What Canadians Need to Know When Travelling to Colombia

Global Citizen By Doug Bonderud March 3, 2020

This article was created in partnership with Western Union.

Colombian tourism is on the rise, attracting over 3 million tourists in 2017 alone, NBC News reported. More are on the way, too, as Colombian agencies lean into the natural beauty and wonder of the nation’s landscape, prompting an uptick in conference centre and hotel builds and supporting the “orange economy” — cultural and creative industries such as sports, art and health. At the same time, Canadian travel to Colombia is also increasing, with 64,000 visiting this year alone, Colombia’s The City Paper noted.

Travelling to Colombia to explore, meet new friends or reconnect with family? Here’s what you need to know.

Understand Entry Expectations

Before you book your trip, make sure you’re on top of any travel or tourism regulations. As noted by the Government of Canada, for example, all Canadian visitors in Colombia must have passports valid for at least six months past their expected departure date. In addition, all travellers must receive an entry stamp in their passport when entering Colombia by land. If this stamp is missing, border officials may levy a fine or demand you return to your point of entry to obtain this stamp.

According to The Globe and Mail, Colombia’s new government recently chose to repeal the reciprocity fee of $85 charged to every Canadian traveller upon entry — an action in response to similar fees levied for Colombians submitting visa applications in Canada. While this has helped spur new Canadian travellers to visit Colombia, it’s worth noting that the permitted length of your stay is still determined by immigration officers when you enter the country. The maximum initial period is 90 days, but Canadians can also apply for a tourist visa extension up to 180 days per year at any Migración Colombia office.

Consider Common Customs

Colombia contains one of the most diverse and compelling ecosystems in the world — jagged mountains, beautiful beaches, dense rainforests and unique archaeological sites across the country offer a microcosm of South America’s draw for North American travellers.

But if you’re travelling to Colombia, it’s worth remembering that scenery isn’t the only thing that sets this country apart from Canada. To help ensure a top-tier tourist experience, make sure to consider these common customs, laid out by Cultural Atlas:

  • Basic Etiquette. Slouching, leaning against objects and talking with your hands in your pockets is considered impolite in Colombia. During meals, keep your hands above the table and leave a small portion of food on your plate when you’re done eating to indicate that you’re full. Expect to be engaged in conversation while walking by people on their porches or front verandas.
  • Timekeeping. Most social engagements don’t start on time. Expect delays of up to one hour.
  • Communication. When speaking, Colombians expect direct eye contact and often leave less room for personal space than Canadians in social situations. While wry and humourous, they often avoid conflict with a more drawn-out approach to conversation.
  • Cultural History. Colombia has a history of illegal narcotics trade and violence, but efforts are being made to reduce both frequency and impact. Although new acquaintances may be willing to answer specific questions, avoid general remarks on the current and past nature of this concern.

Recognise Potential Risks

Despite improving conditions, risks remain for any Canadian travelling to Colombia.

The Government of Canada recommends all travellers avoid border areas near Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, along with the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco. Only essential travel is advised for areas including Arauca, Guaviare, Putumayo and Vichada. Canadians must also be mindful of their luggage at all times during their stay — at the airport, while in transit and at their hotel — and should never agree to carry packages for strangers. Given its history and ongoing challenges with the illegal drug trade, any illicit substances found in your luggage could result in lengthy jail time served in Colombia.

It’s also a good idea to prepare for inclement weather. With a tropical climate, Colombia faces regular hurricane threats from mid-May through November, and the rainy seasons from March to June and September to November often bring floods and mudslides. Bring appropriate clothing, know your emergency contact numbers and always tell someone where you’re going to limit your risk during natural disasters. Colombia also remains a volcanically active country — make sure to consult local websites, like the Servicio Geológico Colombiano, for any reports or warnings.

Manage Your Money

While crime rates in major Colombian cities have been steadily falling, urban centres such as Bogota still struggle with problems such as pick-pocketing and robbery. According to Colombia Reports, armed robberies account for half of all crimes reported by Bogota residents in 2018. As a result, the Government of Canada recommends that travellers carry a minimal amount of cash in a money belt. You can also take out local currency using an ATM, but this poses the same problem since thieves often keep an eye on local banks and tourist attractions.

Instead, consider online or mobile money transfer services that let you access cash where and when you need it. For example, if you need cash to pay for a souvenir or for a tourist guide, first confirm the amount and then use the Western Union® app to check exchange rates, locate an agent and finish your transaction in person. And with multilanguage support, you can also send money directly to other Western Union® app users. The upshot? Your cash is protected from potential theft — but remains accessible on demand.

A Canadian in Colombia?

It’s not so far-fetched, with the country improving safety and dropping its Canadian-only entry fee. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, however, make sure you’re prepared — know the entry rules, understand the local culture, recognise possible risks and protect your money abroad.

Need reliable access to your money while travelling?

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