My friends abroad think that living in Colombia is dirt-cheap. And to be fair, it can be. Especially if you live off rice and beans, rent /buy your house in estrato 1 or 2, use public transportation etc. But if you’re looking to upgrade, then you’re in for a surprise. I’m sure tourists, who arrive with their hard currencies from Europe or North America, still think living in Colombia is very cheap, but the minute you start living here and start earning Colombian pesos just like all the other Colombians, then you’ll quickly realize how expensive things are compared to your Colombian salary.
One of the things that absolutely blows my mind is how expensive it is to raise a child here. I have 2 daughters and the money I spend on them every month surpass any other expense in my monthly budget, including expensenses for my house, my car, my personal shopping and my hobbies COMBINED. The only thing that comes even close is my wife 🙂
Below are my costs for raising a child from age 0-2 in Colombia. And please note that I don’t spoil my kids rotten, but like any other parent I want them to have the best that I can provide for them. To put things into perspective, I’m comparing with what I was paying in Denmark for the same goods/services. Denmark is one of the most expensive countries in the world, but many things, especially for kids seem surprisingly cheap compared to Colombia, plus the income (and my taxes) that I was earning there was way higher. Here we go…
For my daughter’s kindergarten, which is a nice place but not fancy, I pay $775.000 pesos. It does not include the transportation back and forth, which cost an additional $130.000 per month (We live close, so I bring and pick her up every day). For that price, which is more than the minimum salary here, you would think that it covers the entire day. Think again. She arrives at 8:30 a.m. and gets picked up at noon. 3.5 hours. It does include a small snack, but no breakfast nor lunch. On top of that, we pay $1.500.000 per year for what they call matricula y materiales, which is the inscription and materials for their activities like water colors, pencils, paper etc. In addition we need to provide toothbrush, tooth paste, mosquito spray, diapers, lotion to prevent diaper rash and a sun block. In June and December and January the kindergartens only open 2 weeks – but regardless you pay the full month. With 3 national holidays in June, a meeting between parents and teachers and a conference for the teachers that meant that they opened only 11 days, for an average cost of $81.000 pesos per day – or enough to have almost 3 full-time maids in your house for the day.
Unless you have a grandparent, a maid, a stay-at-home mom or only work part-time you’re screwed after noon, as you don’t have anyone to take care of your kid.
In Denmark I paid $985.000 pesos for my daughter’s kindergarten, from 8:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. For a small surcharge I could leave my daughter until 5:00 p.m. if needed. The price included breakfast and lunch, and all meals were organic. Diapers and lotions were provided by the kindergarten.
When my daughter gets back from the kindergarten at noon, I need a babysitter for the 3 days a week where my mother in-law can’t help out. We have a maid Monday, Wednesday and Friday for total weekly expense of $90.000 pesos. She also cooks and cleans, which is great, but the main reason we have her, is so that she can help with the kids. With an average 4.5 weeks per months that comes to $405.000 pesos.
In Denmark we have longer service in the kindergarten but we also work fewer hours. For that reason we don’t need a maid and since the cost of labor is so expensive, most people would not be able to afford it anyways.
36 diapers in Colombia cost roughly $36.000 pesos no matter which brand you choose. We like Winny the best. If there’s a promotion you could be lucky to get it a little cheaper, maybe $32.000 pesos. With two little girls in diapers, using an average 5-6 diapers a day, that’s almost $150.000 per child – or what equals a weeks salary (for minimum wagers) – just for diapers.
It’s so expensive that even the Colombian Superintendencia is accusing the diaper manufacturers of cartel pricing. After doing this calculation we have decided switching to cloth diapers.
In Denmark 50 diapers cost me $20.000 pesos.
In Colombia the system only grants you 3 months of maternity leave. After that, you’re back to work. But don’t worry, they allow you to leave the office early – that means 5:00 p.m. – until the baby turns 6 months :S
Because most women go back to work so early, the lack of stimulation from the baby also means that milk production slows down or stops early. After that, you’ll need formula at least until the baby turn 12 months. The formula we use is called S-26 Gold and cost $76.000 per can. It lasts for about a week. A simple calculation, assuming 4.5 weeks in a month makes that $342.000 pesos in monthly expenses. Trust me, you’ll be happy when they start eating solids.
In Denmark I paid $35.000 for the same size can of ORGANIC baby formula. Less than half price for a better product. The one time I tried to ship 5 cans from Denmark to Colombia I paid about $100 US to ship them and another $25 US in import duty upon arrival.
Colombians, like most latinos, love to go the doctor and would rather take a pill for a headache when a glass of water may have done the trick. No wonder you see a pharmacy on each corner. My home town in Denmark of 60.000 people has 3 pharmacies. That’s what you’ll find on a city block in Colombia. It’s big business and so is the entire medical industry.
We have a private health insurance with Sura, that cost about $100.000 a month per child. The EPS, Entidades Promotoras de Salud, provided by the government is free for kids, but if you can afford it, I highly suggest that you do the upgrade. Sadly, public healthcare here often involves long waiting, lots of paperwork and you feel like you get shuffled from specialist to specialist. If you have an emergency, they are usually pretty good though.
Health insurance in Denmark is free.
As with health insurance you also have the public and the private alternative when it comes to vaccines. The public offers some for free and others come at a cost. My sister in-law’s kids got the public vaccines and always got very sick afterwards. It could be a coincidence, but we chose to go private. It also means fewer shots for the kid and the private vaccination center have several combo vaccines that are injected at the same time. In the first two years of my oldest daughter’s life, we’ve spent around $2.000.000 pesos at Imbanaco Medical Center in Cali, and there are several of the recommended vaccines, like tuberculosis and influenza, that she has not received.
In Denmark all vaccines are free.
Crib, Toys, Books, Clothes & Shoes
I have mentioned before that anything imported to Colombia is very expensive. The same goes for baby stuff. A Carter’s t-shirt that cost $10 US on Amazon easily cost $50.000 pesos here. The same goes for shoes, toys, baby cribs and an extreme example was a breast pump that we bought online for $30 US, which cost $210.000 pesos here – three times the price. It adds up quickly.
My daughter loves books and children’s books in Colombia easily cost $30.000 and above – more than day’s labor for minimum wagers.
Most stuff in Denmark is somewhere in the middle. Not as cheap as the US, but far from the import prices of Colombia.
Without including the variable costs of toys and clothes in the last paragraph, the monthly total comes to $1.897.000 pesos ($720 US) per child – 3 times the monthly minimum wage, that most Colombians still earn. And this doesn’t include any entertainment such as going to the zoo, taking swimming classes, summer camps, visiting the cinema or water park. To be honest I don’t know how the locals manage. Luckily there is a strong culture for grandparents to help out, if not daily life here would simply be a struggle. Maybe opening a kindergarten here would be a great business idea? – It sure sounds like a way to earn good money, only work till noon and have lots of vacation.
If you have anything to add, I’d be happy to hear from you in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!