“My window of opportunity was limited,” Balzano explains. “So I just decided to go for it. And I started apartment hunting.”
After spending some time searching for a suitable place, Balzano found a three-bedroom apartment in Laureles, Medellin, which recently topped global publisher Time Out’s list of the “world’s coolest” neighborhoods.
Balzano put in an offer on the “brand new” apartment in October and closed on it in early November. She is currently in the process of applying for the investment visa.
While she’s chosen not to disclose how much she paid for her new home, Balzano stresses that she “could never afford this equivalent apartment” in the same location in Miami.
“I’m living in the ‘coolest neighborhood,’” she adds. “And it’s about a third of the cost of living in Miami.”
According to Balzano, her social life is far more active in Colombia, partly due to the climate, but also because she doesn’t have to think about money so much.
“I don’t worry that I’m going to go out to dinner with a group of people and I can’t afford to pay my fair share,” she says.
As Colombia “is a very family-centered culture,” Balzano deliberately aimed her Facebook expat group at over 50s so that she could meet other older, single women, and/or those who are more understanding of “the independence that comes with being single at this age.”
The fact that Balzano, who learned Spanish when she was a volunteer for the Peace Corps, an independent agency of the US government, can communicate with locals easily has been hugely beneficial for her.
“It does make a difference,” she acknowledges. “English is not widely spoken here. There are a lot of expats here who don’t speak Spanish – they’re learning.
“I think those who don’t speak Spanish have a more limited experience. But they’re getting by.”
Balzano has been able to form a strong network of friends made up of other expats, as well as locals, and feels very much at peace.
“The people here are just so warm, inviting and authentic,” she says. “It’s a very kind culture.
“It’s a less aggressive existence than Miami, which is a very aggressive city.”
She has nothing but praise for the “amazing” Colombia’s healthcare system – the World Health Organization ranked it at number 22 in an analysis of 191 countries, which she had already used during previous visits.
“I think a misconception that a lot of Americans have, is that US healthcare is the best in the world,” she notes. “And I will beg to differ on that.”
In fact, the country’s “manageable” healthcare costs led Balzano to launch her own consulting business, Global Connect Marketing Services, in June, something that had been a dream of hers for many years.
“I never could do it in the US because of the healthcare situation,” she explains. “It’s very expensive to carry health insurance when you work on your own.”
She’s also a big fan of Medellin’s “world class” shopping malls.
“They’re vibrant,” Balzano adds. “US shopping centers are struggling to stay vibrant. Here, that’s not the case.”
She tries to avoid purchasing imported goods, which will inevitably cost more, but admits to splashing out on some crunchy peanut butter every now and then.
However, Balzano has found one particular item to be more expensive in Colombia than back home – wine.
“The wine selection is very limited,” she says, explaining that much of the wine that’s on offer is from nearby Argentina and Chile. “And what you can find is relatively expensive.”
Balzano admits that the subject of safety often comes up when she’s questioned about her life in Medellin, once considered the most dangerous city in the world.
But while Colombia has long been associated with drugs and gangs, the country’s murder rate dropped by 82% from 1993 to 2018, and crime rates in Medellin have lowered significantly over the years.
Although Balzano acknowledges that crime is still a problem, she feels that this is comparative to “any large city in the US.”
“There’s crime in most places,” she adds.
Balzano goes on to describe how she’s learned to be cautious with her cellphone or any “electronics or laptops” while out and about.
“You have to not be walking around the street with your head buried in MapQuest [an online web mapping service] trying to navigate the street,” she adds, noting that this is something that “culturally takes some time to adjust to.”
“However, in all the times I’ve come here over eight years, I have never had a negative experience in terms of my personal safety.”
While Balzano accepts that many travelers still have pre-conceived notions about Medellin, she says that she and her expat friends feel incredibly grateful to be living there, and consider it as something of a “best kept secret.”
“Medellin is a different city today,” she says. “That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. But it is not the Medellin of the ’80s and the ‘90s, and a lot of people still believe that [it is].”
Balzano, whose former husband is from Costa Rica, lived in Latin America previously, and has always had a huge appreciation for the culture.
“It’s warm, it’s inviting, it’s vibrant, and it’s alive,” she says. “I just feel that Colombia needs its heyday.
“It’s a beautiful place. People here paid their price to live the lives that they’re living now.”
She says she’d advise anyone considering moving to Colombia to do plenty of research beforehand, and “come with their eyes wide open.”
“This isn’t Europe,” she says. “It’s Latin America. And Latin America is grittier than I think a life in Spain [would be]. That [the grit] is part of what I like about it.”