Tips for Colombian visa applications

by Alex on May.26, 2010, under Blog

So you’ve decided that Colombia is such a great place that the six months that your tourist visa gives you is not enough (click here for info on how to extend your tourist visa). You now want to set up a business, work for a Colombian company, become an ‘entrepreneur’, invest (at least USD 100,000) or study here – great decision…

Details of the myriad visa options are available here

Below are my top tips for the process of applying for a Colombian visa:

  • Do not pay for anyone to ‘help’ you with your visa application, this is a waste of your money, the process is not difficult
  • Some visas require that a public accountant provide you with a certificate of funds or monies invested in Colombia (along with a notarised copy of his or her licence). To acquire a certificate does not necessarily mean that you have to have these funds in Colombia, or indeed have said funds… In Bogotá, there are a plethora of accountants with very very small offices in a mall on the corner of Carrera 8 with Calle 16, diagonally opposite the Cámera de Comercio. There you may find that a foreign bank statement showing that you have access to funds will suffice for the acquiring of your certificate
  • To apply for many types of visas you have to do so from a Colombian embassy or consulate outside of Colombia. Before leaving Colombia, take everything you need for your application (detailed per visa via the link above) to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (MRE) where they will verify that everything is in order, or advise you of any changes you need to make. MRE in Bogotá is on Carerra 13 between Calles 93 and 93a, about half a block south of Parque 93. Go early in the day, it closes at 13:00
  • If your visa application requires that you leave Colombia it will cost you much less in Venezuela than in other countries. My visa had a published cost of USD 175. In for example Ecuador or Panamá I would have had to pay, obviously, USD 175. In Venezuela the official exchange rate at the time was 2.6 Bolívares Fuertes (2,600 Bolívares) to the dollar and thus the cost in Bolivares was 455 Bolívares Furetes (455,000 Bolívares). The exchange rate that you get when buying Bolívares in the casas de cambio or in the street either side of the border is much much better than the official exchange rate, the 455 Bolívares Fuertes cost me about 120,000 pesos which is about USD 60
  • To get your visa in Venezuela fly to Cúcuta (Colombia). It may be safer to book a one-way ticket as you don’t know how long it the process will take, if you’re insistent about booking your return then allow 3 days to be in the safe side. Aires do one way flights for about COP 90,000 it is no cheaper pro rata to buy a return. From Cúcuta you cross the border to San Antonio (full name San Antonio del Táchira)
  • If you are trying to save your pennies do not get a taxi from Cúcuta airport, you will likely be over-charged. Walk to the main road outside of the airport where you can get a bus to the terminal for COP 1,300 (and from there a bus to the border for a further 1,300) or negotiate the taxi fair to the border – 12,000 COP is a fair price to pay
  • Cross the border early, visa applications are accepted between 07:00 and 12:00
  • Once across the border, although it’s not far to the Colombian consulate, a motorbike taxi will cost you about COP 2,000. The address of the consulate, according to a website I’ve just found, is Calle 5 No. 12 – 39
  • You need a photocopy of your passport page(s) that show your exit stamp from Colombia and entry stamp to Venezuela, there is a place opposite the consulate that will do copies (at an inflated price)
  • If you are lucky the ‘nice lady’ in the consulate might process your visa on the day you arrive, or she might not… If you need to come back the next day then consider travelling the hour or so by bus to San Cristóbal (Venezuela) – a chance to see a bit of a different country and a for a great night out head to Barrio Obrero
  • It costs to leave Venezuela, at the time I went 65 Bolívares Furetes
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DAS – tourist visa extensions

by Alex on Apr.26, 2010, under What to do in Bogotá

Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad
Edificio Platino
Calle 100 No. 11B-27
(1) 601 7200 (landline)

Opening times:
Monday to Thursday 07:30 to 16:00
Friday 07:30 to 15:00

To call a landline from a mobile/cell in Colombia prefix the landline number with 03 followed by the region code. For Bogotá prefix with 031

Click here for instructions as to how to extend your tourist visa

Find DAS on the map here

Please leave feedback in the comments section below

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Extending tourist visas in Colombia

by Alex on Apr.26, 2010, under Blog

Extension of tourist visas is administered by the DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad). My understanding is that one is entitled to stay in Colombia as a tourist for six months per calendar year but from experience DAS will only grant up to six consecutive months.

Each time your extend your tourist visa you need to pay COP 72,800 (you do this at a bank, details below), whether you are granted a 30, 60 or 90 day extension is up to the discretion (or lack thereof) of the official that you deal with. DAS in Bogotá have recently been issuing 60 day extensions without question.

The first time you apply for an extension you need to present the following at a DAS office:

  • Completed tourist visa extension form (download here)
  • Photocopy of the photo page of your passport
  • Photocopy of your entry stamp into Colombia
  • A 3 x 4 cm photo with a white background
  • Receipt of payment of visa extension fee
  • Your passport
  • You will need to include on the form the name and address of a Colombian who can act as a reference. After submitting the above you’ll have your fingerprints taken. For all subsequent extensions you only need to provide receipt of payment, as well as your passport of course.

    You can make your payment at any branch of Davivienda or Bancafe (banks).

    Below is an example of how to fill in the pay-in slip, note the price has increased (click to enlarge):


    For tourist visa extensions in Bogotá you need to go to the DAS office in Edificio Platino at Calle 100 number 11B-27 (Tel: 601-7200), it’s open Monday to Thursday from 07:30 to 16:00 and Friday from 07:30 to 15:00.

    From the centre, a cab will cost less than COP 10,000. You can also take the transmilenio (big red bendy bus system with dedicated carriageways) from Museo del Oro to Calle 100 for COP 1,600. The quickest transmilenio bus to get is the B74, other B busses will get you to calle 100 but will make more stops. From the calle 100 stop you can either walk, take a local bus or a cab for the 10 or so blocks east (towards the mountains) to the DAS office.

    Take a book, sometimes it can take 7 minutes, other times 3 hours…

    Cheers, Alex

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    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.

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