Documentation Required for a Standard Business Visa

View of southern Medellin from the roof of the Nueva Alejandria building

“I knew this was going to happen,” I proclaimed, throwing my hands in the air in an exaggerated motion.

I’d spent an hour meticulously crafting a letter to my US-based bank, E*Trade, which spelled out exactly what I needed from them for my business visa application.

Specifically, I needed a signed, notarized letter from them stating my average monthly bank deposits, and balances, for the three accounts I had with them. This documentation is required to substantiate my ability to support myself in Colombia.

Instead, what my parents received back a week later was an unsigned letter from an Operations Expert in the New Jersey office stating why they cannot notarize documents.

In addition, the last three months worth of my bank records were provided, despite the fact that I stated in the letter that I could obtain this information myself through the E*Trade website.

I was pissed off. The confusion was going to cost me at least a week, maybe more, if they didn’t get it right the second time.

I called E*Trade customer service, and told them at a minimum I needed a signed letter with the average balances and deposits on it.

The information has to be on the signed letter, because that’s what I need to get notarized, and I can’t get the state to apostille the document unless it’s first notarized.

Wait, What’s a Notary?

notary is a lawyer or person with legal training who is licensed by the state to perform acts in legal affairs, in particular witnessing signatures on documents. The form that the notarial profession takes varies with local legal systems. — Wikipedia

And an Apostille?

The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement for Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents, the Apostille convention, or the Apostille treaty is an international treaty drafted by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. It specifies the modalities through which a document issued in one of the signatory countries can be certified for legal purposes in all the other signatory states. Such a certification is called an apostille (French: certification). It is an international certification comparable to a notarisation in domestic law.  — Wikipedia

In short, a notary certifies a document is official within a country, while an apostille certifies it is authentic for international use.

In the USA, notaries are fairly easy to find, and the fees are small. Apostilles must be done through the individual Department of State offices (depending on the state where the document was produced and notarized).

If my bank wasn’t going to notarize the letter, I had to come up with a Plan B. I emailed Chris, one of my oldest friends from New Jersey, and asked if he could assist me.

First, E*Trade would have to re-submit the request on my behalf, and mail me the signed letter.

Second, I’d have to FedEx it to Chris and hope he can get it notarized (I’ve been told by lawyer friends a notary does not always have to actually witness the signature to certify it).

Third, I’d have to include instructions for Chris to FedEx the notarized letter to the NJ State Dept for the apostille, plus include return FedEx envelope to my parents house in Florida.

The whole bank request suddenly became over-complicated by my bank’s unwillingness to notarize a document, what would seem a standard request for their customers. I’m surprised they don’t even have a notary in their NJ office, as we had a few in the insurance company I worked for in Virginia.

Meanwhile, I checked with my lawyer, Alan, regarding the notary, and thus apostille. He stated it was not absolutely required, but would be very helpful toward increasing the credibility of my documentation, and thus business visa application.

In the meantime, I appointed a new VP to my Florida-based company, RTW Media LLC. He also lives in Florida, and at my request, wrote, signed, and notarized a Company Declaration stating my business purposes in Colombia.

He then mailed this to my parent’s house, and in turn, they mailed it to the Florida State Department in Tallahassee for the apostille, along with a request for a signed, apostilled Certificate of Status, which states my LLC is in good standing in the state of Florida.

Through the FL State website, I can pay $5 to print out a copy of this, but per Alan, I need an original signature, and apostille.

Getting these documents from the US is what concerns me most about collecting the required documentation in a short period of time.

A delay or mistake can easily set me back several weeks, as was the case with E*Trade.

This series is intended to shed light on the entire process of applying for a business visa in Colombia. To that end, I want to share everything I need.

Required Documentation for a Standard Business Visa

  1. Certificate of Status: signed, apostilled, translated to Spanish.
  2. Company Declaration by another party: signed, notarized, apostilled, translated.
  3. Company Declaration written by me (in Colombia): signed, translated, notarized in Colombia.
  4. Bank Statements: signed, notarized, apostilled, and translated letter stating average monthly deposits and balances, plus 3 months worth of records.
  5. Preliminary Questionnaire: for use by my lawyer in preparing the application.
  6. Support Letters (Optional): letters in Spanish from Colombian business associates (or in my case, tourism officials), signed, notarized.
  7. Passport
  8. 2 copies of the Passport information page
  9. 2 copies of most recent Colombian visa stamps
  10. 3 visa-size photos

Update July 28, 2013: My parents received a second package from E*Trade, identical to the first. At first I was upset, until my parents confirmed that both the first AND second packages contained the signed letter I requested. It seems this was lost in communication after the first package was received, as only the unsigned letter stating a notary wasn’t possible was scanned/emailed to me. In other words, E*Trade did what they could, as I asked, and it was a miscommunication between my parents and I that lead us to lose a week.

To Be Continued…

Series

  1. The Decision to Pursue a Colombian Business Visa
  2. Documentation Required for a Standard Business Visa
  3. Business Visa Update
  4. Final Push: Visa Application and Interview Process in Bogota
  5. Colombia Visas: My Experience with Langon Colombia

___________

PS – There is another type of business visa for owners of a Colombia-based business. This option was more expensive, and involves setting up a company in Colombia, as well as a bank account. The documentation requirements are different. I chose the standard business visa option because it was less costly, and I already set up an LLC in Florida earlier this year.

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About Dave

David is the Editor in Chief of Medellín Living. Connect with him on Facebook and Google+.

Comments

  1. Nigel D says:

    Hey Dave,
    Very detailed share. Thanks.
    What is the minimum monthly USD balance requirement for someone seeking a Colombian business Visa the way you are pursuing it? And does 3 months worth of banking statements (notorized etc) satisfy that requirement?

    Thanks-

    • I don’t know that there’s an exact dollar figure. Obviously the more money you have coming into your business, the less concerned the Colombian officials will be about your ability to support yourself.

      Aside from getting all the documentation together before my tourist visa runs out, the biggest question mark for me is whether they’ll be satisfied with my bank balances. I’d much rather be submitting my 2012 tax return, than the last few months of bank statements, let’s just put it that way!

      I don’t think your bank records need to be signed/notarized. That’s the purpose of getting a signed letter with your avg bank balances and deposits. That’s the bank document you need to get notarized and apostilled.

      • Nigel D says:

        Got it. I find it strange that your lawyer didn’t provide you with a clear sense of what Colombia looks for in monthly compensation, at least as an ‘income range’ to qualify for a business Visa. I sense you’ll be ok as long as your documented income is at least 3 times the average per capita Colombia income. Let me know if you attain clarity from your lawyer or others.

        Good luck.

      • Steve Behr says:

        Hi Dave,
        Merry Christmas!
        I have another visa question if you don’t mind. It is concerning the bank statement, balance information that is required for a first time tourist visa.
        What exactly do they want? My ending statement balance on my checking account is usually pretty low. Will that hurt me? Again, they want something like a average balance? How do I get that?
        And finally, can I submit statements from my Scottrade stock account instead of bank account statement? Please help! I am a US citizen.

      • Steve Behr says:

        Hi Jeff,
        Merry Christmas!
        I have another visa question if you don’t mind. It is concerning the bank statement, balance information that is required for a FIRST TIME TOURIST VISA.
        What exactly do they want? My ending statement balance on my checking account is usually pretty low. Will that hurt me? Again, they want something like a average balance? How do I get that?
        And finally, can I submit statementS from my Scottrade stock account instead of bank account statement? I am a US citizen. Please help!

  2. Why not get a student visa instead, which has much easier supporting document requirements? I talked to a couple of Americans on a flight from Bogotá recently that both recently received the business visa you are trying to get and both said the visa they received was only good for six months. This was also the recent experience of Jasmine posted on the blog site Jaminewanders, she also recently received a six month Colombia business visa.

    Of course you would have to pay for Spanish classes to get a Colombia student visa – for example it costs 818,400 pesos ($434 USD at current exchange rate) per Spanish class at Universidad EAFIT in Medellín if you pay for at least 6 classes. Each semi-intensive class at EAFIT is 38 hours with classes 2 hours per day Monday-Friday. EAFIT discounts the normal 880,000 peso class cost by 7% for paying for 6 classes in advance. So for paying a little over $100 per week for classes you could get a visa that is easy to renew plus improve your Spanish and you would be going to the best private university in Medellín with the opportunity to meet tons of college-age women that typically come from higher income families.

    • I considered a student visa, but was surprised at the prices listed on the EAFIT website. As much as I’d like to improve my Spanish, I’m more interested in working, and growing my business, especially as this year hasn’t been as good to me as 2012.

      I need to figure out how to right my ship before I start paying $400/month, plus transport costs for daily Spanish classes. To save money, I’ve also temporarily stopped going to the gym, taking dance lessons, and buying high ticket entertainment stuff like concert tickets.

      Plus, even if I wanted a student visa, I’d still have to travel to Bogota to apply for it, so that’s the same as is required for a business visa.

      For those reading, with a serious interest in learning Spanish, I agree that going the student visa route makes a lot of sense. Even Jasmine had one based on photography classes she was taking, before she resorted to applying for a business visa.

      While it may be more paperwork and a hassle up front to apply for the business visa, I believe it will cost me less in the long run.

    • Nigel D says:

      Jeff,
      That sounds like the way to go, the EAFIT classes. But what exactly is the renewal process like? Is it set up so every 6 months you would have to re enroll into the school at $2,600 per 6 months for a maximum of 2 years?

      Plus that’s the BEST way to meet authentic local people and build meaningful relationships in my opinion.

      Are you clear on the details?
      Thanks.

      • You can pay for as many classes as you want up front and EAFIT will give you a registration form that has the dates (from, to) and that is one of the documents used for the visa. However, the length of a student visa does not necessarily correspond to the length of time one registers for classes. For example, in the past I have heard of some that registered for and paid for three months of classes yet received a six month visa.

        Travelers who become students can convert their tourist visa into a student visa and legally circumvent the half-year limitation for staying in Colombia. Six months as a tourist plus a six month student visa would allow someone to spend a full year in Colombia and roll over into the next calendar year, where he or she will be eligible for six more months as a tourist.

        I haven’t had to renew a student visa, yet. But I’ll be in Bogotá next week and need to go to the Minsterio de Relaciones Exteriores to help out a friend that doesn’t speak Spanish and I’ll see what I can find out about renewing.

        After spending more than 6 years of traveling to and living in Colombia, I would say that EAFIT is probably the BEST way to meet many authentic local people. Much better than using an online site like Colombian Cupid that is full of lower estrato women (that seem to be interested in money or travel). EAFIT’s campus is nice with a small food court where it is easy to meet people, especially when you get more fluent and there is also lots of university events going on – concerts, films, etc. Plus the language center schedules a number of events.

        • I spent some time on EAFIT’s campus in 2009, and would just like to add the girls are quite pretty there. Only problem is I’m about to turn 37, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, I probably shouldn’t be looking for a girlfriend on a college campus.

          But for the younger guys, highly recommended.

          • To each his own.

            When I studied Spanish in Cartagena I was not much younger than you Dave, and ALL of my action from school was between the ages of 17-21. The BEST time EVER for FUN! I spent a long passionate holiday weekend in the coastal town of Tolu with a stunning girl as her 18th birthday present, with the consent and ‘permission’ of her parents which was required. It was a blast for both of us.

            A young va jay jay is always a fun va jay jay in my book. Of course that comes with a trade off, but my emphasis is on the word FUN!

            The difference between the US and say most emerging market countries that I’ve traveled to or lived in, is you really don’t have to go “looking for” girlfriends, companions, or dates who are considerably younger than you. They tend to find you, it’s a form of social gravity.

            The NON US cultures are different, I discussed this briefly on your blog within this section before, and even though the outcome in that particular case ended up in a Girlfriend ‘robbery’ by a much younger lady against a much older man, the age gap within their relationship is not abnormal in Colombia, Venezuela, or many parts of Asia.

            But I am also abnormal as an America as I’m the product of a father who is 15 years older than my mother. And my father is not rich or famous, thus I did not grow up with relationship age bias unlike most Americans.

            And by nurture I personally find it inconceivable / unappealing to be married to anyone not at least 10 years younger than me.

            So perhaps some sort of ‘age gap frequency’ exist as I’ve attracted the same scenario while living in Philly, Miami, South America, etc and a meaningful relationship with a German. By that I mean routinely I’ve ended up with girlfriends considerably younger than myself, who on occasion were also from families where an age gap scenario existed. Father was always 15-20 years older than the wife.

            In my experience, the US is the exception with Age dating bias, unless you are a Rock Star, Famous Actor, or otherwise financially Affluent (excluding parts of Florida ‘Dade County’ where high concentrations of Hispanics exist and it’s not uncommon to see men who are much older than the pretty young things they tend to be with)

            It has also been my observation (especially in Miami, NY, LA) that the more successful the man appears to be, the more options he tends to have dating individuals who are at least a decade younger than him. That’s just the nature of things.

            Dave, I don’t know if you have hang ups or just preference, or nurture about college girls in Colombia..

            I imagine if you have hang ups or insecurities about being 37 and dating beautiful girls in their late teens or twenties at EAFIT, then clearly it’s a personal choice matter.

            I guarantee you that if you are fit, charming, and have a half decent personality type=FUN, ‘looking for a girlfriend on a college campus’ would be unproblematic, if that is a part of your agenda. If I were in your shoes it sure would be a part of my agenda.

            Again, to each his own.
            YOLO 😉

          • Totally agree with you, to each their own. I try not to judge anyone, it’s just a realization I’ve had about myself and my priorities recently.

            I’ve gone out with girls in Colombia much younger than me, in the 18-21 range, but in retrospect, there’s only so far I can take things with a girl half my age.

            In my experience, the upside is their beauty, and they can be a lot of fun. The downside is they can be incredibly flaky, lacking money to even pay for phone calls or taxis, and generally not someone I can talk to on a deeper level.

            I also prefer to date someone younger, but I think at my age, 10 years younger is about right if I’m seeking a relationship beyond the physical. That puts them in their mid to upper-20’s. She’s had a chance to develop a career, earn some money, maybe do some traveling.

            That’s the kind of woman I can talk to about what’s going on in my life, beyond whatever we’re doing together in the present moment.

          • Nigel D says:

            Understanding and pursuing your Priorities and moving beyond the physical are important, especially in a place like Colombia because so many shallow yet fun distractions exist, and it’s just so easy. You are 100% correct in your outlook. You have a clear sense of what you want and balance. Very admirable. Mature.

        • Thanks Jeff,

          When I was in Cartagena I was told that if I had a letter of Academic enrollment endorsed by the owner of the school or administrator requesting that I be given a 24 month student Visa in order to Complete my 24 month language studies, then I would be given a student Visa good for 2 years.

          I never put this into motion nor have I done any additional research into the matter, I’ve always simply overstayed my Tourist visa and paid the cheap exit Visa fine to leave without a hastle. I’ve always viewed that as the least stressful way to handle overstaying in Colombia. It’s a bit roguish but it’s worked without a hitch so far.

          I’d be really interested in your specific Updated feedback on this matter Jeff.
          Thanks in advance for your insight.

          Cheers-

          • Hi Nigel,

            I found out today at the Minsterio de Relaciones Exteriores in Bogotá that for the student visa (now called TP-3 visa) they now want to see a bank “certificate” showing the average balance over the past six months is greater than 10 times the legal minimum wage in Colombia. Or you can provide six months of bank statements. And they also wanted to see proof of payment for classes. My friend paid for 6 months of classes up front and had a receipt and received a 1-year student visa. After the 1-year visa time period is up, to take additional classes would require another visa.

          • That’s Jeff!
            This is excellent current useful information! So if I understand your feedback properly, the Colombian minimum wage I think is 328.00 per month. So during a 6 month period an American applicant is required to have a monthly bank balance of at least $3,280 in order to qualify.

            With proof of prepayment for classes, makes sense.

            Bravo 😉
            Nigel

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