If you are a foreigner and want to work in Colombia, you are required to get a cédula de extranjería from Migración. This document is very useful because it will help you get a bank account and access other services. You can also leave your passport at home and use only your cédula on domestic flights. It’s also important to know that everybody in Colombia is required to have their ID with them at all times. Police officers have the right to stop you on the street and ask to see your documents. I have met a few foreigners who struggled with obtaining their cédula, so I hope that this article can help those applying for the first time.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own experience. The requirements and processes may change in the future. Make sure to check Migración’s website before starting the process.
First of all, you need to have a valid visa. As I mentioned in the articles about work visa and partner visa, the process is done online. If your visa application is successful, you will receive an electronic version of your visa via e-mail. When that happens, you have 15 days to get your visa stamped to your passport and apply for your new cédula (UPDATE: The visa office is currently closed because of the health emergency. The digital visa is sufficient for the cédula application.). The good news is that you can do both on the same day since the Cancillería and Migración offices in Bogotá are within a walking distance of each other.
However, you can’t just turn up at Migración with your visa and ask to get a cédula. You have to complete this application first. The form asks you for your personal information, including details of your employer. It’s necessary to include your blood type because it will be printed on the document. You also have to provide the visa number that can be found in the e-mail with your electronic visa, which means that you can fill in the application in advance. If you get asked to attach a file, upload the electronic version of your visa. When you complete the form, you will receive a code with which you can go to Migración. Please note that you are supposed to enter the office on your own (UPDATE: You are now required to schedule your appointment in advance on this page.).
If you don’t live in Bogotá, I highly recommend that you go to your local Migración office. The one in Bogotá is overloaded these days and you may have to wait a long time for your turn. You can apply for your ID at any Migración office, and the application form allows you to decide where you are going to pick the document up. For example, you can apply in Tunja and ask them to send your cédula to Pasto. This option is very useful because the local offices usually aren’t busy and the process takes around 15 minutes.
The officer is going to make a copy of your passport and double check the information from the application form. You are going to have your fingerprints and photo taken. They will write the number of your cédula to your passport and ask you to pay the fee of 203,000 COP. The Migración offices accept only payments by card. If you have cash, they will send you to Banco de Occidente to pay the fee there.
You can track the status of your application online, but in my experience the page doesn’t get updated fast enough. You should keep checking this list of IDs that are ready to be picked up. It usually takes a few days for your number to appear, and then you can pick up your cédula at the Migración office. If it’s your first time, don’t forget to take your passport. If you are renewing your ID, you just need to show them your old cédula.
Don’t forget that when you change your visa, you have to get a new cédula as well. It is recommended to apply for your visa a month before your current document expires to give you enough time. If you can’t renew your visa in time, you can ask for an exception (Salvoconducto), which gives you extra 30 days to stay in the country.
By the way, Migración uses a platform called SIRE to track foreigners’ movements. Hotels, employers, health services providers and others have to report contacts with foreigners. If a receptionist asks you for your next destination, you will know that they are using the system because that information has to be filled in. I guess many places providing accommodation don’t even know about that. Anyway, your employer has to register you on SIRE within 15 days of the first day of your contract. There are no sanctions for you if they don’t do that, so you don’t really need to concern yourself with that.