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Packing Guidance for Colombia

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Colombia’s location near the equator means that temperature varies mainly according to elevation. While there aren’t distinct seasons like in the U.S., there are some patterns during the year including dryer periods, rainy periods, and windy periods. Even within each region, exact temperatures in different towns will vary depending on elevation.

Andean region temp

  • Nightly lows: 40-55°F (a few sites 50-60°F)
  • Daily highs: 50-65°F (a few sites 60-75°F)

Coastal region temp

  • Nightly lows: 75-85°F
  • Daily highs: 80-95°F, humid

Most work sites are in small and medium-sized communities. In the Caribbean region, all sites are hot and humid throughout the year. There are dry months with limited rainfall and rainy months with higher humidity. In the Andean region, the climate is cool, especially at night. There is more consistent rainfall throughout the year and the temperature can fluctuate significantly depending upon the time of year and weather conditions. Andean region sites are at higher altitudes.

These climate factors directly affect packing choices and clothing in particular. For example, layers are particularly important in the Andean region! When the sun comes out, you could be wearing short sleeves and jeans, but at night or in cloudy or rainy weather, you will want a jacket and a warm sweater. On the coast, lightweight and breathable clothes are ideal. Jeans are extremely common in both regions, as are dresses and skirts. Shorts are usually worn only in recreational or leisure settings. In both regions sunglasses and hats can be useful given the strong sun.

Pearls of wisdom: Climate and clothing

  • Shorts and short sleeve-shirts are of limited utility due to the need for protection against sun and mosquitos.
  • It can be helpful to bring apparel with UV or sun protection.
  • When possible, bring clothes that can layer well and adapt to either region.
  • Rain gear, like a waterproof jacket or shoes, can be helpful in both regions

Peace Corps Colombia provides the following items to all Volunteers:

  • Fire extinguisher and a CO2 detector
  • An essential “go bag” for safety and security (includes whistle, fanny pack, and portable light)
  • Peace Corps-issued smartphone with data plan for safety purposes
  • Water filter
  • Mosquito net
  • Basic COVID kit
  • Medical kit with basic “survival” medical supplies
  • Bicycle and helmet where required in service only and following approval

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms

Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Additional guidance from Peace Corps Colombia:

Avoid bringing:

  • Fancy cell phones and brand new electronic devices
  • Brand-name clothing
  • Envelopes/stamps or any physical mailing items since those are unnecessary and will not work in Colombia

Work clothing

Both Trainees and Volunteers should prepare to wear business casual clothing in all work activities.

Colombians are generally well dressed, especially in the workplace. Your community is likely to hold you to high standards because you will be working in a school, and you are a Peace Corps Volunteer. Dressing appropriately can enhance your credibility, since it reflects your respect for the customs and expectations of the people with whom you live and work. Inappropriate dress is something that can set you unnecessarily apart from your community and generate a poor impression of your professionalism. Items like shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, rubberized clogs, waterproof sandals, revealing clothing, etc., will not be accepted in a work setting anywhere in the country.

Leisure and recreational clothing

Even in leisure and recreational settings, Colombians are often more formal in their dress than many Americans. Make sure to have lightweight, long-sleeved shirts in addition to short-sleeved shirts, to allow for sun and insect protection. Clothing with UV or sun protection can be helpful. Rain gear is extremely useful for both the Andean and Coastal regions.

Workout clothes are similar to what you would wear in the U.S. Leggings or shorts are acceptable for athletic activities. Highly revealing sports clothing is discouraged as it may draw unwanted attention.

Pearls of wisdom: Clothing

  • Be aware of size discrepancy: In Colombia sizes are smaller and often made for shorter people.
  • If possible, bring a good selection of your favorite pants or jeans, as fits can be quite different in Colombia.
  • Seamstresses or “Costureras” are very popular and cheap. So if you’d like to have your clothes repaired or modified, this is a good option.
  • There are generally no public laundromats and dry cleaning is very limited and expensive (only for delicate and fancy clothes).
  • Dryers are rare in most households - washed clothes dry outside in the sun.
  • Accessories are readily available in Colombia.

Volunteers often do a significant amount of walking to training events and work activities, so bringing durable and comfortable walking shoes is highly recommended. In the Andean region, boots are common, whereas on the coast, sneakers and sandals are highly popular for a variety of places and occasions.

Pearls of wisdom: Shoes

  • Sizes generally run small, so larger shoes sizes may be hard to find in-country. There are also usually no width options, such as “wide” or “narrow” shoes.
  • We advise you to pack a backup pair of shoes.
  • There are a wide range of shoe and shoe repair stores at very affordable prices all over the country.
  • Leather footwear is very affordable and of high quality in Colombia.
  • Bring a simple pair of sandals or flip flops to wear inside the house. Most people don’t go barefoot.

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Most Colombians hold themselves to high standards with respect to personal hygiene and have strong opinions of what is appropriate “grooming”. Just as with dress, your hygiene and grooming will affect how people see you in your community. Having an appearance that is considered clean and tidy according to Colombians standards will help you tremendously in your cultural adaptation and integration.

Pearls of wisdom: Toiletries and grooming

  • Skin care products for the most part are easy to find, and home delivery is a common option if you can’t get those in your own town.
  • International homeopathic products are incredibly pricey so plan ahead if these are of interest.
  • Certain online merchants like Amazon do deliver to Colombia, which can be an additional option for receiving products.
  • There is a nice variety of high quality local brands of organic and natural products.
  • We recommend a low maintenance hairstyle and/or coloring.

Electrical current in Colombia is 110V. Electrical plugs are Type A (two flat parallel prongs), and Type B (North American 3-pin plug) nationwide.

Volunteers who have brought their laptops or tablets have found them extremely helpful to carry out their jobs. Volunteers who don’t have their own laptop may be able to borrow a Peace Corps tablet for a specific period to complete assignments. Although most known brands and IT equipment can be purchased or shipped in-country, they are often more expensive due to currency fluctuation and import costs.

If you are planning to purchase IT equipment, it is advisable to do this before traveling to Colombia.

Pearls of wisdom: Electronics

  • If you prefer to listen to music or podcasts, please bring cheap headphones. Wireless headphones can draw a lot of attention.
  • Some Volunteers also bring their personal phones. If you choose to bring your own phone, it is best to bring an older version.

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. This could include sporting equipment, cooking tools, musical instruments, art supplies, or items for personal comfort. These items are not required or even recommended but can be nice to have.

Below are some answers that our volunteers shared in response to the question, “What was the most important thing your brought or wish you brought to Colombia?”

  • “A blanket.”
  • “Electric mosquito zapper racquet thing.”
  • “Wet wipes or tissues: You can get them here but its nice to arrive with a supply.”
  • “My tablet.”
  • “Good deodorant and chocolate.”
  • “My wok.”
  • “Granola bars, long charging cables, hot sauce, spices, surge protectors with multiple outlets, and jackets with pockets on the inside; also a credit card with no international fees.”
  • “An extra charger for everything can be very clutch.”
  • “A pair of boots, hot sauce, extra socks/underwear, and a USB and HDMI adapters.”
  • “A good towel and cheap headphones.”