Medellin: A Great Place to Retire (Yes, Seriously)

For many people, the name Medellin means one thing: the notorious drug cartel Pablo Escobar operated out of the Colombian city in the 1970s and ’80s.

Today, though, Medellin is gaining a reputation as a pleasant, affordable place to retire. A new ranking lists the city as one of the top four overseas retirement locales for Americans. The other three: Cuenca, Ecuador; George Town, Malaysia; and Coronado, Panama.

“Medellin is the unsung hero of the overseas retirement world,” says Kathleen Peddicord, who runs a foreign-retirement advisory company, which prepared the ranking. “It’s a pretty, quiet, peaceful, friendly city” with a thriving arts scene and a “bohemian vibe,” she says. “Escobar and the drug cartels–that’s part of the past.”

What’s more, Peddicord estimates that a retiree could live comfortably on less than $1,600 a month in Medellin–while enjoying the temperate climate and having access to excellent health care.

Her observations are borne out by the experience of Rich Holman, 69, who moved six years ago from Florida to Medellin, where he now runs a real estate company. After the election of President Alvaro Uribe in 2002, “security improved, and overnight this country started changing,” he told  Bloomberg News, adding: “I could literally quit working and live off my Social Security of $1,800 per month.”

Peddicord, an American who runs her business from Panama, says her ranking of retirement spots “isn’t scientific.” It’s based on her own observations and those of her clients and other contacts during Peddicord’s almost 30 years of advising people about overseas retirement. The focus is on “living better for less,” she says, which means expensive locales such as Paris were automatically excluded, as well as places where English speakers would have trouble navigating daily life, or where the weather is cold.

Here’s a summary of the selling points (and a few downsides) of Medellin from Peddicord’s ranking:

Medellin:  With a metropolitan area of about 3.8 million people, it’s Colombia’s second-largest city. Its location in the northern Andes ensures pleasant weather year-round, with temperatures rarely rising above 80F or falling below 60F. Most buildings are constructed of red brick, set off by the greenery of the city’s many parks and botanical gardens. Five of Latin America’s 35 top-rated hospitals are located in Medellin, Peddicord says.

Downsides: Air travel to the U.S. generally requires changing planes at least once; air pollution can be a problem in the center of the city; and the English-speaking expatriate community is small. “You are going to have to learn some Spanish,” she says.

By    a Paris correspondent for  Bloomberg Businessweek.  Image from MedellinLiving