Colombia - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.

Last published date: 2021-11-09

Business Customs

In terms of natural and human resources, Colombia offers a strategic location, an educated workforce, and a well-developed industrial capacity. There is a significant international business community in Colombia, with hundreds of well-known and established companies that are committed to a long-term presence. Relative to other Latin American countries, it is expensive to do business in Colombia with the cost of doing business in Cartagena and Bogotá being similar to that of major U.S. and European cities. The GOC is working to improve the country’s infrastructure (ports, roads, and communications) as a means of promoting a modern business environment and lowering operating costs.

Most business visitors tend to remain within the city limits of the major urban areas (Barranquilla, Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena, and Medellin). Those who venture beyond these limits (often to visit oilfields or mines) do so under controlled conditions. As with anything in business, the key is to be aware and prepared.

The Colombian private sector is well-traveled and sophisticated. However, there are distinct regional differences in Colombia. Coastal residents are more relaxed and open versus their inland counterparts. In all regions, business visitor will find serious and hardworking people who share many of the same work habits and ethics of businesspeople in the United States.

Given the long history of diplomatic and diplomatic history of the two countries, 200 and 10 years respectively in 2021, Colombians are very comfortable doing business with the United States. Many of them have traveled to 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.

Pre-pandemic, working breakfasts and lunches at hotels and private clubs were quite become common practice. Likewise, business cocktails and official receptions were  common events used as opportunities to make contacts and discuss ventures. Colombian trade associations, government entities, and private firms hosted  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. For day activities, business attire is the norm, whereas dinner meetings tend to be less formal.

Travel Advisory

The State Department provides risk assessments related to on-going violence, dangers and unrest that could affect U.S. citizens in various countries around the world. 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 U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.

Travelers should take caution in the five cities and commercial centers of Bogotá—Cali, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena, where crimes such as pickpocketing, jewelry and purse-snatching, and currency scams are common. 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 terrorist 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 Country-Specific Information. 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 update their information online at the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) webpage. They can also obtain updated information on travel and security in Colombia either at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá or via the Embassy’s website.

The Consular Section is open for U.S. Citizens Services by appointment only. For general inquiries or to speak with a consular officer, please email acsBogotá@state.gov. For passport appointments, please visit the U.S. Embassy in Colombia’s “Passports” webpage.

The U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida El Dorado and Carrera 50. For U.S. citizens with an emergency please call 275-2000 or visit the Embassy’s website.

U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla Contact Information

Calle 77B No. 57-141, Piso 5

Centro Empresarial Las Américas

Barranquilla, Atlántico, Colombia

Phone: (011) 575-353-2001

Fax: (011) 575-353-5216

Email: conagencybarranquilla@state.gov

Visa Requirements

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/business 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 Colombian Immigration.

In an effort to encourage foreign investment and attract tourism, Colombian visas may be extended to periods ranging from six months to five years, depending on the visa 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 two years per entry. Business visas are issued to foreigners who prove their status as merchants, industrialists, executives or business representatives.

Special Temporary Visas: Valid for multiple entries during one year. It expires if the foreigner leaves the country for more than 180 Days.

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.

Visa Contact Information

Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Embassy of Colombia – Washington, D.C.

2118 Leroy Place NW

Washington D.C., 20008

Phone: 202-387-8338

Additionally, Colombia has consular offices in the following U.S. cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Orlando, San Francisco, 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 Bogotá to obtain permission to depart.

According to Colombian law, any person born in Colombia must use his/her Colombian passport to enter and leave Colombia, even if also a citizen of another country. Therefore, Colombian-Americans must carry both a Colombian and U.S. passport while visiting Colombia.

While no arrival tax is collected upon entry into Colombia, travelers leaving by plane are required to pay an “exit tax” at the airport. Some airlines include all, or a portion, of this tax in the cost of your airline ticket.  We recommended that you check with your airline prior to travel to determine if you will be required to pay the exit tax at the time of your departure from Colombia.

U.S. Non-Immigrant Visa Requirements for Colombians

All Colombians traveling to or through the U.S. need a visa. U.S. companies inviting foreign business professionals to the United States should allow sufficient time for visa processing and issuance.

Visa A should visit the U.S. Department of State’s “Colombia Visa Appointment Service” website or call (1) 325-9851 from within Colombia, 1-703-439-2325 in the U.S. or “usvisacolombia1” from Skype to schedule a visa appointment.

As of 2013, many individuals renewing business/tourist visas are no longer required to visit the U.S. Embassy for an interview. Visa applicants should visit the U.S. Department of State’s “Colombia Visa Appointment Service” website to determine if they are eligible for this program.

No documents should be sent to the Embassy prior to the interview.

Visa applicants should go to the following links for additional information.

Resources

U.S. Department of State’s “Colombia Visa Appointment Service”

U.S. Embassy Bogotá

U.S. State Department Visa Information

U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link:  State Department Visa Website.

Currency

The Colombian Peso (COP) is the official currency in Colombia. The abbreviation is COP when researching exchange rates.  The Colombian Peso currently has five types of coins and six different denominations of bills and is represented by the symbol ($).

Telecommunications/Electronics

Colombia has a reliable domestic and international telecommunications system. Cellular phones are widely used in Colombia with automatic roaming within the country; there are also roaming agreements with U.S. carriers and most other Latin American carriers. Four private companies, Avantel, Claro, Movistar, and Tigo currently provide the country’s mobile services. Internet, teleconferencing, and video-conferencing facilities are also available.

Colombia boasts a very large number of mobile communications subscribers, with approximately 70  million subscribers. In terms of the supply of services, there is a large concentration by carrier, with Claro boasting the majority percentage of   market share for pre-paid and contract services respectively. Movistar ranks 2nd in both segments, followed by Tigo and Une.

Transportation

Airports: Colombian air transportation is well developed, with international airports in Armenia, Bogotá, 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 (American, Delta, United, JetBlue, and Spirit) 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 well in advance of the flight. It is important that visitors monitor the U.S. Embassy and Government of Colombia entrance requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taxis: Taxi service is available at all major hotels. Given traffic conditions and security concerns, business travelers should contract hourly taxi service or hire cars with drivers. Arrangements may be made with your hotel for your transportation. Rideshare applications are used frequently  throughout Colombia. 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 after dark.

Language

Spanish is the official language and spoken throughout the country. It is advisable to have some knowledge of Spanish or to hire the services of a qualified interpreter although many senior executives and government officials speak English. It is important to translate your sales literature and website information into Spanish to demonstrate your commitment to the market. Health 

Bogotá is a high altitude location (8,600 ft). Travelers should take it easy the first day, avoid alcohol, eat moderately, and stay hydrated. Medical care is adequate in major cities, but quality varies elsewhere. In Bogotá, travelers can find very qualified general practitioners and specialists. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, although many hospitals in principal cities accept major U.S. credit cards. It is important to note that U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Therefore, visitors may wish to consider supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including the provision for medical evacuation or other emergencies.

Local Time, Business Hours, & Holidays

Colombian time is the same as U.S. Eastern Standard Time (EST), without daylight-saving adjustments, e.g., EST  in winter, Central Standard Time (CST) in summer.

The workweek is Monday - Friday. Normal working hours are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. with lunch being taken at 12 noon or 1 p.m. Alternative hours may be 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 or 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. with an hour for lunch. 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.

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 (mid-December to mid-January). 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.)

Table 18: Colombia 2022 Holidays

Date

Day of the Week

Holiday

31-Dec-21

Friday

New Year’s Day

10-Jan-22

Monday

Day off for Epiphany

17-Jan-22

Monday

Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

21-Feb-22

Monday

Washington’s Birthday

21-Mar-22

Monday

Saint Joseph’s Day

14-Apr-22

Thursday

Maundy Thursday

15-Apr-22

Friday

Good Friday

1-May-22

Sunday

Labor Day

30-May-22

Monday

Memorial Day/Ascension Day

20-Jun-22

Monday

Juneteenth National Independence Day/Corpus Christi

4-Jul-22

Monday

US Independence Day - Day off for Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

20-Jul-22

Wednesday

Colombia Independence Day

7-Aug-22

Sunday

Battle of Boyacá Day

15-Aug-22

Monday

Assumption of Mary

5-Sep-22

Monday

Labor Day

10-Oct-22

Monday

Columbus Day

7-Nov-22

Monday

All Saints’ Day

11-Nov-22

Friday

Veterans Day

14-Nov-22

Monday

Independence of Cartagena

24-Nov-22

Thursday

Thanksgiving Day

8-Dec-22

Thursday

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

26-Dec-22

Monday

Christmas

1-Jan-23

Saturday

New Year’s Day

The U.S. Embassy in Bogotá observes U.S. government holidays as well as most Colombian holidays.

Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings

Non-fungible merchandise that can be thoroughly identified by marks, serial numbers, or other symbols can be temporarily brought into Colombian territory for specific purposes. The merchandise must be re-exported immediately after the pre-authorized period, without being subject to any alteration or modification, except for the normal deterioration caused by use. There are two categories for temporary imports: short and long term. DIAN, Colombia’s National Tax and Customs Directorate, decides which of the two systems will be applied to a specific case:

Demonstration Equipment: The international carnet system for temporary imports of demonstration equipment (to be used in promotional campaigns or trade shows) is not in effect in Colombia. The DIAN has implemented an alternative system. Visitors bringing in equipment for demonstration purposes are requested to fill out a special form provided by the DIAN upon their arrival at an international airport. The equipment may stay in the country up to 90 days. There is no deposit requirement.

Long-Term: Colombian Customs regulations also allow companies to import equipment temporarily for a period of up to five years. Under this measure, the Government allows the import of machinery and equipment as well as related accessories and spare parts if they are included in the same one-time-only shipment. This system applies to equipment to be used in public works projects and other activities that are important for national economic and social development. Long-term temporary imports are also approved for machinery and equipment brought into the country under leasing contracts within a term of six months to five years. Long-term customs declarations for temporary imports must include the U.S. dollar calculation of duties and taxes in accordance with the tariff schedule effective on the submission date. The total amount may be divided into equal quotas to be paid semi-annually, during the temporary import period. The importer may be requested to establish a guarantee equivalent to 100 percent of the import duties. Import duties are non-refundable.

Short Term: This allows merchandise imports for a specific purpose during a period of time that should not exceed six months. An extension can be requested from one to three-months. An approval must be obtained before expiration of the initial authorization. Short-term imports are not subject to import duties, but a guarantee equivalent to 10 percent of the corresponding import duties must be presented to obtain approval.

Travel-Related Resources

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers’ Health Information

Colombian Financial Association

Colombian National Tax and Customs Directorate (DIAN)

U.S. Department of State – Colombia Travel Warning

U.S. Department of State - U.S. Relations with Colombia