My Journey to Obtain a Colombian Work Visa

also: How to Obtain a Colombian Work Visa in Venezuela.

View of Cucuta from my hotel room

I left Bogotá Wednesday morning and flew to Cucuta, the closest Colombian city with an airport to Venezuela. I was told that going to Venezuela is the easiest and cheapest way for a foreigner to obtain a Colombian visa. For some absurd reason that I cannot figure out, in order to obtain a visa for Colombia, one must go out of the country to a Colombian Consulate in another country. I do not understand why I can’t get a Colombian visa in Colombia, but that’s how it is. And before you say anything, Dear Latino Readers, I know. I know the visa process is extremely difficult and frustrating for you guys, to go to either the States or Europe. But that doesn’t make Colombia’s rules any less absurd or exasperating.

So anyways, when I arrived on Wednesday, I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel in the centro, downtown area of Cucuta. In terms of where to stay, all of the hotels I have stayed in/encountered are awful, ESPECIALLY Hotel Quinta Avenida. I stayed there the first night, and I hated it. For the price, it should have hot water, the room should have a window, better food, and be newer and more modern in general. All of the hotels that are not insanely expensive are really old.

It is now Thursday evening and I am still in Cucuta. I changed hotels and am now in Hotel Amaruc. It’s less expensive, and there is no air conditioning, just a fan, but I don’t like air conditioning anyways, so for me it’s fine. Although breakfast is included, they don’t even give you butter for your toast even if you ask for it. I am about a ten-minute walk from Ventura Plaza, the biggest shopping mall in Cucuta. They have a Juan Valdez and a food court, which is where I’ve been eating because I’ve had a difficult time finding decent food anywhere.

I went to the Consulate this morning. I arrived just before 9:00 am, but it’s better to arrive even earlier, at 7:00 am or 8:00 am. Bring a book or a friend or something to entertain yourself, and probably a snack as well, because I promise, you will be waiting for a while. The consulate closes at 1:00 pm, and if they don’t get to you in time, you have to come back the next day.

Entering Venezuela

When I arrived, I put my name down on a list and sat down to wait. I waited for almost 3 hours and then they called my name. I was told that there were two documents I needed that I didn’t have correct, and of one of them I needed the original copy. They told me to come back the next day with everything.  I was frustrated, but at least people are nice at the consulate; just be polite to them and make sure you have everything.

As soon as I left I called my boss and told him what I needed and asked how we could get the document to me. He said he would take care of it. Later in the day, he told me the documents would not arrive until Saturday, but he told me to go to the Consulate tomorrow morning, Friday, with the copies and ask if there is any way they can issue me my visa and then on Saturday when the documents arrive I will drop them off at the consulate.

I am not very hopeful for this plan. My flight is scheduled to leave Saturday night, but we’ll see what happens. If this plan does not work, that means I have to stay two extra nights, change my flight, and go back Monday evening. All I want to do is leave this place, so I am really hoping it doesn’t come to this.

It is now Friday afternoon, and finally, success! After two journeys across the border to Venezuela today, I succeeded in acquiring my work visa for Colombia. My day was insane, but I feel so relieved now.

The package did not arrive in the morning, so I went to the consulate with the photocopies and the receipt for the package. The guy told me that I needed the original, and we looked up the package online and saw that it was in Cucuta. By some miracle, the package had arrived earlier than planned. “Corre, corre!” he told me—“run, run! I’m here until 2:00pm, so go find the package, notarize the paper, and come back!” So run I did.

Bridge between Colombia and Venezuela

Moto taxi back to Cucuta, stopped at the hotel, no package, ran to the main package place, they called the delivery man and he said he was about to deliver it, ran back to the hotel, picked up the package, ran to the notary, notarized the document, and then back to the border in a regular taxi, and then moto taxi across the border back to the consulate, all in under two hours. Then finally we were actually able to start the whole visa process, ultimately completing everything around 1:30 pm.

Next it was back to the border on the Venezuelan side where I needed to stamp out, and also needed to buy an exit-something-or-other for $18,000 pesos and then they stamped me. Then back to the Colombian side and the DAS where they stamped me back in to the country. Por fin! Finally! I had everything I needed and went back to my hotel to rest and bask in the feeling of relief. Tomorrow, back to Bogotá!

Leaving Venezuela, returning to Colombia

*For those of you who need it, here is a list of the documents needed at the time of my trip (September 2011) and other information. From what I understand, they change the rules a lot, so if you can, try to talk to someone who went recently before you go.

Paperwork for the Colombian Work Visa:

  • Notarized resumen de contrato from your place of work (you can find that and other useful information here on the Colombian Consulate website: http://www.cancilleria.gov.co/services/abroad/visas/temporary/worker). Make sure your boss looks at this website and gives you everything you need.
  • A letter from your work saying you are authorized to work in Colombia.
  • A letter from your work saying that they are not responsible for any expenses regarding your visa or return to your home country.
  • Something like a photocopy of proof of tax returns or something from your work showing their finances for the previous year. In Spanish it’s called a declaración de renta.
  • A Certificado de Camara de Comercio for your work that you can obtain from the Colombian Chamber of Commerce for about 3,000 pesos.
  • A photocopy of your passport—the main passport page and your entry stamps into Colombia.
  • 4 visa pictures on a white background (you can get these at any photo place in Colombia or Venezuela).
  • Proof of your ability to do whatever work it is that you are going to do. If you are going to teach English, a teaching certificate such as TOEFL is preferable, but if not, you need a copy of your university diploma. My diploma just said Bachelor of Arts, and they accepted that.
  • When you are at the border between Colombia and Venezuela, you MUST first stop at the DAS on the Colombian side and stamp out of Colombia. Then you must go to the SAIME on the Venezuelan side and stamp in to Venezuela. Then you need a photocopy of these pages of your passport. When you leave Venezuela, if you succeeded in obtaining your visa, you must stamp out at the SAIME in Venezuela and then stamp back in at the DAS in Colombia. However, if you are going back to Colombia without your visa and need to return the next day, DO NOT stamp out of Venezuela or in to Colombia. Only do this if it is your final journey back to Colombia.

This is the SAIME, where you need to stamp in and out on the Venezuelan side

 Transportation at the Border:

  • From the airport in Cucuta to the centro (downtown) of Cucuta, $10,000 pesos.
  • In regards to getting from Cucuta to the border, you can either take a bus (which I did not do) or a regular taxi; if you take the taxi, do not pay more than $10-12,000 pesos. I was seriously ripped off on this point.
  • As for going back and forth across the border, you can either walk or take a moto taxi for $2,000 pesos. When you are getting stamped, I recommend walking. Once you have crossed the border, you can walk to the consulate, it’s about a ten-minute walk, and just stop and ask for direction along the way.
  • On your way back from the border to Cucuta, you can take either a bus, regular taxi, or moto taxi. The moto taxi should not cost more than $7,000 pesos (they’ll say $10,000 or more, but just say you always pay $7,000). The regular taxi is the same as going, maximum $12,000.

A Bit More Important Information for the Visa Seeker

  • My advice to you, Dear Reader, if you are seeking a visa, is go on a Monday. Actually, fly to Cucuta on a Sunday, check in and everything, and go to the Consulate first thing Monday morning (just make sure it is not a holiday Monday, of course). That way, if you do need to extend your trip, you have the whole week.
  • The visa price is supposed to be cheaper if you pay in Venezuelan bolivares, but I’m not sure. The price for mine was $225.00 USD; I paid a part in bolivares and the rest in pesos.
  • From whatever city you are coming in Colombia, DO EVERYTHING THERE before you leave for Cucuta. I’m pretty sure I was ripped off on photocopies and my visa pictures; plus, it’s just a hassle, so really, get everything you need before your trip. And photocopy everything so that you have two extras.
  • In terms of where to stay, some people stay in San Antonio; that might be better, I’m not really sure, it’s up to you where you prefer. If you do stay in Cucuta, make sure you learn your way around fast, because few of the streets are marked. Or you can do what I did, and just stop in a bunch of stores along the way and ask people if you’re going the right way. Whatever you do, do NOT stay at Hotel Avenida Quinta, it’s awful.
  • Be really careful concerning prices in Cucuta. I have honestly never been ripped so many times in my life, and I’m usually pretty good at bargaining.
  • When you go back to your city in Colombia, you MUST go and register with the DAS. Then you start your cedula (Colombian ID) process, which is a much easier process.
Good luck!
**UPDATE** I wrote a more “how-to” article about getting the visa, and it was published in South American Living! Check it out here: How to Obtain a Colombian Visa.
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23 thoughts on “My Journey to Obtain a Colombian Work Visa

  1. Hello! I came across your blog and it’s very engaging! I am an estadounidense teaching English in Chile, and looking to teach abroad again next year. I was wondering, what was job in Barranquilla, and how did you get it? Also, it sounds like you moved to Bogotá without a job, and then got one in person (and had to travel to Venezuela for a visa, yuck!). Anyway, I’d just be curious to hear about your experiences in the job search. Thanks! (and check out my blog if you want: http://latitude43.wordpress.com/

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. My job in Barranquilla I got originally through an organization called AIESEC. And yes, I moved to Bogota and then found a job, although I was searching for many months before I moved. I used craigslist and El Tiempo, the main newspaper here, and also talked to friends, and that was how I got my jobs. If you have any more questions, feel free to write me, obrienk4@gmail.com. Thanks so much for reading!

  2. haha i can definitely share some of the frustrations with you, although i was lucky enough to obtain a type of work visa which meant that i didnt have to leave Colombia in order to apply for it – and there are several ‘work’ type visas where you can apply for in Bogota….so worth considering when deciding to stay here – although it didnt make it less bureaucratic!

  3. Can’t say I’ve ever needed or sought a Colombian work visa, however, I can say I have had many experiences in Colombia that mirror your sentiments. As my wife’s cousin likes to remind me when these sorts of things happen, “Remember my friend, you are en Colombia!”

  4. Hi Kate, thanks so much for your post! I’m in Medellin and needing to do the same thing, so I’m super happy to have found this!! Which consulate in Venezuela did you go to? I’m confused as on the website, there are 2 in San Antonio and also 1 in San Cristobal…I didn’t know which to go to for the work visa, can you please help me!!! Thank you so much! Abigail :-)

    • Hi Abigail! Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you found the post helpful! I’m not sure which consulate I went to, I just know it’s the closest one to the border from Cucuta; you can walk there, or, once you get to the border, take a mototaxi for about $2,000 COP. I just asked people for directions until I found it, but it was only probably a 15 minute walk or so once you cross the border. Hope that helps! If you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask! Best, Kate

  5. HEY Kate,

    Im using your website as a guide (sort of) to obtain the visa. I have most of the documents ready, but Im worried about my TEFL certificates. My certificates were sent via email, so they aren’t “originals” per se, I was wondering if you translated/apostilled any of your TEFL certificates before going?

    Also, how much did you pay per night in cucuta?

    • Hi Lauren,

      I’m glad you’re finding my blog helpful. I’m not entirely sure about the TEFL certificates, because I didn’t have them, but I did have my university diploma apostilled, so I think it would be a good idea, if you can. But if not, I would still try, because they might accept it.

      I think I paid around 60,000 or 70,000 a night in Cucuta. You might be able to find cheaper, but where I stayed was okay.

      If you have any more questions, feel free to comment or e-mail me!

      Good luck with everything!

      Best,
      Kate

    • Hi Lauren, I am just about to go through the process too and am having the same concerns as you about tefl certificates etc. I have both a scanned copy of my celta and my degree but not the originals. Did you have any problems when you took copies?

      Thanks for your help!

  6. Hi, great blog. I live in the EU and we also get a good share of red tape, it depends in which country you are in. In Portugal and Spain people also have to leave the country and apply for a visa to get back in. Not all visas are the same though. In the UK I had very little red tape but in Portugal i had about a hundred docs to submit. Take out the unpleasant red tape and stay with the best part of it, once you have completed the tedious bureaucratic path, it is likely that you will get a visa in Colombia, some may not, but most of them do. In the EU you may have ALL the documents or are ENTITLED to stay but may have a negative answer and be asked to leave. Many, many immigrants go thru the fearful process and they may not be allowed to stay. Not to mention that most officers are horrible to immigrants. But, hey, who knows, this is all new to Colombia, perhaps in 10 years time immigration rules will be as hard and painful as they are now in other countries and the nice colombian officers become just as nasty as them. I emigrated 27 years ago, I have seen it all (or heard about it). Be patience, Colombia is learning to welcome waves of foreigners just now. Nobody wanted to go and live in Colombia for decades, so it is adjusting its immigration rules to the new wave of foreign nationals that now want to go and live here. I´m not condoning the bad aspects of it all, just, be a bit patient guys. Life it is not easy, don´t let red tape spoil you new life in Colombia. Take it on the stride. In 5 years time it will be just insignificant, there are far worse things than that, or than not having butter on your toasts. :) I´m not being funny, I´m just old and experienced and a bit fatherly :) hugs

  7. Can you tell me where to find the DAS in Cucuta where I need to stamp out? Do I stamp out of Venezuela at the same place that I will be getting my visa? I saw that you wrote that we must go to the building to stamp out of the country. So the stamp at the boarder is different?

    • It’s right there at the border, just ask anyone and they’ll point you in the right direction, but it’s easy to find. You stamp out of Colombia at DAS, and then into Venezuela, you’ll see it as you cross the border, it’s where the big concrete building is, and then when you’re all done with everything, you stamp out of Venezuela at the same place and back into Colombia at the same DAS. Hope that helps, good luck!!

    • Yes, the employer with whom you get the work visa is the one you are supposed to work for. If you change employers, you need to switch your visa as well, so make sure your new employer is willing to sponsor your visa. It is up to the employer to cancel the visa, it is not automatically cancelled, so if your employer cancels your visa, you then have 30 days to find a new sponsor for the visa, or you have to leave the country (or pay a fine) if you do not find a new employer to sponsor your visa within those 30 days. Hope that helps, feel free to ask any more questions with which I might be able to help!

  8. Tyler did you end up changing employers and finding out how much it costs? where to go to start the process? I am about to start this process and am looking for information!

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