Our Expat Story In Colombia – Journey Of A Lifetime
We are Sam and Tacha, if you don’t know us we have a company that helps Expats relocate, here we want to share our story of how we ended up living full time in Colombia.
We want to take you with us on a journey of a lifetime, how we traveled through 7 countries and ended up living full time in Colombia. It was a crazy journey and it all started in Switzerland.
Why We Wanted To Leave Nice Switzerland
We both are from Switzerland and about 5 years ago we started playing with the idea to move abroad. The idea was not only to go backpacking or working abroad for 1 or 2 years. But to really moving away from home and integrating into a new culture.
We had a nice apartment, good jobs, you could say we had everything… but something was missing. We wanted to have more adventure in our lives, and we wanted to make a difference in our community, which we felt, we were not able to do in Switzerland.
So we planned different trips to other countries to investigate if we would want to live abroad.
After years of extended research and going to the places you saw in the video, we cut the countries down to Panama/Ecuador/Colombia.
Last Steps Before We Left
We got a lot of weird looks when we said that we want to move to Latin America from the safe and organized country Switzerland.
It was not always easy to stick to the plan. The initial excitement when we took the decision faded and the doubts came to mind. Is it safe enough, how do we make money, will the locals accept us?
But we did stick to our plan, gradually the stuff we owned became less and less and the due date came closer.
We said goodbye to our friends and family and left first for South Africa and then to Latin America.
A weird and kind of sad feeling came as we had our last get-together with our friends and especially when we went to the airport with our closest ones.
The last time we had to say goodbye and were by ourselves after handing over our bags and passing the security. While we were waiting for the flight to take us away to unknown destinations, we were quite silent and each of us had our own thoughts, hopes, and fears for what’s to come.
But once we boarded the plane the sad feeling eventually faded, and we were convinced that we made the right decision, and we were looking forward to our adventures. We wanted to take one step at a time, first up was South Africa.
Our Safari In South Africa
Trip To Ecuador
After 20 days in South Africa, we had our flight to Latin America. We started off in Ecuador as we had planned. We did some work for accommodation to get our Spanish up to speed, but more importantly to get to know the real culture. Tacha and I took care of dogs and worked in a hotel while traveling around.
Trip To Colombia
We really enjoyed Ecuador, but still, something was missing deep inside, so we were excited to go to Colombia. The country we heard so much about. It was magical as we left the airport in Medellin Colombia, and we fell in love with the city immediately. It was like we found El Dorado.
After falling in love with Medellin we still wanted to see the other places of Colombia, and we once again booked some work for accommodation opportunities in the cities of Santa Marta, Guatape, and in the coffee axis.
So the last place we went to was Pereira, there we had to decide what we will do next.
The Struggles Of Settling Down In Colombia
This video is about how we settled down, the journey of finding an apartment, make it happen to live on 600USD/m p.P and at the end of the video our main 3 learning points, you can take away from our story.
Where Is Our Place On This Planet?
We stayed in an Airbnb in Pereira and had to decide where we wanted to live full time. This was our goal, and we knew Colombia was the right place. We already did a ton of research, but all the research in the world does not prepare you.
In our opinion, we did the right thing, first filtered out where we didn’t want to live and then just visited all the places that popped up in our research. We sat together but were both sure that Medellin was the right place for us. So again we packed our suitcases, took the 9h bus journey from Pereira to Medellin.
Back To Medellin
We arrived in Medellin and knew the city already a little. We planned to stay a couple of days with a friend that we made on our previous trip. The plan was to find an apartment for ourselves. At this point, we were traveling for 6 months and had sacrificed our privacy and comfort to emerge ourselves in the culture while meeting and working with locals.
So we were eager to finally have our own 4 walls with the comfort we wanted. So we finally started the journey of finding an apartment. We started out walking through the neighborhoods to call the phone numbers on the windows.
This is what some long-term expats told us to do, in order to not get Gringo Priced because many of the prices we found on the internet, were almost the same as in Switzerland.
During all that time we didn’t socialize at all, we were so focused on getting settled and finding an apartment that we totally left out on “fun activities“. We were researching a lot and walked around neighborhoods in order to see which areas we like the most.
Getting Our First Apartment In Colombia
Everything to that point went according to plan. Now we wanted to find an apartment. But soon we found out that our already good Spanish was a little tight to have a conversation through the phone. Because you can’t read body language to assist your communication and the bad connections didn’t help either.
On top of that most apartments require a Fiador which is a co-signer that has to be Colombian or another option was to pay a high deposit. We did not have a friend willing to co-sign. We just have been in the city for 2 weeks.
So we asked our expat friends again and they said, “ah yes that’s right I forgot about that, that’s normal here.” So we were like, “ok so how do you find an apartment here as a foreigner?” They said, “yes that’s quite complicated either you rent from expensive companies or you know somebody who knows somebody.”
Perfect! We were back on the drawing board and had to extend our stay with our friend for a little and booked an Airbnb outside of the tourist areas to still finally have our own 4 walls.
We moved to an area which is called La Estrella where we had finally our first own home for months, even though when it just was for 2 weeks. We still had no idea how to get an inexpensive apartment we heard so much about.
All we found were Airbnb’s and offers with Gringo companies that were around USD 800-2000. But we came here to find the USD 500 deals which we had read about.
So we came up with the idea of contacting Airbnbs directly and try to negotiate the price with the promise that we will stay longer than the usual tourist. Which worked quite well. So we went to see the first apartments where we had to set the appointments ourselves sometimes in English sometimes in Spanish.
That was the first time we really experienced Colombian time. We had an appointment set up at 10 AM nobody came till 11:30. The same thing happened 4 more times, but luckily we took it easy as we had planned the appointments with that in mind. So finally we found a small apartment where we could negotiate a great deal for around USD 550 furnished. It was not a great apartment but good enough for us to start in.
Newly Found Activities In Medellin
Of course, during this time when we settled, we got to know Medellin even better. It was really exciting to finally have our own apartment in Medellin.
After so long we were able to have a daily routine again. One of our goals was to start socializing again. We were so busy with everything, that we totally forgot about having friends.
We started to join language exchanges in El Poblado, not only to practice our Spanish but also to meet people which was well needed! We finally made some friends through the language exchanges and were invited to sports activities.
It came to the point where we met so many great people that we had too many friends and not enough time for all of them! What a great problem right?!
Getting A Colombian Visa
So now it was time for the visa. Which lawyer/agency should you use? That was the question.
We didn’t just want to send somebody some money to then mess up our visas and runs away with the money. This was a big and important step.
We asked some people, made some appointments, held some calls, and we came out with many names. Some didn’t even reply, some were actually good and some tried to gouge us with the highest offer we got was $ 4000.-
Tacha and I met with one person who was fortunately in hindsight the right choice. The meeting we set up was just to shake the lawyer's hand and see if he is trustworthy. So we did everything to organize the paperwork they needed.
The process for us was not especially difficult but still needed some patience. At the end of the day, we were happy that we had somebody to help with the process. We got to the point where we had a Colombian Bank Account, our visas, and opened a company.
Getting A Real Colombian Apartment For USD 320
So we lived in the small apartment for 550.- now for some months and the 1 bedroom apartment started to become a little small and the fact that it did not have a lot of sunlight made us look for an apartment again.
Of course, we also hoped to spend even less, but that was more secondary as it was important now to really feel at home. We focused on phone poles and pinboards in supermarkets. Unfortunately, all we found led us to agencies.
We also tried to speak with the security personal who can be found at the entry of many high rises to see if they knew somebody, but we weren’t lucky.
One day we found a note inside of an apartment building with a phone number. We called that number and hoped that it was the direct owner.
But it was not, the lady we had on the phone though said that we wouldn’t need a cosigner, so we were interested.
After a long back and forth trying to figure out if we now need a Fiador or not and how high the deposit has to be. We finally got the apartment with 1 Colombian Fiador (a friend of ours who met the financial requirements) and surprisingly Tacha. Somehow they managed it that Tacha could also sign up as a Fiador. How this was possible we still don’t know.
Making Money In Colombia
If you saw video 1 you know that till this point we had no clear idea of what we wanted to work on. We just knew that we had to start our own business. We had many ideas that ranged from providing clean water to a dog training business and more.
But after experiencing how difficult it was to actually relocate the focus went on doing exactly that. Helping fellow Expats relocate. We met so many people and realized during that whole time, that people feel as confused and lonely as we did at the beginning.
That was when the idea came up to help those people and help them to settle here. We felt there has to be someone to provide real practical information and de-clutters all the misconceptions.
Long story short after producing over 100 videos and already been able to help many clients in person. We are happy that we are able to say, we now know where we want to live and what we want to do on this planet.
What You Can Learn From Our Story
The 3 learning points for everybody that is planning to live abroad are:
- You have to come to find out for yourself. First, I personally thought Medellin was an ugly city. Fortunately, we still went and now we live here happily.
- Make sure you surround yourself with the right people that can help you. It’s important to find people that not only have real practical knowledge but your interest in mind.
- Emerge yourself. You will learn the culture better this way, your Spanish skills will skyrocket. And it will be way more fun this way.
Our Future, Our Plans
Our plans for the future are to get to know even more of Colombia and venture on the unbeaten paths. Grow our business online and offline to help, even more, soon to be Expats.
Find a real sustainable way of helping the communities in need, which as we found is not that easy as it seems.