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What do you need to arrange to live and work in Colombia?

by Sabine
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Moving abroad: how to do it? In this article I will tell you step by step what you need to arrange in order to emigrate to Colombia. You can also use this information for when you are going to live in Colombia temporarily. Many things are specific to Colombia, and some steps apply to any country you move to. Read on and make emigrating to Colombia a little easier. This article was updated in May, 2023.

Step 1: Living temporarily or emigrating to Colombia: how to get a visa

In many cases, you will not be able to just go live in the country of preference, but will need (as in your home country) a residence permit or something similar. Therefore, if you are going to emigrate to Colombia or want to live or study there temporarily, you also need a visa. There are many visa options in Colombia. For example, for only temporary work, travel or for a deployment. These visas are quite difficult to get, and almost in all cases you need a company in Colombia to vouch for you or you need to study in Colombia, for example. So just applying for a visa doesn’t work.

Since October 2022, there is also visa specifically for digital nomads.

Before you can move to Colombia, you need to think carefully about how you are going to get that visa. The easiest visa to get is a partner visa. This allows you to live and work in Colombia immediately. This visa is obviously only suitable for people who have a Colombian partner. You can also get a visa through an employer in Colombia, in which case your employer must be willing to help you with your visa. And have you been living in Colombia for more than 5 years? Then you can apply for a resident visa under certain conditions.

⇒ Various visas Colombia

As of October 2022, there are significant changes in terms and types of visas. These are the different visas:

  1. Visitante. You get this visa when you visit Colombia without wanting to live there permanently. For example, students, journalists, athletes and others. The visa is valid for 1 year and can be extended to 2 years.
  2. Residente. This visa is for foreigners staying permanently or for a long time in Colombia. If you are going to apply for a visa for the first time as the partner of a Colombian, for example, “resident” does not yet apply. To do so, you must have lived in Colombia for 2 years with a migrant visa first. As a parent of Colombian children, you do get a resident visa immediately. This visa is valid for 5 years. I myself have now obtained this visa for the second time.
  3. Migrante. For foreigners who intend to reside permanently in Colombia, but do not (yet) meet the requirements for a resident visa.

As of October 2022, there are other visa options, such as a visa for digital nomads. In addition, there are many changes to the existing visas AND the requirements have become more strict. Read all about the changes regarding visas in Colombia as of October 2022 here (Spanish).

⇒ Applying for your visa to Colombia

I now have my third visa in, and thus my second resident visa. A number of things have obviously changed:

  • Before the pandemic, you were notified 5 days after applying for your visa whether or not it was approved. Now, after the crisis, applying for a visa takes about a month. I had my visa after 3 weeks, but with the help of a lawyer who was very committed to this. If documents are missing, it may even take more than a month. So start the application on time.
  • The requirements have become more strict. That means you will have to submit more documents, depending on the type of visa you are applying for.
  • All documents from outside Colombia, such as your diplomas and the extract from your birth register, must be translated, have an apostille and must not be older than 3 months.

Apply for your visa here (this must always be done online). I did not apply for my second resident visa myself, but engaged a lawyer for this purpose. This is because of my changed situation and the stricter requirements. It didn’t go completely smoothly, so I’m glad I did. If you also want help from an attorney please send me an email or comment below this article. Then I will send you the details of my lawyer.


Step 2: Obtaining your Colombian ID card(cédula)

In Colombia, after getting your visa, you must also apply for an ID card (called a cédula here). Without a cédula, you can literally do nothing in Colombia. A cédula is needed for everything: getting into the gym, making large purchases, saving points at the supermarket, getting a job, etc. You need a cédula de extranjería and you must apply for it within 15 days after the issuance of your visa. First make copies of your passport and visa, have passport photos taken and go to a clinic to have blood drawn (if you don’t know your blood type). Your blood type will be printed on the cédula. Once you have all the documents, go to this website and fill out the form. So, too, applying for a cédula can ONLY be done online. Once you have completed the form, you will need to drop off the necessary documents at the Migración Colombia office. There you also pay directly. Then you wait about 5 days and then you can pick up your cédula at that same office.


Step 3: Once you have your visa and cédula you can live in Colombia and you can begin to arrange all other matters

Now that you can live in Colombia, the most important things are behind you, but there are still a lot of arrangements to be made. It’s best to think of it this way: everything you once had in your home country, you now have to get in your new country. So pretty much everything.

⇒ Looking for housing in Colombia

The next step is to arrange for housing. In my case, this was easy: I moved in with my ex-husband who already had a home. So I don’t know the ins and outs of what it’s like as a foreigner to buy a house in Colombia, but it doesn’t seem to be very easy. Renting is also possible, of course. In the case of Bogotá, it is especially important to consider where you want to live. The location here is really more important than the house itself. After all, a beautiful house in a neighborhood where you can barely walk down the street is of no use. So figure that out carefully.

After 3 years in Bogotá, I moved to Sopó, to move back to Bogotá again in early 2022. In the 8 years I have lived here I have moved about 6 times.

In Colombia, there is by no means a housing shortage. Especially in big cities, it is easy to find an apartment. When renting, pay attention to these things:

  • It is a bit difficult to rent an apartment in Colombia for only 6 months, most landlords do not want a contract for less than a year. You can negotiate this sometimes, very often not.
  • Renting in Colombia can sometimes be a bit foreigner-unfriendly as they ask for something called codeudor. This means that another person must act as some kind of guarantor for you and actually show credit records to do so. In Colombia, people have that done by family members, for example, but as a foreigner, you often don’t have them here. Which sometimes prevents you from renting a particular apartment. Sometimes this can be negotiated, such as by paying several months in advance. There are also websites these days where you can find rental properties without a codeudor. Like Houm.

Useful websites to find properties in Colombia:

⇒ Have diplomas converted to Colombian standards

Then, in order to find a job, your diplomas must first be submitted to the Colombian Ministry of Education. This does NOT apply to every job, so check in advance. Before this can be done remember to do what is described here. Your diplomas from your home country are not simply valid in another country. Therefore, the idea is for the ministry to give a name to your obtained title that is valid in Colombia, this is called convalidación. This costs about 520,000 pesos (€160; 2016). After filing, you have to wait quite a long time for that: three to six months. So start on time.

When I was notified, I was able to pick up my forms containing the “resolution” at the ministry. I needed this resolution as well as my translated diplomas to sign my work contract. Do you also want to have your diplomas convalidated in Colombia: on this website you will find the exact process, explanations, duration and much more.

⇒ Emigrating to Colombia: finding a job

You may still have a contract with for a job in your home country, but if not, it is likely that you will want to find a job. For this purpose, several websites are available in Colombia where you can put in your resume and apply for jobs that suit you. For example:

In my experience, however, this does not yield much and you often do not even get a response back to an application. How I did get to my job got it is through contacts. In Colombia, contacts are very important to finding work, about 75% of jobs are obtained through a contact. So make new friends and look for people who can help you out with finding a job. Once you have a job, you can also start building up a pension. Working in Colombia is not always fun. There are many silly rules and that is sometimes difficult with a Dutch attitude. Meanwhile, after working for a Colombian company for almost 2.5 years, I had to resign. That too was not exactly without stress. Read the full story here.

Starting your own business in Colombia

You can also choose to start your own business in Colombia. After my regular job, I too decided to continue as an entrepreneur and started as a web designer and blogger. To do so, you need to register with the Colombian Chamber of Commerce and arrange everything regarding the Colombian tax authorities. Here you can read all about setting up your own business in Colombia.

⇒ Arrange for health insurance

If you are going to emigrate to Colombia, you can easily apply for health insurance. As in the Netherlands, everyone in Colombia has basic insurance. The difference with the Netherlands, however, is that there are differences in quality and service. I myself am insured with SURA; this one is known as one of the best in Colombia. Like everything else in Colombia, you need your cédula for this, so once you have it you can apply for insurance. Health insurance is not cheap, but it is better to choose one for which you also get more service. I wrote an article about the health care in Colombia. Extensive information on health care and health insurance in Colombia can be found here.

There are also Dutch people who have lived here for years and are insured with the Dutch OOM Insurance. With this, you pay in the Netherlands and receive care in Colombia. Not from The Netherlands? There is probably a similar service in your home country. I always arrange my insurance with OOM when I visit family in the Netherlands.

⇒ Opening a bank account

I have opened accounts with two different banks and this is not so easy as a foreigner. The first time I got my bank card only after I signed my contract and I could show this contract at the bank. At the other bank, I had to be completely checked first. In itself, the procedure is not difficult: you go to the bank of your choice and all the forms are filled out in no time. However, if you don’t have a job it will be a bit more difficult. Good banks are Davivienda and Bancolombia.

Read about opening a bank account in Colombia and how to transfer euros or dollars to Colombia.

⇒ The Colombian tax authorities

The payment of taxes is regulated in Colombia by the DIAN. That’s the Colombian tax authority. If you always thought that the tax service in your home country was a drama, I can probably tell you that you are going to miss exactly that tax service tremendously here in Colombia. Paying taxes in Colombia is not a nice job and incredibly complicated. If you are going to work here you must apply for a RUT from the DIAN. You can make an appointment for that through the website. It’s quite a hassle, and if you don’t speak Spanish it’s best to bring someone who does. You need the RUT for everything. For signing a work contract, starting your own business and paying taxes.

It seems like the DIAN is looking for foreigners who have not done their taxes properly. These foreigners face high fines. I know several Dutch people in Colombia who have had to deal with this and lost a lot of money as a result. Among other things, in Colombia you have to declare all your bank accounts, including those you have in other countries. And even if you don’t receive a salary on it. If you don’t, the DIAN can still find you and fine you 15% on the money you have on them (which keeps increasing if you don’t pay).

My advice: find an accountant in Colombia. One who has experience with tax returns for foreigners. In fact, there are a lot of accountants who don’t have that experience and you still get fines as a result. By the way, if you have your own business in Colombia as a foreigner, an accountant is mandatory. My accountant literally takes care of everything. From entering invoices each month at DIAN to tax returns. And I am quite happy to pay a little bit more for that.

⇒ Getting a SIM card

It sounds very simple, but as a foreigner in Colombia, you don’t just buy a SIM card with a subscription. The best way to do this is through a Colombian. Looking for opportunities? Check out Tigo or Claro. I myself use Tigo and am very satisfied with it, although Claro has a little more range in more remote areas. My Wifi at home is from Claro, though.

⇒ Colombian driver’s license

Having a driver’s license in Colombia, especially in Bogotá, is not necessarily necessary. Still, I find it incredibly useful to have a Colombian driver’s license. When I got my driver’s license in 2015, it didn’t make sense. I kind of just bought it. Here you can read the bizarre story of my driver’s license. However, in the meantime they have tightened the rules considerably and you can no longer just buy your driver’s license. But you will have to do it the official way. This applies to both car and motorcycle licenses. You start at the SIM, which is a kind of agency for driving, there you first apply for a RUNT. Then you go to a driving school and say you would like to get a Columbia driver’s license. How many classes and hours you have to make you will have to ask there. In addition, you must pass a medical examination.

⇒ Living in Colombia: what does it cost?

Before emigrating to Colombia, it’s also good to look at what living in Colombia actually costs and how much money you need per month. Especially if you don’t have a job yet, it’s helpful to know if you have enough savings. In this article you will read all about the cost of living in Colombia.


Emigrating to Colombia also involves other issues

⇒ The language

If you are going to immigrate to Colombia, language is essential. Even if you live here temporarily, it is quite useful to speak some Spanish. After all, there will definitely come a time when you really need it. For example, if you suddenly find a job or need to see a doctor. I learned a little Spanish beforehand with DuoLingo and Betty la Fea, but it wasn’t until I started working that I started speaking more and more fluently. Engaging yourself in society is the best way to learn a new language and its typical pronunciations. About emigrating and learning a new language, I wrote this article.

⇒ Making friends

In Colombia, you make friends quickly at work, and that’s how it happened with me. After work and my move to Sopó, I wanted to make new friends again. This succeeded by having a dog (you then have quick contact), by going to the gym and with the app Bumble. Bumble is a dating app, but it’s not just for dating. You also have a BFF section there and there you can easily connect with locals who are also looking for new friends.

⇒ To the gym (or something similar)

Also a good way to make contacts and put yourself in the middle of society: a subscription to a gym or some club. I did this only after I started my job and turned out to be a very nice way to meet new people and learn more about life in Colombia.

⇒ Watching TV from abroad

You may just like to watch programs from abroad every now and then. However, this is usually not possible. To watch TV from Colombia, you need a VPN, which is a tool that changes your IP address to an IP address from another country. I have been using a VPN for years. Now I watch almost no Dutch TV, but there are some programs I do like to see. I also use my VPN to watch Netflix from another country, for example, Netflix from the US and UK just has a different offer than the Colombian one. You can do this with, for example NordVPN, one of the best VPN services worldwide.

⇒ Looking up people from your home country

Now I must say that I don’t have a lot of contact with other Dutch people, but very regularly with a few. I don’t feel the need to hang out with other Dutch people every day, but if you are going to emigrate to Colombia, it is especially nice to be able to share your thoughts and frustrations from time to time with people who really understand you and think like you do. So I am very grateful for my dear Dutch friends I have here.


Moving abroad: the pros and cons

Before you make the decision to move abroad, it is good to be aware of all that emigrating entails. There are many advantages and positives to it. For me, for example, emigrating was the best choice ever. But there are also disadvantages to emigrating. This article reviews the pros and cons of emigrating.


Emigrating: what do you need to arrange in the country you are coming from?

When you move abroad, not only do you spend time in the destination country arranging things, you also have to do all sorts of things in your home country to make your emigration as smooth as possible. Think about unsubscribing from the municipality, canceling the IRS, unsubscribing from your health insurance and more. In this article you will read what you need to arrange in the country you are coming from if you are going to emigrate.


Emigrating to Colombia: would you do it? Or do you have other plans to move abroad?

Update: This article first appeared Sept. 22, 2016, and was updated in May 2023. Links have been checked and updated and information on visas in Colombia and housing search has been updated.


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