Retire in Colombia – Pros and Cons
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A lot of people are retiring in Colombia and other countries in Central and South America – stretching their retirement dollars and enhancing their quality of life. Why? How hard is this? Is this something anyone can do? What’s the down side? Where’s the catch?

Here’s the problem with retirement today:

A lot of people who weren’t able to save a handsome nest egg or worked for a company that didn’t supply a pension, or didn’t sock away enough of their pay checks into a 401 k are finding they can’t afford to quit work and pursue that retirement dream of life and leisure. They’ll have to keep working till they’re 70 to get full social security benefits or work as long as they possibly can, take whatever social security pension benefits they have and keep working part-time supplementing that S.S. check.

And when they can work no longer? Move into their kid’s basement? Living solely on social security requires serious budgeting, down-sizing, belt-tightening and many find they can’t resign themselves to living on noodles and rice and beans as some governments suggests.

There are also a lot of retirees who believe they have enough money saved up to retire early – in their 50’s – while they can still enjoy – as the Italians say – being a free citizen. But how? But will the money they saved be enough? The cost of living and health insurance is so expensive in Europe and North America. 

A coffee machine in Pereira – the coffee zone

So what’s the deal:
Cash out and move to a third world country where your money increases in value by 300-400%. No joke, no catch, just simple currency exchange.

And there are a lot of countries in Central and South America actually courting North American and European retirees to come, put their feet up and stay for a while: Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador are the most popular and working the hardest to lure in retirees.

(See articles on: Retire in Ecuador and Retire in Panama)

Colombia, while not actually courting pensioners to come down and move in,  does have a policy and visa permitting retirees to stay. In the last decade,  Colombia has seen a steady rise in expats, retirees and snowbirds. But outside of maybe Medellin, the country is far from over run with expats and foreigners.

Why Colombia?

Seasoned travelers agree, while often misunderstood,  Colombia is South America’s best kept secret – beautiful, affordable and mostly undiscovered by foreign tourists. The country  is easy to travel with plenty of low cost internal flights, comfortable cross-country buses and inexpensive taxis literally everywhere.The country is beautiful, the people  friendly and the climate is perfect. Everything is very affordable and with a good service structure already in place.

  • Colombia is  rated as one of the 10 most affordable countries in the world for foreign travelers.
  • It’s one of the five friendliest
  • And one of the top 10 countries for expats to live in.
  • It has been ranked #22 out of 140 countries for  its quality of health care by the World Health Organization. Lasik surgery was invented here in 1963 as was the pacemaker in 1958.
  • With a land mass area larger than France and Spain combined, Colombia is the fourth largest nation in Latin America (440,800 square miles),  the third most populous in South America (50 million people).  With an unequaled habitat, Colombia is the second most bio-diverse country in the world.

  • Today, the tourist office’s promotional slogan is:  “Colombia – the only risk is wanting to stay!”

What are the pros to retiring in Colombia?

*The climate would have to be the number one reason. Depending on the altitude and area, the climate in Colombia can range from steamy jungle, to equatorial beaches to high altitude, cool mountain temps .

*The exchange rate and low cost of living make Colombia very affordable. Good hotel rooms for $10 – $25 a night, simple meals everywhere for $2 – $10-$15 in the best restaurants, taxi rides for $1 across town, beer $.50 a bottle, coffee $.25 a cup and furnished apartments for rent for $400 – $600 a month.

*Utilities are cheap – on the average of $70 a month.

*It’s close to North America. The flights take on the average of 8-10 hours with a cost of approximately $300 – $500 round trip. I recently found a one way ticket Detroit to Cali on Spirit for $87 – one way.

*Health care, dental and eye care is top notch care and very inexpensive. Many people come to Colombia for plastic surgery, surgeries, knee and hip replacements, dental and eye care. Often paying over the counter for these services in Colombia is much cheaper than the insurance policies offered in Europe and North America. After you gets the retirement visa and Colombian i.d. card you are entitled to join the Colombian health care system of POS (Plan Obligatoria de Salud) or Obligatory Health Plan which provides basic coverage to all Colombians. It costs 12% of your reported income and can be supplemented with private health insurance plans

*Colombia has a lower income requirement for retirees than other countries in central and South America. One only need to show an income of $750 a month to get a retirement visa.

What are the cons to retiring in Colombia?

*Spanish is required. Though they are teaching English in the public schools, very few people in Colombia speak anything other than Spanish.

*You will have to file taxes in Colombia if you stay longer than 183 days a year.

*The sales tax is 19% which is high. Some grocery items are exempt. Hotels for foreigners with a passport are also exempt.

*The exchange rate is volatile.

*Cars are expensive.

*It’s difficult to get a bank loan in Colombia

*Pollution in the major cities is bad.

*Working in Colombia doesn’t pay much.

*Crime is a concern.


The Colombian Retirement Visa:

The Retirement Visa in Colombia is called the TD-7 or pensionado visa. It costs $213 to obtain. You must be able to show a proof of pension or a minimum monthly income of $750 (2.4 million Colombian Pesos) which will also cover any dependents that may be traveling with you.

This is the lowest income requirement in all of Central and South America. Costa Rica, Panama and Peru require a proof of pension of at least $1,000 a month. Just 15 days after receiving the visa you can get the national i.d. card cedulla extranjera which also entitles you to Colombian health care POS.

This visa is good for 3 years after which it can be renewed. After 5 years with a pension visa, one can apply for a resident visa. After 5 years with a resident visa you can apply to become a Colombian citizen thereby eliminating the need for a visa altogether. And Colombia allows for dual citizenship.

 How to make the move?
There are numerous possibilities. Some people sell their house and move down to the land of eternal summer – full time. Some rent for a while – easier to move if and when you get bored. Others buy a house or build one for a third of the price it would cost back home. Others buy a house as an investment, winter there and rent it out during the months they’re gone via Airbnb. Still yet, others just winter it out, snowbird style, moving from hotel to hotel or renting apartments for days or weeks at a time.

(See article: Snowbirds in Colombia)

Before buying a house and property, one should do some research. Take some time to travel around the country and see what area and climate appeals to you. Then plan an extended stay and exploratory visits before ultimately deciding on a city or village to settle in. A modern apartment in the city, or a farm house in the country starts at around $70,000 and go up from there.

Restaurants are inexpensive but if you have a kitchen supermarkets are well stocked. On a $1,000 income a month, one can pay for everything and even have enough left over to hire a gardener and a maid to come in once a week to do the yard work around the house, clean, do the wash and cook a couple meals.

There’s Wi-Fi internet all over, cable television with English channels, modern shopping malls, international chain stores and all the comforts of home.

Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at:

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