Colombia’s friendly, laid back beaches, and awesome coffee have made it a popular place for expats for years.
A relatively low cost of living makes Colombia attractive to fixed income retirees - but recently the cities are drawing in just as many young adventurers and entrepreneurs. King of the Internet, Mark Zuckerberg has even started a Colombian business, giving the green light for more tech investment to follow.
Whatever your reason for moving to Colombia, you’ll need a local bank account to live there. Here is our straight forward guide to how you get one.
Opening a bank account in Colombia means preparing a few documents in advance - but other than that, it should be fairly pain free. You should be given a debit card more or less immediately, with the opportunity to use online and mobile banking as soon as your account is approved.
You will need to show the following documents to open any account:
- Proof of ID - a passport and visa showing your right to live and work in Colombia, plus your cédula de extranjería. This is the Colombian ID card for foreigners - read more about it here.
- Documents showing your address, such as a rental contract or recent utility bill.
For some accounts with credit facilities you will also need the following:
- Address and contact details of your employer (which might be checked).
- Signed contract of employment.
- If you are a freelance worker you will need to show your income through another means, such as by presenting recent bank statements.
Each account will also have a minimum required deposit amount, which you must hand over to have the account opened. You will be asked to specify the source of the money you are going to put into the account, if it has not come from an obvious source such as a pay check.
You can not open a bank account in Colombia from abroad. You are required to go to a branch in person and present documents, as well as answering some compliance questions.
The best option is to investigate if one of the global banking organisations that work in Colombia could allow you to open an account in your home country, but then transfer functionality of your account to Colombia in future.
It is not possible to open a local bank account in Colombia without a cédula de extranjería ID card. This ID can not be obtained on a tourist visa, meaning in practise that unless you get a visa that allows residency, you can not open an account.
Colombia has a large (and growing) banking industry. There are plenty of banks to choose from - both local institutions and globally recognisable names. Foreigners should generally stick to well known, large organisations, as they are most likely to have staff fluent in other languages, and the documentation needed available in English.
Check out the below national retails banks to get you started:
| --- | --- |
| Banco Colpatria | Banco Colpatria recently merged with Canada’s Scotiabank, and is now a large force in banking across the Americas. You will find 190 bank branches across Colombia, and a range of accounts, cards, loans, insurance and mortgage products are on offer. |
| Corpbanca | Corpbanca have 298 branches, and 598 ATMs - so you will probably find one convenient to you. As one of the larger financial groups in the region, they have a wide range of products and also representative offices in Spain. |
| BancoAV Villas | Banco AV Villas grew out of a firm founded in 1972, and initially provided loans to the construction industry. Today, they provide personal and commercial banking, especially for the construction sector. |
| Banco Caja Social | Founded in the early part of the 20th century, Banco Caja Social are a large institution focusing on making banking available to individuals and micro enterprises. They offer a wide range of current accounts - although you will need to polish your Spanish to read the details online. |
Wherever you decide to go, call the bank in advance to make an appointment if you are planning on opening an account. This also gives you the chance to ask about meeting with an English speaking clerk, and confirm the documentation requirements.
If you're about to open a bank account in Colombia, take the time to read the terms and conditions carefully. Get key documents in English from your chosen bank, or ask for help from a local friend.
It pays to know what you're signing up for - especially when it comes to banking fees and charges. You should check, for example, if there are regular charges simply to keep your account open or use basic services like a credit or debit card. This is not unusual in Colombia.
Other common charges include a set fee for withdrawing cash from ATMs operated by a different bank. The charging structure might be quite different from your home country. Don't get caught out.
Fees are often steep if you need to regularly move money between accounts which hold balances in different currencies. Using your bank for this type of transaction is very expensive. As well as a charge for processing the transaction, and an international receiving fee at the the other end, expect a below average exchange rate. That's how the bank makes their profit.
For international money transfers with low, transparent fees, consider using Transferwise instead. With Transferwise you can transfer money between accounts using the real exchange rate. There is no need to worry about being hit by an unfair markup, and no hidden fees. Just a clear set charge for your transfer. Learn more by checking out our website and get access to simple, and fair international money transfers with Transferwise.
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