Live Successfully in Colombia

I will even go so far as to say that MOST people are not meant for Colombia. This is evidenced by the constant disillusion evidenced in some of the bigger Medellin expat groups – you know who you are…

The point is, you MUST be Deeply Motivated to Live Successfully in Colombia.

In a country that still struggles too much with bureaucracy and red-tape, finding ways to make your life here permanent can be elusive. Even more important to consider, is that the average “X” person from your “X” country – is not apt for Colombia.

Things Which Make Life Hard in Colombia

Folkloric dancers in Teatro Confamiliar, Manizales. Such a happy, colorful and vibrant culture. Why is it not as easy as it looks?

Almost everything, but…

Good news travels fast – but bad news is what people really want and need to know prior to doing crazy things like moving to Colombia. There are a few things that can make it hard to Live Successfully in Colombia

The BAD news, is that there are many things which make life hard here:

  • Public and Private Toilets without seats and/or toilet paper. Even in Strata 6 areas this happens.
  • A transport system which is haphazardly low on funding on a perpetual basis and very little traffic enforcement plus unskilled, or extremely skilled driversnot sure which.
  • The language barrier. Life is easy – if you can speak Spanish. And it get’s better over time as you begin to learn more.
  • A culture that is harshly opportunistic – basically everyone who sees a foreigner is wondering how they can make a few pesos off that person.
  • Cultural perceptions that American men/women are more available and looking for fast sex, shallow relationships and big parties. Unfortunately, many are but it also isn’t restricted to Americans.
  • Total lack of education in the lower classes means that even simple jobs are not finished as quickly or efficiently as your home country. Be patient, smile and keep moving forward. (To the reader who always tells me “Smile.” You know who you are. Thank you for that.)
  • Foreign residents who get trapped into tipping the “crazy” street person who occupies their neighborhood. They remember your face forever. It gets annoying.
  • Throwing around money. You must exercise extreme discretion with your money. This will quickly paint a big target on your forehead if you don’t.
  • Tinder and all such dating apps. Just don’t. Trust me. Or, read about my “speed dating” experience HERE >>>
  • Don’t expect to find useful or high quality things here. At least not very often. Honestly, it feels like someone went to a factory line in China and said “An American would never buy this, let’s send it to Colombia.”

This list could go on all day, but let’s move onto the important information that will help you find a more successful approach.

Things Which Make Life Easy in Colombia

Live Successfully in Colombia
Valle de Risaralda – Ruta de Paisajes in Viterbo, Caldas. Another interesting potential.

As a perpetual student of Colombian culture and relationships, I have learned a few things which actually make life easier. Try to understand that these are things which I have learned and seen make the difference.

  • Don’t talk about money. Your money. Don’t tell people what you earn per month. Someone is wondering how to get some of it as you are talking about it.
  • Women – don’t wear your hair short like a man, unless you really don’t care. Men here won’t spend time or effort on girls which conform themselves to manly traits. Try a little makeup. It really does help.
  • Be friendly. It takes two seconds to say a warm hello or “Good Morning,” and only 1 second to be grumpy and hateful. People avoid grumpy and hateful.
  • Learn Spanish. We already mentioned it, but it is really important. Your attitude of “I just can’t/won’t” comes across strongly and isn’t helping you make friends.
  • DO NOT TURN DOWN COFFEE/TEA/AROMATICA. Especially if you are out in the pueblos, you can offend people very easily by not allowing them to be a nice host to you. Offer people who come to your home Coffee/Tea/Aromatica – even if they are only doing a job for you.
  • Talk quietly. Colombians are good at eavesdropping. If they think they can profit from what you are saying then their ear is tuned to your conversation.
  • Don’t assume Colombians can’t understand English. The person you are talking crap about in the elevator/line/grocery store probably understands what you are saying even if they refuse to communicate with you.
  • Take time to say proper goodbyes, particularly in the Coffee Axis, social etiquette requires a good “Despedida.” They will appreciate the attention and courtesy.
  • Learn to appreciate Colombian food. Seriously. You don’t have to love it, but at least find one or two dishes which work for you and own it. Nothing worse than hearing expats complain about the food. And Colombians take note of those things.
  • Stop talking about your life back in “Country of Origin X.” Save it for when you are hanging out with your bro’s. Colombians already have low enough self esteem as it is – your endless prattle about where you came from is a moot point that only serves to highlight what they don’t have but are trying to get.
  • Stop dressing like you are on vacation. Save it for when you ACTUALLY are on vacation – no one is going to take you seriously if you hang out in gym shorts and a t-shirt. Put the flip flops away.
  • Don’t try to date women/men below strata 5/6 and expect them to be into “halfsies.” If you want someone who doesn’t need you for something, you better have something to offer beyond money and citizenship.
  • Know when you have reached that point where you either need to pack up and go home – or get help. Seriously. Get. Some. Help. Or, just go home. (You know who you are – be good to yourself, in the right way.) When you have nothing positive to say about Colombia, you have reached that point.

All these comments – while helpful – are simply observations from the careful study of Colombian culture. They do help, but over the long term you must have a deeper motivation.

Finding That Deeper Motivation

For me, life in Colombia means living my dream. It isn’t a glamorous dream because earning in pesos is the pits, but it is better than a 9 to 5 slave job for 40 hours per week. Being deeply motivated is what allows me in my low moments to suck it up, and keep on walking.

Nice weather, cheap food, friendly people and incredible scenery are only the surface motivators.

I absolutely love, the way I feel in Colombia – doing the things I do. That is my deeper motivation. And, I want to be successful as a writer/photographer/local leader.

I truly feel like there is something here worth building. In the US, I would be one writer in one thousand. Here, I am the crazy gringa who is blazing new frontiers by writing about places in English which, in some cases, have never been written about. It’s living a life in a culture which I enjoy and admire.

Ways to Find Your Deeper Motivation

Certain lifestyle practices, habits and hobbies have led me to my deeper motivation over and over. And, they are all basically the same tips that every self-help book will tell you to do…

  • Exercise & Meditation.
  • Write your vision/goals on a piece of paper.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Get 8-9 hours of sleep.
  • Create deep and meaningful relationships with people. Start by saying hi and being constantly “in touch” with people who strike you as having good vibes. If it turns into a friendship you are on track!
  • Learn how to use local modes of speech – in politely respectful ways. Colombians connect with you according to your ability to adapt to their culture. Individuality is not well-received in smaller cities and pueblos. In other words “When in Rome…”
  • Don’t date people who you don’t know. Seriously. Be their friend first, meet their friends, their family and at least two local references. Read more about dating HERE!
  • Get involved with local dance/art/sport activities. It truly is one of the best ways to meet people while also getting to know them a bit first. Please reference the previous point for additional guidance.
  • Be more patient. Work on anger issues. Aggressive cultural habits do not mesh well with the Coffee Axis of Colombia.
  • Pay attention to gossip. No one ever tells you anything to your face. Unless you don’t care. In which case find new friends and move on.

Yes, all I did was regurgitate every self-help guru in 5 minutes from a Colombian lifestyle perspective.

Except the bit about gossip. That was simply a slightly off-topic culture note. Thanks to gossip I found out that a guy I had started to date, had a girlfriend already – so I really can’t say no that one. People talk about people – get over it. Grow thicker skin. Grab a machete – erm, just kidding.

To Live Successfully in Colombia

Live Successfully in Colombia
Colombia gave me back my horse girl dream! Photo taken in Aranzazu, Caldas.

If I start thinking about profitability and modern perceptions of “success” – I might as well pack my stuff and leave now because it isn’t easy here. Part of it is dealing with the local culture, part is that people just don’t have that much to give – and the ones who do, generally aren’t into helping others.

Really, I hope this article either changes your mind about living in Colombia, or helps you find ways to Live Successfully in Colombia. Later we will talk more about what it takes, or doesn’t take – to work in Colombia.

What is your deeper motivation? Why do you keep hanging onto the dream of life in Colombia? Is it because you have an exterior income and you can live well? Or, is it because life here has an innocent simplicity that makes you feel like this is where you want to be? Feel free to sound off in the comment section below how you Live Successfully in Colombia.