This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the
Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. OSAC encourages
travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge
of security conditions in Colombia. For more in-depth information, review
OSAC’s Colombia country page for original OSAC
reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be
available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
The current U.S. Department
of State Travel Advisory at the date of this
report’s publication assesses Colombia at Level 2, indicating
travelers should exercise increased
caution due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. Do not travel to
Arauca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de
Santander (except Cucuta) departments due to crime and terrorism. Reconsider
travel to several departments throughout the country due to crime and
Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory
Overall Crime and Safety
The U.S. Department of
State has assessed Bogotá as being a HIGH-threat
location, and Cartagena as a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed
at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Bogotá and other large cities in
Colombia share many of the same crime problems that plague large cities around
the world. The perception of wealth is a primary reason criminals
target U.S. and other foreign nationals. On a daily basis, the
most prevalent threat to travelers is street crime. The most common
types of crime include mugging, assault, cell phone theft, credit card
fraud, and burglary. Criminals commonly use knives and firearms. Crime can turn
violent quickly; it is not uncommon for serious
injury or death to result for a victim resisting a
and assaults occur frequently on public buses in urban and rural areas. Vehicle
break-in, theft, and carjacking are also risks.
U.S. citizens died in homicides in 2019, two of which occurred in Cartagena;
more than a dozen private U.S. citizens reported being the victims of armed
robberies. There was one reported incident of sexual assault of a U.S.
citizen. Underreporting affects these numbers
significantly. Additionally, 222 U.S. citizens had their passports stolen while
levels in the major tourist areas of Cartagena, including the historical center
(El Centro, San Diego), and the neighborhoods of Getsemani, Bocagrande, El
Laguito, and Castillogrande are considerably lower; crime in these locations
rarely turns violent, but petty theft and similar crime remain common in these
is also a significant security concern. FARC dissidents not participating
in the peace process, the ELN, and criminal groups have extorted all types of
commercial entities in their areas of operation. They may use violence,
including bombings, if targets do not meet their demands.
Criminals carry out a variety of street scams in order to rob
people. For example, individuals may pose as police officers by presenting
false police identification. They will ask to inspect a victim’s money to
verify that it is not counterfeit. They will issue the victim an “official
receipt” for their “counterfeit” money and instruct the victim to proceed to a
police station to reclaim legitimate currency. When victims submit the
“official receipt” to the police, they find out their money was not
counterfeit, and that they were scammed. Criminals also use
street gambling games to set up victims. Be wary of people who approach
you asking for directions, handing out fliers, selling you things, etc. They
may be trying to distract you while picking your pockets.
Cyber threats remain a significant security concern in
Colombia. Politically motivated incidents have included a breach of
then-President Juan Manuel Santos’s email account and the illegal
monitoring of Colombia’s peace negotiations with the FARC, both revealed in
2014. Authorities also report an increasing number of financially
motivated cyberattacks, as Colombia extends Internet access and Colombians
increasingly depend on the Internet. Total cybercrime complaints have increased
annually each of the previous few years. According to an Intel security study,
15% of crime against companies in Colombia is associated with cybercrime,
generating losses of approximately $600 million. In order to develop its
institutional framework and capacity to address cyber threats further,
Colombia prepared an updated cybersecurity policy (CONPES 3701) in consultation
with the Organization of American States, the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development, and other partners. This policy includes a
national strategy and a set of priority goals to minimize risk levels. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on
Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends &
and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?
Other Areas of Concern
Colombian criminals often use drugs to rob their victims. The most
common drug used has been scopolamine, which can render a victim unconscious
for 24+ hours; in large doses, it can cause brain damage and death.
Unofficial estimates put the number of annual scopolamine incidents in Colombia
at approximately 50,000. Criminals often administer the
drug by placing liquid or powder in foods and beverages.
Incidents frequently occur in nightclubs and bars where young,
attractive women target men they perceive to be wealthy. In 2019,
there were more than 20 reported cases of scopolamine attacks against private
U.S. citizens, most of them in Medellín targeting male victims. Many cases likely
go unreported. Review
OSAC’s report, Scopolamine Incidents on the Rise in Colombia.
U.S. employees of the U.S. Embassy and their families must ask for
permission to travel throughout much of Colombia. They must fly rather
than drive to most major cities; consider following these precautions.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
In general, road conditions in the major cities are adequate, but
not good, for vehicle travel. Traffic in Bogotá is exceptionally congested and
road conditions are often poor, contributing to traffic accidents and creating
opportunities for criminals to rob vehicles. In rural areas, roads can be
substandard and dangerous (e.g., no emergency lanes, and poor lighting) and
landslides frequently close roads. Accident response in rural areas is slow.
The Colombian government continues to advance its ambitious Fourth
Generation (4G) program, a $17 billion effort to modernize outdated
primary road infrastructure. The aging primary road network means that travel
between large cities, such as Bogotá and they key port city of Barranquilla can
take up to two days. Travel at night is also dangerous due to the potential for
accidents along mountain roads and violence from criminal groups.
In Bogotá, the Colombian National Police (CNP) and military may
have a large presence on the major roads, especially during rush hour. The
government deploys extra security to promote road travel throughout the country
during holidays. Outside of these periods and in rural areas, terrorists and
criminals can make road travel dangerous. In areas where the government does
not have a strong presence, terrorist and criminal groups have set up
roadblocks to rob and kidnap travelers.
Authorities often do not enforce traffic laws, including speed
limits, are drivers often do not obeyed them, creating chaotic and dangerous
conditions for drivers and pedestrians. The penalties for drunk driving are
severe and very expensive. Police deploy sobriety checkpoints, especially in
urban areas, and can require sobriety tests during traffic stops.
Texting while driving is illegal. Seat belts are mandatory for
front-seat passengers in a private vehicle. Car seats are not mandatory for
children, but a child under ten years of age may not ride in the
front seat. U.S. government employees may not use
motorcycles in Colombia, or travel by road outside of urban
areas at night.
In case of a vehicle accident, Colombian law requires that the
vehicles remain in place, and all parties remain at the scene, until
the police arrive and complete their preliminary investigation. In
addition, criminals may stage traffic accidents and attract
a crowd that could turn hostile. Drivers who feel threatened and leave the
scene should immediately contact their insurance company and the police. In an
accident involving an injury, the police will require a sobriety or
blood-alcohol test and may take the driver to the police station and impound the
Drivers and passengers should always be aware of their
surroundings, lock doors, roll up windows, and keep valuables and packages
out of sight. Criminals, sometime masquerading as vendors, may reach into cars
at intersections to steal items and tear off car parts such as side mirrors,
antennas, and windshield wipers. Always place briefcases, bags,
and other belongings in a locked trunk. Due to the possibility of
traffic jams, always keep gas tanks above half full. Separate car
keys from house keys. Park vehicles in designated parking lots and
garages with valuables out of sight.
OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad,
Driving Overseas: Best
Practices, and Evasive Driving
Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Conditions
are available, but passengers must exercise caution. Do not flag down
taxis on the street or accept rides from strangers. Hail taxis via
phone or web app, or at a taxi stand. Airports, hotels, and some
restaurants/shopping centers have taxi stands, and can call taxis for
customers. A ride called by phone or app
will provide the number of the taxi and a two-digit code to give the
driver. Apps such as Uber, Tappsi or EasyTaxi are popular and provide the
passenger with information to verify a taxi is en route. Review
OSAC’s report, Safety
and Security in the Share Economy. U.S. Embassy employees may
not hail cabs from the street.
crimes commonly involve a cab hailed from the street by a lone passenger. After
the passenger enters, the driver will stop, and armed robbers will enter the
vehicle, sometimes taking the victim to ATMs over several hours to take out as
much cash as possible. There have been multiple reports of armed
assailants robbing taxis traveling
from Medellin’s José María Córdova International
Airport (MDE) into the city of Medellín. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should
rural areas, FARC and ELN terrorist groups and other armed criminal groups
have attacked public and private buses. Terrorists, criminals, and
demonstrators alike sometimes burn buses.
accidents involving intercity buses are common, sometimes resulting in death
and serious injury. U.S. Embassy employees and their
families may not use inter- or intra-city buses. Review
OSAC’s report, Security In Transit:
Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
The Federal Aviation Authority’s International Aviation Safety
Assessment (IASA) program rates Colombia as Category 1, indicating it
meets International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.
- El Dorado International Airport (BOG) is located
in Bogotá approximately 9 miles (15 km) west of the city center. It
is the largest airport in Colombia, and a major hub for various passenger
and cargo airlines.
- José María Córdova International Airport (MDE) is
located in Rionegro, approximately one hour (in light traffic)
east of Medellín. It is the second largest airport
in Colombia, and serves various passenger and cargo airlines.
- Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (CLO) is located
in Palmira, 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Cali. It is Colombia’s third
largest airport and serves various passenger and cargo airlines.
- El Eden International Airport (AXM) is located
in La Tebaida, about 20 minutes southwest of Armenia.
It serves various passenger and cargo airlines.
- Matacaña International Airport (PEI) is located
in the city of Pereira. It serves several passenger and cargo airlines.
- Rafael Nuñez International Airport (CTG) is located
in the center of Crespo, a neighborhood in northern Cartagena
approximately 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) northeast of the tourist district, and
approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) northwest of the city center, serving
various passenger and cargo airlines.
- Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (BAQ) is about 7
miles (12 kilometers) from the center of Barranquilla, serving various
passenger and cargo airlines.
U.S. Department of State has assessed Bogotá as being a HIGH-threat location and Cartagena as a MEDIUM-threat
location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government
interests. There is an elevated risk of terrorism throughout Colombia. Colombia has endured a decades-long conflict that pitted
the government against several leftist terrorist organizations, two of which
remain active (FARC dissidents and ELN). Armed criminal groups have evolved
from demobilized terrorist organizations and right-wing paramilitary
organizations. The Colombian government signed a peace accord with FARC in
2016 after more than four years of negotiations. FARC members then moved to
concentration zones to complete a disarmament, demobilization, and
reintegration process. Nearly 12,000 FARC ex-combatants continue to
abide by the terms of the accord despite some high-profile defections. In 2019, following the release of a high-profile FARC
member by the Colombian government, dissident leadership made public
announcements stating their abandonment of the peace process and renewing vows
to fight the Colombian government. Given the nexus between terrorism and
transnational crime, the use of terrorist-like activities, including bombing,
kidnapping, and narcotrafficking by those not participating in the peace accord
Former President Santos aspired to reach a separate peace accord
with the ELN before the end of his term in 2018, but his government and ELN
were unable to reach an agreement. The Duque administration initially expressed
its intention to continue peace negotiations with the ELN, with the demand that
the group ceases all kidnappings and armed actions before it takes part in any
negotiations. In early 2019, the ELN attacked a private helicopter and
kidnapped the crew in Hacari (Norte de Santander), further
deteriorating relations between the Duque administration and the
group. Later the same month, the ELN claimed responsibility for a terrorist
attack perpetrated against the national police academy
in Bogotá, killing at least 22 people and
wounding 87 others. Following the attack -- Colombia’s worst in
15 years -- President Duque ended peace talks, and reinstated a capture
order requesting the Cuban government hand over ELN
peace negotiators to Colombian authorities. The decision effectively
represents the end of negotiations with the group, which will likely worsen
security conditions in parts of Colombia.
Illegal armed groups in Colombia are well-organized criminal
enterprises that have carried out kidnappings, extortion,
assassinations, bombings, and other terrorist activities throughout
the country. Throughout Colombia’s long conflict with the FARC and
ELN, over 250,000 Colombians have died, with 6
million forcibly displaced from their homes. Given
the situation in Venezuela, criminal or
terrorist elements may seek to exploit uncertainty and increased
media attention on the Colombia-Venezuela
border. Travelers should expect increased police presence in border
U.S.-Colombian counterterrorism cooperation remains strong. In
terms of military pressure, the Colombian government continues significant
military operations against ELN insurgents. The military and police have also intensified
operations against major organized crime groups around the country.
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
U.S. Department of State has assessed Bogotá and Cartagena as being MEDIUM-threat locations for political
violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. In 2019, the country saw its most severe civil
unrest in years. Labor and student groups staged
several large-scale protests. A national walkout in November turned
violent, with several hundred protestors and police officers injured.
The Colombian government declared a one-day citywide
curfew in Bogotá, the first such declaration in decades. Protestors have
used Molotov cocktails and homemade improvised explosive devices, called “papas
explosivas,” against the police. Universities have active leftist student
organizations that sometimes stage protests with an anti-U.S. message.
Protests center on social and economic reforms and usually involve union
or student group leadership. Protestors often march on major roads,
to Cartagena in 2019, demonstrations were typically peaceful and directed at
the local government to address public concerns with major utilities, transit
systems, and wages. This year also saw an increase in student demonstrations
for education benefits. Demonstrators often block traffic on major roads to
gain attention. There were no demonstrations in Cartagena in 2019 with an
OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
The armed conflict disproportionately affects native ethnic
minorities, mostly because of the locations in which they live.
Natural disasters in Colombia include earthquakes and volcanic
activity. Many parts of Colombia suffer from periodic severe drought
conditions, and large-scale fires are common. In other areas,
heavy rainfall causes landslides that block roads, damage infrastructure, and
can leave travelers stranded for 24+ hours.
Good emergency preparation includes setting aside emergency
supplies and having a plan for what to do during and after a
disaster. Planning should consider that help may not be
available for 72+ hours. Stockpiling supplies is useful for any
situation that includes the temporary interruption of municipal
services (e.g. power, water). The U.S. Embassy encourages
its employees to have the following items on hand: flashlights with spare
batteries, a portable commercial radio with spare batteries, fire
extinguishers, food, and water. Centrally locate important documents
(e.g. current passport for each family member, driver’s license, credit
cards, checkbooks, country of residence identification papers, vaccinations
records, inventory of household effects for insurance purposes, and sufficient
cash for family expenses for a reasonable amount of time) for easy
retrieval in the event of an evacuation.
During an earthquake, shelter in place next to/under substantial
furniture but away from glass and objects that may fall over. Do not leave a
building until the shaking stops to avoid injury from falling glass
or building materials. If outside, stay in an open area, away from trees,
power lines, bridges, and overpasses. Be prepared for aftershocks.
The ELN frequently attack oil pipelines
and has attacked power stations and roads with
explosives. In 2019, the ELN continued attacks against Colombian critical infrastructure,
including oil pipelines, mostly in remote areas of the country near the
Colombian government continues to advance its ambitious Fourth Generation (4G)
program, a US$17 billion effort to modernize outdated primary road
infrastructure. The aging primary road network means that travel between large
cities such as Bogotá and Barranquilla can take up to three days.
While the Government of Colombia has made progress on some
dimensions of intellectual property rights (IPR) in recent years, including
the development of its National Intellectual Property Administrative
System, key challenges remain. Online piracy continues to
grow, particularly via mobile devices. Authorities with relevant
jurisdiction, including the National Police and the Attorney General, have yet
to conduct meaningful and sustained investigations and prosecutions against the
operators of significant large pirate websites and mobile applications based in
Colombia. Colombia has also not been able to reduce significantly the large
number of pirated and counterfeit hard goods crossing the border for
sale at San Andresitos markets in Bogotá and other
urban centers, on the street, and at other distribution hubs around the
country. The United States has encouraged Colombia to increase efforts to
address online and mobile piracy, and to focus on disrupting organized
trafficking in illicit goods.
access in Colombia has been growing steadily, and with it internet-based
piracy. According to the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC), trade-secret
theft is a minor problem and charges are typically mentioned tangentially and
accompanied by other unfair competition charges such as deception, confusion,
clientele diversion, or intentional disruption of normal operations. Only one
case involving trade secret theft has been to court, in 2011.
Personal Identity Concerns
The antidiscrimination law specifically
prohibits discrimination based on gender, disability, sexual
orientation, gender identity, or social status. The Attorney General’s Office
and NGOs report some attacks, including homicides, in which prejudice regarding
race, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity was a factor.
law enforcement operates an emergency number specifically for women’s issues.
Call 767. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female
are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of
LGBTI+ events in Colombia. Authorities do not fully enforce legal prohibitions
on discrimination. The government has taken measures to increase the rights and
protection of LGBTI+ persons, but there are reports of societal abuse and
discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Review the State
Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice,
and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
to buildings, sidewalks, and transportation is extremely difficult for persons
with disabilities. Most hospitals in major cities are wheelchair accessible.
Sidewalks (if they exist) are uneven and rarely have ramps at intersections.
Pedestrian crossings are infrequent and motorists almost never give pedestrians
the right of way. Buses and taxis do not have special accommodations for
disabled persons. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers
Approximately 75% of the U.S. citizens incarcerated in
Colombia faced narcotics-related offenses. Do not agree to
carry packages for anyone without knowing the person well and being certain of
the contents of the package. Penalties for possessing, using,
or trafficking in illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders
can expect long pre-trial detention and lengthy prison sentences under harsh
conditions, with significant expense and great hardship for themselves and
their families. Colombian law may require that released offenders serve a
lengthy period of parole in country, during which authorities offer no housing
and may deny permission to work. Family members must often support the offender
until the parole period expires.
Although Colombian government efforts have dramatically reduced
the number of kidnappings over the last ten years, the threat of
kidnapping remains a concern. From 2002-2016, official
statistics show that the number of kidnappings dropped more than
90%. Kidnappings can be spontaneous; criminals/insurgents have kidnapped
persons at roadblocks on the outskirts of major cities. Foreigners are
potential targets due to their perceived wealth. Kidnappers may also
target U.S. citizens because of their potential political
significance for terrorist groups. However, most kidnappings now fall into
the category of “express” or “paseo millionario,” in
which criminals hold victims until they can no longer withdraw
cash from ATM. Criminal taxi drivers often abduct victims
after them on the street. Express kidnappings may last up to 48
The Embassy is aware of two kidnappings of U.S. citizens in 2019
perpetrated by criminal elements. There were no reported kidnappings of U.S. citizens
The police and army have effective anti-kidnapping/anti-extortion
units called GAULAs around the country. Any victim of
kidnapping/extortion, or who knows of a victim, should call
the police immediately at 165. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and
Don’ts for Photography.
the State Department’s webpage on customs
and import restrictions for information on what
you cannot take into or out of other countries.
The Colombian National Police (CNP) is a professional organization
recognized around the world for its success. However, the force is often overworked
and lacks resources to deter or investigate crime. Response to alarms or
emergency calls to disrupt burglaries or crimes in progress can be 15 minutes
or longer. Police patrol on foot and in vehicles and are posted at “Centros de Atención Inmediata” (CAI),
police substations staffed by several officers. You will also find police
and military presence at important facilities and along major routes.
The Embassy’s American Citizen Services (ACS) section has documented some
poor CNP responses to crimes against U.S.
citizens—specifically, failure to facilitate filing of police reports. Download
the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
CNP is a professional force, but corruption continues.
For example, an officer may request a bribe during a routine traffic stop. If
you feel you are the victim of police harassment or corruption, call the police
complaint line, called Transparencia Institucional, at 166.
Contact police at the following numbers:
General Emergencies: 123
Anti-Extortion (Grupos de Acción Unificada por la
Libertad Personal- GAULA): 165
Complaints about the
Women’s issues: 155
Road Safety and
Medical care is adequate in
major cities, but varies in quality elsewhere. Public hospitals
are well below U.S. standards. Traffic frequently
delays ambulance service in Bogotá; consider other options in a
medical emergency. Find contact information for available medical services and
available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate website.
U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments
webpage on insurance
overseas. Confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in
Colombia, including treatment of complications from elective procedures or
medical evacuation (medevac) if necessary. Consider purchasing additional
travel medical insurance, especially if yours does not provide coverage in
Colombia or requires you to pay for foreign medical care out of pocket
and seek reimbursement later. Uninsured travelers without financial resources
may need to seek treatment in public hospitals, where the
standard of care is below U.S. standards.
citizens have died after cosmetic or other elective surgery, including four in
2018 and one in 2019 to date. Visit the CDC
website for information on the risks of medical tourism, as well as the website
of Colombian Society for Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery. If you
have elective surgery in Colombia, make sure to have international travel
insurance that covers medical evacuation and repatriation of remains. Your
legal options in case of malpractice are very limited in the Colombian legal
Country-specific Vaccination and
Colombia requires yellow fever vaccine for travelers arriving from
Brazil, Uganda, Congo, and Angola, administered at
least ten days before entry to Colombia. Vaccination documentation
must appear on a yellow WHO immunization card. Other countries require yellow
fever vaccine for travelers coming from Colombia.
following mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent in Colombia: Chikungunya;
Dengue; Malaria; Yellow fever; and Zika. The CDC offers additional information
on vaccines and health guidance for Colombia.
OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way,
Medication, I’m Drinking What in My
Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of
Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and
Fire Safety Abroad.
OSAC Country Council Information
Country Council in Bogotá meets monthly. Interested
private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team with
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
U.S. Embassy Bogotá, Calle
24 Bis No. 48-50, Bogotá, D.C.
(closed on U.S. and Colombian holidays)
Embassy telephone number +57 (1)
275-2000 during working hours
Regional Security Office +57 (1)
275-2903/2458 during working hours.
ACS +57 (1)
275-2000 during working hours; +57 (1) 275-4021 after hours
Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts in Colombia
Consular Agency in Barranquilla: Calle 77B, No 57-141, Suite
511; +57-5-353-2001 or email@example.com. U.S.
citizens must call ahead for an appointment.
you travel, consider the following resources: