The appeal of Colombia as an expansion hotspot for international companies, entrepreneurs and foreign workers is growing. On the economic front, Colombia has many free trade agreements, including with the US and European Union, and is a member of the Pacific Alliance trading bloc among other regional trade organisations.

Colombia’s location on the northwestern coast of South America places it in a prime position as a base for further expansion in the region. It has a Caribbean coastline to the north, a Pacific coast to the west, and the land border with Panama is the route to Central and North America. Colombia also has borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

The Colombian government is encouraging private enterprise and an entrepreneurial spirit, which is seeing growth in electronics, tourism and the services sector, while a number of free trade zones are further inducements. Consumerism is definitely growing in this upper-middle income economy, despite wage inequality, where the main traditional sectors are mining, oil and petrochemicals, textiles, agriculture, steel and coffee. Don’t forget the Colombian coffee!

Nevertheless, finding and recruiting in Colombia is a major task for companies who are setting their sights on Global Expansion – and it is a venture that faces many obstacles. This is where Bradford Jacobs’ global experience is vital for taking the smartest recruitment route into Colombia. Our benchmark platforms as a Professional Employer Organisation (PEO) have worldwide reach and include a total understanding of the complexities of Colombia’s employment market, which has both a ‘legal’ formal economy and an informal employment market.

Recruiting in Colombia

Word-of-mouth, recommendations are frequent when recruiting in Colombia. Maybe these are not typical or conventional routes for recruitment, but they certainly play a role in Colombia’s employment market. Job boards are also a popular platform for recruiters but make sure you highlight the salary, as this will rate above the company’s brand for attracting recruits. Positions in sales, the service sector and production are often best filled by recommendations from staff already in place.

The potential workforce is highly motivated, willing and well-educated. Colombia’s universities are rated among the best in South and Latin America, so the outflow of students can be the most promising source for high-level professions in medicine, business and engineering.

Recruitment is the first stage of making your company operational and competitive in Colombia. However, complications surround moving staff into the country and obtaining visas. It is vital to know where to locate the finest candidates for your company’s expansion plans to avoid these issues.

Employers are responsible for various procedures and registrations and must ensure their employees comply with several regulations. Once recruited, companies must then consider the implications of handling payroll for their staff and dealing with the Colombian Tax and Customs National Authority (Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales, DIAN) and the General System of Social Security in Health (Sistema General de Seguridad Social en Salud, GSSSH). Responsibilities include the following:

  • Starting the onboarding process with an employment contract/agreement with the employee.
  • Ensuring foreign workers have an Alien Identity Card if the contract exceeds three months and that they report to the Colombian Migration Administrative Unit within 15 days of starting work.
  • Confirming they undergo a medical examination by the company doctor at least three days before starting work.
  • Ensuring the employee personally signs all relevant forms. Digital signatures are not permitted.
  • Obtain the employee’s tax registration certificate and Tax Identification Number (TIN) through the Tax Registry (Registro Unico Tributario, RUT).

Employees' Legal Checks in Colombia

Colombian law and the Labour Code impose few restrictions on employers who want documented confirmation of information provided by an applicant. Required checks include:

Immigration: Verifying the individual has the necessary permits and visas to work.

Education and qualifications: Documented proof of degree or qualification confirming professional, technological or specialist training for the role, where applicable. The Ministry of Education must validate degrees obtained outside Colombia. Regulated professions may require Special Temporary Enrolment granted by the Professional Councils, in which case the employee will need a current professional card.

Medical: The candidate must undergo a medical examination by the company at least three days before the scheduled start of work.

General: Further background checks require the candidate’s permission and can be conducted by the employer or a third party. Typically, they include checking professional qualifications, employment history; criminal and financial records; global sanctions lists. Checks that can be regarded as discriminatory should be avoided.

Basic Facts when Recruiting in Colombia

The primary legislation governing the employer-employee relationship in Colombia is the Labour Code, which establishes any necessary contractual requirements when onboarding staff. However, case law also comes into play.

  • A contract must be agreed upon at the outset of the onboarding process.
  • Contracts can be written or oral, but the latter must confirm the role, salary, and duration.
  • Written contracts are advised.
  • Fixed-term contracts must be in writing, with no limit on the number of renewals up to three years. Apart from specific projects or timescales, they should also apply to teleworkers and remote workers.
  • Probationary periods must be confirmed in writing and cannot exceed two months for an open-ended contract or 20% of a fixed-term contract.
  • Employees must be given 30 days’ notice confirming the end of their fixed-term contract, or the contract will automatically renew for the original period.
  • Potential employees must undergo a company medical examination at least three days before starting work.
  • All enrolment forms must be completed on the employee’s first day of work and personally signed. Digital signatures are not permitted.
  • Employers must enrol the employee on the welfare system and insure them against employment risk.

After hiring and onboarding, employers must comply with all the provisions laid down by the Labour Code and any Decrees or Collective Bargaining Agreements. Statutory minimum standards include wages, sick leave, working hours, maternity allowances, paid vacations, termination and severance, notice periods and social insurance payments. Other rules regulate workplace discrimination. Examples include:

  • Employees receive paid sick leave up to 180 days on two-thirds salary for the first 90 and 50% for the balance, paid by the employer and reclaimed from the social security authorities.
  • The Labor Code permits 48 hours a week over five or six working days. The Colombian Congress has approved reducing the maximum working hours in stages by July 15 of the following years – 47 hours by 2023, 46 hours by 2024, 44 hours by 2025 and 42 hours by 2026.
  • The employer pays the benefit and reimburses the social security system. Maternity leave entitlement is 18 weeks, with usually one week taken before the due date. The employee can take two weeks before the due date or all 18 weeks post-natal for medical reasons.
  • Overtime hours are restricted to two hours daily and 12 a week. The rate is 25% above regular hourly pay for extra daytime hours. Employees working nights between 9 pm and 6 am are paid at a minimum 35% above the standard rate; if they work overtime during these hours, the premium is 75%.


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