Health insurance now required for many Colombian visa applications

By Sophie Foggin September 24, 2020

Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says international insurance necessary for V visas to avoid burdening the health system.

Colombian visa application has changed a bit.
Colombian visa application has changed a bit.

Colombia’s coronavirus lockdown was a worrying time for many, with economic, social, and health concerns keeping them up at night. Some foreigners have faced an additional worry: their visa situations.

Now, as the country continues its gradual re-opening, so the visa and tourist exceptions that allowed people to stay legally while the borders were shut are reaching an end.

Migración Colombia — the entity which issues your cédula de extranjería, processes permiso de ingreso (often thought of as a tourist visa), and issues salvoconductos — reopened on September 21, with limited appointments available.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or cancillería, is still yet to open its offices, so applications for Migrant (M), Resident (R) and Visitor (V) visas, continue to be processed online. 

We asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ press office to answer some practical visa questions to provide advice both for foreigners currently in Colombia, and abroad. 

Has COVID-19 changed the Colombian visa system? 

Since 2017, Colombian visa authorities have had the discretion to request other documentation to understand or clarify the sort of activities that visa applicants will carry out in Colombia. The types of visa can be found here.

In January, before the pandemic hit Colombia, the Colombian Ministry of Health issued a decree which aimed to provide extra resources for the country’s social security system, in order to prevent it from being evaded or abused. Ever since, the Ministry of Foreign affairs has been checking V visa applications for evidence of international medical insurance, including during the pandemic, for proof that applicants will not be a “burden” for the country’s health service.

“The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of health services at a global level,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. “For this reason, as a self-protection measure, medical insurance is being requested.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can also request proof of academic qualifications — or equivalent proof of license to carry out a profession — at its own discretion for M and V Visas. This requirement was introduced in 2018 for independent worker M visas, and the ministry has recently begun to also request the extra documentation for some contractual employment visas. 

This proof of academic qualification must be apostilled (officially certified by a qualified representative that the document is legally recognised) in the country where it was issued. Although universities and colleges do not typically offer this service, applicants can send their degree to an official apostille service and expect to pay around £80, €90 or U.S. $105.

This apostilled degree must then be translated into Spanish and stamped by a government-recognised official translator. In Colombia, this service tends to cost approximately COP$200,000. It must then be certified by the Colombian Ministry of Education. 

When Colombia reopens its borders, will visa applications be processed as normal? Will people be able to enter the country on (V) visas?

The Colombian government has recently extended the health emergency until November 30, 2020, via a decree issued at the end of August.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that tourists will be allowed to enter the country on V visas “when conditions — such as the reopening of airports and the entire tourist industry — permit.”

For those wishing to enter on a permiso de ingreso y permanencia (visa on arrival), the ministry explained that the conditions under which foreign visitors will be allowed to enter the country will be decided as soon as national lockdown is lifted, which happened at the start of this month. 

People who are here as tourists have one month from October 1 to either legalise their status or leave the country. 

Were visa applications paused during lockdown?

For foreigners currently in Colombia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been processing applications for M, R and V visas online throughout lockdown. 

Read our latest coverage on the coronavirus in Colombia

Applicants wishing to change their type of V visa — which applies to academic exchange programmes, studies or postgraduate programmes, as well as temporary workers — were prohibited from doing so in April, meaning they can only apply to renew the same visa type.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Bogotá Post that the virtual process is working “very well.”

How long are visas taking to process?

Once paid for, the turnaround time for visa processing — according to the cancillería website — is five business days. This may be extended up to 30 calendar days in the event that additional documentation, or an interview, is required. If this is the case during lockdown, however, waits beyond 30 days can be expected. We know of various cases that have been in process for weeks, so don’t expect it to be fast.

For foreigners outside of Colombia who have had their visas in limbo during lockdown, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs re-opened all Colombian visa processing on June 24. This can be done online via a Colombian consulate in the applicant’s country of residence. Some Colombian consulates are now offering in-person services, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommends checking online first.

Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices will remain closed until further notice from the government.

I couldn’t leave the country because of lockdown, how does that affect my tax status?

According to Colombian law, if any foreign person stays longer than 183 days (6 months) in Colombia per calendar year, they are considered a fiscal resident and should declare their income if they earn over the specified buffers per tax year, which change annually.

Up until now, the government has not issued any decrees indicating any exceptions to this law, according to a Medellín-based tax advisor, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Anyone who earned over COP$47,978,000 in the 2019 tax year must now declare their income to the National Directorate of Taxes and Customs (DIAN) to be assessed on whether or not they must pay taxes in Colombia.

Income declarations began on August 11, and will continue until October 21.