The South American nation of Colombia has become increasingly appealing to expats over the last decade, and if you are looking for work here, it can be a rewarding experience.
The country has gradually been becoming more stable. Medellin, for instance, has an emerging tech industry and there are efforts to make the city a centre of innovation. Applying for a work permit, however, is not completely straightforward and we will take a look below at how to best maximize your choices if you are interested in finding a job in Colombia.
If you already have an employer lined up, they can arrange a work permit for you but this is not always an easy process: if your prospective employer often hires extranjeros then they will be familiar with the format. However, Colombia changed its work visa rules in 2015, so if you have applied for a work permit before this date, you will find significant differences.
Working visas are based on the job, not on you, so if you are granted a work permit and then have to change your job, you will need to apply for another visa. You will also have to fund part of the cost of the work permit yourself (this is sometimes a monthly deduction from your salary): a M-5 work visa is US$282.
You will also need to pay for your ID card, the cedula, which you will need to obtain up to 15 days after your visa has been granted. This currently costs US$0.09.
You can apply for a work permit/visa yourself, either online or via a Colombian consulate if you are currently outside the country itself. In order to apply for a TP-4 work visa you will need to submit or upload the following documents:
• your passport (valid for a minimum of 180 days, and with at least two blank pages)
• a photocopy of last passport page and photocopy of the last entry/exit stamp to Colombia and your previous visa (if applicable)
• three 3cm x 3cm recent photographs on a white background
• a work contract or signed and notarised contract of employment
• proof of your qualifications required for your job
• details of your employer including their registered name, previous income tax return, tax identification number (NIT), legal representation, and six months of bank statements supporting a minimum average balance equating to 100 months minimum wage in Colombia (approximately US$32,000)
If you are intending to be self employed when you move to Colombia, you will need some of the basic documentation above plus a letter explaining the nature of your business, your qualifications (these must be apostilled) and your competence in carrying the business concerned, and you will also have to supply proof that you can support yourself financially.
Your job contract can be verbal or written, but if you need to supply it in order to apply for a visa, you will need a written contract as follows:
• Contrato a término fijo (Fixed term contract)
• Contrato a término indefinido (a contract for an indefinite length of time)
• Contrato por la duración de una labor determinada (contract for a set working period, such as a project)
• Contrato accidental o transitorio (short term contract)
It will be greatly to your advantage to speak Spanish. This is the official language of Colombia and although some international companies operate in English, most local companies do not.
Latin America in general is experiencing a large skills gap and this includes Colombia. 50% of Colombian firms say that in 2018 they struggled to fill vacancies. This is good news for expats as it means that Colombian companies are more willing to consider foreign hires.
Working hours in Colombia are fixed at 48 hours per week, Monday-Friday or Monday-Saturday. Hours vary between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. but if you have to work outside these hours, you will legally be eligible for overtime. With some exceptions for casual part-time labour, expats have the same entitlement to working rights as Colombian employees.
You will have 15 days of paid holiday per year, but can exchange up to half of these days for pay.
If you are pregnant, you will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave if you have been paying sufficient social security contributions. Similarly, your husband will be entitled to 4 days’ paid paternity leave, or 8 days if both of you have been making social security contributions.
Your spouse will be able to work in Colombia but only if they apply for their own separate work permit.
You can approach companies directly with job applications. The Colombian government has stated that it wishes to attract foreign investment into the country and although you need to apply for the work visa/ID card it does not in practice put too many barriers in the way of your job search.
There are a number of job fairs both in Colombia and throughout South America and in addition, a large number of recruitment and employment agencies, particularly with relation to vacancies in cities such as Bogota and Medellin. Online jobs boards may prove helpful also.
It is advisable to have your CV or resume, plus your covering letter, translated into Spanish.
Colombian law prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, national or family background, language, religion, political or philosophical opinion, pregnancy or maternity, sexual orientation, age, disability or the state of your health.
If you are applying for a position that comes under a regulated profession in Colombia, such as engineering, accounting or medicine, you must request permission from the entity in charge to authorise you to practice, and you may also need to get your qualifications apostilled.
A Yellow Fever vaccine is required for travellers entering Colombia from countries such as Brazil, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. The vaccine must have been administered at least 10 days prior to your arrival in Colombia.
Many nationalities can enter Colombia for a period of up to 90 days without the need for a visa. Usually, you can extend your stay by applying for an extension at the immigration office (Migración Colombia). Immigration authorities are likely to ask you for proof of return or onward travel. Visitors cannot stay in Colombia on a tourist visa for more than 180 days in a 12-month period. Overstaying your visa can result in fines and/or deportation.
If you are a Colombian dual national, you must enter and leave Colombia using your Colombian passport and Colombian identification card (Cedula). Your passport should have a minimum validity of at least six months from the date you enter Colombia. Colombia charges a departure tax on all international flights leaving the country, the price of which is usually included in the cost of your flight ticket, but it’s always best to double check.
Minors under the age of 18 who have resident status in Colombia, and who are travelling on a British passport, will require written permission when leaving the country without their parents or guardians. The letter must be authenticated by a notary or by a Colombian consulate. It must detail the proposed destination, the purpose of the trip, the date of departure and the return date.
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry and exit, as well as airside transit, in Colombia. If you’re travelling to the islands of San Andres, Providencia or Santa Catalina you must purchase a tourist card at the airport you are travelling from. This can usually be done at the boarding gate on the day of your flight. Tourists staying less than 24 hours on the islands, and children under the age of seven years old, are exempt from this.
Citizens of certain countries will require a tourist visa in order to enter Colombia. These can be applied for and processed at Colombian embassies and consulates abroad. You can check a detailed list of visa requirements by country here.
Visas can be applied for at your nearest embassy or consulate, as well as online. It is sometimes possible to apply for your visa online whilst in Colombia, but this is subject to the type of visa you are applying for and your individual circumstances. It is always best to find out whether this option is possible for you well in advance of making your application.
Prior to the changes made to the visa system in 2017, Colombia had three types of visas: the temporary visa (TP), resident visa (RE) and business visa. Now, under the new visa rules, there are around 30 categories and subcategories of Colombian visa. The three main categories of visas are:
• Migrant (M)
• Resident (R)
• Visitor (V)
The migrant (M) Colombian visa
The majority of migrant visas issued in Colombia are valid for a period of up to three years. If you fall into one of the below categories, you may be eligible for this type of visa.
• The spouse or partner of a Colombian national or permanent resident
• The adoptive parents or adoptive child/children of a Colombian national
• A national of a reciprocal agreement country or Mercosur trade bloc member, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay or Chile
• Recognised refugees
• Those in permanent employment (or a long-term work contract) in Colombia
• Eligible investors
• Holders of a specified qualification or proven expertise in a specified field
• Religious missionaries
• Those enrolled in primary, secondary, or higher education at a registered educational institution in Colombia
• Eligible retirees with sufficient pension income and/or savings
The resident (R) Colombian visa
The resident visa is designed for:
• Returning Colombians (such as Colombians living in other countries who were required to renounce their citizenship when becoming citizens of their adopted countries)
• People who are the mother or father of a Colombian national (national by birth)
• Those who have held a category M visa continuously and uninterrupted for at least two years
• Those who have continuously and uninterruptedly held a beneficiary visa for at least five years
• Eligible investors
The visitor (V) Colombian visa
The Colombian visitor visa can be granted for 16 different activities, as detailed below. Such visas are usually valid for a period of two years.
1. Direct transit through a Colombian airport to a third country
2. Visiting Colombia for leisure, tourism and/or cultural interest purposes
3. Conducting business negotiations, market studies, plans or procedures
4. Participating in an academic exchange programme, advanced training in an art or trade, or undertaking studies
5. Attending a medical consultation, intervention or treatment, or accompanying a person attending one of the three aforementioned activities
6. Carrying out administrative and/or judicial proceedings
7. Working as a boat crew member or on an offshore platform in Colombian jurisdictional waters
8. Participating in an event as either a lecturer, exhibitor, artist, athlete, jury, contestant or logistical staff member
9. Participating in a Colombian internship
10. Volunteering in development projects or in the promotion and protection of human rights
11. Performing in audiovisual production or digital content
12. Performing journalistic coverage or staying temporarily as a foreign media correspondent
13. Providing temporary services to a Colombian citizen
14. Transferring from a position in a company to a position in a Colombian branch of the company
15. Coming as a foreign government official or foreign government trade representative
16. Visiting Colombia under a working holiday programme
After your application has been successful and you have received your visa, you will likely need to register with Migración Colombia within 15 days of arrival, in order to get your Cedula (foreign ID).
Some of the M visas will come with an open work permit, which allows the holder to legally work in Colombia. The Colombian migration policy looks to employ foreign workers with technical and intellectual qualifications and vocational experience, who can contribute towards economic development, scientific and technological advancements and cultural and educational enrichment. It also seeks to attract foreign investors who can help generate new jobs and/or increase exports.
If you have already been given an offer of employment, it is most likely that your employer will make all the necessary arrangements on your behalf. If you are looking to be self-employed and start your own business in Colombia, you will need to make the appropriate arrangements and application, ensuring you get all your business licenses in place.
As well as the temporary residency visas (category R), foreigners can also obtain Colombian citizenship or permanent residency status in Colombia.
You will not be eligible for citizenship if you are on an R visa and are out of the country for more than a continuous year. Therefore, if you are planning on applying to become a citizen in Colombia based on having an R visa, you cannot leave the country for more than a year at a time.
If you are the parent of a Colombian national, you can get permanent residency status immediately, and after two years, you will be eligible to apply for citizenship and a Colombian passport. The M category marriage visa, which you can apply for if you have a Colombian civil union or marriage, also gives you the opportunity to become a permanent resident, after three years. After a further two years, you can apply for Colombian citizenship.
Other visas, such as work visas, student visas, business owner visas and retirement visas, will require you to reside in Colombia for a period of five years uninterrupted, before you can become eligible for permanent residency, and a further two years until you can apply for citizenship.
Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.
Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.
Important questions to ask the insurance provider:
1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?
2. Does the plan offer “Moratorium” or is it “Full underwriting” and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?
3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.
4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?
5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.
6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.
7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.
8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?
9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.
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Securing a home in Colombia can be difficult if you don’t speak Spanish, and the high demand for properties means that you may need to act fast. Therefore, it is advisable to have your preferred neighbourhood and budget in mind before you begin your search.
To find an apartment to rent, many expats choose to walk around their desired area. Look for ‘se arrienda’ signs, and contact the owners to arrange a visit. In Colombia, properties are often rented out by individuals as opposed to agencies.
There are also numerous estate agents in Colombia, but if you don’t speak Spanish, you may want to take someone with you who can translate.
Renting in Colombia is relatively straightforward, although there are a few things to keep in mind.
The standard notice period to end a rental lease is three months, and there is a penalty for early termination that applies to both tenants and landlords. If you breach the contract and agreed notice period, you may have to pay three months’ rent.
Deposits are technically not permitted in Colombia, so many landlords and agencies will ask for a fiador (guarantor) instead. If you don’t have a guarantor, you may need to pay a few month’s rent in advance. Pay this via an insurance company so you have some protection. Often, your employer can act as a fiador, so it is worth asking about this.
To rent in Colombia, you only need a passport and a proof of income. However, there will be a lot of paperwork to fill out. Once a property has been found and a price agreed with the landlord, a contract is set up. You may need references and background checks.
Both furnished and unfurnished houses are available, with furnished apartments being a lot more expensive. Keep in mind that unfurnished properties may lack what many see as basic amenities, such as refrigerators and washing machines.
Rental contracts usually last 12 months, although a shorter period can be negotiated with landlords.
Questions to ask include:
• Does the property operate with weekly or monthly pricing?
• When is rent due and who is it payable to?
• Does the rent include the cost of maintenance, such as cleaning or gardening?
• Who is responsible for the payment of utilities?
• What is your notice period?
Buying property in Colombia is relatively straightforward, with no restrictions on foreign buyers. You are able to purchase a property whether you are a full-time resident or not. In fact, all you need is a passport and sufficient funds.
Once you’ve found the property you want to buy, you will need to acquire a Certificate of Tradition and Liberty, which contains all the information about the property and its history. You should, at this stage, hire a lawyer to assist you in verifying this.
Obtaining a mortgage from a Colombian bank is difficult, and if you do manage to get one approved, you may have to pay up to 15% interest. It is even difficult for locals to get a mortgage, which is why many choose to rent rather than buy. To be considered for a mortgage, you will need residency, and you must have lived in the country for at least two years.
One option would be to arrange a private mortgage with the seller. This is possible, but not common, and you may need to pay a deposit of up to 50%.
As a buyer, you will need to pay taxes and fees. These include:
• 1% tax for registration
• 0.5% fee for registration
• 0.15% notary fee
The seller will also have taxes to pay. The previous owner should have paid all outstanding taxes before selling, and you will be able to check this by obtaining a Tax-Free Property Certificate and a Tax-Free on Value Gained Property Certificate.
The final step of purchasing property in Columbia is to sign the Public Deed, which will be produced by a notary. This will confirm that you are the legal owner.
The cost of property in Colombia will vary depending on your location, but Americans and Europeans often see it as very affordable. Each neighbourhood belongs to an estrato, which is scored. The higher the score, the more you’ll pay for the property, utilities and amenities. This is so those living in poorer areas don’t have to pay the same as those in wealthier neighbourhoods.
The residents of Bogota enjoy year-round Spring-like temperatures and beautiful mountainous scenery. Prices are very reasonable and crime rates are dropping, which makes it a great place to buy or rent.
The cheapest property in Bogota will cost you around $150,000. For a large, luxurious apartment, expect to pay up to $500,000.
Once thought of as somewhere to be avoided at all costs, Medellin now has a bustling expat community. The city has a relatively low cost of living, which makes it a great place to get set up.
Medellin has a range of homes, from small apartments priced at under $100,000 to luxury homes that cost up to $1m. The price will hugely depend on the age of the building and the neighbourhood in which you are purchasing.
Fans of the Caribbean coast should look no further than Santa Marta. This lovely beach town is home to the world famous Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, and the town itself is well set up for expats.
An apartment in the city centre could cost you up to $7000 per square meter, while one outside the centre could cost you half of this.
Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.
Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.
If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.
The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).
Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.
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QUICK LINK: Colombia health insurance
There have been a number of improvements in the standards of healthcare offered in Colombia since the 1980s. In 1993 the way the public healthcare services were funded was completely restructured and costs shifted from the provider to the public. Employees are now obliged to pay into the health plans and employers add to these funds. This covers around two thirds of the population although the poorest members of society still appear to be falling through the net.
The hospitals in the country offer a good quality of care, and the staff are well trained and professional. Many have trained at universities in the UK or the US so English speaking expats should feel comfortable in their care.
Heart disease is the primary cause of premature death in Colombia. This is followed by strokes, respiratory diseases, road accidents and diabetes. There are diseases which are spread by infected water in the lowland and coastal areas, such as cerebral malaria and leishmaniasis. Immunizations for children against infectious diseases are regularly carried out and the country’s programme of vaccinations is excellent, with over 90% of the population included.
The fifth leading cause of death in the working age population in Colombia is acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Nearly 240,000 people, the majority of which are women and young people, or 0.6% of the population had been infected with the AIDS virus since it arrived in Colombia in late 1983, according to Colombias National Health Institute. In 2005, it was estimated that the number of adults and children, between the ages of 0 and 49 years of age, living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) ranged from 160,000 to 310,000. The comparable figure for women, between the ages of 15 and 49 years, was 62,000. The number of AIDS and Hepatitis B cases was on the rise.
Expats are advised to take out private medical insurance, even if they pay into the national healthcare plan. Most health issues can be dealt with at one of the many hospitals or clinics, but if you should require treatment for a specific illness then it is advisable to have the extra cover in case specialist care is required. If you already have a condition which requires regular medication then it is a good idea to check in advance if your medication is authorised in Colombia, as there are some drugs which are not, even if they are widely available in countries such as the UK and the USA. If not, you should consult with your doctor about alternatives prior to travelling.
There are a number of items that you will need in order to be able to open a bank account (cuenta bancaria) in Colombia. Expats need to take along their passport, residency and work visa and the Colombian issued identification card (cedula de extranjeria). It is recommended that you choose a fairly large banking organisation as they are more likely to have staff that are fluent in English and will be more used to dealing with the accounts of expats.
Call the bank in advance to make an appointment to open the account (abrir una cuenta). Each bank will differ slightly in its requirements and you can confirm with them exactly what you need to bring along. In addition to the items already mentioned, it is likely that you will also need proof of your Colombian address, so a copy of your tenancy agreement or a utility bill will be useful and it is a good idea to take along a reference from your current bank and copies of statements if you have them.
Some banks may require you to have a personal reference from a Colombian resident – your employer is usually the best person for this. It is worth having the references written when you arrive as you may also require them to be able to obtain a tenancy agreement (contrato de renta) for your home.
At your appointment you will be asked to complete all the relevant forms and the bank will want to know about the funds that will be going in and out of your account, so a copy of your contract of employment or paperwork on income that you receive from outside the country will be required. You will also need to have some money to deposit (depositar) in the account in order for it to be opened. The minimum amount needed will vary from bank to bank, so it is a good idea to check this in advance also.
After a week or so the bank will send you a letter to confirm that the account has been opened. This will contain the account details but to obtain any credit or debit cards (tarjeta de cobro automático) you will have to call into the branch to collect them.
Checking the requirements of several banks in advance is a good idea as there are some which will not allow a foreigner to open an account if they have not already been in the country for six months, which is another reason for an expat to choose an international bank. It may be possible for some international banks to open an account for you in advance, particularly if your existing account is already with them.
There are several international banks which have branches in Colombia. The HSBC banking group has several branches there. By talking to some of the international banks it may be possible for those who do not have the Colombian ID card to open an account, but this will require a lot more paperwork to be completed and an undertaking on your part to obtain the correct documentation as quickly as possible. You may also be required to keep a minimum balance (saldo) in the account, and this could work out to be quite a lot of money.
Colombian banks are also known for charging fees for most transactions. Some banks will charge for processing cheques and some withdrawals and it is a good idea to be clear in advance on the charges. These will vary from bank to bank. It is possible to access funds at one of the many ATMs in the country. These are usually situated outside banks or in many shopping areas although some banks may charge you to withdraw funds, depending upon the type of account and card you have. Using a credit card in the ATM rather than a debit card will always incur a fee.
Once you have been in the country for several months you will have a credit rating, which will be necessary if you wish to borrow money for a mortgage or other type of loan. It is not worth applying for either of these from a local bank if you have not been there for at least a few months. If you wish to buy a property sooner then a mortgage from your existing bank is a better option if they conduct business in Colombia.
There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.
International Bank Transfers
For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.
Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them “on demand” whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.
You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.
When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic – your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.
As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up – ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.
As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.
Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals
Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution – many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.
You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine – but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.
Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent – many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.
Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.
A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:
1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.
2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.
3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.
Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money – such as the proceeds of a property – a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.
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Situated in the far north of South America, Colombia borders several other states, and has both Pacific and Atlantic Ocean coastlines. Columbia is famously biodiverse, being home to the largest number of bird species in the world. Terrain varies widely from rain forests, mountains and savannah to deserts.
The population of Columbia exceeds 50 million. More than three quarters of the population live in urban areas. There is also a large expat community, mostly living in or near the capital, Bogota, or Medellin.
Colombia is well-developed and relatively wealthy economically, with mining, industry and services being major contributors. Tourism is also popular, with many coming mainly to soak up the fantastic variety of scenery.
If you are moving to Colombia to explore, maybe to work or perhaps retire, you will need to consider the ease with which you are able to communicate.
One of the best ways an expat can begin to integrate and feel more comfortable in any new country is by learning the local language, at least to a point where daily transactions can be achieved in the native tongue.
Spanish (castellano colombiano) is the official language of Colombia, being spoken by almost everyone in the country, although the range of dialects and accents is fairly diverse. There are also many recognized indigenous languages, which are official in their respective areas, and spoken by 2% of the population overall. English is also an official language, but only on the islands which Columbia controls.
However, although English is taught in schools, the standard of fluency is not considered especially high, even in the capital, Bogota, so if you are intending to travel outside the major urban areas, you will find that the level of English language comprehension is much more limited. You may therefore encounter some difficulty communicating unless you have at least some basic Spanish phrases and a good phrase book.
There are a number of good international schools in Colombia to help you reach your required level of fluency in Spanish. These can be found on the internet and either applied to in advance of arrival, or when you are settled in your chosen destination. To achieve a foundation in the Spanish language before you go, or indeed to consolidate it when you arrive, there are a large number of courses available on the internet – some of which are free up to a certain level. A simple search will give you a wide choice.
Linguistic experts generally recommend an immersive learning experience, as the quickest way to attain fluency in any language, and immersive courses, and personal coaches can be found locally in all major Colombian cities.
In daily life, you will be constantly exposed to the Spanish language, and whilst you may find it daunting to begin with, a little persistence and practice will rapidly improve your ability to communicate effectively. If you are planning to go out to Colombia as a couple, it can be a good idea to make a pact to speak in Spanish together during your time out of class. Immersing yourself in Spanish language television and newspapers is also highly productive. You may find locals willing to coach you or converse with you perhaps over a coffee or a glass of wine.
You may also find that English is used in the workplace in a few international companies, such as IT, banking, airlines and tourism, but it would be unwise to count on this. Jobs are more frequently advertised as bilingual.
If you wish to work in Colombia, one extremely popular employment sector is in teaching English. Please note that it is always easier to get work in international education if you have a university degree and a certificate in either TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Several international schools offer language teaching posts, usually on six-month or yearly contracts. These are available to anyone with a Bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate. TEFL courses are available in Bogota and Medellin, with offers of potential jobs at the end of your course. However, relevant experience will generally give you more choice and higher pay.
Most language teaching jobs would be in the larger cities. Depending on your lifestyle, rates of pay may, or may not be sufficient to allow you to stay permanently, but for a working holiday, it can be fun and rewarding.
If you intend to teach English in Colombia, it is preferable if you have experience in teaching schemes such as the Cambridge English exams or IELTS (International English Language Testing System): the English test for study, migration or work. Some teaching experience in the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) will also be helpful. This assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in written English for use in admission to graduate management programs, such as the MBA.
You may also find teaching work more easily if you are experienced in teaching English for particular sectors, such as tourism and hospitality. You are most likely, however, to find work in either public schools or private international institutions. You should be paid more in the private educational sector.
There may also be some demand for translation or interpretation services between Spanish and English, for instance in translating newspaper articles into English, if you have a high level of proficiency.
There are many bilingual jobs advertised in different employment sectors, especially in Bogota. These would generally require a good level of Spanish, but can sometimes be secured before you go.
The government of Colombia invests heavily in their education system, spending approximately 4.5% of GDP, slightly higher than the OECD reporting average. The literacy rate stands at around 95%. Additionally, there has been a significant government-led drive to create extra vocational qualification opportunities for Colombian children, particularly from under-privileged backgrounds.
State education in Colombia, under the control of the Ministry of Education, is compulsory for ages 5 – 15 and is provided free for all Colombian children, paid for through the tax system. The system has undergone massive reforms under a series of government-led drives to improve internationalism and competitiveness in world markets, including the introduction of English as a compulsory second language throughout the public school system.
There are a considerable number of fee-paying private educational institutions at all levels (often denominational), and many of these may be at least partially subsidised by the government.
There are also a large number of independently run international schools, where multilingualism is strongly encouraged, and generally classes are given in English.
However, the education system here is of course very different from the UK or US systems. For a start, all lessons in state schools will be conducted in Spanish, although a few private schools may offer a bilingual curriculum (typically Spanish in the morning, English in the afternoon).
State education provisions are divided into several levels:
• pre-school (optional) 4 – 5
• primary age 5 or 6 – 10
• junior high school – age 11 – 14
• senior high school 15 – 16
The junior high school curriculum is standardizes, at which point children have the choice of continuing with general academic studies, or entering a technical school or vocational college, where training programs include medicine, construction, engineering, IT, and agriculture and many other fields.
Tertiary education is provided by colleges and universities throughout the country. Colombia has a very good reputation for university education in Latin America.
The curriculum at all levels is set by the government, with the express aim of offering a consistently high standard of education throughout the country.
Homeschooling is not legally recognised under Colombian law, which means there is simply no support network and no local understanding of the concept, with many administrators thinking it must be illegal. It tends to be ignored completely for now, so you are very much on your own if you choose this route for your child. However, the Ministry of Education is apparently planning to put firmer administrative guidelines, procedures, and standards in place by 2022, so it is highly likely the process will change considerably.
There are many private schools in Colombia. Many of these schools are faith-based, which you may wish to factor in to your choices. Private schools may have almost the same curriculum as state schools, but they are not fully dependent on government funding for extra activities and extra classes, which makes them a popular choice for expat families. Fees and curricula will vary considerably, and need to be checked locally.
Additionally, there are a large number of international schools, generally running on US, UK or European curricula, with a few having originally been set up by various branches of the Church. Many of these international schools offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), with compulsory subjects and a number of electives. The IB is widely recognized throughout the world by further education institutions, for those wanting to go on and attend foreign universities.
A few of the many international schools (at various levels) to consider –
• Knightsbridge Schools International, Bogota
• Colegio Nuevo Granada, Bogota
• The English School, Bogota
• French School, Bogota
• Colegio Bolivar, Bolivar
• Marymount, Medellin
• British International School, Baranquilla
• Colegio Panamericana, Pereira
There are also Montessori facilities in several cities.
There are many others to consider, especially in Medellin, but provision is going to be more limited away from Bogota itself, where many expats settle. International schools are very popular with expats, so it will be necessary to contact your chosen school as soon as possible to secure a place for your child. Fees can also be quite expensive, which may need to be factored in to contract negotiations with your employer.
Further education is provided on a fee-paying basis for Colombian nationals at universities. Private universities again will have their own fee structures. Many expat children do at least look at local further education opportunities, especially if they intend to stay in the country.
Whilst Colombian universities are held in very high regard, Colombia has a considerable program of student exchange, to further its goals of a multi-national society and competitiveness. In general, the Colombian education system is well set up for academic achievements to be recognised, allowing its students to fit in wherever they go in the world.