Flying in Colombia

Walking across the tarmac at Medellin's international airport.
Walking across the tarmac at Medellin’s international airport.

As a follow-up to Kristen’s earlier post about transportation in Colombia, I thought I would share some helpful tips about flying within the country.

Many visitors to Colombia are surprised by how check-in and security work at Colombian airports. The process is simple, but is quite different from flying in the U.S.A.

Here are a few tips about what to expect.

First of all, no matter where you are flying in Colombia, it is always a good idea to arrive at least 2 hours early before a domestic flight and 3 hours early for an international flight.

If you are flying domestically and you have a Colombian ID, you will not need your passport. If you do not have a Colombian ID, you will definitely need a passport.

Once you arrive at the airport, you may have to wait to check-in, especially for international flights, because airlines only allow check-in at certain times.

Arrive early anyway—a line often forms near the check-in desk before it opens, and you definitely want to be one of the first people in line.

After check-in, you may need to pay an airport tax if you are flying internationally. Be prepared to pay it in cash.

A long line will form even before the check-in desk opens. (MDE Airport)
A long line will form even before the check-in desk opens. (MDE Airport)

The most important difference between flying in Colombia and the States is when you are allowed to go through security.

In the United States and Europe, we usually go through security immediately after we check in for a flight. After security there are restaurants and food vendors, and we may wait for two hours (or more if the flight is delayed) after we pass through security. This is not how it works in Colombia.

Instead, after you have checked in you will have to wait until your flight is allowed to enter the “waiting room.”

Watch electronic boards, listen to announcements, and ask the staff to find out when your flight is allowed to enter the waiting room. (It is usually 1 hour to 30 minutes before, but may be earlier if it is an international flight.)

Some small airlines use propeller planes, which can fly closer to the mountains and offer great views.
Some small airlines use propeller planes, which can fly closer to the mountains and offer great views.

You go through security when you enter the waiting room. You will not be allowed to go through security before your flight is allowed to enter the waiting room.

Most airports do not have food available in the waiting rooms, but there are always bathrooms. When it is time to board your flight, someone will make an announcement in the waiting room and will then lead you to the plane.

Don’t be surprised if you are lead across the tarmac—only a few airports in Colombia have walkways connecting the plane to the gate.

Finally, if you are flying within Colombia, make sure you keep the stickers for your luggage.

Baggage claims are secure in Colombia, and only people who have just disembarked from a flight will be allowed to enter. You will need to show your baggage sticker (which you receive at the check-in gate) to take your luggage out of the airport.

In addition, if you are flying into Colombia from an international destination, a customs officer may search your bags.

After you have shown your luggage sticker and someone has checked your bags (if necessary) you are free to go. If someone is waiting for you, it will be just after baggage claim.

Happy flying!

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  1. Thanks for the info Melody. What is a typical price range for domestic flights like say Cartagena-Bogota? Medellin-Bogota? Is it more expensive to fly “last minute?”

  2. Great article Melody! I like how you talked about the baggage tags, that is something unique to South America and I always have to remind anyone who comes to visit!

  3. jRo,

    The cost of flights really varies. I recommend looking on the websites. If you are doing a standard route, like Medellin to Bogota, it’s probably going to be in the $50-$100 range round trip, especially on Aires. I know that’s a big difference, but it depends on the day you fly. If you want to fly on a holiday weekend everything is more expensive. I recommend starting your search early–the airlines frequently have sales and those are the best times to buy. Waiting last minute doesn’t usually work if you are trying to save money, because they sell “promotional” tickets at a lower rate than flexible tickets, and those sell out first, which means you have to buy a more expensive flexible ticket if you wait too long. However, on routes that happen multiple times every day, like Medellin to Bogota, you can wait last minute and you probably won’t pay extra. I don’t think you would save money though… the only time flights are cheaper than normal are when they have a sale.

  4. Hi there, I have a question regarding ARRIVING in Colombia. My partner and I are flying from Canada to Bogota in a few weeks. He would like to use his British passport to avoid paying a huge entry fee (COP160,000 or $80) required to be paid by Canadians. However, we have to transit in the US for which he’d either require his Canadian passport or an ESTA for his UK passport. We were told by a travel agent that he should fly on his Canadian passport and just show his UK passport when they check passports at the airport in Bogota. However, I remember that often when I fly internationally I have to fill in an arrival card in the airport just before arriving with name, passport number, flight… If the flight has his Canadian passport details, I assume that would have to be written down to indicate that he indeed was on that flight, but then if he shows his UK passport in Bogota it doesn’t match that arrival card… Any clue how to go about this situation? When do they check passports, and where do they make you pay if you have e.g. a Canadian passport? Thanks a lot!!

    • Hi Gina,

      I don’t know if it’d be a problem.

      Arriving in Bogotá’s airport is just like any other international airport, the process is the same. You fill out your immigration card on the flight over, deboard, present your passport at immigration, then present the immigration card after you collect your luggage and before you depart the baggage claim.

  5. Hi Melody and thanks for all the great info. I’m puzzled by one thing. if I fly into colombia via FLL, do I go through customs there or in Medellin? I ask because there is a great flight on Jet Blue thru FLL but on the JB site it won’t let me book it, but on expedia I can. can you think of a reason?
    Also on the return there don’t seem to be Jet Blue returns which is on (on expedia). any guess on that?
    thanks so much

    • For some reason JetBlue doesn’t seem to show on their website connections in FLL when traveling to/from Medellín. I think it’s a problem with their website – try calling. I’ve seen that when traveling to the U.S. on JetBlue from Medellín and connecting in Fort Lauderdale.

      You go through customs in Medellín when traveling on an international flight.

  6. I want to update this article as I sit at MDE airport 3 hrs ahead of time thinking it was going to be different then other airports. Well, it took a whole 10m for me to check in, go through security, and get to the waiting areas. I am not able to get to my actual waiting area yet, since I am 3hrs early and they open them 2hrs ahead of time. However, just like any other airport there is food, shopping, and even a lingerie store open and its 11p.

    I was goimg to arrive 90m ahead of schedule which would have been plenty of time and its actually what the mde site recommends. Instead I have to twidle my thumbs for three hours. No charging area and my phone is dying.

    So if you are going to mde, 90m is enough. The lines are waaaay shorter than places like sfo, mex, jfk, etc. The security is identical down to having to remove your shoes. I actually found it way more efficient since everything is within 100ft.

    I hope I prevent soneone from wasting time. Give an hr to get to mde (actually 45m) and 90m once your there. Trust me in this. Also there are paces for food and cafe if you dont mind average. Essentially, mde is a 1980s like airport.