Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming to Medellin Colombia
My husband (Sam) and I moved to Medellín in February 2018. We were pretty good prepared and thought there can not be any surprises anymore. Man, we were so wrong!
Since then, we went through a lot of good and bad surprises.
There will always be things you would like to know before doing something new, like relocating to another country. The following things I will talk about are obviously not be everything you might want to know or wanted to know before moving to Medellín.
It is just not possible to state all the things you should know before moving abroad. Because, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Let’s start with one of the most important things I learned so far.
You usually get around with only speaking English these days. But you are wrong to think, that this will apply in Colombia.
Tourism in Colombia has increased a lot in the last few years. Year by year there are more Colombians speaking and understanding English.
But in general, they are not as fluent enough to have a real conversation.
When you are coming to Medellín as a tourist that is looking for the “real” Colombia or are thinking of relocating, you should know that YOU HAVE TO LEARN SPANISH.
I started learning Spanish back in Switzerland (where I was born and raised) because I wanted to communicate with locals and not only foreigners.
You can get by with English in the more touristy areas, but even then there are not so many Colombians speakingenough English to really communicate with you properly. I really suggest you learn Spanish before or when you are here. You will get to speak to locals this way, make local friends and get around way easier.
Spanish is essentially here, not only to get around but also to avoid getting gouged, which happens a lot to foreigners due to the lack of Spanish.
The City Of Eternal Spring
The best climate in Colombia. That’s what they say at least. I personally, absolutely agree with it.The climate in Medellín is wonderful. It can get pretty hot from times to times but also cool when it rains for instance. But the combination of both is great.
Medellín’s average annual temperature is 72.5 °F (22.5 °C)
What you might need to know, is that the climate also depends on the neighborhood you are living in.
It can variate from up to 4 degrees Celsius or over 7 degrees Fahrenheit.
El centro is on average the neighborhood with the warmest weather, Sabaneta , on the other hand, is famous for its “cielo roto” the broken sky. Which means it rains more often over there. In every Neighborhood,you have a slightly different climate.
I have to admit, that I had totally different expectations of Medellín. I thought Medellín would not be developed at all. I thought it will be rural and a stable internet would be luxury. And again, I was so wrong!
Before I came to Medellín I watched a lot of and of course about Medellín. I learned that a video can help to get a better picture of how a country can look like.
But a video, blog or documentary can not show you the whole picture.
You can not see how friendly Colombians really are in real life, how the weather really is every day or how the vibe in general is. I also talked to people who were traveling to Colombia. And still, my expectations were far from my experiences after moving to Medellín.
But I should have known before, that everybody perceives things differently. Things like the weather, are a reason to live here for some people and for others not at all.
Long story short, come to Medellin and make your own experiences. And try to avoid watching movieswhere they display Colombia as only a country of war, drugs, and prostitutes. That does not help you at all!
Since Netflix published “Narcos” Colombia certainly got more attention than before but not in a good way.
Colombians are looking into the future and try to learn from the past but not to live in it. You should do the same!
Safety is something that everyone perceives differently. Some grew up in a dangerous neighborhood and think that Colombia is super safe. And others are not used to the new environment and think everything is dangerous out here. depending on the circumstances someone can feel more or less safe in a place.
What I can say from my personal experience, is that sometimes I’m not sure how safe a place is, in terms of pickpocketers. But otherwise, I never felt that my life is in danger.
I like to share some safety tips, in order for you to spend the best time possible in Medellín:
- Do not wear anything shiny on you. Like a big O gold chain, diamond earrings or an expensive watch.
- Do not go with a stranger (especially a beautiful looking woman) somewhere you do not know, like a hidden alley for instance.
- Always watch your drinks, especially with people you do not know that well yet.
- Try not to show off your stuff in general. Big O cameras around your neck will bring attention to you.
- Same with walking through streets you do not know and having your expensive cell phone out. (An expensive stuff like a cell phone can have a value of 6 months working here. Never forget that! )
- Try to emerge yourself better by wearing more Colombian typical clothes. That appears especially for people who are living here long term.
- Always be aware of your surroundings. Even though you are living and navigating in an area that is considered safe. You should always be aware if somebody is acting strangely or sketchy.
- Last but not least, use your common sense. If you do not feel safe somewhere, even though it is considered a safe area, then leave the place. Safety first!
Where should I begin? Like I already said I was born and raised in Switzerland. Switzerland is a really strict country with a lot of rules. On the other hand, everything works more or less pretty smoothly.
Colombia is not as disorganized as I thought at first, especially Medellín is for me like a little Latin Switzerland. It is not as strict but for my surprise pretty organized for a Latin American country.
Fact is, they surely are organized but it really depends on who takes care of your case, is he in a bad mood today, did you greet the person properly and so on. Means, that it can all work out pretty smooth, fast and uncomplicated or it can get a mess and take forever.
No matter if you need to extend your tourist visa, want to get married or whatever you might want to do. Be aware that you may have to go the extra mile to get what you want. The smallest things can take way longer than expected.
Don’t do things at the last minute. And if you have more documents than they ask you for, bring always, always all documents with you. They might have changed their mind overnight.
If you follow those “rules” you should be fine when dealing with paperwork.
Rainy Season Does Not Mean It Rains All Day Long
I am used to rainy days. I grew up in a country with 4 seasons but most of them contain rain. Means, I am used to seeing grey skies and rain for days without one single sunbeam.
Medellín is another story. They only have the dry and rainy season which is awesome! Of course, it does rain during the rainy season but it is really rare that it rains the whole day. Usually, it rains around the early afternoon and at night.
That also depends on where you are living in Medellín, some places have more rain than others. But in general, I would say it usually does not rain the whole day no matter where in Medellín.
And when it does, you better make sure to always carry an umbrella with you. It can get pretty wet though.
In case you are planning to come to Medellín during the rainy season, be aware that it won’t be cold but it will surely rain more than usual, therefore take an umbrella with you. But in general, you can do almost everything even during the rainy season.
Challenges you did not Know About
As I said, Colombia is a little surprise package with a lot of great and sometimes not so great surprises.
What I can tell so far from my experiences in Medellín, is that you will suddenly be confronted with changes out of nowhere.
For instance: When we opened our company in Medellín our trusted accountant told us that we do not have to do something active with our company if we do not want to. She told us we only have to transfer some money 6 months before we have to apply for the visa extension. So we felt safe that we do not have to do anything with our company for two and a half years.
A few days ago we had another meeting with her and she told us that everything she told us, suddenly changed!
So now you need to prove some activity in your company account. In case you did not have had any activities within your company, they will most probably not accept to give you another visa. So this change is pretty taff.
The point is, you always should try to be updated about such important things.
I know that there are people who prefer somebody else to take care of their visa and other stuff and I totally understand that. But in order for you to stay here, it would not do you any good to trust too much in just one person who takes care of everything.
I suggest everybody, to at least ask another person (who works in the necessary field and not a neighbor or a neighbors friend who knows someone..) if the things still work this way or if they were any changes lately.
Luckily we always ask another person for their opinion about certain things. This way we found out things that we did not know, and we saved a lot of money because of that.
Medellin Is Pretty Modern And Sophisticated But…
There are also poor people and poor neighborhoods. One likes to only see the modern, clean and sophisticated sites of Medellín. But the poorer neighborhoods are also part of the city.
When you are in the metro, for instance, it might happen that you see people who are living in the tubes that are going into the Medellín river.
You will see indigenous begging for money or selling some handmade accessories with their children.
You will see old and young people on the streets, selling stuff as soon as the red light goes on.
You will see homeless sleeping on the streets.
And so on. What I want to say is, that there are still a lot of poor people in Medellín even though you are not confronted by them on a daily basis. Medellín has different sides and it’s important to keep that in mind.
Conclusion: Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming to Medellin
In fact, you need to know that you should learn some Spanish before coming to Medellin. In order to get around and to emerge yourself easier that way.
For safety reasons, you should always be aware of your surroundings no matter where you are. Use the above-mentioned rules and you should be okay.
Keep in mind that the bureaucracy takes a while and is not that simple as in other countries. Always calculate more time into whatever you are up to, in order to get what you need in time.
Also, do not pay to much attention to certain series who puts Colombia in a bad light that only contains violence and drugs.
The weather here is as wonderful as people say if you like spring weather. You should also, always have an umbrella with you, especially during the rainy season. You can get pretty wet in just a short time if you forget it.
As mentioned, Medellin has different sites. Depending on where you stay it can be more or less safe. Medellin has different places to offer where you can see how the rich, the middle stand and the poor people live.
Last but not least, do not be surprised when things do not work out as you wish. Sometimes it is possible to do things you never imagined doing, and sometimes you get pretty disappointed because there are things not working out as you wish. Every day is kind of a surprise though.
I learned those things since I came to Medellin. Luckily, I never had any safety issues but this is because I traveled already a lot beforehand and knew what to be aware of in order to stay safe.
All in all the mentioned things are not that big of a problem, but still good to know before coming here.
I hope the info can help you to be better prepared for Medellin.