Things To Know Before Moving To Medellin

Make a Smooth Move to Medellin

This post is part of Everything to Know Before Visiting Medellin, a collection of no-B.S., unique guides to how to have an unforgettable stay in Colombia.

So, you’re thinking about moving to Medellin?

Awesome!

Chris and I just moved here in December. For the most part, we love it, but there have certainly been some “adjustment periods” and surprises.

That’s why we thought it’d be useful to compile a list of things to know prior to moving to the land of Eternal Spring.

Some may be obvious to you and some may not apply, but hopefully, one or two tips make your transition to the Medellin Expat life a little smoother.

Here, in no particular order, are 22 things you might want to know before coming to Medellin.

1. Water is Potable

You’ll be happy to know that tap water is totally safe to drink here in Medellin.

Bring a reusable water bottle to save money on expensive and wasteful water bottles and ask for “agua de la llave” whenever you’re at a restaurant or cafe.

Minorista Market Medellin
Some of the many fruit at Plaza Minorista Market in Medellin

2. Produce is Amazing!

Be sure that your Airbnb or hostel has a blender so you can make some mean batidos (smoothies) because the variety in produce here is unparalleled.

Since moving to Medellin, I’ve realized you can find just about everything. From papaya to mango to more exotic fruit such as “tomate de árbol” (tree tomato), the choice is truly amazing. The same goes with vegetables, as you can find fresh local Swiss chard, spinach, herbs and, of course, avocados. We seem to discover a new fruit or veggie every week.

Our favorite spots to get great deals on produce are in Envigado’s market and at Mercado Minorista, in the center of town.

(Warning: Don’t walk to to the Mercado Minorista. Take an Uber or taxi. Even though it looks close to the other downtown attractions on a map, it’s a long and dangerous walk through Medellin’s skid row that you’ll regret attempting.)

No shortage of taxis in Medellin!

3. Taxis > Uber

A taxi driver once told me that there are over 15,000 taxis in the city of Medellin. And I believe him. There’s one (or five) on every street you walk down.

When it comes to Uber though, you have to be careful. Uber is actually illegal in the Medellin and police have been known to pull over and penalize Uber drivers, leaving you stranded.

We suggest you don’t needlessly break the law. Just take a taxi! We’ve had really positive experiences with taxis and find them friendlier and often cheaper than Uber. Plus, you never have to wait to catch a ride!

(And if you’re not confident with your Spanish, legal apps like Cabify and Didi can help you out.)

4. Don’t Flush The Toilet Paper!

Unless unplugging a toilet is your version of a good time, don’t flush anything down the toilet here in Medellin. Toilet paper included. The old pipes in the city (and most of Latin America) are not designed to handle heavy loads.

5. Internet Can Be Brutally Slow

I feel like this post probably took twice as long to write and publish as it should have because of spotty (and crappy) internet here in Medellin.

If solid internet is crucial for your work, blog, or life in general, make sure you check that the place you’re staying has fast internet before committing.

A couple cafes in the city which we can recommend with decent Internet are: Pergamino in Poblado (order a cold brew), Ocre in Laureles (take some sourdough to-go), and, as much as I hate to say it, Starbucks.

6. Specialty Food Items Are Difficult to Find

You’ll quickly realize that some speciality items are hard to find, expensive or just don’t exist here in Medellin. We’re talking $4 USD cans of coconut milk, very few places with good loose tea, expensive nuts and seeds, and no good maple syrup. Good thing I brought my own maple syrup from Canada, eh?

Menu Del Dia Medellin
Left: Plate from a vegan menu del dia from Prana in Envigado. Right: Vegetarian menu del dia @ Verdeo in Poblado.

7. Prepare to Live Off Menus Del Día

Menus del día are the best way to eat well and eat cheap while living in Medellin.

A menu del día (“menu or meal of the day”) is a set menu that is offered for lunch at most restaurants almost every day of the week. It usually consists of a drink (often freshly squeezed juice), soup, and a main dish. Sometimes it comes with a dessert, too.

Prices range from 7,000COP to 15,000COP ($2.50 – $5.25 USD). The menu del día isn’t always publicized at some restaurants, so just ask. You won’t be disappointed!

To find Medellin’s very best menu del dias—vegetarian, Colombian, and international—check out our complete guide. It has a downloadable map, photos, descriptions, ratings, and more.

8. Outdoor Workout Areas Are Everywhere

You really don’t need to worry about joining a gym when moving to Medellin, because every neighborhood in Medellin is sprinkled with outdoor workout areas. Some just have calisthenic machines, some have bars for stuff like pull-ups, and some, like the ones in Estadio and El Poblado even have weights and benches.

My favorite outdoor workout areas are the track and calisthenics park called La Cancha in Envigado (a.k.a. Colombia’s pre-hipster Brooklyn), and Estadio Sports Center in Laureles.

9. Paisas Are Friendly & Polite, So Return the Favor

If you’re lost, you’re much more likely to be taken where you want to go than to have your stuff taken from you. That’s because the locals here in Antioquia (the province where Medellin is located), are extremely friendly and polite.

Manners are a big deal here. Paisas (Antioquian locals), will go out of their way to say “buenos días” to you and they’re almost always willing to help any way they can.

Be polite back by smiling and saying “buenos días” or “buenas” whenever you make eye contact with someone on the streets and learning basic phrases such as “como le va” (how’s it going), “todo estuvo muy rico” (everything was very tasty), and “que le vaya bien” (be well).

Moving to Medellin Petty Crime
Chris “dando papaya” with his phone out looking like a complete tourist.

10. Be Careful Out There!

As polite and friendly as almost all Paisas are, some are desperately poor and will see you as an easy and lucrative target. Everyone has heard of, or experienced, multiple cases of pickpocketing (mostly) and robbery (rarely).

The danger level obviously depends on where you are in the city and the time of day. If you stick to busy streets when out at night, dress like a Colombian (see point 17), never walk around with your phone out, and be careful with withdrawing cash you should be fine. Basically don’t “dar papaya” which pretty much means don’t flaunt your stuff and ask for trouble.

11. Beauty Services Are Plentiful and Cheap

If you didn’t know already, beauty is a big deal in Colombia. Because of this, you’re bound to find a nail and hair salon, or waxing place almost every block. Men get manicures here too!

Competition is high, so prices are very reasonable. And based on my experience, the quality is comparable to back home in Canada but less than half the price.

12. Beware of the Pollution

Since moving to Medellin, I’ve noticed that the air isn’t always easy on my virgin “Super Natural British Columbia” lungs. I’ve gotten cold-like symptoms a couple of times since moving to Medellin because of it.

Medellin is in the middle of a valley and can often be highly polluted especially when it hasn’t rained in a while. If you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, you may want to look into finding accommodation further up the hill in areas like Poblado and Envigado, and away from the city center where air quality levels are the worst.

Airbnb Moving to Medellin
The view from one of our Envigado Airbnbs. Smoggy (see point #12) and, despite the online weather forecasts, no rain in sight (for now… see point #13)

13. Don’t Trust the Weather Forecasts

Google “Medellin weather” and you’ll likely see day after day of rain showers and thunderstorms. Don’t worry.

Medellin’s weather is not nearly as bad as it looks online. It’s just highly variable. At any given point of a day, one part of the city is flooded by a huge storm, while another is hot and sunny.

Some people carry umbrellas but in my opinion, it’s not necessary because it never rains for that long. If you do get caught in a downpour, just tuck into a cafe or bar and wait it out. Apart from the heavy downpours, you’ll be enjoying temperatures in the mid 20s and a lot of sun, all year round.

14. Dryers Are Uncommon

Of the close to ten different places we’ve stayed at since moving to Medellin, we’ve yet to come across a dryer.

That’s because, with the weather being so warm and relatively dry, it never takes more than half a day for your clothes to dry outside. Don’t be lazy and wait too long, though. If don’t take down your laundry in time, a rain shower will undoubtedly soak them all over again.

15. Tourists Are Exempt from Hotel Tax

If you’re moving to Medellin you hopefully won’t be staying in hotels long, but this is good to know for when you’re on getaways to pueblos like Jerico and Jardin, and for friends who are visiting:

Foreigners on a tourist visa DO NOT need to pay the 19% hotel tax. Quite a few hotels will try to pull a fast one on you. Don’t let them.

Check out Nomadic Niko’s post for more info.

16. How to Extend Your Colombia Tourist Visa Without Extending Your Patience

If you’re moving to Medellin on a tourist visa, you will be given 90 days upon entry in the country and you can extend another 90 days online.

It’s not as simple as it sounds though.

Our experience was a debacle of multiple application denials and an unfortunate visit to the immigration office. Let our experience guide you from having the same by reading our important tips for extending your Colombia tourist visa.

Aji Spicy Food Moving to Medellin
Ask for “aji” and you’ll get a homemade spicy sauce or a weaker version of Tabasco

17. “Spicy” Isn’t Really Spicy

Back in December when Chris and I just moved to Medellin, we ordered a patacon pizza loaded with cheese, meat and avocado. As Chris always does, he asked for it extra spicy, so the lady making the pizza added some powdered chile. Chris said, “más por favor,” and she hesitated. She whispered to her colleagues that Chris must be crazy, warned us, then added more spice.

Chris could barely even taste the spice.

“Spicy,” or “picante” or “con ahí” just doesn’t mean the same thing here in Medellin than it does in Mexico or Thailand.

If you’re looking for good spicy hot sauce, go to Zacatecas in Envigado (their tacos are tasty!) and ask for their spiciest hot sauce. La Jalapena in Belen also has some great habanero hot sauce they bottle and sell in their restaurant.

18. I’m in Love with the (Limonada de) Coco

A popular drink here in Medellin, “Limonada de Coco” (coconut lemonade), is made with sweetened coconut cream and lime juice. It’s blended with ice for a frothy and refreshing non-alcoholic drink. Sometimes you can ask for it without sugar but I’m pretty sure there’s always a way for sugar to sneak its way into the drink regardless.

Most people moving to Medellin have never heard of limonada de coco before arriving, us included, but it’s a staple that you’ll find almost everywhere and is well worth having regularly.

Moving to Medellin Shorts Sandals
We almost look like locals apart from the touristy poses in front of these Botero statues

19. Don’t Dress Like a Gringo

As much as wearing flip flops and shorts would make sense in the middle of the day when it’s 28-degrees celsius and sunny, nobody who lives in Medellin does. Medellin is a city in the mountains, not the beach, and people dress accordingly.

Only “turistas gringos” here in Medellin will be seen Birkenstocks and shorts, so stick with pants and shoes to blend in as much as you can.

There is one trick to avoiding pants though: Wear athletic wear. If you look like you’re going to or coming from the gym, you’ll still look local and won’t attract any unwanted attention.

20. Learn Some Colombian Slang

Rather than learn boring basic Spanish phrases before coming to Medellin, learn some spicy slang. As we wrote in our top travel tips and tricks, surprising locals by busting out unexpected phrases can lead to equally unexpected and unforgettable experiences.

Colombian Spanish SlangEnglishExample(s)
QuiuboWhat’s up? How’s it going?¿Quiubo amigo/parce?
ChévereAwesome, very nice!Ese lugar es muy chévere!
!Que chévere ese carro!
!La camiseta que compraste está super chévere!
BacánAwesomeMe gusta mucho esa discoteca, es muy bacana.
¡Qué almuerzo tan bacano!
Listo!OK!(Just use this as ok.). Listo? Listo!

Check out our friends Jo and Dana’s guide to Colombia slang for more.

21. Ask for “Integrado” Bus Tickets

If you’re going to take the bus and then the metro, make sure you ask for an “integrado” ticket. This allows you to do the whole trip on a single fare. We didn’t know this before moving to Medellin and double-paid a few times before we learned about this.

Speaking of metro tickets, make sure you buy a 10-ticket loaded card. You can buy these from the ticket booths which are located at every metro station. If you don’t, you will likely find yourself having to wait in ridiculously long lines to buy your next ticket.

Update: According to one of our readers, Mark, integrado tickets are no longer available. He recommends transferring with your personalized Civica card or paying full fare on both legs. Tourists can get a Civica using their passport at the Civica office at several stations but Itagüi should be the shortest.

Kim in supermarket holding plantain/bananas in her hands
Which hand is holding a banana, right or left? Trick question. The answer is neither.

22. The Difference Between a Plantain and a Banana

I’m pretty sure they’re trying to screw with us.

There’s no other explanation for why all supermarkets in Colombia put bananas and plantains beside each other in supermarkets and call them both platano. I have no foolproof solution for telling the difference. When in doubt, don’t be shy to ask. It’s better than taking a bite of a bitter, starchy plantain thinking it’s a banana.

Avocado Antioquia Flag Moving to Medellin
Leaving the best to last: Avocados of Antioquia. They can’t be beaten.

23. Medellin = City of Avocados

Avocados here in Medellin are found on street corners, markets, and at every grocery store all-year-round. There are at least 3 types you commonly see here, and at less than $1.50 a kilo, you can, and should, have avocados with every meal. Get ready to be spoiled.

Thinking of Moving to Medellin and Have More Questions?

If you’re considering moving to Medellin, or are here already, let’s connect! Reach out to us via email or on Facebook. We’re always keen to make new friends and help a newbie out.

For WAY more tips and info about traveling to Colombia, the best overall guide we’ve found online is this one by Tom Plan My Trip.

And for every ingredient, you need for putting together a magnificent Medellin trip, head to our archive of everything you need to know before visiting Medellin.


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Chris and Kim

Kim and Chris are on a mission to eradicate boringness by feeding their curiosity and fighting complacency. Discover the extraordinary and join thousands of others every month with The Unconventional Monthly.

16 thoughts on “Things To Know Before Moving To Medellin”

  1. Hi Kim!

    Thanks for all of the great tips. I am headed to Medellin in a few days and was wondering if you remember where the cute pink building is in your header photo? I would love to hunt for it!

    Thanks so much,
    Kaitlan

    Reply
  2. Hi Kim and Chris,
    So cool to have stumbled across your blog! I’m on my way to Columbia for the first time and will be in Medellín on Monday. I love all the great tips and will definitely take some of your recommendations (heading to Rituales first). Also like your theme of living extraordinarily…something I fully embrace on my life. Regarding your HIIT workouts, do you mert during the weekdays? I do this everyday back home…I find it hard to motivate when I’m on the road, so would love to train with you guys and hear more about your experience there. Either way, keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Hey Pete! Thanks for your comment. We’re actually living in Cape Town at the moment and so I’m no longer running my HIIT workouts. But there are plenty of outdoor gyms that will get you motivated to workout, for free, outside. Enjoy your time in Medellin.

      Reply
  3. Hi Kim!
    I’ve been to Medellín a few times now. I do marketing remote for a US company and am a photographer. I would like to move to a nice area of Medellín this summer, 2019. Which neighborhoods do you recommend? Most importantly, where can I locate listings for a trust worthly furnished apartment?

    Reply
    • Hola Kim: Soy de Medellín y leí tus comentarios.
      Te explico lo de los plátanos:
      En el trópico existen muchas variedades. Los que habitualmente se conocen en países de estaciones como bananas, nosotros los llamamos bananos, con o. Estos son dulces y blandos y no necesitan cocción. Hay también unos bananos enanos que llamamos “murrapos”, también muy sabrosos, blandos, dulces y se comen crudos, aunque también hay muy variadas recetas para preparar bananos y murrapos cocidos.
      Los que llamamos específicamente “plátanos” no son lo mismo que los bananos, son muy diferentes y se comen también de manera diferente, suelen ser más grande y son menos dulces; se pueden comer verdes o maduros, pero en ambos casos, se necesita cocción porque son duros. Un delicioso plato típico, llamado “sancocho”, es una sopa que lleva, entre sus muchos ingredientes, tanto el plátano verde y como el plátano maduro cocidos. En Colombia el sancocho suele tener variaciones en sus ingredientes, según la región.
      Con el plátano “verde” cortado en trozos que se aplastan antes de freír, hacemos los “patacones”, que son salados. Tambien se venden en rodajas muy delgadas, en paquetes, como snacks
      También está la “sopa de plátano guineo”, una clase de plátano verde, también muy tipica en nuestros hogares.
      El plátano maduro igualmente se come frito, partido en tajadas largas y es un rico acompañante, por ejemplo, en la “bandeja paisa” o en los “fiambres”.
      También el plátano maduro se prepara asado al horno, partido en trozos medianos y relleno con queso y pasta de guayaba.
      En los mercados y supermercados venden también el “plátano comino”, un poco más pequeño que el “maduro” o el “verde” pero más grande que el “murrapo”
      que es la comida para los pájaros.
      Espero haber resuelto tu duda sobre los bananos y los plátanos.
      En cuanto a lo que llamas “alimentos especiales” sí los puedes conseguir en supermercados grandes como Éxito, Carulla o Jumbo; suelen ser algo más caros porque pueden ser importados.
      Finalmente, te aclaro que el papel higiénico, específicamente, sí se puede tirar al inodoro, salvo que se indique lo contrario, por ejemplo, en el caso de viviendas rurales que tienen pozo séptico en vez de alcantarillado.
      Ojalá les sirvan estas indicaciones para completar tan buena información, y espero que no tengas dificultades en traducir mi texto.
      Espero que vuelvan pronto a visitar nuestra ciudad. Gracias por hacerla conocer

      Reply
      • Hola Carmen! Muchisimas gracias por aclarar mis dudas de los bananos y los platanos. Te lo juro que en el Exito se usan el nombre “platano” para todo. Eso, o no puedo leer muy bien. Pero desde ahora no tengo que comer comida para mascotas! Disfrutamos mucho la comida y la variedad cuando estabamos en Medellin, especialmente los menus. Y por su puesto probamos los platos tipicos como la bandeja paisa, sancocho, y sopa de guineo. Como se llama el plato con el platano maduro horneado con guayaba? Parece super rico! Gracias por leer mi articulo y por sus comentarios y ojala regresar a tu ciudad muy pronto. Un saludo!

        Reply
  4. Nice list. No more integrado tickets. You either transfer with your personalized Civica card, or pay full fare on both legs. Tourists can get a Civica using their passport at the Civica office at several stations. I recommend going to Itagüi, as the lines are usually shorter.

    Reply
  5. As someone whose lived in Colombia for over a year – I disagree with some things you’ve stated – tho I’m glad you share the love for MDE.

    >> 3. Taxis > Uber
    This is absolute nonsense. Women have been raped. Men have been robbed at gunpoint. I’ve taken over a hundred taxis, and a couple thousand uber. Never had a bad experience in Ubers, but I have in Taxis.

    I’d recommend Didi Rider, Cabify, or if your adventurous Picap over taking a taxi anyday. As for being “illegal”, I’ve been stopped a half dozen times late at night in Ubers, been honest about it and nothing happened. Yet I was in a cab and the guy lit a joint while driving… and I couldn’t figure out his placa because he drove away so quick. Also had a couple taxis who wouldn’t drive me because I “lived too far away”.

    >> 4. Don’t Flush The Toilet Paper!
    This is completely incorrect, and kinda sad. I’ve lived in Laureles, Las Palmas, and even in the barrio. I’ve never had to stuff my toilet paper in the garbage can. That’s unnecessary lol, most pipes are pretty darn good in MDE.

    >> 6. Specialty Food Items Are Difficult to Find
    Savage – This is completely incorrect. There more expensive. I also found your point about bringing Canadian maple syrup rather cute – as I’m Canadian.

    Canadian Maple Syrup = PriceSmart (They are owned by Costco)
    Mom’s favorite Kirkland Blackberry Soda = PriceSmart
    Anything you could possibly want including meats from US, peanut butter, cheez whiz = PriceSmart
    Old El Paso Taco Kits = Carulla
    Herrs Ketchup Chips = Carulla.

    Do they sell american/canadian specialty goods in the minimercado? No, they sell it in Costco’s and Carulla’s (think RCSS). Just like over here, you can’t go to Circle K and grab maple syrup.

    >> 7. Prepare to Live Off Menus Del Día
    Never had one, there’s so many other options… for under $5 from lebanese to pizza to etc… Have some sancocho – live a little 🙂

    The rest of your points are good… other then the safety point, just use ATM’s at the malls & don’t worry. Only people who will rob you are Colombian Police officers.

    Cheers,

    Canadian whose a resident of Colombia

    Reply
    • Hey Jacob! Thanks so much for your feedback and comments. All very valid points although I don’t agree with you on everything….
      Taxis – as a woman, I felt 100% safe taking taxis. I almost never took at a taxi at night (we didn’t go out much) and Uber was often less convenient. I never had to use the taxi apps but now it seems like Didi and Cabify are the most popular.
      Toilet Paper – we stayed in three different Airbnbs and apartment rentals during our six months in Medellin and were specifically instructed to throw the toilet paper in a garbage can. Outside of the Medellin, this was our experience as well at all hotels and restaurants.
      Speciality Food items – we lived right beside the mega Exito in Poblado and these items were not there, at least at the time of publishing. I’ll let our readers know they can get their Costco fix at PriceSmart though! 🙂
      Menu del Dias – this is a Medellin speciality. If you haven’t had one yet, you must! We tried Sancocho and it wasn’t for us 😉
      Your comments are very much appreciated!
      Un saludo

      Reply

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