A tourist visa in Colombia is only for two months, meaning that if you want to stay longer you have to either reenter the country or take a trip to your nearest DAS office. DAS is Colombia’s intelligence agency, however also runs the visa/passport offices. The thought of the CIA managing passport offices in the US might seem rather strange, but when you consider the history of the security situation here in Colombia, it makes sense. I headed there last Tuesday to renew my visa before it expired, but prior had to procure:
-4 Color photos
-2 Copies of my passport’s main page
-2 Copies of my passport page where I had received my entrance stamp
-2 Copies of a ticket out of the country
-2 Copies of the visa extension form
-1 Copy (and original) of the extension fee ($30)
For those arriving less prepared, one can obtain photos and copies around the corner, where enterprising families have turned their stoops into mini FedEx’s. This may seem like a lot, but Colombia takes who is staying for extended time in their country very seriously. I sat next to a guy from Los Angeles who was being deported for being in the country 2 months after his visa expiry. Apparently, it was cheaper for him to get a flight out of Colombia than pay the fee ($250), though I think he might be blacklisted from reentering until he pays the fine. I had to wait about 2 or so hours after they took my passport, then they asked me some questions and took my fingerprints. As to the typical “why do you want to stay longer?” my response was simply “two months isn’t enough to see all that there is in this country.” I thought I was all done until they told me I had to come back the following Monday.
I hopped on my bike this morning and headed back to DAS, early to beat the crowds. As I was locking my bike, the security guard informed me that I couldn’t enter unless I was wearing “office apparel.” I laughed, assuming this was a joke, but he solemnly informed me that my shorts didn’t conform with the code. I protested, I was wearing a dress shirt and only had to receive my renewal stamp and would be on my way. He pointed out several other people (in t-shirts), who were wearing slacks and jeans and said that if I wanted to enter today, I had to be wearing pants. We then got into a heated discussion regarding the definition of “office wear,” me pointing out that sneakers, jeans and t-shirt are no no’s in offices throughout the world. Before I lost my temper, I asked to talk to his supervisor, who came over and gave me the once over. I explained my situation of living far away and only being able to wear shorts when I ride my bike and he let me pass, only after I promised to wear pants the next time. As I walked out with my stamp, I felt good, despite the time consuming process I had been through to renew. After all, what kept me patient and sane was thinking about all of the stories I’ve heard from Latin Americans traveling to the U.S. and the number of hours they’ve logged just to get into my country.