Colombia

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 02 April 2014.   It contains updates in Additional information: Natural disasters, severe weather and climate. We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Colombia overall because of the threat of terrorism and criminal activity. We advise Australians not to travel to the departments of Antioquia (except Medellín), Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Cordoba, Guaviare, Huila, La Guajira, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Tolima, Valle de Cauca (except Cali), and Vichada, and areas outside of major urban centres.

Colombia overall

Departments of Antioquia (except Medellín), Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Cordoba, Guaviare, Huila, La Guajira and Meta

Departments of Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Tolima, Valle de Cauca (except Cali) and Vichada

Areas outside major urban centres

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Colombia because of the threat of terrorism and criminal activity. Terrorists, insurgents, paramilitary groups and armed criminal organisations are active throughout Colombia and there is a high risk of kidnapping, including of foreigners.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • You should avoid all demonstrations and protests as they may turn violent.
  • Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered.
  • We advise you not to travel to the departments of Antioquia (except Medellín), Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Cordoba, Guaviare, Huila, La Guajira, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Tolima, Valle de Cauca (except Cali) and Vichada, due to the very high threat of terrorism from guerrilla organisations and drug related criminal activity.
  • We advise you not to travel to areas outside of major urban centres due to the volatile security situation.
  • The Australian Consulate-General in Bogotá provides limited consular services. The Australian Embassy in Santiago, Chile, provides full consular assistance to Australians in Colombia. See Additional information: Where to get help for more information.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. For up-to-date visa information, Australians should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Colombia well in advance of travel.

Colombia is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a serious and potentially fatal disease preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that all travellers be vaccinated for yellow fever before travelling to Colombia.

As the quarantine requirements for yellow fever vaccination differ between countries, we recommend that you check the yellow fever entry requirements for Colombia and all countries you intend to enter or transit by contacting their foreign missions in Australia. Some airlines may require passengers to present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate before being allowed to board flights. For more information about yellow fever, including Australian re-entry requirements, see the Department of Health website.

For Colombian children or children who have resident status in Colombia and are travelling alone or with one parent, Colombian law requires a letter of consent from the non-travelling parent(s) authorising travel and a copy of the child's birth certificate. Both documents must be translated into Spanish and notarised and certified by the Colombian Embassy or Consulate in Australia. These documents may be requested by airline staff or immigration officials. You should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Colombia well in advance of travel.

If you are travelling through the United States of America, or if you are transiting in Honolulu or other US points of entry, you are required to meet US entry/transit requirements. Make sure you check with your nearest US Embassy or Consulate your visa requirements well in advance of your travel. You should also read our travel advice for the United States of America.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Despite improvements in security, we advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Colombia at this time because of the threat of terrorism and criminal activity. Terrorists, insurgents, paramilitary groups and armed criminal organisations are active throughout Colombia and armed clashes involving security forces and drug traffickers occur frequently. Terrorist attacks could occur at any time and may be aimed at government targets (including military and police), transport infrastructure such as airports and public transportation, or places such as nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls or corporate facilities. In recent years, there have been a large number of explosions in public places in Colombia, including in Bogotá, resulting in deaths and injuries.

There is a high risk of kidnapping, including of foreigners. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Do not travel areas: We advise you not to travel to the departments of Antioquia (except Medellín), Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Cordoba, Guaviare, Huila, La Guajira, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Tolima, Valle de Cauca (except Cali) and Vichada, due to the threat of terrorism from guerrilla organisations and presence of drug related criminal activity. These groups continue to perpetrate attacks, extortion, kidnappings, car bombings, and damage to infrastructure in these areas. There is a risk to your personal safety in these areas.

On 16 January 2014, a bomb exploded outside a police station in Pradera, Valle de Cauca, killing at least one person and injuring many others. This incident, which coincided with the end of a one month unilateral ceasefire, underscores the continuing high threat of terrorism from guerrilla organisations in parts of Colombia.

We also advise you not to travel to areas outside of major urban centres due to the volatile security situation.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Civil unrest/political tension

Localised and country-wide protests and strikes occur from time to time and can turn violent. Local transportation services can be affected and protesters or criminal groups may establish roadblocks, particularly in rural areas. Advice on current road closures can be obtained from the Colombian Highway Police’s information line on #767.

Australians in Colombia are advised to avoid all demonstrations, protests and large public gatherings because of their potential to turn violent. Monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.

Ongoing political tensions with neighbouring countries mean border closures could occur at short notice. Australian citizens should monitor local news and be alert to any changes.

Crime

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Colombia because of the threat of terrorism and criminal activity.

Despite recent improvements, violent crime, including robbery continues to be a serious problem. Organised criminals operate in urban areas, including Bogotá and Medellín. Where possible, you should arrive at Medellín’s Jose Maria Cordova airport during the day in order to avoid travelling at night.

Violent crime and gang activity is also ongoing in Cali. Australians in Cali are advised to remain vigilant and attentive to their security environment at all times.

Due to the high levels of crime in Colombia, we recommend that you stay in reputable accommodation with appropriate levels of security.

Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, occurs in Colombia, including at the airport in Bogotá and near hotels.

You should take particular care when travelling alone, using automatic teller machines (ATMs), or travelling in or near tugurios (slum areas). Avoid using ATMs that open onto the street and instead use ATMs in controlled areas such as within banks and shopping centres.

There have been reports of harassment, theft and extortion by criminals posing as police officers, both in Bogotá and in towns frequented by tourists
The number of 'express kidnappings', where victims are abducted, often in taxis, and forced to withdraw funds from ATMs before being released, has increased. Victims have been killed or injured while resisting perpetrators.

There have been reports of robberies and assaults taking place after victims have accepted spiked food, drinks, cigarettes, or chewing gum. Do not accept food, drinks or cigarettes from strangers and do not leave food or drinks unattended. Thieves have also used drugs, such as scopolamine, either by aerosol spray or paper handouts, to incapacitate travellers. Drugs used for robbery and assault can cause serious medical problems, including loss of consciousness and memory loss. Incidents have occurred in nightclubs, bars and restaurants, and also on public buses and city streets. If you suspect that you, or anyone you are travelling with, have been affected by these drugs, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention.

Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Colombia. Theft frequently occurs when a passenger is travelling alone and has hailed a taxi on the street. It is safer to use a telephone dispatch service or to seek assistance from staff at hotels, hostels, restaurants or places of entertainment to book a licensed taxi. Do not share a taxi with strangers.

Hikers, including on trails in and around Bogotá, have been robbed at gunpoint. An experienced and reputable tour guide may reduce the risk of attack while hiking.

Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world. Most kidnappings are for ransom, and are often perpetrated by groups such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in rural areas. There has been a reduction in the number of kidnappings in major cities but the risk remains. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered. In recent years, a number of Australians have been kidnapped. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times when travelling in Colombia and avoid travel to areas listed in this travel advisory.

The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance. For more information about kidnapping, see our Kidnapping threat travel bulletin.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques (USD only), cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas. Credit cards should be used with caution due to the potential for fraud.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

You should not travel outside of main routes at night by road due to the high risk of armed robbery and kidnapping. Use reputable companies when travelling by bus and remain alert.

We advise against all travel to Cauca department. Troops, security forces, protest groups and the FARC sometimes block side roads in the area.

There is a risk of violence, kidnapping and being caught in road blocks set up by illegal armed groups when travelling by road outside main routes, including to rural tourist destinations such as Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City). Consider the advice of local authorities before travelling to such areas. When travelling to Parque Nacional Tayrona, you should only visit beach areas and resorts advised as safe and not venture inland because of the presence of illegal armed groups. You should avoid travelling at night.

There is a high risk from landmines and unexploded ordnance in rural areas of Colombia. Not all mined areas are marked. You should not stray from well-travelled roads.

We recommend against hailing taxis in the street. Booking taxis by telephone, through hotels or authorised taxi centres, is a way to reduce risks.

Many parts of Colombia experience heavy rainfall. Landslides and flooding are common and may affect travel to some parts of the country. Travellers should monitor local media for the latest information and seek local advice before entering affected areas.

Driving in Colombia can be hazardous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles, aggressive driving practices and inadequate road lighting. For further advice, see our page on road travel.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Colombia, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Colombia are severe and include lengthy imprisonment in local jails.

Photography of military establishments and strategic sites is prohibited.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Australian/Colombian male dual nationals over 18 may be required to complete national service obligations if they visit Colombia.

The Colombian Government expects Colombian citizens, including dual nationals, to enter and exit Colombia on a Colombian passport or other valid Colombian travel document. Dual nationals may face delays at immigration if they do not have a Colombian travel document.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities provided by private hospitals in Bogotá and other major cities is reasonable. Outside of major cities, however, facilities can be very limited. Treatment at private clinics and hospitals is expensive. Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment prior to providing medical services, including for emergency care.

In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a location with suitable facilities, usually the United States, would be necessary. Costs are considerable (in the tens of thousands of dollars).

Colombia has three hyperbaric chambers, found in Cali (Camaras Hiperbaricas Leader Life), Palmira (Centro Medico San Agustin) and Bogotá (Vide Plena – Instituto Medico De Terapia Ceular Suiza).

Colombia is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as endemic for yellow fever. Yellow fever is a potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which is preventable by vaccination. We strongly recommend that you are vaccinated against yellow fever before travelling to Colombia. See the Entry and Exit section for important information about vaccination certificate requirements. For more information about yellow fever, see the Department of Health website.

Malaria is a risk in all areas below 800 metres but is not a risk in Bogotá. Other insect-borne diseases (including dengue fever, Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis) are also a risk to travellers. We encourage you to consider taking prophylaxis against malaria and to take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Many areas of Colombia are above 2500m, including Bogotá (2640m). Travellers who ascend to altitudes greater than 2500m, particularly if the ascent is rapid, or who at higher altitudes make further rapid ascents, are at risk of developing altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be life threatening and can affect anyone, even the physically fit. Those more at risk include people who have had altitude sickness before, who exercise or drink alcohol before adjusting (acclimatising) to the altitude, or who have health problems that affect breathing. If you plan to travel to high altitude areas, you should see your doctor prior to travel and get advice specific to you and your situation.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, typhoid, hepatitis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. In rural areas, we recommend that you boil all drinking water or that you drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes. You should also avoid raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Where to get help

The Australian Consulate-General in Bogotá offers limited consular services. You can contact the Australian Consulate-General through the Australian Embassy in Santiago de Chile or via email.

Australian Consulate-General, Bogotá

Email: infocolombia@austrade.gov.au
Telephone: (57 1) 657 8714

You can obtain full consular assistance from the Australian Embassy in Santiago, Chile. Contact details are:

Australian Embassy, Santiago de Chile

Isidora Goyenechea 3621
13th Floor, Las Condes
Santiago de Chile, CHILE
Telephone: (56 2) 2550 3500
Facsimile: (56 2) 2331 5960
Email: consular.santiago@dfat.gov.au
Website: www.chile.embassy.gov.au

If you are travelling to Colombia, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we strongly recommend you register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Consulate-General or Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Colombia is subject to earthquakes. There are also a number of active volcanos in Colombia. Hikers and trekkers should seek current advice on recent volcanic activity from local authorities.

On 1 April 2014, a major earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of northern Chile which resulted in a tsunami warning for the Pacific coast of Colombia immediately after the quake.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Many parts of Colombia experience heavy rainfall. Landslides, mudslides and flooding are common and may affect travel to some parts of the country. Travellers should monitor local media for the latest information and seek local advice before entering affected areas.

Coastal areas of Colombia are subject to hurricanes. In the event of an approaching hurricane, you should identify a local shelter. We encourage Australians in affected areas to follow the instructions of local authorities and monitor the media for the latest developments. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended and available flights may quickly become full. Hurricanes can also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who have chosen to stay. Familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe Weather page.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

In the event of any severe weather or natural disasters, you should monitor the media and follow the advice of local authorities.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.