Even though the cost of living in Colombia is lower than in most of Europe or the US, you need to be careful with your expenses. I always keep reminding prospective teachers that you can’t expect to earn a lot of money here unless you have advanced qualifications and several years of experience. Your rent is going to represent your highest monthly expense, so it makes sense to check out various places before committing to a contract.
First of all, you need to understand the concept of estratos. Every Colombian neighbourhood is assigned a number that represents how ‘good’ the place is. The scale goes from number 1, a low-income area where you probably don’t want to live, to number 6, which is a prime location. The funny thing is that if you live in one of the higher estratos, you have to pay more money for the same service (internet, water, etc.) than those from worse neighbourhoods. It leads to some strange situations, but that’s the way it is.
You should definitely explore the area in which you plan to live to get an idea what the neighbourhood looks like. You can walk around the place, or simply use Google Street View in order to save time. Remember to look at the surrounding areas because Colombia is a land of contrasts. A luxurious neighbourhood can be just a few blocks away from a dodgy area, so it’s important to use common sense and be aware of your surroundings. For the past year or so, I’ve been living in estrato 3 without any issues. The building has a 24-hour reception service and my apartment is in a better state than the one in estrato 5 where I had lived before.
If you are like me and feel that you are too old for flat sharing, you will probably consider renting a furnished apartment. The former option is definitely more economical, but I didn’t even consider it after arriving to Colombia. Teaching involves talking to people all day, so I just prefer to have some peace and quiet when I come home. That said, if you don’t mind living with strangers, you can check out CompartoApto.
If you are moving to a new city, it’s a good idea to book a hotel or Airbnb room for a week or two and give yourself time to find something more permanent. You can start by asking your employer or other teachers for recommendations because they might know of an available place. You can also search for apartments online; there are numerous real estate agencies and Facebook groups dedicated renting flats in every city.
Going through a real estate agency is always going to be more expensive than renting a place directly from its owner. Another point to consider is that you will most likely be asked to sign the contract together with a fiador – someone who has to pay the rent in case you disappear. Obviously, if you travel alone to a new country, you will find it difficult to find someone who would be willing to do that for you. The fiador requirement can be overcome by paying a few months of rent in advance, but it’s still a pain in the backside. Try to avoid real estate agencies if you can.
You should aim to get in touch directly with owners. If you speak Spanish, the easiest thing is to walk around the area you’d like to live in. There are always signs advertising rooms or apartments for rent. You can also talk to porteros and ask them if they know of any available apartments. It takes quite a lot of effort, but you can find a pretty good deal that way by cutting out the middleman and avoiding unnecessary paperwork. There are also websites like OLX, which are quite popular in Colombia, but it’s not always clear if the ad was posted directly by the owner or a real estate agency.
I also think it’s worth checking out apartments on Airbnb. Obviously, booking the place directly through the platform isn’t always the best option because the prices are usually exorbitant. What I suggest is taking advantage of the fact that Airbnb has become extremely popular in the country. As a consequence, some apartments lie empty for long periods of time. If you get customers only at weekends, it’s not ideal in terms of cleaning and security, and some owners may get tired of that.
Fortunately, Airbnb allows you to contact the owner directly before you make a booking, so you can tell them that you would be interested in a long-term rental agreement. It’s quite possible to negotiate a pretty good discount. I’d just recommend that you not use English to communicate with the owners because they may ask for more money. If your Spanish is basic, use a translation app or ask someone to help you out. You also have to make sure you understand how much you are expected to pay in total because there are more fees involved than just the monthly rent. You also need to pay utility bills and in some cases even the building administration fee. Take your time and read the contract carefully.
Renting a furnished apartment on your own is always the most expensive choice. However, if you want to avoid dealing with a lot of hassle, you simply need to bite the bullet and pay extra money for a place that you can move into immediately. Unfurnished apartments are cheaper, but they may not represent the best option when you don’t know how long you are going to stay in the city.