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Colombia 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Bogotá

Western Hemisphere > Colombia; Western Hemisphere > Colombia > Bogota

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Bogotá does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BOGOTÁ AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Colombia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

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 for criminal targeting of Americans and other foreign nationals. Street crime is the most prevalent threat to Americans on a daily basis. Using a cell phone on the street creates an easy target. The most common types of crime include, but are not limited to, muggings, assaults, cell phone theft, credit card fraud, and burglaries. Criminals on the street usually work in groups.

Criminals commonly use knives and firearms. Crime can turn violent quickly, and most criminals carry one or more weapons; it is not uncommon for a victim to be seriously injured or killed when resisting a robbery. Throughout Colombia in 2016, four private U.S. citizens were killed in homicides; three of which occurred during attempted robberies. If confronted by an armed assailant who intends to rob you and you are not in fear of your life or serious bodily harm, you should surrender your belongings.

Cell phones left on tables are also an easy target for criminals. At restaurants, do not sit along the perimeter fence or wall of the outside dining area, rather, try to find a seat in an area away from the street.

Criminals also carry out a variety of street scams 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 that their money was not counterfeit and that they were scammed.

Gambling games on the street are also used by criminals to set up victims.

Be wary of people who approach asking for directions, handing out fliers, selling things, etc. They may be attempting to create a diversion while the victim is pickpocketed.

Criminals, sometime masquerading as vendors, may reach into cars at intersections to steal items and may tear off car parts (side mirrors, antennas, windshield wipers). Briefcases, bags, and other belongings should always be placed in the vehicle’s locked trunk.

Thefts and assaults occur frequently on public buses in urban and rural areas.

Taxi-related 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. In 2013, a DEA agent was killed during this type of robbery. 

Extortion is a significant security concern. The FARC, ELN, and criminal groups have extorted all types of commercial entities in their areas of operation. Violence, including bombings, may be used if extortion demands are not met.

Criminals will use drugs to incapacitate and rob their victims. The most common drug used has been scopolamine, which can render a victim unconscious for more than 24 hours, and large doses can cause brain damage and death. Unofficial estimates indicate the number of annual scopolamine incidents in Colombia is approximately 50,000. It is often administered by liquid or powder into foods and beverages, and incidents frequently occur at night clubs and bars where men perceived to be wealthy are targeted by young, attractive women. To avoid becoming a victim, never accept food/beverages from strangers or new acquaintances, and never leave food/beverages unattended. Avoid going into bars or nightclubs alone, and do not leave bars, restaurants, or nightclubs with strangers. Victims should seek immediate medical attention.

Vary routines and departure/arrival times to remain unpredictable. Be alert to possible surveillance. Note and avoid any individuals who appear out of place along travel routes.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cyber threats remain a significant security concern in Colombia. Politically-motivated incidents revealed in February 2014 have included a breach of President Juan Manual Santos’ email account and illegal monitoring of Colombia’s peace negotiations with the FARC.

Authorities report an increasing number of financially-motivated attacks, as Colombia extends Internet access and Colombians increasingly depend on the Internet. According to official records of Colombia’s cybercrime police unit, 64% of cases were categorized as financially-motivated attacks in 2015. Total cybercrime complaints increased 40% to 7,118 cases. Of the affected users, 60% were citizens, 20% were financial sector companies, and 20% were companies from the telecommunications, transport, and industry sectors. According to an Intel security study, 15% of crime against companies in Colombia is associated with cybercrime, generating losses of approximately U.S.$600 million.

In order to develop its institutional framework and capacity to address cyber threats, 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.

Other Areas of Concern

Embassy personnel and their families must request permission to travel throughout much of Colombia, and they are required to fly to most major cities. All Americans are urged to follow these precautions.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

In general, road conditions in the major cities are adequate, but not good, for vehicle travel. The aging primary road network means that travel between large cities (Bogotá-Barranquilla) can take up to three days. Travel at night is also dangerous due to the potential for accidents along mountain roads and violence from criminal groups. Traffic in Bogotá is exceptionally congested, and road conditions are often poor, contributing to traffic accidents and creating opportunities for criminals to rob vehicles. Vehicle break-ins, thefts, and carjackings are a risk. Car keys should be separated from house keys.

Traffic laws, including speed limits, are often not obeyed or enforced, creating chaotic and dangerous conditions for drivers and pedestrians. The penalties for drunk driving are severe and very expensive. Police will deploy sobriety checkpoints, especially in urban areas, and can require sobriety tests during traffic stops. Texting and 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 10 may not ride in the front seat. Vehicles should be parked in designated parking lots and garages with valuables out of sight. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

In Bogotá, the Colombian National Police (CNP) and military may have a large presence on the major roads, especially during rush hour traffic. Due to the possibility of being caught in a traffic jam, gasoline tanks should always be kept above half full. The government deploys extra security to promote road travel during holidays. Embassy personnel and their families are not permitted to travel by road outside of urban areas at night.

Outside of these periods and in rural areas, terrorist and criminal groups have set up roadblocks to rob and kidnap travelers. In rural areas, roads can be substandard and dangerous (no emergency lanes, poor lighting), and landslides frequently close roads. Accident response in rural areas is slow.

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, traffic accidents can be staged by criminals and may 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, the driver may be taken to the police station, and the vehicle(s) will be impounded.

Public Transportation Conditions

Taxis are available, but passengers need to exercise caution. Do not flag down taxis on the street or accept rides from strangers. Taxis should be called via phone/web app or taken from a taxi stand. Airports, hotels, and some restaurants/shopping centers have taxi stands or will call taxis for customers. When a taxi is called by phone/app, the passenger will be given the number of the taxi and a two digit code to give the driver. Smart phone applications (Uber, Tappsi, EasyTaxi) are popular and provide the passenger with information to verify the taxi that is sent. Embassy personnel are prohibited from hailing cabs on the street.

In rural areas, public and private buses have been attacked by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorist groups, as well as organized crime elements known as Grupos Armados Organizados (GAOs) and Grupos Delictivos Organizados (GDOs). However, such incidents decreased in 2016, with only three reports of incidents involving the FARC from August 24, 2016, through January 2017. Buses are sometimes burned by terrorists, criminals, and demonstrators. Major accidents involving inter-city buses are common, sometimes resulting in death and serious injury. Embassy personnel and their families may not use inter- or intra-city bus transportation.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The Federal Aviation Authority’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program rates Colombia as Category 1, meets International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, as of August 15, 2016.

El Dorado International Airport (BOG) is located in Bogotá approximately 9.3 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.

Jose Maria Cordova International Airport (MDE) is located in Rionegro, approximately one hour (in light traffic) east of Medellin. It is the second largest airport in Colombia and serves various passenger and cargo airlines.

Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport (CLO) is located in Palmira, 12 miles (19 km) 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 from Armenia. It serves various passenger and cargo airlines.

Matacaña International Airport (PEI) is located in 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 km) northeast of the tourist district and approximately 6 miles (10 km) northwest of the city center, serving various passenger and cargo airlines. 

Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (BAQ) is about 7 miles (12 km) from the center of Barranquilla, serving various passenger and cargo airlines. 

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BOGOTÁ AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Colombia has endured a decades-long conflict pitting the government against two leftist terrorist organizations (FARC, ELN) and GAOs and GDOs that evolved from demobilized right-wing paramilitary organizations. The FARC, ELN, and GAOs are well-organized criminal enterprises that have carried out kidnappings, extortion, assassinations, bombings, and other terrorist activities. Throughout the conflict, over 225,000 Colombians have died and six million have been forcibly displaced. In 2016, Colombia experienced an overall decrease in terrorist activity, due in large part to the bilateral ceasefire between the government and the FARC. The military reduced its operations against the FARC over the course of 2016, including periods where aerial bombardments were suspended and subsequently halted entirely following the ceasefire agreement. In terms of military pressure, the Colombian government continued significant military operations against ELN insurgents, particularly after a series of violent ELN attacks in February and December 2016. U.S.-Colombian counterterrorism cooperation remains strong. The military and police have also intensified operations against major organized crime groups around the country.

The government announced peace negotiations with the FARC – Colombia’s largest guerrilla insurgency group – in August 2012 in Oslo, reaching an agreement on a final accord on August 24, 2016 and signing the final accord with the FARC November 12, 2016. The accord was submitted to the Colombian Congress and was approved on November 30, 2016, paving the way for accord implementation. At the beginning of 2017, the FARC was moving to pre-concentration zones to begin the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process. Only three FARC attacks have been reported since the August 24, 2016 bilateral ceasefire with the government.

The government has continued informal talks with the ELN on the prospects for initiating a formal peace process. The government is slated to begin formal negotiations on February 7, 2017 in Quito, Ecuador. However, previous talks failed to progress due to a disagreement on the release of a senator who the ELN holds hostage in exchange for the pardon of two ELN rebels held in jails.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Universities have active leftist student organizations that sometimes stage protests with an anti-American message.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED BOGOTÁ AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

In 2016, there were numerous demonstrations throughout the country, with several focusing on agricultural reform and various union concerns. Protests center on social and economic reforms and are usually led by unions or student groups. Protestors sometimes march on major roads, disrupting traffic. These protests have turned violent, and protestors have used Molotov cocktails and homemade improvised explosive devices, called “papas explosivas,” against police. That said, 2016 was marked by President Santos’ successful efforts to forge a peace agreement with the FARC, and several peaceful demonstrations in Bogotá and other major cities were organized by the supporters and opponents of this effort.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by the armed conflict.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Natural disasters include earthquakes and volcanic activity. Many parts of Colombia periodically suffer from 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 more than 24 hours.

Critical Infrastructure

The Colombian government continues to advance its ambitious Fourth Generation (4G) program, a U.S.$7 billion effort to modernize the country’s outdated primary road infrastructure.

The ELN have been known to attack oil pipelines, power stations, and roads with explosives.

Economic Concerns

Colombia’s institutional Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) framework was established in April 2010, which created the National Intellectual Property Administrative System. While the government has made progress on some dimensions of IPR in recent years, key challenges remain. Persistently high levels of contraband and piracy, as well as shortcomings in enforcement and market access, continue to plague the country's IPR efforts. The National Customs and Tax Directorate (DIAN) seized U.S.$4.7 million in counterfeit products in 2015, mostly coming from Venezuela despite the border closure. This principally affected the sectors of textiles, shoes, food, liquor and cigarettes. The online sale of pirated goods is also a concern. According to the Anti-piracy Agreement, the increase of Internet connections from 2.2 million in 2010 to 10.1 million in 2015 has triggered a proliferation of online piracy. Additionally, effective oversight is scarce; no legal framework exists obliging ISPs to take down websites violating IP, so the decision depends solely on informal agreements between IP owners and providers.

Regarding enforcement, in 2015 the Attorney General’s IPR unit started the year with 696 cases, received 83 new cases, and closed 264. The Attorney General’s Office is working on nationwide investigations to dismantle criminal organizations that trade in counterfeit in edible oils, lubricants, cement, liquors, TV services, and pharmaceuticals. There were 513 open cases in 2015, 30% of which were associated with industrial property and copyright violations, 25% with counterfeit food and medicine, 15% with copyrights, and 5% with telecommunications (illegal TV signal). The remaining open cases were related to counterfeit money and cultural goods.

Personal Identity Concerns

The antidiscrimination law specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, 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, ethnicity, or gender/gender identity was a factor.  

Drug-related Crimes

Approximately 75% of the U.S. citizen prisoners in Colombia are incarcerated for narcotics-related offenses. U.S. citizens should not agree to carry packages for anyone without knowing the person well and being certain of the contents of the package.

Kidnapping Threat

Although Colombian government efforts have dramatically reduced the number of kidnappings over the last 10 years, the threat of kidnapping remains a concern. Between 2002 and 2016, official statistics report that the number of kidnappings dropped more than 90%. Kidnappings can be spontaneous, and criminals/insurgents have kidnapped persons at roadblocks on the outskirts of major cities. Foreigners are potential targets for kidnappers due to their perceived wealth. Americans may be targeted because of their potential political significance for terrorist groups.

However, most kidnappings now fall into the category of “express” or “paseo millionario,” in which victims are robbed of their belongings and taken to ATMs until they can no longer withdraw cash. Victims are often abducted after hailing taxis on the street. Express kidnappings may last up to 48 hours.

The police and army have effective anti-kidnapping/anti-extortion units called GAULAs around the country. Anyone who has been the victim of kidnapping/extortion or knows of a victim should immediately call the police at 165.

Police Response

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 crime. Response to alarms, or emergency calls to disrupt burglaries or crimes in progress, can be 15+ minutes. Police patrol on foot and in vehicles and are posted at Centros de Atencion Inmediata (CAI), which are police substations manned by several officers. Police and military personnel are also posted at important facilities and along major routes. The Embassy’s American Citizen Services (ACS) section has documented some poor responses by CNP to crimes against private U.S. citizens, specifically failure to facilitate filing of police reports.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Corruption continues to exist. An officer may request a bribe during a routine traffic stop. If you feel you are the victim of police harassment or corruption, report it immediately to the police emergency number and to the Embassy’s American Citizen Services section. The Tranparencia Institucional police complaint line can be reached at 166. 

Crime Victim Assistance

The emergency number for Cundinamarca Department, including Bogotá, is 123.

The loss/theft of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the Embassy in Bogotá. If you are a victim of a crime, in addition reporting it to the local police, you should contact the Embassy. For American Citizen Services (ACS), assistance call the Embassy at (1) 275-2000. ACS also monitors email messages sent to ACSBogotá@state.gov from 0800-1700. In the event of emergency, ACS can verify a U.S. citizen’s previous passport issuance and issue emergency passports on the same day in the vast majority of cases. Emergency passports are not issued after hours or on weekends or holidays.

Police/Security Agencies

The CNP is a nationwide service responsible for enforcing Colombian laws. The police can be contacted at the following numbers:

General Emergencies: 123
Anti-kidnapping / Anti-Extortion (GAULA): 165
Complaints about the police: 166
Women’s issues: 155
Road Safety and Transit: #767
Antiterrorism: 018000-919621 

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies in quality elsewhere. Public hospitals are well below U.S. standards. Ambulance service in Bogotá is frequently delayed due to traffic, and travelers should consider other options in a medical emergency.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

Bogotá

Santa Fe Hospital (24 hours) Tel: (57) (1) 603-0303

Clinica de Country, Emergency Room Tel: 530 0470 Ext. 1105 Adults admission or Exts. 2105 or 2108 for pediatric admission .

City Emergency Medical Service (24 hours), Tel: 123

Emergencies: Tel: 123

Red Cross Ambulance (24 hours), Tel: 746 0909 Ext. 701 or switchboard 437 6300

 

Cali

City Ambulance Service, Tel: (2) 123 (any kind of emergency) or Emergencies Red Cross (2) 132

Clinica Fundacion Valle de Lili (24 hours), Tel: (2) 331-9090/7474 Ext. 3276

Clinica de Occidente (24 hours), Tel: (2) 660-3000 and (2) 608-3200 Ext. 109 or 150

 

Cartagena

Hospital Bocagrande, Tel: (5) 650-2800 Ext. 113,

Hospital Naval de Cartagena, Tel: (5) 677 8021 Ext.  565 emergencies

City Ambulance Service, Tel: (5) 123 (any kind of emergency)

 

Medellin

City Ambulance Service, (4) 123 (any kind of emergency)

Clinica las Americas (24 hours), Tel: (4) 342-1010 Ext. 1113 Emergency

Clinica Soma (24 hours), (4) 576-8400 Option #1 for emergencies, (4) 576-8480 Direct line, emergencies.

 

Barranquilla

City Ambulance Service, Tel: (5) 123 (any kind of emergency)

Police, Tel: (5) 123

Cruz Roja, Tel: (5) 358-8514

Defensa Civil, Tel: (5) 144

Clinica del Caribe, (24 hours) Tel: (5) 330 5200

Dr. Freddy Farah, Tel: (5) 358-6590, (5) 356-4291, Cell: 315-721 6246, Cra. 51 B #52-141 1st floor

Clinica Portoazul, (24 hours) Tel: (5) 367-2600, (5) 367-2700

Clinica La Asuncion (24 hours) Tel: (5) 368-1148

Available Air Ambulance Services

Europ Assistance
Global Response Center
+1-877-710-4082 or +1-240-330-1523
Email:  logistics@eausa.com  (Logistics Platform)
ops@eausa.com  (Operations Platform)

International SOS Assistance, Inc. (ISOS)
Philadelphia Assistance Center
3600 Horizon Blvd., Suite 300, Trevose, PA 19053
+1-800-523-6586 or +1-215-942-8226
Fax: +1-215-354-2338
Email: phlopsmed@internationalsos.com

REVA
1745 NW 51st Pl, Hanger 73, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309
POC:  Brian Weisz, bweisz@flyreva.com, 954-730-9300 Ext. 201
24-hour response center: +1-800-752-4195 or +1-954-730-9300
Email: operations@flyreva.com
Web: flyreva.com

Insurance Guidance

It is important to confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, including treatment of complications from elective procedures or medical evacuation if necessary. It is recommended to purchase additional travel medical insurance, especially if your medical insurance 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 be relegated to seeking treatment in public hospitals where the standard of care is below U.S. standards.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Colombia.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Bogotá Country Council currently meets once a month and has over 100 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join. 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50 (main entrance, working hours only)
or
Carrera 45 No. 24B-27 (back entrance, 24 hrs)
Bogotá, D.C. Colombia

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700 (closed on American and Colombian holidays)

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: (57) (1) 275-2000 during working hours
Marine Security Guard: (57) (1) 275-2701
Regional Security Office (RSO): (57) (1) 275-2903/2458 during working hours.
The RSO Duty Agent, in emergencies, can be contacted seven days a week, 24-hours a day.
Consular American Citizen Services (ACS): (57) (1) 275-2000 during working hours.
Email: ACSBogotá@state.gov, during working hours.
Website: www.botoga.usembassy.gov

Nearby Posts

Embassy Branch Office Cartagena

Embassy Guidance

American visitors should register with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov/step and should check the Embassy Bogotá website routinely for messages regarding travel or security issues.

Additional Resources

Colombia Country Information Sheet