Colombia is home to a thriving expat community—as well as a diverse and talented local workforce. It's no wonder many global businesses are looking to hire in Colombia. But as the future of work moves toward globalization, it's important to know what it takes for an employee to work legally in Colombia.
As an employer, the onus is often on you to ensure your employees have the proper authorization to work wherever they live. Running afoul of the law can land you in hot water with international governments—as well as rack up fines, legal fees, and even risk of imprisonment.
So before you make your first Colombian hire, read on. In our guide below, we'll cover work permits in Colombia, explaining the different types of work visas, who needs a visa, how to get one, and more.
What is a work permit in Colombia?
A work permit (or work visa) in Colombia is a document that allows a foreigner to legally work in the country. Issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a Colombian work permit is usually tied to a specific employer or a type of job. To obtain a work permit, an employer in Colombia typically needs to sponsor the foreign worker.
Work permits are often associated with certain types of visas. The Migrant (M) visa, for instance, could be granted for work purposes. This visa is generally valid for three years, and allows the holder to work in Colombia, under the condition that a local or foreign company is acting as a sponsor.
Foreign nationals can live and work in Colombia for the duration of time that their visa is valid. When it expires, they can renew it, apply for a different type of visa or permanent residency, or return to their home country.
Who needs a work visa in Colombia?
Foreign nationals who aren't Colombian citizens and don't have permanent residency in Colombia will need a visa that gives them work privileges in order to work while living in the country. There are some exceptions—for example, citizens of MERCOSUR countries may be able to get special visa benefits in Colombia. MERCOSUR's member countries include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay; while Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname are associate members.
As an employer, when you draft an employment contract for a new hire in Colombia, it's always a good idea to include a clause about the offer being contingent on their eligibility to work in Colombia legally.
How long does it take to get a work permit in Colombia?
Processing times for visas can vary depending on many different factors, including the type of visa the applicant is applying for, their country of origin, the demand at the time they apply, and other factors. In Colombia, visa processing has historically taken up to several weeks, but in recent years (due to stricter standards) processing times have increased.
Types of Colombian work visas
In 2022, Colombia overhauled its visas to add new categories for different types of visitors, workers, and residents. The most common visa types now include:
- Visitor "V" type visa: for visitors who plan to enter the country for a short time without working.
- Migrant "M" type visa: for those who plan to live and work in Colombia temporarily. This is the most common type of work visa, and is typically issued to those who marry a Colombian citizen, invest in Colombia, or receive a job offer from a Colombian company. A standard M visa is valid for three years. M type visas have replaced temporary work visas (which you may know as TP-4 visas) that were previously issued for regulated professions.
- Resident "R" type visa: for those who plan to establish themselves in Colombia permanently. M type visa holders become eligible for R type visas after five years in Colombia.
- Technical visa: for foreign workers to provide specialized technical assistance for no more than 180 days in a 365-day period.
- Digital nomad visa: for individuals who are employed by companies that operate outside of Colombia to live in Colombia for up to two years.
Application process for Colombian work visas
Applying for a work visa in Colombia is actually pretty simple—it can be done completely online. The applicant will need to have all their documents together, including personal documents and some from their employer (more on those further down).
Here are the steps to obtain a work visa in Colombia:
- The worker applies online at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (in Spanish). They'll need to fill out the online application forms and upload all of the required documents for their visa type.
- Once the visa is approved, the worker will need to appear in person to have it added to their passport. If they're applying from inside Colombia, they can do this at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores office in Bogotá. If they're applying from outside Colombia, they can go to a Colombian consulate.
- After receiving their visa and entering Colombia, the worker must go to the Special Administrative Unit of Migration Colombia (Migración Colombia or UAEMC) to obtain their foreign ID card (cédula).
Rippling can connect you with immigration services to help you sponsor work visas around the world.
Frequently asked questions about work permits for employees in Colombia
Do US citizens need a work permit to work in Colombia?
Yes. US citizens need a visa to enter Colombia. If they want to live and work there, they need to apply for the permit that best suits their individual circumstances.
What documents are required to apply for a Colombian work permit?
When applying for a Colombian work permit, workers need:
- A photocopy of the first page of their passport
- A photocopy of the page of their passport showing their last legal entry into or departure from Colombia
- Copies of any prior Colombian visas they've received
- A passport-style photo with a white background
- An original copy of their work contract
- Certificates showing their experience or licenses qualifying them to work in their profession (these must be legalized, translated, and apostilled.)
- A copy of their academic degree, diploma, or technical certification
- Any licenses required to work in their profession
- A certificate of suitability, issued by their employer
- A letter of academic support, showing they have the right academic training for their role
The worker will also need to supply some documents on behalf of their employer. If they're going to be working for a Colombian company, they'll need to provide:
- Six months of the business' bank statements
- One year of the business' income statements
If they're going to be working for any individual, they'll need to provide:
- Six months of the employer's bank statements
- The employer's tax ID
- Chamber of Commerce details about the employer's business activities
- A copy of the employer's identification card
What’s the fastest way to get a work permit in Colombia?
There's no way to rush the process, especially now that requirements have gotten stricter and processing times tend to be slower. The best way to ensure fast processing is to ensure that all documents are in order and included in the correct formats along with the visa application.
How much does it cost to get a Colombian work permit?
The government fee for the most common work visa for foreign nationals, the M type visa, is 282 USD.
Are family members included in work visa applications in Colombia?
Family members are not included on M type work visas in Colombia. If an applicant receives an M visa, they can apply for beneficiary visas for members of their family, including parents, spouse, and children under 25 years of age. It's important to note that the beneficiary visa doesn't allow family members to work while living in Colombia—if they want to work, they'll need to apply for their own work visas.
How do you renew your Colombian work permit?
M visas are typically issued for three years at a time. They can be renewed if the visa holder applies before their visa expires. They're also eligible to upgrade to an R visa (residence visa) after living and working in Colombia for five years. R visas last five years and are also renewable, but visa holders can apply for permanent residence after holding an R visa for five years.
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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.