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.

How to obtain an employee visa

If you wish to work as a teacher in Colombia, you need to have a valid work visa. If someone wants to hire you without appropriate documents, walk away. An employer who is willing to break the rules and hire you illegally would probably make your life miserable in other ways. Seriously, it’s not worth it.

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.

Fortunately, Colombia has probably the easiest visa process in Latin America. If someone is telling you that you need to use a visa agency, they just want your money. You can enter the country as a tourist and talk to potential employers. When you find a job, you will have to apply for an employee visa (M – trabajador) using your and your employer’s documents. The electronic application, which is available both in Spanish and English, can be found here.

I recommend that you click through the application to see what is required. At first, you fill in the form with your personal data. Then you are asked to upload a photo. It doesn’t need to be professional; one taken at home with a cell phone is fine. After that you have to upload two pages from your passport: the data page and the one with an entry stamp. And that, my friends, is all that is needed from your side. A valid passport and a current photo. No apostilled diplomas, certificates, criminal records or any other stuff that is common in other countries.

That said, Cancillería has the right to ask you additional documents. Just because I managed to get my employee visa without uploading my degree doesn’t mean that you won’t be asked to produce it. I have heard from various sources that asking for additional documents is becoming more and more common, so I believe it is a good idea to get your degree and criminal record apostilled in your home country. Your employer may want to see them as well. It is also important to add that if you get asked for extra documents by the visa office, you will need to have them translated into Spanish by a certified translator based in Colombia.

Let’s continue and see what your employer has to do. At first, they have to fill in this form, which you have to sign. It contains personal data and information about the job. Then they have to write a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explaining why they decided to hire you. A good employer will have a template for that. Sometimes you may be asked for your contract, but that is not necessary in the first stage. And the last thing is bank statements from the previous six months to prove that the company is legit. You can check the list of requirements here.

Again, nothing difficult at all. If an employer is telling you that the visa process is very lengthy and complicated, they are talking nonsense. Some job ads even go as far as stating that only candidates with a valid visa will be considered; that means only foreign residents or those with a Colombian partner can apply. I really don’t understand that because as you can see, the requirements are simple. You just need your photo and passport, and three documents from the employer that could easily be issued in thirty minutes. If that represents a huge obstacle for a potential employer, they aren’t someone you want to work for and I recommend that you look for a job somewhere else.

When you get the documents, you have to upload them to the form and pay an application fee. Various payment options are available. Click here for current prices and information about payment methods. You will then receive a reply to your e-mail within five working days. In my experience the reply usually arrives much faster. If your application is approved, you’ll pay for the visa and pick it up in person in Bogotá (UPDATE: The visa office is currently closed because of the health emergency. You will receive a digital visa to your e-mail.). The whole process of obtaining a work visa is really straightforward. I have had only good experiences with Cancillería’s employees, who have always been polite and helpful.

In addition, I think you should complete the application by yourself. I made the mistake of allowing an employer to do so on my behalf, which resulted in a botched application and I had to spend an extra week in Bogotá. If your details are given to an incompetent HR employee or a work experience kid and they mess up the application, you are the one who pays the price. For example, I have seen my name misspelled in several different ways by people who had a copy of my passport. You don’t want someone like that to be in charge of applying for a crucial document. If your future employer insists on filling in the application, you should be in the same room to double check that it is done correctly. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Remember that you can start working only after your visa has been issued. Your employer’s name will be stated on the document and you can’t work for anyone else with that visa. It will be valid for the duration of your contract, but only up to the period of three years. When it expires, you will have to ask for a new visa again. That is also true for your ID (cédula de extranjería), which you need to apply for within 15 days of getting your visa.