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Colombia: A Welcome with Open Arms

Colombia has been working on its image, and more and more expats are flocking to this South American country each year. What do they find when they arrive? Lovely weather and friendly, welcoming people who soon become close friends, which have led some expats to proclaim “the only risk is wanting to stay.”
Colombia is a great destination for expats who want to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Colombia is an emerging destination for tourists and expats alike. In recent years, newly established international trade agreements and increased security measures have combined to open up the country’s doors to foreigners. And as the participants in our Expat Insider 2014 survey can attest, the local Colombians have received them with open arms.

According to our survey, expats in Colombia are the most likely out of all the survey participants to have mostly local friends. At 40%, they are more than twice as likely to have a circle of friends consisting mainly of locals than the global average (17%). This result may be due, in part, to the fact that Colombia is not a long-established expat hotspot, thus expats there have an easier time making local friends. However, a more likely reason probably lies within the Colombian mindset.

Colombian culture is centered on spending quality time with family and friends. The pace of life is relaxed and time is taken getting to know people, slowly building relationships. Many Colombians cannot imagine living so far away from their families and once they meet an expat, they will go out of their way to make sure that person feels welcomed and at home in their country.

What helps smooth the transition to the Colombian way of life? Why coffee, of course! As one might expect, coffee is ubiquitous in Colombia. It’s what keeps the gears of society running smoothly. Whether in business or social settings, you will always be offered a cup of coffee, and expats living in Colombia soon learn to keep their cupboards stocked with this famous black gold in anticipation of any unexpected visitors. Nothing helps easing into the laid-back Colombian lifestyle like getting to know someone over a nice, steaming cup of coffee.

Love and Happiness

Not only do expats living in Colombia have lots of local friends, 60% of our survey respondents are in a relationship with a local. Only the Philippines beat Colombia in this regard.  About one in five expats moved abroad for love in the first place, while the rest met their partners while already living in the country – maybe through all their local friends?

With so much love in the air, it’s no wonder that Colombia ranks third in our survey in terms of personal happiness, coming in only behind Ecuador and the Philippines. Nine in ten expats said they are happy with their expat life in Colombia and a quarter even said they are very happy. Overall, expats find it quite easy to settle into life in Colombia: 73% reported that they feel at home and 72% said it’s easy to make new friends. Familiarity with the language can also help expats settle in faster and make it easier to make friends with locals. Four out of ten expats said they speak Spanish very well and 18% have the language as their mother tongue.

Life in Bogotá

Many expats who move to Colombia will settle in Bogotá, the world’s third highest capital city. Its population of nearly nine million people notwithstanding, it still has the feel of being divided into many smaller neighborhoods. Most expats live in the historic district of La Candelaria, which is full of bars, restaurants, salsa clubs, and renovated colonial houses.

On Sunday mornings, locals and foreigners alike can enjoy a stroll or bike ride through the city, as many of the major roads are closed to motor vehicles. The general state of transportation in this South American capital does not warrant much praise, though, with frequent traffic snarls and packed city buses. Dissatisfaction with the entire country’s transportation network is also apparent in the survey, where the country ranks only 45th out of 61.

Colombia’s Highs and Lows

Colombians are a very open and generous people, so it’s no surprise that the country ranked highly in this category. A full 86% rated the population as friendly and just under half of these went even as far as to say that Colombians are very friendly. Whether it’s stopping to help someone change a flat tire or offering to pass someone’s bus fare to the driver on a crowded city bus, Colombians are known for taking the time to help someone out.

Three-quarters of expats are also satisfied with the weather and climate in this South American country. A vibrant nightlife scene and lots of leisure activities, like colorful, fast-paced salsa dancing, will keep an expats’ social calendar full here. Expats aren’t delighted with all aspects of life in Colombia, however. Despite improving security measures, safety is still a very real concern, and only 6% of expats said they feel very safe. For some expats, however, the pros certainly outweigh the cons, and a quarter of the survey respondents said they plan to stay in Colombia forever.

Pablo Garcia Ramirez

"I was so lucky that a friend told me about InterNations before I came to Bogota. I had the chance to contact many expats there from home."

Michelle Guillemont

"I was a little bit afraid before moving to Colombia - a new language, security issues, no friends. InterNations helped me settle in, though. "

Global Expat Guide