That is what this trip is about, assessing retirement options, though I do have to remind myself at times. So, after 6 weeks here and time in the two major cities and some small towns, I do have a few conclusions.
No real obstacles present themselves, to start with. The weather in the mountain regions (most of Colombian cities are in the mountain regions) stays well within the temperate range year round. Colombia is fairly well developed, and with rare exception you can find what you need. Airfares from the States are quite reasonable, and frequent from the cities. There are plenty of expats and a lot of them are doing interesting things, like producing hand-crafted foods, beers and wines, and raising organic produce.
One could easily find some work to do here. The government has an initiative to become bilingual, the second language being English, but it has a very long way to go. The good thing about that is that teaching jobs should be relatively easy to come by. In fact, the society seems to be on a general positive trajectory and I can see lots of opportunities to earn some extra money, from beer brewing to running hostels and restaurants. The town I am currently in, a very small but touristic town (mostly Colombians and international backpackers) is in desperate need of a few good restaurants.
People are generally friendly and helpful. The cities have world class museums and entertainment, as well as excellent restaurants. There is no shortage of outdoor stuff to do, in fact this is a superb country for every sort of sport.
Health care is getting very good here. Medical and dental tourism is developing, and there is a national health care system. I had the splendid opportunity to check out the emergency care in Bogota in a public hospital, which is the very minimal quality care you can expect. I got taken care of by an excellent doctor for the equivalent of $20, including an ambulance (free), the hospital visit, prescriptions and the taxi home. I wrote a detailed report here.
A retirement visa is relatively easy to come by in Colombia. The visa is based on your provable pension as a multiple of the minimum wage. The current necessary income is less than $700 a month.
Retirement visa (TP-7) – for the foreigner who receives a retirement income such as a pension from a public or private company or the government (Social Security). The requirement is a minimum of three times the minimum wage in Colombia. The minimum wage in 2016 is 689,454 pesos per month, so the minimum retirement income is only $629 per month at an exchange rate of 3,290 pesos. (source)
On the other hand, and there must be an other hand, there are some, well, considerations.
The peso has strengthened slightly since I’ve been here, but it seems the baseline is rock bottom 1800 pesos to the US$. Today it is close to its high at 3150 to the dollar (3400 is the recent high). Things are ridiculously cheap at the moment (lunch from $2-3 US, and that is the major meal of the day). I stayed in good places in Medellin and Villa de Leyva for $10-11 a night for a private room with shared bath, kitchen and very quiet location. If the exchange rate strengthens to its highest rate, prices would nearly double. This is the reality. Two years ago the rate was at less than 2000 to the dollar. You should be cautious about retiring here if you are banking on the current exchange rates.
While the government may have a goal of bilingualism, it is a distant dream. I’m amazed at how few people have any grasp of English at all. Of course, I am equally aghast at the number of foreign tourists arrive here with no Spanish. In this little village in the midst of the countryside, I see people sit down and start prattling at the waitstaff in English, and seem put out when they aren’t understood. This is not a retirement scene like you can find in Mexico or Spain. I cannot imagine retiring to anywhere in Colombia without learning the language, and arriving with at least basic survival skills in Spanish.
While it is close by plane to the United States, unlike Mexico, the country feels far away. It is certainly part of its charm, but your friends probably won’t be jumping on a flight down very often. You will need to build a social circle here amongst the other foreigners and the Colombians. For the long term this is great for a lot of people, but I think it will also be an adjustment for many.
I think for me the biggest stumbling block is the exchange rates. The cost of living may remain relatively stable for people living on pesos, if you are getting an American pensions in US dollars, it could get rocky.