enough nice things about them.
“Their city is their biggest source of pride. If you want to bring a big smile to the face of any paisa, just tell him how much you appreciate and enjoy his city and culture.
“Outside El Poblado (Medellin’s central zone), gringos are still a bit of a novelty, so we stand out. But in a friendly way.
“Bottom line, this city offers enormous potential, for the expat, for the retiree, for the investor. Seven years on, I’d say that my decision to move here was the wisest of my life.”
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