Family of 4: Budget for living in Cali

in Plan to stay

To give potential residents of Cali an idea about how much it costs to live a good life in Cali, I have been tracking my expenses over the last couple of months to provide you with a rough estimate. We all have different perceptions of what a good life includes. You can probably do cheaper and most certainly spend more, but it gives a realistic picture of how much it costs to live a comfortable life as a family here. If you don’t have kids, you could easily save 30-40% on my expenses.

Also, most foreigners moving to Cali would not want to go backward in lifestyle and neither did I. Rather the contrary. We’ve been able to live a more luxurious life on a smaller budget that we could have in Europe.

To those who don’t know, all of the Colombian cities have been divided into estratos, ranging from 1 to 6. The purpose is to classify neighborhoods either as poor, middle class or rich. The neighborhood, it’s surroundings and the facade of your building are the main determinators for which estrato your house will be in.
We live in estrato 5 (on a scale from 1-6) meaning that we (and the people in estrato 6) pay a slight premium on our property taxes and utilities, subsidizing the people living in estrato 1-3. Estrato 4 pays the real market price. It’s a socialist way of making the widest shoulders carry the biggest burden.

Here are my average monthly expenses with my comments below. The only thing that I have not included is my mother in-law’s rent which we also pay, which doesn’t reflect an expense that most people will have although it pays off to be friends with La Suegra, especially if you like her beans 🙂

$494.000 HOA fees (administración)
$795.000 Kindergarten for one girl, no transport included
$280.000 Water, electricity, garbage, public lighting, gas
$100.000 Cell service, 2 prepay telephones
$814.000 Maid 5 days per week. Includes all benefits.
$1.200.000 Groceries
$500.000 Dining out, drinking out
$300.000 New clothes, gifts
$200.000 Diapers
$340.000 Baby formula
$150.000 Baby vaccines
$600.000 Gasoline, yes I drive a gas guzzler
$150.000 Maintenance car
$80.000 SOAT insurance car
$600.000 Health insurance COOMEVA EPS

$6.803.000 Colombian pesos or $2.306 dollars by today’s exchange rate.

HOA fees (administración)

Almost every house or apartment in a building or a gated community pays to the homeowners association who maintains the common areas, provides security, etc. In Cali, they are far from cheap, which is one reason that so many owners don’t pay it. Out of 24 houses in our gated community, only 8 of us are currently on time with our payments. It sucks as necessary maintenance gets neglected due to insufficient funds. Two houses owe the most (+150 million pesos) and the owners are in the process of losing their properties due to excess debt. Hopefully, then we will be able to lower the HOA fees.As a rule of thumb, buildings or communities with very few units pay the most. Elevators and swimming pools also increase your monthly expense substantially.

As a rule of thumb, buildings or communities with very few units pay high HOA fees. Elevators and swimming pools also increase your monthly expenses substantially.

If you don’t pay HOA fees it’s most likely because you’re renting a place (HOA fees are usually included in the rent) or live in a stand-alone house / finca. In either case, you can substitute our HOA fee with your rent / mortgage. We own our house, but I know my neighbor rents his place and pays $1.500.000 pesos per month including HOA fees but not the utilities.

Kindergarten

My daughter’s daycare is expensive by Colombian standards. Especially when you consider that they only open from 8:00 AM to noon every day. There are a couple of reasons that I accept paying this steep price. First of, it’s located very close to our house, meaning that I don’t have to pay the bus to take her there every day. Second, since we are out of the city perimeter, the pico y placa rules don’t affect me. And finally, the air is very clean and my daughter plays outside almost the entire day.

An added benefit to having your kids in an expensive kindergarten (or school) is the networking that you can do with the other parents, who are often entrepreneurs or well-paid employees and usually very well-connected in town. Colombia is very much a country where the old saying “it does not matter what you know, what matters is WHO you know” holds true.

Anyway, a decent kindergarten in Cali can be found at half the price we pay, although it is hard in the northwestern part of town where we live.

Please note that the price we pay is for one child. My youngest daughter is still at home with mommy.

Utilities

Not much to say here… The only way to lower this cost is by moving to a lower estrato or maybe change all light bulbs to LED. I ain’t gonna stop showering.

Cell service

As we travel a lot, we have chosen to have two prepay phones instead of paying the monthly plan, which is complicated to put on hold every time we leave the country. Also, I’ve found prepay to make sense financially for us. We used to pay $80.000 per phone per month with our plan, but with our prepay we rarely spend more than $50.000. It’s a little less convenient, but the good news is that you can literally fill up credit on almost any corner.

Maid

A top priority and I’d probably sell my car before I let go of my maid. It is a massive luxury not having to clean, cook (unless I want to), change dirty diapers, bed sheets or wash laundry. Literally hours of productive time is saved every week and it is really convenient to always have a babysitter as well. Our maid shows up around 7:30 AM every day and leaves around 5:00 PM although we frequently let her leave early.

The $814.000 pesos that we pay every month includes all benefits. Not the benefits you might be thinking about 🙂 but stuff like pension, vacation pay and healthcare according to Colombian law. If you’ve ever considered getting a maid – even just for a few days a week, I’d recommend that you check out my post on the subject.

Groceries

We could easily save 30-50% on our groceries, but we like good steaks and lots of imported goodies like good olive oils, Spanish chorizos and especially cheeses that cost substantially more than buying local products. Also, buying organics in the supermarkets come at a premium. The best place for cheap organics in Cali is the organic market that takes place every Saturday morning. If you are a wine drinker, you will notice that good wines are quite expensive, especially right now with the high dollar affecting prices on anything imported. Oh… And I’m a sucker for good ice cream, which also adds to the bill.

Want to eat cheap then eat like the locals: Rice, beans, plantains and a cheap cut of meat is the way to go.

Dining & drinking

We love going out to eat and we do go out at least once or twice per week, either for lunch or dinner. In the case that we go out to drink at night, we rarely go to the fancy places but prefer local bars where a cold beer rarely costs more than $5.000 pesos.
I’d also include fun like taking my family to a water park or the zoo under this category.

New clothes and gifts

I’m notorious for underspending on my wardrobe, and bringing my girlfriend’s clothing budget into the equation would not be fair. For that reason, most of the money spent on this account is directed towards our girls. Quality clothes for kids here can get quite expensive and it is definitely worth buying your Baby Carter or Baby GAP in the US if this is an option for you.

Diapers, Baby formula, Baby vaccines

Unless you like washing diapers or live in a place where you kids can run around naked, I see little way to change this expense. I consider the money spent here every month to be potty training motivation.
I have a daughter with lactose intolerance, which explains why her baby formula is slightly more expensive than normal formula.
Regarding the vaccines, we use the private vaccine clinic at the Imbanaco hospital. There is a cheaper, public alternative that we have chosen not to use. In some cases, it means giving your kids 5 vaccines instead of 1 which I could not bring myself to do… although it makes sense financially.

Car, Gasoline, maintenance, insurance

We had two cars and now we have one. If you can do without one, then I’d recommend you to do so. Cali has somewhere around 21.000 taxis, 800-1000 Ubers, moto ratones, buses, jeeps etc. so there’s always somewhere willing to haul you from A to B when needed. Just reach out your hand…
Cars here are quite expensive. So is the gasoline and the spare parts. I just have the 3rd party liability insurance, but if you want full coverage, expect to pay around 10% of the car’s value per year in insurance premium. With a big dog, two kids, two child seats, two strollers etc., we need big one car. So I’m paying the price. If you have the guts to enter Colombian traffic and can do with less, then opt for the moto, which is both cheaper, faster and easier to park.

Health insurance

We have a health care plan with Coomeva. To be honest, I’ve never had to use to their services except for a visit to the dentist which cost me $4.000 pesos for a check-up and clean-up through one of their clinics, so it’s hard for me to comment. From what I can deduct from my conversations with local friends, Sura is the best provider and also the financially strongest player on the Colombian health care market.

There you have it. Don’t get too hung up on the specific numbers, but use them as a guide. We have a very comfortable life and are very happy to pay a premium to do so. A similar lifestyle in Europe would easily cost 3-5 times as much, especially if including a full-time maid.

I’d love to hear if anyone has any comments or experiences with living cheaper or even more expensive in Cali.

Passed through Cali for the first time in 2011, on his way from the US to Brazil on a motorcycle. Ended up kissing a caleña on his last night and the rest is history. Has been a resident of Cali, Colombia since 2013 and currently living in Barrio Bellavista with his girlfriend and 2 daughters.

8 Comments

  1. I’ve been taken off your email list, apparently, and I’m sorry for having said whatever made you do it. Or I’m not the right age group.
    I wish you and your family the best.

    • Dear Elizabeth – you must be my most loyal reader! How could I ever take you off the list?!
      The reason that you have not received anything from me lately is that I have been too darn busy to write the newsletter. I promise that I will get back on top of it.

      Saludos, Patrick

        • Depends very much on Strata and neighborhood. For a family of four in strata 5 or 6 in Oeste, you can find something nice, unfurnished, 3 bedrooms, for about $2.000.000 per month + utilities. But then again, you can also find something for half that price in estrato 3 or 4. Or even pay double if you want something new and upscale.

  2. Glad you are back with a post! Very informative. I have never lived in Colombia as an adult even though I was born in Cali but I see that life in Colombia is very expensive if you want to live at a standard similar to the US or Europe. I always found car prices and gasoline to be insane!

    • Thanks Lina!
      It really depends on what kind of lifestyle you’re looking for. You can live here very cheap, but if you like expensive toys, foods and imported goods, then yes, it can get quite expensive.
      To me, Colombia very cheap for anything service related. Massages, haircuts, manicures, home-deliveries – labor in general is cheap, which allows you to have many luxuries – like for instance a maid to help you around your house – something I could not have afforded in Europe.

  3. Mr. Black, thank you for the info. I am looking to move to bogota for a few years for work – my company is deputing me there and would live with my wife. Any idea of the monthly expenses in say a Estrata 5 kinda place?

    • Abhishek, rent will be the primary thing significantly higher in Bogota… and of course the time spent in traffic as well as the layers of clothes you’ll need to wear, compared to Cali!

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