Yup. I became illegal in Colombia. What’s it like to be illegal you ask?
Well, first off, I’ve had a number of illegal friends, and boyfriends, in the U.S., so you know, I wanted to give it a go. Turns out, becoming illegal in Colombia goes something like this….
I was in Colombia in October 2011. I told La Migra (a.k.a immigration; a.k.a DAS) at the Colombian border entrance I was staying 2 weeks. They gave me 60 days in the country. It was awesome. I ended up staying Colombia for almost a month.
When I returned to Colombia in December of 2011, I told La Migra at the Medellin airport customs desk, I was going to stay for a few months. I handed them my passport. They stamped it. I headed out to grab my bags and get back to the city. Never really thought about it after.
So on day 30 in Medellin, at around, oh, 3:30 in the afternoon, I was suddenly like, “Oh shit. It’s been a month. I don’t even know how long I have here!”. So I rushed upstairs to look at the number of days DAS (Colombia’s immigration) gave me.
It said nothing.
Really. They never wrote a number of days. But in October they gave me 60. So, knowing that for 2 weeks DAS gave me 60 days, I just assumed this time I had 60 days too. I mean, NO ONE got just 30 days, and this time I told them I’m here for a few months.
Did I worry? NOT AT ALL. I mean, there is no days written on my passport stamp, so who cares. It’s there mistake, and I’m a cute chic, of course they’ll be like “Oh don’t worry. Our bad” and let me stay. A few people told me to just write 60, but I opted towards not forging government documents. So on about day 50 or so in Medellin, I headed down to DAS to extend my tourist days. I’ve never dealt with a visa before in my life. So this was all new.
AT LA MIGRA…
I walked in to the DAS office, all, ‘This is no problem, I’ll just play dumb and I’ll be fine! I’m cute. I’m a gringa. They’ll love me!’
I hand the lady at the reception booth my passport and visa renewal papers. She opens my passport, shows the man behind her, and they both look back at me with blank stares.
“Where’s the number of days [tourist days] you have?” they asked me.
“The officer never wrote the days.”
I decided to play confident and ignorant.
“I don’t know. It was really busy. But my 60 days isn’t up yet, so here are the papers. I would like to extend my visa and stay in Medellin with my boyfriend.”
So she punches a few numbers into the computer, looks back at me and says,
“You are illegal. You need to talk to the lawyer.”
Then she writes 30 TUR (for tourist) over the entry stamp, and hands my passport back at me.
Yup, I got 30 days. I told them I didn’t know. I thought it was 60. How can I fix this.
But DAS, being brand new, awesome DAS, that you can’t just hand them, a $50 and have them look the other way anymore, told me that I should have checked.
That is is my (gasp) responsibility to know how long I should have here, and that I (gasp) should have come down to DAS and found out myself (gasp gasp) when I realized the number of my tourist days was not written on my passport.
(Not that it would have mattered. Like I said before, I never even thought to check until around 3:30pm on daythrirty in Colombia anyway).
Now of course, I’m all freaked out.
WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME?…
I’m from the USA. So in my mind, being illegal means things. Horrible, bad things, like: I’m going to jail. I’m getting deported never to return. I’m going to jail THEN getting deported never to return. Colombia will take my first born son, then send me to jail and deport me never to return. I’m never going to see Diego again.
Things like that.
So after biting my nails till they bleed in the waiting room for about 40 minutes, the lawyer, a rather cheerful and somewhat rotund gentleman brings my nervous as shit, shaky ass into the back room.
He starts off with the whole, imposing, harsh, ‘You’re illegal. Do you know what this means” reprimands. I tried to explain what happened. That I am really sorry. What can I do to fix this (basically hoping he’d tell me give him $50 and I can go), but no. None of that. He is speaking Spanish too, which of course, I don’t. So I’m massacring Spanish and barely able to make out what he is saying, and suddenly he starts laughing at me.
The lawyer guy, after about 15 minutes of treating me like I’m about to end up on Locked up Abroad, just starts laughing,at me, then joking with the other guys in the office they are just going to have to handcuff me and leave me there (in the office) as an example for other gringos, and stuff like that. Turns out, they pretty much knew exactly what kinds of horrible sanctions I was expecting to endure, (stupid USA), and were totally playing it up to scare me.
Suddenly I’m relieved, and feeling like a total idiot at how nervous I must have looked, but I’m still being told there’s going to be consequences of my overstaying.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO ME…
In short, the lawyer tells me:
“You are not allowed to leave the country until you pay a fine.”
“Wait, what? But the whole reason I’m here is because I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE!”
I know I’m starring at him with the ‘you dumb P.O.S.’ look, while more gut-grabbing laughing from my lawyer, and his office bff behind me, continues.
“Yes”, he tells me, “but you can’t do that. We know where you live now” (I so smartly put down the hostel AND Diego’s information on my visa renewal application), “and if you don’t come back and pay, then you can get in real trouble and not be allowed back to Colombia”.
Fine. Now I have to pay $200 in fines. It’s around $35-40 to renew the visa. Dammit.
“Oh, and you have to leave the country for 15 minutes”.
I literally have to walk out of Colombia, go have a coffee, then walk back over the border. This is actually the exact scenario they told me to do.
This is ridiculous, especially being in Medellin, which is near no border. I’m not about to cross into Venezuela. I’ve been to that border before, and there is no way in hell, if something goes wrong, I’m being stuck on that Mos Eisley-ish border town alone again! Fuck that!
My other options:
-Go to Panama (too expensive).
-Bus to Ecuador (about $200 total round-trip, by the time I’m done with a hotel, food, and a minimum 40 hour round-trip bus ride).
-Fly to Quito for the weekend, for $250 round-trip, an hour and a half flight each way, AND I get to stay with a friend for free and see my friends in Descomunal play again.
Yea, I opted for choice 3.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I RETURNED TO COLOMBIA?…
After paying the fine, and leaving Colombia for the weekend, I had absolutely no problem coming back in. And this time Colombia gave me 90 days. Mostly because I put down Diego’s house, in Castilla, as my residence. The DAS agent at the airport looks at ‘Castilla’ on my paperwork and says,
“But gringo’s don’t go to Castilla”.
“I know, but I live there with my boyfriend.”
“But you go to Poblado or Envigado. Not Castilla. Castilla is a Colombia neighbourhood.”
And after explaining directions and landmarks on how to get to Diego’s house (because I couldn’t remember the full address), the DAS lady stops me and says,
“You know where you are going. You had me when you said the empanada shop with the nightclub on top of it”.
Turns out this DAS lady grew up in Castilla down the street from that empanada shop.
WHAT DID I LEARN FROM ALL OF THIS?…
1. Being illegal is not nearly as much fun, or as exciting as I thought it would be.
2. Dealing with visas suck, and I have much more empathy for all my non-American born friends now
3. Colombia LOVES all the gringos who become illegal. Especially in Medellin. Turns out it, it’s so common, the government makes a nice penny off the fines from illegals. Because it’s rather common for visitors to totally get caught up in Colombia’s beauty, and forget we don’t actually live there.
4. If you do stay too long in Colombia, you are forced to stay even longer (oh nooooo) until you pay a fine. So if you find yourself illegal, just don’t go to DAS until you actually want to leave. Because once you turn yourself in, you have to pay a huge fine, then leave, before you can come back. Or, just don’t become illegal, it is way cheaper that way.
About Dani Blanchette
I am a freelance travel and music photographer and creator of GoingNomadic.com.
I love music, food, and exploring cities without guidebooks. I’ve flown a helicopter, hitchhiked down the east coast USA, and once snuck into the back of a zoo (in Serbia) and pet a lion.
I am always up for an adventure, and sometimes I videotape them.