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.
A roof over our heads
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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).
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.