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 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.

How to obtain a partner visa

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.

Fortunately, there is another kind of visa that gives you more options. According to Article 20 of Resolución 6045, partners of Colombian citizens have an open work permit, which allows them 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. Another benefit is that this visa is valid for three years and you can ask for a resident visa only after two years.

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.

This visa is awarded to a spouse or a permanent partner of a Colombian citizen. If you are interested in information about getting married, you can read about it on Medellin Guru. I am going to focus on becoming a permanent partner, which is a bit simpler. Colombia allows partners (of any sex) 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.

Anyway, you will still have to go to Bogotá to pick up your visa, so getting your unión marital de hecho there is just a minor inconvenience. I recommend that you contact them 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 fee of 459,000 pesos. 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 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. 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 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.