You’d be amazed at how many people move to Colombia with barely a word of Spanish. Of course, it’s possible to pick it up once you’ve already moved to the country, but English is not as universally spoken in Colombia as some people think, and it can be tricky to arrive in the country with no Spanish under your belt. Download an app or take some classes in advance and you’ll settle in much more quickly.
Arriving in a new country and city can often be a lonely experience, so it’s a good idea to ‘pre-arrange’ some friends and social events before you arrive – there are Facebook groups for everything from general ‘Expat in Colombia’ pages to clubs dedicated to writers, artists, or people who want to play football, cricket, rugby, and even Aussie Rules Football. Join a few groups, arrange a few meetings, and you can start off your Colombian adventure with some friends from the get-go.
Are you a fan of hot weather or cooler climes? Does the idea of regular rain fill you with dread or not bother you all that much? Is good public transport essential to your quality of life? The answers to these questions really determine which Colombian city or town you’d be happiest living in; there’s no point arranging to move to Bogotá then discovering you can’t stand the weather. Either come and travel for a few weeks first to decide which city is for you, or do some online research before making the leap.
Following on from the previous point, if you do decide the Colombian capital is the place for you, make sure to pack the right clothes. So many people arrive with no jackets, umbrellas, or colder-weather clothing and are surprised by how chilly Bogotá can be. Equally, even in hot climates such as in Medellín or at the coast, people can dress quite formally for work and social occasions, so don’t just bring shorts and flip-flops.
Colombians do love to dance, and a night out dancing salsa is a great way to meet new people and make friends. You can learn salsa in the country, naturally, but why not come a bit more well prepared? Sign up for a few salsa classes in advance and you won’t have that initial awkwardness when your new colleagues invite you on a night out.
It’s been called ‘the irritation phase’ – that period of time when you first move to Colombia when the general lack of punctuality and organization gets on your nerves, especially if you come from a culture that values timekeeping. However, if you relax and learn to accept the inevitable differences, you’ll settle in much more quickly and be happier in the long run. Things might move slowly at first: renting an apartment, sorting out a visa, getting your first pay check. But if you’re patient, you’ll get past those first hurdles soon enough.
Certain products can be either hard to find or surprisingly expensive in Colombia. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking here, think about bringing the technical gear with you, as it can be tricky to find good outdoor wear. Or, for instance, if you use contact lenses, finding the solution that you’re used to can be almost impossible. Think ahead and pick up anything you’re not sure you’ll find in Colombia before you arrive. That especially goes for people with size 11 feet and up; shoes can be a challenge!
Many people arrive in Colombia expecting to be able to rent an apartment for a fraction of what they pay at home, but renting can be tough in Colombia. Many landlords require a Colombian co-signer if you want to rent your own apartment (someone who would be responsible for the rent if you are unable to pay), and that person must typically be a homeowner themselves. Unless you know someone like that already, you may have to accept that you’ll need to sublet a room in a shared apartment at first.
This one often shocks people when they first arrive in Colombia: not everything is as cheap as they imagined it would be. While Colombia isn’t as pricey as many other countries, a lot of products (especially in supermarkets and pharmacies) can be expensive. And, in big cities, meals that aren’t meat, rice, and beans will also set you back a fair bit. Don’t expect to be able to live like a king or queen on your initial monthly salary.
Perhaps the most important tip of all: understand that, if you do move to Colombia, you might just fall so head over heels in love with this magical country that you never want to go home again.