Banking in Colombia

Image courtesy of Colombia Reports.

Image courtesy of Colombia Reports.

 

In this post, I will first recommend some banking options that are great if you travel a lot, then I will discuss getting cash in Colombia, using ATMs, credit and debit cards here in Colombia, transferring money from overseas to Colombia and opening a Colombian bank account. I also provide some much needed information for people who may have debit cards from Chinese banks which use the UnionPay system not the Plus or Cirrus ATM network, which is not used in Colombia. I have also included my recommendations for three Colombian banks, for those who are interested in opening a Colombian bank account. Unless you are moving to Colombia, buying property here or will be spending an extended period of time here, it is probably not worth it for you to get a Colombian bank account. For a more in-depth discussion of banking solutions that can you help save money by avoiding banking fees when traveling abroad, check out my post “International Banking Solutions for Travelers and Digital Nomads”.

 

Charles Schwab Bank, the ideal bank for U.S. Citizens and Residents traveling abroad

Since I have U.S. citizenship, I was able to get a bank account at Charles Schwab Bank in 2015, before I went to Uruguay and Chile. I love Charles Schwab since they have excellent customer service and I have saved so much money on fees banking with Schwab. If you have a Schwab debit card for Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking Account, there are no ATM fees, they will rebate you all of your ATM fees at the end of the month, and Schwab does not charge you any foreign transaction fees. I received almost $50 USD rebate in my account in ATM fees from Schwab at the end of September 2018.

If you have a bank where you prefer to keep your money and only use your Schwab account when you are traveling overseas no problem, Schwab does not charge any low balance or account fees. When you get a high yield investor checking account, you will have to set up a brokerage account, but you will not be obligated to do anything with the brokerage account or maintain a balance for that account. However, if you are going to do an international wire transfer with Schwab, expect to pay $25 USD per wire transfer. If you live overseas, if you want a regular Schwab account, you will need to maintain a U.S. mailing address in to keep your account at Schwab.

While Schwab has branches and offices in the U.S., they do not have any ATMs in the United States. In order to deposit any checks you receive, you will either have to mail the check you want deposited into your Schwab account to Schwab and have them deposit them for you or use their Mobile App to make a Mobile Deposit. If you want to deposit USD in cash into your Schwab account, you will need to either buy a Money Order with said cash or a deposit a Cashier’s Check into your account using Mobile Deposit in the Schwab Mobile App. To avoid the wire transfer fees, what I do is take cash out of the ATM and then deposit that into my Colombian accounts and then I receive the ATM fees as rebates at the end of the month. When I pay bills here, I put money into one of my Colombian accounts and pay with a Colombian debit card, or I pay bills in cash.

The beautiful thing about Charles Schwab is that when you open or maintain a High Yield Investor Checking Account with them, there is no minimum deposit needed to open or maintain the account. And unlike other banks, there is no specific minimum balance you need to meet to open and/or maintain the account. If you have Schwab and are living abroad, I recommend using your card at least semi-regularly, definitely when you are visiting the U.S. or use the card regularly for U.S. purchases online to avoid Schwab arguing that you are not eligible for this account because you live overseas. Finally, Schwab offers a large variety of banking, lending, and investment products. Schwab primarily deals with investments and their rates for trades are pretty low. You can execute trades, view your portfolio and more using the Schwab Mobile App. Schwab’s Mobile App is one of the best mobile banking apps I have ever encountered or used. Banking in Colombia is frankly a letdown after having stellar customer service with Schwab, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in English. You can read more about Schwab’s services for U.S. expats here.

Non-U.S. citizens can get accounts at Charles Schwab; this would be a Schwab One International Account. Having a Schwab One International Account means that you will be eligible for a debit card from Schwab. However, the minimum deposit for non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents to get a Schwab One account is currently $25.000 USD (twenty-five thousand USD). However, not all of the investment, banking or lending products are available to those who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents and/or those lacking a U.S. Social Security Number. You can learn more about Schwab’s services for international clients here.

When I was researching and writing this blog post, I spent a while looking for other accounts similar to Schwab, and there are not any other banks which offer Schwab’s benefits for people who are not able to maintain a large balance. I have concluded that no other bank is as good as Schwab for as many people, hence me mainly recommending Schwab. However, I am told that ING Everyday Orange in Australia offers accounts similar to Charles Schwab, but their requirements are different. However, BBVA’s Online Go account and Revolut are also great options for Europeans.

 
Charles Schwab Logo Blue.png
 

BBVA’s Online Go Account as an alternative for Charles Schwab for Europeans

BBVA’s Online Go Account, which is available for new customers 18 years of age or older who do not have already have an account with the Spanish bank, BBVA, offers many of the benefits of banking with Charles Schwab. If you are approved for a BBVA Online Go account, you will receive a BBVA Ahora Debit Card, and you will pay no fees at bbva.es, the BBVA app and ATMs on your transfers in Euros, Swedish Krona or Romanian Leu within the European Economic Area (members of the European Union + Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway). People who have this account, pay no account maintenance or administration fees, pay no debit card issue or maintenance fee, and pay €0, with no fee for cash withdrawals using your BBVA debit card at BBVA ATMs. If you're looking for an online account for almost everything you need, this account is for you. It has no fees if you satisfy one of the requirements: three (3) uses of your card monthly (any type of use will do: payments in shops, your purchases online, cash withdrawal in ATMs, etc.) or maintain a minimum monthly account balance of €800. Upon opening the account you have 12 months free from the time the account is opened to satisfy any of the options to keep it free. After that, you will have to satisfy any of the previously mentioned options to keep the account fee-free.

 
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Revolut, an alternative international banking solution for British, U.S. and EU citizens

Revolut is a good option to consider for those with EU, UK, and U.S. passports or legal residents in the European Economic Area (EEA). Revolut will allow you to spend abroad in over 150 currencies with the interbank exchange rate, with a small 0.5% fee for anything above £5,000 each month. A flat mark-up on weekends and on certain currencies may apply. Revolut will give you $200 a month in international ATM withdrawals for free. Anything over $200 attracts a small 2% fee to help Revolut cover their costs. From your health to your phone, Revolut makes sure you and the things you love are protected worldwide from as little as £1.00 per day, this insurance is provided by Revolut Travel Ltd.

I am told that BBVA’s ATMS in Colombia will allow you to withdraw up to $300.000 COP per transaction without any fees using your Revolut card, so if you need more than $300.000 COP it is recommended that you do two or more transactions at these ATMs. If you are given the chance, reject the exchange rate offered for the local currency by the ATM in favor of a more favorable MasterCard or Visa exchange rate, and always try withdraw in the local currency since Dynamic Currency Conversion rate is not as favorable as the Visa or MasterCard exchange rate.

 
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Citibank Australia’s Citibank Plus Transaction Account

Citibank Australia’s Citibank Plus Transaction Account is a good option for people with Australian residency who are traveling and/or living overseas. If you can get the Plus Debit account, you will not pay any ATM fees abroad, although you may be responsible for 3rd party ATM fees and no foreign transaction fees. If you are using ATMs overseas, Penny advises people to decline their exchange rate since Citibank allegedly will provide a better exchange rate, keep in mind that since I have no ties to Australia, I cannot confirm the validity or veracity of this information regarding ATM exchange rates. Here is a link for more information about the Plus ATM card and the link to the site where you can apply for this card.

In order to be eligible for Citibank Australia’s Plus debit card, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be over 18 years old,

  • You must have a valid email, mobile number, and an Australian residential address.

  • The account can only be used as a personal account (not as a business or joint account).

  • A Tax File Number (TFN), or valid exemption. You don't have to provide a TFN, but without it, they will be required to deduct tax at the top marginal rate.

  • Either an Australian driver’s license or passport, so they can verify your identity online.

 
Image courtesy of citibank

Image courtesy of citibank

 

Tangerine Thrive Chequing for Canadians

Tangerine Thrive Chequing account appears the is the closest thing to having a Charles Schwab account for Canadians. Tangerine is owned by Scotiabank but is operated independently from Scotiabank. There are no account maintenance fees for this account, and you can enjoy free 3,500 Scotiabank ABMs nationwide, and you will only pay $1CAD at 44,000 ABMs worldwide through Scotiabank’s Global ATM Alliance, this link will help you to locate your nearest ABM. And you will only pay $2 CAD at any international ATMs not part of Scotiabank’s Global ATM Alliance. There is no set minimum balance needed to open this account, and there is no minimum balance to maintain this account.

Here is what you will need to have handy for you to open a bank account with Tangerine:

  • Your contact information: street address, phone number, and email address.

  • Your Social Insurance Number

  • An Orange Key, if you have one from a referrer or a promotion.

  • They'll be asking you to provide other details (such as employment information) that they’re required by law to ask you for.

 
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Other options for getting money in Colombia

Some people living between Medellín and other places do money transfers to themselves or others here using Xoom, TransferWise or WorldRemit, I have not used any of these services so I cannot speak to how well they work, these services seem pretty popular. Using Xoom, TransferWise or Worldremit, can help you to avoid paying costly ATM or bank transfer fees. We do have Western Union here in Colombia, which is another option for sending and receiving money from overseas. However, using Western Union to send or receive money can be pretty expensive with fees and currency exchange rates. It is important to remember that if you are sending money via Western Union to someone in Colombia who is not a Colombian citizen, they will need to bring their passport to pick up the money they have received at Western Union.

Finally, an additional option for those bringing in larger amounts of money into Colombia is Alianza Valores. From what I am told you can an open an account with Alianza Valores with just your passport, without needing a cédula de extranjería. Alianza Valores is a good option for those who want to transfer over $10.000 USD to Colombia. I have never personally used Alianza, but since other expats have recommended it to me, I believe it is important that I include information on Alianza. This is a good option to consider if you are trying to bring in larger sums of money into Colombia so you can qualify for a business, investment or real estate visa. However, I have heard that Alianza has the best exchange rate, but I cannot comment on the veracity of this information.

 
IMAGE COURTESY OF GREEKAMERICANGIRL.COM.

IMAGE COURTESY OF GREEKAMERICANGIRL.COM.

 

Getting cash in Colombia

 

Exchanging Money in Colombia

If you are coming from the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada, or the UK, it might be worth it to bring some of your currency but expect to pay commissions to exchange currencies and not get a great exchange rate, expect to receive at least one to two hundred pesos below the actual exchange rate in the XECurrency Conversion App, so exchanging cash here with the exchange rate for currency exchange being so bad, makes it an unwise decision to try to do this here. If you can try to avoid this, this even applies at banks, since they will not offer you a good exchange rate when you are buying or selling pesos or any other currency. If you must exchange money, in the big cities you will find places in tourist areas, casas de cambios where you can change currencies. If you are not a Colombian citizen, you will have to bring your passport to change currencies, do paperwork and answer questions, things that you would not do other places. All of this makes changing money in Colombia a headache. This surveillance of people bringing in international currencies and participating in the Colombian banking system is a part of anti-money laundering measures here in Colombia. 

My recommendation for when you arrive, go to an ATM with your debit card and get pesos. There are ATMs on the upper floor above the baggage claim at Medellín’s José María Cordova international airport, when you go to the ATM here, my recommendation is to take out at least $100.000 COP so you can ensure that you will have enough money to cover cab fare into Medellín or wherever you are going. Getting cash straight from the ATM will save you time and money while helping ensure that you will get a decent exchange rate since the exchange rate here for buying pesos with foreign currency is not great.

 

Using ATMs in Colombia

As I mentioned in my Parque Arví post, Bancolombia’s ATMs are temperamental with international debit cards. A number of times during 2018, I tried to make withdraws from my Schwab account using my Schwab debit card using Bancolombia ATMs to have Schwab take the money out of my account and have Bancolombia not dispense the money that I was withdrawing from my account. What this meant is that Schwab would take the money out of my account and it would appear on my account summaries that I withdrew (insert _____ USD here), and I would walk away after trying to use the Bancolombia ATM, without the cash I had attempted to withdraw in my hands or in my Schwab account. It was incredibly frustrating. I eventually got my money back after some calls to Schwab, waiting a few weeks while Schwab to resolved this, and a lot of frustration. The same thing has also happened to another friend of mine who also has a Charles Schwab debit card when she tried to use her Schwab debit card with some Bancolombia ATMs. For this reason, among others, I am tired of and frustrated with Bancolombia. I recommend exercising caution when using an international debit card at Bancolombia’s ATMs since their ATMs do not seem to consistently accept or dispense cash to people using international debit cards. However, this is made even worse by the fact that Bancolombia is the bank with the greatest number of ATMs throughout Medellín and Colombia as a whole.

Furthermore, while it is becoming increasingly common for merchants and others to accept debit and credit cards here, Colombia is a very cash-based society. The commonly accepted credit cards in Colombia appear to be Visa and Mastercard, while some merchants may accept American Express cards. There are still many places that do not accept credit or debit cards, and there are some places will make you pay extra if you use a credit or debit card to cover the fees charged by your credit card company, to incentive people to pay in cash. I highly recommend when you are going out to bring a debit or credit card with you and always carrying some cash with you at least $25.000 COP. Use your common sense when withdrawing money from an ATM, when you can go inside, do not go to an ATM alone at night, etc.

I would recommend using the Scotiabank Colpatria/Citibank, Davivienda, BBVA, Banco Caja Social, Banco de Occidente, Banco Popular, Banco de Bogotá, or Servibanca ATMs since they always seem to work with international debit cards. However, the exchange rate offered at each bank for foreign currencies may differ and even if the ATM may be capable of giving you between one and two million COP per transaction, this may not always be possible on Fridays when people are paid here, especially Fridays at the end of the month, with people taking withdrawing cash.

Davivienda’s ATMs apparently will now dispense up to $2.000.000 (two million COP) at a time. However, the exchange rate at Davivienda for USD and Euros is not always the best. I have heard that if you are using a Davivienda ATM with a foreign debit card, when they ask you to confirm the exchange rate they are offering, it is a good idea to decline the exchange rate they offer at the ATM, click the no option. By declining the exchange rate offered by Davivienda at the ATM, this supposed to give you a more favorable exchange rate between international currency and COP. While other expats have told me that this is possible, I have never tried to decline the exchange rate provided at a Davivienda ATM hoping they can give me a better exchange rate, so I cannot confirm the accuracy of this information.

If you are using Scotiabank Colpatria’s ATMs, you can withdraw with any debit card up to $1.000.000 COP (one million Colombian pesos) per transaction. If you are using an international debit card, you can take out up to $1.000 (one thousand) USD per day, with an exchange rate of $3,329 COP to $1 USD; this means you can withdraw up to $3,239,426 COP per day at Scotiabank Colpatria’s ATMs. If you are trying to withdraw more than one million COP, you will need to do this in multiple transactions. While Servibanca’s ATMs will only dispense $780.000 COP at a time and Banco Caja Social will only dispense $700.000 COP per transaction.

Finally, Banco Pichincha’s ATMs apparently will allow you to withdraw up to $1.000.000 COP per transaction with zero fees, I have never tried this so I cannot confirm this. However, Banco Pichincha is an Ecuadorian bank not a Colombian bank, so there maybe only a Banco Pichincha ATMs in Medellín, a location in Poblado, a location in Laureles, and maybe another location near Los Colores, a location in Envigado and a location in Itagüí.

 

Using ATMs if you have a debit card which only uses the UnionPay system

If you are coming from China or Hong Kong or your bank card only functions using the Chinese based UnionPay system, it is important to remember that all of the ATMs in Colombia are on the same system that ATMs in the U.S. use, the Plus ATM system. This means that Colombian ATMS do not use the UnionPay system. This means that you if you only have a debit card through a bank which uses the UnionPay system for ATMs you will not be able to use your debit card at Colombian ATMs to withdraw cash. In this case, my recommendation would be if you can get a debit card with a bank who uses the Plus system, such as Citibank which is supposedly the only bank in Hong Kong which has debit card which utilize the Plus and UnionPay system. The Citibank Debit Mastercard from Citibank Hong Kong, appears to allow you to use the UnionPay system ATMs and Mastercard network ATMs. Although since I have no residency in Hong Kong, I cannot confirm this personally. My best recommendation is get an ATM card that works on the Visa/MasterCard network ATM systems. Or you can use a service such as WorldRemit to send yourself money here. Or you can also bring large amounts of Euros, U.S. Dollars or another currency which you can more easily exchange here for Colombian Pesos, but it is important to remember that the exchange rate here for buying Colombian Pesos with another currency such as U.S. Dollars or Euros is not great.

 
Image courtesy of Colombia Reports.

Image courtesy of Colombia Reports.

 

Opening a bank account at Bancolombia

Congratulations, you are taking a big step here trying to get a Colombian bank account. Hopefully, with these tips, I can help you more successfully navigate the Colombian banking and financial system. According to DAS and others, any citizen or foreigner legally has the right to get a bank account in Colombia. But whether or not a Colombian bank will allow you (a foreigner) to open an account with them is at the bank’s discretion. So if anyone gives you any trouble trying to open a bank account here, remind them of this. You might be able to get a savings account at Bancolombia here and a debit card with just your passport and some other tax documents, such as a contract with a Colombian company which indicate that you are legally acquiring the funds that you would putting into your account. Here is more information about Bancolombia’s Savings Accounts. The most common bank account for people and businesses to have here in Colombia is a Savings Account, a Cuenta de Ahorros. I still have no idea why few people have checking accounts-cuentas corrientes here. It is important to consider that banking here is not the same as banking in other countries and you will supposedly pay taxes if you have more than one bank account in Colombia. 

While Bancolombia is the biggest bank in Colombia, with the most ATMs across Colombia, their customer service leaves much to be desired, and they make you pay a “cuota de manejo” (an account management/maintenance fee) and then they usually make you pay banking insurance monthly. I asked someone who worked at Bancolombia and they told me once that everyone who has a Bancolombia account has to pay these fees, so cheers to equality I guess? All of these fees are in my opinion are incredibly asinine since they are only in place for them to make money. But Bancolombia’s Mobile App for Individuals (App Personas) is helpful, since in both of my apartments here, I have been able to successfully pay my rent using the Bancolombia Personas App to transfer money to the people I have been renting from which is super convenient. After transferring funds from my account to their respective accounts the app would allow me to email or text them receipts for the transaction as well.

The online banking portal for Bancolombia, Sucrusal Virtual Personas’ User Interface is not as enjoyable or aesthetically pleasing as say Charles Schwab’s online banking interface, but it’s not bad. And you can easily transfer money to other Bancolombia account holders online, whose accounts you have linked to yours. While your Bancolombia debit card can also be used as your transit card in certain cities in Colombia, the debit card itself cannot be used for any purchases online in Colombia, you can only use it in person. And you can only use it at certain ATMs outside of Colombia. 

However, if you need a bank account here to pay bills here in Colombia, Bancolombia is probably one of your best options since almost everyone I know here has Bancolombia or will accept Bancolombia. This means that you can go to certain Bancolombia locations and you can pay your bills here. This is helpful since I can pay my premium for Sura, my health insurance here by going into any Bancolombia branch, with my cédula de extranjería a copy of my bill, the number for Sura’s specific convenio (agreement) with Bancolombia and pay my Sura premium with cash or my Bancolombia debit card. Once I pay my Sura premium at Bancolombia, this payment is instantaneously credited to my account. After I pay my Sura premium, they will provide me with a receipt, which I can show my Sura broker as evidence of payment.

But as I said they charge asinine fees or commissions for every possible thing at Bancolombia. Bancolombia has a decent interest rate, and they pay interest in your account here multiple times throughout the month. And If you have a Bancolombia debit card and live in Barranquilla, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Cali, Medellín, or Pereira, you can use your specific debit card for your city as your transit card. I have successfully used my Bancolombia debit card, in Bogotá on Transmilenio, Bogotá’s bus system, since Bogotá, despite them to trying to build a metro there since 1980 still does not have a metro. My Bancolombia card worked in the same way my Cívica works in Medellín. However, Bancolombia is weird about its debit cards, expect someone to write your name on your card in SHARPIE so that you can get it the same day. I wish I were joking y’all, but this is real.

 
Bancolombia’s Debit Cards for transit in Barranquilla, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Cali, Medellín, and Pereira. Image courtesy of Bancolombia

Bancolombia’s Debit Cards for transit in Barranquilla, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, Cali, Medellín, and Pereira. Image courtesy of Bancolombia

 

Getting a Bancolombia account with your passport

If you want to open an account at Bancolombia you will have to go in person to a Bancolombia Sucrusal, wait in line for Asesoría General (General Assistance) and have them guide you through the process. You would need to bring your passport with you and an employer letter from a Colombian company to open an account and you will need to bring your passport with you to the bank every single time you need to do something in person at the bank. Before September 2018/October 2018 it used to be possible to open a Bancolombia account with just your passport as a foreigner, but that has now changed with increased banking regulations due to the Odebrecht scandal, scandals surrounding Grupo AVAL and their links to sketchy possible campaign financing with President Duque’s 2018 presidential campaign, and the large increase in migration from Venezuela.

I have heard that it may be possible to get a Bancolombia account with your passport if you have a lawyer come with you or are really lucky at Bancolombia and they might let you do this with just your passport. But I would not expect or count on the staff at Bancolombia letting you open an account with only your passport. I took a friend of mine during January 2019 to Bancolombia’s Sucrusal at Centro Comercial Oviedo since the people who work at Bancolombia know me at this location. I pleaded with them to help my friend account with just her passport. They are not willing to do this at Bancolombia unless you have your passport and a work contract from a COLOMBIAN employer and/or a Cédula de Extranjería and some other documents.

Colombia has strict banking regulations to prevent money laundering, hence the increased security surrounding banking regulations. Keep in mind, when I was a Fellow on the Colombia Bilingüe program, our program had representatives from a Bancolombia office in Bogotá come to our hotel and help us apply for our bank accounts, since we were paid a monthly stipend in COP. Our salary was usually deposited at the end of each month into our bank accounts. So before January 2019, I had never needed to go a Bancolombia branch to open a Bancolombia account.

You might be wondering, why Amanda is it so difficult to get a bank account here as a foreigner? To be honest, I do not have a definitive answer as to why it is so difficult to get a bank account here in Colombia as a foreigner. Honestly, doing a lot of things in Colombia as a foreigner are difficult, Colombia is not always an easy place to live or do business for this reason. However, if you think Colombia is bad, in Chile all of the banks and many government offices close for the day to the public at 2 PM and they do not reopen until the next business day, it is utter madness. So if you think that doing basic things in Colombia is different, you ain’t seen nothing, Chilean bureaucracy might be as frustrating or even more frustrating than Colombian bureaucracy. How anyone gets anything done there given how slow government and banking things are in Chile is a mystery to me.

However, when opening an account at Bancolombia, you will be expected to answer a lot of questions which feel asinine, invasive and unnecessary, but these questions are part of anti-money laundering measures here in Colombia. You can expect to answer questions related to your profession, your level of education, where you were born, etc. I have another friend, who is a U.S. citizen, who also has Bancolombia and he told me his account is linked to his U.S. Social Security number, but for whatever reason mine is not. I was previously under the impression that Bancolombia does not report to the IRS, this is not the case. Bancolombia reports to the IRS for certain international banking regulations if you have a balance of more than $50.000 USD with them. However, if my friend is correct, if all of Bancolombia’s servers are actually located in the Netherlands, and the Netherlands has extremely strict privacy laws, that would be a positive.

If you are going to get a Bancolombia account, my recommendation is to open it with an initial deposit of at least $100.000 COP. If you are getting a Bancolombia account to do a large wire transfer to buy real estate here in Colombia, make sure you have another person there to help you with this, since there will be a lot of paperwork and questions. Since I do not own property in Colombia and never have transferred money from the States to Colombia, I cannot comment on how large international transfers would work if you are not a Colombian citizen who is trying to make a large transfer to purchase property or a vehicle here. It would not surprise me if you are expected to go to the bank in person to receive a large international wire transfer. If you do not speak Spanish or your Spanish is more intermediate, you might benefit from someone coming to the bank with you who can translate for you and help you understand everything that is going on.

 

My experiences banking with Bancolombia

As a heads up, Bancolombia’s customer service tends to leave much to be desired. Bancolombia’s customer service definitely is not as good as Schwab’s customer service, but it not as bad as Banco de Bogotá’s customer service. You can also expect to spend a lot of time waiting in line doing things at Bancolombia. Earlier this year I switched my bank account from my passport to my Cédula de Extranjería, and it took three weeks of a special circle of banking hell, to get this resolved, many phone calls and trips to the bank. You are probably wondering, Amanda, if it ain’t broke why did you switch from your passport number to your Cédula? Well, my boss was having issues paying me with my Bancolombia account linked to my passport so this forced me to change my identity document linked to my account from my passport to my cédula.

At Bancolombia if your identity document number does not have the same number of digits as a Cédula de Ciudadanía (CC), a Colombian citizen’s identity card, they will add more digits to make it the same amount of digits. Cue me and some other person having the same number with adding some numbers to identity document sequence. This meant when I logged into the Bancolombia Personas Mobile App with my CE number; I saw stuff for him, not for me. I am incredibly lucky that my boss was so understanding with me needing to get this fixed. Cue my one of my worst banking nightmares, which included countless stressful trips to Bancolombia, asking a number of different people I know for advice on what to do, talking to a bunch of different people at different Bancolombia offices, and a bunch of phone calls. What this meant is that I could not access my accounts online, and no one could help me over the phone for three weeks. After jumping through too many hoops, I got this all resolved in July, and when I finally got this resolved, I felt so happy and relieved, like nuestra selección, (Colombia’s National Team) had won an important game.

However, something similar to happened to a Brazilian friend of mine, Nuno, his Bancolombia debit card got linked to someone else’s Bancolombia account, and Nuno’s debit card was linked to someone’s wife’s account. Nuno could see the other guy’s Bancolombia account and the other guy could see Nuno’s account. Nuno’s story about this happening at Bancolombia is much funnier than mine, but it is demonstrative of the fact that Colombia and many institutions here are not designed to accommodate foreigners. I am lucky that I have a cédula and that has helped with doing a lot of things because surviving here as a foreigner without a cédula I imagine would be challenging.

Bancolombia’s security protocols for anything related to transfers and other things are actually stricter than some of the security protocols I have seen in the United States for banking. I have had extra security features enabled for my Charles Schwab accounts for a number a number of years now, but this is nothing compared to banking in Colombia. I would recommend that when you are opening your account with Bancolombia, to make sure when you are opening up your account to set up your Clave Dinámica (Two-Factor Authentication), these codes are essential if you are trying to do anything like make a transfer between your account and another account. You can set up your clave dinámica in your Bancolombia Personas App as well. To get your clave dinámica, you will have to do some paperwork in person and sign some documents, just a heads up, so do this before you leave the bank with your debit card. 

A couple of useful things about Bancolombia are their ATMs. At some Bancolombia ATMs, the ATMs near their offices or in malls, you can bring hard copies of your Colombian bills and if they have a barcode, you can scan the barcode and pay your bill in cash at the ATM, using the pagos (payments) feature Additionally, you can also do consignaciones at some Bancolombia ATMs; this means you can deposit cash into someone’s Bancolombia account with just their account number, without having to go to into the bank to do this.

*Bancolombia also offers investing and lending products as well as credit cards, however, getting a credit card here in Colombia could be a challenge and the interest rates for borrowing here are astronomical, not as bad as Argentina which has interest rates up to 60%, but they are much higher than the United States. Fun fact, Bancolombia’s headquarters are actually located here in Medellín, adjacent to the Industriales Metro Station.  

**For more information on Bancolombia’s innovative digital savings account Nequi, see my blog post about Nequi, “Nequi, One of Bancolombia Group’s Most Innovative Products,” where I discuss Nequi and PayPal Colombia’s strategic partnership. However, before February 2019 not had luck with getting the Nequi app to actually work, to scan my Cédula. However, during February 2019, a friend needed to send money to me, so I redownloaded Nequi and it worked like a charm. During late 2018, I talked to Brazilain friend a friend with an Android phone, who also has a Cédula de Extranjería and a Bancolombia account has not been able to get it to work either, which is par for the course since this is Bancolombia. Nequi does have some outages, it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it’s now my Colombian version of Venmo but better and much more secure with a higher grade encryption than Venmo. In January 2019, I tried to help a friend sign up for a BBVA account using BBVA Colombia’s Mobile App, which is supposed to allow you to sign up for an account with just your passport and the app would not accept her Chinese and British passport numbers or my American passport number.**

*While I am often frustrated with Bancolombia, their fees, customer service, etc. from what I have heard, it is a better bank than Banco de Bogotá or Banco Caja Social. And Bancolombia has a lot more ATMs and offices throughout Colombia than Scotiabank Colpatria or any other bank in Colombia.

 
Grupo Bancolombia Logo.jpg
 

Opening a bank account at Scotiabank Colpatria formerly Citibank Colombia

One of your other choices, to get a bank account is Scotiabank Colpatria formerly Citbank Colombia since they do not have a “Cuota de Manejo” (Account Management Fee), and you may be able to open an account online without going to the bank, but do not be surprised if you need to go to the bank in person to open a bank account here. You used to be able to get a Cuenta Preferencial (Preferential Account) with Citibank on Avenida Poblado (Carrera 43A) adjacent to Colpensiones, where you could get up to 6 withdrawals at other banks in Colombia with no fees, no fees for withdrawing funds at any Citi Bank ATM in the world if you open an account at a Citi Bank location, three bank transfers within Colombia for free and NO WIRE TRANSFER FEES for transferring from your account. You will need to have a Cédula de Extranjería and a RUT, a tax document with your tax number, that lists your profession from la DIAN (Colombia’s Customs and Tax authority) to open an account at Colpatria Scotiabank/Citi Bank. When I got my account here in September, I had to have my Cédula de Extranjería, my RUT from la DIAN, a scan of my social security card, and provide 6 months worth of bank statements from Bancolombia to prove that I had a banking history here in Colombia.

The minimum deposit for this cuenta preferencial at least Scotiabank Colpatria’s location on Avenida El Poblado (Carrera 43A), adjacent to Colpensiones used to be around $500.000 COP but now it has increased greatly. For me to get a cuenta preferential during September 2018, I only had to make an initial deposit of $500.000 COP. However, during early April 2019, I received an email from Scotiabank/Colpatria informing me that the rules to maintain preferential account status had changed. If you have preferential account status here you get priority attention and service, bonuses, rewards, etc. similar to private banking or wealth management schemes for say Wilmington Trust customers at M&T Bank in the United States, where some of their loyal customers have access to special events, gifts, etc. The new rules state that in order to qualify for this preferential account, you will need to have one of the following:

  • You need to have financial volumes in deposits or investments, equal to or greater than 20 million COP (approximately, rounding up $6.500 USD/€5.800/£5000 GBP/$8.700 CAD).

  • You need to have a certified monthly income equal to or greater than $15 million COP (approximately with rounding up $5.000 USD/€4.500/£4.000 GBP/$3.900 CAD).

  • You need to have a certified monthly income equal to or greater than $6 million COP (approximately with rounding up $2.000 USD/€1800/£1.550 GBP/$2.650 CAD), with an active portfolio with them, with at least active savings or checking account and/or financial volumes equal or greater than $10 million COP (approximately rounding up $3.300 USD/€2.900/£2.500/$4.350 CAD). Financial volumes = Lines of credit + credit balances + balances in deposits and investments).

However, I am not sure if these rules can be bent, since I was able to get a cuenta preferencial with an opening deposit of only $500.000 COP during September 2018, before Citibank sent their consumer operations over to Scotiabank, since Scotiabank acquired Citibank Colombia’s operations during the summer of 2018. my experience banking here is pretty unique, since they may have made it easier for me to get this cuenta preferencial, I will never know to be honest. I told a friend of mine who works in finance and consults on banking regulations here in Latin America about this and he was surprised that I was able to get this account and they worked with me, to make it easier to bank with them. I ain’t complaining, but do not expect that this will be the case for you, my abilities for persuasion and making friends only work for some things here…However, being polite and kind here, being querido/querida here in Medellín, and speaking fluent Spanish will help you a lot and helped me meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends.

To open a bank aaccount at Scotiabank/Colpatria you will now need to have regular talk to the asesor at the bank, to see what the minimum deposit will be for you. As a foreigner, you need to have a Cédula de Extranjería and a RUT (A tax number from la DIAN-which is evidence for what you do in Colombia) to get an account here at Scotiabank/Colpatria. Each business in Colombia has a RUT.

You can get a RUT online on la DIAN’s website or go to their office with your passport and/or cédula to get your RUT. However, if you are going to la DIAN’s offices in person, they will most likely do their best to turn you away, so if you can get an appointment online before going to la DIAN in person or get your RUT online. La DIAN has at least two locations in Medellín, one on Avenida El Poblado (Carrera 43A) in La Frontera (Poblado’s southernmost barrio which shares a border with Envigado) and in El Centro in Alpujarra, which is a few blocks away from the Alpujarra Metro Station. Here is an article in Spanish, which discusses how you obtain your RUT and update the information associated with it online. Supposedly, you can register online for a RUT with your passport or Cédula de Ciudadanía with la DIAN’s online system, but given their system does not appear to recognize passport numbers, you may need to go la DIAN in person. If you need to go la DIAN in person to get your RUT and your Spanish is not amazing, my recommendation is if you can try to find someone who you can bring with you who can translate for you and/or help you with this. If you do end up needing to go to la DIAN and do not have an appointment, go to the location in Alpujarra and try to arrive no later than 7:30 AM so you can get there early.

I was at the Colpatria/Citibank on Avenida Poblado adjacent to Colpensiones on Avenida Poblado during September 2018 and was told if my initial deposit were to be $5.000.000 COP ($1,532 USD at an exchange rate of $3.200 COP to $1 USD), I would be able to get an account without a cédula. However, I am not sure how true this is for everyone, I think this depends on the office, your individual case, your level of Spanish and how much money you have. But Colpatria/Citibank does make you sign up for SURA Accident Insurance, and that is higher than Bancolombia’s Banking Insurance + Cuota de Manejo, but Accident Insurance is useful, and you can designate beneficiaries for this insurance policy. Since Scotiabank Colpatria is still part of Citi Bank, they report to the IRS, and you will have to give them your Social Security Number and a copy of your Social Security Card if you are a U.S. Citizen or are a U.S. Permanent Resident.

Given the benefits which come with this account, it is worth considering that they have a pretty accurate exchange rate here as opposed to Bancolombia and much better customer service in my experience, you will probably spend a lot less time waiting in line at Colpatria than you do at Bancolombia. They have a large variety of investment products and more premium savings accounts with high interest rates if you are interested in investing with Colpatria. Furthermore, at Scotiabank/Colpatria you can get a visa debit card, which you can use for online purchases in Colombia, this is helpful since I cannot make online purchases with my Bancolombia debit card. This is a good bank account to get if you will be based in Colombia but anticipate traveling around Latin America a lot, given that you are still connected to Citi Bank and get free withdrawals at any Citi Bank or Scotiabank ATM around the world.

However, since Citi Bank used to own Colpatria before it was acquired by Scotiabank during July 2018, they are still working out all of the kinks with online banking and the Citi Bank Colombia Mobile App, leaves much to be desired. From September 2018-mid January 2019, I thought I had an account at Scotiabank Colpatria, because all of my bank statements and my debit card has their logo, it turns I have an account at Citibank? However, the security here is unprecedented even greater than Bancolombia, so if security is a concern for you, I would recommend getting a bank account with Scotiabank Colpatria/Citibank. Citibank for individuals no longer exists as it used to in the past, but certain locations like the location on Avenida Poblado/Carrera 43A adjacent to Colpensiones is actually still considered by Google Maps and Scotiabank Colpatria to be a Citibank location. Finally, if you decide to get an account here, I was told that you can withdraw up to $1.000.000 COP (one million COP) per day from your Scotiabank Colpatria/Citbank account using your Scotiabank Visa debit card.

These are the ATMs that I recommend using if you have an international debit card, the fees are higher, but you can withdraw more money at a time than other ATMs here in Colombia.

 
Image courtesy of scotiabank colpatria

Image courtesy of scotiabank colpatria

 

BBVA Colombia as an additional option for foreigners looking to open a Colombian Bank Account

BBVA is another good option for foreigners looking to open a Colombian bank account to consider if you have a Cédula and want to open a bank account here in Colombia. BBVA has low commissions and you will not pay a cuota de manejo (account management fee) if your monthly balance is greater than $3.000.000 (three million Colombian Pesos, somewhere between $960 and $1,000 USD (depending on the exchange rate), $1,300 CAD, $1,341 AUD, €850, and £750. This is with an exchange rate of $3,126 COP = $1 USD, €1 = $3,550 COP, £1 = $4,000 COP, $1 CAD = $2,350 COP, and $1 AUD = $2,236 COP, since that was the exchange rate during late January 2019, when I updated this post.

I do not have an account with BBVA so I cannot comment on how good their customer service is. However, BBVA Colombia supposedly has a Mobile App (BBVA móvil Colombia), which is supposed to allow people to sign up for a bank account without needing to go to the bank in person. This app has the option for people to sign up for bank accounts here with just their passport. I tried the app and my friend tried it as well. It will not work for you to “Hazte cliente” (become a client) if you are inputting your passport number.

However, I have some great news for people who have a cédula de extranjería! You can sign up for BBVA’s Dinero Móvil using the BBVA Colombia Mobile app with just your cédula. This service allows you to get an account with BBVA Colombia, send and receive money with just your phone. Your phone number will become your account number, there is no Cuota de Manejo to have an account with them using BBVA’s Dinero Móvil service, and you can send and receive up to 3 minimum monthly salaries in Colombia. The minimum salary in 2019 in Colombia is $828,116 COP, which means you can transfer or receive up to $2,484,348 COP. This app also allows you to pay for your public services and Colombian credit cards using just your smartphone and the BBVA mobile app. You should be able to sign up for BBVA’s Dinero Móvil service if you are using your Cédula de Extranjería. You will be prompted to accept the terms and conditions, input your first and middle name, last names, pick masculino/femenino, and input the date that your cédula was created, and your gender, then you will click “continuar”. After this, the app will decide whether or not you are eligible for this service

If you do decide to open a regular Cuenta de Ahorros here at BBVA here at BBVA, be advised that you will not be able to receive international bank transfers into this account for six (6) months. I am not sure why this is the case, but this is something to keep in mind. You can get a regular cuenta de ahorros here as a foreigner with your Cédula de Extranjería and a RUT or work contract from a Colombian company. You should not expect to pay any ATM fees if you are using BBVA’s ATMs, but one thing to note is that BBVA ATMs are not super common here in Medellín. If you want to open a bank account with BBVA Colombia, I found the manager at the BBVA Sucrusal in Centro Comercial Santafé to be particularly helpful and accommodating, and he does speak some English as well. However, I am not sure how good his English is since I primarily spoke with him in Spanish.

 
image courtesy of bbva colombia

image courtesy of bbva colombia

 

Recommendations for banks where you should avoid opening a bank account

Finally, a friend of mine who has an account with Banco de Bogotá asked me to update this post to warn people to not get an account with Banco de Bogotá, which is part of Grupo AVAL group (Banco AV Villas, Banco de Occidente and Banco Popular here in Colombia). They have some of the worst customer service for banks, their customer service y’all is so horrible they make Bancolombia’s customer service look decent to amazing by comparison. I cannot believe that I found a bank whose customer service makes Bancolombia’s customer service look good, but they do exist.

Any time you deposit money into your account at any of these banks or you do a consignación at any of these banks; they will take somewhere between $10.000-$15.000 COP, out of your account just for making a deposit. Yes you read that correctly, they will take money from you for making a deposit. This is in addition to the cuota de manejo (account management fee) that you are forced to pay monthly. My friend’s story and frustration with Banco de Bogotá goes a lot further, but I would avoid getting an account with any of the banks which are a part of AVAL. Moreover, Grupo Aval is currently embroiled in a massive ongoing political and financial scandal related to Odebrecht. Here is some coverage from 2017 that deals with the Odebrecht scandal and why this corruption scandal is so important.

And reading this you might be wondering, Amanda, how did you learn of this? Spending a lot of time on Colombian Twitter is a great way to keep up with local and national politics and current events here if you follow the right people. If you want to read the news in Spanish, I have a few recommendations for you. El Colombiano (Medellín and Antioquia’s main newspaper), Revista La Semana (you can buy this weekly news magazine at Éxito and Carulla), El Espectador (a daily newspaper with national circulation based in Bogotá covering national news) and El Tiempo (a daily newspaper with national circulation based in Bogotá covering national news) are some good places to start.

 

Special Thanks and January 2019 Update

A special thanks is in order to everyone who I had to deal with when I was trying to get a friend of mine who had recently arrived in Medellín a bank account here in January 2019. She and I went to three (3) different banks to see if we could get her a bank account here with just her passport and no other financial documents or Colombian tax documents. Despite my best efforts, I learned that as of October 2018, the Colombian banking regulations changed, which makes it more difficult to get an account here. The best option if you can get Colombian tax documents or have a letter of employment from a Colombian employer, which you can use is possibly BBVA in Centro Comercial Santafé in Poblado. The manager here was the most understanding of the people we had spoken with at Bancolombia in Centro Comercial Oviedo and Scotiabank Colpatria in Centro Comercial Santafé in Poblado. The manager at the BBVA Colombia branch in Centro Comercial Santafé was the willing to work with us to help my friend get an account here. But if you are a foreigner here in Colombia, you will really need do a visa and a Cédula de Extranjería to get a bank account here in Colombia as a foreigner.

A special thanks is in order to my friend Flossie, who taught me about China’s UnionPay system for ATMs, and why this is significant. Flossie, I have now included information about UnionPay and what non-UnionPay ATMs mean for people visiting Colombia whose debit cards only function using the UnionPay system to my post. And a special thanks to Penny Magoulas who provided me some useful information for a good bank for Australians traveling and living overseas.

 

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AMANDA DRAPER IS THE FOUNDER and author OF "MI VIDA EN MEDELLÍN". SHE IS A WRITER, CONTENT CREATOR AND TEACHER. A WASHINGTON DC NATIVE, SHE CALLS WASHINGTON D.C. AND MEDELLÍN HOME. SHE HAS A SERIOUS AJÍ ADDICTION, SO YOU WILL PROBABLY FIND HER WITH A BOTTLE OF AJÍ IN HER BAG. IN HER FREE TIME, SHE ENJOYS EXPLORING MEDELLÍN, EATING, READING, WRITING, AND HAVING ADVENTURES.

AMANDA DRAPER IS THE FOUNDER and author OF "MI VIDA EN MEDELLÍN". SHE IS A WRITER, CONTENT CREATOR AND TEACHER. A WASHINGTON DC NATIVE, SHE CALLS WASHINGTON D.C. AND MEDELLÍN HOME. SHE HAS A SERIOUS AJÍ ADDICTION, SO YOU WILL PROBABLY FIND HER WITH A BOTTLE OF AJÍ IN HER BAG. IN HER FREE TIME, SHE ENJOYS EXPLORING MEDELLÍN, EATING, READING, WRITING, AND HAVING ADVENTURES.