If you want to work in Colombia, you need to have a valid visa. Getting an employee visa is reasonably quick and simple as long as you find a decent employer. However, that type of visa has its disadvantages because it is tied to your employer and you can’t work for anyone else with that document. Apparently there is a process of adding another employer to your work visa. I have heard anecdotal evidence of people who have been successful with that, but also of those whose application was denied. Another potential issue is the fact that when you leave your job before the end of your contract, you have to apply for a new visa or leave the country within 30 days.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own experience. The requirements and processes may change in the future. Make sure to check Cancillería’s website before starting the process. You can also contact the visa office directly and ask for more details.
Fortunately, there is another kind of visa that gives you more options. According to Articles 67 and 68 of Resolución 5477, the spouse and permanent partner visas have an open work permit, which allows the holder to perform any kind of work in the country. That gives you the power to negotiate better work conditions because you are permitted to work for as many employers as you wish. You can also ask for a resident visa after three (as a spouse) or five years (as a permanent partner).
IMPORTANT UPDATE: This article was originally written in 2020, when the permanent partner visa was a popular option among foreigners. However, the 2022 visa reform has made the process much more complicated. You now have to wait for one year after signing the declaration of your partnership before being eligible to apply for the visa. Its validity has been reduced to just year, so if you plan to become a resident, you will have to go through numerous visa applications. In fact, it may now be easier to get married and apply for the spouse visa instead. I am going to leave this post online in case someone is interested in pursuing this option.
Getting married is not without its challenges in terms of paperwork, so this article focuses on becoming a permanent partner. Colombia allows partners (of any gender) to enter something called unión marital de hecho. Basically, it means signing a document confirming your permanent partnership in a lawyer’s office, so there is no wedding ceremony. Your partner then has rights to your assets that were obtained after signing the document.
There are two main ways of getting the document. You can go to a notary and ask them to formalise your partnership as a notarial act (escritura pública). The problem with this option is that you will probably be asked for the same documents that are used in case of a marriage. You will need to get your birth certificate apostilled in your country and then have it translated in Colombia by an official translator. Only certificates issued within the last three months will be accepted because for some reason Colombian birth certificates include the holder’s marital status. My country’s certificate doesn’t have that kind of information and issuing a new one won’t change that, but most officials don’t care and they will ask you to get a new document. You may be lucky and find a more lenient notary, but in most cases this option is really time-consuming.
Fortunately, I encountered an alternative option in this article. You can simply go to a Centro de Arbitraje y Conciliación, which belongs to Cámara de Comercio, and get the unión marital de hecho done with just an ID: that means your partner’s cédula de ciudadanía and your passport (or cédula de extranjería if you have one). Sounds great!
Well, it seems this service is offered only in Bogotá. I unsuccessfully tried to get it in Pereira, Ibagué, Manizales and Medellín. Curiously, all of them had different requirements. In one case I even asked the employee to call the Bogotá office. They actually confirmed that it is possible to get the document only with an ID, but still refused to help me. It seems local offices aren’t used to dealing with foreigners, so they just make up their own rules. You may try your luck there and hope you find a reasonable person to talk to.
Before the pandemic, it was necessary to go to the capital to pick up your visa, so getting your unión marital de hecho there was just a minor inconvenience. I recommend that you contact the Bogotá centre in advance to confirm that you can get the document only with your passport or cédula. I was given the choice of going to the following offices: Calle 76, Chapinero and Cedritos. The process is very quick and simple. At first your and your partner’s personal information is collected and you pay a processing fee, which was 459,000 pesos in 2019. Then a lawyer double checks all the data and you sign the document in their presence. The whole process should take approximately one hour. You may need to wait a little bit before receiving your copy, and then there is nothing more to do. Congratulations! You have just entered a permanent partnership according to the Colombian law.
Going through the Centro de Arbitraje y Conciliación is rather expensive, but you pay extra money for the speed of processing and the fact that you don’t have to submit other documents. In order to apply for the partner visa with Cancillería, you will need just a couple of more things. Your partner has to write two documents that need to be authenticated at a notary. The first one is a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explaining why you should get the visa, the other one grants you the power to submit the application on their behalf. You also need to attach a copy of their cédula de ciudadanía. The authentication costs just a few thousand pesos. The 2022 visa reform also stipulates that both you and your partner need to get a document called Certificado de Movimientos Migratorios, which is obtained at Migración and costs 66,500 pesos per person.
The usual visa application process applies. You have to upload your photo, passport and the four aforementioned documents. Then you will pay the application fee and wait for a reply. Most likely you and your partner will be invited to attend an interview. Couples are usually interviewed together and asked questions about their relationship. Having some photos in your phone is definitely a good idea. If your application is approved, you will pay the fee and get your shiny new visa in your passport on the spot (or by email while Cancillería’s office are closed because of the health emergency). Don’t forget to apply for a new cédula de extranjería within 15 days of getting the visa.
Please note there is one extra requirement that is not explicitly listed on Cancillería’s website. If you currently hold another type of visa and wish to switch to the partner one, you will probably be asked for a document proving that you are currently involved in the activity related to your visa. For example, if you have an employee visa, you should have a document that shows that you indeed work where you are supposed to.
Getting this visa represents a huge advantage because it will make your life easier. It gives you the opportunity to start working for any employer without additional paperwork. Just make sure that you and your partner are completely sure about entering unión marital de hecho because it is a serious act that shouldn’t be taken lightly.