Getting a bank account in Colombia without a cédula

by Alex on Mar.07, 2010, under Blog

Go to the bottom of the page for the factual information to which the title of this post alludes.

A cédula (de identidad) is the ID document issued in many Latin American countries, including Colombia. It’s said that you need one to open a bank account here and in Colombia you cannot get a cédula with a tourist visa, which I have.

I reasoned that having an HSBC account in the UK, opening one here should be no issue. I can prove who I am with my passport and HSBC UK have access to pretty much all my banking history having opened an account with Midland Bank probably 25 years ago on the strength of getting a free sports bag – far more valuable in the ‘do I or do I not give this guy a bank account’ decision that the fact that I have an official ID card. I’ve heard such nonsense as money laundering mentioned as some kind of shit pseudo-explanation for this rule. Why might I be able to launder money now and suddenly find the need to stop once I have an ID card and Pablo Escobar most probably had a cédula are two ripostes that took me approximately 0.25 of a second to come up with.

Obviously the automaton with whom I spoke upon calling HSBC UK was no help, not that I expected anything but ‘rules’ being quoted at me – flawless logic meaning nothing in the face of rules. The frustrating irony for me is that there are not many who have not experience ‘rules’ being bent or even simply ignored.

Salvation though seemed to be at hand. A friend put me on to HSBC Premier and after a brief phone call we’d arranged a meeting to open a bank account. And get this: the guy was going to come to my apartment for the meeting. I was amazed to the extent of almost falling over – in a country where the buck rarely stops and where you can get inconsistent and often conflicting information from government officials working in the same position in the same office and queues at banks can go round the block with people selling umbrellas to those queueing on sunny days and it’s generally a pain in the ass to get anything done, someone was going to come to my house to open a bank account for me – bonus!

The guy turned up at 08:15, a quarter of an hour late yet about fifteen minutes early on Colombian time. Five minutes later his mate arrived. It is funny how things work here and funny can be replaced by many a word – so often so hard to get things done and then two guys come to your house to open a bank account for you. Once reassured of our business plans and that we intended to get business owners visas as quickly as humanly and legally possible, (and therefore be entitled to cédulas) opening a bank account without a cédula was not an issue. Many many forms were presented to us and brilliantly the guy completed them for us, just like in the olden days back home. I put my fingerprint on, without exaggeration, at least 10 documents – makes far more sense than a signature alone, being impossible to fake, probably. After two hours we’d finished the process and they’d contact us soon with an update. They’d need to contact HSBC UK to confirm banky stuff with them and they’d let us know.

That was about 3 weeks ago. I’ve not been proactively contacted by them and upon enquiring as to the state of the application am told that they are awaiting information from the UK. I wonder just how many calls per day they are making to the UK, chasing my info. My guess would be roughly zero.

Facts of the matter:

  • If you want to set up a bank account in Colombia and do not have a cédula, contact HSBC Premier
  • I imagine that you’d need an HSBC account in another country for them to help
  • To qualify for an HSBC premier account you need to actually/pretend that you will maintain a balance of 50,000 USD in that account – worth bearing in mind for the meeting
  • Update, 21st March:

    It’s now probably about 5 weeks since the great show that was two guys coming to the apartment to sort out the bank accounts. This is after many many phone calls and a chance bumping into of one of them. Sadly this, in my experience, is standard fayre in Latin America and anyone with ‘western’ standards that wants to do business here wants to bear that in mind. Allow long time frames and I suggest paying a lot of attention to the critical path of your business plans – you will be let down, a lot, it’s just part of life here…

    We had a very productive meeting with Bancolombia last week. If you are in a position where you need a bank account and do not have a cédula, and you have convincing business plans then get in touch and I’ll hook you up with our contact.


    5 Comments for this entry

    • Martina Moda

      Yeah doing anything in Colombia is unnecessarily difficult. When you have been there long enough, you just learn to accept things the way they are.

      I would probably complain if things changed now…

    • Jeff Perren

      Do you know the most cost-effective way to move funds from a Colombia bank account to the U.S.?

      My fiancee has just received her K-1 visa and we would like to move her considerable savings to the U.S. This can be done in stages, but she is leaving the country in mid-Jan so we’d like to have a method in place that does not require her physical presence here.

      Also, of course, we would like to avoid high fees or the security risk of carrying large amounts of physical cash.

      Thanks for any advice you might have based on real experience.


      • Alex

        Hi Jeff.

        Sorry for not replying in time, it was after January that I saw your comment – they don’t always get e-mailed to me for approval!

        As well as the security risk, any amount over $10,000 US found on your person when leaving the country is confiscated! I hope you managed to work it out.


    • Bil

      So how does the story end….did HSBC ever give you the account? I ask because my company just moved me to Bogota on a work visa, and on arrival I learned that due to a new anti-tramites policy, the time to obtain a cedula has gone from 8 days after registering with DAS to 3 months.

      I wish I head read this blog earlier. What you describe with HSBC Premier is exactly what happened with me, but in my case the Premier representative came to my office and was accompanied by my HR manager. I filled out a bunch of paperwork, I was fingerprinted a half dozen times, HR gave HSBC a document declaring my position and salary, and I was told that I would have an account in 5 days. Yet, despite the fact that I have had HSBC accounts in two countries for many years, a Premier account for one year, and that the multinational I work for has a corporate partnership with HSBC, HSBC has determined that I am a greater risk then Pablo Escober and they will not give me an account.

      • Alex

        I never heard from HSBC again…

        I ended up getting an account with Bancolombia through a friend of mine who banked with them. It does seem that personal introductions here can circumvent a lot of messing about…

        I’d not heard about the cédula thing, that is a long long time to wait, it used to be pretty efficient, by Colombian standards.

        What you might do is speak to any Colombian contacts you have a good relationship with their bank manager. My experience was that it was more important that the bank manager understand why you want an account and is convinced as to the ‘safety’ of the origin of any funds you might transfer into the account. I all seems ridiculous to me, I cannot understand the risk to the bank – they pay no interest, will not give you an overdraft and charge the account holder a monthly fee for being so kind as to make a profit from your deposited funds. Also, you must demonstrate the origin of any funds transfered into Colombia before they are released…

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