Colombia - Consular Information Sheet
APRIL 18, 2001
TRAVEL WARNING (Issued APRIL 17, 2001): The Department
of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Colombia. Violence
by narcotraffickers, guerrillas, illegal self-defense (paramilitary)
groups and other criminal elements continues to affect all parts
of the country, both urban and rural. Citizens of the United States
and other countries continue to be the victims of threats, kidnappings,
domestic airline hijackings and murders. Threats targeting American
citizens are expected to continue and possibly increase in response
to U.S. support for Colombian drug eradication programs. Colombian
groups have been known to operate in the border areas of neighboring
countries, creating similar dangers for travelers in those areas.
U.S. citizens of all age groups and occupations, both tourists
and residents, have been victimized. Bombings have occurred throughout
Colombia, including in urban areas, and some foreign interests
have been among the targets.
More than 3,000 people are kidnapped each year throughout Colombia,
and there is a greater risk of being kidnapped in Colombia than
in any other country in the world. In the past 20 years, nearly
120 American citizens have been kidnapped in both individual incidents
and large group hostage situations. At least 14 American kidnapping
victims have been murdered. Most kidnappings of U.S. citizens
in Colombia have been committed by guerrilla groups, including
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National
Liberation Army (ELN), which were both designated as Foreign Terrorist
Organizations by the Secretary of State in October 1997. Since
it is U.S. policy not to pay ransom or make other concessions
to terrorists, the U.S. Government's ability to assist kidnapped
U.S. citizens is limited.
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Colombia is a medium-income country
with a diverse economy. Travelers to the capital city of Bogota
may require some time to adjust to the altitude (8,600 feet),
which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion and energy
level. Tourist facilities vary in quality, according to price
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid U.S. passport is required
to enter and depart Colombia. Tourists must also provide evidence
of return or onward travel. U.S. citizens do not need a visa for
a tourist stay of 60 days or less. Stiff fines are imposed if
passports are not stamped on arrival and if stays exceeding 60
days are not authorized by the Colombian Immigration Agency (Departamento
Administrativo de Seguridad, Jefatura de Extranjeria, "DAS
Extranjeria"). U.S. citizens whose passports are lost or
stolen in Colombia must obtain a new passport and present it,
together with a police report of the loss or theft, to the main
immigration office in Bogota to obtain permission to depart. An
exit tax must be paid at the airport when departing Colombia.
For further information regarding entry and customs requirements,
travelers should contact the
Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place, N.W., Washington, DC
20008; telephone (202) 387-8338; Internet website - http://www.colombiaemb.org;
or the Colombian consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston,
Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco or San
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS: In an effort to prevent
international child abduction, many governments, including Colombia's,
have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include
requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission
for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not
present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required,
may facilitate entry/departure.
Colombia's specific procedures mandate that minors (under 18),
regardless of nationality, who are traveling alone, with one parent
or with a third party must present a copy of their birth certificate
and written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian,
specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent
or with a third party. When a parent is deceased, a notarized
copy of the death certificate is required in lieu of the written
authorization. If documents are prepared in the United States,
the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated
into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Colombian Embassy
or a Colombian consulate within the United States. If documents
are prepared in Colombia, only notarization by a Colombian notary
is required. A permission letter prepared outside of Colombia
is valid for 90 days. A permission letter prepared in Colombia
is valid for 60 days.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: The security situation in Colombia
is volatile. Violence by narcotraffickers, paramilitary groups,
guerrilla and terrorist organizations, and other criminal elements
is widespread and increasing. Travel by road outside the major
cities is especially dangerous because of guerrilla activity in
Some terrorist groups have targeted foreigners, multinational
companies and other foreign interests, and this pattern is expected
to continue in the future. Random bombings have occurred in and
around major urban areas. Public facilities and modes of transportation
may also be targeted.
Kidnapping for ransom occurs more often in Colombia than in any
other country in the world, and affects all parts of the country.
Since 1980, the Embassy in Bogota has learned of more than 120
U.S. citizens kidnapped in Colombia and adjacent border areas.
Although the majority were released, 14 were murdered, one died
from malnutrition during captivity, and the whereabouts of several
others remain unknown. U.S. citizens of all age groups and occupations
have been kidnapped, and kidnappings have occurred in all major
regions of Colombia. Because of widespread guerrilla activity
and U.S. policy that opposes concessions to terrorists, including
payment of ransom in kidnapping cases, the U.S. Government can
provide only limited assistance in these cases. Under Colombian
law, those who fail to coordinate their efforts to resolve kidnapping
cases with the Office of the Anti-Kidnapping Director (Ministerio
de Defensa/Programa Para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal) could
face criminal prosecution.
The Secretary of State has designated both the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army
(ELN) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Both organizations have
kidnapped foreigners, including U.S. citizens. Three U.S. citizens
kidnapped by the FARC were murdered in March 1999, and three other
U.S. citizens kidnapped by the FARC have been missing since January
1993. All U.S. citizens in Colombia, either residing there or
visiting, should consider themselves potential targets.
All in-country travel by U.S. Embassy employees, both official
and private, to all destinations, is subject to strict limitations
and reviewed case by case. Bus transportation is off-limits to
U.S. Embassy personnel. U.S. Embassy personnel are advised to
use caution if remaining after midnight in the Zona Rosa or Parque
93, Bogota's principal nightclub/entertainment districts, due
to the possibility that they could become the targets of crime
The official travel of all U.S. Government personnel to Colombia
must be approved in advance by the U.S. Embassy. Such travel is
approved only for essential business. Private travel by U.S. military
personnel to Colombia requires advance approval by the U.S. Embassy.
Non-military employees of the U.S. Government do not need Embassy
approval for private travel, but such employees are urged to avoid
non-essential travel to Colombia.
CRIME: Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries
in the world. Based on Colombian government statistics, Colombia's
1999 per capita murder rate of 77.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants
was more than thirteen times higher than that of the United States.
Murders in Colombia increased from 24,358 in 1999 to 26,250 in
2000. While narcotics and guerrilla-related violence account for
part of this, common criminals are responsible for an estimated
75 percent of the reported murders. Visitors are urged to exercise
a high degree of caution.
Petty crime is prevalent in cities, especially in the vicinity
of hotels and airports. Theft of hand luggage and travel documents
at airports is common, particularly at El Dorado Airport in Bogota.
Violence occurs frequently in bars and nightclubs. Taking illegal
taxis, which are sometimes characterized by a driver and a companion
and irregular markings, is dangerous. Getting into a taxi that
already has one or more passengers is not advisable. Travel by
bus is risky. Attempts at extortion and kidnappings on rural buses
are not unusual.
Criminals sometimes use the drug "scopolamine" to incapacitate
tourists in order to rob them. The drug is administered in drinks
(in bars), through cigarettes and gum (in taxis), and in powder
form (tourists are approached by someone asking directions, with
the drug concealed in a piece of paper). The drug renders the
person disoriented and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and
serious medical problems.
Another common scam is an approach to an obvious tourist by an
alleged "policeman," who says he wants to "check"
the foreigner's money for counterfeit U.S. dollars. The person
gives the criminal money, receives a receipt, and the "policeman"
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported
immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or
Consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's
pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad
for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. This publication
and others, such as Tips
for Travelers to Central and South America, are available
from the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
D.C. 20402; via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs;
or via the
Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care is adequate in major
cities but varies in quality elsewhere. A growing number of American
citizen deaths resulting from elective, aesthetic surgery (e.g.,
liposuction) have been reported to the U.S. Embassy.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges
Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior
to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas
and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical
evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs
incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage
is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do
not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.
However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance
plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including
emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans
should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require
payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical
evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured
travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme
difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical
insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving.
When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain
whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider
or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur.
Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric
treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau
of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical
Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available on the
Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/medical.html,
or by autofax: (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations
and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international
travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax: 1-888-CDC-FAXX
(1-888-232-3299); or via CDC's
Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign
country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ
significantly from those in the United States. The information
below concerning Colombia is provided for general reference only,
and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside/Ambulance Assistance: Poor
Basic infrastructure is deteriorating in most major cities in
Colombia. The numerous construction projects initiated to improve
this situation only contribute to the congestion. Traffic laws
are sporadically followed and rarely enforced, a chaotic and dangerous
reality for travelers in the major cities. Colombian authorities
estimate that a traffic accident occurs every ten minutes; urban
pedestrians constitute the largest category of traffic-related
casualties. Public transportation is not a safe alternative; buses
and, to a lesser extent, taxis are frequent targets for criminals.
Although limited laws exist in Colombia to protect the safety
of travelers on the roads, they are rarely enforced. Seat belts
are mandatory for the two front-seat passengers in a vehicle.
Car seats are not mandatory for children, but a child under ten
years old may not be seated in the front seat. Urban speed limits
range from 28 to 37 mph (45 to 60 kph); rural speed limits are
usually 50 mph (80 kph), unless otherwise indicated. If an accident
occurs, the involved parties must remain at the scene until the
authorities arrive; leaving the scene of the accident constitutes
an admission of guilt.
For security reasons, the Embassy strongly recommends against
any rural road travel by American citizens in Colombia. As previously
noted in the "Safety and Security" section, the strong
presence of guerrilla and paramilitary groups and common criminals
in rural areas makes travel on these roads extremely dangerous.
Guerrilla groups frequently establish roadblocks in order to rob
and/or kidnap travelers. This practice is the main reason why
the Embassy considers rural road travel during any time of year
to be a serious threat to the safety of American citizens in Colombia.
Any inter-city travel by American citizens should be done by airplane.
For additional information about road travel in Colombia, see
U.S. Embassy home page at http://usembassy.state.gov/bogota.
For additional general information
about road safety, including links to foreign government sites,
see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page
at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information
concerning Colombian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road
tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Colombian Vice-Ministry
of Tourism at the following address and/or phone numbers: Viceministerio
de Turismo, Calle 28 No. 13a-15, Piso 17, Santa Fe de Bogota,
COLOMBIA; 011-57-1-283-9927 or 011-57-1-283-9558.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) has assessed the Government of Colombia's Civil Aviation
Authority as Category 1 - in compliance with international aviation
safety standards for oversight of Colombia's air carrier operations.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department
of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit
Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some
foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of
air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific
carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Colombian law prohibits tourists
and business travelers from bringing firearms into Colombia. The
penalty for illegal importation and/or possession of firearms
is three to ten years in prison. It is advisable to contact the
Embassy of Colombia in Washington or one of Colombia's consulates
in the United States for specific information regarding customs
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S.
citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which
sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States
and may not afford the protections available to the individual
under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe
than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating
Colombian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs
in Colombia are strict, and convicted offenders can expect long
jail sentences and fines. U.S. citizens arrested in Colombia for
drug-related offenses may experience several months' detention
in jail before their cases are processed. Prison conditions are
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Colombia is an earthquake-prone
country. U.S. citizens in Colombia may refer to information on
dealing with natural disasters on the
U.S. Embassy's web site at http://usembassy.state.gov/bogota/wwwhacsc.html.
General information about natural disaster preparedness is available
via the Internet from the
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov/.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For
information on international adoption of children and international
parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site
at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in
or visiting Colombia are encouraged to register and obtain updated
information on travel and security in Colombia either at the Consular
Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota or via the Embassy's website
(see website address below). The Consular Section is open for
citizens services, including registration, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00
noon, Monday through Thursday, excluding U.S. and Colombian holidays.
U.S. Embassy is located at Avenida El Dorado and Carrera 50;
telephone (011-57-1) 315-0811 during business hours (8:30 a.m.
to 5:00 p.m.), or 315-2109/2110 for emergencies during non-business
hours; fax (011-57-1) 315-2196/2197; Internet website - http://usembassy.state.gov/bogota.
The Consular Agency
in Barranquilla, which provides some limited consular services,
is located at Calle 77B, No. 57-141, Piso 5, Centro Empresarial
Las Americas, Barranquilla, Atlantico, Colombia; telephone (011-57-5)
353-2001; fax (011-57-5) 353-5216; e-mail: email@example.com.
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated February 29,
2000, to add or update sections on Safety and Security, Crime,
Medical Facilities, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, and Disaster