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Moving to Medellin – expat daily life, culture shock and what to expect

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Medellin is a gem tucked in a valley of Colombia, known for being the city of eternal spring. The beautiful weather, rich culture, and surprisingly advanced city are more than enough to attract expats from around the world to live there.

moving to medellin from the US

Medellin is a city that no matter how much you research about it, there’s still plenty that will catch you off guard once you arrive.

I know this from first-hand experience. After living in Medellin for a few months, I experienced lots of culture shock, especially compared to my life back home in the US.

Here are just a few of the many things to expect when you relocate to Medellin as an expat.

Things to Expect When Moving to Medellin


In case you didn’t know, in Colombia, the official language is Spanish…but that isn’t too much of a shocker. Unless you’ve traveled to a few Latin American countries, you’ll realize that all Spanish isn’t the same, and Colombia has its version of Spanish as well.

The locals have what is called a “Paisa” accent, which might be hard to understand at first for expats because of the tone associated with it.

The local language also has its own slang to differentiate it from other countries. Get prepared to hear “Qué Mas” in place of “Buenos días” and “Que chévre” when you want to say something is cool.

Colorful older part of medellin

You won’t hear or see much English in Medellin unless you’re in more tourist-centric areas such as Poblado. Many university-aged students also speak some English, but if you want to make the most of your time, you’ll want to learn some Spanish.

You can actually pick up the language quite quickly, especially with the help of Baselang. It’s a Spanish school that offers unlimited 1-1 lessons for a set monthly fee. While most of their students use the online platform for lessons, they also have a physical school in the Laureles section of Medellin.


The food scene stands out drastically in Medellin – not because of how good the food is, but how different the dining options are, as compared to those in international cities. Sure, there are a few of the top international favorites, but there are a lot more Colombian restaurants and fast food options.

There is street food in Medellin, but most of it is for quick snacks while on the go.

bandeja paisa medellin food

Also, what may look like a small house may actually be a popular restaurant for the neighborhood. If you see a lot of chairs outside, the chances are that they sell a fantastic “bandeja paisa,” the signature Medellin dish consisting of beans, avocado, egg, plantains, and your choice of meat!

Getting Around

medellin transit

Transportation in Medellin is almost like a reverse culture shock – you’ll be amazed at the transportation options, from an efficient metro system, many bus lines, cabs, and even scooters for hire.

The metro is one of the best ways to get around Medellin, passing through hotspots from Envigado to Poblado to Downtown and everything in between – it even connects to the cable car to ride uphill towards Parque Arvi.

medellin colombia

Medellin is a progressive South American city, so you’ll see plenty of scooters around town that you can hop on and ride to your destination.

Cost of Living

Medellin has a very affordable cost of living, compared to Western standards, while maintaining a high quality of life in the type of apartments you’ll find, entertainment, shopping, and other lifestyle habits.

If you’re moving abroad to Medellin, consider checking out places in Poblado or Laureles. Even in these trendy areas of the city, the cost of living is noticeably different than other cities.

Check out some of the common figures for cost of living that you can expect when moving to Medellin:

Apartment (Studio-One Bedroom)


Dinner Meal (Eating out locally)


Metro One-Way Ticket

$0.67/one-way ticket

Gym Membership (Budget gym)


Coworking Spaces


Movie Tickets


Beer (Local brew)



Working in Medellin

working in medellin as an expat

Part of the expat community is relocating to Medellin for retirement; others have remote jobs and can work online. Medellin is full of opportunities to find work locally or grow businesses, even for expats.

One of the biggest challenges to finding work locally as an expat is obtaining the proper visa. Many places won’t hire you unless you have a valid work visa permitting you to work there. Medellin has a large expat community that can point you in the direction of the best way to earn an income while living in Medellin.

tinkko coworking space in medellin colombia

In addition to the expat community, there is also a sizeable entrepreneurial scene with frequent meetups and co-working spaces scattered around the city. Like Tinkko for exmaple.

It’s a great place to consider expanding internationally by connecting with local entrepreneurs to brainstorm about the best way to navigate the Colombian markets.

Keep in mind that if you find a local job, you’ll earn a local salary, which is significantly lower than what you may find for the same job living back home in the US or elsewhere.

Tips for Adjusting to Colombian Life

When you arrive in Medellin, the best way to adapt to a new lifestyle is to come with an open mind. People traveling from Westernized societies may be in a whirlwind at the pace of the city. Medellin is a place full of rapid development blended with cultural traditions.

One of the unusual quirks about living in Medellin is that you’ll undoubtedly hear Latin music – all the time. Whether it’s a car riding past or your next-door neighbor enjoying an afternoon, it seems rare to be a quiet moment in the city.

adjusting to life in medellin

Medellin isn’t the largest city in Colombia, but it still has a lot of people. If you’re looking for a quiet countryside city to experience in Colombia, then Medellin is far from it. It’s a fast-moving city with lots of working professionals and students.

That being said, rush hour gets pretty hectic. If you’re planning on using the public metro, be sure to get there before the morning or evening rush. You can expect to wait in long queues before reaching the entrance to the station, especially at busy stations such as Poblado.

getting used to medellin traffic

You may have some concerns about safety when moving to Medellin. The city is far from what it used to be, but still exercise common street smarts when moving around the city, whether it’s day time or night. If your gut says otherwise, pick a different route or hop in a cab to reach your destination.

All in all, Medellin is a beautiful place to consider moving. It has a growing expat community ready to accept new foreigners into their circles. Colombians are very friendly and love interacting, so you’ll have no issue feeling at home soon after arriving and getting settled.

tips on expat life in Medellin colombia
Medellin Expat tips and advice
Guest Post Written By:
Bryan Shelmon

Bryan Shelmon is a travel writer, living the digital nomad lifestyle as of the past few years to immerse himself into the travel industry. Bryan continues to grow as a writer, having a #1 Best Selling travel culture guide on Amazon and exploring new regions of the world.

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Friday 24th of December 2021

Appreciate the breakdown and advice! Great start for someone planning to move to Medellin. If moving there to work, what sorts of sports or outdoors activities are there (in light of covid)?

Alfred Leon Moffett

Thursday 21st of January 2021

How much more is it to rent a house there and how far out of the city are the houses?