Digital nomads are welcome in Colombia

The long-awaited visa reform was approved and came into effect in 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 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.