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Colombia

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Summary

  • Exercise a high degree of caution overall in Colombia because of the threat of terrorism and criminal activity. See Safety and security
  • Reconsider your need to travel to the departments (provinces) of Antioquia, Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guainía, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Valle de Cauca and Vichada due to the high threat of terrorist attack and criminal activity. Risks are somewhat lower in some towns, cities and tourists sites within these departments. See Safety and security
  • Do not to travel to areas within 20 kilometres of the Venezuelan or Ecuadorian border (except the Pan American highway), or to the port cities of Buenaventura and Tumaco, due to the high threat of terrorist attack and high levels of violent crime. See Safety and security
  • Avoid demonstrations, protests, political rallies and large public gatherings – they could turn violent with little or no warning. Monitor local media and follow authorities' advice. See Safety and security
  • Minimise road travel through rural areas. Avoid trouble spots by flying where possible. If you plan to visit the Caño Cristales river, fly to the gateway township of La Macarena. See Local travel
  • Don't hail taxis on the street due to risk of robbery. Use only licensed taxis booked through a dispatch service or your hotel. See Local travel
  • Pay close attention to your personal security. Be alert to possible new safety or security risks. See Safety and security
  • A temporary ceasefire agreement between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) ended on 9 January 2018. The ELN has resumed attacks against government and economic targets in Colombia. Avoid government buildings and military sites. See Safety and security
  • The Venezuelan Government has reopened its land borders with Colombia. Do not travel to Venezuela. See Safety and security

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.

Visas

If you're visiting for tourism for 90 days or less, you generally won't need a visa to enter Colombia. Immigration Officers have discretion to refuse entry, even if you fulfil the usual criteria for visa-free entry. You may need to give evidence of return or onward travel.

In other circumstances, you must arrange a visa before you travel.  

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Colombia to arrange a visa or for up-to-date information.

If you're transiting thorugh the USA, you must meet US entry/transit requirements.

More information: Travel advice for the United States of America

Other formalities

You may need a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate to enter. Yellow fever is widespread in Colombia and is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. Some airlines may require passengers present a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate before boarding flights out of the country. Read Yellow fever for information on re-entry to Australia following exposure to yellow fever.

More information:

Children travelling alone or with one parent, and who are Colombian citizens or residents must carry a letter of consent from the non-travelling parent(s) authorising travel and a copy of the child's birth certificate. Documents must be translated into Spanish and notarised by the Colombian Embassy or Consulate in Australia. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Colombia well in advance of travel.

The Puente Internacional de Rumichaca border crossing, between Colombia and Ecuador, is closed from 10pm to 6am. Allow enough time for border-crossing formalities. An entry stamp at this border crossing can only be processed within the Migration Colombia office, in a face-to-face interview with at least one of the travellers. Immigration office hours are Monday to Friday from 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm. Don't pay a facilitator to undertake this process for you as you may be provided a forged entry stamp, which could result in you being charged with a criminal offence.

Check your entry stamp carefully. You'll be fined if you stay in the country longer than permitted on your entry stamp.

There is a departure airport tax, which is normally included in the ticket.

Passport

Check the expiry date of your Australian passport before you travel. Some countries won't let you enter unless your passport is valid for six months from when you plan to leave that country.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to access your passport by deception. If you're forced to hand it over, contact an Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for advice.

If it's lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible:

You must get an entry stamp in your passport if you enter by land. If you fail to do so, Colombian officials could force you to go back to the border to obtain the stamp.

Emergency Passports can be used to enter, transit and exit Colombia if they are valid for at least six months from when you enter.

Money

The local currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). If you have more than USD 10,000 in local or foreign currency, you must declare it on arrival. You can exchange USD and Euros in exchange bureaus and commercial banks.

Major hotels and tourist facilities accept international credit cards. ATM and credit card facilities are more limited in rural areas. Contact you bank to make sure your cards will work in Colombia.

Credit card fraud and robbery at ATMs is common. See Safety and security.

Safety and security

Crime

There is a high level of crime, including violent crime and gang activity.

Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, occurs in major tourist areas, including at the airport in Bogotá and near hotels. Organised criminals operate in urban areas, including Bogotá and Medellín.

You could encounter 'express kidnapping', where victims are abducted, often in taxis, and forced to withdraw funds from ATMs before being released. Don't resist - people have been killed or injured while resisting.

Harassment, theft and extortion by criminals posing as police officers occurs, both in Bogotá and in towns frequented by tourists.

Robberies and assaults taking place after victims have accepted spiked food, drinks, cigarettes, or chewing gum occurs. Thieves have used drugs such as scopolamine, either by aerosol spray or paper handouts, to incapacitate travellers. Drugs used for robbery and assault can cause serious medical problems, including loss of consciousness and memory loss. This has happened in nightclubs, bars, restaurants, public buses and city streets.

Hikers, including on trails in and around Bogotá, have been robbed at gunpoint. Hiring an experienced and reputable tour guide may reduce your risk of attack while hiking.

Criminal threats are highest in the departments (provinces) of Antioquia, Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guainía, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Valle de Cauca and Vichada. Within these departments, risks are somewhat lower in Medellín, Popayan, Quibdó, Villavicencio, Pasto, Ipiales and Cali. 

Drug-related criminal activity in the regions within 20 kilometres of the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian borders, and in the port cities of Buenaventura and Tumaco, makes travel to these areas very dangerous. Criminal groups perpetrate attacks, extortion, kidnappings, car bombings, and damage to infrastructure in these areas.

  • Be alert to your surroundings and pay attention to your safety and security.
  • Avoid travelling at night. Where possible, fly into Colombia during the day.
  • Carry only what you need.
  • Keep vehicle doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight, even when moving.
  • Stay in reputable accommodation with security.
  • Minimise road travel in rural areas. Fly between Colombian cities.
  • Don't leave luggage unattended, in overhead bins or under your feet on buses.
  • Take particular care when travelling alone, using ATMs, or travelling in or near slum areas.
  • If you you've been affected by drugs, seek immediate medical help.

Terrorism

The security situation has improved in recent years but terrorist attacks remain a significant threat. A terrorist attack could occur anywhere and at any time in Colombia. Possible targets include government buildings, military and police sites or personnel, transport infrastructure such as airports and public transport, and places such as nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and corporate facilities.

The most prominent terrorist group is the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN). ). Groups like ELN use terrorist-style tactics and conduct small scale attacks that mainly target Colombian Government and economic infrastructure, though some Western companies and employees have been targeted in the past. A temporary ceasefire between the Government of Colombia and the ELN ended on 9 January 2018 and the ELN resumed attacks against government and economic targets in Colombia. Remnants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may still conduct terrorist attacks.

Explosions occur throughout Colombia on a regular basis, including Bogotá.

Recent examples of attacks include:

  • On 17 January 2019, a car bomb exploded at a Police College on the outskirts of Bogota. A number of deaths were reported.
  • On 17 June 2017, a bomb exploded in the Andino shopping centre, in Bogota, killing 3 people, including a foreign national, and injuring others.
  • In early 2017, several bomb attacks occurred in Bogotá, including one outside the Santamaria bullring in the La Marcarena neighbourhood, injuring around 40 people, mainly police officers.
  • In early July 2015, several small bomb attacks occurred in Bogotá.

Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can be extremely dangerous due to the presence of terrorists and criminals, including armed gangs (referred to as "BACRIM" in Spanish). Violence associated with the BACRIM has spilled over into major cities. These groups are heavily involved in the drug trade, extortion, kidnapping and robbery.

  • Be alert to possible threats and avoid possible targets for terror attacks.
  • Report suspicious activity or items to police.
  • Monitor the media for any new or emerging threats.
  • Follow local authorities' instructions.
  • If there's an attack, leave the affected area immediately if it is safe to do so. 
  • Avoid affected areas in the aftermath of an attack because of the risk of secondary attacks.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Kidnapping

Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered. In recent years, several Australians have been kidnapped.

Most kidnappings are for ransom, and often perpetrated by groups such as the ELN in rural areas.

The Australian Government does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers.

Read Kidnapping before you travel.

If, despite the risks, you travel to an area where there is a threat of kidnapping:

  • seek professional security advice
  • have effective personal security measures in place.

Civil unrest and political tension

Colombia will hold regional elections on 27 October 2019. Demonstrations could occur before, during and after the elections. A ‘dry law’ will be in effect from 6pm on 26 October to 6am on 28 October. Alcohol will not be sold in stores or restaurants during this time.

Protests and demonstrations can turn violent.  Local transport can be affected and protesters or criminal groups may establish roadblocks, particularly in rural areas. Tourists visiting areas affected by strikes and roadblocks have found themselves unable to leave, sometimes for days or weeks. Advice on current road closures can be obtained from the Colombian Highway Police information line on #767.

  • Avoid demonstrations, protests, political activity and large public gatherings as they could turn violent with little or no warning.
  • If you're in an area a protest or similar is occurring in, leave if safe to do so.
  • Monitor the media and other sources for news of planned or possible unrest. Avoid affected areas.
  • Follow local authorities' instructions. 

Peace process

Following decades of armed conflict, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), struck a peace agreement in late 2016. The peace agreement is being implemented across Colombia but some FARC elements have refused to take part. Some small factions may attempt to disrupt the peace process with targeted attacks on government buildings and security forces throughout Colombia. There may be regions where the security situation could deteriorate rapidly. 

Border with Venezuela

The land borders with Colombia reopened on 7 June 2019. Ongoing political tensions with neighbouring countries mean border closures can occur at short notice.

Don't cross the Venezuela-Colombia border by land, even if it's open.

Local travel

Tours and adventure activities

Transport and tour operators don't always follow recommended safety precautions or maintenance standards, including for adventure activities such as diving. There may not be any safety equipment such as lifejackets and seatbelts or it may not be in usable condition.

If you're planning adventure activities:

  • check your travel insurance covers the activity
  • check operators' credentials and safety equipment before booking
  • insist on minimal safety equipment and always use it, even if others don't
  • if safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

Road travel

You're three times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in Colombia than in Australia. Hazards include poorly maintained roads and vehicles, aggressive driving and inadequate road lighting.

Armed robbery, kidnapping, other violence and unexploded landmines are also risks when you travel by road, particularly in rural areas. Not all areas with landmines are marked.

Illegal armed groups set up roadblocks, including on routes to rural tourist destinations such as Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) and inland of Parque Nacional Tayrona.

Many parts of Colombia experience heavy rainfall. Landslides and flooding are common and may affect travel. In Colombia, you can get advice on current road closures from the Colombian Highway Information line on #767.

  • Check your travel insurance covers driving.
  • Avoid road travel in rural areas. Fly between cities instead.
  • Avoid travelling at night.
  • Do not stray from well-travelled roads.
  • If you travel to Parque Nacional Tayrona, don't go inland. Stick to beach areas and resorts known to be safe. 
  • Seek local advice and monitor local media for current information on your planned route.

Driver's licence

You can drive in Colombia with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must get your IDP before leaving Australia.

Motorcycles

Check your travel insurance covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Always wear a helmet.

Taxis

Taxi passengers are frequently robbed, particularly when they are travelling alone and hail the taxi from the street. Use a telephone dispatch service, taxi service apps, or seek assistance from hotel, hostel, restaurant or entertainment venue staff to book a licensed taxi.

Public transport

Public transport is not always safe.

Buses are frequently targeted by criminals. Criminals may pretend to be staff from bus companies and tell passengers to place their personal belongings in overhead bins, which they later steal.

  • Book a vehicle from a reputable provider for all ground movements.
  • Don't use overhead luggage compartments or leave your belongings unattended.

Boat travel

A number of international cruise liners visit Cartagena.

More information: Cruises

Travel on river craft is dangerous as they can be overloaded and lack necessary lifesaving equipment. Always wear a life jacket, even if others don't.

Air travel

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade doesn't provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails.

More information: Carrying or using drugs

Other laws

Photography of military establishments and strategic sites is illegal.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

The Colombian Government expects Colombian citizens, including dual nationals, to enter and exit on a Colombian passport or other valid Colombian travel document. You could face delays at immigration if you're a dual national but you don't have a Colombian travel document.

Male dual nationals over 18, may be required to complete national service obligations if they visit Colombia.

More information: Dual nationals

Health

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you leave to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government won't pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and aren't covered under your policy
  • you're covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you leave, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up. Discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medication available over the counter or by prescription in Australia is available in other countries. Some may be illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in Colombia and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take enough legal prescription medication with you to last your stay. Carry copies of your prescription and a dated letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medication

Health risks

Yellow fever and other mosquito-borne diseases

Yellow fever is widespread. It's a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination.

There is widespread transmission of Zika virus. If pregnant, the Australian Department of Health advises you discuss any travel plans with a doctor and defer non-essential travel to affected areas. Further advice is available from the Department of Health.

Malaria is a risk in all areas below 800 metres but is not a risk in Bogotá. Other insect-borne diseases (including dengue fever, Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis) are also a risk to travellers.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne diseases:

  • get vaccinated against yellow fever before you travel
  • consider taking malaria prevention medication
  • ensure your accommodation is insect proof
  • use insect repellent and wear long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

More information:

Altitude sickness

Many areas are above 2500m, including Bogotá (2640m). You may experience altitude sickness when above 2500m, particularly if you ascend quickly or are at higher altitudes. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and can affect anyone, even if you're physically fit. You're more at risk if you've had altitude sickness before, exercise or drink alcohol before acclimatising to the altitude, or have health problems that affect breathing. If you plan to travel to high altitude areas, see your doctor to get advice specific to you and your situation.

HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS is widespread. Take precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis and rabies) are widespread with outbreaks that are more serious occurring sometimes.

  • Practise good hygiene including frequent handwashing.
  • Don't drink tap water. Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water in rural areas.
  • Avoid ice cubes in rural areas.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities in private hospitals in Bogotá and other major cities is reasonable. Outside of major cities, however, facilities can be very limited.

Treatment at private clinics and hospitals is expensive. Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment or confirmation of travel insurance prior to providing medical services, including for emergency care.

There are three hyperbaric chambers in Cali (Camaras Hiperbaricas Leader Life), Palmira (Centro Medico San Agustin) and Bogotá (Vida Plena – Instituto Medico De Terapia Ceular Suiza).

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated, usually in the USA. Medical evacuations can be very expensive.

Natural disasters

Colombia experiences earthquakes. There are also a number of active volcanos. Seek advice on recent volcanic activity from local authorities if you plan to go hiking.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis. In the Indian and Pacific Oceans, large, destructive tsunamis happen more often because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches.​

Many parts of Colombia experience heavy rainfall. Landslides, mudslides and flooding are common and may affect travel to some parts of the country. Monitor local media for the latest information and seek local advice before entering affected areas.

Coastal areas of Colombia are subject to hurricanes. In the event of an approaching hurricane:

  • identify a local shelter
  • follow local authorities' instructions
  • monitor the media for latest developments.

Flights in and out of affected areas could be affected. Hurricanes can affect access to seaports. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available.

  • Familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans.
  • Carry your passport or secure it in a safe, waterproof location.
  • Contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare.

More information:

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: or medical emergency phone 123
  • Crime: phone 112 or visit the nearest police station

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

For consular assistance, contact the Australian Embassy in Bogotá. Visiting the Embassy is by appointment only.

Australian Embassy, Bogotá

Edificio Tierra Firme
Avenida Carrera 9 No. 115-06
Oficina 2003
Bogotá, Colombia
Email: consular.bogota@dfat.gov.au
Phone: +57 1 657 7800

Check the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you can't contact the Embassy in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information