Starting Over in Medellin, Colombia

A Texas man launches a business and a new lifestyle overseas.

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Rich Holman, a native of Texas, first traveled to Medellin, Colombia in 2006 after a divorce. Today he lives in this city full-time and couldn’t be happier with the place where he has chosen to create his new life. He calls Medellin “one of the world’s best-kept secrets.”

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One of Medellin’s biggest advantages, and one of the primary attractions for Holman, is this city’s climate. There’s one season: springtime. The city sits at 4,300 feet and near the Equator, so temperatures are consistently 72 to 80 degrees with low humidity. “My main dressing decision is whether to wear a short- or a long-sleeved shirt,” says Holman. “I never need a coat.”

The pleasant year-round temperatures have another, bigger benefit. Living here, you won’t have to pay for heating or air conditioning. In fact, most houses and apartments don’t have central heating or cooling systems. They’re not necessary.

Thanks to the altitude, bugs are almost nonexistent, meaning you can leave your windows open and dine out-of-doors whenever you like. Apartments come with big terrazas for this purpose, and cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating are common. The city is amazingly clean, even in the poor areas, which also invites you to get outside and enjoy your surroundings.

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Five of the 35 top-rated hospitals in South America are in Medellin. Plus, the cost of health care here is about one-third the cost of similar care in the U.S. These were other important pluses that got Holman’s attention when he was considering options for his move overseas.

In Medellin, transportation is affordable and efficient. The average taxi fare is $3 to $5 and bus fares are around 70 cents. The above ground metro, which traverses north to south and east to west, is spotless and completely without graffiti. The cost of a ride is about $1.20. Medellin also boasts a great educational system, with more than 32 colleges and universities.

Medellin is an emerging economy. That translates into opportunities for entrepreneurs willing to address the challenges, including Holman. He could have retired in a more traditional sense when he made his move to Medellin. Instead, Holman has launched a new business. “Having run a business in Medellin for a few years now, I can tell you that it isn't an easy thing,” says Holman. “However, I believe I'm investing now to position myself for the wave of growth I see coming.”

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But what attracted Holman most to this pretty city was the sense of community he identified from his first visit. “In almost all of Medellin's 60 barrios (neighborhoods) on any given evening or weekend, you'll find friends and families sitting at small outdoor bars and restaurants and on their front porches enjoying themselves, always laughing and smiling,” says Holman. "If you like to party, you will have trouble keeping up with the paisas (locals). Their energy for entertainment is inexhaustible. I think at least some of their energy comes from their city. This place has a vibrancy about it, a great positive energy. It just feels good to be here.”

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.