Visitors from the US, Canada, the EU, Latin America, Japan, New Zealand and Australia do not need tourist visas to enter the country. Upon arrival, the National Security Department grants travellers a 90-day stay. Visitors are allowed a total of 180 days every 12 months for tourism purposes without requiring special permission or residence. Upon arrival, immigration officials will require a local address, whether it be a hotel or a private house. Pre-travel visas are issued by Colombian consulates in countries for which they are needed.
The local currency is the Colombian peso (COP) and is available in notes of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000. Coins are available in 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 denominations. Most hotel and airport currency exchange booths handle transactions involving US dollars, euros and British pounds. Credit cards are widely accepted in major cities, though it is always recommended to carry some cash.
Spanish is the official language, though more than 65 other recognised languages are spoken. English is also an official language in San Andrés, Providencia and the Santa Catalina Islands. Business executives and senior government officials tend to have a high level of English proficiency, while the average Colombian does not speak it as fluently. A basic level of Spanish, at the very least a practical Spanish for beginners book, is recommended for visitors.
The country code for Colombia is +57, followed by the codes: (1) for Bogotá, (2) for Cali, (4) for Medellín and (5) for the Caribbean coast. Prepaid SIM cards can be obtained by providing a valid passport through any of the numerous mobile operators, as well as virtual operators Uff! Movil, Exito Movil and Virgin Mobile.
While Colombia’s big cities have mass transit services, such as the high-capacity bus lines TransMilenio in Bogotá, Mio in Cali, Metrolinea in Bucaramanga and Transmetro in Barranquilla, the only city with a subway system is Medellín. Taxis are available at all major hotels. Due to traffic conditions and security concerns, it is advisable that travellers contract hourly taxi services, car services with drivers or use the “radio taxi” service. Taxis can also be ordered via various smartphone apps, such as Tappsi. Car hire establishments can be found at the airport or at several locations throughout the country.
Business hours run from 7/8am to 5/6pm, with a break around 12-2pm. During Easter and Christmas most of the country’s businesses are closed, as well as during other national holidays, of which there are 19. Colombian national holidays include Independence Day (July 20), Battle of Boyacá Day (August 7), Independence of Cartagena Day (November 17) and Labour Day (May 1).
Bogotá is a very congested city. It is recommended to leave plenty of time to get to business meetings, as travelling by road during rush hour can take up to four times longer than at off times. Peak hours are between 6.00am and 9.00am and between 3.00pm and 8.00pm. Traffic is less intense in Medellín, Bucaramanga, Cali and Barranquilla.
Adequate private and government health clinics can be found in major cities, with quality and coverage decreasing the more you venture into the countryside. Private clinics are generally better stocked and the chances of finding an English-speaking doctor are higher. Pharmacies are well stocked with internationally branded medicines. Advance planning for vaccination requirements will ensure safe travel within the country, since visiting certain regions, such as the Amazon and the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, carries the risk of contracting diseases.
While Colombia is far from the violent country it was 20 years ago, travellers should still be aware. Like many places in the world, theft and robbery in the form of snatching personal belongings or pickpocketing is quite common in larger cities like Bogotá.
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