Your guide to health insurance for Colombia
This short guide will offer an overview of the geography, history, culture and essential summary of the healthcare system in Colombia for expats residing or traveling in the country. Read on to learn more, or click the button below to obtain a no-obligation, free health insurance quote.
An overview of Colombia
Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil. Travelers and expats looking for warm, tropical coastal living, or a more temperate, fresh, spring-like mountain climate will definitely find what they desire in Colombia.
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a verdant wonderland, home to the soaring Andean summits, unspoiled Carribean coastlines, cryptic archaeological ruins, enigmatic Amazon rainforest, and photogenic colonial towns. The landscape is diverse given the country’s equatorial position, with snow-capped mountain peaks, high-altitude lakes, and swathes of tropical grasslands.
The country’s 1000 miles (1,600 km) of coastline to the north is bathed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and the 800 miles (1,300 km) of coast to the west are washed by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is bordered by Panama on the northwest, Venezuela, and Brazil on the east, and Peru and Ecuador on the South.
At intermediate elevations, modern cities such as the capital, Bogata, and other cities including Medellin, Cali, and Barranquilla, are juxtaposed with traditional rural landscapes where mestizo (of mixed European and Indian descent) farmers cultivate their small plots of coffee, maize, and other crops.
History of Colombia
Colombia strongly reflects its history as a colony of Spain and is the most populous nation of Spanish-speakers in South America. Colombia was originally inhabited by various tribes, hunter-gathers, and farmers until Spanish explorers began settling from 1499. The thirst for gold, riches, natural resources, and land led to the colonization, and ultimately, fall of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations at the time. Between 1536-38, Spain established the settlement of Santa Fe de Bogota, which subsequently became known as Bogota, the current capital.
Since declaring independence from Spain in 1810, Colombia has had many cultural-political revolutions with civil war breaking out in the early 1900s, a guerrilla war in the mid-1960s, and the war against drug cartels during the 1980s. Although the scars of the past still haunt the present, and the battle against drug trafficking remains to be resolved, Colombia is undeniably a booming and developing country, both culturally and economically.
As of June 2019, the population of Colombia is estimated to be at 50.39 million, which ranks 29th in the world. The majority of the Colombian population is Mestizo. The next prominent group is white Caucasian Colombians, followed by Zambo, or Afro-Carribean descendants, and lastly the various Amerindians tribes. Interestingly, around 1% of the total population consider themselves to be indigenous in the country with extremely well-preserved traditions and language.
The healthcare system in Colombia
Healthcare will probably be a major concern for expats and their family members when planning a move to Colombia. The thought of leaving one’s own healthcare system to another can be a daunting prospect, however, the good news is that healthcare in Colombia is actually very good, if not excellent. 18 of the best ranked 44 hospitals in Latin America are located in Colombia, all of which are considered high in quality, but also very affordable. Modern facilities and state-of-the-art equipment can be found in these hospitals.
Colombia’s constitution in 1993 made healthcare a basic right for all citizens and foreigners. There are two types of medical coverage available in Colombia: Entidades Promotoras de Salud and private health insurance.
Entidades Promotoras de Salud (EPS)
EPS is the public healthcare system and is mandatory for all residents. However, for tourists, or short-term travelers planning to visit Colombia, it is recommended to secure international health insurance before arriving to cover any unexpected costs.
The public EPS is available to all foreigners, including expats and their family members holding a Colombian ‘cedula’ (resident ID). The system is simple and works through contracted health insurers, who then refer individuals to a network of participating healthcare providers. The monthly premium is 12.5% of the employee’s monthly gross income.
Medicina Prepagada (Prepaid or private health insurance)
Private health insurance in Colombia adds to the experience and value of the public health service. Not only will private healthcare appease you and your family in terms of healthcare, but it will also reduce your waiting time, widen your choices of facilities and treatments, help deal with emergency situations like medical evacuations, and remove the financial burden of paying directly out-of-pocket for medical treatment.
Before securing private health insurance, it is important to note that expats may be asked for proof of enrollment in the public system when seeking private healthcare. This is because private health insurance in Colombia ties in with the public health sector.
Travel and safety tips
Here are some tips to keep you and your family safe when traveling around Colombia.
1. Don’t give papaya
The Colombian phrase ‘no dar papaya’ - literally, ‘don’t give a papaya’ - means don’t make yourself an easy target. Being streetwise means not flashing valuables or brands that may make you a victim of petty crime.
2. Learn some basic Spanish
Being able to communicate is important no matter where you are in the world. It will help boost your confidence and make you stand out less and deter people from taking advantage of you as a foreigner. Plus, it is a much better experience when chatting to locals and discovering more of what Colombia has to offer.
3. Check ATMs for tampering
The best advice is to avoid taking out cash in places where it is dark, quiet, and neglected. Upon using an ATM, make sure to check that everything looks safe and normal. Visit ATMs secured at Banks and notify staff if the keypad seems loose or misaligned.
4. Use taxi apps at night
The are several Colombian taxi apps to use in cities like Bogota, with the most popular being Tappsi and Cabify. Expats with family members including young children will find the services offered as safe and convenient, especially when traveling at night.
5. Be aware of fake ‘plainclothes’ policemen
Don’t be fooled, no legitimate Colombian policeman should ever request to inspect your passport and, especially money, or proof of address on the street. If someone makes a request, then stay calm, speak as clearly as possible in Spanish to deter being misled, and explain that you wish to go to the police station to have it addressed there. By showing composure and indicating your intent, they will likely move on sharpish and leave you be like nothing happened.
Secure an emergency medical evacuation coverage
Most visits and stays in Colombia occur without incident, but there are certain medical conditions to be aware of and several things you can do to prevent severe sickness. Getting vaccinations prior to your trip to Colombia will help ward of tropical diseases that are quite prevalent in jungles and rural areas.
If you are considering making a trip deep into the biodiverse jungle or have plans to explore the high altitudes of the mountainous Andes, it is best to secure an international health insurance plan that includes emergency medical evacuation.
If you or your family member develops a life-threatening medical problem that requires medical intervention that is unavailable in Colombia, then Miami, Florida is just a short flight by plane or helicopter.
Vaccines and medicines for Colombia
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow fever
- Mumps and rubella (MMR)
Routine vaccinations should also be considered below:
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)
It is important to seek medical advice from your local doctor or travel specialist and request further information and recommendations.
How to find the best health insurance for expats and travelers
With almost two decades of extensive experience gained from across the globe, Pacific Prime can assist with any health insurance needs in Colombia. By leveraging our close relationships with major international insurers, we offer professional advice and free plan comparisons to our clients.
No matter what your budget is, or what your requirements are, our professional consultants can match you with a policy that best fits you or your group. Our policies can cover a wide range of services, including dental, maternity, specialist consultation, health emergency transportation, inpatient services, and many more aspects.
Expatriates with family members can also secure international cover for the whole family. For international students or travelers in search of international health insurance or travel insurance, Pacific Prime is the go-to insurance intermediary for the best impartial advice and guidance.
Contact us today for a free consultation!