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Colombia Travel Information

The Basics

Time

Local time is GMT -5.

Electricity

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.

Language

Spanish is the official language of Colombia.

Travel Health

Mosquito borne illnesses like dengue fever, Zika and malaria are prevalent in Colombia. Visitors must be sure to take preventative measures, pack enough mosquito repellent and wear concealing clothing. Visitors should not drink tap water, unbottled beverages or drinks with ice.

Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies in quality elsewhere so travel insurance is essential. If you require prescription medication while travelling then it is best to take your medication with all the necessary documents from your doctor to help you get it through customs.

Tipping

Tipping is common and expected for most services. Waiters in restaurants should receive 10 percent of the bill if it hasn't automatically been added. Porters expect around a dollar per bag. It's not obligatory to tip taxi drivers, but 10 percent is appreciated. Hotels usually add a service charge of 16 percent to the bill.

Safety Information

Once considered one of the world's most dangerous countries, Colombia has transformed itself into the darling of South American travel. As is the case in most countries with big urban sprawls, petty theft remains an issue so sensible precautionary measures should be taken.

Militias left over from the civil war and those involved in the drug trade still operate in the frontier regions near Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. Travellers can avoid them by sticking to the main routes or going on organised tours. Anyone looking to visit the Lost City in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta should opt for a tour.

Local Customs

Family is a core aspect of Colombian society, and traditional household roles are widely celebrated. Family will also always take precedence over business or friends, so it's important not to take offence if sidelined for a family matter. Religion, particularly Christianity, is also an important facet of Colombian culture.

Homosexuality is not widely accepted and it's sadly advised that same-sex couples couples be discreet. Colombians use both their maternal and paternal surnames, with the paternal surname listed first and used in conversation if addressing someone by his or her title.

If visiting a local in their home, the usual dinner party gifts like wine or chocolates. Table manners are important too, so guests should always keep their hands above the table; refrain from sitting or eating until invited by your host; and avoid eating with your hands.

Business

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 of 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 used where possible. It might be necessary to use a translator, but it's 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.

Communications

The international dialling code for Colombia is +57. WiFi is widely available in most cities, with free access usually found in cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Duty Free

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.

Become our Colombia Travel Expert

We are looking for contributors for our Colombia travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to Colombia or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.