fullsizeoutput_16d3-1024x484 Medellín, Colombia: Three-Month Reality Check Colombia Medellin
How time flies! It seems like yesterday we were anxiously loading our fur kids, Tango and Rosie, onto that plane from Panama for our move to Medellín. So what have we been up to in the meantime?

Our first three months in Medellin have been busy. We’ve been preoccupied with getting our long-term visas and cédulas (a cédulas is a type of ID card that you need to conduct most business here), opening a bank account, signing up for healthcare, and — biggest of all — securing and furnishing a long-term rental. On top of it all, Susan had to deal with another major life event, the passing of her beloved dad on Jan. 26 in Texas.

None of this left much time for sight-seeing, but now that we can take a breath, we’re getting reacquainted with everything that made us fall in love with Medellín to begin with. For those who don’t know, Colombians pronounce certain double-l words with a j, so “Medellín” sounds like med-a-jean.  

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We bought bikes as soon as we could after moving here. Every Sunday, the city closes off major streets to motor traffic so folks can come out and walk, run, bike, and rollerblade safely. It’s called the Ciclovia, and this is the stretch closest to our neighborhood.
A roof over our heads
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A typical Laureles street – leafy, clean, and modern.

Almost every day I say to Susan, “I love Laureles!” And she says back, “Really, babe? I never would have known!” We really do love our chosen neighborhood, and in our opinion it’s the sweet spot of Medellín. Here’s a post from another blogger that really encapsulates everything that’s great about Laureles.   

Our first home in Medellín was a two-bedroom apartment in the brand-new Ivy Laureles building. Ivy, as we affectionately call it, turned out to be the perfect place to land while we got our bearings and looked for a longer-term rental. For two months, we lived in a new and beautifully furnished apartment in a fantastic location, near Primer Parque in Laureles. Big thanks to Ivy owner Sean Daniel and his office manager, Oriana Martinez, for giving us such a warm welcome to Medellín. 

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Our new home, the Puerto San Sebastián building in Laureles

After a bit of a process (and looking at upwards of 10 apartments), we finally secured the long-term Medellín home of our dreams — a three-bedroom unfurnished apartment on the sixth floor of the modern Puerto San Sebastian building.

While just about anyone (including tourists) can rent furnished apartments here quickly, renting an unfurnished apartment can be a lot more complicated especially for fresh-off-the-boat expats. You might have absolutely spotless credit in your home country, but it means nothing here. Since you’re starting from scratch to build a Colombian credit rating, you can expect to have to put down a large deposit in the form of a CDT (a type of CD, in U.S. terminology, that does pay interest) and/or pay several months’ rent in advance. Also, you’re typically required to get a “fiador” or co-signer, someone who does have a verifiable credit rating and who’s willing to guarantee your lease.

Rental agents tend to be more “by the book,” but if you can deal directly with the apartment owner, things might be easier and more flexible. As luck would have it, our apartment was listed through an agency. In the meantime, we’ve met the owner and started to build a nice relationship with her, which we hope will allow us to bypass the agency when it comes time to renew our lease in the future.

Getting legal

If landing an apartment turned out to be more challenging than we expected, getting our long-term Colombian visas was a piece of cake (especially compared to the same process in Panama, which we wrote about here). Although you don’t need an attorney to apply for a visa here (unlike Panama), we hired Langon Colombia on the advice of our good friends By and Mariah Edgington.

Our Langon rep, Ana Maria Valencia, gave us excellent service and made the process of getting a pensioner’s (retired person’s) visa quick and easy. Since I (John) am the one with the pension, I went first (Susan won’t collect Social Security for another couple of years). Once I got my visa, Susan was able to apply for hers as my beneficiary. Just as in Panama, we had to get a new, authenticated copy of our marriage certificate from Hawaii and then notarized and translated into Spanish here, to prove that I’ve made an honest woman of her 🙂

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Applying for John’s cedulá at the Oficina de Migración

The entire process for each of us, from start to finish, took about two weeks and cost a fraction of what we had to pay in Panama (including immigration and attorney fees). The only slightly weird part was the passport stamp, which had to be done in Bogotá. To save us a trip to the capitol city, our attorney’s office sent a courier to pick up our passports and take them to Bogotá for the stamp, and then brought them back four days later. It was more than a little unsettling to be walking around in a foreign city and country for a few days without our passports!

With visas in hand, we were able to apply for our cedulás at the migración office in Belen, one barrio away. That was a fast and easy process that took about a week. 

 
Getting healthcare

One of the reasons we came to Colombia is the outstanding healthcare system and universal coverage for all, including those holding extranjero visas (meaning, us). In fact, it’s mandatory for all residents to sign up for the national healthcare program, also known as EPS. Here is the Medellín Guru’s great overview of the Colombian healthcare system. Fun fact: the World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked Colombia’s healthcare highest of all countries in Latin America and #22 in the world (Canada is 30th and the U.S. is 37th). 

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Susan’s cédula. It’s the key to just about everything here, even getting points at the grocery store.

For our coverage, we chose Suramerica (SURA), which is far and away the largest and highest-rated EPS provider. It took two hours one morning to sign up at the main SURA office, with our cedulá numbers serving as our entré into the EPS system. And the total cost for both of us, per month? A whopping $40. We’re still sussing out our options for supplemental coverage, which offers some advantages such as fast-tracking appointments with specialists and private hospital rooms. 

Getting help

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Juan Camilo y Paulina

With our language barrier, accomplishing all of this in just three months would have been difficult — if not impossible — without help. Fortunately, the karma gods were smiling down and sent us Juan Camilo Aguilar, our lifesaver! We met Juan through a new Laureles friend, Kelly Upton, when we asked her for a recommendation on a driver to take us to and from the airport. As we came to find out, Juan Camilo is much more than a driver. He is a native Colombiano but speaks fluent English after living in New Jersey for 14 years, and he specializes in helping expats get settled in their new lives here in Medellín.

Besides driving us everywhere we needed to go, Juan Camilo acted as translator and facilitator as we opened a bank account (a crazy process that had to happen before we could apply for our lease), leased our new apartment, and applied for our cedulás. His lovely wife Paulina was a huge help in navigating the EPS signup experience at the SURA office. We found our new apartment on our own, but when things started to get real in the negotiations with the rental agency (we’ll spare you the details, but it wasn’t fun), Juan Camilo was there, acting as our advocate. We can honestly say that we would not have our beautiful new apartment if it weren’t for him.   

Juan Camilo also does private tours of Medellín points of interest as well as surrounding communities, and he reps some of the best Colombian coffee we’ve ever had! The best way to reach him is WhatsApp at +57 316 833 4225 (tell him we sent you) and his email is jucaa25@hotmail.com.

Looking ahead

Now we’re settled in our new home and looking forward to furniture deliveries this week (but we sure are going to miss our exquisite cardboard-box coffee table!). Are things perfect? Of course not – but the challenges are part of what we love about the expat life. We are struggling to learn Spanish, which is an absolute must here, but we are making progress. I’m especially enjoying my daily class at Elefun Spanish School, and Susan is about to start working with a private tutor on her Fridays off work. 

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A gorgeous twilight evening, viewed from our new apartment.

Life is good in the City of Eternal Spring!

16 Comments

  1. More great info, JP & Suds, keep ’em coming. We loved Laureles, too, and we miss it in some ways. We’re very glad to have you two (4?) here, bienvenidos! (Oh, the link to the other blogger doesn’t work)

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Gracias, amiga! Broken link now fixed – thanks for the heads-up. And maybe we’ll entice you to move back to Laureles one of these days!

  2. Sylvia Nightengale Reply

    Bravo! Don and I are so very happy for you and Susan – and your pups, John! We are glad that you all are settling in nicely. One day we hope to come see Medellín – and visit everyone that we know there! Hugs from us – Syl

  3. Sylvia Nightengale Reply

    Hey John & Susan! So glad that you (and the pups) are settling in so nicely in Medellín! Someday, we will come see the sights there and come visit all our friends who we know there! Hugs, Syl & Don

  4. Sylvia Nightengale Reply

    I am hoping that one of my replies will get to you. LOL – technology!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much for your comments, Syl, and welcome to our blog 🙂 We sure hope you and Don can come down for a visit sometime. Are you back in Boquete yet?

  5. Great post! My husband and i are headed to Medellin from Panama (due to the much higher quality healthcare available there – no question) and looking for furnished long-term rentals in Laureles without much luck so far. Well, reasonably priced ones, everything I’ve found has been even more expensive than here. Is that normal? Any suggestions? Thanks.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi, and welcome to our blog! You’re right – furnished apartments are more expensive here. Most of the furnished places are set up for shorter-term renters, such as digital nomads that are here for a few weeks or months, or tourists. Think AirBnB. It also depends on the neighborhood you’re looking in – rents run higher in El Poblado than in Laureles and other parts of the city.

      We wanted to rent unfurnished because we know we’ll be here for at least a few years. We wanted to be able to outfit our place as we please, and it’s also easier to secure an unfurnished place if you have pets (we have two dogs).

      Our best advice is to get here and get established in a short-term place, like we did, which will give you time to look around, make contacts, and find a place that meets your requirements.

  6. Hi John and Susan,
    My husband and I looked seriously at the expat retirement options…even visiting Boquete, Panama for almost 2 weeks (we did really like it there…) but ultimately decided to stay states-based with some extended travel where possible.
    Enjoyed your post and will look forward to more.
    Nancy

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Nancy,
      That sounds like a great plan. Let us know if you ever decide to plan a trip to Medellín!
      – Susan

  7. Finding someone who can guide you through the ins and outs of the longterm visa process as well as navigate what you need (a bank account, healthcare, etc.) is well worth the money and it sounds like you’ve become new residents of Panama with relative ease. From my own experience, I know how fast three months can fly by as you settle in to your life in a new adopted country but, as you said, “the challenges are part of what we love about the expat life.” Wishing you much happiness and many adventures as you explore your life as a resident in Colombia! P.S. I finally met your friend, Jere, and last weekend spent a lovely afternoon with her and Remi in Castro Marim. It’s interesting to realize how our blogging hobby has introduced me to so many people online and in real life. 🙂 Anita

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you so much, Anita! So good to hear from you and we’re so glad got to meet Jere and Remi, two of our favorite people. That’s a wonderful thing about blogging, isn’t it – the online friends you meet along the way that might someday become in-person friends. It’s already happened a couple of times for us, and I’m sure we’ll see you one of these days (a trip to Portugal is definitely on the horizon!).

  8. I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Susan’s dad. I hope that getting settled in a new home and country has been a good distraction from such a painful loss.

    The Laureles looks like a wonderful community to live in! I am glad you were able to land your dream home in the Puerto San Sebastián building. And how fortuitous that you met Juan and Paulina to ease the transition to your new home! You’ve picked a great place to live. That healthcare is certainly an attractive draw!

    We are heading for Colombia – likely arriving in July or August – and may use it as a base to have my parents visit and to leave the boat while we to travel South America. Looking into marinas and boat yards now.

    Will give you a shout when we firm up our plans and hope you will join us for a coffee or a dinner when we visit Medellín

    Cheers,

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Lisa! Great news that you’re coming our way. We would love to meet up, so please keep us posted on your plans.
      Cheers back,
      John and Susan

        • John and Susan Pazera Reply

          You are so welcome – it’s great having you in our fair city 🙂

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