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Opportunities For Living, Retiring, And More: Medellin, Colombia

Pioneers In Paradise

“I am delighted to welcome you to what has become one of my favorite places in the world…”

That’s how I opened our Live and Invest in Colombia Conference this morning in Medellin. And I meant it.

Back in Medellin this month, Lief and I are enjoying our first stay in our apartment here construction crew-free. No workmen drilling, hammering, plastering, or installing. We hardly know what to do with all the peace and quiet.

We discovered Medellin about three years ago, on the recommendation of friends who had been here and who told us again and again, “You’ve got to see this place. You won’t believe how nice it is.”

Finally we came to see for ourselves, and, from our first visit, our first trip down the mountainside from the airport to the city, we were wowed. We invested in an apartment here a year ago, spent the past year renovating it into a comfortable place to be (with killer views over the valley), and we couldn’t be happier with that decision, couldn’t be happier with the purchase and, as well, with the connection we’re developing to this special city. We are more bullish on Medellin today than we were two years ago when we first focused on it and more bullish today than we were a year ago when we made our property investment. The better we get to know Medellin, the more we like her. We’re shopping for a second apartment, this one to use as a full-time rental.

Of course, nowhere is perfect and no place is for everyone, not even a place as nice as Medellin. Thus our objective this week is to show attendees convened with us for this event what Medellin has to offer both the investor and the retiree. We want to give the readers who’ve made the trip down here (nearly every one of them experiencing this city for the first time) all the background, information, intelligence, and perspective they need to make their own decision. Is Medellin a place where they should spend time or money?

It is not often that you are able to identify a destination at a point in its history when it is presenting such enormous opportunity for both the investor and the retiree. Colombia in general and Medellin in particular are working very hard to overcome the cloud of their history. Most of the world, certainly most Americans, still believe that Medellin is unsafe, certainly too unsafe a place to consider for retirement. Thus the window of opportunity.

My mom is here in Medellin with us this week. This is her first trip to this country. Her brother, her sister-in-law, and her other daughter, my sister, all thought she’d lost her mind when she announced her plan.

“My neighbor is from Colombia,” my aunt told my mother in horror. “She says she’d never go back. You’ve got to stay inside your house, behind locked doors and windows, all the time. You can’t venture out. It’s just too dangerous to be on the street.”

I’m not sure which part of Colombia my aunt’s neighbor is from or how long it’s been since she left. But I can tell you that we don’t hide behind locked doors when we’re here. My mother isn’t hiding either but, as far as I can tell, having a great time getting to know this city.

The lingering misperception about what’s really going on in Medellin is both very good and very bad news. It’s bad for Medellin, of course, because she suffers as a result of the undeserved reputation, but it’s good news, again, for the investor. Property values in Medellin qualify as an absolute global bargain. Values are up 10% to 15% over the past two years (how many markets in the world can claim appreciation over the past two years?), and I believe they will continue slowly, steadily up. Meantime, it’s possible to buy in the best neighborhood for less than US$1,000 per square meter. That’s cheap.

Meaning the would-be investor’s job is straightforward. Get your bearings, consider pricing, costs of buying and selling (which are low here, as little as 1% round-trip), your exit strategy, your tolerance for risk…and buy…or don’t.

The would-be retiree’s job is tougher. I believe Medellin is on its way to becoming one of the world’s top retirement havens. Today, though, this is a frontier. And those of us choosing to spend time and money here are pioneers.

Which gets to the heart of one of the biggest decisions you have to make as you consider options for where to plan for your retirement overseas:

Do you want to retire where the path is well-trodden, where the way has been well-paved, by maybe thousands of other folks just like you who have already retired there, who have already figured out how to establish residency, how to open a bank account, how to rent a home, where to rent a home, how to get utilities installed, how to make friends, and on and on. This is the case in a country like Panama, for example, where thousands of foreign retirees are already in residence.

This is not the case in Medellin. We know, perhaps, a couple of dozen foreign retirees living in Medellin, but there’s no established expat community as there is in Panama (in Boquete, for example, and, to a lesser degree, in Coronado). In Medellin, you’ll have no choice but to “go local,” as I describe it. You’ll have to connect with the local community, which means you’ll have to speak Spanish.

Maybe that’s a deal-breaker for you…maybe not. If not, if you’re up for making the investment of time and energy to learn the local lingo, I believe the payoff could be great. Medellin is one of the most pleasant, most comfortable, most interesting, places in the world to be.

As I write, from the meeting room of the Intercontinental Hotel, the sun outside is shining, as it does year-round. The mountain views are delightful. When the day’s program has concluded, our group will make its way across town to one of my favorite local hangouts to share a glass of wine…

A pioneer could do worse.

Kathleen Peddicord

Your New Life In Panama

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