Cost Analysis of a Sabbatical Summer in Medellín
Although I wrote this post in July, I had to wait until today to edit it as I was finishing up writing a book for y’all (more on that in a future post). And that whole moving thing has been consuming my time of late. But now that I’m about 2/3rds of the way done unpacking, I can return to the world of blogging.
Folks, there’s a reason why people who’ve been to Colombia—especially Medellín—get all excited and animated when they start talking about these places. It’s because this city of eternal Spring is incredible! DH and I were talking recently, saying we thought last summer was amazing. But this summer has easily been one of the best summers of our lives.
Since people have been asking me how much our Sabbatical cost, I thought I’d do a blog post with a detailed analysis for anyone who is not only interested in a Sabbatical in Medellín but perhaps considering Geo Arbitrage for long term living down here.
I should have used my Chase Sapphire portal to purchase tickets, but I was exhausted and used Google flights instead (because hey, I didn’t have to look up a password). I went with a budget airline we’d never tried before. Yes, the stewards looked like Disney Pirate movie extras, but they were nice pirates. And we had such a good experience we plan to use this airline again.
Cost: round trip ticket was about $550 a person.
Language School Costs
This is where I should have just gone the Physician on Fire route, but since the Mexican language school he used wasn’t in Medellín, I was stuck researching on my own. I had wanted us to live in Envigado, but after spending too much time contacting schools, I realized most of them were in Poblado (aka: Gringo Land). And the majority of them wouldn’t work with children. The few that did only offered later afternoon times that didn’t work for us (because hey, children are better first thing in the morning).
I settled on a tutor from one of the schools who came to our apartment. He was a nice guy who was patient with the kids. DH and I also had an hour of lessons together. Although these days I can still hold conversations in Spanish, it’s painful to listen to, and my grammar is terrible. Thankfully, DH made serious inroads on learning Spanish this summer, while I had my head in the writing clouds, stuck in “I can get by, but my Spanish isn’t pretty” land.
Tutor Cost: $15 USD/per person per hour. (As a family, we averaged about twice a week over the summer.)
This past Spring, I came back to America long enough to get an expedited passport. Oop$$—I hadn’t realized mine would enter the “6 months to expiration” phase during this past summer. (Mark those dates well in advance on your calendar folks!)
About 3 years ago, we opted to endure the lengthy process of obtaining Global Entry for the entire family. It was $100/person, and we ended up driving to Orlando for our interviews (because the wait for Tampa was 4 months!). This was one of the best travel expenditures ever. I highly recommend it. Not only do you get TSA pre-check, but you get to speed past the hour-long customs line in Miami when you fly back in (no joke).
Tours around Medellín didn’t cost a whole lot. Using the subway and taking the cable cars up over the mountains into Parque Arvi, and touring Comuna 13 for its hip hop, and graffiti averaged to about $50 total for our family for each outing. Parque Explora was even less (more on this incredible Children’s science museum in a future blog).
Tour Costs: $50-$60/4 people.
Global Entry Cost: $100/person for 5 years.
We also made a side trip to Machu Picchu, but that’s going to be its own blog post.
Machu Picchu Cost: Priceless.
We gave ourselves a week to find a place to live in Medellín. Seriously. I found out I wasn’t accepted into a summer writing program 5 weeks before we moved to Colombia. We were scrambling to throw our plans together. So I made a housing wish list and stuck to it during my Airbnb search that turned out to be slim pickings so close to moving down here:
-a gym (DH had to have access to a stationary bike, and I needed a caminadora (treadmill) available for a 10K I’m training for this fall)
-parks nearby for the kids to hike to daily (we called this the summer of “Dad Camp”)
-a pool (we are a rare Florida family without a pool and our younger son asked if we could have one)
-washing machine (because I’ve washed clothes by hand for an entire summer in Latin America before and I wasn’t about to do that again—and this time with a family!)
-3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (because hey, Latin America and GI distress…but thankfully, that never happened! You can drink the water out of the pipes. We miss the taste of Medellín water so much.)
-A balcony with a view of the scenery. I knew the views around Medellín were great from seeing pictures, but it’s over the top amazing in person. I could sit outside all day watching the planes take off from the valley below, and the clouds creep over the mountain tops in the distance.
As mentioned before, I preferred we live in Envigado, but then realized it was too far out of the way of a lot of the stores. I was reluctant to live in Poblado, as it’s the ritziest section of the city, but now I’m grateful we ended up here as we’re delighted with our accommodations and the surrounding residential area.
Other areas we could have lived in that are safe and easy to navigate: Loma Las Brujas, Laureles (not as expensive as Poblado, but still one of the more expensive places to live), La America—it’s near the stadium and is nice and affordable. Belen was another possibility, but it isn’t as safe, so I steered clear of there.
The amount we pay for one month here is what one week near the beach in southern Spain would cost during the summer.
Cost: $48/night or $1440/month. (This is an “over the top” accommodation. I saw 3 bedroom/2 baths in Envigado for about $500 to $850/month that were perfectly acceptable—they just didn’t have the pool, gym, and views.)
Health Care Costs
People, make sure you have travel health insurance and an awesome travel medical kit! We almost ended up in the ER twice and the morgue twice (pedestrians don’t have the right of way here, and motorcycles sometimes cut between buses and the sidewalk! So beware exiting public transport.)
I usually use Allianz for our travel insurance and always make sure I get evacuation insurance (I could tell you horror stories with expats needing medivac flights).
Before we went to Colombia, I dragged my family to the public health department for Typhoid shots. Because yes, I’m that mom. The injections only last two years, but the oral version is good for five years. However, getting our kids to swallow horse pills wasn’t something I wanted to do. Our local health department ran out of typhoid immunizations, so we had to wait until a week and a half before we left for the boys to get their shots. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have cut it that close (2 weeks before would have been better). Another option would have been US Passport Health, but that would have cost double or triple more.
The Health dept. also recommended we get our rabies series as well as yellow fever if we plan to continue to do “exotic” travel in the future. (We met a dual Physician American couple from the Physician on Fire FIRE FB group (join it!) traveling for two months down here who managed to get all 4 of their kids Yellow Fever shots in Colombia for free!)
Cost of Allianz health/evacuation insurance: $536. (It becomes a flat $6/day after the first 30 days)
Cost of Public Health Dept.: $130 total for each person for the visit and shot (They don’t accept health insurance).
Cost of Public Health Department Nurse who kept calling Medellín “Medallion“: priceless.
(It’s pronounced “MedeJHen”!)
On Sundays, Colombia reminded me of Spain. Dinner out is usually a half a day affair. The adults have a leisurely meal while the kids play on a trampoline or inflated slide/playhouse that the restaurant sets up within eyesight of the tables.
Cost of lunch out for a family of four: $17 for a 3 course, sit down, hot meal with drinks included.
Cost of dinner out for a family of four: $25-$50/each time. This includes too many desserts and fresh-squeezed juice/drinks (if you haven’t tried coconut-lime juice, you haven’t lived yet!).
Grocery Store Costs: About $65/week (cheers for how cheap having a mainly plant-based diet is: vegetables here cost cents, not dollars!)
Household goods Costs: About $8/week.
We walk more than any other mode of transportation, so taxi use is rare. Grocery shopping involves walking home with our food in backpacks. We have a taxi driver who has seat belts (!!) that we Whatsapp for rides to the airport.
Cost: $2 to $25/trip (15-40 minute trips)
Our cell phone bill went up from the usual $36/month we had with AirVoice because we switched to Google FI, but we’re still glad we changed carriers for the ease of having one constant cell phone number for international travel (no more messing around with SIM cards, VPN access issues, etc.).
The two of us are still getting used to having a Google phone. We have to remember to shut off our cell data unless it’s needed and to make phone calls within range of the WiFi (and make sure everyone is off the internet, so the phone connection works better).
Cost: $60/month (this includes International Calls made off the WiFi). (If you decide to switch carriers, use POF’s code to get some $$ off.)
We have security devices we use while traveling. You’ll have to look at Amazon for ideas as I don’t want to detail in public all the precautions we take.
Cost: usually $15-20/one time expenditures.
Net Effect on our 2019 Cash flow
The majority of our assets are tied up in asset protection avenues, to the tune that we’d only survive a few months off non-asset protected monies. So to continue to shield said money, we work now to pay our bills. We’re a bit in the red for 2019, but we wouldn’t take this summer back for anything.
We’re acutely aware that we’ll reap in the future what we sow into our children’s lives now.
We try to be intentional with our living, and that means we want to build up our time bank deposits with our sons before they fly the coop. Man, oh man, are we super charging these accounts living on top of each other. 😉 So yeah, we’re dipping into savings, but we don’t get a do-over at life.
And an upside to a Sabbatical is we feel so refreshed. Actually, shockingly refreshed. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited to go back to join the workforce.
Cost: Also Priceless, but yeah, looking at probably a little less than a 2% drawdown rate for year-end number projections.
Take home point for Geo Arbitrage
My best guess at a Geo Arbitrage budget for long term living here would be about $2k/month. That being said, Medellín is not for older people. It’s a stair master work out to go anywhere here. Medellín is a gorgeous city full of wonderful, generous people, but it’s also a city for young people—not a place to grow old.
If you’re contemplating a move overseas, join the local Expats FB group so you can learn more before you make the jump. These groups are also helpful once you’ve landed. I asked the first day we arrived what store to find certain items in and for the name of a good hospital/clinic in case we needed them.
For someone moving overseas for good, they probably should take a course like this first.
And people: no one has tried to sell us drugs, nor murder us here. In fact, we’re surrounded by beauty constantly. Clouds creep over the mountain tops at night while a lightning storm flashes in the distance. After the sun sets, it’s like Christmas every night: the city is alight with a million little lights twinkling in the distance. We wake up in Lando Calrissian every morning, marveling at the clouds floating through the valley outside.
We came here to rest, and we can now say: we are recharged. May you also be so rested this upcoming weekend. Be well, my friends.
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