The Best-Kept Retirement Secret in the Americas

Medellin, Colombia offers the best overall quality of life of any city in Latin America at a super-affordable price. Real estate is a screaming bargain.

This beautiful, pleasant, clean, safe, and sophisticated city is home to friendly, polite, and well-mannered people who greet you in passing and go out of their way to offer assistance. Medellin is the literary and artistic hub of Colombia, with museums, art galleries, cafes, and other trappings of a lively cosmopolitan center. It’s also the leafiest city I know. Everywhere there are trees, hedges, gardens, and parks of many descriptions, all well maintained.

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Coming into town from the international airport, you drive around and down inside the giant bowl that holds the city, making for a dramatic first impression. Viewed from this height, Medellin appears to be a sea of green and red—the green of the treetops and the red of the brick and clay tiles that are used for nearly all construction. Here are a couple of other reasons you should consider retirement in Medellin.

A temperate climate year-round. The city is known as a land of eternal spring. I’m not sure I buy that description because I’ve been in Medellin on days when temperatures have risen into the 80′s. But that’s as warm as it gets, and humidity is low year-round. Certainly, you could live here with neither heating or air conditioning, if you chose, meaning your utility costs could be well controlled.

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A great diversity of cultural and recreational offerings. Living in Medellin, you’d never want for something fun and interesting to do. On any given day, you could go hiking or bike riding. You could visit a museum, park, or one of the many shopping malls. You could also see a tango show or an opera. Come evening, you could dance the night away and sample the local rum in one of the bawdy nightclubs or enjoy a fine meal and white-glove service at one of the many international-standard restaurants.

Infrastructure of a first world standard. This is one thing that I was not prepared for on my first visit. Medellin’s infrastructure is more solid than I expected and more developed than in other parts of Colombia. The roadways are wide and well-paved, and wireless Internet is ever-present and free is many public areas. Plus there’s a user-friendly Metro that offers service across the city for less than $1 per ride.

A very affordable cost-of-living. Not only are day-to-day costs low, but, thanks to the climate, your monthly utility expenses can be nominal. Electricity, for example, could cost as little as $15 per month.

Real estate prices, both for sales and rentals, are seriously under-valued. You can rent a furnished apartment in a good location for less than $400 or $500 a month. And you can buy a two-bedroom apartment in a nice building for as little as $70,000 or $80,000. These prices are low, not only compared with prices in other developed cities in the region, but especially because of the quality of life they buy you.

Costs in Medellin remind me of those in Panama City a decade or more ago, before the Panamanian capital developed into the globally recognized offshore and retirement haven it is today. Medellin is an emerging market. It’s not yet very foreign retiree-friendly. You really need to speak at least some Spanish to get around. This is changing. The younger generation is learning English in school and with the help of American television.

[See How to Choose an Overseas Retirement Haven.]

Retirees will also have some currency risk. The U.S. dollar lost about 10 percent of its buying power against the Colombian peso in the third quarter of 2010, but regained it in the final three months of 2010. Currency fluctuations are a moving target and can work in your favor or against it. When the dollar moves up, as it is right now, real estate values become even more tempting.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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