Colombia Basics

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The Basics

Time: Local time is GMT -5.

Electricity: Electrical current is 110 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade attachment plugs and three-pin (two flat blades with round grounding pin) plugs are in use.

Money: The unit of currency is the Colombian Peso (COP), which is divided into 100 centavos. Banks have no fixed policy on exchanging cash. Some provide the service, some do not, and different banks can differ on this from day to day. Cash can be exchanged at casas de cambio, or money exchange bureaux, located in cities and border towns. US Dollars are preferred for most exchanges. Visitors are warned to beware of fake US Dollars, which are printed in Colombia. Credit cards, especially Visa, are widely accepted and are welcome at top hotels and restaurants, travel agents and car rental agencies. In the main towns and cities ATMs are prevalent, but cards should be used with caution for security reasons.

Currency Exchange Rates

COP100.00 = USD 0.03GBP 0.02CAD 0.04AUD 0.04ZAR 0.43EUR 0.03NZD 0.04
Note: These rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: Spanish is the official language of Colombia.

Entry requirements for Americans: US nationals must have a passport valid for the period of intended stay, but do not require a visa for tourist stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: British nationals must have a passport valid for the period of intended stay, but do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians must hold a passport valid for the period of intended stay, but do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Australians: Australians must have a passport valid for the period of intended stay, but do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans must have a passport valid for the period of intended stay. South Africans require a visa which can be obtained online before departure, at Passengers must have printed e-visa confirmation.

Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealanders require a passport valid period of intended stay, but no visa is necessary for a touristic stay of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals must have a passport valid period of intended stay, but do not require a visa for touristic stays of up to 90 days.

Passport/Visa Note: All tourists visiting Colombia must hold valid passports, tickets, and documents for onward or return travel, and sufficient funds to cover their stay. Tourists must have confirmed accommodation on arrival. We recommend that passports be valid for six months after the intended period of travel. Visitors traveling to San Andres (ADZ) are required to purchase a Tourist Card. Fee: approx. COP 108,974. Visitors traveling to Leticia (LET) are required to purchase a Tourist Card. Fee: Varies between COP 8,400 and COP 21,000.

Travel Health: Mosquito borne illnesses like dengue fever and malaria are prevalent in Colombia. Visitors must be sure to take preventative measures, pack enough mosquito repellent and wear concealing clothing. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for several parts of Colombia so be sure to consult your doctor beforehand about whether you will need to take malaria medication. Vaccinations are recommended for yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid. Additionally, the Zika virus has been detected in Colombia, so travellers should take care to avoid mosquito bites and sexual contact with any carriers of the virus. Visitors should not drink tap water, unbottled beverages or drinks with ice. Fruit and vegetables should be peeled, cooked and eaten while piping hot. Avoid undercooked meat or fish. Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies in quality elsewhere. Medical insurance is essential. If you require prescription medication while travelling then it is best to take your medication with you into Colombia; make sure you have all the necessary documents from your doctor to help you get the medicine through customs.

Tipping: Tipping is common and expected for most services. Waiters in restaurants should receive 10 percent of the bill if it has not automatically been added. Porters expect around one USD per bag. It is not obligatory to tip taxi drivers, but 10 percent is appreciated. Hotels usually add a service charge of 16 percent to the bill.

Safety Information: Once considered one of the world's most dangerous countries, Colombia has transformed itself into the darling of South American travel. Today, it is statistically safer than big cities in the United States. That said, visitors should be aware of a few risks. Militias left over from the civil war and those involved in the drug trade still operate in the frontier regions near Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. Travellers can avoid them by sticking to the main routes or going on organised tours. Anyone looking to visit the Lost City in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta should opt for a tour. Petty theft (mugging and pickpocketing) remains an issue and there are still some volatile areas around the country. Tourists should show good judgement by concealing their money, not wearing flashy clothes and not using ATMs after dark. They should also steer clear of political protests - as they would do when visiting any country. Floods and landslides are common during the rainy seasons, which occur in April/May, and again in October/November. With a sensible degree of caution, tourists can join the millions who visit Colombia and enjoy a safe experience.

Local Customs: Homosexuality is not widely accepted, and unfortunately, it is advisable that couples be discreet. It is prohibited to take photographs of military sites. Colombians use both their maternal and paternal surnames. The paternal surname is listed first and is used in conversation if addressing someone by his or her title.

Business: Formality in Colombian business is expected, more so inland than at the coast, and this applies to protocol as well as to dress. Punctuality for appointments is important, regardless of whether the host is there on time or not, and handshakes are customary on arriving and departing. Many business people speak English, although all presentation materials and documentation should be translated into Spanish, and the use of visual aids widely used where possible. It might be necessary to use a translator, but it is best to check beforehand to avoid causing offence. Business cards should also be printed in both English and Spanish. The importance of building social relationships should not be underestimated, and small talk before and after meetings is vital towards building a sense of trust and goodwill. Business hours are generally 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Communications: The international dialling code for Colombia is +57. The outgoing code depends on which network is used to dial out on, which is followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00544 for the United Kingdom). The area code for Bogota is 1, but the access code to make a call within the country from another area also depends on what network is used. A local prepaid SIM card can be cheaply purchased to avoid paying high international roaming fees. Wifi connection is available in most cities. Free wifi can also be found in cafes, hotels and wifi zones in major cities.

Duty Free: Travellers to Colombia over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco; perfume for personal use; and 2 bottles of alcohol per passenger.