You visited Colombia and overstayed on your tourist visa. Welcome to the club. Colombia is a great country and this is something that seems to “accidentally” happen with a lot of tourists.
In February of this year I realized I had accidentally overstayed on my tourist visa. This process caused me a lot of unnecessary worry/stress. A lot of this stress came from not having clear answers on what I should or should not do.
I hope this blog will help you to avoid the same levels of stress.
Here is everything you need to know for when you overstay on your Colombian tourist visa.
Important Colombia Tourist Visa Rules to Note.
- When you enter the country, you will be given 90 days to stay, starting from the day you enter.
- You are allowed 180 days in a calendar year to stay in a Colombia with a tourist visa.
- While you are given 180 days each calendar year, your 90 days do not re-set at the beginning of a new year. So, if like me, you enter on November 8th, your visa will still expire on February 6th of the following year. While you will have 180 days in the new year, you will either have to leave the country or file for an extension before your original 90 days are up.
- If you overstay on your visa by less than six months, you can pay your fine, leave Colombia and still be able to re-enter the country on a new tourist visa in the same year.
- If you overstay by more than 180 days you will technically qualify for deportation. You will have to leave the country immediately and if you want to return to Colombia within the next year you will need to pay a heavy fine. I am not sure on exactly what the fine will be.
My Experience Overstaying on My Tourist Visa.
My situation may not help everyone. Everyone’s story is a bit different. Here is a little context on my story before we begin:
- This was my first time in more than five visits to Colombia where I overstayed. If you are a repeat offender I have zero idea whether these processes will be the same for you or if the penalties will be stricter.
- I declared my illegality when I was 24 days illegal.
- I overstayed from one year to another (Nov. 2018 to Feb. 2019) and thus had the “I thought the 90 days reset at the beginning of a new year” excuse.
- I had already booked a flight out of the country before going to the Migracion office.
- I went to the Migracion office in Medellin. I have never been to an immigration office in another city and have no idea what the process would be like.
- I paid my fine at the Migracion office and before going to the airport.
What to do when you overstay.
First you need to breathe. While this is not a great thing to have happen it is not the end of the world. While there are always horror stories, my experience in handling this was straight-forward and reasonably pain-free.
It is important to know that if you overstay by 1 day or by 90 days, you will still have to pay a penalty and the amount will not vary greatly. If you wake up one day and realize you are illegal, you do not need to rush to the Migracion office in hopes that you will save money or avoid a penalty. Take time to put together a plan to leave (or stay) and only go to Migracion when you have your plans in order.
The first thing you should do is book a flight or make plans to leave the country. This will help your case. You will not look like someone trying to permanently live in Colombia and that you are proactively looking to leave.
Again, you do not need to book a flight immediately but you should aim to get out within a couple of months. The longer you are illegal, the worse it will look and the worse your potential penalty can be.
Once you have your ticket out, you need to wait until about two weeks before your departure date to go to the Migracion office. This is very important. If you try to go before this time period, the Migracion office will tell you to come back 10-14 days before you are expected to leave. There is a reason for this.
Once you declare you are in the country illegally and you pay your fine, the Migracion officer will give you what is called a “salvoconducto.” This is a temporary permit to remain in Colombia beyond what your tourist stamp allows. The “salvoconducto” is what you will have to present at the airport or border in order to leave the country.
Salvoconductos are valid for 15 days only. Thus, if you go to Migracion 19 days before you are expected to leave, there is not much they can do for you until you are under the 15 day window of validity.
I booked my appointment online through the Migracion website. You can book your appointment here. **Note: When I tried to use the English version of the site it did not work. The Spanish version did work.**
You will want to book an appointment for a Salvoconducto. I recommend booking an appointment instead of just showing up in the morning. Again, the more proactive you are and the more respect you show for the Colombian government’s processes the more kindly you will be treated.
When you go to Migracion, you will need:
- Your passport.
- Photocopies of your main passport page and the page with your stamp of entry into Colombia.
- Hundreds of thousands of pesos in cash or your credit card. You can pay your fine either way.
When I went to Migracion in Medellin, it took two days and two separate trips to complete the process of applying for the “salvoconducto.” According to the immigration officer I worked with, this is the standard time required to complete this process. I believe they need time to look back at your travel history in the country to make sure this isn’t happening every year. I am not sure if the two-day process is always the case but you should plan to make multiple visits to the Migracion office.
On the first day I filled out paperwork, answered some questions about why I was illegal, when I would leave and I paid my fine. I was in the Migracion office for about an hour.
The second day I returned to have my picture and fingerprints taken. I had to complete some paperwork and then pay an additional 60,000 pesos for the issuing of my salvoconducto. Again, I was in the Migracion office for about an hour.
I know it is possible to pay your fine at the airport and have friends who have done so, but I have no experience doing this. If you do decide to pay your fine at the airport, I would plan to arrive 2-3 hours earlier than usual, as you will likely be held in the Migracion office for quite awhile.
The penalties for overstaying on your tourist visa.
The law technically states that a person can be fined anywhere from 350,000 pesos to 4,000,000 pesos (7X the minimum monthly wage) for overstaying on a tourist visa but the latter is very unheard of.
When I went to Migracion, they treated my illegality as an ordinary procedure and my fine appeared to be calculated by the number of days I was illegal. From speaking with the official he told me that the base fine is almost always 450,000 pesos and that the fine increases by an additional 40,000 pesos for every additional month you are late. This “40,000 pesos per additional month” rule will only apply for 90 days.
If you overstay by 90 days, you will have technically overstayed by an entire additional tourist visa and no excuse is going to help you justify why you did this. Expect your penalties to increase significantly.
If you overstay your tourist visa by more than 180 days you will qualify for deportation. At this point, you can either elect to pay your fine (no idea what it will be) and leave on good terms, or you can opt for deportation and have to pay no fine. This choice will really depend on whether you want to come back to Colombia in the near future. If you choose not to pay the fine and get deported, you will likely be banned from re-entering Colombia for a year or more.
The longer you are illegal, the worse things will look. If you love Colombia, like most everyone does, and you are looking for a longer term visa, you should be more proactive in handling this. Overstaying on a tourist visa can hurt your ability to apply for a longer term visa in the future.
Tips on what to do when you overstay your visa.
- Make plans to leave the country. Try to do this with two months of being illegal so as not to appear blatant about your disregard for the law.
- Smile and be friendly. You messed up. Whether by mistake or through laziness, this is your fault. You need to accept that and act accordingly. Be polite and friendly with the immigration officers. They hold your fate in their hands.
- Only go to Migracion less than 15 days before you are expected to leave.
- Be proactive. Pay your fine and apply for your “salvoconducto” before going to the airport. It is possible to handle this at the airport but you may need to wait 2-3 hours (it’s Colombia) and there is a risk of missing your flight or having to pay higher fines. Also, think about how it looks. The Migracion officers at the airport will know you are just another foreigner who disobeyed their country’s visa laws and who expects to throw some cash their way on the way out. Your arrogance may prove to be costly. They know you will have no other option than to pay what they ask.
Good luck and hope this helps! If you have a different experience and would like to help others who are in a similar situation, please share your story in the comments.
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