Seeing the insult, not the silver lining

I had to apply for a new visa last week. It was three years since receiving my last visa and so I had forgotten about this particular niche of Colombian bureaucracy which is a jab-cross punch combination to anyone’s sanity.

As per usual, the process at the visa office was fairly straight-forward and civilised. You have your turn and a fairly comfortable seat to sit in while you wait for your number to come up and so begin the toing-and-froing with the officer who calls your number. However, once you get your visa you then get hit by the more powerful cross punch at Migracion Colombia, and this is where your day can go seriously downhill as you face unruly herds of foreigners, impatient and hungry children and battle to find a seat while you complete your visa registration and apply for a new cedula (identity card).

This is also where I made a beginner’s misstep that I really should have perfected by now.

On arrival at Migracion Colombia’s offices, a 10 minute walk from the visa office, I elbowed my way to the front door to gain entrance. After arbitrarily checking my bag, and more diligently checking my passport, the security guard asked me if I was pregnant and cast his eyes towards my stomach, whose size was enhanced by the knotted tie of my wrap dress. Stunned by this comment, that is only crude and an insult when it is on the wrong side of correct, I responded “No” and he let me through the door with a wave towards the darkened interior where the end of the line was lost somewhere in the crowd.

Only after squishing past him and seeing exactly how long the line was did I realise my error.

In Colombia in banks and public offices there are preferential lines for the disabled, the elderly and for pregnant women. When there are massive queues, having one of these priority client tickets is like having a winning raffle ticket, you wave it about madly to get up front and collect your prize before they draw another number out. I had been offered one of these and in all my naïve honesty I refused it, taking the guard’s comments as an insult rather than as a golden opportunity.

I spent the next 20 minutes in the queue to get my turn number kicking myself.

I spent the following 30 minutes waiting in the scrabble for the document check shaking my head at my stupidity.

And I spent the 2 hours and 45 minutes after that stewing over every tiny detail of that interaction with the guard as I saw other previously non-priority numbers had been upgraded to priority and catapulted ahead of me and as the officials took their lunch breaks leaving only a couple of desks open over two hours to process all these foreigner’s visa registrations, cedula applications and other varied processes.

I was tempted to get up and leave, but then once I’d gotten to a certain point of waiting, there was no return. So I sucked it up and instead of taking just the morning as I had planned for, it took almost my whole day and I arrived at work well beyond late, beaten, exhausted and hangry.

If I was a little smarter what would I have done better?

  1. Feigned pregnancy and taken the free priority pass
  2. Done the whole visa + cedula thing on a day other than Monday (at the beginning of the school year when there were dozens of the Ministry of Education’s volunteer English teachers’ visa applications being lodged)
  3. Separated the two processes, visa one day, registration and cedula the next. It also would have helped getting to Migracion Colombia for the visa registration and cedula process at the beginning of the day before the wave of new visa recipients come in from the visa office.

So this morning, as I planned to go pick up my new cedula, I thought about things a bit harder. I rode my bike to Migracion Colombia, grinning as I whizzed past all the cars in banked up, peak hour traffic and delighting in the beautiful morning sunshine. I arrived at 8:10am and the office was virtually empty of any clients, it even looked spacious in comparison to Monday week ago. I went straight to the window to pick up my shiny new cedula and within a minute I was skipping out the doors and getting on my bike again. Already the memory of the previous stressful experience at the same office fading away so that if I come back in another three years time, I’ll probably be in another charmed state and repeat all of my above mistakes again.


Making Long Term Plans

As 2016 drew to a close, Edwin and I were frantically organising the documents and their respective translations to English to start our journey to Australia.

Although I’m not sure you could really call it the start of our journey to Australia. I think it actually started somewhere on the Panamericana highway between Ipiales and Pasto on the first of January in 2016 where I, hit with the full force of nostalgia of New Years Day in my home town, suggested that it might be time to make plans to move our family to Australia. Edwin agreed and we decided to save up the hefty application fee during 2016 and apply by the end of October.

Although our timelines blew out a bit, we were able to submit the application before Christmas in a frenzy of stitching together pdfs of the original documents and their translations so they wouldn’t take up so much space in the allotted 60 documents per person in the application, naming all the files in an orderly fashion, creating spreadsheets to keep track of the documents uploaded and to be uploaded for each of us and a whole lot of printing and scanning so that everything could be attached to the electronic application – since we are now well and truly in the 21st century and you are no longer required to stuff a tree in an envelope and send it to the immigration office.

Even though we had most of our documents ready, it still required four full days to attach them correctly to Edwin’s partner application with dependent child included and it was a juggling act with our Christmas holiday plans and my studies also on the go.

Now that we’ve submitted the application, and Edwin and D have had their biometric data collected, we sit tight and wait for any messages of additional information required, the details to schedule the medical exam and hopefully, hopefully, within 9 to 12 months, that we receive a joyous email advising of a visa being granted so we can move to Australia.

Nine to twelve months seems like a long time, and it is. A baby can be conceived and born in the time it takes to receive notification of me being able to live in my home country with my family who happen to be of another nationality. For many people  in a similar situation looking at the same visa type, this timeframe is probably torturously long. For others of other nationalities trying to apply for partner visas in countries with different restrictive requirements (I’m looking at you, UK) it might seem but a tiny hurdle in comparison to restrictive eligibility criteria.

For us, it’s an opportunity to enjoy our (hopefully) final year in Colombia (for now, at least). We can really make the most of our time and lifestyle here. D can drink Postobon manzana as much as he wants (I’m too afraid to tell him that soft drink flavour doesn’t exist in Australia), we can eat delicious pan de bonos, enjoy the freedom that walking to work allows, be grateful to have a cleaning lady come to our apartment once per week, look at the cerros every day and feel the inspiration of living in the mountains, spend time with friends and Colombian family and visit places on our Colombia bucket list.

Now that we’ve made our large, non-refundable investment in moving to Australia and I talk to more people about it, many are asking me why are we moving if we enjoy a greater disposable income here than we will likely have in Australia, if we do truly enjoy our lives here and I’m not debilitated by homesickness. In other words, we’re on a good wicket, why change that?

True, they are all valid points. But so is the fact that I will have spent over 5 years living here – which I consider a decent chunk of time, Edwin genuinely wants to move to Australia and be closer to my family and also to have a fairer earning capacity in his chosen career, it is a good time for D to move and learn English and have better education opportunities than he might have here and really I am keen for a little bit of that Australian lifestyle, freedom and space that I love.

We will always have the opportunity to come back to Colombia at some point in the future if we decide to (if my Colombian visa officer is reading this, please do give me a new TP-10 partner visa tomorrow) and perhaps we may even live somewhere else in the world. Who knows?

All I know is that we are half way through our two-year plan to move to Australia and Australia is where we are keen to be for the foreseeable future. The journey ahead won’t be without heartaches, tough times and likely tears, but there will also be adventure, opportunities and new family memories for us to make together.




Getting a partner visa in Colombia

When I got my one year live, work, study visa for Colombia in early February, it was definitely a woohoo moment.

I had been worried about getting it because the reality is that I just want to be with mi novio. Another 6 month separation was not high on the list of tortures I’d be willing to face.

Since I did a fair bit of research, asking couples we know who have been through the process and blog reading into getting a partner visa to stay in Colombia, I want help others out with understanding the process, especially since there are likely to be some changes now the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (MRE) is responsible for visas and not the now-defunct DAS.

What do I need?

A list of the requirements, the process and fees for the Conjugal or Companion to a Colombian National visas can be found on this page of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores website. Note that although there is an  option to change the language of the page to English (in the top right corner) the Spanish information is much more comprehensive and detailed.

I had read that there is a requirement to demonstrate that we had been together for 2 years (which we can’t show) however you will note that there is no mention of this on the MRE website which was given to us by a government official at the visa office in Bogotá as the ten commandments of partner visas.

Note that there are two points under Requisitos Especiales which are basically asking for the same document, the escritura publica or marriage certificate.

How do I get the escritura publica?

Perhaps the trickiest document to arrange (aside from any documentation you are submitting to enable you to work in a regulated profession in Colombia) is the escritura publica from the Notary declaring our defacto relationship. I think the pursuit of this document brings you to the ‘living together for 2 years’ request.

In Santa Marta there are three notaries. Notaria 1 said I needed to have a Colombian entry stamp in my passport at least 2 years ago, which I don’t have. Notaria 3 said I needed to have a non-interrupted stay of at least 2 years without leaving the country, which I definitely don’t have. Notaria 2 said yes, she could help us and had processed escritura publicas for other Colombian/foreigner couples.

We were slightly concerned by the differing information from the notary offices, however given that the most helpful and approachable woman at Notaria 2 had helped other couples before led us to take the chance on paying the COP$160,000 fee in order to get the essential document.

All we needed to provide (in addition to the fee) were copies of my passport bio page and the stamp from my latest entry  to Colombia, in my case this was just 16 days before applying for the escritura publica, along with notarised (witnessed) copies of your Colombian partner’s cedula (national ID card) and birth certificate.

During this process and in talks with la suegra, I came to learn that in order for a defacto relationship to be recognised legally (and enable access to another’s medical insurance or pension), a Colombian couple needs to live together for 2 years and have family or friends act as referees and sign a document declaring this at the Notaria. I think this is where the ‘living together for 2 years’ idea comes in, even though as foreigners the maximum stay on a tourist visa is 180 days in a calendar year, something I tried to ask politely and without any seed of frustration to Notaria 3.

Getting the escritura publica takes 2-3 business days (or 5 if the Notary’s photocopier isn’t working) and be prepared to go back the day after you lodge the application to sign the documents that will be fed up the signature hierarchy.

The forms

There are two official forms you need to fill in. They are both quite straight-forward and can be downloaded from the MRE website. However, you do need to stick a photo on Form DP-FO-67 BEFORE you go in for your appointment at the visa office. Thankfully there was a gluestick at the reception for this very purpose when I had my appointment. You wouldn’t want your application being rejected for failing to stick your photo to the form (could that possibly be the smallest infringement?).

Do the copies need to be witnessed?

This is something important that isn’t actually detailed on the MRE website, however I found this handy helper on the Government of Colombia website  which tells you whether you need the original, a photocopy or an authenticated copy of each document.

There are two ways the Notaria authenticates copies, one being sighting the original card or document and signing a stamp to verify the copy. The other, which is for the letter your Colombian partner needs to write requesting that you be granted a visa, is where your Colombian partner needs to sign a declaration stamp and then put a fingerprint on the document certifying it’s trueness because it is an original and not a copy of something else.

Any notaria can authenticate documents.

What do you write in the letter?

Mi novio was at a bit of a loss as to what to write in the letter, so I suggested he include my full name, nationality and passport number in the content, along with a statement that we have a genuine relationship and I need to live in Colombia for us to have a future together. It doesn’t need to be a long letter, just the basics and a short statement about why your Colombian partner wants you to have the right to live in Colombia.

How much does it cost?

Budget approximately COP$550,000 or US$300 for the visa process and more if you need to travel to Bogotá to lodge your application.

  • Escritura publica: COP$160,000
  • Non-refundable visa appointment fee: COP$93,000 *not exact because it is based on currency conversions from US$50, called the estudio, or study fee
  • Visa fee: COP$250,000 *not exact because it is based on currency conversions from US$160
  • Witnessing: approx COP$20,000
  • Passport photos: approx COP$5000 – $10,000
  • Photocopying of documents: approx COP$5000

How does the appointment process work?

The only place you can apply for this visa is at the office in Bogotá. Check carefully the address and opening hours of the office on the MRE website. You cannot make an appointment time, you have to just show up.

Whilst we wanted to arrive early at 7:30am when the visa office opened to avoid long queues, we needed to get one more document witnessed and the closest notary to the visa office didn’t open until 8am. Instead we arrived at 8:30am and found fewer people waiting than when we’d stopped by the day before to double-check we had all the right information and forms.

When you arrive at the visa office you need to present your passport and get a turn number. You will then receive a receipt to pay the visa appointment fee (what they call the estudio fee) at the next Banco Sudameris booth. After making your payment you find a seat in the waiting room and wait for the electronic turn system to announce your turn.

When it’s your turn you make your way down the corridor to the desk number mentioned on the turn system. I’m sure I shouldn’t need to say it but a smile, buenos dias and handshake for the immigration official should be top of your greeting checklist.

I was asked when I first arrived in Colombia and what my profession is and we were asked how we met, how long we’d been together, what our plans were, were we planning to get married and other questions along these lines. I was honestly expecting a more hardcore interview where we were interrogated separately about our likes and brands of deodorant (even one viewing of Green Card is enough to leave a lasting impression) however it didn’t come to that. I guess our honest and friendly answers and the fact that mi novio had visited me in Australia to meet my family and friends, was enough to convince the official that we have a genuine relationship without having to have a public pash fest (not advised, by the way).

After our conversation the official sent us back out to the waiting room while he looked over our documents and application. About 20 minutes later, he called us back and said that I had been granted a one year visa to live, work (in a non-regulated field) and study in Colombia. We were elated! With this news, we had the option to pay the visa fee by card or cash. Paying by VISA card (they don´t accept MasterCard) is the instant option as paying in cash requires going back out the bank booth and the interviewing official can take a card payment on the spot.

I then got a shiny new visa stuck in my passport and mi novio was told that I am his responsibility while in Colombia. Thankfully he wasn’t scared about the can of worms that could possibly be! I also think he’s secretly quite pleased that his name now appears in my passport on my visa.

More information

  • According to the MRE website, you can be granted a visa of up to 3 years, which is at the discretion of the immigration official at your appointment.
  • There is no such thing as renewing this type of visa, you have to go through the process from the beginning again at the end of your visa.
  • The escritura publica confirming your defacto relationship can’t be older than three months, therefore when you need to apply for a new visa you need to get the escritura publica again from the Notaria.


Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores:

Colombian Government Online:

A Year Without Peanut Butter blog on getting an Independent Worker Visa process: