The first part of this post explains how to send a letter from Bogotá to somewhere else (either in Colombia or to another country). The second part briefly explains how to format the address when you are posting a letter to Colombia.
How to send a letter from Bogotá
It soon becomes evident, once you start making a few enquiries, that Colombians rarely use the public mail service. It took me a while to find out how to send a letter abroad; everyone knows about the private courier services – Fedex, DHL, Deprisa and Servientrega (national) are some of these, and you can compare prices and book a courier on a new comparison website Loenvío – but you’ll often get a blank face if you start asking where you can buy stamps in order to send a letter, or find a letter-box (doesn’t exist) or post office (there aren’t many).
So to save you time, here’s the 411:
4-72 is the public postal service. It has offices scattered around the city, and these are often in quite obscure places.
You can check on the 4-72 website to find the 4-72 post office nearest to you in any part of Colombia. (note that you can change the language of the website in the top right hand corner).
I went to a branch near the Museo del Oro in the centro area of Bogotá. If you walk to carrera 8 and walk down it until it crosses with calle 12*. The post office is diagonally opposite a big building called Murillo Toro which has steps outside it – it just looks like a shop, but in the window somewhere it says “4-72”.
If you are sending a letter, you need to write your name and address in the top left hand corner of the envelope, and the recipient’s address more or less in the middle (leaving plenty of space for stamps in the right-hand corner). There are various options but the best service to use if you want your letter to arrive as soon as possible (or to arrive, full-stop!) is the Correo Certificado which allows you to track your letter if it doesn’t arrive. They say it takes 10-12 working days for post to arrive in the US or Europe from Colombia. A letter weighing less than 20g costs approx. 9000 pesos to send (£3/$4.50) so if you’re a tourist passing through Colombia, you might want to send post-cards once you arrive home! There is a Correo Normal which is cheaper, costing $2600 to the US, and $3600 pesos to most countries in Europe, so you may want to choose this option for postcards.
For Correo Certificado, you will be asked for your ID/Passport number, name and address, so if you choose this option, make sure you have this information with you at the post office.
*The city of Bogotá largely consists of calles (streets) and carreras (avenues), much like cities in the US; for example “34th Street” or “5th Avenue” in New York. The calles are horizonal and the carreras are verticle on the map. So if you see an address “calle 76 # 9-60”, it means that the building you need is on calle 76, near where it crosses with carrera 9, and the building number is 60.
How to send a letter to Colombia
As explained in the last paragraph, Bogotá (and most other places in Colombia) is divided into a grid of streets and avenues. I used to live at Carrera 7 # 65 – 23 Apto 702. This means that I lived on 7th avenue, that the street just to the south of my building was street 65, the building number was 23 and my apartment number was 702.
So, when you want to send a letter to Colombia, you need to ask for the person’s address that you’re writing to, and it will have a format similar to the one above (possibly with the name of the building/hotel/business too).
For example, let’s say I wanted to send a letter to the person living at my old apartment. This is what I would write on the envelope.
Carrera 7 # 65 – 23 Apto 702
Edificio Lambaré <– the name of the building
Chapinero Norte <– this is the neighbourhood – useful but not necessary to include
Colombia doesn’t strictly have postcodes/zip codes, but because postal services in some countries require that you use a postcode, they have sort of invented some; I’ve rarely seen these used. However, if you Google ‘código postal Bogotá Chapinero’ for example, you will find a code you can use if you need to, but it’s really not necessary to use one – your letter will make it to its destination without one.