Moving to Colombia
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A comprehensive guide to moving to Colombia
The idea of moving to Colombia has become increasingly popular in recent times, and for good reason! This article provides information on the most popular destinations for expats interested in relocating to Colombia, and gives an overview of the administrative side of things.
Relocating to Colombia
- Bogotá, Cali and Medellín have all seen a significant rise in the number of expats relocating to these main cities. Many expats are lured by the vibrant culture and increasingly international communities.
- Bogotá is Colombia’s largest city and is home to many multinational companies and banks.
- Colombia has 21 types of visas, but fortunately only a few categories apply to expatriates. Most expats will need the temporary work visa (TP-4).
- Expats can usually apply for a resident visa after living in Colombia for five years, if not before.
Desirable Destinations for Expats in Colombia
The majority of expats in Colombia move to one of the three economic and cultural hubs of the country: Bogotá, Medellin, or Cali. This is not to say that there aren’t a number of other beautiful and economically flourishing cities, such as Barranquilla, which are also of national importance and well worth discovering, however the hot coastal climates are often off-putting for expats. The main three metropolitan destinations for expats are explored below, giving you a glimpse of what awaits you in Colombia.
Colombia’s capital is by far the nation’s largest city. At the time of the latest census in 2014, some 8 million people called the city home, as well as roughly 11 million residents in the surrounding metropolitan area. Once infamous for its high murder rate, Bogotá is now not only the political, cultural, and economic heart of the nation — earning it an Alpha- world city ranking — it’s the biggest expat magnet. The large number of multinational corporations and banks with established subsidiaries in the city is one of the major reasons for Bogotá’s popularity with the international community.
Expats interested in relocating to Bogotá should keep a number of factors in mind: the city’s location in the Andean highlands has led to its motto “2600 meters closer to the stars”. While it’s a romantic sentiment, this change in air pressure as well as high levels of air pollution might make for a tough first few weeks for those who suffer with asthma or other breathing problems. Additionally, as with many South American cities, traffic in Bogotá is a problem, and congestion levels have doubled over the past decade. When choosing an apartment, try to minimize your commute and find somewhere as near as possible to your workplace. On the upside, the city has one of the most extensive bike lane networks in the world, so sporty expats have a viable alternative to public transportation and driving.
Nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” for its constant warm climate, Medellín has followed Bogotá in improving its safety, moving from being one of the most dangerous cities in the world in the 1980s to one of the safest big cities in Latin America today. Medellín is a hub of urban culture and public art, making it an exciting and dynamic place for both travelers and expats. Colombia’s “second city” might be dwarfed by Bogotá in terms of size, but it can certainly hold its own in terms of contribution to the GDP, advances in education and infrastructure (it’s home to the country’s only metro system), and attractiveness as a business hub.
Medellín is South America’s top textile manufacturer and one of the most lauded fashion hotspots on the continent, hosting Latin America´s biggest fashion show every year. Other successful industries include steel, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and refined oil, although this has taken a hit with the recent global slump in oil prices. In recent times, tourism has become an increasingly important sector for Medellín, thanks to its famous flower festival and spectacular Christmas lights display, known as El Alumbrado.
Safety in Medellín has vastly improved over the past few decades, but remains a cause for concern in many neighborhoods, particularly on the outskirts of the city. Particularly dangerous areas are Comuna 13 and around Parque de las Luces and Parque San Antonio. It is important to make informed decisions on where to move in Medellín, as districts do vary greatly.
Medellín is not at high risk of earthquakes, however, they do sometimes occur. In September 2016, the Medellín area was struck by a 5.9-magnitude earthquake, as well as a 6.2-magnitude earthquake the previous year.
Santiago de Cali, most commonly referred to by its short name Cali, is the third largest city in the country, and the most important city in western Colombia. Internationally, Cali is known as one of the oldest settlements in South America and as the country’s sporting hub with two football stadiums and an arena, which is mostly used for basketball. While Cali is best known for its industrial and agricultural output, it has also established itself as one of the main trade centers of Colombia. Although it might not be as attractive to expats as Bogotá and Medellín, there may well be employment opportunities for internationals to be found here. However, the city has a questionable safety record. Whilst this has now fortunately declined, homicides in 2010 peaked at 80 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, largely due to an ongoing “mafia war” in the city between drug-trafficking “neo-parliamentary” groups.
Visas & Permits
No matter how often you may have dealt with relocation paperwork, it bears repeating in every Relocation Guide: getting the correct visas and permits is both important and complicated. This is also true when planning to move to Colombia. The latest modification to Colombian immigration law which came into force in 2015 did little to make it easier for expats-to-be to comprehend the endless permit and visa types. There are 21 different types of visa in Colombia, so if you are planning on moving to the country permanently it may be worth hiring an attorney.
For short stays of up to 90 days, there are a wide variety of Entry and Stay Permits (PIP) available to citizens of countries on the visa waiver list. They are stamped into the passport at the port of entry. It is possible to extend the duration of your stay by a maximum of another 90 days with a temporary stay permit (PTP), giving you the option of staying in Colombia for up to 180 days per calendar year. Please note that none of these permits allow you to take up paid employment. You may, however, use the time for a fact-finding trip or business meetings. If you happen to enter the country via Venezuela or Ecuador, make sure to have your passport stamped by immigration authorities, otherwise you may face a fine upon departure.
Different Visa Types of Colombia
Colombia has many types of visas, however if you are a national of a country which is not eligible for a waiver, or planning on working and living in Colombia for more than three to six months, only a few visa categories apply. Brief overviews of them can be found below, and for more in-depth information on all available visas, please refer to the website of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
There are three general visa types under Colombian immigration law, each with their own subcategories: business visas, temporary visas, and resident visas.
Business Visas (NE)
This category generally applies to representatives or senior managers of foreign companies, who either have an interest in establishing or strengthening their business ties with Colombia and local businesses or with established offices or subsidiaries in Colombia. The NE visa is split into four subcategories and allows multiple entries over a certain period of time. It’s worth doing your research here as they are all quite different, both in how long the visa is valid for (ranging from 180 days to five years) and in how long each entry is allowed to last (spanning 180 days to four years). Expats who come to Colombia on this visa category are not allowed to take up remunerated employment.
Temporary Visas (TP)
This is the category most expats will want to look into when planning their move. There are 16 subcategories for all circumstances — however, chances are the temporary work visa (TP-4) is the one you are looking for.
The TP-4 visa is granted to foreigners with either an employment contract with a Colombian company, or who provide services to individuals or corporations in Colombia. It is valid for the duration of the employment contract up to a maximum of three years, after which it can be extended. It is worth noting that some professions and trades are regulated (e.g. medicine, engineering, biology, law, and more); you will be able to receive your TP-4 visa, but will have to get in touch with the corresponding regulatory body before taking up work. For a list of documents to hand in with your visa application, please see this overview provided by the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The TP-4 can be extended to include your spouse and children as well, and they will be issued a beneficiary visa. However, the beneficiary visa does not allow your spouse to take up any kind of paid employment.
Any type of temporary visa can be cancelled if you spend more than 180 days in a given calendar year outside of Colombia.
Resident Visas (RE)
If you have held one of seven applicable temporary visa types (including the TP-4) for five or more years, you can apply for a resident visa. If you held a T-10 spouse visa, then you only have to have the visa for three years before being able to apply for a resident visa. The main benefits of this visa category are its duration (up to five years) and the chance to take up any kind of employment. Resident visas must be renewed every five years.
How to Apply for Your Visa
Applying for your visa can be daunting, but there’s a lot of information out there to help you. Although the conditions for each visa vary, you can safely assume that you’ll at least need scans of both the main page of your passport and of the passport page with the latest entry stamp for Colombia. You will also need to pay a nonrefundable application fee and, once your visa is approved, a second payment is due for it to be issued. Check the requirements for your specific type of visa for more details — you’re unlikely to have an interview. It is possible to apply for a visa online, but you will have to visit one of the Colombian consulates or embassies to get the visa stamped on your passport if your application is successful.
Don’t Forget to Register
If your visa is valid for more than three months, you have to register with the Special Administrative Unit Migration Colombia (Migración Colombia for short) within 15 days of entry. You will then be issued a foreign identification card (cédula). You will need to inform them if you change employer or address.