Information & Facts
Formality in Colombian business is expected, more so inland than
at the coast, and this applies to protocol as well as to dress.
Punctuality for appointments is important, regardless whether the
host is there on time or not, and handshakes are customary on
arriving and departing. Many business people speak English,
although all presentation materials and documentation should be
translated into Spanish, and the use of visual aids widely used
where possible. It might be necessary to use a translator, but it
is best to check beforehand to avoid causing offence. Business
cards should also be printed in both English and Spanish. The
importance of building social relationships should not be
underestimated, and small talk before and after meetings is vital
towards building a sense of trust and goodwill. Business hours are
generally 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
Generally the climate is wet and tropical. Summer is the
principal rainy season although there is no specific dry season.
The eastern Caribbean and Pacific coastal lowlands experience an
equatorial climate with high temperatures and high humidity all
year round, with rainfall averaging 40 inches (1,000mm) a year. In
the mountainous parts conditions are cooler and can be changeable
depending on prevailing winds, altitude and topography.
The international dialling code for Colombia is +57. The
outgoing code depends on which network is used to dial out on (e.g.
005 for Orbitel, 009 for Telecom or 007 for ETB), which is followed
by the relevant country code (e.g. 00544 for the United Kingdom).
The area code for Bogota is 1, but the access code to make a call
within the country from another area also depends on what network
is used (e.g. (05)1 for Orbitel or (09)1 for Telecom). The country
has cellular telephone operators with GSM networks. Mobile phone
companies have active roaming agreements with many international
network operators. Colombia, particularly Bogota, is well connected
to the Internet with dozens of Internet cafes throughout the city,
some doubling as bars.
Homosexuality is not widely acceptable, and couples are advised
to be discreet. It is prohibited to take photographs of military
sites. Columbians use both their maternal and paternal surnames.
The paternal surname is listed first and is used in conversation if
addressing someone by his or her title.
Travellers to Colombia over 18 years do not have to pay duty on
200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 500g of tobacco; perfume for
personal use; and 2 bottles of alcohol per passenger.
Electrical current is 110 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat
blade attachment plugs and three-pin (two flat blades with round
grounding pin) plugs are in use.
Mosquito borne illnesses like dengue fever and malaria are
prevalent in Colombia. In 2007 there was a dengue fever outbreak,
infecting 40,000 people. Travellers to Colombia must be sure to
take preventative measures, pack enough mosquito repellent and wear
concealing clothing. A yellow fever vaccination is recommended for
all travellers. Visitors should not drink tap water, unbottled
beverages or drinks with ice. Fruit and vegetables should be
peeled, cooked and eaten while piping hot. Avoid undercooked meat
or fish. Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies in
quality elsewhere. Medical insurance is essential.
Spanish is the official language.
The unit of currency is the Colombian Peso (COP), which is
divided into 100 centavos. Banks have no fixed policy on exchanging
cash and travellers cheques. Some provide the service, some not,
and different banks can differ on this from day to day. Generally
foreign exchange is only offered in the early morning. Cash can be
casas de cambio, or money exchange bureaux, located in
cities and border towns. US Dollars are preferred for both cash and
travellers cheque exchanges. Travellers cheques are difficult to
exchange outside of Bogota. Visitors are warned to beware of fake
US Dollars, which are printed in Colombia. Credit cards, especially
Visa, are becoming more widely accepted and are welcome at top
hotels and restaurants, travel agents and car rental agencies. In
the main towns and cities ATMs are becoming more prevalent, but
cards should be used with caution for security reasons.
All tourists visiting Colombia must hold valid passports,
tickets and documents for onward or return travel, and sufficient
funds to cover their stay. Those who plan to visit coffee
plantations must apply to 'Vegetable Sanitary Control' at the
airport on arrival, or to a Columbian consulate or embassy in
advance. Extensions on visas are possible.
Visitors to Colombia need to be aware they face various risks
and should maintain a high level of vigilance. The risk of
terrorist attacks from domestic Colombian groups in the towns and
cities on public places like bars, restaurants and nightclubs
frequented by expatriates, is high. Foreigners are also targeted by
thieves, pickpockets and drug traffickers especially in urban
areas, and crime is usually accompanied by violence. Never hail
taxis in the street (book them through your hotel) and never accept
food, drinks, chewing gum or cigarettes from strangers. These could
be drugged to incapacitate victims. Foreign nationals have also
been victims of kidnappings in recent years, the risk being high in
rural areas; foreigners are advised against travel to the
departments of Sucre, Bolivar, Choco, Putumayo, Meta, Arauca,
Nariño and Caqueta. Some parts of the country are particularly
dangerous and fraught with guerrilla and paramilitary activity. The
rural areas of Antioquia, Cauca, Valle de Cauca, Huila and Norte de
Santander are the most affected by political/narcotic violence and
should also be avoided. All travel to southern parts of Meta and to
the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, including the 'Lost City', should
also be avoided due to a high risk to personal safety. Travellers
are advised to contact their country's consular representatives and
acquaint themselves with the latest situation before entering these
areas, or preferably avoid them completely. Floods and landslides
are common during the rainy season in April/May and
Local time is GMT -5.
Tipping is common and expected for most services. Waiters in
restaurants should receive 10% of the bill if it has not
automatically been added. Porters expect around US$0.50 per bag. It
is not obligatory to tip taxi drivers, but 10% is appreciated.
Hotels usually add a service charge of 16% to the bill.