By international standards, the banking system in Colombia is rather poor. Fees are generally high; the products are basic and be prepared to encounter difficulties with international transfers.
Online banking options are not very developed and safety standards are average.
The currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso – COP. One US dollar is around 3.000 COP and one Euro around 3.400 COP.
ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are plentiful in Bogota, and most of them usually work for foreign debit and credit cards as well. Make sure the VISA, MasterCard, Maestro, Cirrus or Amex sticker is visibly displayed on the machine.
ATMs are located in bank offices, shopping malls, supermarkets, universities, public institutions or on the street. For security reasons, it is advisable to use an ATM in an area with high surveillance. Be aware of your surroundings every time you withdraw money and never let strangers approach you.
You may be charged a fee both by your local bank and by the Colombian one. Colombian banks generally charge a fixed fee per withdrawal from a foreign bank card, that amounts to 3-4 US dollars. Note that the ATM may or may not inform you at the moment of making the transaction, but the amount will show on your bank statement.
Before using a foreign bank card in Colombia, it is good to inform your local bank beforehand, in order to avoid having your card blocked.
It is generally easier and safer to withdraw money directly from and ATM, but foreign currency may also be exchanged at the Money Exchange offices (casas de cambio).
Exchange offices may be located in shopping centers, in office buildings or on the street. Caution must be exercised when exchanging large sums of money, as some offices may not be authorized, and your safety may be at risk. Always ask a local for trustworthy exchange offices. Never exchange money on the street.
You will be requested an ID in order to complete the transaction. Exchange offices usually close at 18.00.
Electronic transfers, both domestic and international, are not very easy to do by yourself in Colombia. Some online banking options don't offer the possibility of making transfers.
You will most likely need to pay a visit to the bank in order to make a transfer. In some cases, you may even be requested to bring the money in cash and deposit it in the receiver's account, event for large sums.
For international transfers, you will need to obtain the international number of the Colombian bank account. This is generally not used in domestic transfers, and unless you go to a branch located in a business area, bank clerks will not be familiarized with either IBAN or Swift codes.
Keep in mind that fees on international bank transfers are high. Regardless of the amount transferred, you may be subject to a fixed fee of up to 100 USD per transfer, depending on your bank, to which a variable fee is added. This might make international bank transfers unattractive, and you may want to find other options. Keep in mind that most international or online money transfer services are not working in Colombia.
Because of the country's involvement in the global drug traffic and money laundering, international surveillance is high for transfers to or from Colombian bank accounts, and non-routine transactions may take a while to process. Be prepared to show additional documentation if any suspicions arise.
MoneyGram and Western Union are another available option. Money can be wired and withdrawn in cash with your ID in a matter of several hours.You would need to compare the fees with the transfer fees of your bank.
As a foreigner, it is not easy to open a bank account in Colombia. A proof of residence and of your legal status in the country is required, together with a document attesting you have a stable income.
You should shop around to examine the offers of more than one bank and choose the package that best suits your needs in terms of fees, services and ease of opening for a foreigner. Your employer may need to provide a letter of recommendation and assist you in your search.
Once you have the full documentation, the setting up of the account is a matter of a few working days.
A basic account is generally a savings account (cuenta de ahorros) with a debit card attached. Debit cards are common and are the easiest to obtain, allowing you to make withdrawals and payments in shops and supermarkets. All debit cards receive a PIN code which will be required for withdrawals and payments. You may also be requested to show a valid ID.
Credit cards attached to your savings account are more difficult to obtain, and significant documentation is requested to prove your creditworthy status. Credit cards are generally required to make most online payments, purchase plane and bus tickets, etc.
Banks are generally open from 8:00 to 16:00, Monday to Friday. Most banks are local, but Colombian branches of major international banks also exist.