Is Colombia safe to do an internship?
Many improvements have been realised in Colombia in the last decades, mostly as a result of several peace negotiations that reached agreements between the government and paramilitary groups, guerilla groups and narcotrafficking syndicates. There are still vast areas near the Pacific Coast and much of the south of the country that are recommended for tourists and international travelers to be avoided.
Also a lot of good work has been done when it comes to bringing down violence and crime in the major Colombian cities. Thanks to a string of innovative mayors who have integrated the poorest hillside neighbourhoods into the city center in the valley below, Medellín is now comparable to most other South American metropolises and can be considered safer than varies US cities. You can rest assured that the current city life is nothing like in the scenes of the popular Narcos series. That is ancient history since Pablo Escobar died over 24 years ago.
Medellin is a beautiful city with a very good climate and a low cost of living, which makes it a great place to live. But no city is perfect. It is important for foreigners to realise that they are not in their home town, where they can go about on an automatic pilot and know exactly what behaviour and which places to avoid.
Prevention is always better than cure
It is good to adopt a different, more cautious attitude, when living in Colombia. Street crime is still common in Colombia’s big cities, as well as in other Latin American cities. Because of greater differences in social classes it is recommended, in all of Latin America, to be cautious and not waving around with expensive equipment like photo or video camera and wearing exposed jewellery and expensive watches and sunglasses for example. And in some crowded places, be very careful with the use of your cell phone.
No dar papaya
A Colombian expression explains how the local people prefer to go about: “el mejor consejo es no dar papaya” which means: The best advice is Don’t show off. Or in other words – Unnecessarily giving the opportunity for something to happen, exposing oneself, taking risks, putting oneself in danger, being careless, being imprudent, being innocent, giving all the facilities to make something happen, giving too much advantage to someone, increasing the probability of something happening or provoke some action, be little cunning, have little common sense …
For Colombians “giving papaya” is one of the greatest sins anyone can commit, because they believe that there will always be someone who takes advantage of it, that is, someone will always take the papaya that is given to them.
Some examples that perfectly explain the meaning of the expression:
If you walk late at night in a neighbourhood with high crime rates, wearing a Rolex watch and several jewels in sight, you are “giving papaya” (so that, at least, they leave you “peeled”).
If you leave the door of your house wide open, you are “giving papaya” (so that someone, at least, enters).
Come prepared if you can, with a good level of basic Spanish to be able to communicate. This can avoid confusion because of misunderstandings. In case you are new to the Spanish language, it is highly recommended to combine your internship with a full Spanish language course, to improve your overall experience in Colombia and professional opportunities that may come up during the course of your internship.
City Traffic and how to behave
When it comes to traffic; Bogota and Medellin have been ranked 7th and 8th on the Waze list of worst places to drive in the world (driver experiences). Traffic can be bad in Colombia’s major cities, especially in rush hour. And there are usually a large number of scooters and motorcycles, trying to creep to the front of the cues, cutting corners and passing cars to the right and to the left. To avoid getting stuck in traffic your best option is to use the Metro where possible.
As a pedestrian, better don’t expect traffic to stop when entering a crosswalk. You can really get into dangerous situations trying to get your right and walk on, without looking real good if traffic is stopping for you. For most European and North-American citizens this means changing their instincts.
It is recommended not to wander alone in the streets at night and use an app like Uber, Easy Taxi and Tappsi to call a taxi.
Other safety tips
Keep your passport in a safe place and don’t bring it with you when going out on the street. Use a copy instead along with another ID to be able to identify yourself. Only carry bank cards with you that you need to use that day.
Dress conservatively, like the locals from your age, not to draw too much attention.
Be cautious and conscious of what goes on and who might be around you when walking in the streets.
Keep a low profile and don’t share information about where you live and work and the places you are staying to strangers.
Don’t flash cell phones, cameras or money. Don’t display expensive electronics in public places or wear fancy jewellery.
To withdraw money, use ATMs in malls or other regulated places and never in the open on the street.
In case you are forced to hand over your money and your phone, stay calm and never resist. Thieves have different values and it’s not worth risking your life for your possessions.
Don’t leave your drink out of sight. It is easy for someone to drop something in your drink without anyone noticing.
Don’t walk alone at night if you don’t know the neighbourhood. You’d better stay in groups and use taxis, ordered by apps, to move around the city at night.
Be particularly careful in El Centro. Also be aware that safer areas like El Poblado may attract thieves targeting tourists and the wealthy area of the city. Stay away from the poorest neighbourhoods of the city like Popular, Santa Cruz, Manrique and 12 de Octubre.
For our Interns we have prepared an introduction guide, containing the most important information to prepare you as much as possible for your journey. A document that includes the contact details of important government services and tourist aid organisations for regular use and emergencies. And tips on how to get around the Colombian city that you will live in, how to meet and communicate with the local people and how to avoid problems in Colombia.
Sign up with Paisa Internship
Paisa Internship is your go-to specialist for a paid foreign internship. Check out our broad range of paid internship positions in cities like Bogota, Medellin and Pereira. And in case you are looking for specific terms and conditions in a specific region or out of the season, our Diamond Package is ideal for you. You can sit back and relax, we’ll arrange everything! Contact us and we’ll find you the paid internship abroad that fit your needs.
We also have WhatsApp support and a local team available to guide you with whatever need you have during your whole stay in Colombia.
You can read all about the benefits of an international internship experience on your resume by clicking here. Want to know all the advantages of interning in Colombia, check-out our post Why doing an Internship in Colombia?
Contact us with any questions and be sure that we’ll take away all your doubts.