Escape from Medellin

Editorial Note: In April, I took a month off in Medellin. For me, this meant an interesting and diverting month. For you, this means 30 days of posts about my vacation. I’ll try to make them somewhat amusing.

All good things must come to an end, and today I had to leave Medellin. I have mixed feelings; on the one hand, I’m looking forward to getting back to work, and to being able to once again easily communicate with people. On the other, Colombians are nice people in almost exactly the way that Californians aren’t. Being around Colombians makes me feel like I should try to be nicer, too.

But all that aside, I wanted to present a brief and practical (if somewhat vague) guide to navigating your exit from Colombia via MDE. You can stumble your way through without this, of course, but maybe you’d like to know what to expect.

The Line

First of all, there’s going to be a line to check in. It might be long, or it might be really long, but there’s going to be a line. This means that the “arrive two hours before your flight’s scheduled departure” rule is actually a pretty good one in this case.

At the back of this line is you, and at the head are the checkin counters. In between are airline girl and cop guy. Airline girl’s job seems to be to send you over to the DAS counter if your exit taxes were included in your ticket price, as they usually are. The cool part is that airline girl also lets you cut back into the middle of the line at her station after your return from DAS-ville.


Airline girl will give you a little printout and wave you vaguely in the direction of the DAS folks. If you’re lucky, someone immediately ahead of you will get sent to the same place (it’s pretty common) so you can just follow him. At the DAS counter you show the DAS folks your printout, passport, etc. and they’ll give you a little slip of paper. This slip of paper has something to do with you not having to pay any more fees. They’ll also put a stamp in your passport. It’s not an exit stamp (that comes later) and your guess is as good as (probably better than) mine as to what it means. It seems like a good thing to get, though.

A side note about DAS: By some accounts DAS staff are the one group of people in Colombia that will give you a hard time about language: It’s all Spanish, all the time, apparently as a point of principle. (In other cases your strange gringo tongue may not get you anywhere, but this is simply due to its unpopularity, and not your interlocutor’s stubbornness.) So it’s probably best not to get too creative during your interactions with them.


Anyway, after you deal with DAS and cut back into line at airline girl’s desk you will (slowly) make your way to the checkin counters. Along the way you show your documents to cop guy, who eyeballs them but doesn’t do anything else. (Maybe he tells you if you’re missing something?)

At the checkin counter they collect the DAS slip, which you never see again. They also give you your boarding pass(es), and quiz you about your luggage. (Who packed it? When? Where? Does it contain any battery powered devices? How long have you owned them? Have you ever sent them out to be repaired?) Mercifully, they do this in English if you’ve got a US passport.


It’s not super-obvious where to go after checkin. In fact, you head for the “International Departures” doorway, and not towards a gate number as in other airports. Following other people who look like they know where they’re going (and have foreign passports) works well here, too. Of course, between you and your gate lies the security screening.

As ostentatious as Colombians are about security, you know what they don’t do? They don’t make you take off your shoes, and they don’t use backscatter imaging, because they’re not morons. Hand-searches of luggage are more common, but they’re polite and quick.


Then it’s off to emigration, where you actually get your exit stamp. Along the way there’s another of those Colombian pat-downs, where they check if you’re carrying C4 strapped around your waist, but evince no interest in the contents of your overstuffed pockets.

Emigration itself looks like the mirror image of immigration: A guy in a booth asks you a few questions, then stamps your passport.

After emigration, you reach the gate. During boarding at the gate they rifle through your luggage one last time, after quizzing you about whether or not it’s been out of your control, etc. Assuming all is as it should be, congratulations! You’ve successfully navigated the procedure required to escape from Colombia.

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