Panic caught in my throat as I looked at the date and realized my most recent 30-day visa extension was rapidly coming to an end. Maneuvering through a governmental office in Spanish is not what I consider a leisure activity, but it would have to be done.
I attempted to call the number listed on their website for the foreigners’ department to make an appointment like I had needed to in Pereira the first time around. No one seemed to know what to tell me, and I was directed to another number. Both calls were continuously cut off, and after four or five dials, I had gotten nowhere.
Baffled, the girl working at my current hostel decided to help me through the bureaucracy and picked up the phone herself. Five phone calls to five different phone numbers later, the end result was that I didn’t need an appointment. It felt more like we were trying to get a hold of a customer service representative in the US – dial 64 to be put on hold for a couple hours and reach someone who can’t help you).
I set my alarm super early to try to beat the other expats and travelers asking for an extension and squeezed onto a jam-packed bus full of suits heading to work in the wee hours of the morning. I silently gave thanks for my freelance jobs and the fact that I don’t have to wake up early nor ride a bus during peak hours every day while the bus jarred us frontwards and backwards like a lancha on Lago Atitlan.
The directions were straightforward enough, and after getting off the bus at a stop six blocks too far ahead, I dodged the wealthy residents of Bogota’s north and was met with a security guard at the DAS office. After leaving my electronics behind the desk, and having my passport manhandled like the Sunday trash, she directed me upstairs. I waited for a few minutes and was finally approached by someone as I tried to make sense of the Spanish signs that hosted words I didn’t recognize.
The lady who began speaking with me had a thick accent, and her bright lipstick was distracting me from any meaning I could extract from her words. She sent me back downstairs, and I felt like a little kid receiving a time-out. “Oh, this is gonna be fun!” I thought.
Downstairs again, the security guard returned my electronics and directed me to another building. Maybe they were the ones answering the phones? Sorry ma’am, I don’t feel like helping you, but I’ll be happy to pass off the responsibility to my coworker.
The man in the next office was smiling and friendly, and spoke the slow, accentuated Spanish of a man who is used to working with foreigners; we’ll call him FIG, for Friendly Information Guy. FIG took a quick look at my passport and handed me a slip to take to a bank a few blocks away and pay my fee of roughly $35 to stay in the country.
Optimistic, I practically ran down the street to the designated bank – which hadn’t opened yet. Nooooo! I couldn’t believe I was being penalized for waking up early! I passed my time in a café around the corner that overcharged me for a tinto and returned to the bank, only to be greeted by a long line. Double nooooo!
Luckily, the Ecuadorian guy in front of me was also at this bank to pay his visa fee, and the security guard helped him fill out the deposit slip and sent him to his own private line. Woo-hoo, VIP! I followed closely and got the transaction done in record time.
I ran back to the office and gave up my passport to FIG again. I settled into a seat and watched the freak show of other foreigners trying to get their visas renewed too. There was the American guy talking to a Dutch guy about how British people think their English is better than everyone else’s; the Venezuelan woman sitting next to me digging into her purse while at the same time digging her elbows into my sides; and a few other Americans speaking Spanglish with horrible accents to FIG, who I imagined was feeling less friendly now than before.
And I waited. And waited. The Ecuadorian guy who I had seen at the bank was especially restless. He indulged in staring at the passport-extender lady every five minutes, and going to ask her the status of his passport ever 10 minutes. “Whoa, that’s not gonna get you anywhere,” I thought to myself. The immigration staff are the last ones in the whole country that you want to piss off!
“Jasmine Nicole.” They call my name after one hour of waiting. I hold my breath, head to her window, and issue a friendly Spanish greeting, totally casual. She apologizes for making me wait. I assure her it’s no big deal at all. I hadn’t even noticed (not). The result?
Two months more! Two for the price of one, that’s what I’m talking about!!! No more DAS for me this year!!!
For getting a visa in Colombia, I recommend Alan Gongora of Langon Law Firm. Check out their guide to getting a visa here.