- Andy Wiesmann moved from California to Mexico to Colombia in search of a cheaper cost of living.
- He could not afford housing in California after developing a rare autoimmune disorder.
- He said Colombia has perfect weather, much lower costs and a friendlier environment.
Andy Wiesmann, 62, settled in Medellín, Colombia after spending most of his life in California’s Inland Empire. His reason for the move: He could no longer afford anything in Golden State.
He developed a rare autoimmune disorder that put him in serious medical debt. He could not afford an apartment in California and decided to leave the country to preserve his health and happiness.
He spent a few months in Mexico before going on vacation with friends in Colombia, where he realized he could live the way he wanted for much less than in the US. The visa process was smooth, he said, and he began creating a new life in Medellin.
“This was the only place I’ve ever been 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 I set foot here, I put down a deposit on an apartment.”
Californiathe population of SITTING by 0.2% from July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023, according to Census data released last December. About 818,000 people left California between 2021 and 2022, while only 475,800 moved in, for Tabulation of ACS data by the Census Bureau. many Californian have told BI that they are moving to states – or countries – with lower costs of living, 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 out of high school and worked for about 20 years before retiring at age 40. For several years afterward, he did security work and traveled to the Middle East and Africa.
He moved to Virginia for a few years to live with his girlfriend, but fell ill in early 2017. It turned out to be Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves. He was put on life support and remained paralyzed until his nerves regenerated and he remained in the hospital for almost a year and a half. It took him months to talk again and he had to learn to walk again.
His relationship ended in the middle of his hospital stay and he returned to California – although he had nowhere to stay. He said he filed for medical bankruptcy even though he had insurance because he ended up with about $250,000 in medical debt, so he couldn’t afford an apartment. He had no one to hook him up with and couldn’t afford to spend $1,500 a month, the cheapest he could find in his area. His police department pension wasn’t enough to rent an apartment in California, and he knew he didn’t want to retire.
At the time, he had a motorhome and although he could drive, he could not handle other tasks such as cleaning due to his disability. For several months, he slept in his RV wherever he could, showered at a gym and slept in coffee shops to get free WiFi.
“That all got old very quickly, so my only option was to leave the country at that point because there was nowhere in the United States where I could get an apartment,” Wiesmann said.
He temporarily moved into an Airbnb in Mexico, moving around 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 lease, located a few blocks from the beach.
He spent most of his time on the beach or in cafes and got into photography. He said food costs were not too expensive, although 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 smoothly.
In February 2020, he moved to Medellín, Colombia after visiting a friend on vacation for a month. He previously spent time in Bogotá in 2016 and liked the people and culture, but wanted a slightly smaller city.
All he had was a backpack with about 10 days worth of clothes, his laptop and a camera. He had lost or sold many of his belongings after becoming ill and was finally ready to start life again.
Movement in Colombia
As of 2020, he lives in four apartments, the last of which he recently bought. His first was a furnished two-bedroom apartment in a more touristy and 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 an even cheaper neighboring town.
Eventually, he bought a 900-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for about $90,000 on the city’s south side. His apartment has a swimming pool, a gym, parking and two balconies with views of the mountains and city lights.
He said prices for modern apartments in his area of Medellín often range from $175,000 to $200,000 — some of which have doubled in the past two years. He estimates that the average furnished apartment runs between $800 and $1,200 a month, while unfurnished apartments can cost between $500 and $600.
He estimates he spends between $1,500 and $1,800 a month on all his expenses, including utilities, bills, medical expenses, dining and travel.
He came to Colombia on a three-month tourist visa, which he extended for another three months. He applied for a retirement 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 residence.
He said his area is ideal for walking a few kilometers a day to maintain health, as he said he will never fully recover. He still has some paralysis and pain in his upper body, though he said the quiet of life has kept him in good spirits.
“It feels like a city in 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 a lot of cheap restaurants and it’s a short walk to the subway station – he said it’s only about 75 cents a ride on the subway. Prices have increased recently due to increased tourism, although they are still much cheaper overall than in the US.
His utilities are also kept low because he does not use air conditioning or heating due to his area’s mild 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, other than vacations to see his children in California and New York. His wife is Colombian, and he said the culture is very family-oriented, especially in Colombia’s many holidays. There are also many retirees and foreigners in his area, some of whom he has befriended. His only pet peeve is the way people drive.
“I haven’t felt like I’m outside the United States at all,” Wiesmann said. “The malls are first class, the restaurants are usually first class, the tap water is drinkable, the internet is fast and reliable, and the power is fast and cheap. Sometimes I have to stop and say, ‘oh god, “I’m in South America.”
Have you recently left the United States for a new country? Contact this reporter at [email protected].