I spent most of my time in Bogotá catching up, after the Cuban internet blackout, sorting photos and uploading blog posts. I also had several extended conflicts with various representatives of COPA airlines.
The story goes something like this: at Cancún airport, I was prevented from boarding the plane by COPA staff who told me that I had to have a ticket leaving Colombia in order to be allowed past their immigration. I suspected something fishy, but couldn’t really argue as they weren’t going to let me on the plane unless I bought one.
At their back office, the lady placed a call to “immigration” to check whether it was a real requirement. After five minutes on the phone, she turned to me and told me in broken English that what I really needed was a visa, and that I should go back to the Colombian embassy and get one - presumably in Mexico City and presumably an operation that would take weeks for me to complete.
Mild panic began to set in, but I held my ground and told her I thought “immigration” was wrong, and that I had called the embassy already to verify my status (a lie), and that she should get a second opinion. Her supervisor came over and did more research on their system, and finally agreed with me that a visa wasn’t required, but an outbound ticket would be.
I bought the ticket and they let me board, but of course the only real research I had done on Colombia immigration was looking at the Wikipedia page. Not the most reliable of sources, and so for the whole 3 hour flight my nerves were torn apart - images of spending a night in an airport and being deported back to Mexico insuppressible.
At the counter at El Dorado International Airport, I maintained my composure and answered all the officer’s questions in Spanish. It was sheer relief as my passport was stamped and I was waved through. “Bienvenida a Colombia!” she said with a beaming smile.
Later research revealed that the outbound ticket isn’t a hard requirement. It’s just something they might check, and thus the airlines force passengers to purchase them, because should Colombia choose to deny entry, the airline would have to pay for the deportation flight. I have subsequently learned that most travelers who are wise to this scam will book and cancel flights just to get a printed itinerary, or even fake an itinerary document by editing it in Photoshop.
I cancelled the flight for a full refund once I was in Bogotá. But I’ve learned a lesson: always check the Timatic international travel system that the airlines all use, before flying. It has everything you need and is kept current.