Citizens from most western European countries (including the UK), Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada only need a valid passport to enter Colombia. A 30-, 60- or 90-day tourist visa will be issued on entry without the need to apply for any other visa in advance. Those planning to stay for up to 90 days should notify immigration officials as they tend to issue 30 or 60 days as standard.
Once in the country, extended stays of over 90 days should be arranged by visiting the Office of Immigration Affairs in Bogotá to submit an application. Those planning to work or study in Colombia will need to apply for the relevant visa from the Colombian consulate in their home country before they leave.
Citizens from restricted countries need to apply for a tourist visa in the Colombian consulate in their country of origin.
Whether arriving by plane or land, visitors must hold a return or onward ticket to prove an intention to leave the country. Furthermore, the ticket out of the country should be dated within 90 days to avoid difficulties at immigration. It is also entirely possible that proof may be required to show sufficient funds exist to cover your stay. Passport and visa requirements can change without much notice, so check with the Colombian embassy in advance of your trip.
Don’t forget to allow for the airport tax on departure, which is currently 71,000COP for a 90-day stay but less for a 60-day stay. Make sure your passport is stamped on both arrival and exit, whether you enter by air, land or sea, or you may be liable for a fine. Individuals entering or leaving Colombia are only entitled to carry up to US$10,000 in cash.
Anything in excess of this may be confiscated. Recently, a British national carrying US$14,000 had US$4,000 confiscated by the authorities at the airport, despite his argument that the money belonged to both him and his wife, who was travelling with him.
Those entering by sea must report to the port’s local immigration office for a passport entry stamp within one day of arrival.
Colombia’s major international airports are El Dorado (www.Bogota-dc.com/trans/aviones.htm) in Bogotá (BOG), Alfonso Bonilla Aragón, Cali (CLO), José María Codova, Medellín (MDE), and Rafael Nuñez, Cartagena (CTG). Other popular international airports include Barranquilla (BAQ) and Bucaramanga (BGA). National airline Avianca (www.avianca.com) serves all international airports from most Latin American destinations as well as some cities in North America and Spain. The Avianca VIP lounge at El Dorado International Airport won the ‘Priority Pass Airport Lounge of the Year’ award in 2006.
Air France (www.airfrance.co.uk) operates from most western European destinations with stopovers on some routes. Iberia flies from Madrid to all the above airports, via Bogotá. American Airlines (www.aa.com), Northwest (www.nwa.com), Continental (www.continentalairlines.com) and Delta (www.delta.com) are the major airlines between the US and most of Colombia’s international airports. Copa (www.copaair.com) also provides services to New York, Miami and Orlando from Barranquilla, Bogotá and Cali.
From Bogotá, LAN Airlines (www.lan.com) connects to Miami, Quito, Ecuador and other South American destinations via stopovers. LACSA and TACA (www.taca.com) both connect between Bogotá and Latin American and some US destinations. Flying time is around 10½ hours from Madrid, 12 from Paris and 13 from London (exc stopover). Flying from New York takes 4½ hours and from Los Angeles 8 hours.
Most tourists entering by sea do so on cruise lines, where all necessary entrance formalities are taken care of by cruise staff. Several shipping companies dock on the Caribbean coast and it is possible to take a boat tour from both Colón and Kuna Yala (San Blas) in Panama to Colombia’s Cartagena. Those that do arrive in Cartagena by boat must visit the immigration office on the day of arrival for a Colombian entry stamp in their passport – fail to do so and you will be illegal in the country after 24 hours.
Flying is by far the safest, easiest and most convenient way of getting around the country, with around 984 airports (although only around 100 have paved runways). Most domestic flights take less than 60 minutes’ flying time. Some offer business class and economy tickets and serve a snack and a drink. Avianca, Latin America’s first airline, Aires, AeroRepublica and Satena are some of the large domestic carriers, although there are others.
There are an estimated 18,000km of waterways in the country. Both the Río Magdalena (Magdalena River) that intersects the country to the north of Bogotá and the Río Cauca (Cauca River) are navigable in parts (some 1,500km). However, you should thoroughly research any such project first. Wide rivers and jungle canals sound intriguing, but they can lead you to some extremely remote destinations, which could be dangerous in the light of the current guerrilla and paramilitary situation. Jungle canals around Leticia provide a safer option, and tour operators can supply advice.