Colombia is a country of spectacular contrasts, surrounded by two oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, the cool mountainous ranges of the Andes, and the humid Amazonian jungle. Colombia is inhabited by some of the most passionate people in the world. Rich or poor, they have an enviable attitude to life; they live life to the fullest.
The TEFL market in Colombia is well-established and continuing to grow, making it a great destination for those looking for work. Colombia can be a particularly good option for newly-qualified teachers, as many schools (particularly those in smaller towns) are willing to take on teachers with relatively little teaching experience. However, an initial teaching qualification, such as the CELTA and a degree or equivalent is a requirement to obtain a work visa. Some teachers do work on a tourist visa but this is not recommended as the penalties if caught are severe.
Many of the jobs are in the larger towns and cities, i.e, the capital city Bogota, and the second largest city Medellin. The best jobs are very sought after and teachers who manage to get work there tend to stay for as long as they can. Barranquilla and Cali, however, are particularly rich areas for TEFL work, and work is generally easy to come across, especially in the language departments of the private universities.
Some jobs are offered in more rural settings, such as Armenia and Manizales, in which case, a good knowledge of the local transport system is necessary. It is always a good idea to check out the precise location of the school so that you know exactly what to expect. There are also plenty of jobs around in the smaller cities, although you may find that many of the schools there require teachers to have a couple of years experience under their belt.
English language learning in Colombia is big business and you will find that Colombians are generally very enthusiastic students. Their reputation as a passionate and hospitable nation is well-deserved and teaching in the country will give you a fantastic insight into their rich language and culture.
Salary and hours
On average, teachers can expect to be contracted for 20-30 hours teaching a week, although at busy times of the year they may be asked to do extra. ‘Split shifts’ are quite common in Colombia and it’s worth bearing in mind that you may well find yourself teaching lessons first thing in the morning and then last thing at night. Saturday morning teaching is also a normal requirement, particularly for the less experienced teachers in a language school. Lessons tend to be quite long with schools favoring ‘chunks’ of 3-4 hours per day which can be quite tiring and takes a little getting used to.
Salaries in private language schools tend to be around 1 million–2 million pesos a month, (£257 GB pounds). However, you can earn more in private universities from 3-4 million pesos, if you have an MA TESOL or PGCE + TEFL qualification. The highest paid jobs are in the private primary and secondary school sector, where you can earn up to 8-9 million per month.
Type of teaching
Teachers can expect to teach a variety of age-groups and class-types. Business clients and Younger Learners are very common. Taking public transport to give lessons at a company’s place of work is also fairly common, so planning ahead and getting used to the numerous ‘collectivos’ will definitely be an advantage when you are looking for work.
Accommodation for teachers in Colombia is often organised on your behalf. Language schools sometimes own flats, which they rent out to their teachers each year. If not, they are usually able to source accommodation for you, or at least give you all the information that you require to do so yourself. Accommodation can be expensive though, and you should beware of hidden costs, i.e deposits, costs to connect the electricity, gas, water rates, and cleaning at the end of the contract. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to get deposits back too. You will need two guarantors – property owners in Colombia who can afford to pay your rent if you default.
Start of school year/ best time to look for work
Most contracts with private language schools will begin in September/October and run through to June or July. The majority of schools will require teachers to have a CELTA/TESOL or equivalent qualification, and any knowledge of Spanish will be an advantage, although by no means a necessity.
January is also a good time to look for work, particularly at universities, which recruit all year.
Any foreigner who takes up a teaching post in Colombia will be required to register at DAS, a government agency in the town centre of most cities, 30 days after they arrive. This can require a substantial amount of photocopying of documents, and even more patience! The school that you work for will usually help or advise you on how best to go about the process though.
Although, larger cities are more liberal, before accepting a job, teachers should be clear that Colombia is a Catholic country, which still has strong views about the roles of women and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, there a lot of con men around so be careful in taxi’s, shops, restaurants and public places.
Try these places for work:
North University – a private university in Barranquilla.
Marymount – a private international school in Barranquilla
Colombo Americano – a private language school in Barranquilla
British Council – a private language school in Bogota
Colombo Britanico – a private international language school in Cali