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Digital nomads are flocking to Colombia

Catherine Ellis Apr 16, 2024
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The city of Medellín, seen at night. While some locals welcome the economic contributions from the influx of remote workers, others fear they're being priced out. Catherine Ellis/BBC

Digital nomads are flocking to Colombia

Catherine Ellis Apr 16, 2024
Heard on:
The city of Medellín, seen at night. While some locals welcome the economic contributions from the influx of remote workers, others fear they're being priced out. Catherine Ellis/BBC
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This story was produced by our colleagues at the BBC.

Colombia has become a top destination for so-called “digital nomads,” or remote workers. That’s particularly the case for the city of Medellín. While it’s brought a welcome financial boost to some locals, others say they’re being priced out.

Medellín was once dubbed the murder capital of the world in the early ’90s, and was associated with narcotics trafficking and the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.

But a lot has changed since that time. Now its leafy suburbs, cafe culture and relatively low cost of living have made it a popular place in Latin America for digital nomads, according to the remote worker website Nomad List.

One of them is Breon Route. She works for a U.S. ceramics company based in New Orleans but is able to do her job remotely from Colombia. So what’s the attraction?

Breon Route smiles for a picture on a road in Medellín.
Breon Route, a digital nomad who has moved from the U.S to Medellín. (Catherine Ellis/BBC)

“The culture, food, the people, the kindness of the people,” she said. “It’s completely different than anything that I’ve experienced in the States.”

For fruit seller Carlos Acosta, more foreigners mean more business. “Some of them are great customers — good people who buy a lot,” he said. “Things have improved a little with these people.”

A study by consultancy firm Breakthrough estimates around 8,300 digital nomads are arriving in Medellín each month, helped in part by a renewable two-year digital nomad visa introduced in 2022.

Uber driver Henry Muriel said he’s benefitted hugely. “They make up 70% of business for me, these people from abroad. Their arrival is good because if more arrive, the economy is better.”

But some landlords now prefer to rent to foreigners who are willing to pay more than locals, pushing up prices in some areas by as much as 80%.

Juan Guillermo Yunda is a professor in urban and regional planning at Colombia’s Pontifical Javierian University. Medellín is undergoing a distinct type of gentrification, he said.

“When international digital nomads start to come in, the market starts to be more constrained. That is not displacing the lower-income population, as happens in the cities in the United States and Europe, but is displacing more kind of middle-upper-income families that traditionally used to live in these areas.”

Cristina Guerrero has been looking for a new home for weeks without any luck.

“The rent here in Medellín has increased exponentially,” she said. “The rent prices are increasing because foreigners can pay that. Sometimes, there are apartments that you see and say, ‘No, this isn’t worth that much.'”

Despite rising rents, Medellín has become one of the most desirable digital nomad destinations in the world, drawing in people like Breon Route.

“I am absolutely in love with the mountains, the beaches, the hot, the cold,” she said. “It has absolutely everything to offer.”

Route says she’s not leaving anytime soon. And given the digital nomad visa is renewable, she might not have to.

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