Extending a Colombian tourist visa

Months ago, before moving back to Colombia,  I had researched how to renew a tourist visa in Medellin. Several other travellers and friends had told me that after 90 days in the country without some sort of permanent residency card or work/student visa, you would have to leave the country in order to stay any longer. A popular strategy is flying to spend a weekend in Panama City or Quito, Ecuador. I poked around online and quickly found a cheaper alternative. According to the popular expat information site Medellin Living, you can renew your visa without leaving the country.

please note, all this information is based on my experience as a US citizen in April 2017. this may not be accurate for expats from other countries, or if the system has been changed at a later date.

There are several restrictions, though. The first is that the limit of time in Colombia for any non-citizen with only a tourist visa is 180 days per calendar year. This means that if you arrive on January 1st, 2017, you must leave the country by July 1st, 2017. But if you arrive on September 1st, 2016, you will spend four months in country until the new year, and then your time starts over again in 2017, giving you another 180 days. I do believe that after any 180 consecutive days, no matter how they fall, you must leave the country though. I’m not exactly sure how that works, but if your stay stretches two calendar years, you should look into that further.

Second restriction is that a tourist visa is only technically for 90 days. I arrived in Colombia early on the morning of January 18th, 2017. My first 90 day tourist visa would therefore expire on April 17th. Before those 90 days are up you must apply for a visa extension. Overstaying a tourist visa won’t seem like a big deal until you actually do leave the country. You will be fined by migration officials in the airport when they check your entry stamps and the related documents on their computers. I don’t know exactly what this fine is, but according to comments on the Medellin expat facebook page, it’s between $400,000 and $1,000,000 pesos. Not an enormous fine, but certainly expensive and far more than the cost of extending the visa.

A visa extension gives you another 90 days to stay in the country, adding up to the full 180 days. I finished my extension yesterday which gives me until July 16th, 2017 to leave Colombia. The process is actually easier than described on the Medellin Living website article. There is no longer any need to visit the migracion office in Belen. Simply go to the Migracion website and click the links in the following order (translating the page to English within your browser will give you same text as I have written it below):

  1. In the “procedures” menu click on “Certificate Migratory Movements”
  2. In the window called “Online Registration” select “Temporary Permit of Permanence to Extend Permanence”
  3. Choose the city nearest to you (in my case, Medellin)
  4. Fill in your biographical information. To check your date of entry to the country, look at the entry stamp on your passport.
  5. Submit the form. Within one business day you will receive an email approving your request to extend your visa.
  6. The email will also include a username and password that you will need to pay for the visa extension. As of April 2017, the cost is $92,000 pesos.

Now is the slightly more complicated part. There are two payment options available: paying online with a Colombian bank account through a transfer service or paying in cash at Banco de Occidente. My first attempt to pay was through the online transfer service. I have an account at Banco de Bogotá and thought that it would work fine. I used the numbers from my debit card and pin, but after two attempts I got two “failed” error messages. I’m not sure what went wrong, but I turned instead to the other payment method. Choosing to pay at Banco de Occidente, I located their closest branch. Luckily there is one very close to Segundo Parque Laureles where I live.

I copied down the account information that I had found on the Medellin Living page and all the other possibly relevant information I could find and went to the bank. The teller had me fill out a deposit slip and entered the information I wrote into his computer system. The account number did not exist. Frustrated, I double checked the information. But I had written the exact numbers of the account from the website, several other sources confirmed. I went back to the teller who was as confused as I was. His co-worker cleared things up, I needed a printed copy of the form generated for me by the migracion office. I went to a nearby internet cafe and entered the login and password information I was sent by the migracion office. I got the same two payment options: to pay online or cash deposit to Banco de Occidente. I chose the cash payment and the same receipt popped up. This time I printed the form with the large barcode and walked back down the block to the bank. With the barcode everything went smoothly from there. The teller scanned the form and entered my passport number to the system and I paid $92,000 pesos in cash. He gave me back the top half of the receipt and left.

In summary: If you want to pay by cash, print the receipt generated by choosing the “cash deposit” option. Bring the paper with the barcode on it to Banco de Occidente. I was not asked for a passport or any other ID, but it’s smart to bring it just in case. After scanning the barcode and collecting your money, the teller will complete the payment for you and you’ll be sent a confirmation email within a few hours.

The confirmation email contains a document that you will need to avoid the fine when leaving the country. Whenever you decide to go, whether in 90 days or less than that, you will need to bring a copy of the form. It proves you have paid to extend your visa and provides the last date you are permitted to stay in Colombia. In my case, it is July 16th, 2017.

Needless to say, I’m relieved all this is over and done with. Figuring it all out was a headache, and I’m glad that I never needed to actually visit the migracion office. I prefer not to visit official Colombian offices when I can avoid it. As with the bank, it is slow and bureaucratic, with seemingly random rules and forms to fill out. More often than not you will be missing a form or have missed a step and will need to return the following day. The offices keep strange hours, often with long siestas in the middle of the day (the bank is open 8am-11am and then 2pm-4pm on weekdays) and are closed for all of the country’s many many national and local holidays. If you are embarking on this paperwork adventure, I wish you the best of luck.

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