Who are you?
I am Phil Sale, a 57 year old retired Police Officer from the UK
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I first left the UK in 2006 to live in Spain, where I had had holiday property for some years, I moved permanently, because after thirty years in the Police, I had had enough of both the bureaucracy, and the life in the UK, I needed a new start.I lived in a mountain village south of Granada. Following my divorce, I lived alone for a couple of years, and then moved to Colombia in January 2012, to get married, which we did in the February, I lived in a rental apartment in Bello outside Medellin, for two years, whilst waiting for my house in Spain to sell, then we bought a small Finca outside Copacabana, again outside Medellin. My wife is from here, and has a close relationship with her family, so as I am a ‘pensioner’, there was never any question in my mind as to where we should live. I had no Dependents, nor reason to stay in Spain.
What challenges did you face during the move?
From a logistical point of view, it was an absolute nightmare, I was running around like a scolded cat, I had to obtain official papers from the UK, both for my Visa, and for my marriage, I had to sell a lifetimes collection of tools, as my hobby is carpentry, I just couldn’t afford to take them, and then pay storage, as well as my house and contents, in effect I sorted out and got rid of most of my life, only shipping ten plastic boxes of clothes and personal effects, that in itself was a headache. I was fortunate to have some excellent friends in Spain, so I gave power of attorney, and left them to it, unfortunately there turned out to be a problem with my escritura which delayed the selling process, but my Buyer who I had found before leaving, stuck with me, which was a blessing.
From an emotional point of view, other than the normal stresses of uprooting, it was relatively painless, thanks to the help and support of my Fiancée and her Family. The biggest shock was not being understood, I had had property in Spain for twelve years and lived there for six, and had a good relationship with my Spanish neighbours, and yet when I spoke here, all I got was a blank look and “Qué?” that was very disheartening, my local family are great and slow down for me, strangers don’t, and it can be difficult even now.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I had been out to Colombia a couple of times to visit, so I had an idea on areas, we were renting at first, so I was happy to leave the choice to my Fiancée, she did all the hunting, and negotiating, keeping me in the loop, I just had to sign the cheques, so to speak. Once I was in Colombia, and not knowing how long it would be before my house had sold, and we could buy, we used the time to explore the outlying Villages, and decide where we would like to settle. One big factor turned out to be the climate, My Wife has always lived in a warm climate, and didn’t fancy going to a cooler one, twenty minutes drive up the mountains outside Medellin, you can find lovely towns, but they are similar in climate to what I was used to, hot sometimes, and freezing at others. I ended up giving in, and we settled for Copacabana, it has taken me a while to acclimatise, I never wear more than a T shirt, if that, it is warm year round, it is just the colour of the sky that changes, and either wet or dry.
We found our Finca, by contacting a local Fixer, a person who doesn’t have an Office, you contact him locally, it costs nothing, he is paid by the seller, and therefore works for the seller, you have to bear this in mind, but he will take you to as many properties as you want, some you may have seen on the internet, others he hopes you will fall in love with, as it happened I had seen ours on the internet, and after viewing over two days, we finally got to see it, and bought it. The process was painless, because the Seller was a builder, and knew the ropes, the process was over in a few days, I was fortunate, being able to pay in cash, we paid an initial deposit, and the balance once everything was completed at the Notary. We then moved the Builders in to renovate the property (No, not the seller!) and three months later we moved in whilst work continued.
Are there many other expats in your area?
To be honest, I have no idea, about the Copacabana area, there are Expats living outside Medellin, mostly from the U.S., and there is a big Expat Community in Medellin, however I have no wish to be part of that, no disrespect to them, I moved here to involve myself in the Colombian way of life, if I wanted to retain my old life, I wouldn’t have moved here, so I have no expat contacts.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Living out in the Campo, there are not that many, but my neighbours, have been very accepting, and are there to help if needed, and know I will help if asked. Those who live further away are still wary of the ‘Gringo’, but will pass the time of day, and at least smile! This is the difference between Colombians and the Spanish, the Spanish are far more accepting of incomers, the Colombians…well, I’m not sure I will ever feel that I am a local, that could just be this particular area, I don’t know, it is a very strong Catholic area, and I am not, nor is my Wife, which does not help.
What do you like about life where you are?
Now I have acclimatised, the weather, it is never cold, it might get a bit nippy in the evening during the wet season, but nothing that causes a problem. If I want work done, I have no trouble finding people to do it, word of mouth soon finds someone reliable, and those that are not, don’t get a second chance.
I feel privileged, and somewhat guilty, because I get better treated than Colombians in many respects, Healthcare is a prime example, I use the National Health System, and pay a top up for Specialist treatment, it is still far cheaper than going private, and comparable, if not better than Europe, but I keep getting told by my family, that is because I am a Foreigner, they don’t get the same level of service. Likewise If I am stopped by the Police for a check, they have always been very civil, something the Colombians, don’t expect if they are stopped.
I know that even on my pension, I am better off than a lot of Colombians, I can lead a lifestyle that I could not afford back in Europe, and that hit home, when I took my Wife back to the UK last year to meet my family, I couldn’t believe how expensive it was, and that was just because I have got used to Colombian values.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The corruption, at all levels of Government and in all walks of life, it is in the papers daily, and we experience it in our daily lives. If I was a rich Expat, I would be able to live a life I could only dream of, I am not, so if I come across a bureaucratic obstacle, it remains just that, because I am not in a financial position to grease palms.
I also find it hard to accept the lack of respect for other peoples property, put something down, turn your back for a second, and it is gone, this may be more to do with my background, however it does send my blood pressure sky high.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Poverty, it is sad to say, but there is still poverty where ever you look, and the Authorities seem to be blind to the problem, the Local Government will spend multi millions on a Park, or other Public Amenity before spending a peso on resolving the homeless, vagrancy problems, that are there for all to see.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I have to say that I love Colombian food, I keep hearing many Expats from the U.S. complaining that it is bland and tasteless, I have to wonder where they eat, or if I just have a low standard. There are a few fruits that I am not keen to try, but that is just me, they look strange so I’ll give them a miss.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
If I am honest, I would say that if you are contemplating a move to Colombia, and have an income from a pension or some other source, then go for it, Colombia is a country that can only get better, and despite it’s problems, I think it is already a beautiful country, with lovely people. If on the other hand you are thinking of coming to Colombia and are then going to have to find work, I would do an awful lot of research, because the Colombian wage is not a living wage, unless you have a management job to walk into, you would be sacrificing much of what you took for granted in your home country, and there is nothing to fall back on or help, if you don’t have family here.
What are your plans for the future?
I am retired, my Colombian Visa forbids me to work, so I intend to enjoy life, my hobby is carpentry as I said earlier, I now have a new workshop, and spend a lot of time in there, as well as carrying out renovations on the house, also I hope tol explore more of this wonderful Country.