The Cost of Raising a Baby in Colombia

in Cali with kids/Culture/Plan to stay

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…

Kindergarten

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.

Maid

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.

Diapers

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.

Milk formula

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.

Health Insurance

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.

Vaccines

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.

Monthly total

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!

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.

32 Comments

  1. Interesting article. We have two children under the age of 5 and have been living here for four years. We moved here in part because it’s much cheaper to raise our kids here, so it’s been the opposite experience for us! I think that’s because you come from Denmark, where social services seem so much better.

    The main factor is childcare. We pay 750,000/month for a jardin (open 7am-330pm, and we don’t pay for holidays), whereas in the UK we were paying (for the one child we had at the time) £55/day, which is currently 225,000, which translated to 4.5 million a month. (This was three years ago, I imagine it’s more now). Add to this the fact that I paid around £200 each month for my commute – it was not worth going to work. So for us the affordable childcare has been fantastic.

    Agree with the cost of formula. I have asked around and I still don’t know how poorer people afford it. Nestle has a LOT to answer for in the developing world. Nestum is also much cheaper than what you’re paying for your S-26 (which is also owned by Nestle…). We have used cloth nappies all the way through so can’t comment on that. We have used EPS vaccines with no problems.

    For us it’s a no-brainer. We’re staying here while the kids are small. My husband and I can both progress in our careers (whereas back in the UK I had to stay at home because I couldn’t afford to work with our child at nursery) and this saving alone offsets all the other costs you mentioned. Although now I’m thinking that maybe we should move to Denmark.

    • Hi Anna,
      Thanks for commenting!
      Your writing about raising kids in the UK makes me realize just how spoiled we are in Denmark. That being said, we do pay for our services indirectly through our taxes.
      The price that you mention for your kindergarten in the UK sounds outrageous – no wonder you moved. I’m curious to hear about what kindergarten you have your kids in – especially if it’s here in Cali? We checked out 4 places prior to making a decision and they offered pretty much the same schedule and prices.

      I’m glad to hear that the vaccines with the EPS are working out fine. In IMBANACO they told us that the EPS use generic medicines and that the kids tend to experience more side effects. I understand that they are trying to sell their services, and for that reason it’s great to hear someone else’s opinion.

      Denmark is a great place to live and especially if you have small kids. More people are beginning to notice this and for that reason immigration rules have been tightened dramatically which is pretty much the reason we are currently living in Colombia. We’re happy here, and although things here can be quite complicated, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. This article is more of a realization of how hard it can be to make ends meet in Colombia for families that are not in the strongest financial position. We spend at least 6 minimum wages on our 2 daughters every month.

  2. It didn’t sound like you were complaining, no worries.

    We live in Bogota, the prices are very varied as far as jardins go, I think ours is definitely at the cheaper end though! A friend in the upper class part of the city pays almost double what I pay I think.

    We used the EPS vaccines because they always seem to run out of vaccines here (the better, more expensive ones). I was hesitant but I decided it was better to risk the side effects than risk the disease/condition itself. We were lucky, I suppose.

    The point that you spend six minimum wages on your kids each month is really striking. No matter where we’re from in Europe we are so fortunate here to be able to spend that money on our children to begin with.

    When your kids hit school age that will be interesting, what kind of school will you send yours to? We have subsidised places at a “good” bilingual school which makes us very fortunate indeed because people can easily spend 3m/month on a school. That makes even the UK seem pretty good to me…

    Keep writing, am interested to read more.

  3. This is so interesting! Babies have always been expensive here at least according to my parents who still remember the price of the imported Canadian baby formula they bought for me 20 years ago. One factor you may not be taking into account, which offsets a lot of the costs, is that here it’s still quite common for women to be stay at home moms while the husband goes back to work when they have a new baby. A mother who stays at home, breastfeeding the baby and taking care of it full time saves money on formula, child care and maids, which are some of the most expensive things on your list.luckily here in Colombia it is still possible for families to live very well on one parent’s salary alone. My cousin who recently had a baby calculated the cost benefit of returning to her low paying job (like two minimum salaries) versus what she would pay in child care and she and her husband realized it made more sense financially for her to be a stay at home mom. high earning women who can easily afford all the expenses prefer to return to work quickly after having a child however, from personal experience. I consider myself very lucky that my mother raised me and my sister full time and we lived and still live extremely well on my father’s salary, something that probably wouldn’t have been possible in the U.S. So there are pros and cons to raising a child here but in the end I don’t remember the nice toys or summer vacation programs or sports I was enrolled in as a child: my mothers constant presence was the best aspect of my Colombian
    childhood

    • Hi Juliana,
      Thanks for commenting! You’re right – many Colombian women do stay at home if they have a the chance, but to be realistic, those are the women with husbands earning way more than the minimum salary. Comparing to what it costs to raise a child anywhere else in the western world, the expenses in Colombia are not absurd. It is when you start comparing the costs to the Colombian minimum salary that you realize how dysfunctional the system is. If a part-time spot in a kindergarten cost more than many people earn here in a full month, then obviously someting is out of balance. ¿Si o no?

      • Yes you do have a point ! I’m not very familiar with those costs myself ,not having any children or babies in my immediate family. If it’s true and I don’t doubt it that it is, it’s quite unfair but sadly not surprising. I can only imagine what a top rated bilingual preschool costs. The fact that most children have to attend cheaper /mediocre schools and day cares from the start is probably the beginning of the cycle of poor education and academic performance that many Colombian teens and college aged students are part of . How frustrating

  4. I quit my very well paid job, just because 3 months was too little time with my baby, I had the experience with my first baby, and my heart was broken everytime I had to go to work. Now, I’m a full time mom and I’m working from home. It is hard to work as an independent profesional, especially when the goverment doesn’t help much with the taxes, when you calculate how much do you have to pay for IVA and Retencion en la fuente, you will feel angry … But, as Patrick says, we don’t spoil our children, we just try to give them the best, kindergarten is a great option for toddlers, you have to be very creative at home with a 2 year old child. They get bored easily and when they are in the process to accept the new brother/sister, things get worse. So, we are not exagerating, even being very present parents, having a maid my mom helping, it is expensive to raise a child here in Colombia.

  5. Patrick I loved loved, this article is certainly hit home. I live in Medellin raising two daughters. I just laughed out loud reading this. Wifes favorite brand as well is whinny. When I travel to the states my suitcases are loaded with Pampers, Carters, Q-tips, toothpaste, and all the other stuff that exito charges a small fortune for. Some things are so much higher. Bus for my older daughters school point on. Formula forget about it at 83,000 pesos a jar. I enjoyed this article. Hit close to home.

    • Hi Barry,
      Thanks for commenting! Glad you feel the same.
      BTW – Nice apartments you have for rent!

      Pura vida,
      Patrick

  6. Hello Patrick, Juliana, Anna, Jessy and Barry.

    By now (probably based on my name) you probably already know that I am a full 100%, Bogota born Colombian.
    What you don’t know is that I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life living abroad, more precisely in a country which many considered the best country to live in the planet, Canada.
    I’ve lived both in Toronto and Montreal, and yes it is great, but it is not Colombia.
    I’m having a hard time understanding why you underline the fact that raising a kid in Colombia is so expensive, but totally undermine the fact that you didn’t not come to Colombia (I hope) for the free healthcare or the free education for your children, did you? Whoever sold you that Paquete Chileno (hope you know what that means…) needs to be found and brought to trial for such horrible crime.
    Yes, Colombia is not Denmark, it’s not the US, it’s not Canada, it’s not the UK, it is simply Colombia.
    I’m sure you all know the term “ignorance is bliss”, as cliché as this may sound, it is absolutely reveling and truthful; the more you know, the more you have to have and want to keep for yourself, the more you miss!!! Jesus! Even government services! Such as free government services (free education, free healthcare, subsidised everything…..) ooohh yes, I’ve tried it, I’ve tasted it, and guess what I has slowly gone down in my list of priorities.
    We live in the place we live because of the connection we have with it, just like you don’t like your best friend because he’s handsome, earns a zillion dollars, has a great reputation, and speaks eloquently…. no! You like him because he makes you feel special; it gives you a sense of belonging, if you haven’t felt that in Colombia my friend, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re wasting your time and your money (obviously a big concern for many if not all of us…), you need to pack up and go to the land of plenty, there where even the smiles are subsidised (here smiles are poor in capital but rich in hope and warmth); don’t mean to kick you out, not at all, as a Colombian I try to be the best host for those who are exploring my homeland, but I can’t lie to you, no free education or free healthcare in the near future here, and no subsidised baby formula for a third of the price any time soon…..
    You haven’t mentioned it, but I think you missed the fact that food here is quite affordable and of great quality, no, I’m not talking about your French wine or exquisite cheeses, I’m talking about meat, poultry, vegetables (the one that really counts…), what about the endless variety of fruit… can you eat like that in Europe for the same price? I don’t think so. For those of us who want to have a fancy meal once in a while, I went last week with my family to steakhouse here in Bogota, it was a very, very, extremely posh restaurant, everybody ordered a huge and delicious cut of meat, entrées, wine, etc… 4 people, price tag, not even 100 USD, tip included, one of this dishes would have cost me at least 30-35 a plate alone in Canada, no wine, no tip (15%!!!!), no nothing…. Do you see any perks at this superfluous story of mine? What about lunch “ejecutivo” at noon at any urban city in Colombia? Does a full meal, with juice, probably soup of the day and maybe even a small dessert for 7 or 8 thousand pesos ($3 USD) is going to break your bank? Again you need one of those meals every day at noon in order to survive… can you find such things in Europe, Canada, UK or the US???
    I just went to the plaza de Mercado and brought close to 10 bags full of vegetables and fruit that cost me no more than $25 USD. I now prices of food in Europe and the US, and I know that $25 won’t get you much, and my friend you eat every day, it’s an expense you can skip, going to doctor?? Well you don’t go to it every day, if you do, you’re really sick, you should be worried and must definitely need to move to a place where that luxury is given for free, I won’t judge, I promise.
    I have to make a few remarks though; I don’t like public schools in the “free” Canadian system (which is what I know), or the “free” healthcare, where you wait for hours, yes for hours, before a family doctor decides to give you the all mighty Advil, because you’re not sick enough. I have access to that and I don’t want it anymore, why?, because nothing is free, personal income is taxed heavily up north in order for the government to able to subsidise all of those great services. What you don’t realize is that whatever you’re left with is very little for you to capitalize and put money aside to start building anything, yes access to a loan to buy a house relatively easy, a car? yes sure!!! But let me tell you something if you’re 30 of 35 or 40 you’ll be paying that house for the next 25 to 30 years, easily… wrong?
    In Colombia you can buy a piece of land in small towns for probably 10 to 15 thousand US, you build a small house for close to 40k, a pool is about 10k, that’s it, you have yourself a nice little farm, enjoying the beautiful climate, scenery, cheap food, a place for you to scape and get lost during the weekend, a total investment of 75k… how much is a chalet worth up in the US, UK, Canada??? 150k 250kk??? Come on you’re telling me you’d have that back home if you weren’t spending your money in baby formula and daycare here in Colombia?
    Colombia is an emerging economy that will not offer you free anything, affordable yes, free not now, not in the immediate future.
    If you’re smart enough and use your money wisely you can have things you can only dream of in Europe and the US.
    I hope you can continue staying in my country for the right reasons, the warmth of its people, its food, it’s folklore, the incredible variety of climates and ecosystems (do you know that with viva Colombia airline you can go back and forth to places such Cartagena for the weekend and it would cost you almost $90 usd per person? ), as a Colombian that’s what I can offer you and invite you to discover.
    Now, the answer to a question you probably have been asking yourselves since you started reading my reply, why do you live in Canada but speak so passionately about Colombia? I moved to Canada because I want to explore other options, see other cultures, learn about the world, I have not by any means accomplished that, the world and its cultures are so vast and rich that I will need several life times to truly feel like I know the world, but there’re things that knowledge can replace, such as the smell of grassing cows, the striking image of your eyes when you see the Andes, the connection of hanging around with friends and family sharing common interests, the food, ooh yes the food specially when mom makes it.
    I’m coming back, at 32 years old and after leaving 12 years abroad, I’m coming back because just like you miss having free healthcare, free education back home, I miss the smells, the smiles on the poor, the street food, the different accents, the music, the laughter of my people, the unlimited access to nature, the cheap and delicious food, I miss all of it, and no 1st world country with its great free (faceless and heartless) government services will ever trump that feeling, ever.
    If you haven’t felt that, don’t spend your time making calculations and comparisons of baby formula costs, believe me, raising a child in Colombia may be expensive (on your own personal view) on the strictly economic sense, but it is rich in culture, they will grow smiling, enjoying nature, and creating incredibly strong friendships that will last forever, they will be passionate people, very proud of what they are and the society they’re part of, because Colombians are like that, with all its problems yes, we know they exist and believe me we try very hard to change that.
    If you’re just passing though, enjoy your journey in this country, write about the beautiful things you see (if you see any), and try to bring the best of your experiences back home, if you ever return.
    Cliché or not, ignorance is definitely a bliss!, because we worry too much about what we know we had and now we miss, rather than enjoying whatever we’re currently experiencing.
    Wherever you are in Colombia I’m sure you’ve been welcomed with open arms, I know my people, just enjoy that.
    Se cuidan!!!

    • Hola Juan Felipe,
      Thank you very much for taking part in the debate. I agree with many of your points. First of all I want to let you know that I am in Colombia by choice and not because I have to be here.
      Second, this article is not negating all of the positives that Colombia has to offer. On the contrary, if you read more of my blog posts you’ll notice that they are about all the good things that are to be enjoyed here. This post was a result of me wondering how hard it must be to raise a child here earning minimum wage. And two things that become very obvious in your comments is that you have neither kids, nor have you ever lived on a minimum wage in Colombia. You spend $100 dollars going out for steaks, while that equals a week of hard work for many. Good for you, but not exactly the reality for the majority of your fellow Colombians.
      I love the Colombian scenery, the warmth of it’s people and the amazing variety in fruits. I’m also inspired by how positive many people are, despite having very little.
      Welcome back to your Patria – bright, young, well-educated men like yourself will be an important part in creating an even better Colombia for the future.

      Pura vida,
      Patrick

  7. Thank you for having such an understanding approach to my post.
    By the “Pura Vida” at the end of your post I assumed you visited or lived in Costa Rica, because that’s not Colombian slang, I know that because my girlfriend and future wife is from Costa Rica, more precisely Herediana. Another beautiful country.

    I do know that you write about other things, which indeed are mostly positive. But I’m focusing on this specific blog post.

    You’re correct in two things, no I don’t have children, and no I have not lived on a minimum wage in Colombia. But you must know that I didn’t come for a wealthy family. My parents were hard working people that came from nothing and accomplished a lot, and all throughout my life I was exposed to both worlds, those who have nothing and those who have too much, and I was always right in the middle, with quite a clear view of the society I grew up in.

    There’s one thing I cannot agree with, your post was not focused on how people on minimum wage live in Colombia, or whether or not they can afford to buy the essentials here.

    You’re post was aimed at foreigners who think that the will triple money and their buying power if they decide live permanently in Colombia. You only mentioned the term “minimum wage” to compare it with the cost of sending a child to a kindergarten. I checked other people’s replies to your post and it was all about how it would be less expensive if they were in the UK, US, or Denmark in your case, etc… I can guarantee you that none of them live on a minimum wage, far from it.

    I don’t know what you do for a living, but I’m pretty sure you also don’t live on a minimum wage, your visits to restaurants and outdoor activities on your blog really tell a nice story for you, so me spending $100 dollars on a family dinner for 4, isn’t really something you’re not familiar with, nor should we feel bad or ashamed that we can afford that and my other fellow Colombians don’t, they’re different paths of life and I’ve worked really hard to be able to afford those treats, I’m sure you have too.

    I got to be honest with you, I love for foreigners to come to Colombia and settle here, but I would hate to see that they come because they’re having a rough time back home and they want to make the most with their money in Colombia; again I don’t think they won’t be coming here for the right reasons, and if they’re smart they will know that the reason why baby formula or whatever other product you’re comparing prices with is more expensive here is because a very simple reason: Salaries in Europe or North America are so far apart from the salaries paid in this corner of the world that it is only logical that the high buying power of countries like the US drives the prices down, because companies can afford to lower prices because they have a guaranteed volume of product sold, you cannot have that here in Colombia.

    The type of economies like the one you were probably born in, rely heavily on services, and very little manufacturing and raw materials, hence salaries are way higher because paying jobs carry great value and create way more wealth for those economies than millions of hectares used to grow bananas, palm oil, pineapples or coffee, which is the case for Colombia.

    Unfortunately, the fact that Colombia still the cumbersome economy that it is, it makes possible for people like you and I to have access to many things at an affordable price without earning millions of dollars. Imagine if Colombia or any other attractive and affordable country like Costa Rica (although it’s getting very expensive for travelers) evolves into a more fair and equal society, where minimum wage will rise and match that of the western world, where prices of houses, food, transportation, and leisure activities could go hand to hand with those in the UK, France or Canada….would these countries (Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru…)continue to be attractive for foreigners looking to relocate? We want equality for everybody right? We want my fellow Colombians to also enjoy the $100 dinner I had with my family, right?

    I hope you understand what my concern is here, one thing you should know is that Colombians of all “estratos” still have access to many treats even on a minimum wage, you wonder how? One example: a whole chicken in “el norte” in Bogota could cost you $30,000 pesos, same chicken in a different “asadero” in “el sur” of Bogota could cost you $12,000 pesos and it would come with sweet plantain and arepas, sometimes with a 2 litre Colombiana, and it is the same for cloths, groceries, etc…. going to a swimming pool… you name it, there’s activities for all sorts of budgets…
    In Montreal Canada, a whole chicken will average you $15 whether you go north, south, east or west of the city, no access to a cheaper meal because you earn less, either you have the money to pay for it or you don’t, period,
    So the question is, for those of us who’ve lived abroad, are we expecting to come and live here and have the same quality of housing, restaurants, cloths and activities for fraction of the cost? Is this really the motive behind the journey? If it is, like you said we will be in for a big surprise, because in order to make our Dollars, Euros, Pounds go a long way we need to start thinking and living like the working class of this country, don’t go to Carulla, Exito, go to “la plaza de mercado”, spend the extra 10 minutes and go to that rotisserie where you can get the whole Chicken with the additional goodies for $12,000 pesos, buy the corner homemade ice cream, don’t book at the Hilton, go find the local hostel or rural hotel, then you will triple your money, guaranteed.

    I hope you continue to find reasons to stay in Colombia, if one day you don’t anymore, know that my country and people will not hold grudge on you if you or your fellow comrades decide to leave, the doors will always be open for you to come back whenever you have a crave for a crispy empanada on a corner stand 🙂

    Cuidese mucho y siga disfrutando mientra dure…

    Cheers!!!
    Juan Felipe

    • Great blog post and I’m glad more and more people point out the awful reality of this country, but it’s sad to once again see attacks lacking arguments and evidence by those who want to deny this reality, peraps due to a position of privilege.

      Incidentally, my name is also Juan Felipe, but I have to say that the opinions of the above guy do not represent my views at all and for that reason I wouldn’t say things as if I represented all Colombians, as he does. To give some context, I am a caleño, born and bred and I still live here.

      I think what sums up this post and the comments above is the big elephant in the room of inequality. Statistics clearly show how bad Colombia is regarding this aspect (it is one of the most unequal countries in the world) and therefore it is not surprising to notice outrageous consequences like the cost of raising a baby here, among others, which are undeniably extortionately high relative to income (minimum wage, which over half of Colombians earn, and the majority of all other income, which is also low relative to prices). This problem should not be confused with poverty, since although they are somewhat related, Colombia is very rich but it’s the history, political system and culture of denial and irrational pride that continue to exacerbate this issue. Like Patrick says, you worry when you think how most people who live in this country manage to live! It’s true that some people can find ways to live cheaper, but that’s beside the point because they also lack access to basic needs that are vital for survival. A responsible and not selfish citizen would not think that everything is great just because he or she is doing well, has access to private things, and certainly would not rejoice in the fact that he or she can pay for “delicious steaks at very posh restaurants”, while more than 50% of people here earn the minimum wage and struggle tremendously! It is not OK that Colombians are financially kept poor, even if the other Juan Felipe likes seeing poor people who are smiling. One explanation for this is perhaps history again, and the fact that among Colombians there’s a very normalised societal hierarchy that puts the black, indigenous and mixed as inferior and poor, and therefore it is ok that they don’t have access to these things… they don’t deserve them! (even the affected believe so and that’s why they don’t demand it!) There is a total resignation and acceptance of the status quo that continues to benefit the upper classes.

      I consider myself privileged since I have access to private healthcare, went to a relatively good private school and, still with huge struggle and sacrifice, my parents were lucky enough to give me the best there was available here. However, I wouldn’t take all of this for granted and I realise how lucky I was in the middle of so many people who struggle to attain a dignified life. This is why I want the same I had for them and agree that a system that provides all these things should be the aim. But it’s a shame that most privileged people in Colombia love to feel superior than others and would oppose a more equal system or simply repeat the fact that this is just the way things are here, which is not helpful to anyone but them, so it’s like our saying: en tierra de ciegos, el tuerto es rey. (in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is the king). Funnily enough, it is often common that the privileged complain about the safety issues in Colombia, yet they cannot understand that the direct cause for this and more problems is, again, inequality. So if wealth were better distributed, perhaps people wouldn’t go to such lengths. But maybe the ingrained differences and notions within Colombia make them think, “ahh it’s because they’re negros, indios and poor!” You see this everyday, and as an example, the very white woman in Cartagena who recently insulted a taxi driver calling him the worst things linked to his skin colour and his social class. This happens all the time even with high powered people and politicians being openly racist. Another fact to support this is that there has only ever been 1 sentence for racism, showing just how institutionalised racism and maintaining class divisions is.

      Another thing that bothers me is the fallacy that they use to brainwash people making them believe that Colombia is the best thing ever because we have good fruit, “passionate” people and nature. Yes, I agree they are great things, but they’re nothing if the society is suffering and utterly unjust, and only a handful can enjoy these things. Having great nature and neighbours who greet you in the morning, and extreme inequality or violence are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, other countries have good things that most can access, so it’s a very biased and wrong view thinking that the best things are those from your land… that’s called chauvinism! This fallacy and bias are used precisely by the rich and ruling classes to distract people from the reality and knowing their rights; and therefore continue getting richer and more powerful. We need a more nuanced and realistic vision of Colombia in order to improve it for all, no amount of lulo or football wins is going to change this.

      There are just too many wrong and outrageous things that this guy says from his privileged position, such as flights prices to go to Cartagena, that even with viva Colombia are extortionate for most.. Or the claim that governments that give you services for free are heartless! I had no idea people were so brainwashed! People in Colombia are used to the government not giving them what they deserve, or like in the case of pensions, actually stealing from them, so their expectations of a fair country are kept low. This is deeply saddening but it highlights the need to raise awareness and not succumb to the pressure to brush everything under the carpet and maintain the myth that Colombia cannot change or that it is already el paraiso. Maybe it’s easy to think so when you’re taking advantage of a system that favours the rich, and owners of business like clinics would be affected by an ‘evil’ government policy of providing free healthcare.

      Lastly, I don’t understand why there’s a generalised obsession with attacking anyone who points out these problems. It is precisely important to acknowledge the bad things, so they can be improved! I am glad to see people who come and question and compare these things, so that hopefully more Colombians will open their eyes and realise how a society should be!

      Great blog post and keep writing about these social issues! Although I have read that you want to only focus on the positives, don’t let yourself be bullied by this minority and use your voice to reflect the real Colombia, not a hedonistic biased view!

      Juan Felipe G.

      • Juan Felipe G., very, very well said!
        It’s nice to hear the opinions of a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and not defensive Colombian… for a change.
        Because yes, those are the citizens who will actually help change Colombia for the better, instead of just making excuses for any criticisms and standing by as the wealthy do their thing…

  8. I don’t have children but even I shudder when I start to think of the cost of having a child with my Colombian partner in Bogotá. Luckily he has a wonderful mum and plenty of aunts who are all very eager for a child to arrive, so I do believe we would have help on this front, but the cost of kindergarten and a good education is astounding. I’m an English teacher, and I’ve seen the school exercise books of my partner’s young cousins who go to public or ‘regular’ private schools, and those are, unfortunately, enough to convince me that you can’t afford not to be picky when it comes to selecting a school for your children in Colombia.

    Juan F 2, I’m really glad that you responded to the defensive, self-righteous posts of Juan F 1. There are a large number of people who won’t hear anything bad said about Colombia, and it’s been suggested more than once when I’ve complained about something that I should go back to my country then. In my case, that’s not an option if I want to continue my relationship (UK immigration), so I decided to stay, and Bogotá did grow on me and I appreciate the positives far more now than I did in the beginning. But those kinds of defensive, rose-tinted views of Colombia are not helpful when it comes to addressing and dealing with the problems of social injustice, inequality, racism, crime and general dishonesty. My partner always said that Colombia being advertised at ‘the happiest country in the world’ was one of the most successful and deceptive propaganda campaigns he’s ever seen. Honestly, in Colombia I don’t see the happiest people in the world – I see people making the best of what they’ve got. If you’re lucky enough to have Colombian friends and family, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for you, but there’s a discourtesy, distrust, lack of consideration and general apathy towards strangers (people you don’t know) that is disheartening after a while.

    Colombia has never made me feel unwelcome as an immigrant, and I’m grateful to have been allowed to stay there with my partner. But all of the challenges of living in Colombia that have been highlighted in the post above are absolutely true as far as I’m concerned, though this doesn’t mean that Colombia isn’t also a wonderful country in many ways.

    Patrick – love the blog! My jaw literally dropped when I read your post about getting screwed over on the property purchase.. so sorry to read about that.. I don’t know why these stories still surprise me though frankly! All the very best to you, and keep writing (about the good and the bad!) 🙂

  9. Ah, I also wanted to add a short anecdote: once I was in a taxi in Bogotá, going through the usual motions of explaining why I was in Bogotá, what I thought of it, talking about my boyfriend etc. and the driver said “You know, I’m 48 years old, I’m married, but I’ve decided not to have children; it would be irresponsible, because I don’t have the money to raise children or to give them the life that I would want for them.” How sad is that?

    • Hi Naomi,
      Thank you very much for both of your very candid and insightful comments.
      I totally agree with everything you say.
      With two little girls, I spend $175.000 pesos just on diapers and baby formula per week. In two weeks, that becomes $350.000 pesos or more than the quincena that most Colombians earn. And that’s before buying food, paying rent, utilities, transportation, clothes, dog food, kindergarten, saving money, etc.
      I just don’t see how the less-fortunate part of the population make ends meet if they have (several) small children!?

      Saludos, Patrick

  10. Hi Patrick,

    Thank you for your article. I have a 13 month old and decided it would be cheaper raise and have her in Colombia than in the United States. But of course our income is much higher than the normal Colombian as we own our own business.

    Also, if you still need baby formula, we buy Nature’s One Organic from iherb.com.

    We buy it from them weekly and the shipping is cheap, anything under $100 USD doesn’t have import tax and the shipping is under $15 USD, and it arrives in 5 days.

    I would argue too that Denmark has a negative birthrate in comparison to Colombia’s birthrate of double digits. Not that it should have an affect on the cost of having a child.

    Exitos!

    Daniel

    • Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for reaching out and the heads up – I’ll make sure to check out iherb.com, although I need a very special formula for my second girl as she has a skin allergy.

      Regarding birthrate, Denmark has 10 births per 1000 pop. Colombia has about 17. Not as low, but far from high. I believe that one would need to do a deeper study into the demographics of each country to determine the root cause. I know of none of my Colombian friends that have more than 2 kids. Most big families with 3-10 kids come from the country side and every generation seems to get fewer and fewer. In Denmark, a lot of people focus more on career than kids. It’s sad, but I don’t think it is related to the cost of having a child per se. Most big families in Denmark are actually not Danish, but immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
      A Danish travel agency made partly serious, but hilarious advertisement about the fact that we should increase our birthrates. Check it out.. Danish humour at it’s best!

      Saludos, Patrick

  11. Your all nuts…..you can live cheap if you want, but your trying to maintain a USA lifestyle in Colombia….you have to forget everything including the movies and malls

    A weeks of groceries for five including meat and the best fruits is 200pesos , a place for rent 600
    Scrap the television and Internet…it’s not necessary…..it’s mental masturbation at best…..

    Live in a small town out of the city…..

    Car is a non necessity…..

  12. This is good stuff.

    Nothing pisses me off more than hearing gringos (who have chosen to live here) bitch about what’s wrong in Colombia and how great their home country is. It’s a big reason why I’m weary of meeting up with other expats.

    If you have a problem here you can always go back to your perfect home country 🙂

    There are families here that make only a fraction of what you’re spending on your kids (let alone one) per month and they make it work.

    • This is meant as informative. Not bitching. My audience is mostly foreigners living or considering a life in Colombia. People have to hear the truth. If you have small kids and would like to provide them with the same quality of life here as they would have in North America or Europe, then prepare for big expenses – at least compared to the Colombian salaries.

      I spend almost $3.000.000 pesos combined on my two girls every month. I’m amazed by the people who make it work on a lot less. I admire them. Many things in Colombia that should be a right to everybody, like quality education, is only a privilege to the rich. It’s sad… But the Colombian people are survivors. I have faith in the future for them here.

  13. It’s really easy for expats to sit in their posh apartments and “inform” or “criticize” while surrounded by their maids, cooks, nannies and 24 hour security guards.

    Change your perspective. 15-20 million of the countries roughly 48 million inhabitants are living below the poverty line. They’re just trying to get to the next day. A little bread / rice and aguapanela to get them to the next day. Day to day existence.

    I’d say this country has more pressing, day to day issues than matching the “free” high quality of education that first world countries have ( and don’t have the same problems as many Latin American countries).

    Colombia is still very much in the development stage. If expats / future expats don’t do their due diligence in researching and accepting the reality (and I’m not talking about reading restaurant review articles or “can I live like a king on $1000 a month”), then they have no right to live here imo.

    It shouldn’t be any surprise that a first world education will cost more. Just like anything else high end like the latest iPhone, Mercedes Benz, 4K tv etc etc.

    Grow up and smell the roses.

  14. Great post.
    We only recently moved back to Australia after 3 years living in Cartagena with our young son.
    Some things are cheaper, most things are more expensive in Australia.
    Toys for example are cheaper in Australia. Prams, strollers are more expensive in Colombia. There is really no selection even in Bogota. We bought a European stroller (Dutch) that you cannot even buy in Colombia.
    Baby clothes are roughly the same. There are significant more brands of clothes available in Australia that cater for all budgets.
    We were spending approximately $1 million pesos a month alone on formula as he needs a special formula ($180.000 for a 380 gram tin) as he has a milk protein allergy. In Australia the same formula is subsidised by the government when prescribed by a paediatrician. So it now cost us $35 for 8 tins. 🙂
    Day care is very expensive in Australia around $150 a day for a typical day care centre. (Nappies not included.) You do get up to 50% (up to $5000) back from the government none the less you are out of pocket roughly $75 a day.
    Having an at home nanny is really not an option for most people. I imagine it would be at least $1000 a week for such a service.
    Health insurance is cheaper in Colombia than Australia.
    The biggest difference are the selection of products and the brands that are available in Australia.

    • Nice comparison. Right now, with the dollar at $3300, it really comes down to: imported or locally produced? Anything important, which is also taxed, will be bloody expensive. Local products, which are getting better every day, are way more affordable.

  15. Patrick,

    If you want to help out foreigners currently living here and foreigners considering it- write a macro article about the realities of living in a 3rd world country / what that means in general terms for a person who has spent the majority of their life in the 1st world- and don’t spice it up either.

    For example, I haven’t seen anything about the severe disconnect expats have between their version of reality here and the truth, and how that’s not ok.

    My quip about “if you don’t like it then go home” might have been harsh but it’s the truth. I’m only trying to help.

    Regardless of what our own special, constantly evolving meaning of happiness means for us, it’s what we’re all reaching for, or trying to hold on to.

    Everyone has that right. Quite frankly nobody, and I mean nobody should voluntarily be living in a situation where they aren’t happy.

    But if you are (and many expats fit in this category), remember you’re from a 1st world country meaning you have more options.

    That means you need to take a hard, long look at things. If you can’t come to grips/ be happy living where you currently are, then you need to go somewhere that will make you happy, (regardless if that means going home or to another country). It’s that simple.

    And if you choose to stay wherever you may be, then accept it and don’t waste time and energy being negative and bitter about things that aren’t in your control and probably won’t change in your lifetime (or even in your kids lifetime).

    (This also means distancing yourself from people who are extremely negative, commiserating with other expats etc)

    I want nothing more than to help people who might be in a bad place. Culture shock can hit hard sometimes.

    I hope passing this small nugget advice (which was passed on to me by someone I respect and love very much) on will do some good.

  16. Hey Patric, spot on article. Objective, telling the truth and simply how it is in here. Nothing more, nothing less. If someone does not like it is an ignorant, truth denier or does not know the math. If 89% of population is on less than one million pesos a month and all of them should shop in Exito, Carulla, Euro, Olimpica (all of them just ordinary – NOT SPECIAL supermercados) or even Mayorista or Minorista (and I am not talking about imported stuff) then I am sorry all 89% are just simply surviving. And forget about vacations abroad once a year as we do back in Europe, once a week restaurant for family of four, cine, visiting neighbor departments as Risaralda by car, etc. Simply with low wages there is no money for all of it. Now you top it up with education, classes for kids, housing expenses (administration, predial, valorization, etc.) and you get beautiful sum of money you would not pay in Europe at all. I am a Czech guy. Back home we make 4x more on average wage than Colombians do but we have roughly about 3x lower prices than in Colombia. I am talking about milk, bread, cooking oil, potatoes, etc. Just basic goods NOT IMPORTED. I have known Colombia since 2004 and have been living here now for 2 and half years but I am still wondering HOW DO THEY DO IT. Someone here commented that they are happy, etc. Well I do not believe that family that can not give a proper education to their kids is happy – they just gave up on hope. I do not consider a lottery win to be on rice, beans and egg six days a week. Maybe we people deserve a bit more. But it always depends on who is commenting (a truth denier, sex tourist, drug tourist provocateur or other clever Mr. KnowItAll. Isn`t it guys? Colombia has a beautiful nature, some regions with fantastic weather conditions, of course – women but when it come sot comfortable living (not talking about being millionaire or not working but some reasonable conditions at work, etc.) unfortunately it is still missing a lot. Lets hope one day all those good conditions as we have them in Europe arrive to Colombia. People deserve it.

  17. This article is so true! Im a US born but raised in Cali. Im living in the US again with my baby and colombian husband. And let me tell you….it is HELL expensive there. I pay $180 week of daycare here without government help like 10 hoursd a day if you want, formula? I get 4 packs on amazon for $100 monthly, toys ? Super cheap or buy used!, Healthcare is a problem though, clothes? Cheap or used and he uses mostly carters by the way…its amazing. I love my country. Colombia is not the best country in the world, thats the “pajazo mental” colombians make everyday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*