Miles Delahanty tries to navigate the labyrinthine Colombian visa system
“Getting a Colombian visa must be so easy for you guys”. It’s the common refrain from most Colombians I meet, who then react with a strange mix of shock and, dare I say, delight, when they hear that the ordeal can often be as bad for us foreigners in Colombia as it is for Colombians trying to go abroad.
Don’t get me wrong, I can’t compare my troubles to those of the numerous Colombians who are repeatedly rejected for travel or work visas, often without being given any explanation. It’s still no picnic though.
When I first arrived in Bogota, three years ago, getting a work visa in Colombia was about as easy as finding an arepa on the street. You just had to show your passport, provide a ‘work contract’ (or a word document that your little sister wrote) and fill out a form. So my first two work visas went off without a hitch.
That’s when the good old Ministry decided to tighten things up, understandably I must say. But they’ve now taken it from one extreme to the other. Cue a veritable quagmire of documents, letters, requirements, unreasonable requests and shockingly inflexible consuls. Since then, I have had my visa application rejected six times, spent three months here illegally and have spent more than Falcao’s yearly hair gel budget on applications, fines and yet more applications.
The trouble is that the new rules make it nigh on impossible for someone working at a small or new company to meet the requirements for a work visa. Your company has to show earnings of at least 100 minimum salaries (roughly $62 million COP) per month over a period of six months, a tall order for many start-ups and even mid-sized companies.
This requirement has been my biggest stumbling block by far. It is easy enough for any half-legal company to provide their Chamber of Commerce registration papers and other legal documents, but the Ministry is so stringent with the rules that if you can’t show them the money, then no amount of supporting documents and pleading can help. If you don’t have all the documents, you simply can’t get a work visa.
Fair enough. Rules are rules. On one occasion, however, I arrived with all the necessary documents, including bank statements showing earnings of over 100 minimum salaries. The problem was that one of the six statements didn’t show enough incoming money. So I returned a couple of days later with a letter from the British Embassy, vouching for me, as well as a contract and letter from the Colombian Ministry of Tourism confirming that my company was working on a number of projects with them. It’s the same government guys, if you don’t trust them, who will you trust?
I understand the issue, of course I do. Sadly, many foreigners come to Colombia for the wrong reasons and end up staying without offering anything to the country that has taken them in. However, every job that I have had or tried to have here has been trying to promote or improve Colombia and its image. Despite several long, gushing conversations with consuls explaining my love for, and desire to stay in, Colombia and help the country grow, I am still here as a tourist. Three years later.
I have looked into other options, each of which has one requirement or other that I simply can’t meet. The freelance visa requires me to show at least 15 minimum salaries in my bank account over the last six months. I don’t have that, and won’t be able to make the money legally (and thus pay taxes on it) until I have a visa.
So now it appears that I will have to continue working illegally and not putting tax money into the Colombian system (even though I actually want to), leaving the country every now and again and trying to find a short-term alternative every six months.
My sham marriage is nearly ready to go. I hate to lie to you, Colombia, but you leave me no choice.
Name changed to protect identity.