With its lush rainforests, exciting cities, and vibrant Latin culture, Colombia is a great destination to explore. And, despite its troubled past, the country is now stabilizing with more and more ESL teachers realizing that Colombia is a good place to work. Want to join them in South America? Read on to learn how to teach English in Colombia.
There are numerous ways to become an English teacher in Colombia. Some teaching positions offer salaries while others come with a stipend. Most English teaching jobs in Colombia require a bachelor’s degree, but there are others that you can secure without a degree or even any relevant experience. Let's take a look at the different options for teaching English in Colombia:
The Teach English in Colombia (TEC) Program is a project under the SENA National Training Service. This is part of the government's emphasis on learning English and offers vocational English training to Colombian individuals of working age.
TEC offers volunteering positions to those interested in teaching English in Colombia. To volunteer, you must be a US citizen and possess a TEFL certification. You'll also need at least a year’s worth of classroom teaching experience.
If you work under the TEC program, you'll receive a stipend of about $500 a month. If you share accommodation with other teachers this should be sufficient to cover your living expenses thanks to the low cost of living in Colombia.
One of the reasons teaching English in Colombia has become more popular is Colombia Very Well, an initiative that started in 2015. This program aims to improve the number of Colombian high school graduates who have at least an intermediate level of English and pushes for bilingualism in the country.
Colombia Very Well is a government-sponsored initiative from the Ministry of Education. It hires native English speakers who possess a university degree and TEFL certification to teach in public schools as teaching assistants. Just like with TEC, teachers under the program receive roughly $500 a month as a stipend.
There are a good number of private and international schools located all over Colombia’s major cities. These institutions generally offer good salaries and benefits like airfare reimbursements and housing allowances.
Most of these schools require an applicant to be a native English speaker from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, or South Africa. Holding a bachelor’s degree is also required, as well as relevant teaching experience. Completing a TEFL course should give you an advantage over other applicants and leverage to ask for higher pay.
A large number of English teachers working in Colombia started their careers in one of the many language schools in the country. These centers hire teachers all year round. So, if you’ve missed the hiring period for public schools in Colombia, you can work temporarily at a language school and apply in time for the next school year.
Language schools also hire people without a degree and provided you have a high proficiency in the English language you should be able to find work here. You can earn from $8 to $12 an hour, which increases if you hold a degree or possess a TEFL certification.
The usual clientele of language schools are adult learners aiming to improve their business English and university students. Consequently, teachers are often asked to work evenings and weekends to accommodate the schedule of these students. This may also involve teaching at students’ homes.
While the salary from regular teaching jobs in Colombia, coupled with the low cost of living in the country, should be enough to pay for your daily expenses, some individuals choose to do some private tutoring to save for luxuries like traveling.
A private tutor can earn up to $27 an hour depending on the location and type of student that they teach. You can even make it your full-time job if you can get enough students.
The average monthly salary of an English teacher in Colombia ranges from $700 to $1,000. It depends on the teacher’s qualifications, level of experience, and the location of the school.
Public school volunteers get about $500 a month, which is just enough to cover necessities like accommodation, utilities, and food.
Private tutors usually earn between $12 to $27 per hour. However, just like with English teaching jobs at schools, the rate depends on the tutor’s qualifications and level of teaching experience. The distance of the student’s house from where you live can also be taken into consideration.
Most private schools provide housing allowances, roundtrip airfare, and health insurance. Note that these are not standard benefits for English teachers in Colombia.
The requirements for teaching English in Colombia depend on which institution you’re applying to. However, it is fair to say that the higher the salary, the higher the qualifications expected from the ESL teacher. Note that while most institutions prefer applicants from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa, any native English speaker from around the world can apply for a job in Colombia teaching English abroad.
Let's take a look at some of the common requirements in a bit more detail:
Having a Bachelor’s degree is strongly preferred by most employers. The degree can be in any subject and it doesn’t have to be education- or English-specific. Not only will it make you more employable, but it will also increase your salary. However, if you don’t have a degree, do not despair, it’s still possible to find a job teaching in Colombia. But, as mentioned above, it will be a more competitive job search.
Completing a CELTA/TESOL/TEFL course is a no-brainer if you want to be able to teach English in Colombia. While it isn't always a requirement, plenty of English teaching jobs list this as a preference. This means you will have an edge over other applicants if you hold a TEFL certificate. Given the competition for jobs in the country, you need all the advantages you can get.
Earning a TEFL certification is not difficult. There are numerous online TEFL courses you can take during your free time and you can complete a TEFL course in as little as four weeks if you dedicate yourself to it.
A teaching license from your home country is another bonus that can either get you hired over other applicants or give you leverage to negotiate a higher salary.
Language schools in Colombia don't typically require their teachers to have classroom teaching experience but some international and private schools will. The length of experience required will vary depending on the institution.
Some schools look for those with experience of at least six months, others may require up to two years worth of relevant teaching experience. It's best to ask the hiring institution about this before you submit your application.
You can enter the country on a tourist visa and stay for 90 days. You can use the three months to find work. Applying for a teaching job in Colombia in person may give you a better chance of getting hired than those submitting their applications online. However, don't count on this and always do your research!
Once you’ve secured a job offer, you can begin processing your M-5 Visa (work visa). This is valid for the duration of your contract or up to three years. The M-5 Visa is only valid for the position with which it was granted so you cannot seek employment in another profession with it.
Note that if you leave Colombia for 6 months (consecutive), your work visa will expire.
You can file your M-5 visa application online or from the Colombian Consulate if you are still in your home country. If you are already in Colombia, you will need to file your application at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores in Bogota. The documents that you will be asked to submit are:
Copy of your passport's information page
Copy of the stamped passport’s page when you entered Colombia
Bank statements from the hiring institution
A letter of motivation from the hiring institution
You will also need to pay $282 as a processing fee.
Everyone working in Colombia must have a Cedula. This is the identity card that will allow you to open bank accounts or rent a place in the country. You can get this as soon as you receive your M-5 Visa. You are given 15 days after receiving the visa to get the Cedula from the immigration office. If you file later than that, you will need to pay a fine.
The steps to getting a Cedula are:
Get your blood tested to know your blood type
Submit an online application
Schedule an appointment to submit your documents at the local immigration office. The documents you must submit are the result of your blood test and a copy of your passport’s information page.
Pay the $60 fee
Some institutions cover the visa processing fees while others do not. Make sure to check with your employer before applying.
There are plenty of jobs teaching English in Colombia and most of them can be found in these main cities:
Bogota is the country’s capital city and a popular destination for travelers. There are numerous private and public schools that hire ESL teachers in the city, making it a hotspot for those wanting to teach English abroad.
Bogota has more to offer than just work opportunities. There are several historical landmarks, cultural attractions, and interesting architecture that you can check out when you’re not working.
Cali considers itself the salsa capital of the world and is known for its colorful reputation. Many tourists come to visit Cali, prompting big businesses to open in the area. More people are recognizing the need to improve their English skills if they want to do business with foreigners. So, it's not surprising that more English language schools are opening here.
Medellin is the second largest city in the country and has become a hot spot for tourists and locals alike. This city is slowly rivaling Bogota in terms of economic growth. Therefore, the demand for ESL teachers in Medellin is growing as well.
Cartagena is not one of the main cities but it is a popular destination for tourists due to its easy access to the Caribbean and Central America. Because of its growing population, the demand for English teachers in this port city has grown too. While Cartagena is smaller than the other cities mentioned, you can still find a lot of job opportunities in the area.
If you want to teach in Colombia, applying for a teaching position with a language school is a great place to start. Simply search for language school websites by looking up directories of English language schools (or checking Google) and you can then apply online. You can even narrow your search by indicating the city where you wish to work.
It's also possible to do the same for private schools. If the information is not available on their website you can contact the schools directly and inquire about their application process.
Online job boards are also a great resource if you are looking for job openings teaching English in Colombia. You can also join expat social media groups, groups for TEFL teachers, and other forums for ESL teachers working in Colombia. Some teachers post vacancies here.
The application period for teaching jobs in Colombia varies depending on the institution. Language schools hire all year round so you can send in your application whenever you’re ready.
Private schools start the year in September. The best months to look for job openings are in May and June.
Public schools open in January. The peak hiring season is in November.
Colombian culture and etiquette may be very different from what you are used to back home. That is why it's important to research what to expect from different places and the people there.
Here are a few helpful things every new resident should know about this wonderful country:
Fostering good relationships is central to Colombian culture. Relationships between you and your students, as well as your colleagues, are likely to be friendly. Don’t be surprised if you are on a first-name basis, especially with your older students.
Punctuality is not a big deal with Colombians. You may notice that your co-workers don't even put that much importance on starting on time. So, expect meetings to start a few minutes after they’re scheduled or for students to arrive a little late to class.
Your work attire will depend on your school. Some institutions are quite lax so people can get away with wearing casual attire. However, some schools require their teachers to wear professional attire.
Colombians put a lot of importance on politeness. Greeting others with a kiss on the cheek or handshake is normal.
Be mindful of practices like chewing with your mouth open, yawning, and slamming doors as they can considered rude.
Socializing is a huge part of Colombian culture. Engaging in conversations with strangers is a normal practice. Some people will try to start a conversation with you even on the streets. If it seems like a safe interaction, try to engage and practice your Spanish!
Living on a teacher’s salary is doable since the cost of living in Colombia is generally quite low. Of course, this varies depending on which part of the country you live in.
The bulk of your expenses will go on your accommodation. You can rent a small room for $200 or less in shared accommodation, and this is an ideal option for those on the government-sponsored volunteer programs or if you have a tight budget. If you have some extra funds to spend, you’ll be able to find a one-bedroom apartment in any of the cities for a bit more and can spend up to $500 per month.
Utilities such as water, heating, cooling, and electricity will add another $15 to $40 to your monthly expenses.
Buying food from the local shops is both practical and economical. It's best to stick to local food as imported food tends to be pricier. The same goes for products at the supermarket if you’re buying ingredients. Expect to spend anywhere from $75 to $100 on food every month.
The metro is usually the cheapest and most convenient means of getting around cities in Colombia. You’ll spend around $0.75 per trip in most cities.
If you are staying in Bogota, you may find yourself taking the TransMilenio. This is a BRT or bus rapid transit, which goes all over the city. Depending on how far and how often you’d need to travel, this can cost around $20 to $45 per month.
Colombia has undergone a lot of improvements in the last few years, turning it into a safe place for people to live and visit. It's growing into a favorite destination for people who want to teach in South America and is also becoming more popular with digital nomads.
When you're not working, you can explore the country's breathtaking landscapes. Visit beautiful Cartagena, climb Mount Monserrate, or explore the Piedra del Peñol. And if food is your thing, check out Colombia's national dish, the Bandeja Paisa, with its assortment of meats, fried eggs, avocados, and plantains. Or snack on a plateful of arepas!
So, if you're thinking about teaching English in South America, you should definitely consider teaching in Colombia.
You can make $700 to $1000 a month teaching English at a school in Colombia. You can supplement this by giving English classes at language schools, or by offering private tutoring services where you can make up to $27 per hour.
No, speaking Spanish is not a requirement to teach in Colombia. In most classrooms, you will only need to speak in English to expose the students to the language. However, it will help you get around if you know a few helpful phrases in Spanish.
Yes, some institutions accept native English speakers without a degree and only require that the teacher have a TEFL certification.
You will first need to obtain a tourist visa. This lasts for 90 days and you can get it when you arrive in the country. Once you're in Colombia, you can apply for a teaching position. When you receive a contract offer, your employer will guide you in obtaining an M-5 Work Visa. After securing this, you'll need to apply for a Cedula so you can rent accommodation and open a bank account.