On November 4, Colombia stopped requiring a COVID-19 test for international travelers to Colombia. But in January 2021, a PCR test is required to travel to Colombia.

Given the confusion generated by a court ruling in November that ordered the presentation of negative PCR tests for travelers who want to enter Colombia, the National Government affirmed on December 1 that, everything remains the same (no PCR test required).

But the court ratified its decision that a PCR test is required on December 3 but the government responded on December 3 that it will not comply with the ruling. However, this changed in January 2021 and a PCR test is again required to travel to Colombia.

Several Medellin Guru readers asked about this topic. So, we published this article that is being kept up-to-date.

EDITOR NOTE on December 1: the Health Minister on December 1 said that for now it will not require a PCR test needed to enter Colombia according to El Tiempo.

EDITOR NOTE on December 3: the court ratified its decision that a PCR test should be required from travelers entering Colombia according to El Tiempo and later the government responded that it will not comply with the ruling of the court.

EDITOR NOTE on January 3: According to Dinero and El Tiempo and El Colombiano, with resolution 2532, signed on December 31, 2020, the Ministry of Health modified the regulations for the arrival of travelers to Colombia from other countries during the pandemic. A PCR test is now required and must be taken a maximum of 96 hours before the flight but there is an exception where you can take a PCR test in Colombia.

On January 3: Ministry of Health Requires PCR Test

All the major new in Colombia reported on January 3, that with resolution 2532 of December 31, 2020, the Ministry of Health modified the regulations for the arrival of travelers from other countries to Colombia.

A PCR test should be taken a maximum of 96 hours before the flight and must be presented by all travelers, even if they are Colombian nationals and without exceptions due to age. That is, even babies traveling with their relatives must have a PCR test.

The resolution also states that “passengers with fever or respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19 and those who have not previously filled out the Check-Mig application will not be allowed to board.

Also, passengers who have difficulties in taking the test or in obtaining the test result before the trip may be admitted to board the flight without presenting a negative PCR result.

Travelers to Colombia without a PCR test will have to obtain a COVID-19 test as soon as they arrive in Colombia and be under a 14-day quarantine, which could end before that period if the test result is negative.

It normally can take 48 hours for PCR tests in Colombia to be processed at a lab and results provided but sometimes can take longer. Also, we have a separate article that looks at how to get a COVID-19 test in Medellín.

Here is the official resolution of the Ministry of Health (in Spanish), dated December 31, 2020, requiring a PCR test to enter Colombia.

While this resolution is dated December 31, some Medellin Guru readers arriving in Colombia the first few of days in January reported they were not required to have a PCR test.

On January 5, some Medellin Guru readers reported that airlines such as JetBlue and American Airlines are starting to inform customers about the PCR test requirement for Colombia.

Also, according to Portfolio and Minuto30 and multiple other sources, the PCR test requirement for travel to Colombia apparently goes into effect on January 12

But the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá and the El Dorado airport in Bogotá posted that the PCR test requirement goes into effect on January 7. 

We haven’t confirmed this with an official source like Migracion, but airlines like Avianca are also communicating that the PCR test requirement goes into effect on January 7. Also, we have confirmed with a few Medellin Guru readers that arrived on January 8 that the PCR test is now required.

On December 3: Government Responds – No PCR Test Required

After the judge responded, the National Government in Colombia responded. According to El Colombiano, the Minister of Health, Fernando Ruiz Gómez, said that the Government is not in a position to comply with the ruling of the Eleventh Municipal Civil Court of Bogotá, which obliges the executive to demand the PCR test for people who enter Colombia on international flights.

President Iván Duque also affirmed that it is impossible to comply with the court order, as it is contrary to the scientific decision supported and sustained, and that it also obeys evolutionary criteria of the behavior of the pandemic.

Minister Ruiz explained that while the legal process is being carried out before the 11th Court of Bogotá, travelers who arrive in Colombia will not have to present a PCR test or undergo a 14-day quarantine upon entering the country.

On December 3: Judge Responds – PCR Test Required

The Eleventh Municipal Civil Court of Bogotá ratified its decision that the PCR test should be required from travelers entering Colombia and that they must also keep in isolation for 14 days.

The judge clarified that for those who have upcoming flights, in a period of 96 hours, they will be able to enter the country without any inconvenience, but after that time the requirement will be reactivated.

So, the court order gives the National Government four days to establish the necessary mechanisms to guarantee that all people arriving on international flights deliver their negative test for COVID-19.

It is possible the government may still challenge this ruling.

On December 1: Health Minister Says No PCR Test Required

Under this consideration, Fernando Ruiz, Minister of Health insisted that a measure such as the one imposed by the judge cannot be taken into account for an indefinite period of time, nor does it make sense to limit air activity, as well as the right to mobilize people.

That is why Ruiz “made a special request” to the judge, to clarify various issues that emerge from the ruling. “Until the judge clarifies these questions with epidemiological criteria, people do not need a PCR test to enter Colombia”, clarifies the Minister of Health.

Fernando Ruiz said:

First, please clarify what is the consideration of the time under which you propose that this measure should have. And second, under what epidemiological criteria is it done, because a pandemic like the one in which we find ourselves is managed under epidemiological grounds.

Also, the Ministry asked what type of PCR test should be required “because in Colombia we have followed a certain protocol, but in the world there are another series of protocols that Colombia has rejected because they are not as sensitive or specific as the one we are using.”

Finally, the Ruiz told the judge that the immediate application of the court ruing would be impossible since there are people who are traveling and do not have the time or ability to take a test. “So such consideration is not possible, even from the point of view of legal procedure, we are not going to demand proof until the judge makes clarifications to the questions we are sending him,” Ruiz said.

On November 26, a Bogotá Judge Orders Government to Require PCR test

A Colombian citizen presented to the Eleventh Municipal Civil Court of Bogotá communications that demanded that the National Government again demand a negative COVID-19 test from travelers arriving from abroad to Colombia.

On Thursday, November 26, the judge of this court in Bogotá ordered the National Government to demand a negative PCR test from anyone who wanted to enter the country. The court ruling reads:

Order the immediate suspension of the modification made in article 1 of Resolution No. 1972 of November 4, 2020, regarding the non-requirement, prior to shipment from the country of origin, of the PCR test with a negative result, issued by the Ministry of Health and Social Protection and is required as a requirement to enter the country, a certificate of the PCR test with a NEGATIVE result, for the COVID-19 virus, to each of the travelers who enter by air, likewise, the quarantine is fulfilled or preventive isolation for a period of 14 days in the place of housing or accommodation provided in advance by each traveler.

According to Andrés Uribe, manager of IATA Colombia, the union that represents airlines in Colombia, the judge’s decision is worrying.

According to Uribe, “a judge and a court is capable of overthrowing a decision that the Ministry of Health has taken with all the scientific, medical and technical elements”.  Uribe further stated that asking for a negative test does not guarantee that no infected person will come on the plane that goes to Colombia.

Why Did Colombia Originally Eliminate the PCR Test Requirement?

The Deputy Minister of Public Health and Provision of Services, Luis Alexander Moscoso Osorio, explained the epidemiological reasons that led the National Government to withdraw the requirement of a PCR test on November 4 for foreign passengers arriving in Colombia.

Let us remember that when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the world had an infection rate higher than that of Colombia, so we had to regulate, close flights and take some measures. Today there is community transmission, which means that in Colombia it is the same as in other nations.

Also, a series of difficulties have been encountered during the process where a PCR test was required:

  1. It was found that people can be infected in the 96-hour period that had been established between the time of the test and the trip.
  2. At the time of the test, the person may be in an incubation period that is up to 7 days. This creates a very large time in which the traveler can actually be positive and fly with a negative test. The passenger arrives in Colombia with a negative PCR test and believes that he/she is protected when in fact is not.
  3. The PCR test can cost between $60 and $400 USD abroad. So, it is recognized that for people with fewer resources it can be a barrier.
  4. In some countries it is difficult to find laboratories that can perform PCR tests within 96 hours and the readings are complex.

Colombia looked for a better alternative. And reportedly a contact follow-up strategy was set up with a call center that has about 1,033 people.

Impact on International Tourism to Colombia

With the court order now implemented requiring a PCR test this will likely have an  impact on international tourism to Colombia. Requiring a PCR test for tourists to Colombia would likely make many tourists decide not to come to Colombia.

According to Migración Colombia reported by Infobae, only 40,000 foreign visitors entered Colombia during September and October in 2020.

Agencias de Viajes y Turismo (ANATO) released the percentages of foreigners who entered Colombia in September and October with the four most traveled from countries:

  • United States: 48.4 percent
  • Mexico: 5.5 percent
  • Ecuador: 3.6 percent
  • Peru: 2.5 percent

These visitors (tourists) accounted for 60 percent of all foreign travelers to Colombia in the past two months

Also, ANATO revealed that these were the destination departments in September and October, where 81 percent of foreign visitors traveled to:

  • Bogotá: 36.6 percent
  • Antioquia (Medellín): 24.3 percent
  • Valle del Cauca (Cali): 11.8 percent
  • Bolívar (Cartagena): 8.5 percent

Colombia experienced record foreign tourism in 2019 according to The City Paper, with 4.5 million foreign visitors, or about 375,000 per month on average in 2019.

If Colombia received only an average of 20,000 foreign visitors per month in September and October, this is only 5.3 percent of last year’s average monthly volume.

So, international tourism to Colombia has barely started to recover. If Colombia starts to require both a PCR test and a 14-day quarantine, as the court has ordered, the number of international tourists coming to Colombia would likely decrease substantially, impacting the tourism market.

Tourism Impact of Coronavirus: Colombia started to reactivate tourism

Tourism Impact of Coronavirus: Colombia started to reactivate tourism

The Travel and Tourism Market in Colombia

There has been a huge tourism impact of coronavirus in Colombia but Colombia started to reactivate tourism in Colombia beginning on September 1.

The Travel and Tourism market represents approximately 3.8 percent of Colombia’s GDP and is the third leading source of foreign exchange behind oil and coal.

Tourists are also spending more in Colombia. From 2004 to 2018 income from foreign visitors grew by over 400 percent, from $4.7 billion USD in 2004 to more than $20 billion USD in 2018.

In 2019, international tourists reportedly spent an average of $1,470 USD per person, excluding flights. Also, the central bank found that 90 percent of travel revenues were generated by tourists arriving by air.

The tourism impact of coronavirus was huge in Colombia, which impacted airlines, hotels, hostels, furnished rentals, travel agencies, national parks, tour operators and many other businesses.

Colombia starting to reactivate tourism can help tens of thousands of businesses in the tourism sector in Colombia.

Computer generated image of COVID-19, photo by Felipe Esquivel Reed

Computer generated image of COVID-19, photo by Felipe Esquivel Reed

Medellin Guru’s Coronavirus Series

Medellin Guru has a series of articles about the coronavirus pandemic and the impacts in Colombia: Also, these articles are being kept up-to-date, as this is a fast-moving topic:

The Bottom Line: Does Colombia Require a COVID-19 Test for International Travelers?

Starting on November 4, Colombia stopped requiring a PCR test for international travelers to Colombia. But on November 26, a court in Bogotá ordered the National Government to demand a negative COVID-19 test from anyone who wanted to enter the country. But this order has not yet been implemented.

On December 1, the Health Minister in Colombia said that for now it will not require a PCR test as needed to enter Colombia.

However the court responded on December 3 and ratified its decision that the PCR test should be required from travelers entering Colombia and that they must also keep in isolation for 14 days. But the government responded on December 3 at night that it will not comply with the ruling. So, a PCR test and 14 day isolation are not needed by arriving international passengers.

But with Resolution 2532 of 2020, the Ministry of Health modified the regulations and now requires a PCR test within 96 hours of a flight to Colombia, which means in January if you travel to Colombia you will need to PCR test. If you don’t have a test you will have to quarantine for 14 days and take a test when you arrive.

With a PCR test now required, international tourism that has only barely started to recover in Colombia will likely be impacted.

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Editors note: updated on December 1, 2020 with information that the Health Ministry has said that for now it will not require a PCR test as needed to enter Colombia.

Editors note: updated on December 3, 2020 with information that the court ratified its decision that a PCR test is required to enter Colombia and gave the Colombian government four days to comply with the order.

Editors note: updated on December 3, 2020 again with information that the Colombian National Government responded and will not require a PCR test or quarantine for arriving international passengers.

Editors note: updated on January 3, 2021 with information that a PCR test is now required to travel to Colombia.

Editors note:  updated on January 5, 2021 to add information that readers are reporting that airlines such as JetBlue and American Airlines are starting to inform customers about the PCR test requirement for Colombia. Also, added that the PCR test requirement apparently goes into effect on January 12 but may be earlier.

Editors note: update on January 8, 2020 with information that the PCR test requirement apparently went into effect on January 7 and that some Medellin Guru readers that arrived on January 8 were required to have a PCR test.

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