UK ends tourism visa requirements for Colombians

Photo: Rick Innis/Creative Commons/Flickr

In a major diplomatic victory for President Gustavo Petro, three months into a new administration, the country’s first leftist leader announced the UK will eliminate tourist visa requirements for Colombians as from November 9, 2022.

The announcement was formally made Tuesday during a press conference at the Bogotá residence of UK Ambassador George Hodgson. “The UK will open up its doors to tourism and other sectors for Colombians,” highlighted the Ambassador. “This is a great step forward in our bilateral relations with #UKCOL.”

The lifting of tourist visa requirements for all Colombians puts an end to an expensive process and long wait times for applicants – up to 60 days – in order to get approval through the UK Foreign Office’s centralized processing center VSF Global. The move will also boost the numbers of Colombian tourists wanting to visit the UK and connect to countries in the Schengen bloc that do not require entry visas for Colombians.

According to Migración Colombia, the country’s migration entity, between January and September 2022, 45,788 Colombians traveled to the UK, of which 14,457 went as tourists and 24,932 as residents.

The end of visas at a cost of US$173 per applicant will also boost the passenger load capacity of the only airline – Avianca – operating a direct Bogotá – London Heathrow flight, and could signal the return to the country of the UK’s flagship carrier British Airways.

President Petro broke the news at the end of a bank holiday weekend, stating on Twitter: “I  thank the United Kingdom for its decision to eliminate the tourism visa requirement for Colombians.” Former President Iván Duque also welcomed the decision after “many months of hard work,” adding that his government signed with former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson the post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement.

The historic decision to permit Colombians visa-free movement within the United Kingdom came during the same week President Petro requested the United States Government eliminate tourism requirements for Colombians wanting to travel stateside.

The current wait time for first time applicants for a B1/B2 visa, as well as renewals, is more than two years once official paperwork has been received by the US Embassy in Bogotá. The Colombian Government will make the formal request to President Joe Biden through its Embassy in Washington D.C.

The UK’s decision greatly facilitates travel for the expat community resident in Colombia, and Colombian spouses, partners and children. Should the US follow the momentous UK decision, the only Western country that would require tourist visas for Colombians is Canada, and government that is grappling with clearing long visa delays for both tourists and students.

The standard visit regulations allow Colombians to enter the UK up to six months at a time.

Even though the new Petro administration will take credit for the end to visa restrictions, the process was initiated during the two-term government of President Juan Manuel Santos, and recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for ending more than a half-century long internal conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla.