Colombia - Commercial Guide

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2020-03-09

Capital:  Bogota
Population:  49,084,841 (July 2020 est.)
GDP:  711.6 Billion USD (2017 est., Purchasing Power Parity)
Currency:  Colombian Pesos (COP)
Language: Spanish

UNESCO Student Mobility Number:
Colombia has 44,423 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.

CIA World Factbook:
39.65% of the Colombian population is under 24 years old.

U.S. colleges and universities remain the preferred overseas destination for Colombian students, despite significant competition from other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, France, and Argentina. There are several factors that make the United States a leading destination, the most notable factor being higher employment opportunities after graduation, the high quality of education, the chance to improve English skills, and a renewed push by the Government of Colombia to encourage English bilingualism. Furthermore, Colombian businesses are increasing their presence and operations in the United States and bolstering the need not just for English speakers, but for Colombians with actual living experience in the United States and knowledge of U.S. business practices and American culture in general. The preferred states for Colombian students are California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Florida. The fields of studies with the most demand are those focused on business administration, management, finance, banking, marketing, and engineering.

According to the Institute of International Education, Colombia is ranked 22nd in the world and third among South American Countries (after Brazil and Venezuela) in sending students to the United States. As the peace process solidifies in Colombia and the country becomes more stable and prosperous, the United States is in a good position to see a potential increase in Colombian students.


          Colombian Student Enrollment in the United States






Number of Colombian Students




% Change from Previous Year




There were 8,060 Colombians who traveled to the United States to study in the 2018/19 academic year; a 1.1 percent increase over the previous year. Colombian students in the U.S. are divided between graduate and undergraduate levels as follows: 

Colombian Students in the United States by Academic Level

Academic Level



% Total

% Change






















Based on data from the Institute of International Education, Colombian students in U.S. colleges and universities contributed USD 319 million to the U.S. economy in the 2018/2019 academic year.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota supports efforts to increase the number of Colombian students studying in the United States by supporting technology projects such as Ed, a 24/7 virtual adviser in Spanish, and various micro scholarships for English Language studies.  

Additionally, the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” innovation fund seeks to increase the number of Latin American students studying in the United States and the number of U.S. students studying in Latin America. Partnerships between universities in the United States and higher education institutions in the Western Hemisphere are increasing the student exchange opportunities and strengthening regional education cooperation throughout the Americas. 

Under government-to-government or private agreements, both public and private universities in Colombia have developed partnerships with universities in the United States, Europe and Latin America. Priority is given to post-graduate programs for training professors as well as research to enhance teaching.

The U.S. Commercial Service collaborates with Education USA offices in Colombia to support various education fairs that include the participation of U.S. boarding schools, universities, and ESL institutions to promote their programs in Colombia.

With the global job market becoming increasingly competitive, the number of Colombian undergraduate and graduate students in the United States has been growing over the past four academic years. This is partially due to the fact that in Colombia it is difficult to obtain a high-level position within the government or an important national or multinational company without proficient English skills and/or a master’s degree. Moreover, a degree from a U.S. university can make job applicants that much more competitive in the Colombian workplace.   

Most scholarships are awarded through two institutions, one of which is the Colombian Institute for Educational Loans and Technical Studies Abroad (ICETEX by its initials in Spanish), which is dedicated to financing higher education through a system of financial aid that allows students to start or continue their higher education either in-country or abroad. In 2018, ICETEX awarded more than 853 scholarships for master’s degrees, PhD, and ESL programs for Colombian students abroad.

The second institution is COLFUTURO, which is a non-profit organization that provides funds to Colombian professionals and students to study abroad. Their loan program is available to students who have been accepted to graduate programs at foreign universities. During 2018, COLFUTURO awarded 1,367 scholarships for masters and PhD programs, with 302 of those scholarships being for programs in the United States.

COLFUTURO has agreements with many universities such as: Carnegie Mellon, Columbia University, Duke, Cornell, University of Florida, American University, Purdue University, Tulane University, New York University, University of Chicago, University of Texas, and Harvard University, among others.


Although the exchange rate is still a big factor for Colombian Students wanting to study in the United States, demand and interest remain strong. International education is highly valued in the Colombian workplace and a recent survey of employers found that 58 percent preferred to hire people who had earned advanced degrees abroad. 

For U.S. schools and ESL institutions, private and bilingual schools in Colombia offer good recruiting opportunities. Schools are interested in sending groups to study in U.S. schools for periods that may vary between three weeks and three to four months. The goal of these short-term programs is mainly to acquire and improve English skills. 

Today in Colombia, relatively few high school graduates have an advanced level of English. Colombia’s outgoing Colombian government recently launched a program called “Colombia Very Well,” with the objective of promoting bilingualism in Colombia. The government’s goal is to increase the number of high school graduates with an intermediate level of English to 185,000 in 10 years. This will open opportunities for U.S. English language institutions to enter or increase their presence in Colombia.  

At the higher education level, private universities also offer important recruitment opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate programs. U.S. Universities should make initial contact with the office of foreign relations in each university in order to introduce the U.S. university and its programs and areas of specialization. 
Colombian universities are interested in having agreements with U.S. universities that offer dual degree programs for their students. This can be accomplished through a combination of two or three years at the local university and one or two years at the U.S. university.

Beyond the economic implications, the availability of educational services carries even greater significance in terms of improving general living conditions in Colombia. A well-educated Colombian population is vital to the country’s economic growth and global competitiveness over the long term. U.S. educational services will also expose more Colombians to American culture, further strengthening ties between the two countries.

There are concrete opportunities to increase the number of Colombian students attending U.S. universities. Those wishing to attract Colombian students should consider actively increasing recruitment campaigns to raise their visibility. Financial aid/scholarship opportunities and information on the process to obtain a U.S. student visa are essential topics for U.S. educational institutions when promoting themselves in Colombia.

In Colombia, there is a strong network of 11 Education USA centers administering language programs and doing extensive outreach around the country. Education USA centers are located at nine binational centers, the Fulbright commission, and COLFUTURO.

Education fairs are one of the most effective ways to recruit Colombian students. Colombia has a few education fairs throughout the year. Additionally, EducationUSA organizes one of the best fairs to promote U.S. education.  This year’s fair in Colombia will take place in September in Bogota. Universities interested in participating and exhibiting at the fairs should visit the EducationUSA website.

Institute of International Education: 
Colombia Ministry of Education:  
Colombian Institute for Educational Loans and Technical Studies Abroad (ICETEX):


Julio Acero, Commercial Specialist   
U.S. Commercial Service – Bogota, Colombia 
+57 1 275 2635