Colombia at a Glance
Living in Colombia
- 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?
In 2016, Colombia was home to an estimated 48.5 million people, making it one of the most populous countries in Latin America alongside Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Colombia is a highly urbanized country: some 75% 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. Three ethnic groups make up the overwhelming majority of Colombian society:
- White and Mestizo, people of European and Amerindian descent (84.2%)
- Afro-Colombian (10.4%)
- Indigenous peoples (c.a. 3.4%)
Though indigenous peoples 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 is often 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. If you’re an attentive reader you may have noticed that 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 Colombian 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 focal point for violence in the country, with 2,000 murders reported in 2013 alone.
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 today. 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. In October 2016, Colombian voters rejected a potentially historic peace agreement with the FARC, meaning the political future of Colombia is somewhat unstable.
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