Banking in Colombia can be an adventure in frustration for a foreigner. The regulations are strict here because money laundering has been an extremely serious problem for this country.
Some of the largest banks in Colombia are Bancolombia, Banco de Bogota, Davivienda and Banco de Occidente. The Canadian bank, Scotiabank has expanded its presence in Latin America with the purchase of Multibank Colpatria. Citibank, although active in Colombia for a number of years has started spreading its roots by installing bank machines in convenient locations throughout the country - at least, in the big cities. HSBC has been divesting itself of its Latin American branches and the Colombian operation was purchased in 2012 by Banco GNB Sudameris.
There are many cambios/exchange houses in the large cities and at the airports. If you are carrying currency other than US dollars or Euros, you will find the rates are often less than desirable. At times, even when the Canadian dollar is higher than the US dollar on the international money exchange, you will receive less in Colombia.
The standard credit cards are accepted, Mastercard, Visa and Amex but be prepared to show ID when making a purchase. Debit cards are the way to go. You might want to carry two in case you have a problem with one. As you will be making an international withdrawal, you will be charged a fee by your bank, therefore it is a good idea to maximize your withdrawal. Bancolombia, allows you 3 withdrawals of 600.000 COP per day. Davivienda will allow you to take 720.000 COP and Citibank 800.000 COP at one time.
Opening a bank account
If you want to open a bank account in Colombia, of any kind, be prepared for a lengthy process. Bank managers usually have to approve the opening of an account. Generally their jobs are at risk if they provide a service to anyone involved in illegal activities.
To open a personal account you will need a passport and proof that you have applied for your Colombian ID card (cedula). Some banks may prefer to wait until you have your cedula in hand. Fortunately the process of obtaining the cedula is becoming much more streamlined and it may only take a few weeks. There are some bank managers that may be willing to take a risk if they see that you have purchased a property and that you are initiating the process to apply for your visa. This is at their discretion and usually comes on the referral of someone they trust. You should also bring 6 months of bank statements from the bank in your country and perhaps even the previous year's tax form. Every bank will have slightly different requirements but the more support you have, the easier it will be. You may even have to prove where you live. Usually the initial deposit is 100.000 COP or about $60.00 US
One of the documents that you will be required to complete is about your personal finances - assets, debts, etc. You are required to complete this form. These are not just for collecting marketing material. This information is obligatory by law. You will also find yourself being fingerprinted on a regular basis. Additionally you may be interviewed by the Manager, who will ask you basic information like, where do you live, what do you do, how much do you earn, why do you need a bank account, what is the average amount of money that you expect to have in your account, etc. The entire process might require at least one hour of your time.
Once your account is open don't expect to be able to make an immediate international transfer. Some banks may restrict this for 6 months. When you are finally able to do this, you will be required file specific documents with the Bank of the Republic. Additionally if this is a large sum, you will need to prove where the money originated and for what is the money intended, eg. the purchase of a home. One important thing to keep in mind is that you need to inform the bank in advance that you are going to transfer money. If you do not notify them you might find that the transfer is rejected or at least is delayed until you provide sufficient documentation.
There are two types of accounts available to an individual a cuenta de ahorros or savings account and a cuenta corriente - a current/chequing account.
The chequing account is the only way to write a cheque in Colombia. This may be a joint account that usually does not pay interest. It may offer the possibilities of bank overdrafts and it is important to note that the funds in this account can be embargoed.
A savings account will pay interest. You can coordinate electronic payments or create automatic debits for bills. As long as the owner is a person and not a business up to approximately 27.000.000 COP or $14,000 USD can not be embargoed.
The IMF assessment of Feb. 2013 on the stability of the Financial System in Colombia states that the entity ''FOGAFIN manages a sound system of deposit insurance''. All financial institutions that take deposits must be enrolled in the system, however the coverage is limited - about $11,000 USD per depositor per institution.
Cuatro por mil
When you are banking in Colombia there is a tax generated on the withdrawal of your money. This was instituted back in the 1990's and is called ''cuatro por mil''. This means that for every 1,000 pesos you wish to withdraw, the government keeps 4 pesos. This is a small amount but something you need to keep in mind if you are moving large sums to purchase a property.
When you open your account, you may wish to inquire about a credit card of some sort, even if it has a small limit. Credit ratings from outside Colombia have no bearing here. You will have to start from the beginning to generate a credit record. If the bank is hesitant to give you one and you have the funds, offer to put $1,000 USD or maybe even $5,000 on the card. This in fact may be the only way that you can get a cellphone account because it will generate some quick credit info in the central data bank.
If you wish to open a business account, the documentation is slightly different. You will need a current certificate from the Chamber of Commerce, proving the registration of your company. This will provide information as to the type of activity that you will carry out. The bank will also inquire about the source of your funds. Additionally you need to supply information about who the shareholders are, as many corporations are anonymous. The registration of the initial ID number created for the tax department is also a necessity. Copies of the cedulas of the owners or in some cases passports, plus an opening statement balance from a certified accountant are also mandatory.
Banking in Colombia requires patience. If perchance you are older than 62, you can use the preferential lines - at least if you want to admit your age ! For assistance with any banking concerns please contact us through the form below.