Digital nomads are welcome in Colombia

The long-awaited visa reform has been approved and will go into effect on 21 October, 2022. Several of those changes have already been implemented in the past two years and Resolución 5477 finally provides some clarity and official information. There are also a few other policy adjustments, and this post is going to focus on how the new law affects English teachers.

Digital nomads are welcome in Colombia

Let me start with a personal observation. Since my arrival in Colombia in 2017, the country has made progress when it comes to digitalisation and online services; I can get a lot of things done from the comfort of my home. Fortunately, Cancillería has now confirmed that the visa process will continue being done fully online. You simply fill out the application form, upload the required files, and wait for an email. If your application is successful, you will receive an electronic visa that can be used for entering and leaving the country and for applying for your cédula de extranjería. The PDF file contains a verification QR code, so there is no need to travel to Bogotá to get the physical visa stamped into the passport. Yay!

The most interesting news this new law brings is the creation of a digital nomad visa. A lot of people work remotely while being based in another country. The issue is that they usually find themselves in a legislative grey zone since you can stay somewhere without a visa only for a limited period of time. In case of Colombia, tourists can’t spend here more than 180 days per calendar year. Overstaying is not recommended because you risk getting fined and banned from re-entering.

Colombia now allows digital nomads to get a visa and stay in the country for up to two years. It’s supposed to make things easier because those remote workers are going to receive their cédula de extranjería, which will help them with things such as renting an apartment directly from the owner and getting the internet connected. In practical terms, what that means for ELT professionals is that you can legally live in Colombia and work for international online teaching platforms.

To get the digital nomad visa, you need to comply with the following requirements:

• Hold a passport from a country that is exempt from the short-stay visa requirement. You can find the complete list of countries here.
• A letter in English or Spanish issued by the company you work for; it should state what type of contract you have and how much you earn.
• If you are an entrepreneur, you need to attach a letter explaining your project and how you finance it.
• Bank statements showing that you have earned at least 3 times the Colombian minimum salary in the past 3 months. At the moment of writing, the minimum salary is 1,000,000 pesos, which is approximately 230 US dollars, so you should be earning more than 690 dollars per month to qualify for the visa.
• Proof of a health insurance policy covering the whole period of your expected stay in the country.

The requirements seem to be reasonably easy to comply with, but of course it’s necessary to wait and see how the process is going to work in practice. I believe that there are a lot of professionals from all kind of areas who already do what the visa intends to encourage, which is earning money from abroad and spending it in Colombia. Please note that digital nomad visa holders are not allowed to have any income from Colombian employers and the time spent on this visa doesn’t count when it comes to applying for a resident visa.

While this is undoubtedly very good news for many digital nomads, I think it’s necessary to mention that being an online English teacher based in Colombia isn’t for everybody, mainly because of the country’s geographical position. If your students live in Asia, you’ll have to work at night and sleep during the day, which doesn’t sound like a very attractive idea to me. You really need to be sure that this path is right for you before you before apply for the new visa.

Those interested in a more conventional TEFL in Colombia experience are welcome to work with local institutions. There have been a few changes in regulations affecting those teachers as well, so let’s take a look at some of the popular visa categories:

Employee visa
This type of work visa is the most common one among foreign teachers working in Colombia. It is tied to the employer and you can’t work for anyone else when you hold this visa. The most significant piece of news related to this visa category is the fact that the applicant has to attach an apostilled degree or work certifications demonstrating their experience. It’s not exactly clear what that means in the TEFL context, but it’s a sign that the authorities require people to have at least some qualifications. Apart from that, the employee visa is awarded for up to 3 years and you can ask for a resident visa after 5 years, so it’s necessary to renew it at least once if you plan to become a resident.

Permanent partner visa
The unión marital de hecho route used to be the easiest way to get an open work permit, and it allowed the visa holder to obtain a resident visa after just 2 years. However, the 2022 visa reform has made the process much more complicated. You now have to wait for a year after signing the declaration of your partnership before being eligible to apply for the visa. Its validity has been reduced to just a year, and if you plan to become a resident, you now have to hold this type of visa for 5 years and go through numerous visa applications. Getting your residency thanks to this visa is now going to be very time-consuming and quite pricey.

Spouse visa
Those who are married to a Colombian citizen may apply for the spouse visa, which grants them the right to work for any employer in Colombia. The time required for a resident visa application has been extended from 2 to 3 years, but the good news is that this visa is valid for up to 3 years, so you don’t need to do numerous renewals. As a result, this option now seems to be much better than the permanent partner visa.

In total, there are now 49 visa categories. Most of them aren’t really relevant to English teachers, but I recommend that you check the law by yourself and see if there is something that may suit you better than the aforementioned visa types. The bottom line is that there are a few ways to stay legally in the country as an English teacher, and those that involve working for Colombian employers lead to the possibility of obtaining a resident visa in the future.

If you are an English teacher interested in moving to Colombia, you are invited to use my TEFL career advice service. I’d be happy to assist you with your job search and talk to you about your options when it comes to working in this country.

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

One of the things I like about living in Colombia is that it’s a country full of waterfalls. Many cities are located close to the mountains, so there are plenty of opportunities for hiking. The TEFL in Colombia blog isn’t primarily a travel website, but I like sharing tips for places that are a little bit off the beaten path. I’m not a big fan of overpriced tours, so I prefer to recommend locations that are accessible by public transport. If you are looking for some lesser-known places to visit in Antioquia, you may find this article relevant.

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque from Barbosa

Medellín is a prime tourist destination with a lot of activities to do. If you want to do something else and escape the busy city, you can hike to Chorro de las Campanas, which I have written about before. Many visitors also travel to towns such as Guatapé, Jardín, or Santa Fe de Antioquia. You can find a lot of information about those places online, so I’d like to focus on a town that doesn’t receive many foreign tourists.

Barbosa, which is located approximately 40 kilometres north-east of Medellín, doesn’t feature on many people’s travel lists. There is nothing wrong with the town, but it isn’t as colourful as Guatapé, so it’s visited mainly by locals from Medellín. Barbosa sits in a valley, and that’s usually a sign of potential good locations for hiking in the nearby mountains. The retro-looking Places of interest section of the town’s official website suggests that it’s true, so I decided to give it a visit.

Getting to Barbosa is relatively easy. You just need to take the metro to Niquía and take a bus from there. The station is quite small and finding the right spot is easy. However, the bus to Barbosa stops at Parque de las Aguas, which is a popular weekend spot, so if you want to avoid long queues, it’s better to travel early in the morning or go on a weekday. You can also use your Cívica card on the bus.

There is no shortage of options when it comes to waterfalls near Barbosa. I chose Ipachanaque because getting there isn’t that straightforward, which means fewer visitors. In fact, I believe that it is necessary to use this expertly-labelled map to demonstrate what I mean:

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque from Barbosa

The bus left me near the main square (green star); the starting point of the hike is on the road called Vereda Buga (blue star). The most logical route would be to take Calle 13 and cross the bridge. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to reach the bridge because the road was completely blocked off due to construction work. It looks like the same thing happened to the person who uploaded this Wikiloc trail in June 2020, so it’s not clear if taking Calle 13 will even be possible in the future. If you encounter this obstacle, there are two main options available to you:

  1. Get a taxi to the starting point of the hike.
  2. Take Carrera 22 and then walk on the hard shoulder of the motorway until you reach the starting point of the hike.

Long-time readers of this blog will probably find it easy to guess which option I chose. Let’s just say that cars driving on that stretch of Ruta Nacional 62 reach very impressive speeds.

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

Vereda Buga is a one-lane road that looks fine at the beginning, but the higher you go, the worse it gets. Taxi drivers will most likely refuse you to drive you up this road because a four-wheel drive is needed to avoid damaging the car. Many people use mototaxis to get to the fincas over there, so if you do this hike, you shouldn’t use headphones to listen to music because you’ll need to let the fast-moving motorcycles pass. You’ll eventually reach a stream and it may be necessary to use a footbridge to cross it if the water level is high.

If you walk fast, the hike to the waterfall can be done in an hour. The elevation gain is 500 metres, which isn’t that bad, but it may get a bit tiring on a hot day, so make sure to drink a lot of water. Along the way you will probably see a lot of cows and horses, and there are also some impressive rocks, including one with ancient petroglyphs that are sadly not really visible anymore. You can simply follow Google Maps or the Wikiloc trail linked above; I suggest going through this gate to get to the waterfall from below because it’s faster that way:

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

The path is used by horses and gets very muddy when it rains, so wearing proper hiking boots helps a lot in the final stage of the hike. Ipachanaque doesn’t rank among the most impressive waterfalls in Colombia, but I think it’s definitely worth visiting. You can jump into the pool below it and enjoy the refreshingly cold water. Thanks to the fact that the waterfall isn’t exactly easy to reach, you may not even meet anyone else there, so this is a pretty cool opportunity to get away from the crowds.

How to hike to Cascada Ipachanaque

The hike itself isn’t that long and you can return to Barbosa relatively quickly with some spare time to explore the town. Just remember that it’s a good idea to call a taxi to pick you up where Vereda Buga meets the motorway. Buses to Medellín leave from the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 20; some of them will leave you in Niquía and others go to the centre, so ask the driver and choose the most convenient bus for you. There are also a few hotels in the town in case you wish to stay a bit longer and visit other places in or around the town.

Would I recommend Barbosa to tourists planning to spend just a couple of weeks in Colombia? Probably not. I think this trip is a pretty good option mainly for those who have already been to most of the popular places in Antioquia and would like to visit a new location with some really nice hiking opportunities.