of Life and Cost of Living in Bogota
When I retired
a few years ago I discovered that for the most part, old people in the
US are forced into doing old people things, generally with other old people.
I knew I wanted more than that.
I had lived
for the previous 15 years on a beautifully wooded ranch in a pretty rural
area near Houston in Texas, but by the time I stopped work, it was surrounded
by upscale subdivisions, shopping malls and Walmart. Prior to my
retirement, I had travelled much of Europe, Central and South America,
and was always evaluating potential retirement locations.
|When I realized
that my Company was going to force me into retirement (I love them for
it), I spent a great deal of time surfing the net, my favourite site being
reading articles, and trying to determine the real cost of living in
various countries. It really is impossible unless you actually go
to these places, and stay for at least three weeks. I went to Panama, Chile,
(I really liked Chile), Costa Rica, Mexico (the colonial towns),
Guatamala (yuk!), Spain, and Canada. My eventual selection was based
on family situation and climate. I am married to a Colombian and
came to know Bogota really well through Christmas and other holiday visits.
Although the city has a reputation for crime, drugs and violence, I felt
that it was an exaggerated perception; there are many population
centres in the United States that suffer just as much from these afflictions.
also has, for me, the nicest weather. I had always hated the
heat in Texas, along with the massive electricity bills that came with
air conditioning. In comparison, Bogota’s climate is spring-like
every day of the year. Daytime temperatures average 68F deg. (19C), and
at night it drops on to about 50Fdeg (10C). Perpetual fall, perfect
for me. The city is at an elevation of approximately 9,000 feet and
close to the equator.
|It sits in
a large fertile valley with the Andes rising to the east. It is very green
and covered with lush plants, flowers, and trees, mostly eucalyptus.
The city itself has a cosmopolitan nature, equal, in my view to London,
Toronto or Paris. Only a two hour drive to the west of Bogota is
Medellin, known as Colombia’s most beautiful city, a vibrant and modern
centre again with a comfortable climate. But if you really like the
heat you can take yourself on a 60 mile drive to Melgar, a small resort
town where you can enjoy 100Fdeg.(35C) + heat and 100% humidity.
For beach lovers, Santa Marta - a nice, and very cheap Caribbean beach
resort is not far away – 5 star service for only $120 a night.
While we may
be looking for a place we can live more cheaply, most of us are not looking
to reduce our creature comforts, nor the availability of the kind of things
we enjoy doing.
with products and brands we prefer. Quality health care. Theatres,
movies, restaurants. For some, arts such as opera, ballet and symphony.
Cable tv, broad band internet, hot water, and good water pressure.
Bogota & Medellin have it all and generally at very affordable prices.
The cultural attitude toward older people. Certainly, while there
are good and bad people everywhere, those here tend to be noticeably more
friendly and helpful. I believe I have made more friends here in
a couple of years than I made my whole life in the US. We of the
older generation are considered to be productive members of society.
Parties and other social occasions include young and old and everything
in between. People in Bogota tend to be well educated. In some
ways, from a university stand point, it reminds me of Boston. There
must be a hundred universities, some large and famous, with students
from Europe and other South American countries. Although I believe
the US university system to be the best in the world, I think the elementary
education system in Colombia is better. There is of course a lot of poverty
here, as in many other South American countries, and indeed the rest of
the world, but it seems to be more visible here.
is also a very large middle class; the average income for professionals
(engineers, accountants, lawyers, etc) is about $10,000 a year. It
would appear that they live comfortably on that income, and while I am
sure they have the same wants and needs as anybody, I get the impression
that they live less stressful lives than their American counterparts earning
five times the money.
some things are cheaper than the US, some more expensive.
Food and Clothing.
Food and clothing cost are about the same here as they are in Houston.
For myself and my wife (and the odd guest for dinner or a bar-b-q twice
a month) our grocery bill is about $400 a month.
|But we eat
only the best beef (rib eye), chicken breast, center cut pork chops, no
bone, no fat, American brand cereals, etc.
Much cheaper. Our favourite restaurant is La Fagrata. It is
a truly five star restaurant in the International Trade Centre.
A varied three course meal, with locally produced food, is about $50 for
two including tip. The only thing not local is the wine! Colombian
wine is probably the worst in the world, so we go for Chilean - French
and Californian imports are too expensive.
Fast food restaurants
(McDonald’s) etc are about the same price here, maybe a little more expensive
- hamburger, fries and a coke will set you back about $3.00.
Local fast food restaurants, generally one in every block, serving rice
and beans, or soup, or grilled chicken or beef, will only cost about $2.00.
For some strange reason there seems to be much more value for the rental
dollar than the purchase dollar. I would not recommend any expatriot purchase
a home anywhere until they have lived there at least a year. Cost,
here in Bogota, is around $35 to $45 a square foot for good quality new
construction; luxury construction is going to be more. You can rent
a luxury apartment in the best neighborhoods for between $1,000 and $1,500
a month. In less exclusive areas rent is around $450 a month for
a 2 bedroom, 2 ½ bath, modern apartment.
Taxis are cheap, and there are thousands of them on the street all the
time. You can rent them for $12,000 pesos an hour (about $5.00) or
you can go from point to point anywhere in the city for $1.50 to $2.50.
The rule of thumb is don’t flag a taxi down in the street-there have been
reported muggings so it is safest to book a taxi by phone from a reputable
company or take one from the shopping malls where they have taxi stands
and known drivers.
Buses go everywhere,
they cost about 40 cents, but I have never learned the system or how to
use them. Car rental is not advisable. It is very expensive here,
and you are liable for 20% of the car’s value if stolen, or damaged, which
is a real possibility. And driving is difficult especially if you don’t
know your way around. Find a driver you like and rent a taxi for
the day - it will cost you about $35. Gasoline is about $2.50 a gallon.
New cars here generally are about 30% more expensive than in the US.
That is basically the amount of import duty imposed by the government.
But General Motors assembles some of their cars here in Colombia, and on
those you can get more value for the dollar.
and Appliances: You can get custom made real wood furniture
for about a third of the cost of fabricated real wood furniture in the
US. There must be a thousand small furniture makers here in Bogota
alone. The trick is to shop around and find the right one -basically the
old adage applies – you get what you pay for! Electrical appliances are
readily available, more or less equal models that you find in the US -
they cost about 20% more. Except that plasma tv’s, plasma computer
monitors, and computers are two to three times as much. If you can
buy those in the US and bring them on the plane with you it is worth the
extra baggage charge.
Bogota has plenty of highly skilled doctors in every specialty and hospitals
of equal or better quality than the US. Many of the doctors have
studied and done residency in both Europe and the US. In the hospitals
there is a much greater ratio of nurses to patients and they are much more
pleasant and attentive. Big plus - the cost is a fraction of the price
of the same treatment in the states.
of medical cost without insurance:
MRI of the
head, neck and complete spinal cord in Houston $6,000: in Bogota $500.
Dental root canal and crown in Houston $900: in Bogota $250. Health Insurance.
Here there are two kinds of health insurance: a national health insurance
which is about $40 a month for myself and my wife, which you must purchase
before you can buy private health insurance. There are several major companies
that provide private coverage and each have affiliations with various hospitals
and doctors, much like HMO’s in the US. I have coverage with Colsantas
which provides for the very best doctors and hospitals. For myself and
my wife this runs a little less that $200 a month. It provides 100%
coverage and very little hassle. When you have to go to the hospital
you just hand them your ID card and they take you to your room. No
hours in admissions, no stack of consent forms to sign. Household Help.
Maid $12 a day. Gardner $10. Skilled handyman does anything,
electric, plumbing, etc. $25 a day plus materials.
There are different levels of pricing. Each neighborhood is given
a number from 1-6, they are called “extractos”. You are probably
not going to live in anything less than a 4. But for example if you
live in a level 4 and use 500 kwh of electricity a month you bill is going
to be about $50 a month, in a level 6 about $65 a month. Natural gas is
very, very cheap. So if you can heat your hot water, and cook with
natural gas you are way ahead of the game. We take lots of hot showers
and have a large jucuzzi that probable take 70 gallons of hot water that
we use once or twice a week, and we cook with natural gas. We live
in a level 6 and our gas bill is about $25 a month. Electricity is
approximately 9 cents a kwh. Our bill averages about $60 a month
for a 2000 sq ft apt. Water is relatively expensive here. The water
bill includes garbage and is billed for a 2 month period. Our bill
for water and garbage averages about $30 a month, but we use a lot of water.
There are primarily two providers here Direct TV, TV Cable Net. The
latter is much better. The have a new and modern fiber optics deliver
system and are ½ the price of Direct TV. Also if you have Cable
Net installed they can provide excellent broad band internet service.
Their price for cable tv is about $24 a month and the have a better channel
selection than Direct tv. And you can have as many tv’s on the system as
you want for the same price. For $20 more a month you can get broad band
internet service. Direct tv is about $50 a month, and then if you want
DSL you are going to have to buy it from the phone company ETB for another
$40 a month.
Telephones can be expensive. You can get a plan for unlimited usage
for local calls for about $25 a month. But the problem here in Colombia
is that every, man woman and teen, has a mobile phone and the calling party
pays for the call. So if you call someone on their mobile from your
phone it may cost you as much as 20 cents a minute. It seems like
nearly everyone we call is on a mobile, so our phone bill averages about
$100 a month. Long Distance to the US - through the local phone company,
it is about 50 cents a minute, but if you have broad band internet, there
a couple of companies that provide voice over service that works very well
and is about 5 cents a minute.
Mobile calls average about 20 cents a minute. I have a monthly contract
plan that gave me a free phone, and I get 100 minutes for about $20 a month,
additional minutes are about 21 cents. My usage averages about $40
sense is that you can live a fairly elegant life style, with very little
stress, for about $2,500 a month, (excluding travel and vacations).
Without a car, you can probably live comfortably for a third less.
If you have a reasonable retirement income you can literally live the life
of Riley. Can you say that about living in the US?
Index ~ Colombia