How To Immigrate to Columbia
The Republic of Colombia is a South American country neighbored by Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. A country of more than 5 million people is extremely diversified in terms of geography, culture, history, and wildlife habitats. Historically, Colombia has witnessed the indigenous era, the Spanish occupation, and several independence and rebel movements. The Spanish colonization brought the Spanish language to this region among many other things, till date, Spanish is the official language of Colombia.
For years Colombia has been the hotspot for international drug trafficking; hosting some of the world’s most notorious cartels and individuals. The country’s climate is considered ideal for producing toxic herbs and plants, while the corrupted bureaucratic system is prone to providing cover for such activities.
In recent years, however, Colombia has made significant strides towards bettering the situation and making actual progress rather than making cosmetic changes. To break the monotony of drug-related businesses, small and medium investors are encouraged to adopt diversified fields such as agriproducts, technology, petrochemical, construction, etc., to name a few.
The effects of these bold measures, taken by the Colombian government, the country is emerging as a potential hub for manufacturing, services, and an attractive tourist destination.
Types of immigration options for US Citizens
To start with, people holding a US passport do not require a visa to enter and stay in Colombia for up to 3 months. The applicants have to fill out the Check-Mig form and get the necessary vaccinations administered. Similarly, registration through the Check-Mig is compulsory while returning to the US. The registration process is very simple and can be completed within a few minutes via the official Colombia Immigration Website.
A few other basic requirements for entering Colombia for a US citizen are:
- Possess a round-trip ticket
- Have a vaccination certificate not older than 14 days from arrival
- Proof of accommodation in Colombia
Note that a US citizen can engage in gainful enterprise during his/her travel to Colombia, however, each stay cannot exceed 180 days (either at one stretch or in parts) during a calendar year.
In order to stay for longer periods of time in the country a US citizen has multiple options. Depending on their needs and purpose, the most appropriate option may be opted.
Visa for Retirees (Visa de Pensionado)
Technically called the TP-7 visa is targeted at US retirees and pensioners. The applicant of TP-7 must either obtain a stable pension or has retirement funds to support their stay in Colombia. Generally, the pension must at least be three times the minimum monthly wage in Colombia, prevalent at the time of application.
A person can stay in Colombia as long as desired on a TP-7 visa provided he/she continues to fulfill the financial and other obligations. A TP-7 visa holder enjoys more or less the same benefits as a Colombian citizen such as retiree discounts, health benefits, transportation discounts, etc.
Though the requirements for obtaining the TP-7 are subject to change at any time prior notice, there are a few requirements that must be met to qualify.
- Stable income: the applicant shall prove that he/she receives a stable pension or have sufficient retirement funds to support a decent subsistence during the stay in the country.
- Valid passport: A valid passport is constituted when it has at least 6 months expiry remaining from the time of application.
- Visa application: filling out and submit the prescribed TP-7 visa application form online or in person at the closest Colombian embassy or diplomatic mission.
- Background check: Background checks such as criminal record, social character, etc., may be checked. A certificate from the local law enforcing authorities establishing a good moral and social character may also be demanded.
- Insurance: While not mandatory but highly recommended that the applicant must have health insurance coverage in Colombia
- Fee: Paying the advised fee (variable) and attaching the receipt with the application is mandatory.
Colombia offers business visas to US citizens that are categorized on the level of investment. A business owner visa or M6 is for low-level investors while a business investment visa is for higher-level investors. The M6 visa is valid for 3 years. A business investment visa entitles the holder to a permanent residence visa. Usually, an investment of US$ 25,000 to $30,000 constructs the eligibility or M6 visa. Whereas an investment of US$ 150,000 or more is required to obtain the business investor visa.
An M6 business owner visa allows multiple entries; however, it may become invalid if the holder stays outside Colombia for more than 6 months at a stretch. Approximate state fees for M6 and business investors visa is $300 and $500 respectively.
The requirements for M6 and business investors visa are similar, and listed below:
- Application: Prescribed visa application form duly filled to be submitted along with other documents and state fee receipts. The form can be downloaded from the Colombian Immigration website or collected from the nearest embassy.
- Business documentation: This includes a detailed business plan clearly defining the level of investment, the category and industry of interest, financial requirements, manpower required, materials required and sources, service/goods delivery methodology, etc.
- Background check: A thorough background check may be conducted to ensure that the applicant is morally, ethically, and socially fit to conduct business in Colombia.
- Finances: the applicant must prove the financial resources to qualify for M6 or the business owner visa. This usually includes bank statements, returns from investment in the home country, real estate deeds, etc.
A marriage or partnership visa is granted to candidates who have a Colombian spouse or cohabitation arrangements with a Colombian national. A person can live and work in Colombia on a marriage visa indefinitely. The applicant must establish the relationship through proper documentation and evidence.
There are no special requirements for US citizens to obtain a marriage visa other than the ones described in para above or the usual requirements such as a valid passport, photographs, and a background check.
Things to consider while relocating to Colombia
Among the few top-of-the-list items to consider during the relocation process is choosing a place for accommodation. Unlike regular travelers who stay in a hotel or Airbnb, staying long-term in a hotel can be costly and inefficient. Therefore, renting an apartment or even leasing one is a far better option.
Real Estate in Colombia
The chart below exhibits a few localities that are suitable for US citizens along with the rental and ownership prices.
|Estimates based on ONE BEDROOM apartment|
|S#||City||Key neighborhoods||Rental||Ownership Price||Remarks|
|1.||Bogota||La Candelaria, Chapinero, Usaquen, Zona Rosa, Rosales, El Chico, Santa Barbara||$400 – $1,200||$40k – $150k||A modern city with a cosmopolitan lifestyle.|
|2.||Medellin||El Poblado, Laureles-Estadio, Envigado, Belen, El Centro, Sabaneta, Itagui||$300 – $800||$50k – $170k||Known as the “City of Eternal Springs”. Popular destination for expats due to modern infrastructure and pleasant climate.|
|3.||Cartagena||Ciudad Amurallada, Bocagrande, Getsemani, Manga, El Cabrero, Castillogrande||$600 – $1,200||$60k – $190k||Situated on the Caribbean coast; has a relaxed lifestyle. Hosts breathtaking beaches and lots of business opportunities.|
|4.||Cali||Granada, San Antonio, El Penon, Ciudad Jardin, Santa Teresita, Versalles||$400 – $700||$50k – $130k||A charming historic city with many relics from various eras. Less costly than Bogota or Medellin.|
|5.||Santa Marta||El Rodadero, Centro Historico, Bello Horizonte, Taganga, Pozos Colorados||$350 – $800||$50k – $120k||Close to the famous and amazing Tayrona National Park. Natural beauty is scattered all over the region in shape of beaches, wildlife habitats, and scenic views.|
Places to avoid in Colombia
There is no country on the planet that can claim 100% security and safety for its citizens. The degree and level of insecurity may vary, however. Colombia, with its tragic history drenched in drug trafficking and cartel wars, is naturally exposed to street crimes, violent gang war incidents, thefts, robberies, etc. However, these incidents are restricted to some specific locations, and generally, Colombia is a safe country to live in. It is suggested that the areas highlighted below be avoided.
- Border regions: Border areas shared with Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador are mostly high-crime areas due to smuggling activities. Often the incidents are violent and involve shootouts.
- Remote areas: Suburban and rural areas are mostly safe locations for gangs and drug traffickers. It is best that suburban and rural areas be avoided.
- Crime-prone areas: Many areas in Bogota or Medellin offer extravagant nightlife. Tourists coming here for pleasure activities often carry reasonable cash and other valuable items. Being mugged at a bus station in the wee hours on a weekend is a usual occurrence, but these incidents hardly ever get violent if not resisted.
- Gang-infested areas: Similarly, there are a few areas that are inhabited by gang members and are sort of no-go areas for the general public. It is prudent to find out about such areas through a local realtor before renting or buying accommodation.
Knowing the culture of Colombia
Most of the South American countries, especially the ones that have been under Spanish rule, share a similar culture. Colombia’s culture is a unique blend of several eras influenced by the indigenous folk, European and African settlement, and the modern wave of expatriates.
Some social virtues that stand out are listed below:
- Family bonding and communal living are common in Colombia. Extended family members are referred to as cousins or kin. In times of hardship and happiness, the entire family gets together to console or feast, as the occasion demands.
- Colombians love to celebrate and hold festivals. There is a festival for every major religious or social occasion. The Carnaval de Barranquilla is the 2nd largest festival in the world and is attended by millions each year and is held on the 21st of February each year to welcome the spring season. The festival goes on for days before and after this date and is marked with vibrant colors, dancing, singing, and many other festivities.
- Food is another common love of Colombians. From the world’s best coffee to dishes like empanadas, sancocho, and bandeja paisa, the food is enough to mesmerize and indulge.
- Football is the most popular game in Colombia. Many national footballers have a cult following in Colombia. It is advised that the US citizens aspiring to enjoy the vibrant Colombian culture should know a thing or two about football before moving in.
- The famous Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez hails from Colombia; a fact very few people know. Colombia has produced several intellectuals and artists over the years. There are numerous world-class museums and art galleries in Colombia that are of interest to tourists and locals alike.
Education System in Colombia
The education system of Colombia is overseen by the Ministry of Education and is divided into usual levels of learning.
- Primary education
- Secondary education
- Vocational education
- Higher education
- Degree and doctoral programs
The preschool level of education starts at the age of 3 and continues till age 5 or in some cases 6. This level of education is not mandatory; however, the state emphasizes that a similar education be provided at home by parents. The syllabus at this level focuses to develop cognitive abilities such as color differentiation, numeric, phonetics, etc.
Primary education in Colombia is initiated at the age of 6 or 7. Every child in Colombia, whether a citizen or resident, is obligated to receive primary education. Several public schools and private facilities provide quality education to children enrolled in the primary schools. The focus at this level is shifted to foundational subjects including social studies, civics, mathematics, physics, etc. A child is expected to complete his/her primary education by the age of 11 or 12.
Secondary education in Colombia is further split into two cycles. Basic Secondary which covers grades 6 to 9 is the first cycle, while middle secondary covers grades 10 and 11 is the second cycle. During the second cycle, the scope of learning is broadened to include arts, literature, languages, history, cultures, religion, etc.
Vocational education to prepare the youth for the industry is imparted parallel to conventional education. Vocational education may be started at any age after attaining the primary education. The skills pertain to electronics, textiles, pottery, agriculture, technology, etc.
Higher education offers courses in graduate and undergraduate programs through universities and colleges. Colombia hosts fine technology and technical institutes that are at par with foreign universities. Moreover, doctoral programs and specialized degrees in medical, biochemistry, physics, atomic sciences, etc., are also offered in these prestigious institutions.
A list of the best schools in Colombia is furnished below:
- The English School – Bogota
- Colegio Nueva Granada – Bogota
- Colegio Jorge Washington – Cali
- Colombo Britanico – Medellin
- Columbus School – Medellin
Some of the best universities in Colombia:
- Universidad de los Andes – Bogota
- Universidad Nacional de Colombia – multiple campuses
- Universidad de Antioquia – Medellin
- Universidad de Medellin – Medellin
- Universidad de Valle – Cali
Healthcare system in Colombia
The Colombian healthcare system is called Sistema General de Seguridad Social en Salud, or SGSSS. The General System of Social Security in Health has various components. The first component is the access to basic medical and healthcare facilities for all citizens of the country, regardless of their socioeconomic status. The government ensures this component by issuing health cards to citizens. These health cards have a certain financial and service delivery limit. For instance, the card may cover accidental injuries or acute surgeries, but not cosmetic treatments and other non-serious health concerns.
The other component of the SGSSS is the mandatory contribution by all citizens to the Entidades Promotoras de Salud or EPS. Citizens and residents are obligated to register in the EPS and pay the prescribed monthly fee. The fee is based on the income level of the individual.
The third component of SGSSS is the subsidized and welfare regimes. The welfare or contributory regime directs the well-to-do section of society to contribute to the insurance premium for the benefit of the low-income class. The latter class is offered subsidized healthcare and medical treatment and, in many cases, completely free services too.
Lastly, the private healthcare system, though independent in setting up its own fee structure and services, is regulated by the SGSSS. Whereby ensuring that the service delivery standards are uniform throughout the healthcare spectrum.
Note that the SGSS also provides social security benefits such as unemployment funds, technical and social support programs, etc.
Transport System in Colombia
The transportation system in Colombia is probably one of the best in South America. A well-laid out infrastructure of different modes of transportation spreads to the entire country.
- Airports: Colombia hosts several international and domestic airports. Bogota has the honor of hosting the biggest airports in the country. Flights to neighboring and other countries operate on a regular schedule. The El Dorado International Airport in Bogota and the Jose Maria Cordova International Airport in Medellin, and Alfonso Bonilla Aragon airports welcome thousands of visitors on a daily basis.
- Road network: The road network is modern and connects the entire country including towns, counties, suburbs, and rural areas.
- Buses, Metros & Moto-taxis: Buses are the most common, cheap, and popular mode of transport in Colombia. People often prefer buses over private vehicles to avoid congestion and save money. Big cities such as Medellin, Cali, and Bogota also have metro systems. The metros run on schedule from one corner of the city to the other with defined stops in between. Passengers can get off near their destination and take a moto-taxi to the exact location thereon. A moto-taxi is simply a motorcycle employed as a taxi.
- Ferries and Boats: Due to the diverse landscapes including rivers and waterfronts, boats and ferries are a regular mode of transport in many areas. These are private boats that offer rides on per seat basis.
In short, as a new arrival in Colombia, a person does not necessarily require a private car to commute. Buses, moto-taxis, and other means offer comfortable and cheap rides. If nothing else, a bicycle ride between work and home amidst natural beauty is a unique pleasure!