Getting a Colombian Business Visa: Part Strategy, Part Luck

It’s that time again.

My student visa is quickly expiring. In order to stay in Colombia, I have to do something – quick.

My next best option is filing for a business visa of the “independent activities” variety. This enables me to be in Colombia to explore business opportunities.

I decide to take care of this on a trip to Florida. I schedule an appointment several days in advance through the Colombian embassy’s Miami site.

On the day of, I scramble around to get all my documents together.

Passport copies? Check. Letter of intent? Check. Business references? Check. LLC docs? Check. Horrid passport photos manually cut by Walgreens’ staff? Check.

I arrive early for my scheduled appointment. I’m directed to a plastic chair filled waiting room.

After a few minutes, a smiley blonde waves me over to her desk. I take a seat across from her and slide my folder over to her side of the table. She flips through my documents, her eyes roving between me and my papers, sizing us both up, determining whether we are in order or not, whether we are legit or not.

She doesn’t speak. Her smile doesn’t falter once.

When she comes to the end of the stack, she says, “Oh, you just registered your business last month?”

Gulp. I confirmed, though I elaborated that I’ve been working for myself for several years now.

She slides an empty application form over to me. Apparently the one with typed responses wasn’t sufficient.

As I begin to fill it out, she tells me I need to show proof of my income and that I have enough to support myself in Colombia. She says come back in three days.

(Did I mention I’m only in Florida for eight days total? And that three days would bring us to a Sunday, the following day a holiday, and then I’d have only two more days left before my flight?)

I ask her if there’s somewhere close by I can print out my bank statements, and if I can bring it back to her right away.

She exchanges sidelong glances with her assistant and looks back at me, the smile never leaving her face. “Come back in three days. Your visa will be ready. Just don’t forget to bring proof of your income.”

I decide not to press my luck. I smile back at her and get up to leave, dejected. I guess I’ll come back after the long Memorial Day weekend.

West Palm Beach

enjoying West Palm Beach

The day of my flight back to Colombia, we rent a car from West Palm Beach and drive it back to the office on Biscayne Boulevard at the beginning of the work day. Up to the 25th floor we go again, to the waiting room with the plastic chairs.

The  lady’s assistant and a man who looks just as young and intern-y as she does sit behind her desk this time.

This isn’t good.

I’m called over. I explain my situation to the pair, placing proof of income on the table. The woman rummages through some folders and finds the one with my name on it.

Should be easy right? They’ll just pull out my new, shiny visa and paste it in my passport, right?

She flips through the folder and says to me, “OK come back later. We have to get it authorized by Bogota first.”

BOGOTA?!?!?!

“No,” I say. “I was here last week, they told me to come back this week and that my visa would be ready. I’m flying back to Colombia today.”

She picks up her cell and calls someone else (the original woman?). I hear her say my business name and my line of work. Then she confirms the length of my visa with the person on the other end. Six months.

Six months? Business visas are supposed to be for a year, sometimes even 18 months. But definitely not six. Six is for tourist visa extensions, not business visas.

I am a victim of circumstance.

Had the woman in charge been there, had I known to bring proof of my income, had I even taken care of this in a different embassy, I would have gotten more time.

That’s how it goes when you have to deal with immigration. Like a game of poker, getting the outcome you want is part strategy, part luck of the draw.

For getting a visa in Colombia, I recommend Alan Gongora of Langon Law Firm. Check out their guide to getting a visa here.

  • http://www.gobackpacking.com Dave

    I was in Florida in June, planning to apply for a business or journalism visa in Miami, when I decided to hire Alan G (the oft-recommended lawyer here in Medellin).

    After our phone consult, I didn’t like the uncertainty of me 1) either going it alone, or 2) trying to get a business/journalism visa before June 24, when new changes were due to go in effect.

    I even remember him telling me that business visas may be decreased to 6 months, when like you, I had expected they would allow 12 months. He mentioned a journalism visa may be reduced to just 3 months.

    So I decided to wait, and re-evaluate my options once I arrived back in Colombia. At the moment, I’m even considering a student visa for the first time. My Spanish is still a long way off from where I’d like it to be.

  • Martijn Spronk

    You are absolutely correct that it’s a luck of the draw. Below is a description of what was my experience, quite the opposite:

    This was my experience getting a Business Visa abroad. This was specific to Vancouver, Canada, and apparently depends a lot on the consulate you deal with.

    I was planning to apply inside Colombia, with the help of Alan Gongora. He pointed out to me the need to get documents Apostille’d. So once I found out Canada does not take part of the Apostille convention, I called the Colombian Consulate to ask if they certify documents. This was the lucky coincidence, because the guy I spoke to basically convinced me to come in tomorrow and “just get my visa. Why wait and spend the money having them certify documents.”

    Since I am incorporated (and I think this helps a lot), I essentially wrote a letter on behalf of my own company explaining I wanted to explore business opportunities and the possibility to start a company in Colombia. I also included a great supporting letter from one of the founders of Espacio in Medellin.

    I brought the paperwork to the Consulate the next morning – which was the MOST laid back experience at a consulate ever! The consul is a very friendly and welcoming person. And later in the day they called me to tell me my passport with the visa was ready for pickup.

    I’ve now got a 2 year Visa De Negocios.

    I think what was key for me was that a consulate abroad CAN be a much more encouraging place than DAS or the likes in Colombia itself – and in addition they speak your language. However it definitely varies greatly from place to place.

  • Dani Blanchette

    I went to do the relationship visa when i was there this Feb, and found out they got rid of it.

    So i got common-lawed to Diego so im eligible for the marriage visa. But then didnt get it because of a few months of travel to the USA/Canada. I figured we would get it when I return, as to not waste the few months im in the USA.

    Now I hear they are changing visas and eligibility AGAIN! *smashes head on wall*

  • http://dev.jasminewanders.com Jasmine Stephenson

    Student visas are a good way to go, but I found that the minimum study requirement of 10 hours a week overwhelming. Also, studying English for that many hours per week at a university is pretty expensive.

  • http://dev.jasminewanders.com Jasmine Stephenson

    Yeah definitely. When I was in New York getting my student visa, it was super easy and they gave me a year.

  • http://dev.jasminewanders.com Jasmine Stephenson

    Yikes. I think that will be my next choice when this one expires. A couple of my friends did the common law visa and they said it was really easy.

  • Diego Fran

    If you were a guy I´d marry you :)

  • Mark Firth

    They are actually on the point of removing independent visas, they are only allowing them for very specific activities. Maybe your activity isn’t on that list and the change is due within the next 6 months. They are also making most of the visas more expensive and upping the criteria e.g. on the socio visa the 100x min salaries will be increasing.

    How do I know? Conversations when I renewed my visa 2 weeks ago, 2 separate presentations I attended with immigration lawyers and 2 friends being rejected on the independent visa, I think you were lucky to get 6 months. Start planning for another visa for a renewal if I were you!

    A small insight on the changes here (not the criteria) http://www.bu.com.co/bup/Archivos/New-colombian-immigration-statute.PDF

  • http://dev.jasminewanders.com Jasmine Stephenson

    Thanks for the info Mark! I had heard about some changes in the works but I didn’t realize that would affect the independent activities visa.

  • Mark Firth

    No worries, sorry, I just saw the link has been removed, try this one http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=218378ef-44c5-43d8-82c1-2ca4a8df8b2b

    I think there is always a way to get a visa, but now we will have to get smarter. It is inevitable there will be change. They told me they process 150 visas a day and the queue was crazy long, much more than when I did it 2 years ago, I believe like brazil where things gradually got harder as demand increased – the same will happen in Colombia. They aren’t exactly being overrun but the changes are very clear to see.

    Going on the line, the majority are from Spain and Venezuela. Just on the line, I will qualify I have no facts or data to substantiate that.

  • Katy West

    Now that Decree 834 has come into force, they are now demanding a public act (or deed) for common-law situations.

    Still, as things are still very new, many MinRelExt employees aren’t too sure of the new rules. Patience is required.

  • Philip Lee

    Sorry didnt see your student visa page… Ill ask this question over there instead!