I’ve been to Colombia three times in the past few years for film shoots. The country is gorgeous, with a fascinating history, and welcoming people. But producing a quality video there requires some planning. Here are 15 things you need to think about when producing a video in Colombia.
1. No visa required
If you’re a US citizen, you don’t need a visas if you’re staying less than 60 days, for tourism or business. Here’s updated information from the US State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
If you’re a US citizen, you don’t need to show proof of any vaccines upon entry. In terms of what the CDC recommends you have before you go, check out this article. You probably have them all, but better safe than sorry. In major cities, you’re good. If you’re shooting in the rainforest or villages, it’s worth it to pay attention and get the shots.
FYI, this is the latest video I made, in early 2019, in Medellin:
3. Customs & permits
As a small crew, we didn’t bother with a permit, but definitely inquire with your unit producer. It all depends where you’re going to film and if you’ll attract attention. Upon arrival at the airports of Bogota and Medellin, we had an easy time getting through customs with our video gear.
4. To Uber or not to Uber?
Technically, Uber is illegal in Colombia, but everybody uses it, and Uber claims 2 million users and almost 90,000 drivers. That said, my Uber driver at Medellin’s International Airport made me sit in the front seat so it looked like we were friends. The benefit: I got to adjust the radio (see #14, reggaeton, below)! Uber, of course, was cheaper.
5. Definitely hire a fixer
A local video production company is not required (during our shoot in Morocco recently, it was mandatory). But having a fixer with us was key for each of these three shoots. It enabled me to focus on directing and shooting and not have to think about traffic, schedules, logistics, etc. And even though I speak solid Spanish, by the end of the day my brain was tired and it was a relief to have a fixer just fixing stuff and simply focus on the creative.
Brush up on your Spanish. Yes, you can navigate the big cities with English, but outside the big cities, few people speak English. Besides, you’ll have a much better time and learn a lot more if you have at least basic Spanish. Say “dale” early and often: it means, “cool” or “ok” and keeps conversational momentum going. Just a little Spanish got me to play a little soccer with this guy:
7. Money stuff
The Colombian Peso is currently about 3,330 pesos to the dollar, which makes the math pretty easy! A lunch of 10,000 pesos is $3. The country is not as cheap as it used to be, since the economy continues to grow, but outside the major cities, it is a bargain. ATMs are ubiquitous. To avoid getting hit by transaction fees, try one of these checking accounts. People don’t regularly tip. In most restaurants, if you want to leave 50 cents, you’re good. High-end restaurants may expect or tack on a 10% propina.
8. Drones are cool
I had no problems flying my drone all over Medellin. Curious kids, but no overzealous police. Check out this site for some general drone laws in the country.
9. Safety is good
It’s safe. The people are nice. Anthony Bourdain said it best while filming an episode for Parts Unknown in 2013: “If you want to find bad people in Colombia, you can surely find them, as you could in New York or Los Angeles. But nowhere have my crew and I been treated better or with more kindness and generosity. I’d bring my family on vacation there in a heartbeat. And hope to soon. As I said before: Colombians are proud. Let them show you what they are proud of.” I couldn’t agree more. I felt comfortable. In the cities, there’s a big middle class and life and culture has a recognizable rhythm.
10. Diversity in people, climate, experiences
Colombia is incredibly diverse. Its cities are the most modern on the continent. Its rainforest is some of the most untouched (Darién). The climate zones include tropical rainforests, steppes, deserts, mountain climates, and savannas. Incredibly, it is the second-most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil. I took a puddle-jumper from Medellin (population 2.5 million) to Capurgana, a remote, car-free village on the Caribbean coast. Then hiked to Panama the next day. From a modern, cosmopolitan place to another where my ride from the airport was in horse-drawn carriage. That’s diversity.
11. Eat all the food. Drink all the drink
The food is worth exploring! In the big cities, there’s a foodie renaissance going on. That being said, a lot of the typical stuff can be relatively bland, since culturally the cuisine uses far less spice than, say, Indian or Middle Eastern food. So, it’s worth it to dig a bit and find the specialties of each region. In cities, the water is safe to drink. For me, the fruit was a standout: I tried mamoncillo, cherimoya, lulo and guanabana. (And yes, drink the coffee. My favorite coffee shop in Medellin was Pergamino)
12. Cell phone service
AT&T offered the $10/day International Day Pass that allows you to use your phone normally (no limits), so I did that. If you’re planning on staying more than a week or so, it would be cost-effective to buy a new SIM card.
13. Adapting your plugs
Americans are in luck. The plugs and sockets are of type A and B, same as in the US. I recommend packing a 3-to-2 prong adapter just in case type-B sockets aren’t available. In Colombia the standard voltage is 110 V and the frequency is 60 Hz. You don’t need a voltage converter. Charge your equipment with peace of mind.
14. Get on the reggaeton
Colombia is the world capital of reggaeton. Give it a shot if you don’t already know it. Some of the best reggaeton artists in the world hail from Colombia, including J. Balvin, Karol G, and Maluma.
15. Save on airfare
Get email alerts about cheap flights leaving from your favorite airports at Scott’s Cheap Flights. The premium service costs $49/year, but if you buy one ticket every few years, you’ve saved money. I’m amazed by some of the prices I see.
If you have ideas, leave me a comment here. I hope you have a great film shoot in Colombia!