By Paige Graham
When I received the invitation to a good friend’s wedding in Cali, Colombia, I knew I couldn’t miss it. And for several reasons – I had never been to South America, Katie is one of my most favorite people in the universe, and I definitely needed to meet this Colombian man who would soon be su marido.
A trip to Colombia from Chicago for a long weekend initially seemed a bit daunting. But a Thursday morning outbound flight from Chicago to Cali (via Houston and Bogota, this is where my TripIt Pro connection updates really came in handy) and a Sunday evening red-eye return resulted in three full days in Cali.
What to Expect Upon Arrival
Before heading off on a Colombian long-weekend, here are some airport entry requirements to plan for:
- Entry into Colombia through one of the airports (most likely Bogota, as that is where the majority of international flights arrive) is pretty easy.
- Americans only need their passport (needs to still be valid for at least six month) and there are no visa fees for tourists who will be in Colombia for less than 90 days.
- When you land, you’ll fill out the customs form, which should be stamped and returned to you – and you’ll hand this in when you depart Colombia. If you lose it, you’ll most likely have to pay a higher departure tax.
Leave Plenty of Time for Connections
If you have a connecting flight from Bogota to another Colombian city, try to leave at least an hour and a half to make the connection. The immigration line could be long (and believe me, they do not like to let you cut to the front, even if you only have 20 minutes to make your connection and an airline personnel escorted you off the plane before the other passengers…) Given the setup of the Bogota airport, you’ll likely have to exit the international arrivals terminal, make your way through the crowds of people and re-enter a different building to proceed through security to your national departure gate.
You don’t need to pay an arrival tax when you land in Colombia, but you might be required to pay an exit tax, approximately $35-37USD. (Cash only, Colombian pesos are preferred.) Before you complete check-in at the airport, find the “Aeronautica Civil” desk and give the attendee your passport. If the total tax was included into the cost of your airfare, you’ll pay nothing and receive a national tax exempt form (“exento impuesto timbre nacional”). Again, if you lose this document you could be subject to paying the tax. The check-in attendants at the airport should be very helpful, and you can always contact your airline to see if your tax is included in your fare and, if not, how much you might be required to pay upon exiting Colombia.
As far as navigating the airport, bigger cities or smaller towns, English is understood at a basic level at most main tourist spots. I would say that speaking at least a bit of Spanish is really essential. Try to learn basic greetings, questions and important verb forms (can, need, have, want etc).
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