Final Push: Visa Application and Interview Process in Bogotá

Colombian Flag in Cartagena

Under the Colombian flag in Cartagena

Months of planning, dozens of questions, and over a thousand dollars spent on a legal fees, FedEx shipping, and travel had led me to Carolina’s cubicle at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores in Bogotá.

She was the gatekeeper, randomly assigned to review my business visa application, and decide 1) if I qualified for the visa, and 2) if yes, the duration of its validity.

I watched her flip through my stack of documents, which Alan, my lawyer, assured me was the best application we could put together. The Cadillac of NE1 Business Visa applications, he said.

But would my humble bank balances, well below the $10,000 I so often heard quoted in reference to business visas, and my 6-month old LLC for an online business be enough?

Final Preparations in Medellin

My document collection efforts came to a head 24 hours earlier in Medellin.

It was Thursday, and I was already holding the original documentation I’d been waiting on from the United States for weeks:

  • Signed, apostilled Florida Certificate of Status for my LLC.
  • Signed, apostilled Company Declaration from the VP of my LLC, also located in Florida.
  • Signed letter from my bank stating my average bank balances and monthly deposits for the last 3 months, plus a letter stating why they can’t notarize it.

The cost to ship those documents from Florida via FedEx International Priority was $93. My Dad dropped it off on a Saturday, and it arrived by 6:15 PM the following Tuesday.

Now I was just waiting on those documents to be translated into Spanish by an official Colombian translator. I used Inter-Col, a service recommended by Alan, and was assured they’d be ready within 24-48 hours. At $12 per page, it wasn’t cheap.

I wanted desperately to get to Bogotá Thursday evening so I could be at the Foreign Relations office bright and early Friday morning to get a good spot in the queue.

In the meantime, I paced anxiously around the apartment.

I’d been watching airfare rates the last few days, and despite some very cheap flights to Bogotá when you book ahead on VivaColombia, a discount airline, I’d waited too long.

I took a chance that the translations would be ready on time, and booked a one-way flight on Avianca for 9:45 PM. The cost was $95.

At 4:30 PM, I had a final conference call with Alan to confirm we had all the documentation, and go over any last questions. At 5 PM, as the call wrapped up, his assistant confirmed my translations were completed and ready.

I was too impatient to depend on a courier service. I dashed out of the apartment, the elevator not descending to the ground floor fast enough, and jumped into a taxi. The rush hour traffic was already clogging the roads.

I told the driver I needed to get those documents before the office closed at 6 PM, and to his credit, got us there safely in 40 minutes.

I paid $84 in cash for the translations, and jumped back in the same cab for the ride back to Ciudad del Rio. In terms of documentation, I’d passed my final hurdle, or so I hoped.

Lourdes Church in barrio Chapinero Alto near my hostel

Lourdes Church in barrio Chapinero Alto near my hostel

Travel To Bogotá

By the time I got back to my apartment, I had a half hour to pack my small carry-on bag, and have security call me a taxi to the airport in Rio Negro ($31). We flew up Las Palmas, the air turning cold as we rose 800 meters up from the valley floor.

I checked in at the VivaColombia desk, and was told due to weather delays in Bogotá, I could take an earlier flight at 8:30 PM. That meant I was due at the gate in five minutes.

As usual, there were no lines at security, so I breezed through to my gate, where I had a few minutes to spare. I realized I hadn’t eaten dinner. No matter, I was going to get to Bogotá an hour earlier, which meant getting to bed an hour earlier.

The only problem was I’d arranged for a taxi through La Pinta Hostel in Bogotá to pick me up at 10:30 PM. I accessed the airport WiFi to notify them of the change via email, and boarded the flight.

After a short delay on the tarmac, we took off on the 25-minute flight to Bogotá. It was over in the blink of an eye.

Like I expected, the driver picking me up didn’t get the update, and I had to wait around for an hour, eating pastries to pass the time.

On our drive to the hostel, we came across a traffic accident. There were a lot of police, and I purposefully didn’t look to my left to see it. My driver did, mentioning someone had died. If I believed in omens on the eve of my visa application, that wasn’t a good one.

I checked into the hostel, and was assigned the same bottom bunk I slept in while there two years earlier to apply for a new passport. The familiarity didn’t make it any easier to fall asleep. I drifted off around 1 AM.

Plaza Independiente in the city of Zipaqueria north of Bogota

Plaza Independiente in the city of Zipaqueria north of Bogota

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores

My iPhone alarm went off around 5:45 AM, and I quietly crept out of the room to take a quick shower, before collecting my documents and asking the receptionist to call me a taxi.

Arriving at the office of Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores at 7 AM, thirty minutes before it was due to open, I was surprised to already see a line of 50+ people, most of whom appeared to be Colombian.

I took my place behind Reid, an American English Professor teaching at a Bogotá university. We immediately started chatting, and would continue to do so as the office opened, and we slowly made our way into the 3rd floor suite where visa applications are reviewed.

First, we had to pay the $50 application fee (cash only), at which point we were given a number in the queue. Despite arriving 30 minutes before the office opened, I was #43 in line.

It could’ve been worse, by 10 AM, an employee came out and told everyone above #70 to leave and go to lunch, because they would not be seen any sooner than that afternoon.

A sign on the wall indicated the space was a Wi-Fi zone, but for whatever reason, I was never able to establish a connection.

Luckily, the hours passed quickly talking to Reid. It also took awhile to decipher the queue board. It lists “turns” which correspond to the number you’re given, and “modulos” which refers to the number of the cubicle and interviewer you’re assigned to when your number appears.

At 10:50 AM, my number finally lit up in red next to modulo #7, and I had my first meeting with Carolina. I waited patiently as she perused my papers.

Her desk was sparse, aside from two full glasses of water, a computer, and a Canon DSLR with a security wire tethering it to the desk. The walls were white, there were no pictures hanging.

Ten minutes, and minimal conversation later, she said I could go back out to the waiting room, and wait for my number to be called again.

Fifteen minutes passed, and my number lit up again. I returned to the same cubicle, at which point Carolina took my photo using the DSLR. Apparently there was no need for the 3×4 cm visa photos with a white background I’d gone out of my way to obtain.

She proceeded to scan all of my documents, and then returned them to me. Feeling a little more comfortable at this point (as in why would she take my photo if I weren’t getting a visa), I proceeded with a small charm offensive, and made a little small talk.

By 11:30 AM, I was once again sitting in the waiting room, which was starting to empty out ahead of lunch. A few minutes later, I returned to cubicle #7 where Carolina printed out and pasted a brand new NE1 business visa in my passport, valid through December 31, 2014.

I had expected 6 months, and was very pleased to have received 16 instead!

Now, I just had to pay the newly increased visa fee of $370, in cash, to get my passport back. The only problem was I didn’t have it on me.

Outside the building, there was a Bancolombia ATM, but my debit card has never worked with that bank. Instead, I had to cross a busy intersection to withdraw the money from Davivienda.

Returning to the 3rd floor suite, I walked past security, and presented my receipt for the visa, along with a giant wad of pesos to the cashier. She signed off on it, and I was then able to walk back to Carolina’s cube one last time to pick up my passport and visa.

A silletero's garden in Santa Elena, Antioquia

A silletero’s garden in Santa Elena, Antioquia

Clarification: Visa Validity vs. Time in the Country

Once I returned to the hostel, I got online and notified friends and family about my success. I also notified Alan, my lawyer, who congratulated me, but also asked that I call him to clarify something.

It was only after obtaining the visa that I learned something very important. Just because my new business visa is valid 16 months doesn’t mean I can spend all that time in the country. On the contrary, it’s set up to allow me a maximum of 6 months per calendar year, for the duration the visa is valid.

The NE1 visa can be valid up to three years, and it’s at the discretion of the interviewer to set that length of time. More time equals fewer potential renewals, but it doesn’t mean I can stay more than 6 months per calendar year.

But that’s OK, because this visa still accomplished my goal. It allows me to spend the remainder of 2013 in Colombia, and the first 6 months of 2014.

If at that point, I want to stay longer, I can cancel the business visa, and switch back to a tourist visa, though I’d have to leave the country and come back to do so.

Total Costs

This is a rough estimate of the costs throughout this process:

Legal Fees

  • $264 – Legalzoom cost to set up LLC (February 2013)
  • $220 – Lawyer fees

Application Preparation

  • $5 – Florida Certificate of Status for my LLC
  • $20 – Apostille fees in Florida
  • $25 – Miscellaneous (photocopying, printing, new visa photos)
  • $157 – FedEx fees to obtain documents within US, and send to Medellin
  • $84 – Translation fees

Travel 

  • $138 – Flights to/from Bogota
  • $93 – Airport taxis (two in Bogota, two in Medellin)
  • $15 – Minimum one night stay at hostel
  • $10 – Taxis to/from visa office

Visa Fees

  • $50 – NE1 business visa application fee
  • $370 – NE 1 business visa fee

Grand Total  = $1,871

The new NE1 visa fee that went into effect in the last month is the same whether you apply within Colombia or outside the country.

As you can tell, obtaining a business visa in Colombia is no longer a cheap affair.

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
Like the story? Take a second to support Medellin Living on Patreon!
About Dave

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

Comments

  1. nat merrill says:

    Dave:
    First of all, congratulations! Almost a year ahead of you in Colombia.
    I am disappointed that none of the authorities you approached, nor your legal team, informed you of the nature of a business visa in Colombia. I find it difficult to accept that Colombia offers you a business visa for 16 months and prohibits your entry into Colombia during 6 months each year!
    Do you consider Colombia “foreigner friendly” and “business friendly”?
    Nat

    • Yea, I thought that was surprising about the business visa too. They enacted new rules within the last 30-45 days, so it’s possible that wasn’t always the case. Also, there are other types of business visas that allow more time per calendar year, but the NE1 is the one that best applied to my situation.

      Part of the reason I’m told that the business visa is only good for half the year is that it’s not meant to be a visa that allows residency.

      Also on that note, tax-wise, if you stay more than 183 days per calendar year, you’re considered a resident and may be required to file taxes (based on the way my business operates, I won’t have to file taxes, at least for 2013).

  2. I’ll be looking at options for extended stay in Colombia about a year for now. Right now I’m good on the tourist visa until the end of this year and then I’m going to stay for 2 months before heading into the rest of South America. \

    Seems like quite a bit of work and money to be able to stay 6 months extra. That’s something very important and thanks so much for sharing 🙂 If you knew about that before, would you have pursued the same NE1 Business Visa, or something different?

    Adam

    • I believe I still would’ve pursued the same NE1 business visa, as it makes the most sense based on my priorities.

      Spanish classes are expensive, and you’re still required to pay visa fees and travel to Bogota to get your student visa. As continues to be the case, I prefer to prioritize my work over studying Spanish.

      • The TP-3 student visa cost is only $65 in comparison without the need for all the paperwork and legal fees required for the NE1 visa. So the cost of TP-3 visa including travel to/from Bogota would be only $321. Plus the NE1 visa requires actually forming a business. The cost difference compared to the NE1 visa costs listed here is over $1,500, which would be enough to pay for 3 Spanish classes at EAFIT University and have some money left over. I received a TP-3 visa good for a year and I think the TP-3 visa would be an easier option for most people wanting to stay more than 6 months in Colombia. Plus if you receive a one-year TP-3 visa mid-year and combine with regular tourist visas for the other 6 months each year you could stay in Colombia for 2 full years.

        • Well, I was going to create an LLC for my business anyways, so that’s a $230 cost I would’ve had regardless of the visa I chose.

          Also, it sounds nice enough to say the cost difference could “pay for 3 Spanish classes at EAFIT University” until you learn that a single class is just 3 weeks, so that’s 9 weeks, or only about 3 months of classes.

          At the end of the day, it wasn’t the cost that drove my decision, it was my priorities with regard to how I wanted to spend my time.

          While the up front cost was a lot, I’m now in a position to stay in Colombia for the next 10 months at no additional cost, and if I leave and come back on a tourist visa (which I’m assured I can do), then I’m good for 13 months, at which point I could renew my tourist visa to stay another 3 months for $40 (or 16 months total). Leave again in Dec 2014, return in Jan 2015, and I can stay up to another 6 months with a single $40 tourist visa renewal.

          I’m by no means saying one visa is better than another. Everyone’s got their own priorities, and I know some would much prefer to go the student visa route, though long term I believe the costs may be higher because you have to keep paying for classes.

          • But with Spanish classes you get the big benefit of learning Spanish, which is really needed to live long-term in Medellín as few speak English. Plus you get the opportunity to meet women on campus (not just the students). The semi-intensive classes at EAFIT are 38 hours – 2 hours each week day, which is one day short of four weeks.

  3. Delighted at your success with the business visa. I have been in touch with your lawyer Alan and he said my best choice is the retiree visa. From the US I have paid two legal fees of around $250 total and his firm is about to tell me what documents I must bring from the US to accompany my application. Verification of income seems to be it. No FBI letter, no medical clearance and no bank statement. Sounds like Alan will handle everything else without additional fees.

    I know not everyone is retired but it seems to be a good way to go if you are eligible. From my reading the retirees residency visa is good for a year. It can be renewed and after 5 years continuous residency you can apply for citizenship which is my ultimate goal. I eagerly await my first trip to Medellin early next year and making lots of new friends.

  4. Great post, thanks so much for the detailed explanation regarding the process. I’m also looking at options to extend my stay in Colombia. This caught my eye:

    But that’s OK, because this visa still accomplished my goal. It allows me to spend the remainder of 2013 in Colombia, and the first 6 months of 2014.

    If at that point, I want to stay longer, I can cancel the business visa, and switch back to a tourist visa, though I’d have to leave the country and come back to do so.

    Do you know if this means that if you re-enter on a tourist visa, you would need to then re-apply for a business visa whenever the tourist visa runs up (regardless of business visa length)?

    All the best.

    • My business visa is valid through Dec 31, 2014, so when I return in January, I can be here for 6 more months on it. Then I can leave and come back on a tourist visa for up to an additional 6 months. That would lead to the end of 2014, at which point I believe I can apply for an extension of my business visa, which allows a maximum validity of 3 years I believe.

  5. GoldFishe says:

    Hello, I was in the process of renewing my Tp7 Rentisa. Apparently I was randomly chosen for an in person interview in Bogota. Can someone tell me if they have had this experience upon renewal of a Visa?

Comment Policy:

We strive for a positive, supportive community discussion at Medellín Living. Please use your real name. Comments with anonymous, fake or company names will be deleted. If it's your first comment or you include a URL, it will be held for moderation. Critical comments that serve to enhance the conversation are welcome; comments that serve to insult or demean will be deleted.


Speak Your Mind

*