Teaching English in Colombia: The Ultimate Guide

ESL Jobs in Colombia

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Colombia is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited, with friendly people and it’s a great place to live and work.

-Anny from Anny’s Adventures

Colombia has fast become a bustling and vibrant country, full of cultural history, beautiful and wild landscape and wonderful people. From the capital city of Bogata to the current ‘hot spot’ Medellin, Colombia is rich in opportunities and a great place to explore as an English teacher.

Twenty years ago, Colombia wasn’t a country most people visited due to the violence and risk. Now, the nation is one of the most visited and dynamic countries in Latin America with its booming tourism evidence of the clear rise in safety. In addition, Colombia’s fast-growing economy, along with a recent increase in educational spending, means that English teachers are in high demand.

Whether you want to give back to the local community and work in a public high school or you have your sights set on working in a private or international school, there are plenty of opportunities. More and more language institutes are also popping up and hiring ESL teachers all year round so if you have a degree and are a native speaker, you should have no trouble gaining employment as a teacher in Colombia. While it is possible to find a job without these, salaries are lower and the job hunt more competitive. TEFL certification is certainly beneficial, but not an essential requirement.

You may not leave Colombia a millionaire, but your salary will allow you to break even and live pretty comfortably, as well as giving you the funds to explore the wonders of this colorful country. From the wild Caribbean coast to the Andes mountains, Colombia offers not only enriched teaching opportunities but a platform for adventures.

Requirements to Teach English in Colombia

Colombia’s development in education over the last decade means more regulations and standardization for employers. You’ll find that job requirements vary from position to position, but the following are the most common:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Native English speaker
  • TEFL qualification

teach in colombia requirements

Generally, if you’re a native speaker and have a degree, you’ll find that you’ll have access to most of the teaching positions in Colombia. Having a TEFL qualification will also give you a boost over your competition. If you don’t meet these requirements, you may still secure a job, but you need to be prepared for a more challenging search and should expect a lower salary. If you can’t speak Spanish, do not fear, this isn’t a requirement to teaching in Colombia. Living and working in Colombia is a great excuse to learn or improve on your Spanish.

Bachelor’s Degree

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. But, as mentioned above, it will be a more competitive job search.

Native English Speaker

Being a native English speaker with citizenship from the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa is usually preferred but not required. If you’re a non-native speaker but have high levels of English, you may still be able to find work. Similar to not having a degree, just be aware that it may be tougher to find a job and your salary may be lower.

TEFL Qualification

While you don’t necessarily need a TEFL qualification, having one will definitely give you an excellent foot in the door to gain employment as an English teacher in Colombia. There are plenty of positions that list TEFL as a preference so if you’re pursuing one of those it might be easier to complete a course prior to arrival. Having said this, you can find employment without a TEFL.

Colombian Work Visa Process

You can stay in Colombia as a tourist for 90 days, during which time you can look for work as an English teachers. After this, you will need to obtain a work visa, called the M-5 Visa, which costs about $282 USD (approx 900,990 pesos). You will need to have secured a job to be able to apply for the M-5 visa. It is valid for up to three years, or for the duration of your work contract, and you can only work for the position or profession with which the visa was granted. If you leave Colombia for longer than 6 consecutive months during your visa period, the visa will expire.

Visa Application Process

If you manage to secure a job before going to Colombia, you can apply for the M-5 visa online on the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website or at the nearest Colombian Consulate in your home country. A great number of teachers arrive in Colombia on a tourist visa and process their M-5 visa once they’ve landed their teaching position. The visa can be processed in Bogotá at the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores Office or you can apply for the visa online (which will require scans of the necessary documents).

After you receive online approval, which usually takes about one week, you will be required to go to Bogota to get the visa. Some employers will sponsor your visa application, so it’s worth asking about this when applying for work. The exact process and documents needed will depend on which country you’re from so check the website of the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But, typically, be expected to provide the following:

  • Photocopy of the information page of your passport
  • Photocopy of the passport page with the latest stamp of entry into Colombia
  • Work contract from your school
  • Letter of motivation from your employer
  • Passport photo
  • Bank statements from your employer

Cedula

A Cedula is the Colombian identity card, enabling you to rent an apartment and open a bank account and costs $60 USD to acquire. Once you have obtained your M-5 visa, you have 15 days to register at the local immigration office to get your Cedula or you could face a fine. To get a Cedula you need to:

  • Have a blood test
  • Complete an online application
  • Schedule an appointment at a local immigration office – bring your passport with the visa, your blood test, a photocopy of the information page of your passport and the $60 USD (approx 190,000 pesos)

Medellin Guru breaks down the Cedula process, with links to the online application form and where to get your blood test.

How Much Can You Make Teaching English in Colombia?

“Teaching English in Colombia won’t make you rich, but you will create memories you will never forget.”

According to Anny (quoted above) from Anny’s Adventures as well as other teachers, teaching English in Colombia won’t make you wealthy but you should be able to break even and live a comfortable life. Salaries may seem low in comparison to your home country, but the cost of living in Colombia is also extremely reasonable. Your pay will vary depending on the employer and your level of experience but on average, an English teacher in Colombia will earn between $500 USD and $1000 USD a month (approx 1.5 million pesos to 3 million pesos).

Types of Teaching Jobs in Colombia

There are a large number of teaching opportunities in Colombia for ESL teachers, each varying in pay. Colombia is a rapidly developing country, taking great strides to improve their education system. A 10 year initiative, called Colombia Very Well, aims to promote bilingualism in Colombia by increasing the number of high school graduates, both in the private and public schools, who have an intermediate level of English. To achieve this, schools need to elicit the help of English teachers. The competition in the global market has also encouraged companies to pay English language institutions to teach their employees English. Consequently, demand for English teachers in Colombia is high.  

Language Schools

Language schools are where you will find most teaching positions and they tend to hire teachers all year round making them a good place to start your job hunt. Typically you’ll be teaching adults English, primarily those in the business or tourism world as well as university students. Having a degree is usually preferred by employers at language schools and the more experience and qualifications you have, the more a language school tends to pay.

Generally, language schools have lower pay and mostly pay by the hour, with average pay varying from 25,000 pesos ($8 USD) to 40,000 pesos ($12 USD) an hour. The odd school may pay more, up to 60,000 pesos ($18 USD) an hour. Also, some schools will require you to travel around the city to your classes and it is worth asking about this when applying for jobs.

Private Schools

In the major cities you will find a number of private schools where you have the opportunity to work with students of all ages. These are fee-paying schools which teach English at a high level and expect quality teachers & results. You’ll find that the salaries here are higher, making the jobs more competitive.

Typically, private schools will expect a degree, some teaching experience and a passport from an English speaking country. They also tend to like you to have a TEFL certificate, although this is rarely essential.

The International private schools usually offer higher pay (sometimes over $1000 USD a month) require teachers with a PGCE (or equivalent) and at least 2 years teaching experience. Here, you’ll often be asked to teach a range of subjects in English. Job perks can sometimes be pretty good at International schools, so if you have the qualifications, they could be worth a look.

Public High Schools

The Colombian government’s Colombia Very Well initiative, which aims to increase the standard of English in public schools, has resulted in an increase of teaching jobs for foreigners. Native speakers with degrees will be favored but you will find some schools more lax on these requirements. Public schools tend to pay less than private schools, usually towards the lower end of the average pay, but you can still live pretty comfortably on the salary. If you choose to work in a public school through a government program, you will receive less pay, with a monthly stipend of approx $500 USD (1.5 million pesos), but recruiters will help you secure a job.

Public schools get mixed reviews, with some teachers saying they can be quite a challenging workplace while others find them an incredibly rewarding place to work. It seems to depend on where the school is, but overall they seem to be a great opportunity to help the more disadvantaged communities.

Government Funded Teaching Programs

In addition to Colombia Very Well, a program called the Teach English in Colombia program (TEC) has been implemented to improve bilingualism across Colombia. The Ministry of Education (MEN) and the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (SENA) are two of the main governmental agencies working with the TEC program and this program uses recruiters to place English teachers in public schools or centers.

The MEN works with recruiters to place teachers in public schools in disadvantaged communities, whereas SENA is focused on teaching vocational English to adults who can’t afford to pay for it.

These are volunteer programs which recruit native speakers who typically have a degree and TEFL qualification is sometimes required. Volunteers for these programs are paid a stipend of about 1.5 million pesos a month (approx $500 USD), occasionally with an additional stipend for rent. This should just about cover costs if you share accommodation with other volunteers. Although the pay isn’t high, it is a fantastic opportunity to give back to the community. Programs vary in length.

Job Perks

Depending on the type of school you work at, you may receive added perks like accomodation, airfare and health insurance. Don’t bank on having these perks, as most jobs won’t provide them, but remember that your cost of living shouldn’t be too high. Even if you don’t make or save buckets of money, you should have enough to be able to pay rent, eat and travel around this beautiful and diverse country. Vacation time is usually flexible within ESL jobs.

How to Increase Your Salary

Private Tutoring

Obviously, the more hours you do, the more you’ll earn. A full time teacher will earn a salary to break even but if you’re running low on cash or you can’t get the hours you need, private tutoring is a good way to supplement your income. A private lesson can earn you anywhere between $12 and $27 USD, depending on experience and location. You can work from home, in a public place or online.

Experience and Qualifications

Another way to ensure a higher salary is to have previous teaching experience and the preferred qualifications, particularly a Bachelor’s degree and TEFL certification. Teachers who meet these requirements tend to have the pick of the jobs as well as a higher salary. If you don’t meet these requirements, it’s recommended that you get TEFL certified before going to Colombia as this will increase your chances of finding work and hopefully a higher pay.

Cost of Living as an English Teacher in Colombia

The cost of living in Colombia is relatively low but will be dependent on where you reside. While it is possible to find a job with free accommodation or a stipend to contribute to rent, in most cases you’ll be paying your own rent in full.

If you want to live on a budget, a rented room can cost as little as $200 USD a month. If you are happy to pay up to $500 USD a month, you can find a decent one bedroom apartment in most cities though if you want to live in the pricier parts of town, you’ll pay a fair amount more. Living in shared accommodation will help to reduce costs and this website offers advice on finding accommodation in Colombia. While it is mostly about Bogota, it does have some good ideas and websites for all over Colombia.

If you’re unsure about where to live or what budget you’re going to be on, another option is to find a cheap hostel or guest house for the first month or so of arriving in Colombia. This not only gives you a chance to save some money, but it’s a good starting point to find your feet in a new city and work out where you would like to settle.

Buying food and eating out is pretty cheap, especially if you shop local or eat at inexpensive restaurants (shout out to menu del dias!). The trick is to buy the Colombian version of anything you need – if something has been imported, the price will increase considerably. This goes for everything from food to clothes.

Public transport is also inexpensive in Colombia. In Medellin, for example, you will find the metro is incredibly cheap, as well as very convenient. It costs just 0.75 cents a trip. You may find taxis here more expensive than cities like Bogota, but the metro is a great and convenient way to travel.

Let’s look at some average figures for cost of living in Colombia, complements of Numbeo:

Expense Pesos USD
Meal, inexpensive restaurant 10,000 $3.13
3 course meal, mid range restaurant 30,000 $9.39
Loaf of fresh white bread 2,953 $0.92
Cappuccino 3,853 $1.21
Milk, 1 litre 2,513 $0.78

Want to know how much Colombian Pesos are worth?  Check out XE’s currency converter.

Start-Up Money

When moving to a new country, having some start-up money is always a good idea, especially if you plan on finding a teaching job once you’ve arrived in Colombia. You’ll need to ensure you have enough start-up money to live off until your first paycheck – this could be anywhere from a few weeks to a month and a half. The more start-up money you can bring will ensure a better safety net to keep you afloat until payday. It’s recommended that a minimum of $2000 USD should keep you going for a bit, but it all depends on the lifestyle you like to lead.

How to Find a Teaching Job in Colombia

You can secure a job before going to Colombia, or you can land a job in person on the ground. When and how to apply varies for the different types of schools/programs.

Language Schools

For teaching positions in language schools, jobs are best found on the ground in Colombia. These institutions tend to hire ESL teachers all year round and you can either apply online by emailing schools your CV or in person. Schools may not always respond to your emails, so it is worth going round schools and making an appearance with your CV.

Private and Public Schools

You can use teaching programs/recruiters to be placed in both public and private schools. The salary for these programs are less and sometimes you pay the recruiters a fee if you’re placed. These recruiters and teaching programs are online and it is worth doing your research into what the job entails and includes. It’s a good option if you want help finding a job, but you can also apply directly to public and private schools if you’re feeling confident.

If you’d like to secure a job at a private or public school before arriving, which is often recommended as they will hire between 2 and 6 months (sometimes longer) before the start of the academic year, then you can apply to schools directly online. Email your CV and copies of any certificates/qualifications to the school directly or follow their individual application process. A motivation/cover letter is optional, but can sometimes give schools more of a picture of who you are as well as giving you a chance to sell yourself.

It’s also possible to find a job at a public or private school once you’re in Colombia. You can either email potential schools your CV and qualifications once you’ve arrived, or apply in person by going from school to school and asking to speak to the person in charge of hiring teachers. Make sure to take your CV and a smile with you!

Government Funded Teaching Programs

If you’d like to be part of a government-funded teaching program, your best option is to apply online in advance of arriving in Colombia through one of the programs affiliated with SENA or MEN. These programs will either place you in a public high school of SENA center.

You can sometimes request where in Colombia you’d like to be placed, but the overall decision will be made by the recruiters based on where the most need is. You’ll find a fair amount of recruiters online so it’s worth doing your research into which program most suits you. These programs hire year round as vacancies are ongoing and for a varied length of time. Application processes will vary between recruiters but expect at least one skype interview.

Hiring Season

Hiring seasons can vary from school to school. Language schools generally hire all year round, as will the government funded teaching programs. Private and public schools are a little different.

Public schools start their academic year in January, so peak hiring season is November. Private schools start their academic year in September, so May/June is the time to be looking for jobs. However, you’ll find that some schools are already looking now for teachers to start in August 2019 (for the September academic year start), so it is worth starting your job search early.

Where to Find Jobs

Search online for language schools in Colombia using websites like English language school directory. Or you can research all schools in the area in which you would like to be based and go directly on the schools’ websites. A good old fashioned Google search is a great resource – just type public/private/language schools plus the city you are interested in into google, and a list of all the schools, where they are located and a link to their websites if available. This is the list of schools I found when I typed public schools in bogota colombia.

You can also go through jobs boards like:

Be prepared (especially for language schools) for employers to ask if you are already living in Colombia as it’s often a requirement for the job.

Interview

If applying online before arriving in Colombia you should expect at least one Skype interview. If having a face to face interview on the ground in Colombia, make sure to dress professionally. Interviews will vary from school to school but expect to be asked about teaching techniques, how you run a class and be prepared to show what you can do in a classroom. It isn’t uncommon to try and negotiate your pay within reason and remember to check your contract before signing.

Girlastray has a great blog offering insights into finding a teaching job in Colombia and is well worth the read!

Best Places to Teach in Colombia

While there are job opportunities all over this rich and culturally diverse country, the three main cities of Bogota, Medellin, and Cali offer the best teaching experience.

Bogota

Bogota is the capital and the largest city of Colombia. It plays a big role economically, educationally and culturally throughout Latin America and is famous for its colonial architecture and cultural attractions. Over the past couple of decades, Bogota has made a great come back from its violent reputation and has become a safe and popular destination for travelers from all over the globe. There are plenty of schools and English institutes around Bogota and teachers are in great demand making it a popular choice for job seekers.

Medellin

Medellin has dramatically rejuvenated itself over the past few decades and has quickly become a Metropolitan city and the ‘hot spot’ of Colombia. Situated in the beautiful Andes mountains, Medellin has a sense of intrigue to rival Bogota.

As well as being the second biggest city in Colombia, it’s a vibrant place, rapidly and continuously growing within the business world. Demand for teachers here is high, but so is competition due to Medellin being a popular expat city. The schools and number of language centers is growing, especially with institutes from Bogota expanding to Medellin. With businesses booming, it is likely that the need for English teachers will continue to increase.

Cali

Also situated in the stunning Andes mountains, Cali is the third largest city in Colombia. Self-proclaimed as the salsa capital of the world, Cali has a lively and colorful reputation. Big companies are beginning to arrive in Cali and the city is up and coming in the business world. There is currently less of a demand for English teachers when compared to Bogota and Medellin, but English institutes are starting to pop up and establish themselves in the city.

FAQs about Teaching English in Colombia

Can You Teach in Colombia without a Degree?

While most employers strongly prefer their teachers to have a degree and some even making it a top requirement, it’s still possible that you can find a job without one. However, you may find the job hunt more of a challenge and you need to be prepared to go up against some fierce competition and potentially take a lower salary. If you don’t have a degree, it is recommended that you get a TEFL qualification as this will make you more employable.

If you’re concerned about finding a teaching position without a degree in Colombia, there are other countries which don’t require their teachers to possess one.

Can You Teach in Colombia without a TEFL?

Yes. It’s possible to teach in Colombia without a TEFL. You’ll find employers are more concerned that their teachers have a degree than they are about having a TEFL. If you do have one though, it will certainly give your CV an excellent boost and give you a good advantage over other job seekers.

You’ll also come across positions that require their teachers to be TEFL certified, so if you want access to as many jobs as possible it’s worth getting qualified before heading to Colombia. Not only can it help you gain employment, but it will also potentially increase your pay as well.

Can you Teach in Colombia with a Criminal Record?

There isn’t a lot of research out there about teaching in Colombia with a criminal record, but from what I’ve gathered, it should be possible to gain employment with one. While more and more government programs and international schools are requesting background checks, there will always be some institutes that don’t care.

Even if a school does come across your criminal record, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t get the job as it’s up to the discretion of the employer. Usually more minor, non-violent crimes seem to not be too much of a barrier, but more serious crimes will be a different story. If you’re unsure, it may be worth speaking to your local Colombian embassy and a lawyer about your options.

Is It Safe to Teach in Colombia?

This is a very common question and a concern that many people initially have when they think about teaching in Colombia. Twenty years ago, it was incredibly dangerous to travel to Colombia as it was a no-go zone with heavy violence and drug cartels across the country. However, over the past decade or so, Colombia has changed completely. This beautiful Latin American country has become much safer and hugely popular as a destination for tourists and expats from all over the world.

As with any country though, you need to make sure you’re a smart traveler, watching out for yourself and your belongings. There will always be areas in cities which aren’t recommended that you visit, either at day or night. Make sure to do your research before visiting a place, and listen to advice about any areas to avoid.

Colombia is developing rapidly and the recent push on education has really put it on the map as a teaching destination, so don’t let its past reputation put you off. It’s full of endless opportunities and boundless adventures.

3 Comments

  1. I am interested in volunteering to teach English for Hospitality: Hotel, Tourism and Leisure. Can anyone on this forum provide any contacts, I have a Masters Degree in Adult Education, 20+ graduate credits in TESOL and 4 years experience teaching adults and young adults. Is SENA the best option for me to teach
    in Colombia? Thank you for your help.

    Reply
  2. Hi
    Are there any age restrictions on teaching English in Colombia? I’m in my late 50s.

    I’m a native English speaker with dual citizenship for the UK and NZ and have passports for both. I also have a Bachelor’s degree.
    I
    I don’t have a TEFL qualification but happy to study for one if needs be.

    I’m keen to be overseas for a few years or maybe indefinitely and am looking at possible work options.

    And finally, are there short as well as long assignments?

    Kind regards
    Shelley

    Reply
    • Hi Shelley – we aren’t aware of any age restrictions and also found this post https://medellinguru.com/work-visa/ where they didn’t know of any age limits, either. As for work assignments, you’ll likely be expected to sign a contract of at least 6mo (likely 1 year) and will need to renew your contract each time. Good luck!

      Reply

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