Letter from Medellin, Colombia – The Cost of Doctors and Medicine

You are so brave, aren’t you nervous traveling to Colombia on your own ? What about Pablo Escobar and the drug cartels……….”

The answer is “no” and let this be the last time I address this subject! O.K. I know someone will ask me again, so it is one of the last times I will address this subject!!

There is still a lot of negative information about Colombia. On my last trip I visited the cemetery where Pablo Escobar is said to be buried.  The above view of Medellin was taken from the cemetery looking towards the City, with the photograph below showing Pablo Escobar’s grave site with two mourners standing nearby.

Although I did not exhume his body, I believe  it is buried underneath this impressive black engraved granite headstone, since 1993 when he was “taken care of,” jointly by the Colombians and a task force from the United States.  If I was going to London or Rome, the question would never be raised. If I was going to Chicago where the homicide rate has surged lately, no one would question me. Colombia still has problems but since the Escobar days, security has been increased noticeably and this has become a vibrant, interesting, wonderful place to be – but don’t tell anyone because it is still under the radar, which most people prefer.

So, what is going on here? The economy is strong, with an emerging middle class – very significant in terms of growth. Values in Cartagena and Bogota have both appreciated ahead of Medellin and Medellin is now poised to join them. The real estate market is strong, both residential and commercial. The stock market is a top performer, too. Mining, oil and gas, coal and natural resource exploration is exploding. A free trade agreement between the US and Colombia went into effect in 2012.  Medellin was ranked the Number One Innovative City in the world for 2012, beating out NYC and Tel Aviv.

Hewlett Packard and Kimberley Clark have invested and opened subsidiaries here, with PriceSmart has opened warehouses in three cities. European, Brazilian, Chilean, Chinese, French and Canadian multinationals are already here and Colombia has gained credibility among their moneyed friends back home, being given Investment Grade rating in 2011. Contento is buildng a $170M TV and Film production studio, the largest in Latin America. Medellin has an important fashion industry, too, second only to Sao Paola on the continent. The Gross Domestic Product is growing at 4.9% and the rate of inflation averaged 2.9% last year. Colombia is the third strongest economy in Latin America behind Brazil and Mexico and is at last receiving favorable international press.

Finally, would Carlos Slim and Sam Zell invest if it wasn’t good?

I asked Rich Holman from First American Realty, who supplied much of the above information, to explain why Medellin has been a good place for investment and this was his reply:

From 2009 to 2013 the Colombian Peso gained 35% on the USD, ( To rephrase this, if you had $100 USD in 2009 and converted it to Pesos in 2013, you would only receive $65.00. because of the exchange rate. Add few zeros to the $100 and it becomes a significant amount for investors shopping around).

For the last two years the exchange rate “high” was 2.057 and the low was 1.742 (Pesos to $1.00 USD). That is about 15% if you take the highest and lowest the USD was to the Peso. But as you know, the exchange rate changes daily, monthly and is constantly changing, I would say for the past two years we are still averaging about 7% annually of Colombian Pesos gaining on the USD.

Average appreciation (that is real estate) in El Poblado and Enviagado (two of the best neighborhoods) is about 6% per year for the past two years.”

The combination of a stronger Peso and steady real estate appreciation has encouraged foreign investment. Medellin is still under the radar, but word is getting out that it has a beautiful climate, an easy lifestyle, plus all the other positive indicators – and Pablo is dead!!

I began travelling in Latin America in May last year and have visited Colombia, Panama and Ecuador. During my first visit to Panama I became aware of a number of “financially agitated” Americans, mostly male and mature in years, who were looking for a safe haven for some of their hard earned assets. Since then, in each of these countries I notice more and more and the numbers are growing, This has been accelerated by FACTA (the Hire Act) which comes into effect in July, unless something gets in the way to halt it. Rich Holman, who operates  First American Realty, is at the “point” where people looking for good investments intercept with someone who has an American background and who understands the local market. Opportunities are everywhere and foreigners are welcome – this applies to many industries and types of investments.

Please don’t send me angry letters – nothing explained in this letter should be construed as advice or recommendation, and no, I am not moving from the USA. I am a proud American, enjoy the high standards and privileged lifestyle afforded me , and believe that almost to the last person, everyone in these countries I visit would do whatever they could to have an American Passport. All I have set out to do, is explain some of the dynamics of this society that is shrouded in ignorance and false information. There are many other reasons that make this an attractive place to live and more affordable than the US. The cost of dental and medical services is much lower and of a high standard. I had some unexpected major dental work done, and could not have had better in the US and the price was between a third and a quarter of what I would have paid. A specialist medical consultation costs the equivalent of $100 and because of the low cost and high quality of medicine there is a robust medi-tourism industry.  All medicines including recognized brands  are less expensive and Viagra is 1/5th  what it costs in the USA – now that is an incentive, especially if you are one of this financially agitated American males with a young Colombian woman in tow, looking like she has won the prize of the Century.

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the road less traveled