Contributor, and all-around legend, Brett Dayman, very kindly sent through an incredible summary of getting an E-3 visa in Bogota, Colombia. There are particular nuances in getting a US visa anywhere in the world right now, so I can't thank Brett enough for this kind of detail!
It's difficult to find available visa appointments right now so be sure to track the changing status of US Consulates around the world for visas here.
Accommodation in Bogota, Colombia
I decided to book a room at the Grand Hyatt – my appointments were 8:30 am and 7:45 am and not being familiar with Bogota I picked a location close to both locations and walkable if something went wrong (probably not walkable for ASC which was very close to the airport, but the hotel was extremely close to the consulate). The Hyatt was really stylish and very OTT but I was traveling with my girlfriend who needed to work remotely for the first few days so we yolo’d and got a baller suite. The hotel is very modern, and the staff are incredible however it is in a commercial area so apart from malls and large glass office buildings there is not much going. It was 15 -30 min in a car to more desirable, trendy areas
full of cafes, bars, and restaurants et. In retrospect, not needed for most ppl but my partner was thankful for the space and solid internet to work (and interview!). We are taking a break to Cartagena in between the embassy appointment and picking up my passport so when we get back this Friday we will stay in Chico or Chapinero or similar area and then fly home Sunday night.
*Updated – we booked a room at W Hotel in Usaquen on return. We got an insanely cheap room. The hotel was near the finance/commercial district and again, a lot of office buildings but the neighborhood was upmarket and mixed zoning and across the road, there was a historical hacienda that was converted into small shops and the Sunday flea and general markets are legendary – so many great cafes, restaurants and little bars and the markets were awesome. We spent a half day there and flew home Sunday night. A great way to end the trip.
Transport around Bogota, Colombia
I pre-arranged transfer on arrival which made not needing to grab COP$ immediately or find a taxi et easy. That said, the airport was very modern and well organized, and it would have been no issue to jump in a cab rank. Transfers are approx 40,000 or 60,000 if you request a bilingual driver (not needed). A taxi will be approx 20,000 and Uber is not regulated but avail so they won’t do airport runs but can drive you around the city and extremely cheap. A 15-30 min car ride can often be as cheap as $3-5USD
Mobile/internet in Bogota
Grab a local pre-paid sim and top it up. For about $10USD you can get 10GB data and calls/txt et. The sim is $5-10USD to get started ($20-25 USD all in) and it’s a lot cheaper than data roam from your provider and more stable being a local carrier. I chose Claro. Your hotel can arrange for your arrival or grab it from the airport or city – there will be locations everywhere. You can also top it up on the website, but I used one of the MANY lotto kiosks.
Language and speaking in Colombia
I’m traveling with a Venezuelan, so it’s been easy but a lot tougher when out by yourself without strong Spanish. The higher end hotels have staff with excellent English and a few major tourist spots occasionally have an English speaker but for most of the time it’s Google translate, terrible Spanish that won’t be understood and lots of body language. Both the ASC and embassy was tough trying to speak to people (security etc) until inside where someone will speak basic English if that. The interviewer at the consulate was the first American I encountered all trip and made the interview a breeze.
Currency and costs when in Bogota
The easy way to keep track of currency is to divide everything by 4,000 to get USD. Either a note in your phone or the XE.com app will help as you figure out costs. Like most cities, you can find cheap and expensive options but mostly everything is quite cheap. Even in a 5-star hotel, the room service to order a late-night pizza was the equivalent of $10USD. Near a market we had incredible fruit salads, local cheesy bread pastries, coffees, and fresh juices for two people for $5USD all in. That said, another night we hit a more upmarket area and had martinis that were the equivalent of $10USD each. Largely you will marvel at how far your money goes.
ASC – Pre-screening, photos and fingerprints (pre-interview)
This building is near the airport and easy to find. It’s all modern commercial buildings and like a campus. From the road there are buildings with large numbers 1-4 and at the end of the road on the corner is Gold 4 & 5. The entrance to ASC was behind the building and next to a Starbucks. There is signage all over the windows and impossible to miss. I was approx 15 min early and they wouldn’t let me enter until it was time but once inside it was extremely fast – probably 5 min at the window and a short wait prior.
The US Consulate in Bogota, Colombia
My driver took me first to the main entrance, but visa interview attendees actually enter on the opposite side of the building. A drive around the corner and was dropped at the following spot (Avenida Carrera 50). It was lightly raining so pro tip – bring an umbrella. It can rain suddenly and often in short bursts.
The line was long, and I was a minute or two after my 7:45 time so I wandered to the front of the line to ask what to do. They looked at my passport and appt time and let me straight in. From there I walked down a pathway to security and once inside the property, you walk into a large outdoor space with a roof (think assembly area from primary school) and into another line to pre-qualify the purpose of the interview. I explained it was an E3 renewal for the same employer and then prompted to enter the main line for visa interviews. It moved steadily and after 15-20 min I was at a window with a phone to communicate with the interviewer inside (I’m still standing in the assembly area).
My interview was with an American male; he heard my accent before seeing my passport and was a little shocked but excited to talk to an Aussie. He said he hadn’t done an E3 before and wandered off to find a supervisor. They were friendly but surprised to have an E3. He joked that I would know more about it than him and I offered to advise the typical questions! He took my LCA and paperwork and scanned the documents to see if he had to sign anything (he didn’t) and then he asked me what some of the questions are! I explained that it was a specialty occupation visa, so I needed a degree related to the work, that I needed confirmation from my employer that the role was specialist in nature and needed and that I needed to have intent to return to Aus. I advised that I had all supporting documents for him to review. He didn’t look at anything aside from the LCA and notice of entry appearance (prepared from my lawyers, Cammisa Markel).
He said it was approved, welcomed me to the US and handed me a slip to take to ASC to collect my passport with a red coat check-looking ticket – apparently last thing today or tomorrow. In all, less than 5 minutes at the window.
Passport pick up
The Wednesday afternoon after my Visa appointment I received an email saying my passport was ready to pick up. It had easy instructions to follow, you log back on to the embassy site to schedule the pickup day and time (Covid reasons I assume) back at ASC *not the embassy. When I logged on the only avail day and time was from Monday the 16th onward. I had plans to fly home Sunday night for Monday meetings (very ambitious) so I manically refreshed the calendar and after 7pm that evening an early slot popped up for late Friday afternoon on the 13th!
This is where I learned that despite your passport being ready – you may not get a prompt appointment time to pick it up. Had I known this, I would have considered having it couriered to my hotel, so I didn’t need a booking to collect. Something to determine if you are in a rush.
*An Aussie in Bogota this week was given a DHL address for pick-up so ask the interviewer for confirmation when your interview ends.
I went back to ASC after I landed from Cartagena and after again being made to wait until the exact time scheduled, I was let in and collected the passport. They also let me sit and check all the details to ensure there were no mistakes on that Visa sticker before leaving which was appreciated!
COVID test (before returning to the US)
For the return Covid test, we booked it through our Bogota hotel – there are lots of options. This one was a little more premium – they came and did it in our hotel room and we got the results the same day for 260,000 each but you can find cheaper options. They emailed us the results and we had to show them at check in on the way out. The co was called ALIFE Health and v professional. I’d do it 72-48 hours prior in case something goes wrong, and you need to scramble to get a backup option but I was on a self-imposed tight turnaround so you may have more time to chill.
Other info about getting a US E-3 visa in Bogota, Colombia
A random note but I suffered quite severe altitude sickness when I landed. Strange as I have traveled a lot and been to many mountains before without issue but as the plane lands at a very high altitude your ears often don’t pop, and the struggle was real. I was extremely nauseous the first night – found anti-nausea tablets and spent the next day (all Sunday) fighting waves of nausea and being very foggy. The nausea tablets make you sleepy and I could barely remember my own name – not ideal for an interview. I made a point to stop taking the tablets on the Monday and was starting to feel a bit better. By Tuesday I felt almost 100% and ready for the embassy. A note that being in high altitude and wearing a mask everywhere is really hard to breathe at times so take it easy and be mindful of being lightheaded.
Apart from that – I went to Cartagena for a few days and it was fantastic. A photocopy of my Passport and NY state ID worked fine to check in. Some explanation to security was needed but they took no issue with the explanation that my passport was at the US embassy. Again, this was in Spanish so consider printing out a short note pre-translated or use Google translate if your Espanol is basic
I flew Avianca and it seems like a decent airline. Very professional and felt like a Qantas/Delta. The business class lounge was nice. Again, we yolo’d as the gf was working preflight.
Coming back through JFK was a breeze. The guy asked me if it was a renewal, what my role was and if I liked it – I said I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t like my job.
All up – I flew in Sat 7th and back out again Sunday the 15th (landed on Monday morning red-eye) – 9 days and wish it was more (curse work meetings!). Make sure you give yourself 3-5 biz days for passport return. It *might be as quick as 2 but you really should plan for 3-5. And make sure you book your ASC appt prior to the consulate interview!
For those needing legal advice: Cammisa Markel – Aussies in NY that know their stuff – legends.
Hope that helps others and here is a Google Map we made of places to eat, drink etc!! If you are there on a Sunday, go to the flea and general markets around Usaquen – it’s easily a half-day or more and really enjoyable. So much to do in Bogota, we had a blast. Cartagena was beautiful, and the beach day trip was !!!