Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Getting a tourist visa extension

This is an older section of Bucaramanga, next to one of the
many parks the city has, but sadly doesn't take very good
care of them and they are dangerous after dark.
When I was first in Colombia in 2009, I had been here about four weeks when I realized I was going to be over-staying the 60-day limit by about 6 days. There are serious fines (up to $1500 USD) for failing to follow the tourist guidelines, and so I had to go to Bucaramanga, the capital of the department (state) of Santander to the immigration office or DAS.

It was all quite a blur and helped by a friend, I got through it all. But recently someone asked me how to go about getting an extension of a tourist visa. I thought since there are a number of readers who may someday decide to come to Colombia, it might be useful to explain the process and what is required in advance.

First of all, let me say that whatever it here on this date may change by the time someone reads it, so I take no personal responsibility for the information or its accuracy beyond the date of publishing. Secondly, it is the responsibility of any traveler to review the rules and regulations for travel in any country before making trip plans. Although those regulations are subject to change, and do, having the base knowledge of what WAS required before any revision is essential. I admit I was not following this advice for my first visit, but I have been more diligent since then and I hope this posting is helpful for those who are coming (or thinking about coming) to visit this beautiful country.

DAS stands for Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, a division of the Colombian agency for central intelligence and as such they are the department of the Colombian government responsible for keeping track of who is coming and going in their country. Like any government officials, they are limited in what they can do by the established rules, but they seem more willing to be helpful than my experience with the U.S. officials has shown.

The primary DAS office is in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. That is where one goes for permanent visas. But on the local level, most of the departments (states) have a regional DAS office to deal with tourist visa extensions. Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander, has such an office and that is where I went the first time. It is located at Carrera 11 No. 41-13 in the area called Centro de Governamente.

The hours of operation are supposed to be from 7-12 and 2-4, but it is not unusual for them to turn people away at 11 a.m. and tell them to come back at 2 p.m. due to the numbers of people already inside. On most days there are only three agents to provide the services. So, get there early! Also, you will have to leave DAS to go and pay the extension fee at Banco Davivienda S.A five blocks away (DAS will give you a slip of paper with the address and details before leaving their offices.) and that bank may close at 11 a.m. Believe me when I say it is critical to be among the first people going through the DAS security point early.

The listed phone number for DAS in Bucaramanga is 6-339426 if you want to check the schedule before planning to visit.

Here is what you need to have:
1) Your passport (duh!) with at least three pages free for stamping.
2) Two B+W copies of the main page of your passport.
3) Two B+W copies of the page showing your entry date into Colombia.
4) Four recent color photos approx. 1 inch tall in size. (This can easily be done near the DAS offices and they know which color background to use - critical!)
5) Two copies of your return ticket or reservation.
6) A blank deposit slip for the bank, of which you will need to get 2 copies once it is stamped at the bank.
7) At least $80,000 CPs for the extension fee. At the last visit it was $73,400 (April 25, 2011).
8) You can expect the photos and copies to cost around $20,000 depending on which tienda you use. (We used "Oscar's" which is the first one to the left of the DAS building, if you are standing on the street corner looking at the DAS sign.) This is for Bucaramanga so I don't know if other states are about the same for fees or not.

There is a form to be filled out in the DAS office which is basically providing them with the information of where you are staying in Colombia, the name of a Colombian reference and their phone number, your passport number, a phone number if you have one, and the reason for your visit. They were quite helpful to the non-Spanish speaking American, but their English is limited.

If you have a cell phone, you may NOT use it inside the DAS offices. You cannot receive or make calls except outside the gates. They did let us keep it with us, but this could change. Be prepared for that. In Bogota no cell phones are allowed at DAS or at the American Embassy; you check them at the entry point.

A United States resident (and most other nationalities) can visit for 60 days without a visa extension. When you arrive in Colombia, the DAS/Customs entry official stamps the passport for the first 60 days. If you don't go to DAS for an extension BEFORE that expiration date, you had better have a very valid reason and proof as to why you did not or you could be facing a serious fine. They will usually give you another 30 days without any issue and sometimes 60 days, but that is rare. Tourists may only be in the country for a total of 6 months per year. That can be in segments of days or all at once, which is why some people travel out of the country to another one for a period of time and then return.

As of this date, all travel to Venezuela by bus has been halted by the serious flooding, mudslides and road damage, so this was why the American had to get a DAS extension; no way to exit the country and return affordably. Airfares one way to San Cristobal were about $150 (USD) one way before the roads were closed and now, IF you can get a seat on a flight, it is more like $450 (USD) one way! The bus fares were about $50 (USD) roundtrip but no busses are even going to Cucuta (the last town before the border) at present. But given the rather disagreeable attitude of Venezueleans toward Colombians and Americans, perhaps this is not a bad outcome.

If you visit over the New Year, say from November to January, the time starts over again, I have heard on January 1. This is something you would want to check out before making travel decisions.

Upon leaving, there is a fee to be paid as well. It must be paid in cash, either CPs or USDs. If you are only in Colombia for 59 days, you can usually avoid the exit charge. Once you are here beyond that date, they will collect it. The last time I paid, it was $35 USD or about $70 CPs and it was a near crisis because the plane was about to board passengers and I was still trying to find a way to cash an American Express traveler's check in the Bogota airport to pay the fee in cash. TIP: forget about American Express traveler's checks altogether - they are a pain in the butt and useless in most of South America.

I hope this is helpful information and that it makes the tourist visa extension process easier for someone.

1 comment:

  1. A previous boss of mine spent time in the US and they (him, his wife and children) had to go to Canada in order to renew their visas. It sticks in my mind because it was so cold that his youngest's (about 2) shall we say nasal discharge was freezing. :P