QUICK SUMMARY- Where To Stay In Medellin As An Expat
Medellin is Colombia's 2nd largest city, with 2.5 million people calling the city home. To house the population, Medellin is divided into 16 comunas (communes or districts) and 249 barrios (neighborhoods). Some barrios are older with colonial-style architecture, and other neighborhoods are newer with towering skyscrapers. Some places are popular with expats, and others are only known to local Paisas (what locals from Medellin are called).
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6 Quick Tips To Prepare For A Move To Colombia
TIP 1. Understand Colombia's visa policy- A decade of experience living abroad taught me that a country's resident visa and permit situation can make or break a plan to move overseas. Chat with a Colombian visa attorney.
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While all neighborhoods in Medellin have pros and cons, certain places are better suited for specific types of expats. Suppose you are a younger single expat interested in Medellin's famous party life. In that case, your neighborhood choice will differ from expats with kids.
So where do you go when you move here? Where do you live? What neighborhood do you pick? I'll break down the best neighborhoods to live in Medellin for expats and give you the inside scoop on what makes each one special, so you can find the perfect place for you.
What Are The Best Neighborhoods To Live In Medellín, Colombia?
Unlike most European cities, where the city center is the popular place to live, the southern areas of Medellín are more desirable than the city center (Centro) or the north of the city. The neighborhoods of El Poblado, Laureles, Belen, Envigado, and Sabaneta are considered to be the best areas to live in Medellín.
The five best neighborhoods to live in Medellin for expats are:
- El Poblado - Best place for nightlife in the entire city. El Poblado is an upscale neighborhood offering the largest variety of excellent restaurants, bars, and fancy clubs in Medellin. Ideal for expats who want to be in the tourist hub of activity.
- Laureles-Estadio - Great location for first-time expats. Located 2.5 miles east of El Poblado but with substantially fewer tourists, Laureles is a university neighborhood with a vibrant cafe scene, active nightlife, and tons of fitness and sports facilities.
- Belén - An up-and-coming neighborhood. Belen is a recently gentrified area that combines affordable housing with a central location.
- Envigado - Ideal for suburban life. Envigado is a quiet, peaceful family-friend suburban neighborhood located south of El Poblado.
- Sabaneta - Great small-town vibe for expat families with children. Sabaneta is a separate city at the far end of the valley with a laid-back vibe and pueblo atmosphere.
- La Candelaria-El Centro- A NEIGHBORHOOD EXPATS SHOULD AVOID
In this post, we offer you an overview of the best expat barrios to help you choose the perfect neighborhood for your stay in Medellín.
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Comunas Vs. Barrios
When I first moved to Medellin, like most foreigners, I quickly narrowed my options to El Poblado vs. Laureles. However, when choosing the perfect location to live in Medellin, it isn't enough to ask yourself if you want to live in Laureles. Laureles is not a neighborhood; It is a large district, the same as El Poblado and Belen.
For example, walking from the northern tip of Laureles (near Los Colores) to the southern border near Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) would take over an hour.
A better question when deciding what is the best neighborhood in Medellin is asking, "Which barrio should I live in?"
INSIDER TIP : Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley- Sabeneta and Envigado are commonly referred to as Medellin neighborhoods. However, they are actually independent municipalities, with both containing several barrios. Sabaneta, Envigado, Medellin, and 7 other cities make up the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley ( Área Metropolitana del Valle de Aburrá). Medellin is the capital and largest city of the metro.
What is a barrio?
A barrio is a neighborhood in Colombia. There are 16 numbered comunas or districts in Medellín, which are further divided into individual barrios. Each barrio has its own unique flavor, vibe, and atmosphere.
Laureles and El Poblado are examples of districts. However, to confuse things, some areas, like Laureles, Belen, and El Poblado, are names for both the district and a barrio inside the district.
Understanding Estratos In Medellin
Something that makes choosing the best neighborhood that fits your budget and lifestyle is understanding Colombia's unique estratos system. I've lived and visited over 45 countries and have never come across a socioeconomic classification like Colombia's. Based on constitutional law, the estrato system was created in 1994 to deal with Colombia's disparity between the rich and poor. The estrato system subsidizes public services and utilities in Colombian cities.
In Medellin, different areas are classified and divided by a formal estrato system. The Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) ranks residential properties according to a 1-6 socioeconomic level. Basically, estratos help you find nice or wealthy neighborhoods and which neighborhoods you should avoid. A property in estrato 6 is considered a high-income neighborhood, whereas estrato 1 is a bit of a poor area.
The estratos run from one to six, with one being the lowest.
Not only does the estratos system help classify neighborhoods, but your cost of living will change depending on the estrato you live in. Estrato 4 pays the "standard" cost of utilities and services. Estrato 1, 2, and 3 represent poorer households with fewer resources and who pay subsidized/lower prices for services. Strata 5 and 6 pay higher fees for services as a "tax" to offset the lower average costs paid by estratos 1-3.
- Estrato 1 - Lowest Class
- Estrato 2 - Lower-Middle Class
- Estrato 3 - Middle-Class
- Estrato 4 - Upper-Middle Class
- Estrato 5 - Upper Class
- Estrato 6 - Wealthy
For example, renting a Medellin apartment in an upper-class estrato 5 means paying a higher rate for water, electricity, gas, and other utilities. While an apartment in an estrato 3 (middle-class area) pays a lower average cost for the same amount of utilities used.
For most expats, the best neighborhoods in Medellin will be in Estrato 5 or 6.
Colombian Rental Contracts: A guarantor (fiador) and down payment (depósito) are typically required when renting in Colombia. If your Spanish language skills aren't up to par, consider reaching out for help in negotiating and arranging the details of your apartment lease agreement.
Rental agreements can seem overly complicated regarding paperwork, and contracts are nearly exclusively in Spanish. I have a team of expat attorneys who can help you navigate the process and avoid getting scammed. The team can also assist with Colombian visa application.
El Poblado Pros And Cons- Best Neighborhood In Medellin For Nightlife
Enter your textFor many foreigners, Medellin starts and ends with El Poblado (comuna 14). The area is the hub of tourist activity and is famous for having the best nightlife in Medellin. If you enjoy going out and being around people, then areas around Calle 10 and Parque Lleras are great places to stay. However, the constant roar of the Medellin nightlife may be a bit overwhelming. El Poblado is not ideal if you prefer a more low-key lifestyle.
El Poblado is a prime location for those looking for the western conveniences of an upscale neighborhood tailored to make foreigners comfortable. Additionally, El Poblado is close to the city center and has a metro station close by, making it easy to get around and explore different parts of the city.
While foreign tourists love the area. However, long-term expats have increased complaints that the hordes of wealthy foreigners push the neighborhood to be too expensive, congested, and increasingly unsafe.
Quick Overview Of El Poblado
Housing Costs In El Poblado
Typical cost to rent a furnished apartment in El Poblado:
- Studio - $500 USD / ~2,200,000 COP
- 1 Bedroom 1 Bath Apartment $1000 USD / ~4,400,000 COP
- 2 Bedroom 2 Bath Apartment $1200 USD / ~5,300,000 COP
What Are The Advantages of Living in El Poblado?
What Are Drawbacks Of Staying in El Poblado?
INSIDER TIP : Spiked Drinks- The clubs and bars around Parque Lleras are notorious for "scoping." Scopolamine, known as "the devil's breath," is a powerful sedative used by women at clubs to drug foreigners. While not an everyday occurrence, it is not common enough to be wary. Always keep your eyes on your drink in a nightclub and don't share drinks or take sips of drinks from overly friendly strangers (especially women).
Laureles-Estadio Pros and Cons– Best Neighborhood For First-Time Expats In Medellin
Laureles-Estadio (comuna 11) is an excellent neighborhood for first-time expats in Medellín. It is quieter and more pedestrian-friendly than other parts of the city while still being within easy reach of the hustle and bustle. However, Laureles is far from boring. Central Laureles is home to one of Colombia's top universities, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB). With over 25,000 students, UPB gives Laureles the atmosphere of a college town.
The area delivers modern comforts (several malls, numerous coffee shops, and lots of food options), exciting nightlife (Carrera 70/La Setenta/La 70 for clubs and bars, Avenida 33 for live Latin music, rock bars, and some of Medellin's iconic salsa clubs), and conveniences of a large expat community (lots of English-speaking social events). Additionally, Laureles-Estadio offers loads of gyms and fitness complexes to help you stay in shape.
I lived across the street from UPB and consider Laureles the best place to stay in Medellin for expats.
INSIDER TIP : Spanish Classes - UPB offers government-recognized Spanish language lessons. You may qualify for a Student Visitor Visa (V) by enrolling in a minimum of 10 hours of Spanish classes. Student visas allow you to live in Colombia for up to one year.
Quick Overview Of Laureles-Estadio
Housing Costs In Laureles
Typical cost for a furnished apartment in Laureles is ~20% less compared to El Poblado
- Studio - $400 USD / ~1,800,000 COP
- 1 Bedroom 1 Bath Apartment $800 USD / ~3,500,000 COP
- 2 Bedroom 2 Bath Apartment $950 USD / ~4,200,000 COP
What Are The Advantages of Living in Laureles
INSIDER TIP : COOLEST thing to do in Laureles – You can't miss a visit to Atanasio Girardot Stadium! Even if you are not into football, the crowd's vibe, energy, and excitement are well worth the experience. To take things to another level, grab tickets for when Atlético Nacional plays their arch-rival Independiente Medellín. But be careful. Colombia is passionate about football. Especially during rivalry games, things can get rowdy.
What Are Drawbacks Of Staying in Laureles
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Belén Pros and Cons- Medellin's Hipster Neighborhood
One of the city's oldest areas, Belen, is increasing in popularity among expats looking for affordable places to live near the city center. Technically, Belén is a name for both a Medellin district (comuna 16) and a neighborhood (barrio) within the district.
As a district, Belen still has some rough areas classed as estrato 2 and 3, which would be too gritty for expats. But Belen, as a barrio, is considered an up-and-coming area in Medellin. While still a little raw, the neighborhood is relatively safe, with a strong police presence and a community that looks out for each other.
With few hotels or hostels, tourists rarely stay in the neighborhood, but expats can find affordable long-term apartments, but few Airbnbs or other short-term options. The main attractions near Belén include El Cerro Nutibara and Pueblito Paisa, a charming area atop Nutibara hill built with the colonial architecture typical of a late 19th-century Antioquia town. Several small pastelerias, local bars, and old men playing dominos outside the church add to the small-town vibe.
Quick Overview Of Belen
Housing Costs In Belen
Typical cost for a furnished apartment in Belen is 40% to 55% less compared to El Poblado
- Studio - $325 USD / ~1,560,000 COP
- 1 Bedroom 1 Bath Apartment $475 USD / ~2,270,000 COP
- 2 Bedroom 2 Bath Apartment $650 USD / ~3,110,000 COP
What Are The Advantages of Living in BELEN
What Are Drawbacks Of Staying in Belen
Envigado Pros and Cons- Best Place In Medellin for Expat Families
Envigado is ideal for expat families looking for bigger homes, large green spaces, and nature that only comes from living in the suburbs. Directly south, about 15 minutes from El Poblado, sits Envigado. While part of Metro Medellin, Envigado is technically its own city, not a neighborhood. Medellin's ever-expanding sprawl absorbed the city in 2016, but Envigado still retains its own identity. Sure there are trendy barrios, like La Frontera, which mimic neighboring El Poblado's chic. Still, Envigado is quieter, safer, and has a distinct suburban character.
With mostly Colombian families living here, Envigado offers an ideal balance between getting the authentic Colombian experience but living only 15 minutes from El Poblado and still within easy reach of all the nightlife hotspots and shopping conveniences. Additionally, you are a short distance from all the expat communities, making it easier to find people with similar interests and make new friends while in Colombia.
Quick Overview Of Envigado
Housing Costs In Envigado
Typical cost for a furnished apartment in Envigado is 35% to 45% less compared to El Poblado
- Studio - $325 USD / ~1,563,000 COP
- 1 Bedroom 1 Bath Apartment $550 USD / ~2,640,000 COP
- 2 Bedroom 2 Bath Apartment $675 USD / ~3,250,000 COP
What Are The Advantages of Living in Envigado
What Are Drawbacks Of Staying in Envigado
Sabaneta Pros and Cons- Best Place In Medellin For Expats with Kids
Sabaneta is an ideal neighborhood for expat families who want the convenience of living near Metro Medellin but don't want to raise their kids in the hustle and bustle of a major city.
Located at the end of the valley, roughly 20 minutes south of downtown Medellin, sits the charming municipality of Sabaneta. Like Envigado, Sabaneta is its own city. With the charm of a small Latin American colonial town, Sabaneta blends the authenticity of a traditional Colombian pueblo with the conveniences of living in a modern metropolis.
Sabaneta exudes a small-town ambiance unlike any other barrios or districts in Medellin. While expat life in Sabaneta is more laid-back, it is far from boring. Parque Sabaneta is a beautiful town square that is always bustling with activity. The square is a green oasis, surrounded by trees and packed with kids playing in the water fountains. Local families love spending their weekends there, snacking on crispy empanadas while Latin music fills the air. You'll find a row of attractive al fresco restaurants and eateries on streets just off the square. Opposite the square, you'll glimpse a row of market vendors hawking along the road.
Quick Overview Of Sabaneta
Housing Costs In Sabaneta
Typical cost for a furnished apartment in Sabaneta is 40% to 50% less compared to El Poblado
- Studio - $300 USD / ~1,430,000 COP
- 1 Bedroom 1 Bath Apartment $400 USD / ~1,910,000 COP
- 2 Bedroom 2 Bath Apartment $590 USD / ~2,830,000 COP
What Are The Advantages of Living in Sabaneta
What Are Drawbacks Of Staying in Sabaneta
La Candelaria-El Centro Neighborhood - Where Should Expats Avoid Living In Medellin?
La Candelaria-El Centro is a neighborhood in Medellin's city center. While Plaza Botero and other must-see tourist attractions are in this area, I do not recommend expats to live in La Candelaria. The neighborhood is beyond raw and grungy. This is not a hipster bohemian, more sketchy ghetto vibe.
In my 8 years of expat life visiting over 45 countries, Junin Street is the least pleasant place I have ever walked. The urine-stench-filled street is crammed with homeless druggies getting high in the open. This area is disgusting even for someone like me who lived in cities overrun with homeless in the United States, like San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.
Also, La Candelaria is statistically the most dangerous part of Medellin, with high crime rates and a significant number of reported robberies. Be very cautious visiting this area: always stick to well-traveled areas and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Even during the daytime, you'll want to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions against petty crime. Avoid carrying your purse or backpack, don't pull your phone out in the open, and watch your pockets when walking in crowded areas. While there is a police presence, you can still be mugged or have your pockets picked in this part of town.
The downtown core is dangerous at night, especially east of Avenida Oriental. Unless you know the area, stay away from the Medellin Centro at night and avoid walking around downtown alone at all costs.
If you see crazy cheap apartments for rent in La Candelaria, don't bother. The extra cost savings is not worth the risk.
Best Neighborhoods In Medellin For Expats
If you're considering a move to Medellín, Laureles-Estadio is my choice as the ideal place to live. The neighborhood is centrally located and filled with amenities (bistros, shopping malls, trendy cafes, co-working, and co-living). The convenience and location make it a great place to settle in and explore all Medellin offers. Having a larger expat community is especially helpful for first-time expats. Here, you'll have an easier time making new friends and adjusting to your new surroundings vs. the more transient tourists in El Poblado.
Other helpful resources on living in Colombia
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FAQs: Best Neighborhoods In Medellin For Expats
If you are an expat on a budget, La Candelaria - Centro is one of the cheapest neighborhoods in Medellin. This city center neighborhood is even home to Medellin's most popular tourist attractions and sites, including the Palace of Culture, Catedral Basílica Metropolitana, and Bolivar Park.
Centrally located, La Candelaria - Centro (aka downtown Medellin) offers convenient access to the entire city. However, La Candelaria - Centro is one of the shadiest places in Medellin. Junin Street is the worse, with the sidewalks lined with homeless drug users. Regardless of price, I DO NOT recommend Centro as a neighborhood for expats to live in. The extra cost savings is not worth the trade-offs.
I recommend Envigado or Sabaneta if you want to feel extra safe. Both areas are quiet upper-middle-class neighborhoods filled primarily with local Colombian families. With fewer foreign tourists to tempt thieves, drug dealers, and prostitutes, both Envigado and Sabaneta are considered safe neighborhoods in Medellin.
If you are new to Medellin or a first-time expat, my favorite neighborhood is Laureles. Everything you need is within a couple of blocks walking distance. Laureles combines convenient shopping, energetic nightlife, and a supportive expat community into a tidy, affordable district.
It's hard to beat El Poblado if you want upscale living, Medellin's best nightlife, the widest variety of shopping, and the most entertainment options. But upscale also means the most expensive high-rise apartment buildings.
Expat families looking for more space to raise kids would prefer the family-friendly feel of Sabaneta or the suburban community vibe of Envigado. However, both areas are 20-30 minutes from tourist attractions and Medellin nightlife.
If the cost of living is your most important factor, Belen is my recommendation. Belen is the cheapest neighborhood in Medellin that is still safe for expats. Belen has some rough areas. Stick to the barrios like Rosales with an average estrato higher than 4 to find the low-cost housing options in safer neighborhoods.
"Best" is subjective and depends on your lifestyle, vibe, and budget choice. But, no matter your lifestyle, with 2.5 million people, 16 districts, and 249 neighborhoods, Medellin has an abundance of options to choose from.
It depends on what you mean by "local experience." Envigado lets you experience life as a Colombian upper-middle-class suburban family. Belen is an authentic working-class life in the inner city of a major metropolis. Sabaneta gives you a glimpse of life in a typical Colombian small town.
All three areas can be considered local, and each provides an excellent experience for specific types of expats.
Central El Poblado, specifically near Parque de El Poblado Park and Parque Lleras, is Medellin's epicenter for nightlife and entertainment. La Setenta in Laureles-Estadio is a close 2nd place. Parque Lleras is a rowdier and more touristy crowd. La Setenta is a bit more upscale and expat focused.