Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to Earn Money Teaching English in Colombia

Dancers in Cartagena, Colombia
 In early 2012, I decided to head to the beautiful country of Colombia to teach and travel. I had a wonderful experience and had the chance to meet lovely people and see spectacular places.

Lots of people would love to try out teaching in Latin America. However, they are reluctant to make that jump for three main reasons: there's very little information out there, they're worried about safety and they've heard about the very low pay in many Latin countries.

If you want to teach in Latin America, Colombia's a good choice. That's because the country has some of the best pay rates in the region and that there are plenty of jobs to be had. One can stay for as long as they want. For those with an adventurous spirit who are willing to put in hard work, the opportunities are endless. Here, you can meet fellow foreigners who were very successful at starting their own businesses.

Colombia's for the more independent worker. If you need someone to hold your hand, Colombia's not the place for you. However, if you like freedom of movement and opportunity, then Colombia's a good place to get started.

Learn more about my personal experience from my blog post.

What types of jobs are available? What qualifications do I need?

On Monserrate hill, in Bogota
Institutes (Institutos): These are private businesses that typically send out teachers to give lessons to businesspeople or to adults in their private residences. Teachers usually teach for 1.5 or 2 hours each session. These positions require teachers to travel all around the city. Sessions can be in the morning, lunchtime or in the evening. Any native speaker can get such a job, but better qualifications command higher pay.

High schools (Colegios): These are private schools that hire English teachers to teach high school students. Teachers usually teach Monday through Friday during regular school hours. Good classroom management skills are a must. Most schools want at least a bachelor's degree and a TOEFL certificate (CELTA or equivalent). Psychological evaluations (often in Spanish) are common.

Universities (Universidades): These are universities that hire native English speakers to teach English classes to adult students. Jobs can be full-time or part-time. Teachers can teach any time of the day. Positions are considered to be desirable and are thus competitive. Most universities ask for at least a Bachelor's degree, a TOEFL certificate (CELTA or equivalent), and a couple of years of teaching experience.

Private classes (Clases particulares): These are private classes you set up on your own. You can find students through your experience or word of mouth. Some teachers advertise on the internet. You set your own price and make your own schedule.

International Schools (Colegios internacionales): These schools typically hire teachers who are qualified to teach subjects in their home country. They may hire locally or from abroad. The pay and benefits are excellent.

How much do jobs pay?

An artisan in Bogota

The amount of money you can expect to earn depends on your qualifications, the city you're working in and the type of job.

Here's what you can more or less expect in Bogota if you have at least a Bachelor's degree:

Institutes: Generally, they can pay up to 30,000 pesos (about $16 USD) per hour. So, for instance, you'd get 60,000 pesos for a 2 hour class. Some institutes pay more than others. There's no minimum; they'll pay as little as they can get away with. So it's up to you to know how much you're worth.

High Schools (Colegios): These pay monthly. They pay up to about 3 million pesos ($1,600 USD) to 3.5 million pesos ($1,855 USD) a month. Some pay more but most pay less, and there's no minimum salary to expect. An advantage to these positions is that the salary is more reliable.

Universities: The pay ranges depending on how many classes you're teaching. Universities can pay teachers up to 3 or 4 million pesos ($2,120 USD) or more per month.

Private Teaching: The amount of money you can charge really depends on your reputation. As someone new, a teacher can charge about 40,000  pesos ($21 USD) or less per hour. Teachers who have a good reputation or excellent charm get away with charging a lot more!
A Chiva bus for parties

*Protip for private classes: Never let someone pay you later. (ex. "I'll pay you at the end of the month.") Have students pay you ahead of time or at the end of the session at the latest. Generally, Colombians will have no problem stealing classes from a teacher who lets them. Don't give them that opportunity. Follow this link to find out why. This woman taught in Brazil, but the same concept applies to Colombia.

Teachers generally get paid less money outside of Bogota, or if they do not have a bachelor's degree. Those with classroom-based TOEFL certificates earn more than those who don't (online certifications are generally not accepted). A CELTA is best, as it is highly regarded in Colombia.

Can I get a job from overseas?

White Sand Beach in Cartagena

For the most part, no. Why? It's because there are enough English teachers already in the country. There's no need for employers to go through the hassle in hiring someone from overseas.

Some people prefer the security of knowing they have a position already. However, I'd say that to make it you need a more adventurous personality. Colombia's not for people who need everything set in stone. In person, you can check out employers in real time rather than worrying about job conditions being drastically different after arriving.

Top tier international schools are the only ones recruiting teachers from abroad. They go through agencies such as Search Associates.

Which city is the best to teach in?
Medellin is gorgeous. No Photoshop necessary.

Colombia has many cities where you can work as an English teacher. These places include Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, Cali and the coffee region (Manizales, Pereira, Armenia). There are possibilities to work in small towns, but jobs are much more scarce, and the locals have much less money to pay you.

As far as job opportunities and pay is concerned, Bogota is the best place. It is the capital and the financial center. However, the downside of working in Bogota is the weather. It hovers around 60 °F (16 °C) year round. It also rains a lot. Another downside is that the locals in Bogota are known for having the coldest personalities in the country.

English teachers rave about Medellin. It's nice, relatively clean and has the most perfect sunny weather. However, it's the most competitive for job hunting, since everyone wants to live there. 

So, it's up to you to weigh the advantages of each place.

How long can I stay?

The short answer is, for as long as you want! But it's a process.

A good thing is that you're able to begin interviewing for positions and start working as soon as you step foot into Colombia. The country obviously has employment laws, but they're not as strict as in other countries, who may be more vigilant about making sure you have the appropriate visa.

Mom and I in Cartagena
For U.S. citizens specifically (the same is true for many other countries as well), you don't need to apply for a tourist visa ahead of time. Once you land, the officer at the airport will stamp you with a tourist visa. That stamp may be for 30, 60 or 90 days. I was initially stamped to stay for 90 days. It's technically required to have an onward travel or return ticket. I was asked for this personally, but other folks say it hasn't happened to them.

On a tourist visa alone, a visitor may stay in the country for up to 6 months. Right before your initial tourist visa expires, you will need to head to the closest immigration office to make a request to extend your stay up to that 6 month deadline. After arriving at the immigration office, you will receive instructions on the payment needed and other paperwork you need. This takes up some time, but it's a fairly easy process and it doesn't take more than an afternoon.

If you would like to stay in Colombia for more than 6 months, it is possible. For that, you will have to switch to a different visa. English teachers typically apply for a work visa before their tourist visa is up. Basically, a teacher finds a job with an employer willing to sponsor them for a work visa. A teacher can ask their potential employer about this during an interview. The employer offers a contract, and the employee can stay for the duration of that contract. Afterwards, they can renew. I will post information on how to obtain a work visa on a later date.

Should I pay a recruiter to find me a job?
Feeding pigeons in Villa de Leyva

There are some programs and recruiters purporting to place teachers in open positions in Colombia (and by extension, Latin American in general). These recruiters usually ask you to pay money and I would say they're not worth it. That's because you can easily find access to the same jobs by using the internet. EFL teachers can certainly find better conditions and pay on their own.

There's no need to pay a recruiter, unless you are paying a reputable agency that connects teachers with international schools. That's different because international schools typically recruit from abroad to find teachers with the qualifications they're looking for.

There are also volunteer teaching programs, but these usually require expensive fees up front and you can get paid to do the same thing. It's up to you to choose what you'd prefer.

How can I find a job?

For most people, it's relatively easy to find a job teaching English in Colombia. As long as you speak English and you're not crazy, you should be able to find work somewhere. Here's how:

Think about the type of employer you'd like to work for. Then, you can make a list of possible employers who are located in your city or town. Finding possible employers is easy with a simple Google search. For example, if you want to work for an institute in Medellin, then make a list of all of the institutes in that city. Then, personally contact each one.
A sunny day in Bogota

You can look for open positions on the internet. Open positions are often posted on websites. I've looked for positions on Craigslist and in El Tiempo, the local newspaper. CompuTrabajo is one of the more useful websites, as there are plenty of positions posted and you don't have to sign up. It's useful to be able to read Spanish. If not, then find someone to help you.

Apply on schedule. Colegio (high school) jobs usually hire before the new school year. Schools either follow Calendar A (begins in March) or Calendar B (begins in September). Contacting schools about a month before is a good idea.

There's also word of mouth. Networking is big in Colombia, which has a very outgoing, social culture. Just about any type of job can be achieved through networking. Sometimes, while out with fellow teachers or students, you could get wind of job openings. Networking is especially important for coveted university positions.

The Advantages of Working in Colombia are...

Some of the Best Pay for EFL Teachers in Latin America: Most countries in Central and South America offer very low pay for English teachers. Colombia's a good choice in the region for those who'd prefer to earn higher wages.

Spanish Practice: Colombia's a great place to learn and practice your Spanish! Many folks come here for that reason. However, this requires some effort on your part because teaching English alone isn't going to help you learn any foreign language.
Hot Springs in Villa de Leyva

A good thing about Colombia is that while it has regional accents, the people generally speak with a very neutral accent. TV shows often use Colombian speakers for this reason.

Travel Opportunities: There are so many different places to see and experience in Colombia. The country is very diverse in its people and weather. When I went, I lived in Bogota and got to visit other cities such as Villa de Leyva, Medellin, Cali, Salento and Cartagena. There's always something to do or another place to go. Check out this link and this link to find out more about places to go on your next vacation!

It's a Safer Destination: Many people remember Colombia for its drug wars and violent gangs. However, the country has really cleaned up its act. Nowadays it's a safe place for people to visit. Like in other countries, petty crime is still a problem, however.

Many Public Holidays: Colombia has many national holidays. They often fall on Monday or Friday, giving residents many 3 day weekends. This is great for someone who likes to travel.

It's Easy to Find Work, Without the Hassle: In Colombia, it's relatively easy for potential teachers to find work in the country, even if they have little to no experience or qualifications. That's why I have found many English teachers to be nomadic backpacker types.

Snacks and meals in Medellin
Other countries require much more planning, waiting and piles of paperwork before even entering the country! No need to worry about apostilles or time-consuming criminal record requests.

Dating Opportunities: There are many opportunities to date the locals here, for men and women. The locals are also rather good looking. It's common for foreigners to marry a local.

Colombians are Welcoming: The Colombian people, generally, are very social and have no issues interacting with foreign people. Even strangers will create conversation, perfect for learning Spanish. This makes it easy to teach them English as well! You'll hardly walk into a silent classroom as you can in Asia.

The Disadvantages of Working in Colombia are...

Many Public Holidays: If you're working in an hourly position, such as in an institute, then the many holidays will be bad news. If you don't teach, then you don't get paid. In other months, keep in mind that there is a "summer" vacation in December, January and February. Colombians are not attending school at this time. That also means that you will not be earning a salary either.
Fish, raisin rice and fried plantains

A More Disorganized, Flighty Culture: In Colombia, people tend to scramble at the last minute to put things together. That means that schools may notify you of extra work or cancellations at the last minute. Also, Colombians are known for paying for classes, then either showing up late or not at all, keeping you waiting. At institutes, students cancel classes frequently, leaving you without pay for that hour.

Not Good for Shopping: High prices can keep you from buying many things, such as clothing or shoes. Colombian made products are cheaper, but tend to be low-quality, falling apart after the first use. Foreign made products come at a premium.

A Culture of Taking Advantage: There's a saying in Colombia, "No dar papaya." That means, "Don't get fleeced." It's more culturally acceptable to take advantage of people who aren't paying attention. This is a place where you have to check your change for every coin. Be prepared to argue when folks try to scam you.

Pollution: Some Colombian cities have many older vehicles. With the congestion often found in the big cities, be prepared for smog.

Petty Crime: Those who wear nice clothes and carry fancy gadgets are likely to be targeted by thieves. I have never been robbed, but it's good to be on the lookout. It's important to just hand over what they ask for. Most victims aren't hurt, but criminals will not hesitate to use force if met with resistance. Visitors shouldn't carry anything they're afraid to lose.
Hot springs in the coffee region

Public Transport: It's common for buses and subways to come completely full, with riders packed like sardines -- and there's nothing you can do about it! Not for the faint or for those picky about personal space.

No Free Flights or Housing: Since EFL teachers are applying from in country, schools typically do not pay for transportation to or from your home country. You will also be responsible for your own housing. Housing costs depend on the city and neighborhood you live in. Most English teachers live with at least one other person.

* I hope this entry is helpful! If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I'll get back to you. *


Below are useful links related to living and working in Colombia. Follow the links to learn more!

Colombia Forum on Dave's ESL Cafe: Find out more information about teaching and living in Colombia.

Horses in Valle de Cocora
Compartoapto: Useful website for finding housing arrangements in Colombia.

Poor But Happy: A website for expats in Colombia. It has been closed, but the archives are very useful.

Craigslist Colombia: Useful for finding housing and teaching jobs.

CompuTrabajo: Another resource for finding job openings.

Couchsurfing Colombia: Couchsurfing is very popular in Colombia. People get together and post events.

Expat Blog Colombia Fourm: Connect with other folks moving to and living in Colombia.


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  4. Thanks so much for the info!!!

  5. Thanks for all this information! How about the none native speaker? Do you know if they can get job down there?

    1. Yes, non native speakers can get jobs there too. But the pay will likely be lower.

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  7. I went to Colombia in 2015 and all this information rings true. Great artcicle, thanks.
    I'm in the US now but want to go back to Colombia one day. Any idea how long Colombia will be a great esl location?

    Muchas gracias!

    1. Honestly, I don't see much changing anytime soon :)