Renting As An Expat In Colombia

6 min read

My wife and I had to move for the first time since my relocation to Colombia and this is a little post about my experience dealing with the very bizarre landscape of renting property in Colombia. Let’s just say I found the first thing I absolutely loathe about this country. 😭

This should be easy…right?

Let’s break down the facts of my situation as a foreigner:

  • I am a gringo who is a software developer. 👨‍💻
  • I make US dollars. 💵
  • My monthly salary is 21 times the minimum wage of Colombia. 💰💰💰
  • My credit score is over 800. 💳

Drum roll please…🥁🥁🥁

Absolutely none of that matters…FML!!!

You are a foreigner, you are a nobody

The first thing I had to come to terms with is I am no one in Colombia when it comes to renting property. I have zero ties to this country outside of my wife who I am legally married too by Colombian law. I am still currently on a tourist permit thus I have no Colombian ID (cédula), no Colombian bank account, no Colombian credit (yeah news flash your credit score from your country means dick), no property in Colombia (this one is more important than you might think).

Even though when I walk down the street most Colombians see dollar signs when it comes to renting I am invisible and everything is based on my wife, who is a citizen and does have ties to the country. That being said our budget is now constrained to what she makes by the landlord’s terms. Moreover my wife started her new job in October of last year and has no tax documentation to provide proving that she makes what she makes (pay stubs are nice, but tax documents are better).

Before moving to Colombia I had dreams of renting some dope ass home in a super nice area. I paid $850/mo for a room in a home in Portland, Oregon…that same amount will net you a 3-4 bedroom home here in a very nice complex. All of that had to go out the window for two reasons, the aforementioned “my wife’s finances are all that matter” and the newly discovered any place over about $2 million Colombian pesos (COP) a month is going to go through a relator and they require much much more in the way of documentation proving you can afford the place. So needless-to-say that dream died early on.

Fiadores

Something that is still so foreign to me is that here in Colombia when renting property most if not all landlords/owners are going to ask you for a fiador otherwise known as a guarantor or co-signer. This individual needs to have property in Colombia that they are willing to put up as surety in the event you bail on your lease. Now think about that for a minute, if I were renting an apartment in the USA by this standard I would need to find a friend or family who is willing to put up their home as collateral if I default on the lease!

Unfortunately this is a requirement that is hard to come by, not just for foreigners but also locals. Yeah you heard that right this is not specific to foreigners. My wife comes from a very small family and as I also learned if a home is purchased with a government grant it is flagged in a manner in which it becomes your “family domicile” and cannot be used for surety. So no family or friends could help us out with this requirement.

Cash rules everything around me…not quite

We found what was our dream apartment in a town just up the road from the city we currently live in. It checked all the boxes for us and gave us some of the “nice-to-haves”. It was also on the low end of our price range so even better. We were so excited about this place…and then came the fiador requirement. They did not want just one but two fiadors!!! My wife and I both got very depressed as this process was really starting to weigh on us. I asked my wife if she could talk to the owners and see if they would wave the fiador requirement if we paid the entire year upfront. My wife was like “there is no way we can do that”, and my gringo ass is like ”WE no, ME yes”. We were talking roughly $4,000 USD upfront which is a chunk of change but wouldn’t break the bank for me and if it got us in the place I didn’t care.

The owners told us they would absolutely go for this and would draw up a contract for this arrangement making sure that we have a receipt of payment since we would not pay rent the rest of the year…however we would still need one fiador. It’s a good thing my Spanish is still pretty bad because I wanted to tell them off and scream at them “Is my money not green enough for you!!!”

Estratos

In Colombia there is a status system for zones of the city. These are called estratos and they run from 1 to 6. An estrato 1 home/apartment will cost less, pay the least taxes, and pay the least for utilities and by that measure you can guess an estrato 6 home/apartment will pay the most. This is important to keep in mind because the cost of rent will increase and should it be a 5 or 6 that could be a pretty stupid amount and it factors into your utility bills as well.

Home Sweet Home 🏠

Luckily we ended up finding a 3 bed, 2 bath apartment in the same city we have lived in for $1.2 million COP a month ($350USD/mo). The owner had us pay a slightly higher deposit for our dog and still required the fiador, but we were able to find someone who helped us with that requirement.

My advice if you are an expat wanting to live in Colombia is to decide if that is long term (longer than a year) or short term (less than 6 months). On expat forums you will hear the best advice for short term stays are Air BnB’s even though that can be quite pricey. If you want Colombia to be your home for many years to come my advice is buy, which we will do if we choose to stay in Colombia to avoid this headache in the future. I’ll write a post in the future should we cross the bridge of buying real estate in this country.

~ Cody 🚀

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Cody Brunner

Cody is a Christian, USN Veteran, Jayhawk, and an American expat living outside of Bogotá, Colombia where he works as a Senior Frontend Developer for WAO Fintech.