How to obtain a resident visa

If you see working in Colombia as more than just a temporary adventure, you might be interested in becoming a permanent resident. I have just received this type of visa, and I have to say that it feels good to change my status to something that implies some sort of stability. If you are thinking of settling down in the country, it’s definitely a good idea to know about this option.

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.

How to obtain a resident visa

At first, let’s take a look at the main advantages of the resident visa:

• You have an open work permit, so you can do any legal activity without unnecessary obstacles. Your visa doesn’t depend on your relationship with an employer.
• The visa doesn’t expire. You don’t need to worry about the stressful and expensive renewal. The only thing you need to do is get a new visa label with a new photo every five years, which is an easier process than a new application.
• You are allowed to leave the country for up to two years. This provides you with more flexibility than the migrant visa, which will get automatically cancelled if you leave Colombia for more than six months.
• Foreigners with a resident visa can vote in municipal elections. You just need to prove that you have been a resident for five years.
• The resident visa provides a pathway towards Colombian citizenship. You can become a naturalised citizen after five years of holding the visa. If you are married to a local, you can apply for citizenship after just two years. It’s too early for me to think about this option, but I will consider its pros and cons once I become eligible.

Who can apply for a resident visa? You can find the exact requirements in Article 90 of Resolución 5477. In short, if you teach English in Colombia on an employee visa, you can apply for residency after five years. Partner visa holders used to be able to get their residency after just two years, but the latest reform has extended that to five years as well. You can speed up the process by a couple of years if you get married or become a parent of a Colombian. It’s also important to add that there can’t be any gaps between your visas or you will probably be asked to start accumulating the required time from scratch.

When I moved to Colombia in 2017, I decided to do everything by the book because I knew that it would be necessary for my residency application. After landing my first teaching role as a volunteer, I made sure that I started working only after receiving my volunteer visa. When I got a job at a language institute, I spent a week in Bogotá in order to get my employee visa. A renewal of my work contract for a further year meant that I had to get a new visa again. Finally, I managed to get a partner visa in December 2019. Two years with on that kind of visa was enough to apply for residency before the 2022 visa reform, but I suppose the fact that I had previously spent more than two years in the country didn’t hurt my chances of being granted the visa.

As always, the visa application is done fully online on this page. The form is the same for all kinds of visas, so you know what to expect. What has changed since 2019 is that you are asked to provide social media usernames. I imagine the person checking my Twitter account has learnt something about ELT because that’s all I post there. It was also interesting to see that this blog received an unusually high number of views from Colombia while my visa application was being processed. I’d love to know what the good people of Cancillería thought of my TEFL blog posts, but I guess I’ll never find out.

One of the requirements when applying for a resident visa is a Certificado de Movimientos Migratorios. This is basically a record of all the passport stamps you have received when entering or leaving the country by air or land. Fortunately, obtaining it is quite simple. At first, I filled out this online form, but I’m not completely sure it was necessary because the digital certificate is given only to Colombian citizens; foreigners have to apply for it in person. You need to make an appointment at Migración, show your passport or cédula de extranjería, pay 66,500 pesos, and then you’ll get the certificate in a matter of minutes.

You also need to provide proof of income and a document certifying that ‘the circumstances or conditions that gave rise to the granting of the last visa still remain’ (source: Cancillería). I hoped a notarised letter written by my partner would be enough for the latter, but I was then asked to produce an acta de conciliación issued within the last 90 days. The Centro de Arbitraje y Conciliación where we originally declared our unión marital de hecho issued a new copy, but it wasn’t deemed enough. It was a weird situation because you can’t really enter a marital union twice, so I had to get another document quoting the law that says the union stays valid unless the participants decide to dissolve it.

The thing with requirements is that Cancillería has the right to ask you for more documents even though they are not specifically mentioned anywhere on the website. Visa applicants are now often required to prove that they contribute to the social security system, so I uploaded affiliation certificates from my health and pension providers. In addition, it seemed to me that my application was handled by more than one person because I was later asked to send stuff I had provided previously, such as photos and social media posts related to my relationship. The final version of my application contained 35 pages of documents, which is the highest number of attachments permitted by the online platform.

When my application was approved, I followed the payment instructions and used my Colombian bank account to pay for the visa; however, the payment didn’t appear in the system. It took some extra time to sort that out, but in the end I finally received an email with my 5-year permanent resident visa. Please note that due to the pandemic you can’t get the physical visa stamped in your passport in Bogotá. You can simply use the electronic visa to enter and leave the country, and to apply for your new cédula de extranjería within 15 days of receiving your visa.

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