Why Colombia–One Expat’s Story
The December issue of the Overseas Retirement Letter will feature my report on living and retiring in Medellin, Colombia, which has become one of my favorite cities in the world.
My ORL feature will include interviews with expats who’ve already settled in this beautiful, sophisticated city…including Joe Greco. Here’s a preview of my conversation with Joe…
Q: How did you choose Medellin?
Joe’s Response: I ended up in Medellin by accident. I was driving from Seattle, Washington, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and my van broke down three hours north of Medellin. It was impossible to locate parts for my vehicle here (VW van), and it took nearly three months to get it fixed.
By the time I had my van back, I was sold on Medellin. The first week I was here, I played tourist and saw the sites. I was impressed from the first day with how modern the city and its transportation system are.
Having taken a six-month road trip through Mexico and all Central America, I can tell you that, for me, no city in that region compares. This is a notably cleaner city than cities in Central America, for example.
For me, the friendliness of the locals was a big selling point. It was evident that there have been few travelers and foreigners in Medellin to date. The locals welcome newcomers with open arms and with lots of pride in their city and their country.
Q: What’s there to do in Medellin?
Joe’s Response: Medellin is a big city. Full of events. I have been very impressed by the sporting complexes, for example–modern and well-maintained stadiums, gyms, swimming pools, running tracks, etc. One section of the main road system is shut down every Sunday to encourage locals to walk and bike the city. Again, not what I had expected to find anywhere in Latin America. The city is progressive in its thinking and its government. The library system is large and modern, and Medellin is big on green spaces and public parks.
Q: Do you own a home or are you renting?
Joe’s Response: I own an apartment in El Poblado with a business partner, that we rent out. I rent and live in the San Joaquin neighborhood.
Q: What are your favorite things about living in Medellin?
Joe’s Response: Climate for sure. Also no mosquitos. On my driving trip down here, I contemplated living in many locations, including Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. The reality, I found, is that, once you get south of Baja, Mexico, the weather anywhere near the ocean is extremely hot. You just want to be in an air-conditioned vehicle or an air-conditioned building all the time. For a week’s vacation, a tropical location can be great. You spend your time lounging by the pool. But as a place to live and work, I find Medellin far more pleasant.
Q: What don’t you like about life in Medellin?
Joe’s Response: Traffic is becoming more of a problem. If you need to drive a lot in town, it can consume a lot of time. With the economy moving ahead, more and more people are owning vehicles.
Q: Can you comment on the availability, price, and quality of medical and dental care in the city?
Joe’s Response: My only experience in this department so far is having my teeth cleaned. The cost was approximately US$40. The office was as clean and sophisticated as I’ve ever been in. They even had a TV that they position over your head and a set of headphones so that you can watch TV or a movie during the procedure. A lot fancier than I would have guessed. The dentist spoke excellent English.
Q: Has language been a problem for you?
Joe’s Response: Language can be a hurdle, depending on the neighborhood you are in and what you are looking to accomplish. I would consider myself a beginner in Spanish, and I know I need to improve. I have recently enrolled at the local university for classes. The more “touristy” a neighborhood is (El Poblado, for example), the more English that is spoken. But, generally speaking, the people here don’t speak English.
Q: What would you say is the future of Medellin? Where is this city headed?
Joe’s Response: I would guess that Medellin is on the verge of a major growth spurt. The city will continue to modernize and to internationalize. The government seems to be investing heavily in transportation infrastructure and educational systems (with an emphasis on teaching English to the next generation). The locals are moving up the “class ladder,” and the middle and upper classes are expanding.
In just the time that I have been living here, I’m noticing more and more Americans, Europeans, and Australians settling here.