COLOMBIA

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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Colombia is a medium-income country with a diverse economy. Travelers to Bogota may require some time to adjust to the altitude (8,600 feet), which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion and energy level. Tourist facilities vary, depending on cost and area.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements: If you must travel to Colombia, a valid U.S. passport and a return/onward ticket are required. U.S. citizens traveling as tourists do not require entry visas for stays of less than 30 days. Stiff fines are imposed if passports are not stamped on arrival and if stays exceeding 30 days are not authorized by the Colombian immigration agency (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, Jefatura de Extranjeria, "DAS Extranjeria"). For current information on entry and customs requirements, business and other travelers should contact the Colombian Embassy at 2118 Leroy Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 387-8338, or a Colombian consulate in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco or San Juan.

DEPARTURE REQUIREMENTS FOR MINORS: Minors (under 18) traveling alone, with one parent or with a third party must present written authorization from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian, specifically granting permission to travel alone, with one parent or with a third party. Minors must also present a copy of their birth certificate. If documents are prepared in the United States, the authorization and the birth certificate must be translated into Spanish, notarized, and authenticated by the Colombian Embassy or a Colombian consulate within the U.S. If documents are prepared in Colombia, only notarization by a Colombian notary is required.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical care is adequate in major cities, but varies in quality elsewhere. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. The Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide for payment of medical services outside the United States. Travelers have found that, in some cases, supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, has proven to be useful. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's international travelers' hotline at telephone 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax: 1-888-CDC- FAXX (1-888-232-3299); or by visiting the CDC Internet home page at http://www.cdc.gov.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Based on Colombian government statistics, Colombia's per capita murder rate of 77.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants is more than eight times higher than that of the United States. While narcotics and guerrilla-related violence account for part of this, common criminals are responsible for an estimated 75 percent of the reported murders.

Minor crime is prevalent in cities, especially in the vicinity of hotels and airports. Theft of hand luggage and travel documents at airports is common, particularly at El Dorado Airport in Bogota. Taking illegal taxis, which are sometimes characterized by a driver and a companion and irregular markings, is dangerous. Getting into a taxi that already has one or more passengers is not advisable. Travel by bus is risky. Attempts at extortion and kidnappings on rural buses are not unusual. Violence occurs frequently in bars and nightclubs. Visitors are urged to exercise caution as they would in any large city in the U.S.

Criminals sometimes use the drug "scopolamine" to incapacitate tourists in order to rob them. The drug is administered in drinks (in bars), through cigarettes and gum (in taxis), and in powder form (tourists are approached by someone asking directions, with the drug concealed in a piece of paper). The drug renders the person disoriented and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems.

Another common scam is an approach to an obvious tourist by an alleged "policeman," who says he wants to "check" the foreigner's money for counterfeit U.S. dollars. The person gives the criminal his/her money, receives a receipt, and the "policeman" disappears.

The loss or theft of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State's pamphlet "A Safe Trip Abroad." This publication, as well as others such as "Tips For Travelers to Central and South America," is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov, or at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

VIOLENCE AND TERRORISM: The security situation in Colombia is volatile. Violence by criminal, guerrilla and terrorist organizations is widespread. Travel by road outside the major cities is especially dangerous because of increasing guerrilla activity in rural areas.

Violence by narcotraffickers, paramilitary groups and other criminal elements is also on the rise. Some terrorist groups have targeted foreigners, multinational companies, and U.S. interests, and this pattern is expected to continue in the future. Public facilities and modes of transportation may be targeted.

Kidnapping for ransom occurs throughout Colombia. Since 1980, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota has learned of 95 U.S. citizens kidnapped in Colombia and adjacent border areas; of these, 11 were murdered, one died from malnutrition during captivity and the whereabouts of several others remain unknown. U.S. citizens of all age groups and occupations have been kidnapped, and kidnappings have occurred in all major regions of Colombia. Because of widespread guerrilla activity and U.S. policy that opposes concessions to terrorists, including payment of ransom in kidnapping cases, the U.S. government can provide only limited assistance in these cases. Under Colombian law, those who fail to coordinate their efforts to resolve kidnapping cases with the Office of the Anti-Kidnapping Director (Presidencia de la Republica/Programa para la Defensa de la Libertad Personal) could face criminal prosecution.

Fabian Ramirez, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), designated by the U.S. Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization, publicly declared in mid-March 1998, that U.S. officials, characterized by the FARC as "military advisors," are henceforth considered "legitimate military targets" for guerrilla insurgents. The United States government takes this warning very seriously and believes that in light of the public threat, all U.S. citizens, either resident in or visiting Colombia, should consider that they may also be treated as guerrilla targets.

Additionally, the U.S Embassy has information that terrorist organizations may be planning to conduct hostile operations directed against U.S. citizens resident in and/or traveling to the departments of Santander and Norte de Santander; these operations could include kidnappings.

All in-country travel, both official and private, to all destinations by U.S. Embassy employees, is restricted. Bus transportation is off-limits to U.S. Embassy personnel. U.S. Embassy personnel are advised to use caution if remaining after midnight in the Zona Rosa, Bogota's principal nightclub/entertainment district, due to the possibility that they could be the targets of criminal or other violence.

The official travel of all U.S. Government personnel to Colombia must be approved in advance by the U.S. Embassy. Such travel is approved only for essential business and/or under extraordinary circumstances. While private travel by U.S. Government employees does not require Embassy approval, such employees are strongly urged to avoid all non-essential travel to Colombia.

DRUG PENALTIES: U.S. citizens are subject to the laws of the country in which they are traveling. U.S. citizens arrested in Colombia for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs have experienced several months9 detention in jail before their cases are processed, followed by lengthy trials, fines and jail sentences served in sub-standard prisons.

FIREARMS: Colombian law prohibits tourists and business travelers from importing or bringing firearms into Colombia. The penalty for illegal importation and/or possession of firearms is 3 to 10 years in prison.

ROAD SAFETY: Road travel is dangerous throughout Colombia, particularly in the rural areas. Travel by road outside the major cities is especially dangerous because of guerrilla activity in the countryside. At a typical guerrilla roadblock, victims may be forced to pay a "war tax," vehicles can be torched or stolen, and victims may be assaulted or even kidnapped. As noted previously in the section on violence, guerrilla activity is increasing. Guerrillas also sometimes take advantage of the traditional seasonal vacation travel during Holy Week (Easter) and Christmas to set up roadblocks and otherwise disrupt travel.

Traffic laws and lights are often ignored, particularly during late night and early morning hours, and speed limits are usually non- existent. Pedestrians generally are not given the right-of-way. Carjackings have occurred on urban streets. Road travel at night is dangerous due to poor illumination and other road hazards, such as potholes, unmarked roadwork, wandering livestock, stalled vehicles and vehicles without lights. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends against road travel at night. Many bridges are believed to be inadequate for the traffic they carry and are in danger of collapsing, particularly during Colombia's rainy season.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Colombia's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Colombia's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, Colombia's air carriers are permitted to conduct limited operations to the U.S. subject to heightened FAA surveillance. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at telephone 1- 800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.htm. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the U.S. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the Pentagon at telephone (703) 697-7288.

EMBASSY LOCATION/REGISTRATION: Upon arrival, U.S. citizens are urged to register with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, located at Avenida El Dorado and Carrera 50, telephone (011-57-1) 315- 0811, fax (011-57-1) 315-2196/97. The Consular Agency in Barranquilla is located at Calle 77, No. 68-15, telephone (011-57-5) 353-2001, fax (011-57-5) 353-5216. U.S. citizens in Colombia, or who must travel to Colombia, should register with the U.S. Embassy. The home page for Embassy Bogota is available on the Internet at http://www.usia.gov/posts/bogota.html.

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