Visas and Residency in Colombia
Colombia’s expats come from all over the world but they all have one thing in common—a Colombian visa, along with stories about their experiences applying for those visas. Applying for a visa takes time and effort, and has a way of fraying nerves. But the visa process will become a lot easier if you do your homework before making an application.
Travelers who hold a U.S., Canadian, or European Union passport do not need a visa to enter Colombia as a tourist. Upon arrival, an immigration official will stamp your passport and typically grant you a 90-day stay. It’s important to note the expiration date on the stamp. Overstaying your tourist stamp is not a good idea. The immigration office will make you pay a fine at the airport during your departure that can range from $115 to $1,500, depending on the length of time you overstayed and the mood of the immigration officer.
At the end of the 90 days, you can usually obtain an extension for another 90 days. However, you can only stay in Colombia as a tourist for 180 days in a 365-day period. To apply for an extension, you must go to an office of Immigration Affairs. There are offices located in cities throughout the country. A list of locations and hours of operation can be found on Migración Colombia’s website: www.migracioncolombia.gov.co.
You can enter Colombia through international airports in Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, Armenia, Barranquilla, and Cali, as well as land borders and ports along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. If you stay in Colombia for more than 60 days, or are a resident, you must pay an exit tax of COP $80,000 ($26) when you leave. Officials only apply this tax at international airports and cruise terminals, so if you leave Colombia at a land border, you won’t have to pay.
If you stay in Colombia for less than 60 days, and leave by air, you can apply for an exit tax exemption at the Aerocivil desk at any international airport. Most major airlines include the exit tax in the ticket price. In such cases, you cannot apply for an exit tax exemption with Aerocivil, but might be able to get a refund from the airline.
If you want to stay in Colombia more than 180 days in a 365-day period, you need to get a visa. The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores—also referred to as the Cancillería—in Bogotá issues all visas. However, you can apply for a visa online or at any Colombian consulate in your home country. The process can take several days when applying online or through a Colombian consulate in your home country, because consulates send all visa applications to the Cancillería for approval.
Visas range in price from $50 to $500, depending on which one you choose. Additionally, all visas require you to pay a $52 application fee. If you apply online, you can pay using a MasterCard, Visa, Cirrus, or a Plus card.
Standard documents needed for all visa applications
All visas require you to submit the following documents with your application package:
- Completed visa application form (note that there are no health-related questions on the application form for any of the visas, nor will you have to undergo a criminal background check)
- Photocopy of the personal data page of your passport (your passport must have at least six months before it expires and at least two empty pages in the visa section to affix the visa stamp)
- Photocopy of the page that contains the stamp from your most recent entry into Colombia
- Two 3×4 cm passport photos
- Power of attorney document (only if an attorney or visa facilitator submits your application on your behalf)
- Additional supporting documents (varies depending on the type of visa you wish to obtain)
Migrant (M type) Visas
Type M—Migrant visa has several subcategories, four of which apply to the majority of expats: pensionado, rentista, business owner, and real estate owner. All of these visas are issued for three years. After maintaining any of these visas for five uninterrupted years, you are eligible to apply for a resident visa. You are not allowed to work for a Colombian company in Colombia with a Migrant visa.
The pensionado category applies to those who receive Social Security benefits. If you receive at least $828 per month in benefits, you can apply for this type of visa. You must provide official proof of your Social Security income. The U.S. Embassy will assist you by issuing a document stating the amount of benefit that you receive.
The rentista category applies to those who are not yet old enough to receive Social Security benefits, but do receive either a private pension or 401K distribution of at least $2,760 per month. You will need to provide apostilled documentation that supports your income to include with your application.
The business owner category is for those who are an owner or co-owner of a Colombian company. To qualify for this visa, you must register a capital investment in the name of the company of at least $27,604. You are required to have a personal interview with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that a Colombian accountant verifies the business’ income. These stricter regulations were put into place because, in the past, visa applicants opened a business for the purpose of obtaining a visa, but never actually conducted any business.
The real estate owner category applies to people who purchase real estate in their own name for at least $96,614.
Resident (R type) Visa
This is the route many expats take if they want to make a stronger commitment to living in Colombia from the get-go. A capital investment of at least $179,425 in either the purchase of property or creation of a Colombian company is all you need to qualify. The resident visa has no expiration date, but you must go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs every five years to obtain a new stamp in your passport. With a resident visa you may work for a Colombian company, and have all the rights of a Colombian national, except for the right to vote in the Presidential election. That requires citizenship. Maintaining your resident visa is quite simple, just visit Colombia for at least one day every two years.
Visas for your Dependents
Your dependents, which could include a spouse, minor children, someone who is economically dependent on you, or your partner, do not need to apply for a visa, too. You can add them to your visa as beneficiaries. Colombia legalized same-sex marriage in 2016, so gay spouses are covered as beneficiaries.
Apostilles and Certificates of Authentication
Supporting public documents issued outside of Colombia will require an apostille or Certificate of Authentication. Public documents would include everything from birth certificates to marriage licenses, college diplomas to technical licenses, Social Security documents to death certificates.
Apostilles and Certificates of Authentication do not automatically come with public documents. And you have to obtain them in the country in which the documents were issued.
Obtaining your Cédula
Once you receive your migrant or resident visa, you must register with the Foreign Registry of Migración Colombia and apply for a Colombian identification card, called a cédula. If you received your visa from a consular office, you must register within 15 days of arriving in Colombia. If you obtained your visa from the Cancillería, you must register within 15 days of the issue date. If you fail to register during the allotted time, you will have to pay a fine.
The cédula process is straightforward and simple. In fact, you can apply for a cédula at any of 27 regional offices, located in Leticia, Bogotá, Ibagué, Tunja, Neiva, Medellín, Quibdó, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Montería, Santa Marta, Sincelejo, Pereira, Manizales, Armenia, Riohacha, Valledupar, Maicao, Pasto, Cali, Popayán, Cúcuta, Bucaramanga, Villavicencio, Arauca, Yopal, and San Andrés.
Step 1—Get a laboratory test to determine your blood type
This is only necessary the first time you apply for a cédula, and you do not need a physician´s order for this. Just walk into any clinic or free-standing lab and tell them you want your blood type tested for your cédula. You will pay cash of about $15,000 pesos ($5) and walk out with the results in your hand. If you previously had a Colombian cédula there is no need for a blood test as they already have your blood type from your previous cédula. Some expats report you now don’t need a blood test if you know your blood type. But be aware, you need to be absolutely sure about your blood type, as if you are unconscious, they use your blood type on your cédula for any medical care.
Step 2—Complete the application online
Migración Colombia has an online application for a cédula that is available in English or Spanish. In the past, Migración Colombia used paper applications that were available in their offices. This online application asks some basic information including some personal information, emergency contact information, and foreigner registration information.
Step 3—Schedule an appointment at one of the Migración Colombia offices
Before going to Migración, you should make an appointment through their online portal. Some expats report that they have just walked into the office without an appointment and received service. You can also call to schedule an appointment on the 24-hour toll-free line (within Colombia), tel. 01-800-051-0454.
Step 4 – Go to the office with your original documents
You will need:
- Your original passport with the original visa attached
- A photocopy of your passport information page
- A photocopy of the most recent entry stamp in your passport
Cédulas for foreigners cost COP $190,000 ($63). You can pay this fee in the office with a credit or debit card.
At the immigration office, you will hand the required documents and your passport to an immigration agent. The agent will fingerprint you and take a photo of you, which will accompany your file in the immigration system. In many immigration offices, you can receive your cédula the same day. However, some offices in the smaller cities and towns don’t yet have the equipment to make cédulas. If that’s the case at your regional immigration office, you might have to wait a week or two to receive your ID card and will have to return to the immigration office to pick it up. You can check the status of your cédula online through the Migración website to see if it is ready to be picked up.
You will use your cédula number for almost everything you do in Colombia. Even bus companies ask for your cédula number when buying a bus ticket. With a cédula, you can open a bank account, enter into contracts, and apply for health insurance. All types of businesses have access to the immigration database. So, when you visit the doctor or make a deposit at the bank, the staff can access your information and verify your identity. The system works smoothly, eliminating the need to carry a wallet full of identification cards. You can also travel within Colombia with just your cédula and leave your passport at home (although carrying a copy of your passport is a good idea.)