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A must read for visitors to Colombia


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May 29, 2008

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:[/url] Colombia is a medium-income nation of some 44 million inhabitants. Its geography is very diverse, ranging from tropical coastal areas and rainforests to rugged mountainous terrain. Tourist facilities in Colombia vary in quality and safety, according to price and location. Security is a significant concern for travelers, as described in the Department of State’s Travel Warning for Colombia. Please see the Department of State’s Background Notes on Colombia for additional information about Colombia’s geography, economy, history, people, and government.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All U.S. citizens who are not also Colombian citizens must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and depart Colombia, and to return to the United States. Dual U.S-Colombian citizens must present a Colombian passport to enter and exit Colombia, and a U.S. passport to return to the United States. Be aware that any person born in Colombia may be considered a Colombian citizen, even if never documented as such. U.S. citizens born in Colombia or who otherwise have Colombian citizenship, will need both a Colombian passport and a U.S. passport for the trip.


U.S. citizens traveling to Colombia do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist stay of 60 days or less. Travelers entering Colombia are sometimes asked to present evidence of return or onward travel, usually in the form of a round-trip plane ticket. Americans traveling overland must enter Colombia at an official border crossing. Travelers arriving by bus should ensure, prior to boarding, that their bus will cross the border at an official entry point. Entering Colombia at unauthorized crossings may result in fines or incarceration. Travelers planning to enter Colombia over a land border should carefully read our information on Traffic Safety and Road Conditions below.


The length of stay granted to travelers is determined by the Colombian immigration officer at the point of entry and will be stamped in your passport. Extensions may be requested by visiting an office of the Colombian immigration authority, known as the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, or DAS, after arrival in Colombia. Fines are levied if a traveler remains in Colombia longer than authorized, and the traveler cannot leave Colombia until the fine is paid. Any traveler possessing a Colombian visa with more than three months’ validity must register the visa at a DAS immigration office within 15 days of arrival in Colombia or face fines. The DAS immigration office in Bogota is located at Calle 100 and Carrera 11B.


There is no arrival tax collected upon entry into Colombia, but travelers leaving by plane must pay an exit tax at the airport, in cash. The tax varies with the dollar/peso exchange rate, but is usually between $50 and $70. Some airlines include all or a portion of this tax in the cost of your airline ticket; check with your airline to find out how much you will have to pay at the airport.


U.S. citizens whose U.S. passports are lost or stolen in Colombia must obtain a new U.S. passport before departing. They must then present the new passport, along with a police report describing the loss or theft, to a DAS office. Information about obtaining a replacement U.S. passport in Colombia is available on the U.S. Embassy’s web site at http://bogota.usembassy.gov. Contact information for DAS is available in Spanish at http://www.das.gov.co. The Embassy in Bogotá or the U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla can provide guidance on contacting DAS when you apply for your replacement passport.


For further, specific guidance on Colombian entry requirements, including information about Colombian visas, travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; web site: http://www.colombiaemb.org; or the nearest Colombian consulate. Consulates are located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Also see the Department of State’s general information on Entry and Exit Requirements.


ADDITIONAL EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS: To prevent international child abduction, Colombia has implemented special exit procedures for Colombian children under 18 who are departing the country without both their mother and their father or a legal guardian. These procedures apply even if the child is also a U.S. citizen. Complying with the procedures can be complex and time-consuming, especially if an absent parent is outside Colombia at the time. Advance planning is essential.


The procedures are as follows: Upon exiting the country, the person traveling with the child (or the child him/herself) must present a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate, along with written, signed authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian. The authorization must explicitly grant permission for the child to travel alone, with one parent, or with a third party, by name. When a parent is deceased, a notarized copy of a death certificate is required instead of written authorization. When one parent has sole custody of the child, that parent may present a custody decree instead of the other parent’s written authorization.


If the documents to be presented originated in the United States, they must first be translated into Spanish and then signed in front of a Colombian consul at a Colombian consulate. Then, upon arrival in Colombia, the documents must be presented to the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification of the consul’s signature.


Alternatively, the documents can be translated into Spanish, then notarized by a notary public in the United States, and authenticated by requesting an apostille from the competent authority in the state where the documents were prepared. The document, translation and apostille can then be presented to immigration officers at the airport when the child travels.


If the documents originated in Colombia and are written in Spanish, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required. For documents originating in countries other than the United States or Colombia, please inquire with the Colombian embassy serving that country.


In cases where the absent parent refuses or is unable to provide consent, the other parent can request assistance from the Colombian child protective service, Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF). In appropriate cases, ICBF will investigate and may issue a document that will allow the child to travel without both parents’ consent. This process may take a significant amount of time and is not within the control of the U.S. Government.


SAFETY AND SECURITY: Violence has decreased markedly in many urban destinations, including the cities of Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena. Cali has made less progress combating crime than most other large cities. The level of violence in Buenaventura remains high. Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can be extremely dangerous due to the presence of narco-terrorists. Common crime remains a significant problem in many urban and rural areas, as described in the section on crime below.


The incidence of kidnapping in Colombia has diminished significantly from its peak at the beginning of this decade. Nevertheless, terrorist groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and other criminal organizations, continue to kidnap and hold civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips. No one is immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors. The FARC continue to hold three U.S. Government contractors, having captured them when their plane crashed in a remote region of the country in February 2003. In January 2008, the FARC kidnapped six Colombian tourists from a beach on the Pacific Coast in Chocó Department. Although the U.S. Government places the highest priority on the safe recovery of kidnapped Americans, it is U.S. policy not to make concessions to kidnappers. Consequently, the U.S. Government’s ability to assist kidnap victims is limited.

Official and personal travel by U.S. Embassy employees outside most urban areas is subject to strict limitations and reviewed by security officers on a case-by-case basis. U.S. Embassy employees are allowed to travel by air, but inter- and intra-city bus transportation is off limits to them.


For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s web site, where the current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Worldwide Caution can be found.


Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free from the United States and Canada, or from elsewhere at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday except U.S. federal holidays.


The Department of State urges Americans to take responsibility for their own security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves overseas, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.


CRIME: Although the threat of terrorism has decreased in most of Colombia’s cities, they nevertheless experience much of the same crime that is seen in comparably sized cities throughout the region. Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas. Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery, you should not resist.


Some of the most common methods used by criminals in Colombia are noted below:


Robberies of ATM customers: Tourists and others have been robbed after using automatic teller machines (ATMs) on the street. In some cases, robbers have used motorcycles to approach their victims and later flee the scene. Americans are urged to use ATMs only inside shopping malls or other protected locations. Driving to and from the location – rather than walking – provides added protection. When using an ATM, you should be on the lookout for anyone watching or following you.


Robberies of taxi passengers: Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Bogota. Typically, the driver – who is one of the conspirators – will pick up the passenger and then stop to pick up two or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings. If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators may force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations. Such ordeals can last for hours.


In almost every case of taxi-related crime, the victims have been riding alone and have hailed taxis off the street. Rather than hailing a taxi, you should use the telephone dispatch service that most taxi companies offer. Many hotels, restaurants, and stores will call a taxi for you, and the taxi usually arrives within minutes. When a taxi is dispatched by telephone, the dispatcher creates a record of the call and the responding taxi.


Robberies while departing airports: U.S. citizens arriving at major Colombian airports have occasionally been victimized by armed robbery while en route from the airport to their hotel or home. The perpetrators typically scout out victims at the airport, and then follow their vehicles before robbing the occupants at a stoplight. Travelers should remain vigilant at airports and report to local airport police if they suspect they are being observed.


Robberies on Hiking Trails: Several U.S. citizens were robbed in 2007 while hiking on nature trails in and around Bogota. Because hiking trips generally take place in isolated settings, participants are especially vulnerable. Hikers in Colombia are more protected if they travel in large groups.


Use of disabling drugs: The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others. At bars, restaurants, and other public areas, perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes, or gum. Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, and other crimes. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.


Counterfeit money scam: U.S. citizens in Colombia routinely fall victim to a scam in which purported undercover police officers approach them on the street and request to examine their money, supposedly to determine if it is counterfeit. The “officers,” who are in fact criminals, then flee with the money. In a variation of this scam, the thieves may ask to see jewelry. Legitimate Colombian police officers do not make such requests.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, you may contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. Embassy/consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.


Also see our general information sheet for Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies greatly in quality elsewhere. Emergency rooms in Colombia, even at top-quality facilities, are frequently overcrowded and ambulance service can be slow. Many private health care providers in Colombia require that patients pay for care before treatment, even in an emergency. Some providers in major cities may accept credit cards, but those that do not may request advance payment in cash. Uninsured travelers without financial resources may be unable to obtain care, or relegated to seeking treatment in public hospitals where care is far below U.S. standards.


The Embassy regularly receives reports of U.S. citizens in Colombia who have died or suffered complications from liposuction and other elective surgeries intended to treat obesity. Before undergoing such a procedure in Colombia, the Department of State recommends that you consult with your personal physician, research the credentials of the provider in Colombia, and carefully consider your ability to access emergency medical care if complications arise. It is important to confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, to include treatment of complications from elective procedures or medical evacuation if necessary. Should you suffer complications as a result of medical malpractice, collecting damages from your surgeon may be difficult.


Colombia has seen a recent increase in the use of unregulated drugs that purport to enhance sexual performance. Several American tourists recently died after using these substances, which come in liquid, powder, or tablet form. You are urged to seek guidance from a physician before ingesting any such substances in Colombia.


Travelers to the capital city of Bogota may need time to adjust to the altitude of 8,600 feet, which can affect blood pressure, digestion and energy level, and cause headaches, sleeplessness, dehydration, and other discomfort. Travelers with circulatory or respiratory problems should consult a physician before traveling to Bogota or other high-altitude locations.


Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm that their policy applies overseas and that it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our additional information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: Due to the security environment in Colombia, U.S. Government officials and their families are not permitted to travel by road between most major cities. They also cannot use inter- or intra-city bus transportation, or travel by road outside urban areas at night. All Americans in Colombia are encouraged to follow these same precautions.


Traffic laws in Colombia, including speed limits, are often ignored and rarely enforced, creating dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians in major cities. Under Colombian law, seat belts are mandatory for front-seat passengers in a private vehicle. Car seats are not mandatory for children, but a child under ten is not permitted to ride in a front seat. It is against the law to talk on a cellular phone while driving in Colombia, and violators may be fined. While driving outside major cities, it is mandatory to drive with your lights on. If an accident occurs, the involved parties must remain at the scene and not move their vehicles until the authorities arrive; this rule is strictly enforced, and moving a vehicle or leaving the scene of an accident may constitute an admission of guilt under Colombian law.


Americans seeking to import their own vehicles into Colombia should consult with their nearest Colombian consulate for information on Colombian taxes and licensing rules, which can be complicated and bureaucratic.


Please refer to our Road Safety page for further information about road travel overseas.


AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards for oversight of Colombia’s air carrier operations. For more information, please visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.


SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Colombia employs strict screening procedures for detecting narcotics smuggling at its international airports. Americans and other travelers are occasionally questioned, searched, fingerprinted, and/or asked to submit to an abdominal x-ray upon arrival or departure. Most airport inspectors do not speak English, and travelers who do not speak Spanish may have difficulty understanding what is asked of them. Please refer to the section on Criminal Penalties for further information on the strict enforcement of Colombia’s drug laws.


CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Travelers generally must not enter or exit Colombia while carrying cash or other financial instruments worth more than 10,000 U.S. dollars. Colombian authorities may confiscate any amount over $10,000, and may initiate a criminal investigation into the source of the money and the traveler’s reasons for carrying it. Recovery of the confiscated amount requires a lengthy, expensive legal process and may not always be possible. Americans wishing to send large sums of money to or from Colombia should contact their nearest Colombian consulate, or speak with Colombian customs officials, and should also consider seeking advice from an attorney or financial professional.

Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from bringing firearms into Colombia. Illegal importation or possession of firearms may result in incarceration.


In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Buying or selling them is illegal in Colombia, and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and fines.


Colombian law forbids the export of pre-Columbian objects and other artifacts protected by cultural patrimony statutes. Under an agreement between the United States and Colombia, U.S. customs officials are obligated to seize pre-Colombian objects and certain colonial religious artwork when they are brought into the United States.


Please contact the Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates in the United States for detailed customs guidance. Please also see our information on Customs Regulations for general information.


CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ from those in the United States and may not afford protections available under U.S. law. Americans violating Colombian laws may be arrested and imprisoned. If you are arrested, the U.S. Government cannot request your release. Colombia and the United States do not have a prisoner transfer agreement, and so any sentence for a crime committed in Colombia is ordinarily served in a Colombian prison.


Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions, with significant expense and great hardship for themselves and their families. Colombian police make multiple arrests daily for drug trafficking at major airports, and have sophisticated means for detecting illegal drugs in baggage or on your person. Travelers are sometimes requested to undergo an x-ray to ensure that they are not smuggling narcotics within their own bodies. There are more than 30 Americans incarcerated in Colombia for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country.


The hardships resulting from imprisonment do not end even after release from prison: Colombian law requires that serious offenders remain in the country to serve a lengthy period of parole, during which the offender is given no housing and may lack permission to work. As a result, family members must often support the offender, sometimes for more than a year, until the parole period expires.


Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. Child sex tourism and engaging in sexual conduct with a minor are crimes in Colombia. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties for further details.


DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Colombia is an earthquake-prone country. Flooding and mudslides also sometimes occur in parts of the country. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/. If a serious natural disaster occurs in Colombia, the Embassy will publish important information for American citizens on its web site at http://bogota.usembassy.gov.


CHILDREN'S ISSUES: See our Office of Children’s Issues web pages for information on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.


EMBASSY CONTACT INFORMATION/LOCATION: In case of a serious emergency that jeopardizes the health or safety of an American citizen in Colombia, please call the Embassy at (1) 315-0811, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From the United States, the number is (011-57-1) 315-0811.


The Embassy’s American Citizen Services office provides routine information at http://bogota.usembassy.gov. For questions not answered there, inquiries may be sent by email to ACSBogota@state.gov. Email messages are answered by the next business day.


The American Citizens Services office is open for passport applications, notary services, and routine in-person inquiries from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays. Inquiries concerning Social Security and other federal benefits can be made in-person from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, except holidays. The Embassy is located near Avenida El Dorado and Carrera 50 in Bogota. The American Citizen Services fax number is 011-57-1-2196/7.


The U.S. Consular Agency in Barranquilla, which accepts passport applications and performs notarial services, is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (011-57-5) 353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216. The Consular Agency is not staffed to respond to after-hours emergencies; in case of an emergency in the Barranquilla/north coast area, please contact the Embassy in Bogota at (011-57-1) 315-0811.


Americans residing or traveling in Colombia are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota through the State Department’s travel registration web site. Registrants can sign up to receive emailed notices on travel and security in Colombia. By registering, American citizens also make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of a family emergency or other problem.


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This sounds like it is from the government travel advisory site. Look at Jamaica or other Caribbean locations or Mexico --- you wouldn't want to travel there either after you read them. I find the travel advisories a little on the alarmist side... I guess they are just reporting everything. If they issued similar travel advisories for some US cities, nobody would be traveling there either.

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Dear friends:


These warnings and country descriptions are written by the State Department in the U.S.


Similarly, here in Europe, our Ministries of Foreign Affairs write the same country descriptions and warnings. You should read what these descriptions and warnings tend to say about the U.S. It would probably be quite an eye opener for our dear American friends across the pond.


I have been to Colombia several times and have found it to be a marvelous place with extremely warm, friendly, people.


As with any place in the world, just take normal precautions and don't go venturing off to dangerous places where it is known that people should not visit.


Kind regards,


Günther and Uta

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If you are coming in on a cruise ship you will arrive at the Port of Cartagena, located perhaps 3 miles from the Old City. It is a bit far to walk comfortably, particularly as it is almost invariably hot and humid. Not that you will be in any mortal danger to walk from the dock, but the route is not particularly attractive. If you insist on walking, you turn LEFT when outside of the Port Facilities. Locals would prefer that you take a cab or a cab with a guide from within the port facilties. All the cabs (blue shirts with 'taxi' written all over the shirts) or guides (white shirts) that are inside the Port facilities are vetted by the port.


With regards security, you can basically relax except for normal precautions as long as you stay in the main tourist-frequented parts of Cartagena (Old Walled City, Fortress of San Felipe, La Popa, Bocagrande, and El Laguito).


There is a map of Cartagena at http://www.destinationcartagena.com/cartagena_map.html


Please note that this map actually has South at the top, rather than normal map orientation. But this allows seeing the Old Walled City and the Fortress in more detail while still seeing Bocagrande/El Laguito (New City) and beyond on the same map. The only principal monument that is not on this map is the hill upon which is located La Popa Monastery.

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