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How Safe Is Colombia For Expats?

Colombia is one of the most popular expat destinations in Latin America and the world despite its bad reputation. This country is considered by many the most welcoming place on Earth. In fact, travellers typically have a bittersweet feeling once they hop on the plane back home after staying in the country for a while. Here’s why:

From the colonial heritage mixed with the colourful houses of Cartagena to the vibrant cultural scene and modern infrastructure of Medellin and everything in between, Colombia has a lot in store. Whether you want to go to the beach or the mountains, to a small village or a big city, you can do it all cheaply.

Moreover, the food is amazing, and the people are hospitable and eager to learn from foreigners. This might come as a surprise, especially when you’re told that Colombia is a place of crime and violence. You might wonder, “Can I really make a home in Colombia?”

After reading travel forums and hearing the news, you always find tales of drug cartels and crime. It looks like Colombia is still a dangerous place, and all the positive aspects are never mentioned. 

All these concerns are absolutely valid. As a Canadian myself, I’ve also made the decision to move to Latin America upon careful consideration. I currently live in Panama after years of living in one of the safest places on the planet, the UAE. 

In this article, we'll delve into the truth about safety in Colombia for expats. Since there are many myths, I’ll provide you with valuable insights to help you navigate this beautiful country with confidence.


Scenic View of Tayrona National Park

Scenic View of Tayrona National Park


A long history of drug trafficking and crime has taken a toll on Colombia's reputation. Pablo Escobar got so famous that there’s even a Netflix series about him. If you’ve taken the time to research the history of crime in Colombia, you might know Marxist paramilitary groups such as FARC, ELN and M-19.  

The rise of powerful drug cartels in the 80s and 90s brought violence, corruption and instability to the country. Not only was Colombia a hub for illicit business, but also a lawless land. These groups targeted hard-working businessmen, farmers and innocent people. The cities were run by guerrillas. 

The emergence of historical criminal groups like the Medellín Cartel and the Cali Cartel marked a dark period in Colombia's history. These powerful organizations were deeply involved in the drug trade and wielded considerable influence, spreading violence and corruption. Their activities had far-reaching consequences, leaving a lasting impact on Colombia's security landscape. The downfall of these cartels was a significant milestone in the country's fight against organized crime. Still, their legacy continues to shape the perceptions and challenges of security in Colombia today.

Over the years, Colombia has actively managed these issues. The Colombian government has implemented various strategies such as intelligence operations, international cooperation and increased security measures. Contrary to popular belief, Colombia has made significant progress in dismantling criminal organizations. 

All these efforts have brought about positive changes in the security dynamics of the country. In fact, crime rates have decreased drastically. In the 1990s, when drug cartels were at their peak, the crime rate in Colombia was alarmingly high. However, since 2002, the crime rate has consistently decreased, reaching its lowest point in the 21st century. While it's essential to remain cautious, especially in certain regions, the overall crime rate in Colombia is significantly lower than it used to be. But what changed the situation in 2002? That year’s elections marked an inflection point in Colombia’s history.


Related content: Colombia Elects A Socialist And What It Means For Expats


Colpatria Tower During Sunset

Colpatria Tower During Sunset


Before 2002, the country was subjugated to a reign of horror. Criminal organizations were the gravest and most dangerous threat to the fundamental rights and liberties of Colombians. 

Picture this:

  • Multiple towns had no police presence at all to combat crime;

  • Entire municipalities had no electricity service as a result of the recurrent blowing up of power towers;

  • Farmers were forced to abandon their towns and rural areas, leaving behind their land and the fruits of a lifetime of work.

As you can see, the rule of law was nowhere to be found. Colombia was a failed State. But in this context, Colombians elected Alvaro Uribe, a man who wanted to implement a policy called Seguridad Democrática (Democratic Security). According to him, Security cannot be a principle or thesis exclusive to a political party, ideology or line of thought. Security is not left-wing or right-wing. 

Under this simple principle of security, former president Uribe wanted to restore peace in Colombia. However, as he remarked, this policy had nothing to do with the conventional security doctrine of military dictatorships. Therefore, the Armed Forces were allies and protectors of citizens, especially the average men and women.

On top of providing security and protection against crimes, this policy helped boost investment, economic growth and job creation. This isn’t just well-sounding gibberish. If you still need proof of what Colombia has achieved since Alvaro came into office, check this graph. The decline in crime rates is noteworthy. 

And what about economic growth? This graph from the World Bank demonstrates that the Colombian economy has experienced significant growth since 2002, with only two notable setbacks in 2009 and 2020. The downturn in 2009 resulted from the 2008 financial crisis, while the decline in 2020 was due to the lockdown policies and restrictions. Still, to this day, Álvaro Uribe is an influential figure in Colombian politics. He’s the founder and honorary president of the Centro Democrático, one of the main parties in Colombia.


Related article: What's The Lifestyle In Colombia Like For Its Residents?


Providencia island near San Andres. Colombia

Providencia island, near San Andres, Colombia


Besides these significant advances, Colombia has made massive efforts to strengthen its juridical system. The country has implemented various measures to improve efficiency, transparency, and independence. One notable development is the establishment of specialized courts to handle drug-related crimes and individual rights abuses. These specialized courts ensure that these cases receive the attention and expertise they require, promoting justice and accountability.

When it comes to tourism and expat experiences, people’s opinions have, for the most part, nothing to do with unpleasant experiences. Many expats have found Colombia a welcoming and fulfilling destination, forming vibrant communities in various cities. These expat communities contribute to the multicultural fabric of Colombia and provide a support network for newcomers. Additionally, the growing tourism industry has positively impacted the perception of safety.

Major cities like Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellín have experienced significant improvements in safety and security. While it's important to stay vigilant, especially in crowded areas, violent crimes against tourists in these cities are relatively low. Following common-sense precautions, such as being aware of their surroundings and heeding local advice, is enough for expats to navigate Colombian cities with peace of mind.


Related content: The Basics Of How To Get A Second Passport Or A Second Residency


Peñol Stone in Guatape in Colombia

Peñol Stone in Guatape in Colombia


In conclusion, Colombia has made significant strides in mitigating security risks and creating a safe environment for expats. The Seguridad Democrática policy has left a positive mark on Colombia’s history, boosting economic growth and decreasing the crime rate.

The government’s commitment to security, strengthened judicial system, and positive experiences of expats living in Colombia all contribute to a more accurate understanding of its safety. 

While it's important to exercise caution and follow general safety precautions, Colombia's vibrant culture, diverse landscapes, and warm hospitality make it a promising destination for expats seeking new adventures.


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Mikkel Thorup

Written by Mikkel Thorup

Mikkel Thorup is the world’s most sought-after expat consultant. He focuses on helping high-net-worth private clients to legally mitigate tax liabilities, obtain a second residency and citizenship, and assemble a portfolio of foreign investments including international real estate, timber plantations, agricultural land and other hard-money tangible assets. Mikkel is the Founder and CEO at Expat Money®, a private consulting firm started in 2017. He hosts the popular weekly podcast, the Expat Money Show, and wrote the definitive #1-Best Selling book Expat Secrets - How To Pay Zero Taxes, Live Overseas And Make Giant Piles Of Money, and his second book: Expats Guide On Moving To Mexico.

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