The majority of expats in Colombia move to one of the three economic and cultural hubs of the country: Bogotá, Medellin, or Cali. This is not to say that there aren’t a number of other beautiful and economically flourishing cities, such as Barranquilla, which are also of national importance and well worth discovering, however the hot coastal climates are often off-putting for expats. The main three metropolitan destinations for expats are explored below, giving you a glimpse of what awaits you in Colombia.
Colombia’s capital is by far the nation’s largest city. At the time of the latest census in 2014, some 8 million people called the city home, as well as around 11 million residents in the surrounding metropolitan area. Once infamous for its high murder rate, Bogotá is now not only the political, cultural, and economic heart of the nation — earning it a Beta world city ranking — it’s the biggest expat magnet. The large number of multinational corporations and banks with established subsidiaries in the city is one of the major reasons for Bogotá’s popularity with the international community.
Expats interested in relocating to Bogotá should keep a number of factors in mind: the city’s location in the Andean highlands has led to its motto “2600 meters closer to the stars”. While it’s a romantic sentiment, this change in air pressure as well as high levels of air pollution might make for a tough first few weeks for those who suffer with asthma or other breathing problems. Additionally, as with many South American cities, traffic in Bogotá is a problem, and congestion levels have doubled over the past decade. When choosing an apartment, try to minimize your commute and find somewhere as near as possible to your workplace. On the upside, the city has one of the most extensive bike lane networks in the world, so sporty expats have a viable alternative to public transportation and driving.
Nicknamed the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ for its constant warm climate, Medellín has followed Bogotá in improving its safety, moving from being one of the most dangerous cities in the world in the 1980s to one of the safest big cities in Latin America today. Medellín is a hub of urban culture and public art, making it an exciting and dynamic place for both travelers and expats. Colombia’s “second city” might be dwarfed by Bogotá in terms of size, but it can certainly hold its own in terms of contribution to the GDP, advances in education and infrastructure (it’s home to the country’s only metro system), and attractiveness as a business hub. Medellín is South America’s top textile manufacturer and one of the most lauded fashion hotspots on the continent. Other successful industries include steel, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and refined oil, although this has taken a hit with the recent global slump in oil prices. In recent times, tourism has become an increasingly important sector for Medellín, thanks to its famous flower festival and spectacular Christmas lights display, known as El Alumbrado.
Safety in Medellín has vastly improved over the past few decades, but remains a cause for concern in many neighborhoods, particularly on the outskirts of the city. Particularly dangerous areas are Comuna 13 and around Parque de las Luces. It is important to make informed decisions on where to move in Medellín, as districts do vary greatly.
Medellín is not at high risk of earthquakes, however, they do sometimes occur. In September 2016, the Medellín area was struck by a 5.9-magnitude earthquake, as well as a 6.2-magnitude earthquake the previous year.
Santiago de Cali, most commonly referred to by its short name Cali, is the third largest city in the country, and the most important city in western Colombia. Internationally, Cali is known as one of the oldest settlements in South America and as the country’s sporting hub with two football stadiums and an arena, which is mostly used for basketball. While Cali is best known for its industrial and agricultural output, it has also established itself as one of the main trade centers of Colombia. Although it might not be as attractive to expats as Bogotá and Medellín, there may well be employment opportunities for internationals to be found here. However, the city has a questionable safety record. Whilst this has now fortunately declined, homicides in 2010 peaked at 80 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, largely due to an ongoing ‘mafia war’ in the city between drug-trafficking ‘neo-parliamentary’ groups.
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