So you arrived here on a tourist visa, maybe even extended it to get a bonus 90 days in this lovely country, but your time is running out. This article will provide information on how to obtain a student visa, which will enable you to stay in Colombia year-round.
As my tourist visa was expiring in 2016, and I was frantically looking to prolong my stay in Medellín, I discovered that a very viable option to stay was the student visa. My Spanish was still pretty weak, and I love learning, so this became a great option.
The first thing readers should take note of is that Colombia completely overhauled its visa system in 2017. Resolution 6045, passed by the Government in August and then implemented beginning in December 2017, greatly simplifies the visa process and the categories. But if you are reading advice about visas in Colombia dated prior to 2017, you are reading obsolete information. Cuidado.
Before, there were 17 different categories of visas (TP1 – TP17), whereas now there are only three. While this is indeed a major simplification, within the three categories there are still many subsets. These three main categories are Visitor, Migrant and Resident.
The visa changes have created two different types of student visas. The visitor student visa, which is designed for those seeking to learn a language (usually Spanish), has a maximum of two years. However, they will likely only grant you the length of time that you have enrolled in a particular school. Contrarily, if you’d like to enroll in an undergraduate program, like a bachelor’s degree, the Migrant student visa is your choice and can be valid up to three years.
The first step in the process is to visit one of the school’s in Medellín where you’d like to study. Note that while there are now many dozens of Spanish schools in Medellín, the majority of them are not accredited to offer the types of student visas that foreigners need to prolong their stays.
The following are universities in Medellín that have Spanish programs for foreigners and also meet the Government of Colombia requirements to grant student visas:
1) Universidad EAFIT in El Poblado
2) Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) in Laureles
3) Universidad de Medellín in Belen
4) LCN Idiomas (they have a location in Centro Comercial Unicentro, on the border between Laureles and Belen, and another location in Centro Comercial Santa Fe, in El Poblado)
Are you aware of another school offering to provide the documents for a student visa to foreigners? Please contact us and tell us about it or leave a comment below.
When I first applied for a student visa, I prepaid six months of courses at Universidad EAFIT, and the immigration officer gave me a student visa valid for one year. However, of all the recent testimonials I have heard, most people are saying they only receive the visa for as long as they have paid for. Because you can get a tourist visa for six months of each year, most people really only need the student visa for the other six months.
I recently visited LCN Idiomas to inquire about their language program, and based on their pricing structure, it seems LCN is quite aware of the Government’s requirements.
At the minimum required 10 hours per week, six months of study at LCN costs COP 3,800,000, whereas an entire year costs COP 4,400,000. To break that down in USD (April 2019 conversion prices), your first six months with them would cost around $1,225 while the following six months would be just $193. Now, you may be thinking… over a thousand bucks just for a visa to stay in the country? Seems like a terrible deal. But lets face it – nobody has perfect Spanish, and there is always room to improve. Why not use this as an excellent chance to better yourself? And if you truly hate studying Spanish, note that the student visa is not at all limited to Spanish classes; you can enroll in any type of study program to qualify. Surely you’re interesting in learning something.
In half a year, a student must enroll in classes for about 260 hours, so broken down hourly it would be about $4.70 USD an hour for the first half of the year, while the second part of the year would just be $0.74 USD an hour. Obviously, many companies offer a discount for purchasing more, however given the size of the discount in this case, I think it is clear that they are aware that many foreigners seek them out with the six month student visa in mind.
UPDATE – August 2019 – Some people who have used LCN to get the student visa recently have reported getting even more competitive prices than listed here. I recently called LCN to clarify, as they had quoted me the prices herein before, and they did not want to confirm a price over the phone. Rather, they were very insistent that I visit them in person. I suspect they have a variable pricing scheme. Going to them with a ‘my gringo friend got (insert low price here) for 6 months’ approach may save you some money.
Despite the pricing irregularities, I was impressed with the offering at LCN for a number of reasons. First, they have an agent who will walk you through the visa application process and provide the necessary documents and any follow up support you may need. Second, the price of the classes doesn’t change based on class size, whether it is a private class up to a maximum of 6 students. As far as I know, the other universities charge higher prices if less students enroll, something I always found as a little unfair given its outside of your control. Finally, LCN offers a very flexible schedule. I had a friend that got the student visa at UPB, and while he always maintained the classes were great, they were limited to certain hours of the day and often conflicted with his job.
LCN insisted that they have professors available from 6:30am to 9:30pm Monday to Friday, and 8am – 4:30pm Saturdays. Given these extended hours, and that one only needs 10 hours of class per week to meet Government requirements, studying at LCN and working a full time job are not mutually exclusive.
However, even if you can’t find ten hours in your week to get to the classes, there still shouldn’t be a problem. Unlike EAFIT, which has a fairly stringent attendance policy, the employee at LCN (who also speaks English) told me “No hay ningún problema si no vienes a la clase.” If you are just getting the visa to stay in the country and don’t care at all about the classes, this could be a good fit for you.
EAFIT University and the UPB are the most prestigious schools in the city. They are large, private schools and the campuses are full each day of thousands of students. Acquiring the student visa through either of these schools and attending classes regularly will feel much more like an authentic college student experience than studying at a place like LCN, which has its locations in malls. You need to consider your personal circumstances and what you are looking for when deciding which school to choose for your student visa.
HOW TO APPLY
Okay, so you’ve visited the school, or at least been in email contact with them, and decided that they are right for you. Next you’ll need to prepay for your classes, and get some documents from the school. One document will verify the school as a properly accredited institution, and the other will be a letter confirming your enrollment and for how long. You can definitely try to persuade the person you are dealing with to extend the date on this letter as long as possible, as it is very likely (but not a foregone conclusion) that whatever date they put will be the length of your student visa. Once you have these documents, you’ll need to gather them along with:
- PDF of passport main page
- PDF of previous Colombia Visa (this will probably be your tourist visa entry stamp + extension)
- passport style photo (3cm X 4cm, white background, jpeg file less than 300kb)
- parental authorization (only if you are a minor), AND
- a letter in Spanish demonstrating economic solvency. Here, you need to show a bank account with an average balance the past six months which is 10x the Colombian minimum wage. The 2019 Colombian minimum wage is 828,116 COP, so 10x that amount is 8,281,160 COP and then converted into dollars (in April 2019) is just under $2,700. Note that unused credit card balances can also count towards this amount.
Read more about the requirements here, on the Colombian Government’s website.
When you have all these documents together, you are ready to start your application. Go to this website to get the process started:
Fill out the form. Leave the field “Application Registry Number” blank if you are starting a new application. If you are returning to complete a previously started application, this number will have been provided to you in a previous email from Migracion Colombia.
I have used the Government of Colombia’s website and online application forms for a student visa, and then three consecutive work visas. I have always found them to be fairly straightforward and just user-friendly enough to complete the process without issues. The one important thing to note is that there is a file size limit, and your documents may be too big. Simply google ‘PDF Compressor’ and use one of those free tools to shrink your file sizes.
If you find you are having difficulties using the Government of Colombia website, they have some tips here.
Hopefully, by this point, you’ve now submitted the visa to the Government and it has come back APROBADA (approved). It is at this point where I will express a bit of displeasure with my adopted homeland, as, at present, there is no way to get the visa stamped in your passport without going to Bogotá. Well, at least your passport needs to go to Bogotá. You can hire a visa service to help you with this process, and they will courier your passport to Bogota for you, for a fee.
When I received my student visa in 2016, I took an overnight bus to Bogota, visited the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores office, was there for four hours, and then hopped on the bus back to Medellín. It’s an awfully long trip just to have a visa stamp, but it’s a necessary one if you don’t want to hire an agency. The office is located on the third floor of the Torre 100 building, at Avenida 19 #98 – 03. To date, after nearly four years in Colombia, those are the only four hours I have spent in the nation’s capital. (This website is Medellín Advisor and not Colombia Advisor or Bogotá Advisor for a reason…)
If you receive approval for your student visa outside of Colombia, you will need to have the visa stamped at a Colombian Consulate. In the US, Colombia has consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Newark, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Thus, to get your Colombian student visa, there are eleven different places you could go in the states, but just one in Colombia. Makes sense, right?
Although your visa will have been approved before you arrive to Bogota or to the consulate, it is still a good idea to take with you in paper form, all the documents you have submitted online. If going to Bogota, I recommend arriving as soon as they open, as it is an extremely busy office and wait times have been known to be substantial. They will verify your application, receive payment for the Visa, and stamp it into your passport.
I Have the Student Visa – What’s Next?
Although by now the visa should be stamped in your passport, the process is not yet over. In fact, the next step is crucially important, as failure to comply could result in a hefty fine. You have 15 calendar days after you receive your visa stamp in Bogotá to register your visa with Migración Colombia and apply for a Cédula (national ID card). If you receive your visa while outside the country, you have 15 days from when you enter the country to complete this step. Put this at the top of your to-do list, as the fine for non-compliance can be up to 7x the Colombian minimum monthly salary.
The process of registering your visa and applying for a Cédula can happen concurrently. For all visas longer than three months, a Cédula is required. These are nice to have anyway, as in addition to feeling more like a local, your número de Cédula is useful for many things and often asked for.
First, you should make an appointment online. The website can be found here. Some readers have reported that they went without an appointment and didn’t have issues, but I still recommend making the appointment because it is easy to do and could reduce your wait time.
Next, visit the Migración Colombia office in Belen. Every taxi in the city should know where this is, but just in case, the address is Calle 19 #80A-40. The entrance has since been moved to Calle 19A – either the taxi or the guard will show you where.
The documents¹ you will need to get your Cédula are:
- Your passport with the newly stamped visa
- Photocopy of a blood test showing your blood type²
- Photocopy of information page of your passport³
- Photocopy of your visa
Note 1: You don’t need to take pictures, as they will take pictures for you during the process.
Note 2: Yes, I had to go get blood withdrawn before I got my first Cédula. I was living in Bello at the time, and went to a small clinic there. It took 10 minutes and cost only 7,000 COP. For those renewing their Cédula, blood type is not necessary as they will already have it.
Note 3: If you don’t take photocopies, there is a small tienda outside the Migración Colombia offices that will make photocopies for you. Ask the door guy to show you where it is.
It seems as if nothing runs smoothly inside that Migración Colombia office in Belen, so don’t plan anything important immediately after your appointment. You’ll get your picture taken, then be fingerprinted, and eventually pay for the Cédula. It currently costs 196,000 COP and you can pay with a debit or credit card inside the office. About ten days later, your Cédula will arrive to the same office. You can see if yours has arrived by checking the Migración Colombia website.
Once you’ve picked up the Cédula, the process is officially complete. You can attend classes at your leisure, and focus on learning and enjoying life in Medellín. Hopefully the information in this post has been useful. Contact Us or leave a comment below to tell us about your experience or to ask any follow-up questions you may have.