Every now and again in one of the Expat groups on Facebook, someone will ask about how to extend a Colombian visa. So I decided to collate the information on Facebook into this blog post in the hope that it might help others. Dutch expat, Fetze Weerstra, found my blog post and read about the salvoconducto, which many people had mentioned on Facebook. The salvoconducto is something you have to get from Migración, and is a way to legally extend your stay in Colombia for a further 30 days after your visa expires, giving you time to either get a new Colombian visa (maybe a work, study, or partner visa), or to catch a later flight without getting into problems at the airport and having to pay a fine.
As is often the case with matters of bureaucracy in Colombia, it wasn’t nearly as simple for Fetze as it should have been. However, his situation was complicated by the fact that his Dutch passport had expired and he couldn’t get a new visa until he had a new passport, which was going to take two months. So while I can’t guarantee that it should be easier for others, what I can say is to keep on top of your passport expiry and visa expiry dates. If you plan ahead and leave enough time to get everything done (and factor in likely delays) you can minimize the chances of running into difficulty!
Here’s Fetze’s story, as told by him. Many thanks to Fetze for sharing this with me – I hope others will find it useful.
When the time came for me to get a new visa and cédula de extranjería [foreigner’s ID card], I discovered that my passport, in which they have to stick the visa, had expired too. I never use my passport here, so I had totally forgotten about its expiry date. Getting a new Dutch one can take up to two months (from the moment of making an appointment to actually having the passport in your hands). My visa would have expired by then, so whilst I applied for my new passport, I also started the process for getting the salvoconducto (permission to remain in Colombia for a fixed period of time without a valid visa).
How to apply for the Salvoconducto
These are the various steps of the process as I experienced them in 2018:
- Fill out this online form where you request the salvoconducto
- You’ll receive an email with a number of your trámite (a case number), that you will need to show/tell at Migración.
- In the email, you get a link to make an appointment online at a fixed time. Over the last few weeks I’ve made several appointments via that link for different stages in the process: sometimes this saves you a lot of waiting time, sometimes not; it depends on the mood of the person that gives you the appointment number at the Migración office, and whether they treat your case as a priority (“prioridad”) or normal. I found out it’s quicker to not make an appointment online but to go early in the morning to Migración. They open at 7.30 a.m. but if you arrive at 7 a.m. you’ll be one of the first in line, as by 7.30 there’s already a long queue. If you have made an appointment online, tell the security guard and you won’t have to line up inside the building to get a number (though you might get a few dirty looks from others who will think you’re jumping the queue).
- So if you don’t have an appointment, go inside Migración and take a number.
- They open your “case”, send you upstairs, and you explain why your visa has expired. In my case, I was told to come back in one week (I don’t know why they couldn’t help me on that day).
Paying the fine
- One week later, you return and this time head to another floor with another employee. They will make an “actuación administrativa” [some kind of administrative procedure]. This appointment can take a few hours, after which they will tell you you have to pay a fine (basically because you’ll be overstaying your current visa). You can choose to pay the fine and sign a form that you promise not to file a complaint or open a case against them (which they will try to discourage you from doing – I don’t know if that is normal and legal, I will find that out as soon as I have my visa again). I chose to pay the fine as I thought it would be the “quickest” option, as I wanted to get my new visa as soon as possible. Then I was given an appointment for two weeks later.
- Two weeks later I returned to pay the fine. You can only pay with a Visa credit card. If not, you have to pay it in cash at a bank outside and come back with the proof of payment. My fine was $429,683 pesos(!). They will write a “procedimiento administrativo” and I was told to go down and ask for the salvoconducto. This appointment also took quite some time.
This is when the problems started…
- The next day I went back to get the salvoconducto, after a long time waiting, assistance finally came. You need to bring the “actuación”, “procedimiento” and proof that you’ve paid the fine. This site tells you what else to bring. In my case, I didn’t need a salvoconducto to leave the country, but in order to apply for a resident’s visa (as I live here because my wife is Colombian). For this, they asked me to show a “registro civil de matrimonio”. I didn’t bring this as it wasn’t in the “requisitos” (the list of required documents). When I told them that they hadn’t asked for this document or told me I’d need it, they replied “but we are telling you now”. If I hadn’t had any valid link to Colombia (i.e. my wife), I could have been deported, I was told. What a waste of time.
Getting a copy of my marriage certificate
- I went to the notary where my marriage was registered, got the certificate and their stamps/signatures. Together with a notarized copy of a letter from my wife to Migración requesting that I be able to stay in the country, it cost about $13,000 pesos. The stamp cannot be more than three months old, so previous certificates I had were useless.
- Back to Migración. This time I did get my salvoconducto. This cost $58.000 pesos. When you have a salvoconducto, officially you are not allowed to work.
- However, by the time I got it, this salvoconducto was only valid for five more days, as they start to count the 30 days validity from the first appointment you had in Migración, and every time I had to make a new appointment there was a delay of one to two weeks (for which I never understood the reasons). This made my salvoconducto kind of worthless, as in a couple of days I couldn’t complete all of the necessary steps of the visa application process. For example, I had to request a Certificado de Movimientos Migratorios (a document which showed all of my movements into and out of the country), which was necessary for the residency (RE) visa (also at a cost of $58.000). This alone takes up to three days to arrive via email.
Applying for a prórroga
- In this case I learned that you have to ask for a “prórroga” (like an extension) del salvoconducto, which, according to them, is only given under special circumstances. You’ll find the details of the procedure here. You have to ask for a prórroga five days before your actual salvoconducto expires. This involves writing a letter to Migración in which you explain why you need another salvoconducto. Bring this letter in person to Migración, without an envelope, together with copies of your salvoconducto, passport photo page and your last visa. At the back, next to the elevator, is a little office behind glass where they receive mail. They scan it and give you back the original papers with a sticker on it confirming receipt. In a couple of days you’ll receive an email from them authorizing (or not) the prórroga. If they do allow it, they write in this email* that you have to go the Migración to get your new salvoconducto.
*What they don’t mention in this email is that first you need to fill the form out again online (see above), which will give you a new number that you need to show when you come for the new salvoconducto. I didn’t know this, so once again I wasted my time at Migración as they told me to come back with the number.
Once you have this number, make an appointment or drop by, wait again, and you’ll receive the new salvoconducto. You’ll have to pay another $58.000 pesos and it will be valid for another 30 days. After all this I was ready to apply for a new visa, and luckily I got it within 30 days!
General information about salvoconductos and prórrogas de salvoconductos (slightly outdated in terms of prices)