A boomer moved from California to Colombia after overcoming a rare disease. The cost of living is much cheaper, and life is more peaceful.
- Andy Wiesmann moved from California to Mexico to Colombia in search of a cheaper cost of living.
- He couldn't afford housing in California after developing a rare autoimmune disorder.
He developed a rare autoimmune disorder that put him into severe medical debt. He couldn't afford an apartment in California, and he decided to move out of the country to preserve his health and happiness.
He spent a few months in Mexico before going on vacation with friends to Colombia, where he realized he could live how he wanted for much less than in the US. The visa process was smooth, he said, and he started to carve out a new life in Medellín.
"This was the only place I've ever been to that I fell in love with," Wiesmann told Business Insider. "I've traveled all over the world doing security work, but this place just felt perfect. Two weeks after setting foot here, I put in a deposit for an apartment."
California's population decreased by 0.2% from July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023, according to Census data released last December. Around 818,000 people left California between 2021 and 2022, while only 475,800 moved in, per the Census Bureau's tabulation of ACS data. Many Californians have told BI they're moving to states — or countries — with lower living costs, slower paces of life, and better climate conditions.
Leaving California for Mexico
Wiesmann grew up about 60 miles east of Los Angeles and spent most of his life there. He attended the police academy right after high school, and worked for about 20 years before retiring early at 40. For a few years after that, he did security work and traveled to the Middle East and Africa.
He moved out to Virginia for a few years to live with his girlfriend, but he got sick in early 2017. It turned out to be Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks nerves. He was put on life support and was paralyzed until his nerves regenerated, and he was in the hospital for almost a year and a half. It took him months to talk again, and he had to relearn to walk.
His relationship ended amid his hospital stay, and he moved back to California — though he didn't have any place to stay. He said he filed for medical bankruptcy even though he had insurance, as he ended up with about $250,000 in medical debt, so he couldn't secure an apartment. He had nobody to cosign with him, and he couldn't afford to spend $1,500 a month, the cheapest he could find in his area. His pension from the police department was not enough to rent an apartment in California, and he knew he didn't want to un-retire.
At the time, he had a motorhome, and though he could drive, he couldn't handle other tasks like cleaning due to his disability. For a few months, he slept in his motorhome wherever he could, took showers at a gym, and camped out at coffee shops to get free WiFi.
"That all got old really quick, so my only option was to move out of the country at that point because nowhere in the United States was I able to get an apartment," Wiesmann said.
He temporarily moved into an Airbnb in Mexico, moving around throughout the country. He stayed there for about six or seven months, staying at various Airbnbs in Cabo San Lucas in between short stays in California with friends and family. It cost him $1,000 a month for his long-term studio rental, located a few blocks from the beach.
He spent much of his time on the beach or in cafés and got into photography. He said food costs weren't too expensive, though he still paid tourist prices for many daily expenses. He said he rarely felt isolated in Mexico and was able to navigate life in a new country rather smoothly.
In February 2020, he relocated to Medellín, Colombia, after visiting a friend on vacation for a month. He previously spent time in Bogota in 2016, and he enjoyed the people and the culture but wanted a slightly smaller city.
All he had was a backpack with about 10 days of clothes, his laptop, and a camera. He had lost or sold many of his belongings after getting sick and was finally ready to start life anew.
Moving to Colombia
Since 2020, he's lived in four apartments, the last of which he recently bought. His first was a furnished two-bedroom apartment in a more touristy, upscale neighborhood that cost $1,500 a month. He then moved to a smaller apartment with a better view for half the price. His third apartment was in a neighboring town for even cheaper.
Eventually, he bought a 900-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for about $90,000 in the southern part of the city. His apartment has a pool, a gym, parking, and two balconies overlooking the mountains and city lights.
He said prices for modern apartments in his area of Medellín often go for between $175,000 and $200,000 — some of which have doubled over the last two years. He estimates the average furnished apartment goes for between $800 and $1,200 a month, while unfurnished apartments can cost as little as $500 to $600.
He estimates he spends between $1,500 and $1,800 a month on all his expenses, including utilities, bills, medical costs, dining out, and travel.
He came to Colombia on a three-month tourist visa, which he extended for another three months. He applied for a pensionado visa, which is set aside for retirees and requires holders to earn about $830 in passive income each month. After living in Colombia for five years as a retiree, he can apply for permanent residency.
He said his area is ideal for walking a few miles daily to keep healthy, given he said he'll never fully recover. He still has some paralysis and pain in his upper body, though he said the peacefulness of life has kept him in good spirits.
"This feels like a city dropped into a jungle," Wiesmann said. "The weather was perfect for me for my disability, not too hot and not too cold."
He said his area has many inexpensive restaurants and is a short walk to the metro stop — he said it's only about 75 cents per metro ride. Prices have shot up recently due to a rise in tourism, though they're still much cheaper overall than in the US.
His utilities are also kept low because he doesn't use air conditioning or heating due to his area's temperate climate, with temperatures in the 70s and low 80s. He pays $75 a month for all his utility bills.
Wiesmann said he has little intention of leaving Colombia except for vacations to see his kids in California and New York. His wife is Colombian, and he said the culture is very family-oriented, especially on Colombia's many holidays. There are also a lot of retirees and expats in his area, some of whom he's befriended. His only pet peeve is how people drive.
"I have not felt at all like I'm outside of the United States," Wiesmann said. "The malls are first-rate, the restaurants are first-rate usually, the tap water is drinkable, the internet is fast and reliable, and the energy is fast and cheap. Sometimes I have to stop and say, 'oh my god,' I'm in South America."
Have you recently left the United States for a new country? Reach out to this reporter at email@example.com.
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