Handling banking, money and taxes in Colombia comes with its share of bureaucracy. The language barrier in particular adds a layer of complexity because many of the documents, forms and processes are in Spanish. Expats may have to enlist the help of a Spanish friend or translator.
As in any country, tax matters can become complex. It may be worthwhile for expats to hire a tax professional to ensure they remain on the right side of the law.
Money in Colombia
Colombia's currency is the Colombian Peso (COP). Unlike most other currencies, which are usually subdivided into cents or an equivalent, the peso is the lowest unit of Colombian currency. It isn't further subdivided.
Notes: 1,000 COP, 2,000 COP, 5,000 COP, 10,000 COP, 20,000 COP, 50,000 COP and 100,000 COP
Coins: 5 COP, 10 COP, 20 COP, 50 COP, 100 COP, 200 COP, 500 COP and 1,000 COP
Banking in Colombia
Banking in Colombia is a relatively straightforward process. Expats will find that opening a bank account is simple as long as they have the correct documents. It's also easy to find ATMs, and most places accept credit cards.
Some banks in Colombia have English-speaking staff to assist expats who may not be fluent in Spanish. This may, however, vary from bank to bank and branch to branch. Expats can check with their local bank branch or the bank's website to see if they offer English-speaking services or if they have bilingual staff available.
Expats should take heed currency conversion fees when using their foreign credit or debit cards in Colombia. These fees can add up quickly, especially in the case of frequent transactions and ATM withdrawals. Several international banks operate in Colombia, offering various banking services to expats and locals alike. These include Citibank, HSBC, BBVA and many others.
Bank hours in Colombia can vary depending on the bank and the location. Generally, banks in Colombia are open from Monday to Friday, from 8am to 4pm, with some banks offering extended hours until 6pm or 7pm. Many banks are also open on Saturdays, usually from 9am to 12pm.
Opening a bank account
Expats wishing to open a savings or current account can do so at a local Colombian bank or a multinational bank such as HSBC or CitiBank.
There are several documents required to open a bank account. These vary from bank to bank but usually include a Cedula de Extranjería (Colombian ID document for foreigners), passport and visa, proof of address and proof of employment and income. Some banks may ask for references or require a Colombian guarantor – employers are often willing to fulfil these requirements.
Credit cards and ATMs
Expats are unlikely to be granted a credit card from a Colombian bank unless they already have an existing credit record in the country or have been banking in Colombia for six months or more. New arrivals needing a credit card will either have to bring one from home and possibly bear steep transaction fees or else apply for a credit card with an international bank in Colombia. References from a previous bank back home can boost their chances of approval.
In major cities, credit cards are accepted just about anywhere, including shops, hotels and restaurants. Expats should, however, not be surprised if they're asked to present some form of identification before they can pay with a credit card. In smaller towns, places that accept credit cards may be few and far between. Similarly, ATMs are easy to find in big cities but can be scarce in smaller towns.
Some ATMs only offer withdrawals at certain hours of the day or place a limit on withdrawal amounts at night for safety reasons. Expats should always be aware of their surroundings while using an ATM and be wary of anyone loitering close by.
Taxes in Colombia
Tax in Colombia is either deducted monthly from a salary or paid in an annual tax return. Tax return submissions usually close around April or May each year, and there is a penalty for filing tax returns late.
Full-time residents – foreigners in Colombia for 183 days or more within a tax year – must pay tax on their total worldwide income. Those who spend fewer than 183 days a year in Colombia are only taxed on their earnings from within the country.
Due to the complexity of expat taxes, we recommend hiring an experienced expat tax professional for guidance.