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Living in Colombia

Many an expat-to-be might have an idea of what to expect of life in Colombia, but not everyone is up-to-date with the big advancements the country has made in recent years and continues to make every day. Our guide offers an overview.
Colombia is South America's fourth largest country.
  • Lying in the northwest of the continent and connecting with Central and North America, the country is known as the “gateway to South America”.
  • Colombia is one of the most highly populated countries in South America, with the majority of the population living in cities.
  • Colombia is one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth, boasting beautiful wildlife and a varying climate across the country due to its mountainous terrain.
  • The healthcare system is subject to widespread criticism, with many expats opting for private healthcare.
  • The country has made great steps in improving its safety, however, crime rates remain high. Expats should avoid certain areas and be safety conscious when out and about.

Who Are Colombians?

Colombia is home to an estimated 48.5 million people, making it the third most populous country in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico. Colombia is a highly urbanized country: some 77% of Colombians live in cities, six of which have metropolitan areas with more than one million inhabitants. The population of Colombia is incredibly unevenly distributed across the country, and most areas in the southern and eastern parts are only very sparsely populated.

Ethnically, Colombia is fairly diverse, a fact that stems both from the nation’s history and from the rising popularity of Colombia with expats, retirees, and immigrants from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. The vast majority (84%) of the population consists of those who are white and Mestizo — people of European and Amerindian descent — with the Afro-Colombian population making up a further 10%.

There is also a significant number of indigenous peoples — though they only account for a small percentage of the population, there are almost 90 distinct cultures. They mostly live in the south and east of the country, primarily in Amazonía and Orinoquía. 

Two Coasts, Many Climates

Colombia’s wildlife is as diverse as its geography: some 10% of all species in the world populate its rainforests, steppes, savannas, and mountains. The country can be divided into five distinct regions: the Andes, the Pacific Coast, the Caribbean Coast, the llanos (plains) in the east, and the Amazon Rainforest in the south. Colombia is unique as it’s the only country in South America with access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Given its proximity to the equator, there is fairly little seasonal variety in terms of weather. However, depending on which city you settle in (we have listed some expat favorites in our article on moving to Colombia), you might be surprised by the contrast in weather throughout the country. Located in the Andes, Bogotá is fairly cool and foggy all year with highs usually not exceeding 15°C in the hottest month of March and temperatures occasionally dropping below freezing. In stark contrast, Cali, on the west coast of the country, enjoys high temperatures averaging 30°C or more. Before you pack your bags for Cali, keep in mind that it is a hotspot for violence in the country, with 56 homicides per 100,000 people in 2016.

Hablas Español?

While officially there are several dozen languages spoken in Colombia today, Spanish is more or less the only language that expats will hear in the city streets. It is highly recommended to brush up your Spanish skills before you relocate. While English is likely to get you fairly far in the workplace, you should make an effort to speak the local language if you plan on staying in Colombia for a longer period of time. There are many regional dialects in Colombia, and “Colombian Spanish” tends to refer to the dialect spoken in Bogotá. Made famous by Shakira, Colombian Spanish is regarded as the clearest Spanish to understand worldwide. You obviously do not need to speak the local dialect to be understood by Colombians — any effort to communicate in Spanish will be appreciated in most situations. 

Colombian Politics: Instability and Uncertainty

The politics in Colombia are complex and there are many ongoing problems. Since the 1960s, the government, paramilitary groups, crime syndicates, and left-wing guerilla groups have been at war with one another. Most well-known of these guerilla groups are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and their opponents, the National Liberation Army, who fight to gain territory. Although a hard-fought peace treaty was signed with FARC at the end of 2016, it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the political future of Colombia.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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. "

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