With the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak and resultant global travel restrictions, thousands if not millions of people are stuck in place around the world, due both to public health curfews and the lack of international transportation. Borders and immigration offices are closed, so even if one had means of transportation, there is very limited means of ingress and egress across borders.
Many visitors and expatriates are in Colombia, whether by choice or circumstance. Immigration offices are closed though, so those who need visa extensions, or had things like immigration interviews scheduled are out of luck. There are also people outside of Colombia that wish to get in, whether to immigrate or just to visit. Their plans are on hold as well. That leaves a lot of questions.
Finance Colombia sought answers by speaking with attorney Jaime Aristizabal of Expat Group, a specialty law and services firm that specializes on assisting foreigners with visa applications and business formation, along with other business services such as payroll and accounting.
Finance Colombia: This pandemic has seen a lot of people stuck around the world. Normally, the rules say visitors can stay for up to 90 days in Colombia. What can happen to people who unintentionally violate this because they cannot travel right now?
Jaime Aristizabal: Yes, this is one of the biggest concerns for foreigners currently in Colombia. In this sense, the Colombian government has relaxed migration rules in order to give calm in the midst of the crisis.
For this reason, through Resolution 0918 of March 19th, 2020, Migration Colombia decided to suspend the timing of tourism permits until May 30th or until the end of the National Sanitary Emergency, whichever comes first. So foreigners will not enter into irregular stay or be subject to sanctions and will be able to return to their country of origin legally as soon as the borders are opened.
Finance Colombia: Before the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic, many foreign investors were opening businesses here in Colombia. Does this complicate business registration and obtaining business and investor visas?
Jaime Aristizabal: In times of crisis, people, institutions and companies need to reinvent and adapt to the circumstances and needs of the environment.
In this sense, registration and control entities have adapted their processes and protocols to be carried out entirely by digital means; As for the visa issuance system in Colombia, it’s already known that it is an advanced system that has been using technology for the whole process of studying, approving and issuing visas for a few years.
So at this moment, even the dollar is at a very good exchange price, therefore many foreigners are still interested in making their investments in the country and there are no barriers to it.
We continue to leverage services related to business in Colombia, legally registering new companies through 100% online Chambers of Commerce, opening corporate bank accounts, legalizing foreign investments and requesting visas of all categories, including business categories, through the Ministry of External Affairs.
The only step that we are not taking at the moment is the stamping of the visas in the passports after their approval, which will be resumed without any problem when the quarantine has ended. However, foreigners may have complete peace of mind since you will have an electronic visa to prove your immigration status.
Finance Colombia: Citizens & residents are only allowed to travel here in Colombia on certain days based on our cédulas (National ID) .What about foreigners, people without cédulas?
Jaime Aristizabal: The lockdown permits movement in Colombia to make purchases and carry out bank procedures or access essential services, based on the last digit of the identification document, which in this case may be understood as the citizenship card, the immigration card or the passport itself in the case of foreigners who do not have a valid visa or identity card.
Finance Colombia: What if someone must travel, maybe there is an evacuation fight. How can people get to the airport without breaking the rules?
Jaime Aristizabal: Foreigners who are going to travel using humanitarian flights that have been enabled by government entities, may move to the airport without restriction.
In order not to break the rules or receive a fine, you will have to show the control authorities, if necessary, the ticket and the corresponding travel itinerary, and your movement will have to be in a direct route: from their place of residence towards the airport without detours.
Finance Colombia: What happens to people who had visa appointments that got canceled because of the pandemic?
Jaime Aristizabal: For foreigners who, being in Colombia in the middle of a visa process, received a cancellation of their appointment in Bogotá have the possibility of being reprogrammed by digital means to continue the process; in fact, at this moment the procedures and interviews are being carried out by email and video-call as appropriate.
In the case of those foreigners who had appointments in the consulates for the processing of a Colombian visa, they must wait for the situation to normalize to continue their processes, since currently the Colombian government does not allow the admission of visas for foreigners staying outside the national territory.
Finance Colombia: What about people outside of Colombia who still want to visit or move here once travel is permitted? What should they do?
Jaime Aristizabal: According to Resolution 1296 of April 21st, 2020, which we explain in one of our blogs, foreigners who are outside Colombia and wish to come to the country, must wait until the Sanitary Emergency declared by the Ministry of Health is lifted.
The reason for this is that the processing of visa applications by foreigners through consulates abroad is currently suspended, and the borders continue to be closed.
In this case, it is important to first consult an expert, in order to verify compliance with the visa requirements to which they will be able to apply when the quarantine has ended, start preparing the documentary support that is possible to expedite the process in case it is required and stay updated on the latest news on this topic.
Finance Colombia: People fear mayhem and crowds at the Visa office once it reopens. What alternatives do people have?
Jaime Aristizabal: The visa office has a full online management system, and this system will surely be sustained and will continue to be strengthened in search of favoring the care of its officers and of all national and foreign people who require the services of this unit.
However, when it is necessary and opportune to reopen the physical facilities for the processing of some essential procedures that require attendance, the visa office will guarantee the correct implementation of all safety and health regulations in accordance with the measures ordered by the Ministry of Health and the National Government.
It is important to note here that unless the government requires a face-to-face interview, which now is not even within being contemplated, in expatgroup.co we offer a complete service of legal representation and management in order to avoid foreigners having to move or do face-to-face procedures.
Finance Colombia: You represent a firm called Expat Group. What does your firm do?
Jaime Aristizabal: At expatgroup.co we are dedicated to providing immigration, legal, accounting, real estate, technology and business solutions to all foreigners who have an interest in Colombia. On our website you can see in more detail the services we offer https://expatgroup.co/english/, and even, quote and receive a quote online in a couple of minutes https://expatgroup.co/english/quote-now/.
We have more than 10 years of experience in the market, and a 100% online service system that makes our consulting and processes much more agile and efficient.
Our commitment is to help foreigners to clearly understand Colombian regulations, help them find their best option to settle in the country and optimize all resources in order to fulfill their objectives in Colombia.
Finance Colombia: How can expats and visitors contact you?
Jaime Aristizabal: Any foreigner may contact us from Colombia or abroad, through the following channels:
- Web chat enabled on our site https://expatgroup.co/english/.
- Customer service email [email protected].
- Telephone attention in Spanish and English on the lines: (+57) 350 894 8130 / (+57) 350 211 2552.
- Attention through WhatsApp: (+57) 350 894 8130.
- On our social networks: Facebook and Instagram.
- In addition, they will be able to verify our location, hours of operation, contact information and some of the reviews of our clients at the following Google Business link https://g.page/expatgroup-colombia.
Finance Colombia: What other advice would you give to expats and visitors in Colombia?
Jaime Aristizabal: At this time, there are many foreigners waiting for the first opportunity that presents to move to Colombia and apply for a visa, so it is advisable to previously be informed by an expert in the matter, and go ahead preparing the needed documents as possible, since the system could collapse later, which would represent delays and some complications in the procedures.
Additionally, the government requirements regarding visa applications are continually changing and adjusting due to the current pandemic situation in the world, so it is necessary to be well prepared and advised to guarantee success in current and future processes.