Although real estate prices in Medellín are generally quite a bit cheaper than most North American and European cities, you’ll still need a chunk of change to close your transaction. To try and make this process as simple as possible for you, I’ve outlined a few of the different ways you can fund your real estate purchase here in the city.
Recommended Option*: Alianza Valores Brokerage Account
There are a number of great Facebook forums that seek to help with expat life in Medellín, and time and again when the question of how to bring money into Colombia is posed, many satisfied customers talk about their experience with Alianza Valores, one being Erin, a good friend of mine. Based on these recommendations, I scheduled a visit to their office on Avenida Poblado and sat down with one of their asesores to learn about the process.
*Please note that while I recommend using Alianza Valores, I don’t work for them and have no financial interest at stake here. Please check out the ‘just so you know’ disclaimer in our contact section to learn about the Medellín Advisor policy regarding recommendations.
Their office is on the 8th floor of Edificio San Francisco on Avenida Poblado, and was bustling with activity on the morning of my visit. I spent time with a lovely lady named Lina, who patiently answered my litany of questions. She summarized the process as follows:
1) Open a brokerage account
2) Wire the money to Alianza
3) Convert the money to Colombian Pesos
4) Register the money with the Colombian National Bank (Banco de la República)
To open the brokerage account, you’ll need to fill in a bunch of forms for Alianza (afterwards, Lina sent me four PDF forms totaling ten pages). Along with these forms, you’ll have to provide:
- copy of your passport
- last 3 month bank statements
- last personal income tax return (US clients: Form 1040)
- a ‘personal presentation’ e-mail where you talk about yourself and your future plans in Colombia.
- supporting document for the source of the funds (ex: inheritance; sale of property; pay stubs)
Next, Alianza will schedule a phone interview with you to corroborate this information. The team at Alianza are all bilingual, so that can be quite helpful, as many of the necessary documents are in Spanish.
After the brokerage account is opened, you can wire the money from your bank account to Alianza, who will hold the funds until you give the green light to convert them into pesos. (Note: You have 7 business days to pull the trigger or the funds will be returned).
Alianza has accounts set up in with CitiBank in New York and London, to handle incoming wires in USD and Euros, respectively. Unfortunately for Canadian clients, to go from CDN to COP, two conversions are necessary. However, Lina told me that Alianza will only charge their 1% on one of those conversions. This is the fee for Alianzas services, and, additionally, the Government of Colombia will charge a 0.4% tax on converted money.
A critical next step in this process, and one that the representative from Alianza told me that Bancolombia frequently does erroneously, is to register the funds with the National Bank of Colombia (Banco del República). Funds will be registered as gastos varios o inmuebles (translated as various expenses, or real estate), and it is crucial that they are registered as inmuebles to avoid serious complications upon the sale of your property in the future. Once the funds are converted and registered, they are readily available to exchange for your very own piece of the booming Medellín real estate market.
Option #2 SOMOS CREDITO
If you’ve got the funds available to make your real estate purchase without a mortgage, Alianza can be a great option for getting your money into Colombia. Additionally, if you have a strong banking relationship with an institution back home, you’re almost certain to find more attractive borrowing rates and a simpler process than you might with a Colombian institution. However, if your personal situation doesn’t check either of these boxes, and you’d like to acquire a local mortgage to fund your real estate purchase, one company we can recommend is called Somos Credito. In a recent correspondence with them, they said they have changed their name to Cazataza, although their website still says Somos Credito so I’ll refer to them as such. Basically, they act as mortgage broker and came highly recommend from a friend Michelle, who used them to fund an apartment purchase in Sabaneta last year.
Michelle had originally gone to Bancolombia to ask about a mortgage, principally because she had her checking account with the Colombian banking giant. Ultimately, she was not extended credit by Bancolombia, because she had not been in Colombia for two years when she applied, which Bancolombia cited as a requirement for foreign borrowers (among a litany of other things; see Option #4 below). The employee at Bancolombia did give Michelle some useful guidance before she left, however.
She was told that it is not a good idea to seek pre-approval (preaprobacion) from a variety of different banks, as each time one applies for credit, it serves as a knock against their credit score (the credit system functions similarly in North America – seeking multiple credit sources is a surefire way to lower a credit score). Also, it’s not necessarily a great strategy for foreigners seeking a mortgage to simply walk into the bank branches. You’d be dealing with an employee (asesor) at the retail/branch level, who is not likely to know the intricacies involved with a foreigner obtaining a mortgage.
After being forced to consider other options, Michelle met with Somos Credito, who brand themselves as a ‘North American style mortgage broker’. This can be very useful for foreign buyers, because, depending on one’s personal circumstances, perhaps only a couple local banks will be willing to offer a mortgage. Because Somos Credito has a relationship with all the different local banks, they can assess your personal situation and tell you which of the banks is most likely to approve you, which will save you time and save your credit score.
If you are going to seek out Somos Credito, Michelle highly recommends you ask for an analyst named Alejandro (“he was amazing”)…. In her case, Alejandro recommended applying with Colpatria or BBVA, based on her income, mortgage size, credit history in Colombia, and job stability. Michelle ended up applying for, and being approved for a mortgage from Colpatria (see Option #3 below), which was facilitated by Alejandro. Local borrowing rates are higher than most North Americans and Europeans will be used to. Michelle was pleased to get an 8% rate. As noted below, Bancolombia quoted me at 9.8% minimum.
Just in case Michelle had not been approved, Alejandro also had some advice for how one can build a credit score locally. If you are considering a real estate purchase in Colombia any time in the next few years, it is a good idea to start to build your local credit score. This can be done through tactics will be familiar to most foreigners, such as taking out (and paying in a timely manner) a credit card and cell phone bill, but also can be done by selecting a premium medical plan. See the section on Medicina Prepagada in this article about the Colombian health care system. Another friend of mine built his credit score enough to get a mortgage simply by paying for premium health insurance for half a year.
Option #3: COLPATRIA
Another option for funding your Colombian real estate purchase is a local financial institution called Colpatria. Among its many services, Colpatria seeks to facilitate investment in Colombia by Colombians living abroad. Due to this, they have experience in handling international transactions. With Colpatria, you can expect to provide the same types of documents (supporting documents for the source of the funds, and personal income tax returns).
So why bother considering Colpatria? It can be nice to have a variety of options, and not everyone’s experiences with Alianza have been pleasant. Additionally, and this is only speculation, perhaps you’d get a more competitive mortgage rate by going straight to the bank than using, for example, Somos Credito (Option #2). Canadians may be interested to know that, since 2012, Scotiabank (one of Canada’s largest banks) has a 51% stake in Colpatria.
In addition to international funds transfers, Colpatria could be used to secure a local mortgage. However, as noted below with Bancolombia, there are some key sticking points to acquiring a mortgage at the local level.
Have you used Colpatria to fund a real estate purchase in Colombia? Tell us about your experience in the comments.
Colombians living abroad may find Colpatria to be an attractive option, as they have a program that facilitates mortgages for local properties, even while one is living and working abroad. A friend of mine recently went through this process, and found it to be fairly seamless. If you are a Colombian national living abroad, don’t hesitate to contact us for more details about this program.
Option #4: Bancolombia
To simplify the real estate acquisition process, it simply makes sense to open a bank account in Colombia. Despite having had a number of negative experiences with Bancolombia (I had a 70 minute wait in the lobby while trying to research this article), I still recommend you choose them as your local bank, simply because they have a near monopoly on the banking market here in Medellín. Sure, there are other banks (Davivienda, Banco Social, Banco BBSVA) but nearly everyone I have met uses Bancolombia for their personal checking account. They offer free and simple transfers amongst clients, and these have become increasingly common in recent years. In fact, in many places where merchants will not accept credit cards, they will accept a Bancolombia transfer as a form of payment
Although Bancolombia may be the best option for your local bank account, it probably will not serve you well for funding your real estate purchase. To secure a local mortgage (called a hipoteca), clients need to demonstrate a certain amount of local ingresos (revenues) to qualify. Revenues in a foreign bank account will not count, and the local amount needed is quite high.
Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Bancolombia will finance to a maximum of 70% of a property. For a property of COP 300,000,000, the maximum mortgage Bancolombia offers would be COP 210,000,000. Monthly mortgage payments would be about COP 2,900,000 (based on a 10-year amortization – anywhere from 5-20 years is available). Bancolombia requires ingresos of 3X that amount, into a local account. I asked about this repeatedly, but there is no way to use foreign earnings to count towards income proof. Therefore, in this scenario, one would need a local salary earning around 9 million pesos a month, or $3000 USD, in order to qualify for that type of mortgage. That is a very high salary locally, and, furthermore, many buyers looking to enter the real estate market in Colombia may be searching for properties valued above COP 300,000,000.
The process does get a little easier if one is married to a Colombian, however. In fact, during my interview with the asesor at Bancolombia, she mentioned three different times that the easiest way for me to qualify for a mortgage would be to marry a Colombian. While obviously this is not an option for many people, maybe it is just the extra push you need to settle down with that lovely Paisa significant other you have.
Do you have a story about using a Bancolombia mortgage to fund a real estate purchase? Write about it in the comments.
In addition to the restrictions arising from Bancolombia’s approval policies, another reason that a local mortgage with Bancolombia isn’t a great option is the interest rates. Currently at 9.8%, the cost of borrowing from Bancolombia tends to be significantly higher than in many parts of North America or Europe. Investors are likely to find much more attractive borrowing rates with their banks back home.
Bancolombia will facilitate wire transfers from abroad, although we talked to a customer who opened an account and was not able to receive a wire transfer for the first six months after opening it. I’ve wired small amounts with the bank before and the rates were terrible. However, on amounts larger than $7,000 USD, customers have the opportunity to call and negotiate the rate. So Bancolombia is a better solution for bringing over money you already have access to, and likely less optimal for acquiring new funds.
Because this is complicated stuff, you might want an English speaking agent even if you’ve got Spanish to be proud of. It’s hit or miss whether you’ll find one at the branch level – but these companies have English speaking phone lines that can always be consulted with further questions.
Have you purchased real estate in Colombia? How did you fund it? Other readers may benefit greatly from your story. Tell us about it in the comments below. And Contact us with any other questions you might have.