Colombia Demographics

What is the population of Colombia?

Population 49,084,841
Population Growth Rate 1.1%
Urban Population 75.3%
Population in Major Urban Areas BOGOTA (capital) 8.743 million; Medellin 3.694 million; Cali 2.453 million; Barranquilla 1.9 million; Bucaramanga 1.12 million; Cartagena 988,000
Nationality Noun Colombian(s)
Nationality Adjective Colombian
Ethnic Groups mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%
Languages Spoken Spanish (official)
Language Note Most Colombians speak Spanish, which is the official language. Among eighty indigenous groups at least forty languages are spoken.

Colombia Learning

What is school like in Colombia?


Primary schools are run by local governments, whereas secondary schools and universities are supported by the national government. By law, the Colombian government spends at least 10% of its budget on education. Colombia has one of the highest expenditure rates for education in Latin America.
Rural elementary schools tend to have one room and one teacher. Nearly 70% of those teachers had not received formal training to become teachers, and over half of them did not even register as teachers. In rural schools, the teachers tended to focus on practical subjects to teach the children how to succeed as much as possible within the realities of their lives.

Most schools have a simple uniform that children are to wear: dark skirts for the girls, and dark pants and light shirts for the boys.

Education Culture

Preschool is operated by private organizations and can start as early as four years old. Almost 92% are Catholic and are located in larger cities. 
Elementary school is free to all students, and children are required to attend school for nine years (five in elementary school, ages 6-10, and four more in secondary school, ages 11-14). For many, as we will see, only the first five years is likely. Most of the schools are operated by the Roman Catholic church, so courses in that religion are required study in all public schools. Protestant churches also run a number of schools, especially in Bogota

Elementary schools are maintained by local governments where possible. If there is not enough money locally to support the school, the national government will step in to provide needed financial support. The national government also supports secondary schools and universities. An increasing number of nonprofit and private organizations are working to improve education in Colombia as well.

Keeping children in school can be challenging. Experts disagree on exact figures, but all agree that recent improvements have been helpful in improving education. In 1999, one study reported that 5.1 million students attended elementary school (88% attendance), and 3.5 million attended secondary schools (54% of the possible total number of students). Almost all secondary schools are in the larger cities, leaving children in rural areas with little chance to attend school after the age of 12. Nearly 650,000 students attended universities. Illiteracy had fallen to 3%. Another study for the same year, however, reported that more than 3.5 million children did not attend school (no age range was given), and 8% of the population over the age of 15 could not read. In 2003, 93% of the adult population was considered literate in the cities, but only 67% in rural areas.

Furthermore, when children go to school, too many are undernourished and hungry, which makes learning very difficult. Schools that have been able to provide breakfast programs are seeing tremendous improvement in their students’ abilities. These breakfasts often provide up to 75% of the children’s daily nutrition and consist of foods like oatmeal, milk, fruit, eggs, and toast.

There are two basic school schedules available for schools to choose from: the first begins in February with a four-week vacation in June and July, and finishes in November; the second begins in September with a four-week vacation in December, and finishes in June. Both schedules have 198 days of classroom instruction.

The school day is usually six hours long, divided into two sessions. Each session has three 45-minute classes and a 45-minute break. Subjects include Spanish, arithmetic, social studies, aesthetic and manual training (such as art), natural science, physical education, and religious and moral training. The school system requires that children are to receive training in Roman Catholicism, and the remaining courses are not allowed to include teachings that contradict Roman Catholic principles.


The schools do not buy the textbooks for their students, rather, parents must buy them from local businesses after school teachers or administrators tell them what books will be used. When a school chooses a textbook, it will usually use that book in its classes for about three years. 
Although secondary schools have traditionally offered mostly academic subjects, the Ministry of Education is trying to move more towards a practical or vocational approach. Very few students will graduate and then go on to university studies, instead joining the work force because they must help support their families. If the subjects studied in secondary schools are more focused on preparing students for jobs instead of academic studies, they seem to better help the students with the realities of their lives.

In general, classes in Colombia are taught in Spanish. In small villages or rural areas where another language is spoken more frequently, the law requires that the schools teach in both the local language and Spanish. The second-most frequently studied language is English. In general, only the wealthier private schools teach other languages such as French or German.

In rural areas, secondary schools are rare. To assist with that problem, the government offers educational radio and television broadcasts. Where secondary schools are available, the courses now include practical training and agricultural education so students are more prepared to get a good job upon completing high school.

To School

Kids will usually walk or ride a public bus to school, depending on the local circumstances. They will catch their bus between 6:00 and 6:30, and arrive at school around 7:00. The roads in Colombia are often windy and mountainous, even within the cities. At the end of the day, students return home the same way they came.
Schools will either provide one meal a day or a series of light snacks throughout the day. In either case, the food provides about one-third of the recommended daily nutrition, although for poorer families, this school-provided food may be their main source of nutrition each day.

Colombia Health Information

What are the health conditions in Colombia?

Contraceptive Prevalence Rate - female 15-49 79.1%
Death Rate - deaths/1,000 population 5.33
Drinking Water Source - percent of rural population improved 73.6%
Drinking Water Source - percent of total population unimproved 8.8%
Drinking Water Source - percent of urban population improved 96.9%
Food or Waterborne Disease (s) bacterial diarrhea
Health Expenditures - percent of GDP 6.1%
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate 0.5%
HIV/Aids Deaths 6,500
Hospital Bed Density - beds/1,000 population 1.4
Infant Mortality Rate - female deaths/1,000 live births 11.96
Infant Mortality Rate - male deaths/1,000 live births 18.77
Infant Mortality Rate - total deaths/1,000 live births 15.46
Major Infectious Diseases - degree of risk high
Maternal Mortality Rate - deaths/100,000 live births 92
Mean Age for Mother's First Birth 21.4
Obesity - adult prevalence rate 17.3%
People Living with HIV/AIDS 160,000
Physicians Density - physicians/1,000 population 1.47
Sanitation Facility Access - percent of total population unimproved 19.8%
Sanitation Facility Access - percent of urban population improved 84.9%
Sanitation Facility Access - percent of rural population improved 65.7%
Total Fertility Rate - children born/woman 2.1
Underweight - percent of children under five years 3.4%
Vectorborne Disease (s) dengue fever, malaria, and yellow fever

Colombia Life Expectancy

How long do people live in Colombia?

Life Expectancy at Birth 75 Years
Life Expectancy at Birth - female 78 Years
Life Expectancy at Birth - male 71 Years
Median Age 28 Years
Median Age - female 29 Years
Median Age - male 27 Years

Colombia Infant Mortality - per 1,000 live births

Colombia median age, birth rate and death rates

Birth Rate - births/1,000 population 17
Death Rate - deaths/1,000 population 5.33
Median Age 28 Years
Median Age - female 29 Years
Median Age - male 27 Years
Net Migration Rate - migrant(s)/1,000 population -0.66
Population Growth Rate 1.1%
Sex Ratio 0-14 Years - male/female 1.05
Sex Ratio 15-24 Years - male/female 1.04
Sex Ratio 25-54 Years - male/female .98
Sex Ratio 55-64 Years - male/female .98
Sex Ratio at Birth - male/female 1.06
Sex Ratio of Total Population - male/female .98
Sex Ratio Over 64 Years - male/female .72

Colombia Medical Information

What are the health conditions in Colombia?

Medical Facilities and Health Information

Medical care is adequate in major cities but varies greatly in quality and accessibility elsewhere. Emergency rooms in Colombia, even at top-quality facilities, are frequently overcrowded and ambulance service can be slow. Many private health care providers in Colombia require that patients pay for care before treatment, even in an emergency. Some providers in major cities may accept credit cards, but those that don’t may request advance payment in cash. Uninsured travelers without financial resources may be relegated to seeking treatment in public hospitals where the standard of care is below U.S. standards.

Elective Surgery: The Department of State regularly receives reports of U.S. citizens who have died or suffered complications from liposuction and other elective surgeries overseas. Before undergoing such a procedure in Colombia, consult with your personal physician, research the credentials of the provider in Colombia, and carefully consider your ability to access emergency medical care if complications arise. It is important to confirm that your medical insurance provides coverage in Colombia, including treatment of complications from elective procedures or medical evacuation if necessary. If you suffer complications as a result of medical malpractice, collecting damages from your surgeon may be difficult.

Unregulated Drugs: Colombia has seen a recent increase in the use of unregulated drugs that purport to enhance sexual performance. Some tourists have died after using these substances, which come in liquid, powder, or tablet form. You are urged to seek guidance from a physician before ingesting such substances in Colombia.

Altitude Sickness: Travelers to the capital city of Bogota may need time to adjust to the altitude of 8,600 feet, which can affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy level, and cause mild dyspnea with exercise, headaches, sleeplessness, and other discomfort. Drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration, and avoid strenuous exercise until you have acclimated to the altitude. If you have circulatory or respiratory problems, consult a physician before traveling to Bogota or other high-altitude locations.

Colombia Education

What is school like in Colombia?

Education Expenditures - percent of GDP 4.4%
Literacy - female 90.7%
Literacy - male 90.1%
Literacy - total population 90.4%
Literacy Definition age 15 and over can read and write
School Life Expectancy - female 14 Years
School Life Expectancy - male 13 Years
Total School Life Expectancy - (primary to tertiary) 13 Years

Colombia Literacy

Can people in Colombia read?

Literacy - female 90.7%
Literacy - male 90.1%
Literacy - total population 90.4%
Literacy Definition age 15 and over can read and write
Predominant Language Spanish (official)

Colombia Crime

Is Colombia a safe place to visit?

Crime Information

Violent and petty crime remains a significant concern in Colombia. Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas. Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery, you should not resist. Firearms are prevalent in Colombia and altercations can turn violent. Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can still be extremely dangerous due to the presence ofof illegal armed groups and narcotics trafficking gangs. Theft also remains a significant problem in many urban and rural areas. There has been an increase in petty crime, including a significant increase in pick pocketing of passports in the El Dorado Airport in Bogota, Colombia, and at luxury hotels, especially during Colombian holidays, Christmas, Easter Week, and summer holidays (July and August).

Some of the most common methods used by criminals in Colombia are noted below:

ATMs: People are sometimes robbed after using automatic teller machines (ATMs) on the street. In some cases, robbers use motorcycles to approach their victims and then flee the scene. For your safety, only use ATMs inside shopping malls or other protected locations. Driving to and from the location – rather than walking – provides added protection. When using an ATM, you should be on the lookout for anyone watching or following you and be extremely cautious about displaying cash.

Taxis: Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Bogota, as well as in Cali and Medellin. Typically, the driver – who may be one of the conspirators – will pick up the passenger and then stop to pick up one or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings. If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators may force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations. Such ordeals can last for hours.

In most taxi-related crimes, the victims have been riding alone and have hailed taxis off the street. Rather than hailing a taxi, you should use the telephone dispatch service that most taxi companies offer. Many hotels, restaurants, and stores will call a taxi for you. When a taxi is dispatched by telephone, the dispatcher creates a record of the call and the responding taxi. The taxi company provides the caller with the license plate numbers and a security code to present to the taxi driver before departing.

When taking a taxi, note of the license plate, company and other ID for the car and driver. Also, the Colombian Tourist Police recommend checking to make sure that your taxi has inside handles and latches before committing to the ride.

Airports: U.S. citizens arriving at major Colombian airports have occasionally been victimized by armed robbers and rogue taxi drivers while en route from the airport to their hotel or home. There are taxi booths both in El Dorado (international) and Puente Aereo (domestic) airports. You may go to the booth, request a taxi, and provide the address of your destination. The person in the booth will give you a ticket indicating the amount of money you will pay for the service. Dispatchers are right outside the exit to organize the waiting line. Authorized taxis are located in the designated area, close to the booth. Give one part of your ticket to the driver and retain one for your records.

Criminals also sometimes identify potential victims at the airport and then follow their vehicles before robbing the occupants at a stoplight. Remain vigilant at airports and inform the local airport police if you suspect you may be under surveillance.

Hiking Trails: Several U.S. citizens have been robbed in recent years while hiking on nature trails in and around Bogota. Hike in groups for safety, especially in isolated areas.

Hostels: The Tourist Police in Bogota specifically caution about crimes in backpacker hostels in the Candelaria area of Bogota, noting many attacks in recent years, including a sexual assault of a U.S. citizen. Be careful when selecting a hostel- consider not just the price, but the general safety of the area.

Disabling Drugs: The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate unsuspecting victims. Perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes or gum at bars, restaurants, and other public areas, especially those that cater to sexual tourism. Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault and other crimes. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.

Counterfeit Money: U.S. citizens in Colombia routinely fall victim to a scam in which purported undercover police officers approach them on the street and request to examine their money, supposedly to determine if it is counterfeit. The “officers,” who are in fact criminals, then flee with the money. In a variation of this scam, the thieves may ask to see your jewelry. Legitimate Colombian police officers do not make such requests. Colombian police officers will always be in uniform. If someone claims to be working “undercover” (out of uniform), they are not legitimate since undercover police are not authorized to intercept tourists on the street.

Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.

Colombia Penalties for Crime

Criminal Penalties

While traveling in Colombia, all persons including U.S. citizens are subject to its laws and jurisdictions. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. The purchase of pirated goods may lead to prosecution under U.S. law. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Colombia, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what is legal and what is illegal in the countries you visit.

If you are arrested, the U.S. government cannot request your release. Colombia and the United States do not have a prisoner transfer agreement, and so any sentence for a crime committed in Colombia is ordinarily served in a Colombian prison.

Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking of illegal drugs in Colombia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long prison sentences under harsh conditions, with significant expense and great hardship for themselves and their families. Colombian police make multiple arrests daily for drug trafficking at major airports, and have sophisticated means for detecting illegal drugs in baggage or on your person. Travelers are sometimes requested to undergo an X-ray to ensure that they are not smuggling narcotics within their bodies. There are currently more than 40 U.S. citizens incarcerated in Colombia for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country.

The hardships resulting from imprisonment do not end even after release from prison: Colombian law requires that serious offenders remain in the country to serve a lengthy period of parole, during which the offender is given no housing and may lack permission to work. As a result, family members must often support the offender, sometimes for more than a year, until the parole period expires.

Arrest Notification: Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Colombia, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

Colombia Population Comparison

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