A report on the state of English literacy in Colombia showed that only 6% of university students obtained a decent level of the language. Another study on Bilingualism in Colombia revealed that 75% of English teachers could not talk in English to Upper-Intermediate standard.
These worrying stats explain the increasing emphasis on learning English if the country is to compete globally. In 2015 a ten-year initiative called Colombia Very Well was launched to increase the number of high school graduates with an intermediate level of English by 2000%.
To achieve this goal, the Ministry of Education committed to paying recruiters who could fill teaching positions with native English speakers. This directive has since created many opportunities for English native speakers over the last five years.
More international students who have participated in semester exchange programs or pursued internships are going back to teach English in Colombia. The different academic calendars between private language academies, public school programs, and bilingual institutions have created a thriving job market for native speakers.
Working in Colombia
The numerous opportunities for native English speakers make it easy to find a job at any time of the year. However, if looking for higher pay, better working hours, and a sponsored visa, send applications to government and private schools 3-6 months before your desired start date.
For university positions, contact directors directly via Facebook and Whatsapp. These platforms are more popular than emails.
To secure a job in a well-paying institution, you need a Bachelor’s degree in any field certification like CELTA and TELF and be a Native English speaker. CELTA is an acronym for Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults while TELF stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
The certifications are a pre-requisite for any teaching job in primary and secondary schools. However, Colombian private schools and universities may also require higher qualifications like prior experience or a master’s degree. Other companies may require applicants to be fluent in Spanish too.
Most employers prefer native English speakers from the UK, USA, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Canada. Non-native speakers with high levels of English may still find work. Ensure you are well-acquainted with the different teaching positions so you can plan financially. They include:
Full-time, contracted: In this case, the school sponsors the teacher’s work visa. Once the school completes the paperwork, the teacher goes to Bogota to complete the legal process. Since the school has sponsored the permit, the teacher is obliged to teach at that school
Part-time employee: Teachers enrolling for this form of employment receive payment based on the number of classroom hours. As such, tasks relating to offsite work and lesson planning remain unpaid. Such arrangements don’t always require the teacher to obtain a work visa
Independent contractor: In this case, the teacher receives payment based on the number of hours worked without additional benefits. Thus, a work visa may not be required
Where to Look for Teaching Jobs in Colombia
Looking for teaching jobs in Colombia can be daunting, especially if you don’t know where to start. Apart from online recruiting agencies, consider government-funded agencies. GreenheartTravel, is one such agency funded by the government to hire native teachers and instructors. The Colombian government covers all expenses related to the visa application.
Applicants will also find work in international private schools. The institutions allow EFL teachers who have degrees to teach other disciplines apart from English.
Such institutions send representatives to job fairs in the United States and Canada, so you need to keep updated about upcoming job fairs.
The salary of an English teacher varies based on the institution, experience, and one’s qualifications; most teachers receive an average of $500-$1000 per month. Since the cost of living in Colombia is relatively low, it’s easy to live comfortably on an income within this range.
Getting a Visa
A visa is a mandatory document for anyone applying for a job as a foreigner. Teachers from the US and Canada, however, can stay in the country as tourists for 90 days and request a three-month extension if looking to secure a job.
If you manage to secure a teaching job, then, it is essential to obtain the M-5 Visa. The visa is valid for three years and restricts the holder to work for the profession with which the permit was granted.
Applicants who manage to secure a job before going to the country can apply for the M-5 visa online via the Colombian Ministry of Affairs website. Once the visa is approved, the applicant is required to go to Bogota to collect the visa.
It is crucial to determine if the school will assist you to obtain a visa especially if it is a pre-requisite for getting the job. Some institutions require a visa but are not willing to sponsor the individual.
As such, the teacher is compelled to obtain sponsorship through another school, then leave and carry the visa to that institution.
Best Cities to Find Work in Colombia
Colombia has transformed from its dark past of crime and drug cartels. It is now a vibrant, fast-developing, and welcoming place to live and work. The cost of living depends on the city and the neighborhood you want to live in.
Rent rates, for example, are pretty stable from region to region, but those on the coastal areas like Cartagena are notably expensive compared to the rest.
A survey on the cost of living in different cities shows you get to spend $1000-$2500 per month. Foreigners looking to move to Colombia permanently should check out these four popular cities:
It is Colombia’s second-largest city and has a population of nearly three million people. Medellin has a metro system which makes it easy to get around.
What’s more, it boasts up to 30 universities hence provides plenty of opportunities for English-speaking tutors. The climate here is pretty friendly with daytime temperatures ranging from mid-70s F to 80s F. Medellin also has an international airport with direct flights to the US.
If looking to live near the Caribbean coast, this is the place to be. Cartagena has a residential population of one million people and boasts a larger expat community than any other Colombian city.
Apart from the evident hustle and bustle of the city life, there are lots of recreational activities in the region, including bicycle riding, swimming, boating and playing golf.
It is Colombia’s capital city and is the hub for commerce and business. Bogota is home to a range of international companies, government organizations, and universities hence ripe for the thriving native-speaking market.
The climate is a little cool compared to other cities with daytime temperatures ranging from 65 F to 48 F. Additionally, the cost of living is significantly higher than that of other cities.
It is the third-largest city in Colombia and has become the economic center of Southwestern Colombia. Cali’s thriving economy is credited with increasing real-estate investments and innovation hubs.
In 2016 it hosted a Startup Weekend that showcased the growing entrepreneurial community of the city. The community garners support from investors like Creatic and Coderise, which are learning institutions that provide a large market for tutors looking for employment.
Apart from cultural history and unmatched biodiversity, Colombia is an excellent market for tutors looking to teach English. The low cost of living allows foreigners to enjoy all the pleasantries of the Caribbean coast while working in their preferred professions.