During his father's presidency, he was a student in Colegio San Carlos. He got a degree in law at the Our Lady of the Rosary University in 1977, and attended Harvard University as a 1978 Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Fellow. He founded the magazine Guión and a programadora known as Datos y Mensajes, whose flagship program was the newscast Noticiero TV Hoy. As a regular news anchor he became a nationally known figure.
In 1982 he formally began his political career, gaining a seat on the local Bogotá council. He also specialized in press articles on the production and trafficking of cocaine, for which he gained many journalistic awards. In 1991 he was elected Senator.
He was kidnapped on January 18, 1988 in Antioquia by the Medellín Cartel, which was pressuring the Colombian government into preventing the extradition of Pablo Escobar and other drug lords to the United States. He was found by the National Police a week later, and in March he was elected Mayor of Bogotá, a position he held until 1990.
In 1994 he stood for the presidency against Liberal candidate Ernesto Samper, losing by only 2 points in the second round. Pastrana immediately accused Samper of using drug money to finance his campaign, and provided audio recordings to the authorities which subsequently attracted much media attention and eventually led to a scandal known as 8.000 Process (Proceso 8.000).
While this accusation underwent a parliamentary investigation, Pastrana retired into his private life. In 1998, Pastrana announced his intention to run for president. This time he won in the Presidential elections of 1998.
His presidency is remembered first for his negotiations with the two left-wing guerrilla groups FARC and ELN, culminating in the grant of a demilitarized safe haven to the guerrillas the size of Switzerland, and second for his breaking off of said negotiations. It is also remembered for a growing degree of unpopularity in polls as his term progressed. Some critics accused him of possibly accepting unspecified bribes from leading FARC and ELN members, but no concrete evidence of that was presented during his presidency. His administration proposed and initially oversaw the implementation of the Plan Colombia aid package and anti-drug strategy. He was also heavily criticized for all the seemingly pleasure trips he took around the world during his term.
In 2005 President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who had been a critic of Pastrana's peace process with the FARC and had received criticisms from Pastrana regarding his negotiations with Colombian paramilitary groups, surprisingly offered the former president the post of Ambassador to the United States in Washington DC. After consulting his family and political supporters, Pastrana accepted.
Some political analysts theorized that Uribe considered that Pastrana would be a useful diplomat in Washington, because he would help to renegotiate Plan Colombia and in general to maintain U.S. aid to Colombia, which has contributed to the successes of the Uribe administration.
In July 2006, a few days after President Uribe had appointed former president Ernesto Samper as Colombian ambassador to France, Pastrana told the President that he was "morally impeded" from participating in a government along with ex-president Samper. Pastrana resigned and returned to Colombia and Samper rejected his own appointment. But this move was not well received by the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party was committed to President Uribe (who won the presidency as an independent) and left former President Pastrana alone.
Pastrana is a member of the board of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and the Honorary president of the Union of Latin American Parties (UPLA).
He is also a member of the Fondation Chirac's honour committee, ever since the foundation was launched in 2008 by former French president Jacques Chirac in order to promote world peace.
Pastrana is also a member of the Club de Madrid, a group of more than 80 former leaders of democratic countries, which works to strengthen democratic leadership worldwide.
He also serves on the Board of Advisors for the Global Panel Foundation, a respected NGO that works behind the scenes in crisis areas around the world.
Pastrana is also a One Young World Counsellor, speaking to 1,300 young people in Dublin, Ireland with four other Latin American former Presidents.
In 2013, Pastrana was awarded the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award by the Prague Society for International Cooperation. Malaysia : Honorary Recipient of the Order of the Crown of the Realm (2001)
Andrés Pastrana is portrayed by the actor Andrés Ogilvie in TV Series Escobar, el patrón del mal.