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 21 of Resolución 6045. In short, if you teach English in Colombia on an employee visa, you can apply for residency after five years. It’s also important to add that there can’t be any gaps between your visas. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can speed up the process by becoming a parent of a Colombian or by making an investment of over 650,000,000 Colombian pesos. Fortunately, there’s no need to take it that far, and you can also apply for a resident visa after spending two years as a partner visa holder.

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 this kind of visa should be enough, 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 resident 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 63,000 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.

How to obtain a cédula de extranjería

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.

How to obtain a cédula de extranjería

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 206,000 COP. The Migración offices accept only payments by card. If you wish to pay by 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. Please note that even very short gaps between your visas may prevent you from getting a resident visa, so you need to be extremely careful with that.

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.