I would say that the cost of living here is among the expensive in Latin America, maybe on par with Brazil and less than Argentina. Obviously I haven't lived in those countries so don't know about rent etc but, having traveled around most of Latin America, I find Colombia quite pricey for some things, especially given the income inequality here and the low purchasing power of most Colombians. Then again, you can find cheap rent in Cali and live on a shoestring here, as much of Colombia has to.
To give some context:
- The minimum salary in Colombia is £169 ($616,000 pesos) per month
- The average household salary is £442 (and given that these averages are greatly skewed by the few super rich that rise the average disproportionately since over half of Colombian earn the minimum wage, see article below)
- Over half of the urban workforce in the country is informal.
- Normal working hours are at least 45 hours a week, 6 days a week.
- There are loopholes and there is poor regulation of this with a lot of people employed in the service sector having to make up their salary in tips.
Daily items: Daily necessities such as clothes, shoes, toiletries, toilet paper, household electronics, phone contracts and cars are the same price or much more expensive than in the UK. It is clear than there is a sort of monopoly shared by very few, normally foreign, companies leaving very little choice or room for Colombian alternatives, and exceedingly high prices compared to incomes. Added to this the fact that quality education and healthcare is private here, it is not uncommon for families to work long hours to be able to afford what most would consider a relatively basic standard of living. For example, I spent days searching for affordable hairspray and ended up having to buy a tiny bottle for $6,000 pesos (£2.25) that was the cheapest out of only two options available in 2 different large supermarkets. Sanitary products such as tampons and sanitary towels are also extremely expensive and often double the price than in the UK. The infamous cartel de los panales (nappy cartel) is jut one of the examples of price fixing for toilet paper, nappies, kitchen roll and serviettes etc
Rent: When I was here 3 years ago, I rented a room in a very basic house in San Antonio (the colonial part on a hill) for around $250,000 pesos (£80) a month with bills, internet an a cleaning lady - although for most of my time there we had no fridge or gas to cook with so the kitchen was unusable. At the moment I am giving my boyfriend's parents $300,000 a month to contribute to living here. I would never be able to afford to live in a place like this on my own, we have a pool, security fences and armed guards. When I looked at getting our own place, for a 1 bed flat in an OK area (strata 4/5) it would have been between $500,000 - $750,000 (£180-£270) but just for the flat, and most come unfurnished and without electricals. So with bills, internet and maybe a monthly payment for the upkeep of the complex you'd be looking at around $650,000 - $900,000 (£240-£350) a month, plus obviously the cost of a fridge, sofa, bed, cooker etc. Hence I decided to stay at my boyfriend's parents!
What is cheaper here: Transport is quite cheap here with busetas charging around $1500 pesos (60p) and taxis around $8000 (£2.50) for a 15-20 minute ride, but then again this is in comparison with UK prices that tend to be very high and, relatively speaking, prices here are more expensive. This is the main reason why the experience of being a tourist here is very different than living here, since actual prices are cheaper here than in the North, but relative prices can be higher (i.e. compared to most salaries). You can find cheap food here just outside of shopping centres in the more traditional Colombian-style restaurants where you might find a hot lunch for around $7000. You can also go to cheaper supermarkets like Mercamio and spend around $40,000 pesos (£12) on a weekly food shop so there are ways of living cheaply (I will do a post on how much every day items cost for a weekly shopping budget).
General guidance: With all of that being taken into account, I would say that you can live very basically on a salary of $800,000 pesos per month (I lived on less three years ago) and more comfortably on a salary of $1 million pesos and above. For the former, you would have to prioritise cooking at home, never taking taxis and being very careful where you buy toiletry products and clothing. On the higher salaries, you would be able to afford more luxuries and be able to save up for trips. It is important to note that although many expats come here to take advantage of the cheaper cost of living compared to the North and live a pretty good lifestyle, it does not mean it is not possible to live on less. Many Colombians with a degree (which are mostly a privileged minority) earn around $1million pesos per month and I have even seen job adverts for doctors with a specialisation and experience for $3million which is very low, so of course it is also possible for an expat who is not prioritising maintaining a luxury lifestyle and, rather, wants to live like most Colombians do.
One crucial part of the culture here is bartering and you can negotiate down the price on just about anything, apart from shops in shopping centres. For example, bus companies charge you at least $5000 pesos more than the actual fare and just last week I negotiated down a purse from $18,000 to $10,000. Every little helps!
Hurtado, K. (2013). La mitad de Colombia vive con el mínimo. http://www.kienyke.com/historias/cuantos-colombianos-se-ganan-un-salario-minimo/