Colombia, in terms of natural and human resources, offers a strategic location, an educated workforce, and a well-developed industrial capacity. There is a lively international business community in Colombia, with hundreds of well-known, established companies that are committed to a long-term presence. Most companies know their risk profiles and take appropriate measures. It is expensive to do business in Colombia, relative to other Latin American countries. The cost of doing business in Cartagena and Bogota reflect costs similar to major U.S. and European cities. The Uribe government is committed to improving the country’s infrastructure (ports, roads, and communications) to promote a modern business environment and lower operating costs. Most business visitors tend to remain within the city limits of the major urban areas (Barranquilla, Bogota, Cali, Cartagena and Medellin). Those who do (to visit oilfields and mines) do so under controlled conditions. As with anything in business, the key is to be aware and prepared.
There are distinct regional differences in Colombia, as in any country. Coastal residents are more relaxed and open versus their inland counterparts. The Colombian private sector is well traveled and sophisticated. Colombians in general tend to be friendly, straightforward and direct in their business dealings. In all regions the business visitor will find serious, hardworking people who share many of the same work habits and ethics of business people in the United States. This is one of the many reasons that, despite Colombia’s political and social problems, knowledgeable U.S. business people continue to do business in Colombia.
Given the proximity of the two countries and the long-term presence of U.S. firms in the market, Colombians are used to doing business with the United States. Many of them have traveled or studied in the United States and have family members or friends there. Colombian executives and technicians, as well as government officials, travel frequently to the United States for meetings, conferences, trade fairs, training and tourism.
Working breakfasts and lunches at hotels and private clubs have become common practice in most Colombian cities. Business attire is the norm. Dinner meetings tend to be less formal. Business cocktails and official receptions are common events and are used as opportunities to make contacts and discuss outstanding business. Colombian trade associations, government entities, and private firms are hosting an increasing number of national and regional conventions, conferences, and seminars in the country. These events present excellent opportunities for meeting Colombian business people and key government officials, as well as for assessing market potential.
There is currently a State Department travel warning in effect for U.S. citizens planning travel to Colombia. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.
The travel warning is due to the violence that continues to affect all parts of the country, and the fact that U.S. citizens have been victims of kidnappings and threats. For more information on a particular business travel plan, companies are urged to contact the U.S. Commercial Service, American Embassy, Bogota for customized advice. (see Section VII “Investment Climate - Political Violence” for additional background information).
Most business persons who visit Colombia travel primarily to the major cities and commercial centers of Bogota, Cali, Medellín, Barranquilla and Cartagena, where caution should be taken against common large-city crimes such as pick pocketing, jewelry and purse-snatching, and currency scams. Selecting a good hotel, keeping valuables in a hotel safe, using authorized taxis and hired car services, and using common sense in avoiding certain areas of town will help to reduce the risk of falling victim to these crimes. At airports, care should be taken with hand luggage and travel documents.
Travel between cities should be by air in order to avoid rural areas controlled by terrorists groups and common criminals. Road travel outside of the major cities is not recommended. Those who absolutely must travel to facilities in outlying areas (most commonly oil and mining professionals and technicians) are advised to adhere strictly to the security regulations and guidelines established by their companies.
For further information concerning travel to Colombia, U.S. travelers should consult the Department of State's latest Travel Warning and the Consular Information Sheet for Colombia. In addition to information available on the Internet, up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States or Canada, or for overseas callers, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
U.S. citizens living in or visiting Colombia are encouraged to register and obtain updated information on travel and security in Colombia either at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota or via the Embassy's website (see website address below). The Consular Section is open for American Citizens Services, including registration, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays. The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida El Dorado and Carrera 50; telephone (011-57-1) 315-0811 during business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), or 315-2109/2110 for emergencies during non-business hours; fax (011-57-1) 315-2196/2197; Internet website - http://bogota.usembassy.gov/. The Consular Agency in Barranquilla, which provides some limited consular services, is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (011-57-5) 353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Citizens (who are not also Colombian citizens) traveling to Colombia are required to carry a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia and a return/onward ticket. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less. Stiff fines are imposed if passports are not stamped on arrival and/or if stays exceeding the authorized period of stay (generally 60-90 days) are not approved in advance by the Colombian Immigration Agency (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, Jefatura de Extranjeria, DAS Extranjeria).
The Colombian Government recently modified regulations regarding Business Visas in an effort to encourage foreign investment and attract tourism to Colombia. As of February 1, 2005, visas may be extended for periods of six months and up to five years, depending on the category. Following are some examples:
Business Visas: These visas may be granted for a period of up to four years, with multiple entries, and for a maximum stay of up to six month per entry. Business visas are issued to foreigners who prove their status as merchants, industrialists, executives or business representatives.
Temporary Managerial Visas: Valid for multiple entries during a five year period. Holders of these visas may stay in the country for a period of up to one year per entry. It expires if the foreigner leaves the country for more than 180 days.
Special Temporary Visas: Valid for multiple entries during one year. It expires if the foreigner leaves the country for more than 180 Days.
For more information on other types of Business Visas, or information concerning entry and customs requirements to Colombia, immigration regulations, and other related matters please enter the web site of the Colombian Ministry for Foreign Affairs (www.minrelext.gov.co). Information on these subjects is also available at the Colombian Embassy located at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington DC, 20008; Tel: (202) 387-8338 (www.colombiaemb.org). Colombia has consular offices in the following U.S. cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco, Tampa and San Juan (Puerto Rico).
U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new passport from the U.S. Embassy and present it, together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main immigration office in Bogota to obtain permission to depart. An exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Colombia.
According to Colombian law, any person born in Colombia must use their Colombian passport to enter and leave Colombia, even if also a citizen of another country. Therefore, Colombian-American citizens should be prepared to carry a Colombian passport as well as a U.S. passport while visiting Colombia.
U.S. Non-Immigrant Visa requirements for Colombians All Colombians traveling to the U.S. need a visa. U.S. companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States should allow sufficient time for visa issuance.
In the U.S., applicants should call (1-877) 804-5401 between 8:00 am to 8:00 pm EST. A credit card access fee for the U.S.-based number will be charged.
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States should be advised that security options are handled via an interagency process
Airports: Colombian air transportation is well developed, with international airports in Bogota, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cali, Cucuta, Leticia, Pereira, Medellin, and San Andres Island providing regular flights to major cities abroad. Currently, there are five U.S. airlines that provide direct daily flights between Colombia and the United States. Frequent domestic flights connect principal cities within Colombia. Business travelers should be aware that prior flight reservations within Colombia (even though pre-paid) are not always honored, and flights may be overbooked to popular destinations such as Cartagena. Thus, a final confirmation is advisable 24-hours before departure as is arriving at the airport three hours in advance of the flight.
Taxis: Taxi service is available at all major hotels. Given traffic conditions and security concerns, business travelers should contract hourly taxi service or hired cars with drivers. Arrangements may be made with your hotel for your transportation. The current rate is about USD 15.00 per hour or 30,000 COP. If normal yellow city taxis must be used, ensure the hotel/restaurant calls a “radio taxi” and provides you with a code. Never hail taxis on the street and never share a cab with an unknown person (including the driver's "brother, son, cousin, etc."). Taxis fares increase 30 percent after dark.
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays
Colombian time is the same as U.S. Eastern Standard time, without daylight-saving adjustments, e.g. Washington in winter, Chicago time in summer.
The workweek is Monday - Friday. Normal working hours are either 8 a.m. - lunch (flexible between 12 noon and 2 p.m.), closing at 5 p.m. Alternative hours may be 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 or 5:30 p.m. with an hour for lunch. Most commercial offices follow the first system and most manufacturing operations the second. In coastal cities such as Cartagena, many offices and manufacturing operations also work half-day on Saturday, with a two hour lunch break during the work week. Shopping: Most stores are open between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. on weekdays, and between 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Some food stores and restaurants (but very few other establishments) are open on Sundays and holidays. It is sometimes possible to negotiate a discount at some stores when paying in cash.
Prior to planning business travel, it is advisable to consult the schedule of Colombian holidays. It is strongly recommended that business trips be avoided during Holy Week (the week before Easter) and the Christmas holiday season (December 17 to January 15). Visitors may also find it difficult to make business appointments during “puentes” (Fridays or Mondays which “bridge” the weekends with official holidays falling on Thursdays or Tuesdays.)