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The price of accommodation in Colombia is rising as its economy develops, but expats will find that housing remains affordable.
When choosing accommodation, expats need to consider factors such as cost , security and location. As a result of the country’s wealth disparity, accommodation can be found to suit almost every budget. Expats will generally be limited to a fairly small selection of middle- to upper-class neighbourhoods that offer security and proximity to public transport, grocery and department stores, and restaurants.
The majority of expats settle in Bogotá, the culturally rich and bustling capital. Another favourite city is Medellín, which is known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ due to its comfortable climate. Cali, the capital of salsa dancing, and Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena, along the Caribbean coast, are also popular locations, though the heat and humidity in these cities may prove too much for some foreigners.
Whether renting or buying, expats without a sound knowledge of Spanish may struggle through the process of finding and then securing accommodation in Colombia. They may also be more susceptible to exploitative landlords and various scams. Expats who are unfamiliar with the local language and culture should enlist the help of a professional translator or a friend who is fluent in Spanish.
Types of accommodation in Colombia
The type of accommodation an expat chooses will depend on the town or neighbourhood they want to live in, their family's requirements and, of course, their budget. Generally, the further one moves from the city centre the more choice they'll have and the more affordable the properties will be.
Expats will find that modern apartment complexes in Colombia have good security. They often offer amenities like a pool or small gym. Older apartment blocks are usually more spacious and comfortable. They also tend to have better soundproofing than more modern buildings. Houses are typically exorbitantly expensive and are generally situated further away from the city centre.
Single expats, those on a tight budget or those who need somewhere to stay while searching for more permanent housing might consider renting a room in a private home. Many have private entrances and include access to the entire house and its amenities while allowing expats to improve their Spanish. Although Colombians tend to live at home until they get married, expats may also be able to find a room in an apartment shared with Colombian roommates.
Finding accommodation in Colombia
Securing a house or apartment in Colombia may be difficult, and even more so for expats who don’t speak Spanish. There is a high demand for properties in the more affluent areas of every Colombian city. Expats should therefore establish their budget well in advance and research their preferred neighbourhoods to focus their search.
The best method of finding an apartment is to walk around the desired neighbourhood, talking to locals and looking for ‘se arrienda’ or ‘for rent’ signs, and contacting the owners via phone or email. Many apartments and houses are rented by individuals rather than agencies. It is quite unlikely that the owner will speak English, so expats should enlist the help of a Spanish-speaking friend.
Expats can also use a real estate agency, search the classifieds of local newspapers, or refer to expat forums where other foreigners may advertise available rooms or properties. There are several different online portals for people in Colombia looking for roommates or advertising apartments.
When searching the internet expats should avoid using English sites, as these are generally marketed at tourists. Local websites will yield a larger number of options at greatly reduced prices.
Renting accommodation in Colombia
Renting accommodation in Colombia can be a tedious process. Rental agencies typically require lots of paperwork to be filled out and references to be given. Expats will find that renting a room in a shared house or apartment is more relaxed and informal.
The rental market is competitive and fast moving. Expats should definitely do some research before leaving their home country, and shortlist suitable cities and neighbourhoods in Colombia that will suit needs and budget.
Furnished or unfurnished
Both furnished and unfurnished housing is available in the major urban centres, although furnished apartments are typically significantly more expensive.
Unfurnished apartments often lack many of the appliances that expats would expect, such as refrigerators, washing machines and microwaves. That said, renting an unfurnished apartment is often much more affordable, and expats who will be staying in the country for a year or more will find buying their own furnishings worthwhile.
A short let is a good option for those who may only be in Colombia for a few months. They also allow new arrivals to get to know an area, before committing to a long-term lease. A short let usually offers some flexibility in the length of the rental. These properties are often furnished.
The rental process
After deciding on the area they want to live in and the type of property they would like to rent, expats will typically research properties online. They would also then contact real-estate agents to set up viewings.
Once a suitable property has been found, and an agreement has been made with the landlord, the estate agent will draw up the contact. Before the contract can be signed, the estate agent will need to check references and do some background checks.
An inventory (inventario del inmueble) should be made at the beginning of a tenancy agreement. Both parties should keep a copy for their records. The inventory should be signed and added to the tenancy contract. It should typically include details of the contents of the property. Both the tenant and landlord or agent should note any damaged furniture or fittings.
References and background checks
Colombian real-estate agencies require background credit checks. This may prove difficult for expats without a credit history in the country, but a salary slip or bank statement will usually be accepted.
Expats will need one or sometimes two Colombians to co-sign the rental agreement. These co-signers will generally need to be property owners and will be responsible for payments should the tenant default. Expats may find that local friends are either unable or unwilling to take on this responsibility, but an employer will often help with the process.
Although real-estate agencies tend to be strict about this requirement, expats can often avoid the necessity of Colombian co-signers by paying a large percentage of the rent upfront, or by negotiating directly with the landlord.
Rental contracts in Colombia usually last 12 months. This can be negotiated though, depending on the landlord. Landlords and tenants can legally terminate the contract early if the other party doesn’t comply with the terms set out in the lease agreement.
In Colombia, insurance companies function in place of deposits. A landlord will draw up a contract with an insurance company. This company will offer security against arrears and damage to the property.
This kind of policy should cover the property owner for 36 months’ rent. It also covers a fixed amount for damage to the property. The cost of the policy will be written into the lease agreement. The tenant will either have to pay a monthly charge that is added to the rental price or they would have to pay an annual lump sum.
In Colombia, charges for services such as water, electricity and gas are determined based on usage as well as strata. The strata system helps subsidise the cost of utilities in lower-income neighbourhoods. This means expats will pay more for these services in the more desirable neighbourhoods of the city. Hot water is a luxury that many people in rural Colombia forgo, especially on the coast where it is incredibly hot and humid. Expats should be sure to confirm that their chosen property has hot water.
It is usually the tenant's responsibility to pay for services such as water and electricity. This could vary between properties. Expats should ensure that the person responsible is stipulated in the rental agreement. Utilities are generally included in the rental price of short-term leases.
Buying property in Colombia
Renting is generally favoured over buying property in Colombia by both expats and locals, as property prices have risen considerably in recent years. However, it is relatively easy for expats to buy property, as there are no purchase restrictions for foreigners. It is advisable to hire a lawyer to help with the process, as some properties may have hidden complications, such as a disputed history of ownership and old debts.
Expats will need to obtain a certificate about the history of the property (Certificado de Tradición) from the Registry Office before a lawyer prepares a preliminary deed. A notary will then prepare the public deed, which will be registered at the Registry Office before the Office of the Cadastre registers the change of ownership. This process can be completed in less than a month.
As a foreigner, it can be difficult to obtain a property loan, as most Colombian banks are reluctant to issue mortgages to foreigners, but international banks may be more accommodating.
►Find out more about the Cost of Living in Colombia
"The basic cost of living in Medellín is 30 to 40 percent lower than Boquete, Panama, which, of course, is significantly lower than the hyper-inflated economy of Southern California from whence we originally came. There are a few exceptions of course – wine and liquor are more costly here due to higher taxes."
Americans John and Susan tell of their Colombian expat experience in their interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in Colombia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Colombia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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