When ‘On my way’ doesn’t mean on my way

Colombians’ time perception translated – for the benefit of newly arrived foreigners who are still acclimatising to the culture here.

I’ve often been deceived (perhaps unintentionally, in their defence?) when meeting the locals, when the person I’m supposed to meet says ‘ya voy en camino’ (I’m already on my way). The expression actually means something really different in Colombia.

Once, a friend and I agreed to meet. I texted him at 5.40pm that I had finished work. He replied, ‘ya salgo.’ (I’m already leaving the office) I panicked because he’s just one block away. Immediately I dropped what I was doing to meet him.

I rushed out my flat, got outside, and waited around for 5 minutes.

No one turned up.

I texted, ‘When are you?’

‘Ya voy en camino.’

Oh.. I see!! So what about 15 minutes ago when you were ‘leaving the office’? What was that?

Then, it wasn’t another 10 minutes until he turned up.

This goes to show that the said actions are to be executed 30 minutes later.

So when you hear ‘voy en camino’, expect to wait for 10-20 minutes.

A translation of Colombian time frame:

On my way 1 = having shower / getting ready

On my way 2 = putting on the shoes

On my way 3 = leaving the house

On my way 4 = calling a taxi

And when it starts to pour it could be that they never turned up in the end..


‘Ya’ (already) is also promiscuously used in Colombia.

If you ask when something will be ready, you’ll get ‘ya’ for the answer but in most cases what you need isn’t actually ready until at least 10 minutes later.


You may also get ‘5 minutitos‘ (5 small minutes). If you have already seen the pattern, you’ll know that it really means 15-30 minutes. No joke.

The rule of thumb is doubling the estimated time that was given to you – that will usually give you a more accurate time frame. Of course, as with everything in life, there are always exceptions. Indeed, there are lots of Colombians who will respect your time perfectly, but they remain the minority and therefore should be greatly glorified.

In general, time seems to have different definitions here, where

10 minutes = 0 minute/in no time

15 minutes late = on time

30 minutes late = normal

The ‘consolation’ I get for these peculiar situations are, ‘come on, it’s not as bad as Brazil’, ‘in all fairness, this city isn’t conducive to being on time’. Well I’m sure that compared to many other countries we’re rather civilised here.



  1. After over three years here I have worked out the following equation:

    1 Colombian minute=3 European minutes

    It seems to be a pretty good yardstick

  2. […] here since they’ve (or we’ve?) got used to permanently staying in the stage of talking about meeting up. Without having done that means it’s not on. Full […]

  3. My wife is Colombian I hate the word ya so much. When she says “ya voy” it makes my heart sink.

  4. […] most foreigners cannot stand more than 2 years of Colombian problems, a lot of which are featured here on this blog), the Colombian pride might have brushed off on me, and I may be biased. […]

  5. […] Having been here for more than 3 years, I guess it’s only natural that I have become more desensitised than I was when I first got here so maybe I’m not picking up all the cultural and social nuances like eating cheese with ice-cream and what it really means when someone tells you they’re ‘on my way‘. […]

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