A question which always comes up in expat forums, is what to pack? And for the enterprising, what to bring and sell for a profit. In this post we are going to present you with a few things which we LOVE but which are either unobtainable, difficult to find OR way overpriced here in Colombia.
Top 12 Expensive Things to Buy BEFORE
You Come to Colombia
This comes from our own unique experience living abroad for more than six years!
One of the most appalling things I have noticed in Colombia – is a total lack of good quality kitchen knives. Part of it is cultural and part is because of the cost of importing an item which could very well be classified as a “luxury.” For me, a good kitchen knife isn’t a luxury, its a necessity. And, ew! Please keep those nasty wood handled, straight edged monsters far away from me. Throw your favorite set of Cutco or Henckel in your suitcase and don’t worry. As long as your bag is checked you won’t even raise any eyebrows.
This is no joke. In Colombia, your options are leggings, or cheap jeans which tear and fall apart within about six months. I have had a really good experience over the long term with my favorite Lucky Brand jeans. If you think you are going to sport the Gabo pinta and wear linen, make sure you have it tailor-made because store-bought linen is poor quality and will tear faster than a condom wrapper on a Saturday night. Especially if you are a woman with curves – finding a size big enough to fit your hips and small enough to fit your waist, is a headache you won’t want to deal with.
I actually bought an import lipstick pencil thing – and at 70,000 pesos, it wasn’t supposed to be cheap crap. But – some of the major brands are running cheaper lines of product that can be sold in countries like Colombia, yet not the same quality as in the states. Which begs the question, is it legitimate cheap crap or bootleg knock-offs? Maybe a scandal brewing? Business as usual? For me, ordering my Mary Kay from the girl I have always purchased from in the US helped to ensure I received the latest colors/make-up styles – as the same cost or less even than the cheap version I bought at the same price here in Colombia. My advice: Buy your make-up in the exterior, or plan to bring plenty with you when you come.
If your income is dependent on word-processing, social media and web building like ours – then plan to buy Stateside. Especially if you are a Macbook Pro user like I am. You will find plenty of skilled individuals who can fix and refurb your existing hardware. Some of them do a good job and are very professional. Plan ahead to buy the real deal in your home country before you come. And while it is kinda cool to find cheap copies of expensive programs – I have found that the cheap copy version isn’t always as useful or as well-equipped as the original version you had to pay for. For example, access to online formats and templates to download and use with Word – won’t work with illegal copies. Small things which for the average computer user can actually slow down your productivity due to these random limitations which pop up.
For the same reason I buy my make-up in my home country, I also recommend trying to bring your own smartphone. In Colombia, Samsung Galaxy series seem to work well. But beware, cell phone companies are now blocking IMEI’s of personally owned hardware when you sign their service agreement, even though you are the legal owner of the phone. Why? Because they can. And, try switching to another carrier later. I spent more than four months now trying to get Flash Mobile to unblock my moms smartphone which we owned previously. They won’t even accept my emails with the required “anexo” documents. The result = choose carriers carefully and ensure they have service in outer areas when you go to the pueblos. Flash mobile does not provide any coverage of my device when I am in rural areas in the Coffee Axis. Claro, Tigo and Movistar have their own areas. In some areas one carrier seems to serve better than another. It’s up to you to be aware of this and choose carefully.
Pens & Notebooks
I know it is a very small detail to consider, but it’s important. Especially if you are a list maker like I am, or you need to write down your grocery lists. Bring pens and notebooks with you. Cheap notebooks in Colombia have paper which tears easily, is thin and not as attractive. Expensive notebooks can be had, and I have even seen “Moleskin” brand notebooks – but they are expensive. You might even consider a reusable notebook like Everlast Pocketbook. Finding good pens for writing, for less than $3 USD, seems to be impossible and the pens here tend to have clumpy ink, or they get unexpected dry patches. Some just explode. There is something to be said for the quality of cheap American pens – they write better than cheap Colombian ones. Same can be said about notebooks too. Less variety lacking in quality.
Especially if you like brands like Ariat boots, or Keen sneakers/hiking boots/bike sandals. Then plan to buy your shoes abroad. Don’t forget to bring flip flops or minimalist shoes for at home or staying in hostels. You can find brands like Nike and Adidas in Colombia, but they cost more and are often lower quality. Depending on where you go to buy them, they might even be cheap knock offs. Especially if you are teaching English or volunteering, you might not have enough disposable income to replace your shoes every six months. Plan for shoes which will last 1-2 years or more and you will save a lot of time and soreness. If you have big or wide feet it is even more important as Colombians tend to have smaller, more narrow feet, as a general rule. On the other hand, you CAN have shoes made to your foot for the same cost as buying new in local stores.
My North Face backpack has stayed in really good shape over the last 4 years. That’s a long time, especially considering how zippers tend to wear out and seams get stressed by load habits. Some of the local brands are really cute – and even stylish. But they tend to wear out within a year. It’s a relatively expensive maintenance cost which you should consider before you travel. A nice backpack, a good quality purse and even some market bags, are all fun and unique items which can be found down here, but are better quality for the money in places like the US and Europe.
I HAVE seen major brands like Fender and Yamaha guitars. And, they are still decent quality – although more Expensive Things in Colombia. You will NOT see brands like Martin & Co in Pereira, Armenia or Manizales – not too commonly at least. Certain brands of guitar, violin, piano etc (particularly electric pianos with weighted keys), are not easily found here either. If you can study the market niche, the demand and the price they are willing to pay. It could be an interesting import business, or extra travel money if you find yourself making multiple trips between the US and Colombia. If you own a good quality guitar or portable instrument, bring it. If you ever need to sell it for extra money, or you feel the urge, you will have something nice to play.
This falls into the same niche as Musical Instruments. You CAN actually find a LOT of bike shops in Colombia. But, certain brands like Felt, aren’t found too commonly here, leaving open the opportunity for you to bring a bike down here and sell it. Shipping a bike via mail can cost you $150 USD, more or less. Certain bike parts are also hard to find, or extremely expensive here. The most popular brands are Specialized and Trek.
Whether you bring English books or other such career related materials, you will be glad you brought them for your own use if nothing else. Children’s books like Dr. Seuss and good story books are hard to come by. If you can use them to teach kids English, they can make your lessons more interesting. I have made money by having my own Cambridge Business Advantage and Dr. Seuss books on hand for teaching kids, teens and professionals. You won’t find niche-related English teaching books outside of institutes. There is less variety and quality, if you can even find any. Spanish/English Dictionary is good to have on hand. Cookbooks. Pinterest isn’t always available – at the very least bring some recipe cards of your favorite recipes.
On The Go Coffee Mugs
Colombian culture is not an “on-the-go” coffee culture. Juan Valdez DOES manufacture some coffee mugs and thermos’s, but nothing that really impresses me. In the US we have Brookstone. If you really like having hot tea, chocolate or coffee to take with you, then consider something nice for yourself from your home country. The quality, lifecycle and overall aesthetic is nicer in the exterior. I don’t see it as being too big – especially in rural areas where people are still more interested in sitting down and sipping over a cup of coffee with a friend. I’m sure you can find nicer mugs in Bogota and Medellin, but they will cost more.
Figuring out what Expensive Things to Buy, or even discovering what to sell in another country, takes a LOT of time, experience and observation. The hardest part is selling quality to a culture whose currency has been devalued in comparison to many of our home countries. Colombia has natural resources, quality food and a lifestyle which in spite of lacking certain conveniences is in and of itself a wealth to those of us who are fortunate to live here. The rest, my fine feathered friends, is icing on the cake!
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