On the Ground in Colombia (Part 3)

Over the course of the last two weeks (see Part 1 and Part 2 here) we've followed frequent traveler Mark Svoboda as he shared his findings on Colombia. Today Mark wraps up his report with the different residency options available in the country.

On the Ground in Colombia (Part 3)

RESIDENCY OPTIONS

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have obtained most of the information here through Juan Dario Gutierrez of Gutiérrez Márquez Asesores S.A, who are located in Medellín and have an excellent reputation in their field of service (at least from what I could find). I personally intend to use Juan's services when and if I will be moving to Colombia. But of course, it is always a good idea to do your own due diligence.]

Nationality by naturalization

While the Colombian passport is far from being a valuable travel document (due to the stigma the country still receives), I believe this perception may soon start to change and Colombian tourists will be more welcomed abroad in the years to come. But getting a Colombian citizenship may not be your best move due to mandatory military service (details to follow) and relatively high taxation.

Generally, a person who has lived in Colombia as a permanent resident for five years may apply for naturalization. There are, however, exceptions to the usual residence requirements, including:

  • For Latin Americans and Caribbean nationals by birth: at least 1 continuous year of domicile in Colombia prior to the application.
  • For Spanish nationals by birth: at least 2 continuous years of domicile in Colombia prior to the application.
  • For other nationals: at least 5 continuous years of domicile in Colombia prior to the application, or 2 years if the applicant is married/a permanent partner to a Colombian national or has a Colombian son or daughter.

For all legal purposes, it is understood that a foreigner is domiciled in Colombia when he/she holds a resident visa. Therefore, the term starts when the visa in granted. Any absence from the country for a period longer than 1 year reboots the term to 0.

Citizenship is not granted automatically. It is the Government of Colombia's discretionary authority to concede nationality to foreign applicants, and a detailed process needs to be followed as described in Colombian laws. The process includes passing sufficiency tests in Spanish, as well as knowledge tests on the Colombian constitution, geography and history.

The good news is that Colombian nationality law acknowledges that a Colombian by birth or by naturalization can also possess another nationality, meaning, there is no need to renounce your current citizenship when acquiring a Colombian one.

As for the military draft... according to Colombian law, foreign nationals that have acquired Colombian citizenship (called "Colombians by adoption") are obligated to deal with their military situation in Colombia, unless:

  • The Colombian by adoption is a woman.
  • The Colombian by adoption is over 50 years old.
  • The Colombian by adoption has served abroad (or completed duty equivalent to active serving) and provides proof of it.

In essence, this means that if you have never served in the army in your own country, there is a chance you will be eligible for a mandatory draft. In practice, though, people unwilling to serve rarely get drafted (and there are official economical ways of deferring from service).

TYPES OF VISAS

Colombia offers 3 types of resident visas that can eventually lead to a citizenship:

  • Investment visa
  • Qualified visa
  • Family member of Colombian National Visa (only available for Colombians that have previously renounced their Colombian nationality)

Here I will present four ways of obtaining the first two of them:

Investment Visa (Residente Inversionista)

Colombia's investment visa is an indefinite type of visa, meaning, it will allow you to stay in Colombia or come and go as you please so long as the investment is maintained. The investment visa is a "resident visa"; therefore, you will be eligible for citizenship after 5 years of having it.

The applicant can extend his/her investment visa to the following beneficiaries: Spouse/permanent partner, children and/or parents, provided that the said beneficiaries depend economically on the applicant.

This visa is granted to foreigners that either make:

A) An investment in Colombian real estate for a minimum of USD 200,000

What is required?

  • Written communication from Banco de la Republica's international exchange department, stating that registration has been made of a foreign direct investment in the name of the alien applying for the Visa, for a minimum of USD 200,000.
  • Certificate of free title, issued by the Public Records Office, and issued not more than one month before the date of the visa application. This should show that the applicant is the owner of a property whose value corresponds to that of the foreign investment registered in his name, for an amount not less than that indicated in the preceding subsection.

B) An investment in a Colombian corporation / investment vehicle for at least USD 100,000

What is required?

  • Again, written communication from Banco de la Republica's international exchange department, stating that there has been a registration of the foreign direct investment in the name of the alien applying for the Visa, for an amount not less than USD 100,000.

According to Colombia's Decree 2080, issued in 2000, the following are considered foreign direct investments:

  • Acquisition of shares or participations in Colombian companies as well as bonds mandatory convertible to shares.
  • Acquisition of rights or participations in fiduciary businesses.
  • Contributions of acts or contracts that do not represent the participation in a Colombian corporation.
  • Capital contributions to Colombian branches.
  • Investments in private capital funds.

Temporary Special Visa Due to Investment

This type of visa is very similar to one described above, except for the financial requirements, which are lower. This visa is granted to foreigners that make:

  • An investment in Colombian real estate for a minimum of USD 100,000.
  • An investment in a Colombian corporation for at least 100 Colombian "Minimum Wages*," which adds up to about USD 33,000. (* The current Colombian minimum wage is about USD 330 per month)

This visa will allow you to stay in Colombia - as well as to enter and exit as many times as you wish - for a period that can go from 1 to 2 years (depending on the discretionary opinion of the Visa Office). After such period, the visa must be renewed.

This is not a resident visa, meaning, you will not be eligible for citizenship after having it for 5 years. Rather, foreigners who hold a temporary visa must apply for a "qualified resident visa" after 5 years in order to obtain resident category. Once you are approved for that "qualified visa", it takes another 5 years before citizenship can be granted (meaning the minimum time you will need to spend on the ground to qualify for citizenship in this case is 10 years).

"Qualified resident visas" are granted to foreigners that:

  • Have held a temporary visa for at least 5 continuous and uninterrupted years.
  • Have held a spouse visa for at least 3 continuous and uninterrupted years.
  • Are parents of Colombian nationals.

All other conditions for Temporary Special Visa Due to Investment are the same as described in the Investment Visa above.

Foreigner with a Monthly Financial Income (Rentista)

This is another temporary (non-resident visa) and it would be best suited for people with a stable monthly income that comes from qualified sources.

Proof of your monthly income can be:

  • A certificate issued by a public entity, bank, financial company, social security institution, insurance company or any other private enterprise recognized by the respective government, that shows the applicant receives a monthly income of 10 minimum Colombian monthly salaries (around USD 3,300 in 2012).
  • A contract with your employer showing you are earning a salary that is not less than 10 Colombian minimum monthly salaries.

Holders of a Rentista visa can invest and work without restrictions, provided that they don't work in regulated professions (i.e. law, medicine, architecture, etc).

The visa is valid for 1 year and it is renewable. The applicant can extend his/her investment visa to the following beneficiaries: Spouse/permanent partner, children and/or parents, provided that the said beneficiaries depend economically on the applicant.

After holding this type of visa for a continuous 5 years, one is also eligible for a "qualified resident visa" (see Temporary Visa Due to Investment section). Of course, there is a little more time involved in the whole process, but the fact is that it is possible (at least on the paper) to obtain Colombian citizenship just by living in the country as a retiree.

Pensioner (Pensionado)

Here is yet another temporary type of visa that is renewable every year. Interestingly, there are no age requirements for this type of visa. All you have to prove is that you are receiving a pension from a public or private entity in your country, and that your monthly pension is no less than 3 legal monthly minimum wages (around USD 990).

Just like in the other types of visas, beneficiaries are included here as well, so long as they depend on the applicant financially. One can again be eligible here for a "qualified resident visa" after holding this visa for 5 continuous years.

CONCLUSION

I think Colombia could definitely become somebody's "Shangri-La" ... IF he is willing to overcome the widespread Colombian stigma. While the country is still somewhat dangerous, it is not as bad as it was just a short few years back, and while I was spending time in Colombia with my family, we personally felt safe everywhere we went. And people can now display their wealth again safely, without the fear of getting kidnapped.

It was really an eye opener when we saw how developed the place was. The people we met were all extremely friendly and everybody seemed to be busy and very hardworking (very opposite to what I used to hear about Latin people before). Proximity to the US and Canada is also a plus for North Americans.

Tags: second passport, foreign residency, colombia, adventure,