If you yearn to teach English in South and central america, a country which was shunned by the world for its descent into violence and chaos, Colombia has made an impressive comeback. Economic development and education are high on the government’s reform measures. Given its natural advantage as a gateway to South America and its own fabulous terrain, tourism is regarded as an engine for the country’s economic growth. The government understands that these aspirations can be met only with better English-speaking skills in the country. Thus, the job market for jobs teaching English in Colombia is booming making it one of best countries to teach English.
In 2015, the Colombia government launched a 10-year plan titled Colombia Very Well. The objective is to promote Colombia as a bilingual country. To implement this plan, the government has been trying to ensure that there are more native speakers teaching English in Colombia.
By 2025, the country hopes to have 185,000 high school graduates with intermediate English speaking and writing skills. With this kind of focus on bilingualism, opportunities for jobs teaching English abroad in Colombia have been increasing over the past five years.
There are several options that will allow you to get started teaching in Colombia:
The government of Colombia, as part of the bilingualism plan, has created teaching assistant positions for native speakers. The foreign teachers are hired to co-teach the English classes in public schools.
The Colombia Very Well project underlines that workers in private and public companies and institutions in the country should also be bilingual. English speaking skills are highly valued as it helps in professional and career growth. This has led to a boom in private language institutes across the country, but especially in bigger cities. They offer substantial work opportunities for native speakers interested in teaching English in Colombia.
This includes both international schools as well as Colombian private bilingual schools which follow the national curriculum. These are the most sought-after jobs for teaching English in Colombia. The pay scales are higher. But professionally too, the work is rewarding as these schools expect a higher level of immersion in English for their students as compared to public schools.
The government has yet another project to encourage the use of English in the country. Known as Teach English in Colombia (TEC), it brings together industry and the church to provide training in vocational English to students. The students are not charged for the classes. The program is known as SENA. If you are a US citizen scouring the web for opportunities teaching English in Colombia, you can check out SENA.
You could join an online platform to supplement your income. Another option is to take private classes. Most schools do encourage their students to take tuitions. You could either take group or individual classes.
Teacher recruitment in Colombia is a year long process. This is because different jobs hire at different times of the year. The academic year in public schools and SENA is from January to November. So, if you would like to focus on these institutes for teaching English in Colombia, you must start your application process by November. Private schools and international schools follow a different system. Their academic year begins in September and ends in June. The application process for these schools begins by May. Language schools hire all through the year.
The differing academic calendars may make your TEFL job search slightly complicated. If you’re applying to private schools, public schools, SENA, you can apply online. The government normally hires teaching assistants for public school through recruitment agencies. If your hopes are to work in language schools, then it is better to be in Colombia whilst seeking out potential jobs. You need to be on the ground and use your network of contacts.
You can check out the table below to get a better idea of the application process in the different kinds of institutes or schools.
The qualifications for teaching English in Colombia are rather vague as far as the mandatory requirements are concerned. What does give you an advantage in the job market is having a Bachelor’s degree (it can be in any subject), being a native English speaker and a certificate like TEFL or its equivalent.
If you do not have any of these qualifications but are still keen on teaching English in Colombia, do not be disheartened. It is still possible to land a job. Of course, you may have to compromise on the salary.
If your purpose is financing the exploration of this fascinating country by teaching English in Colombia, then some noteable advice would be to take up the lower paying jobs. You can always supplement your income with private tuitions. The income from both sources together will be enough to cover living expenses and finance your discovery of Colombia.
You can apply for a work visa only if you have an employment contract. Most teachers arrive in Colombia on a tourist visa. Normally, schools do help newly appointed teachers in getting their visa processed.
The work visa for teachers is known as the M-5 visa. If you have managed to get a job during an online application process, you can apply for the visa from your home country. Approach the Colombian embassy or other Colombian visa instituition in your home country for the forms and submit the documents required. You could also apply online on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Colombia.
The documents needed for a work visa vary depending on your home country. But you would normally require the following documents for the visa process:
Once your visa application is approved, you have to travel to Bogota to get your passport stamped. If you apply online and your documents are in order, the visa is likely to be approved within a week.
After the M5 visa is granted, you have to apply for the Colombian ID card within 15 days. The ID card is known as the Cedula de Extranjeria. It is mandatory for all foreigners. You cannot rent an apartment or open a bank account without it. You will also need the Cedula de Extranjeria to apply for internet, cellphone and landline connections.
Since you will be fingerprinted and photographed, you need to go in person to the department of immigration for the application process.
Things to Do
On the day of the appointment, visit the office and submit with the following documents:
You will be informed once the ID card is ready to be picked up.
Salaries for teachers in Colombia depend on the qualifications. Higher your qualifications, the more you are likely to earn while teaching English in Colombia. The language schools have both full time and part-time opportunities. They pay between $700-900. If you are a part-timer, it is likely that you will be paid by the hour. The per hour rates vary from $8-$18.
Language schools generally do not offer any additional perks or benefits. At most, as a part-timer you may be allowed to choose between morning or evening sessions. Some language schools expect you to travel to the clients and conduct classes at their premises. If this is not something you would enjoy doing, please be clear about it during the initial negotiations.
The government-run public schools offer salaries in the range of $400-$600. Some schools offer housing allowance or accommodation. Private schools pay up to $1000. Salary ranges in international schools are higher. In addition, you get perks like airfare, paid vacations, housing allowance and health insurance. If you plan to take private tuitions, you can charge students between $12-$27 based on higher qualifications and experience.
While teaching English in Colombia, you have to get used to certain aspects of life in this fascinating country. These include:
You don't need a college degree or a degree in education or professional teaching experience to teach English in Colombia in language centres - but you do need a degree to get your visa so this is a very grey area. To teach in an international school in Colombia you will need a bachelors degree.
Colombia is an inexpensive country that offers a very decent quality of life. You can live comfortably for around $500 per month. Rents are low. Food is inexpensive, considering the quality and diversity of the produce. Travel, especially on Colombia’s buses, is inexpensive. If you want to travel across the country while teaching English in Colombia, you can opt to take a domestic flight. Airfares are very reasonable.
The rent out a one-bedroom house for a month in the city is $265, while a similar sized apartment in the outskirts of the city will be $200. Of course, it depends on the city where you are working. Housing is expensive in Cartagena as compared to places like Santa Marta and Barranquilla. You will be charged $63 for utilities inclusive of water, electricity, garbage and cooling/heating. Internet charges average $25, depending on your plan. Cellphone prepaid rates are around $0.07 per minute.
While teaching English in Colombia, be sure to include a culinary discovery of the country along with your other exploration plans. From the typically Colombian deep-fried empanadas to the meaty bandeja paisa, Colombia cuisine is hearty and filling.
Dining at an inexpensive Colombian restaurant will cost you around $3. A meal for two in a mid-scale restaurant will be around $17. A cup of coffee to round up the meal will put you back by one dollar. It is advisable to avoid drinking tap water. Bottled water is available for $1 (1.5 liters).
Public transport is the best option to get around in the city. A monthly bus pass is around $30. There are also taxis and motorcycles. A one-km ride in a taxi is normally billed at $1.5.
Shopping for groceries in Colombia is a fulfilling experience. The supermarket shelves are well stocked and affordably priced. The produce is extremely fresh. If you are careful, you can have homemade meals for as low as $200 per month.
The average salary in Colombia is around $290 per month. You will earn well above the national average while teaching English in Colombia. The income is enough to have a decent standard of living as well as to finance your travel within Colombia.
Even the well-travelled tourist will be amazed at the diversity that Colombia has to offer. From the brooding jungles of Amazon to the sunny beaches of the Caribbean, the country is a please-all destination. Do you prefer the mountains? Go hiking on the mountain trails of the Sierra Nevada in Santa Marta. Are you for the sun, sand and the sea? Have fun splashing in the crystalline waters in the Caribbean beaches of San Andrés. Had your fill of the beaches and mountains? You want to see something that is truly extraordinary and unique?
Well, welcome to Chiamocha Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world with a depth of 6,560 feet. Or head to Chocó to listen to the song of the humpback whales. Is there anything that can beat the magic of listening to the whales sing? How about checking out the River of Five Colors or Caño Cristales? Where else, other than in Colombia, can you see a river painted with shades of yellow, black, green and blue? Or have the chance to explore an ecosystem that is one of its kind on the earth?
Once you are done marveling at Colombia’s beautiful bio-diversity, it’s time to visit the wonderful cities. Wander through the colonial buildings at Cartagena, dance the salsa at Cali, visit the museums at Bogota, Colombia’s vibrant capital, or have a taste of the exciting night life at Medellín, the city where Colombia’s dreaded drug lord, Pablo Escobar ruled with an iron fist.
Teaching English in Colombia will give you the chance to do some truly unique things. Here is a list of unmissable activities you must try out:
Get to know what goes into the making of one of Colombia’s greatest exports – its aromatic coffee. The coffee plantations, known as fincas, are located at the Zona Cafetera. The plantation management will take you around in a classic World War II jeep which are very popular here. The tour takes you through the entire process from the planting of a coffee seed to brewing the perfect cup of coffee.
Check out the brilliant colors and the vibrant underwater life by going scuba diving off the islands of Providencia or Santa Catalina. The quiet islands, with crystal clear waters and amazing sea life are known as the hidden gems of the western Caribbean. They are home to the third largest coral reef in the world.
The pink dolphins are a rare sight. Found in the Amazon river, the myth is that they transform themselves into handsome young men at night! While that story may be a little difficult to swallow, do count yourself lucky if you spot one of the pink dolphins.
Colombia’s second largest desert is famous for its surreal sand formations. With its red and uneven dunes stretching endlessly for miles, you may wonder if you have landed in Mars. But what is absolutely unforgettable is the sight of the stars shining down brilliantly in the clear desert night. Tatacoa’s unique location makes it possible for stargazers to view the constellations of both the northern and southern hemisphere.
For teaching abroad destinations, Colombia is a good option. A beautiful country, warm people, good living conditions and decent pay scales have resulted in several teaching professionals heading to its cities to try out the Colombian way of life. The only catch is that though Colombia has emerged from its notorious past, there are still some areas of the country where law and order is problematic. But if you get a job in one of the major cities in the country, your stint in Colombia will be a memorable experience.
Anecdotes by expats teaching English in Colombia indicate that living and working in Colombia is a ‘crazy ride’.