Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Brian Johnston, a chef from Toronto and founder of Vía Cocina – Food Train.
Getting your NIT (tax number), registering a sole proprietor business name, and opening a bank account in Medellín with your passport (no work visa/cedula de extranjería necessary).
After reading all of the documents (in Spanish and English) on various websites, I still spent more than a week running around between the DIAN (collector of national taxes), Cámara de Comercio (Chamber of Commerce), and Bancolombia in an effort to get the papers necessary to open a bank account with my passport, and register (and thus preventing anyone else from using) the name of my social project, Vía Cocina – Food Train.
If you are planning to spend some time and money in Colombia, you’ll find that a lot of payments for purchases such as flights can be done online, paying from either a local bank account (the transfer is free via Bancolombia) or by credit card.
With a local bank account, you can avoid charges for using your credit card outside of your home country, including bad exchange rates (in comparison to the great exchange rates given in Colombia for cash brought in).
There are a number of visa options available in Colombia with different requirements, and once I get my visa at the end of the month, I can share what worked for me.
The purpose of this article is not to talk about visas, but to talk about what you can get accomplished without it, and in what order you should do it to avoid repeat trips to different offices.
How to Get Your NIT – Número de Identificación Tributaria
First things first: to open a bank account at Bancolombia, you need your passport and you need a NIT – Número de Identificación Tributaria, which is your unique tax number.
The DIAN office located in the Alpujarra complex, next to the city and departmental government offices assigns this number free of charge. What they need you to bring is 1) your original passport, and 2) a photocopy of the info pages which they will keep.
In the lineup outside you will be asked what you are there for, and when you tell them you want to get a NIT for the first time, they will direct you to the reception, where you will be given a number to wait in turn.
They stop accepting people at 3:45 PM, I got there three times at 3:30 PM and didn’t have to wait long to see someone.
When your number comes up, it is very important to tell the person that you want to be assigned your NIT on the spot.
If they give you a temporary pre-RUT number (which is what they did to me the first time), it is highly likely that it will not be accepted by the Cámara de Comercio system later on to register a business name with only your passport, particularly if your passport ID has letters in it (which are not accepted in the Cámara’s system, but are accepted in the DIAN system).
They will ask what type of work you are planning to do in Colombia, and will assign a ‘principal activity’ code to your profile that can later be changed if required. This information is also required for the opening of a bank account.
They should also assign you the ‘Ventas regimen simplificado’ option in your profile, which means that you will not need to charge sales tax on any business services you are offering (assuming you are going to run a small business).
In less than half an hour, you should receive the original copy of your certificate, with your NIT written in the upper left side (box number 5).
With this paper and your passport, plus your address in Colombia, you can now go to Bancolombia and open a savings or checking account as an individual (not as a business), with no problem. A minimum deposit of 100,000 pesos ($50) is required.
Just make sure they take a photocopy of your NIT certificate, you need to keep your original (the Cámara de Comercio took my original the first time I went there, and I couldn’t open a bank account without it).
How to Register a Business Name
If you are not planning to run a business with a registered name (which is cheaper if you don’t require a business name), you are good to go.
In my case, I needed to register the name of my sole proprietorship, to ensure nobody else registers it while I wait for project financing attached to my business name. That means going to the Cámara de Comercio, where you tell them you want to register a business as a ‘persona natural’.
You will need another copy of your NIT certificate, and a copy of your passport plus the original. The office has people who will help you fill out the necessary forms online.
Part of the process includes ensuring the name you want to register is not already in use in Colombia, so have the name ready.
They will ask you how much you have in assets: the minimum at the time of writing is 1,870,000 pesos ($914), and though you don’t need to show them the amount you are registering, you do have to pay taxes on it as part of registering your name.
The minimum amount of assets will cost you roughly 23,000 pesos ($11) monthly in taxes, so think seriously before registering the name just for the sake of registering it.
Once all the forms are done, you will have to pay related fees (mine were roughly 75,000 pesos, $37), they’ll give you a receipt and tell you to come back the next day to pick up your certificate.
When I went back the next day, I found out that my applications didn’t go through, because of the letters in my passport, which could not be corrected because I didn’t have a NIT assigned directly at the DIAN office.
I went back to the DIAN office, back to the Cámara de Comercio, where they helped me correct the forms, and I picked up my certificate the following business day (and opened my bank account with a copy of my NIT that same day).
So again, the key is to get the DIAN to give you your NIT on the spot, and from there the banking and business registry services should be smooth sailing.
If you have any questions, or tips of your own, share them in the Comment section below.
About the Author: Brian Johnston is a chef from Toronto and founder of Vía Cocina – Food Train.