Cost of Living in Cartagena – Caribbean Food and Latin Music for $900 per person

04/04

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Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena Map

I first came to northern Colombia as a volunteer teacher on the Island of Barú, in a small town near the famous Playa Blanca about 90 minutes outside the Colombian city of Cartagena.

With not much to do in Barú besides lounge on nearby beaches, my fellow volunteers and I spent lots of weekends in Cartagena. I fell in love with the old city. Over a decade later, I still live in Cartagena. Now I have a paying job working as a bilingual school teacher and met my wife and was married here. So, Cartagena is where I have spent most of my adult life.

QUICK SUMMARY

  • Monthly budget in Cartagena Colombia for 2-People= $1,800 <skip to budget details>.
  • Enjoy an active social life, salsa dancing, frequent seafood dinners, and lazy beach days.
  • A UNESCO World Heritage site full of history, Caribbean vibes, and Spanish influences.
  • Cartagena's pastel colonial buildings and dazzling sunsets offer Instagram-worthy pictures on every street.
Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena adam e1615373788301

With not much to do in Barú besides lounge on nearby beaches, my fellow volunteers and I spent lots of weekends in Cartagena. I fell in love with the old city. Over a decade later, I still live in Cartagena. Now I have a paying job working as a bilingual school teacher and met my wife and was married here. So, Cartagena is where I have spent most of my adult life.

In this post, I will share my experience living in Cartagena and try to offer some insight into the cost of living in Cartagena to help anyone else considering coming to live here to volunteer, work, live as a digital nomad, or as an expat retiree.

The local currency is the Colombian peso (COP). I base US dollar (USD) figures on a 1 USD = 3,500 COP exchange rate, which is probably a tad low as of this writing in early 2021, but better to err on the conservative side given the currency rate volatility last year. For reference, 1 Euro = 4290 COP.

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 EDITOR'S NOTE : Money and Prices In Colombia- Colombia references prices with a $ and a decimal point where Americans would put a comma. For example, you will see two-thousand COP written as $2.000 (notice the decimal). Don't mistake that to mean $2 pesos and zero cents. 

To confuse things even further, a vendor or taxi driver quoting a price in thousands will use the Spanish word "mil" for a thousand. "Mil" is not short for "million."

If a taxi quotes you "cinco mil,' then want five-thousand pesos, not five-million pesos. 

Get more expat tips and money-saving advice with a FREE 75-page ebook on Living in Colombia 

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What Is The Cost Of Living In Cartagena, Colombia?

Colorful colonial buildings and narrow streets add to the Old World charm of the city

$1800- Cost of Living in CARTAGENA COLOMBIA Details [HIDE]

Total Monthly Expense$1832
COST PER MONTH
Rent- Unfurnished 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment450
Water/Sewer/Management/Electricity180
High Speed Internet30
Maid Service 4 Hours per Week0
Cell Phone- 3 GB Internet Per Month14
Total Housing Expense674
Home Cooked Meals 18 times per week425
Budget Lunch- Ejectutivos 2 times per Month11
Mid-Priced Restaurant 2 times per Week104
Upscale Restaurant 2 times per Month124
Total Food Expense664
Budget Night Out- Beers with Friends 2 times per Month33
Night out on the town 1 time per Week243
Total Entertainment276
Bus to Work Daily46
Taxi 2 times per Week52
Total Transportation Expense98
Local Private Health Insurance100
Health Care Expense100
Personal Care (Shampoo, etc.) & Household Items (Soap, etc.)20
Total Personal Care and Misc Expense20
Exchange Rate to $1 USD to Colombian Peso (COP)3500
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 EDITOR'S NOTE : Two-Person Budget- Adam shares his monthly budget living in Cartagena with his wife. Most cost of living breakdowns on Nomadic FIRE are calculated for a single person. When comparing this cost of living guide to others on Nomadic FIRE, keep in mind this monthly budget is for two people. 

It's worth prefacing any discussion of how much it costs to live in Cartagena by stating that Cartagena is the most expensive city in Colombia. Yet, my monthly expenses are still a bargain compared to living in the US. My wife and I have a modest but not extravagant lifestyle, live in a large comfortable apartment, eat out or order in 2-3 times a week, and treat ourselves to a nice trip a couple of times a year.

I think our lifestyle represents a pretty reasonable one for people looking to move here. Our living expenses in Cartagena are middle-of-the-road. If you are looking for more luxurious accommodations and eating out a lot, you could easily have a higher monthly budget. 

Most months, we spend around $6 million COP (around $1,800 USD). I think it would be possible to get by on $1,000 USD as a couple, but most foreigners will be more comfortable on budgets inline with ours. Expats looking to live a bit more lavishly or save up for travel may want to have budgets of $2,000 USD or more.

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 EDITOR'S NOTE : Cartagena vs. other major cities in Colombia- Retirees and digital nomads can save even more living in less expensive cities. I've written an entire article on the affordable cost of Medellin. TL;DR The cost of living in Medellin, Colombia, is less than $1000 per month for a single person.

What Kind of Lifestyle Can I Afford On $1800 Per Month?

Sunset drinks on the walls of the old town fort are enjoyed by locals and expats alike.

What Is It Like Living in Cartagena?

During The Week

For those coming to Cartagena to work, you'll be able to enjoy some of Colombia's world-famous coffee in the early morning with the sunrise. One nice thing about being so close to the equator is the sunrise and sunset are just about always at the same time. For sun up, that's around 6:30 AM. Another thing you will quickly notice is that it gets hot fast in Cartagena- by 8 AM, the sizzling Caribbean sun is fired up.

The weather means you should expect things to move a bit slower here, especially after lunch. Many businesses and government offices still close from 12-2 and allow their workers some siesta (nap time) during the hottest part of the day. If you work in town, many places offer good lunch deals known as almuerzos ejecutivos, and there is no shortage of places to eat.

Traffic in Cartagena can be quite bad, although public transportation is decent. There is a bus system known as Transcaribe that serves much of the city. It's likely to be a cheap option for most expats living in Cartagena and an excellent way to save a bit on your cost of living in Cartagena. If you live in the historic city center's vicinity, taxis are also a reasonably cost-effective option for getting around. 

In my case, I get picked up by bus to work at a school on the city's outskirts. It's an early morning commute, but convenient that I don't have to worry about paying for transportation. Given the heat and my job as a teacher, I am often fairly pooped out in the evening during the week. Perhaps a downside of being so close to the equator is it does get dark early as well, with the sunset usually around 6 to 6:30 PM and it being dark by 7:30 or 8.

However, there's plenty to do to enjoy the early evening. My wife Susana and I often enjoy going to enjoy a drink or two to watch the sunset or treating ourselves to a nice dinner now and then during the week to break our routine.

For Fun On The Weekends

We are more likely to go out on weekends either to dinner, enjoy a few drinks, or both. There are places for all food budgets when you want to go out. Restaurants range from little street vendors to local haunts with cheap beers to swanky cocktail bars. There's also plenty of places to go out dancing.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena adam calle san andres colombia flags 1

Colombia is soccer (futbol) crazy. Watching the National team play is a countrywide celebration.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena Water e1615387418661

Playing in the waters in Cholón, a popular boat party spot in the Rosario Islands near Cartagena.

Other fun things to do on the weekend are enjoying one of the many popular beaches or the historic sites in the old city. The best beaches in Cartagena are actually outside the city proper, at Playa Blanca, in the Rosario Islands, or on the closer island of Tierra Bomba. However, hanging out on one of the beaches in town can also be a perfect way to spend a lazy Saturday or Sunday.

Finally, there are several neat historical sites to see in Cartagena. The most famous inside the Walled City is the Castillo San Felipe. Still, the Inquisition Museum, Gold Museum, and Naval Museum (my favorite) are all well worth the visit, as is the museum at the San Pedro Claver Church and the forts located at the entrance of the bay in Bocachica.

Once you have beached yourself out and seen all the historic sites, there are several malls in Cartagena with movie theaters, cultural events like the Hay Festival, Film Festival, and November Independence Celebrations that are fun. 

Additionally, short weekend escapes to areas farther up the northern coast near Santa Marta like Tayrona National Park and Minca allow a change of scenery and easy to do from Cartagena (and perfect for Colombia's many 3-day weekends!).

How do costs in Cartagena compare to the United States?

Let's add some context to the $1,800 per month budget. Look at the cost of living comparison below for a medium-cost city in the US (Portland) vs. the most expensive city in Colombia (Cartagena).

The Top 4 essential costs in the US are housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. These 4 expenses make up 68% of the average costs in a major city.

Expenses for two people

US-

Portland

CO-

Cartagena

HOUSING

$1,054

$674

FOOD

$573

$664

TRANSPORTATION

$1,060

$98

HEALTHCARE

$706

$100

Total Average Per Month

$3,393

$1,536

Save 54% on Major Monthly Expenses

Even the most expensive city in Colombia has geographic arbitrage opportunities vs. life in Western Europe or North America. The lower cost of living in Cartagena could save you almost $22,000 per year.

What Does An Apartment Cost In Cartagena?


Housing Costs

$674

Housing will likely be the single largest expense in your cost of living in Cartagena. Housing prices in Cartagena can vary quite a bit based on location and level of accommodations. I'm going to discuss our living arrangements and costs and give examples of other accommodations' average cost.

We pay $1.6 million COP (about $450 USD) in monthly rent for an unfurnished, 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment in the neighborhood of Crespo, a few blocks from the airport and a 10-minute taxi ride from downtown. It's an apartment behind a house where the owner lives. It's solid and more space than we need. We used to pay slight less rent for a much smaller one-bedroom along the waterfront in a building in El Cabrero's neighborhood, within walking distance of downtown.

Where Should Expats Live In Cartagena, Colombia?

I would strongly recommend the El Cabrero area or a bit further up in Marbella to people moving to Cartagena. The area has easy access to buses and is even close enough to the Walled City that you can walk. 

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena adam headshot

 INSIDER TIP : You can find better housing deals in El Cabrero vs. the more commonly recommend expat community of Bocagrande.

Bocagrande is more upscale and more touristy, although there are more restaurants and shopping close by.

If your budget allows living in Cartagena's old city (locally referred to as El Centro), the city center is worth the added expense. I spent a year living in the historic old town, and it was terrific. The nearby neighborhood of Getsemaní is also lovely.

Living in Centro or Getsemaní will put you within easy walking distance of all the best cafés, restaurants, and nightlife in Cartagena.

How Much Is Monthly Rent In Those Areas of Cartagena?

For a one-bedroom apartment in Cartagena in those areas, you can see anything from $1.2-3 million COP (about $350-$850 USD). Unfurnished places in older buildings will be on the lower end, while the higher end will be furnished in either newer or recently renovated buildings.

If you're wondering where to find apartments, just going around and asking in buildings is often the most effective, but you may also get a bit of a runaround. The classifieds for the local newspaper El Universal are also pretty decent. Finally, the Expats in Cartagena, CO Facebook group can also be a resource to find people looking for roommates or apartments.

Key Things To Know About Real Estate In Cartagena

  • Admin Fee- Many buildings charge a monthly administrative fee. Be sure to ask if your rent includes the fee.
  • Estratos (Stratum)- Residential properties in Colombia have a socioeconomic rank called estratos. Different estratos determine the rates you pay for utilities. They range from 1-6, with the lower ones receiving subsidized discounts paid for by those in estratos 5 and 6. Most expats will likely be looking at places in estratos 4-6. 
  • Reducing Utility Costs- Choosing an estratos 4 is an easy way to bring down your cost of living in Cartagena. It will reduce the cost of your water and electricity bills significantly. 
  • Lease Contracts- Make sure you fully understand your rental contract. It's common here to require a co-signer, show proof of your income, and have to pay a 2 or 3-month penalty for leaving a lease early.

What is an Estimated Food Budget For Cartagena Colombia?

Pick up fresh cut fruit drizzled with condensed milk from a street vendor for $1

Food Costs

$664

As I mentioned before, we usually go out or order delivery a few times a week and cook the rest of the week. I would estimate our groceries cost to be about 1.5-2 million COP (around $425-570 USD) and probably about another $1 million COP ($285 USD) on eating out. 

Basic market groceries like meats, rice, beans, and most fruits and vegetables are relatively inexpensive. However, if you're like me and like to have a tasty US-made barbecue and hot sauce around the house, those types of imported goods tend to be a bit pricier.

EXPAT LIFE IS CHEAP. IMPORTED LIFE IS EXPENSIVE

For eating out, there are lots of places for all budgets. If you're eating street food or picking up some meals known as Corrientes or ejectutivos, you can expect to spend from $5,000-12,000 COP ($1.50-3.50 USD).

For a moderately priced restaurant, expect to spend $20,000-35,000 COP ($6 - $10 USD) for most dishes, although some fish and seafood dishes may be a bit more. 

Finally, higher-end restaurants will have dishes ranging from $50,000-100,000 COP ($14 - $29 USD). When Susana and I go out to an upscale restaurant and have appetizers, entrees, drinks, or a bottle of wine, we usually spend $200,000-$250,000 COP ($57 - 71 USD).

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena Pino Colada

Coconut Cocktail $8- Few things scream Caribbean quite like a pina colada in a fresh coconut with an umbrella

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena Fried Fish

Fried Fish Plate $8- Typical Cartagena meal with coconut rice and patacones (mashed and fried plantain patties)

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena Seafood Platter

 Seafood With Ajillo (Garlic) Sauce $15 per person- The ocean provides fresh caught deliciousness every day. 

How Much Money Do You Spend For Entertainment?

Nights spent dancing salsa at the Havana Club in Getsemani are legendary Photo Credit

Entertainment and Sports

$276

Depending on your lifestyle, Entertainment is another cost that may spike your cost of living in Cartagena. For strictly going out and having fun, excluding eating out, our monthly costs are roughly $1-1.5 million a month ($285-425 USD). Honestly, though, we don't go out partying as much as we used to.

  • Cocktails at a Club $6-  For cocktails, expect to pay $20-40,000 COP ($5.75-11.50 USD), depending on a cocktail and the place. In the mood for a little salsa music? 
  • Gym Membership $51 per month-  Despite being busy during workdays, I still set aside time for fitness. I typically exercise before work, usually at 7 am when the gym opens. Others go after work, but some even go at noon, during their lengthy 1–2-hour lunch break. I usually pay about 4000 RMB ($615)/year for my gym membership. Typically, gym membership includes access to various activities, such as swimming, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, dance classes, and spinning.
  • Beers with Friends $2- Going out to party, you will pay between $5,000-12,000 COP ($1.50-$3.50) for a beer at a bar, depending on how trendy a bar you chose. You can, however, get liter bottles of cheap beer for $2,000-3,000 COP (less than $1 USD) at little corner stores, many of which can be fun places to hang out if you are looking to save some pesos. 
  • Night Out Dancing $40- Dance clubs will often charge a cover, and some may require you to purchase a bottle for table service. For a night out on the town for two people, expect to spend in the neighborhood of $150,000-250,000 COP ($42-70 USD).

What Does Transportation Cost?

Artistic rustic buses are used as transport in rural Colombia, but in Cartagena, they are Party Buses for a night out Photo Credit

Transportation

$98

As I mentioned above, public transportation is quite reasonably priced. A bus fare costs less than $3,000 COP (about 75 cents). A taxi from the city center should cost no more than $10-12,000 COP (around $3 USD). 

There are also cheaper collective taxis that run on set routes and maybe a way to save some money on your budget for living in Cartagena. If you choose to live in El Cabrero, Centro, or Getsemaní, you will be able to walk a lot. You will save on taxis living in those areas. 

Nomadic FIRE Colombia Cartagena adam headshot

 INSIDER TIP :   One important tip for getting taxis is always make sure you agree on price when getting in and being willing to negotiate and even walk away if a driver is trying to overcharge you.

International Flights

For traveling abroad, the city has an international airport. Rafael Núñez International Airport(CTG) has flights cheap flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale starting at around $130. 

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 INSIDER TIP : Saving On Colombian Airlines- Use the Colombian version of airline websites, instead of the US/English versions to save 50% or more on airfare.

Nomadic FIRE Colombia LATAM US

US Website for LATAM Airlines- $68 Flight 

Nomadic FIRE Colombia LATAM Colombia 2

Colombian Website- $31 option not even available on US website

Read my "Ultimate Guide To Living In Colombia" for more tips on saving money traveling in the country .

Other Costs When Moving To Colombia

Veinte Mil Pesos is $20.000 COP, NOT 20 'Million'

  • Cell Phone Data Plan $14-  A cell phone plan with calls and a basic internet data plan will run around $50,000 COP a month ($14 USD).
  • Men's Barbershop $3-  I always get my haircut at a neat old-school barbershop downtown that charges $10,000 COP (about $3 USD), while other places will charge $20,000-30,000 COP ($6-8.50 USD).
  • Maid Service $14- Some people may wish to hire a maid. We don't have a maid, so I'm not sure how much it may cost, but you might expect to pay around $50,000 COP ($14 USD) to come and clean for a day.
  • Imported Electronics $ varies- Electronics can be expensive here due to import taxes, so expect to pay a bit more than you might in the US. 

How Much Do You Pay For Healthcare In Colombia?

Healthcare

$100

If you work for a Colombian business, you will receive a health insurance plan where the government deducts a small amount from your paycheck each month. Many expats choose to get private insurance that makes it easier and quicker to see a doctor—this additional medical coverage costs me $350,000 COP (about $100 a month).

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 EDITOR'S NOTE : Medical insurance for Foreigners- Did you know that the quality of the health care system in Colombia is ranked higher than the US? Read more about Colombia Medical care and Health Insurance in my Ultimate Guide To Living Colombia.

Will I Have To Pay Taxes Living In Colombia?

Tax Residency in Colombia

If you are considered a Tax Resident in Colombia, your worldwide income is subject to Colombian tax.

If you live in Colombia for more than 183 days over 12 months, you are considered a tax resident by the Colombian government.

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 EDITOR'S NOTE : Tax Residency vs. Visa Residency- Tax residency is 183 days (continuous or non-continuous) over a rolling 12-month period; not to be confused with the 180 days over a calendar year clause that affects your visa and immigration status.

As an example, if you moved to Colombia on August 1, 2019. 183 days would take you till January 31, 2020 (the following year). Staying in Colombia until February 1, 2020, would make you a Tax Resident for 2020, even though you only lived in Colombia for 31 days in 2020. Any income you earn worldwide in 2020, including dividends paid on your US stocks, rental income from the US, even your social security, is subject to Colombian tax. 

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What Is Not Included In The Monthly Budget? Taxes!

Colombia and the US does not have a Double Taxation Treaty. You may be subject to income tax in both the US and Colombia. Speak with a tax accountant to minimize your tax liability. Nomadic FIRE has partnered with Expat Tax Specialists offering a FREE 30-minute consultation. 

Full Disclosure, this is an affiliate link. If you use the link, I earn a commission from the company at no additional cost to you. You get the benefit of $25 off your return and a FREE 30-minute consultation with a Tax Advisor.  

What Are The Visa Requirements For Colombia?


While the cost depends based on the type, Visas typically cost around $300 USD. 

Tourist Visa

Americans do not need a visa to enter Colombia for up to 90 days or less. You can extend a Tourist visa for a total of 180 days. You can extend the visa while in the country and do not need a visa run.

However, Colombia only allows 180 days in a year without a visa. After that, you will need to leave the country or apply for a Migrant Visa (M). 

Citizens from other countries can view the visa requirements here.

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 EDITOR'S NOTE : What about a Retirement Visa? - There are three different options for retirees to get long-term residency in Colombia:

  • M VISA- RETIREMENT (PENSIONER) for people with Government Pensions/Social Security, $774 USD per month using current exchange rates.
  • M VISA- FOREIGN INVESTMENT INCOME (ANNUITY VISA) for people who generate income outside a government pension/social security (rental property, retirement funds, etc.). $2,579 USD per month
  • M VISA - REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT the visa investment can be a residence or a rental property. As of 2019, your investment would be $90,262 USD.

I have written an entire post to guide you, detailing the retirement visa requirements for Colombia.

List of other countries retirement visa options

Compare Cost Of Living In Cartagena Colombia

Still researching the best cities for retirement? Check out our extensive Cost of Living collection for the best expat destinations. Get insider information and real examples of expat life from people who have spent years living abroad. I've compiled all the information you need: cost breakdowns, insider tips to save money, and detailed examples of the quality and lifestyle you can enjoy. 

Final Thoughts: Living in Cartagena

That's a summary of our routine expenses and cost of living in Cartagena with some tips if you consider coming to live here yourself. Cartagena isn't the largest city in Colombia. It doesn't have the reputation of the more popular cities. Medellin has all the accolades. Cali is the salsa capital. Barranquilla has the 2nd biggest Carnival in Latin American. Bogota is Colombia's financial heart. 

But Cartagena's Spanish American colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, and colorful Caribbean island charm are unique in Latin America. I love living here and think if you are willing to live moderately, it can be done on a pretty small budget while still having the benefits of an upper-middle-class lifestyle.

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EXPAT INSIGHTS

I have traveled to over 40 countries to give you the best ways to save, invest, and live overseas for less cost than in the US. After five years of traveling, my list of places to live keeps getting longer. To give you more information on the best places to live abroad, I partner with experts from the expat community.

You want insider information from people with feet in the street? I only work with expats with real-life experience living in countries you want to know about. Together you get updated info on the best neighborhoods, detailed Cost of Living examples, money-saving advice, and recommendations on the local places to eat, drink, and see.

Are you a travel blogger with information you can share on living in another country? Contact me and let's talk about collaborating on a guest post. 

EXPAT CONTRIBUTION BY: Adam McConnaughhay 

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Adam McConnaughhay has lived in Cartagena since 2011. In addition to working as a history teacher, he also writes about Cartagena and other destinations in Colombia at CartagenaExplorer.com.



About the author

Hi, That's me. I'm Marco Sison. I am a survivor of the corporate rat race. I started Nomad FIRE to show you an alternative to the stress and grind of 70-hour weeks to pay off a mortgage, student loans, and countless bills. After getting laid off in 2015, I said screw it all and retired early at 41 years old. I have traveled the last five years to over 40 countries to show you the best ways to save, invest, and live in amazing countries for 70% less cost than the US. I have been featured in: US News & World Reports, Huffington Post, MSN Money, USA Today, ABC Network, Yahoo Finance, Best Life, CW Network, Dr. Wealth, and others. [view press...]

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