Colombia travel information

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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 and malaria are prevalent in Colombia. Travellers to Colombia must be sure to take preventative measures, pack enough mosquito repellent and wear concealing clothing. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for several parts of Colombia so be sure to consult your doctor beforehand about whether you will need to take malaria medication. Vaccinations are recommended for yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid. Additionally, the Zika virus has been detected in Colombia, so travellers should take care to avoid osquito bites and sexual contact with any carriers of the virus. 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. If you require prescription medication while travelling then it is best to take your medication with you into Colombia; make sure you have all the necessary documents from your doctor to help you get the medicine through customs.

Tipping: Tipping is common and expected for most services. Waiters in restaurants should receive 10 percent of the bill if it has not automatically been added. Porters expect around one USD per bag. It is 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: Visitors to Colombia need to be aware that 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 higher 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 October/November. If you are cautious and well-informed it is possible to have a completely trouble free holiday in Colombia.

Local Customs: Homosexuality is not widely accepted, and unfortunately, it is advisable that couples be discreet. It is prohibited to take photographs of military sites. Colombians 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.

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 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.

Communications: The international dialling code for Colombia is +57. The outgoing code depends on which network is used to dial out on, 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. A local prepaid SIM card can be cheaply purchased to avoid paying high international roaming fees. Wifi connection is available in most cities where internet cafes are prevalent and reasonably priced. Free wifi can also be found in hotels, cafes and wifi zones in major cities.

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.

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