Do you want to teach English in Colombia? Although Colombia belongs to Western culture, it’s still a “white spot on the map” for many North Americans or Europeans. Here’s everything you need to know about living and working in Colombia as an EFL teacher.
As I said before, teaching English abroad is largely about experiencing another culture. With that in mind, you should also take your responsibilities as a teacher seriously and make an effort each time you step into the classroom. Even if you have little desire to really teach, if you manage to find a job teaching English abroad, there is a good chance that you will come to enjoy it and maybe even excel.
On the flip side, you may already be a teacher in your own country, but want to try your skills abroad. If that is the case, your main motivation to teach in another country is likely because you want to live overseas. There is nothing wrong with that. Individuals around the world decide to live abroad for various reasons.
Of all the places to teach English, I can’t think of a country that is more appealing than Colombia. Are you going to pay off your students loans, save up for a down payment on a house or buy a new car outright after teaching in Colombia for a couple of years? Absolutely not.
Can you earn enough money on a teacher’s salary in Colombia to live comfortably? For the most part yes. You definitely will need to live on a budget, but you certainly can make enough to have an apartment and enjoy the nightlife.
If you have a sense of adventure, a desire to learn Spanish and can embrace another culture, then you will likely do well in Colombia. With that in mind, below is what you need to know to teach English in Colombia nowadays.
Teaching English in Colombia – what are the requirements?
This can be a tricky question. While South America and all of Latin America is much laxer on visa requirements compared to Asia and the Middle East, the same requirements exist if you want to teach totally legit. If your goal is to teach in Colombia on a working visa and be eligible to apply for all available teaching positions, then you will need to meet the same requirements as you would in say Japan, China, Vietnam and other well-known destinations. In other words, you will need to be a native English speaker and have a four-year degree.
While you don’t need a TEFL or TESOL for some positions, having one will definitely give you a leg up on the competition and there a plenty of positions that require one. Keep in mind that the teaching English industry in Colombia has developed in recent years. While the cowboy days of rolling in on a tourist visa and landing a teaching gig can still be had, Colombia as a whole is a rapidly developing economy, which really just means more regulation and standardization.
Can I teach English in Colombia without a four-year degree or passport from an English-speaking country?
As mentioned above, if you have a four-year degree and a passport from a native English-speaking country, then you are going to have access to all, if not most of the teaching positions in Colombia. However, there are certainly people teaching English in Colombia without a four-year degree and/or those that are not native English speakers. Can such a person still secure a teaching job?
The answer is yes and no. Like a lot of things in Latin America, it depends, but really the only way to find out is to go there and try. That is the best advice I can give you. This pertains not just to Colombia, but throughout Latin America. Let’s say you either don’t have a four-year degree nor are you a native speaker or a combination of both, then it is advisable to get a TEFL or TESOL certification.
Are there non-native English speakers or individuals without a four-year degree who make fantastic English teachers? Absolutely and those individuals are deserving of finding teaching positions as well. If you fit into this category, keep in mind that you can find a teaching job, but it may take a little more work and networking.
What type of teaching positions are there in Colombia?
Like most places in the world, the vast majority of English teaching jobs in Colombia can be found in either private language schools or in public ones. If you find a position in a public school, you will in most cases have better benefits and likely receive some sort of accommodation assistance. In some cases, you may even get a subsidy to pay for housing. Private language schools might offer more flexibility in your daily schedule and you will be teaching a good amount of adult professionals.
Most jobs are going to be found in the larger cities, such as Bogota and Medellin, but there are opportunities in smaller cities and in certain rural areas as well. Whether it is private or public, you can typically expect to put in 20 to 30 teaching hours per week with the rest of the time devoted to classroom preparation. Keep in mind that for the vast majority of positions, you will need to already be in Colombia.
How much money can I make teaching English in Colombia?
If you have a fantasy about making mucho dinero teaching English in Colombia or anywhere in Latin America, then I would reexamine your expectations. While there may be a few well-paid teaching positions in Colombia, most full-time jobs will typically pay about $700 to $1000 per month. You might find something paying $1,200 or so if you are in the more expensive parts of Bogota, but not much more than that.
While the cost of living in many parts of the country is lower compared to the larger cities of say Europe and North America, this still is not a whole lot of money. You can live relatively cheap in Colombia, but not to the same extent as one could in say in Thailand or Vietnam. I wouldn’t expect to save anything at the end of the month, but it is possible to break even. Will you have to watch what you spend? Sure, you will. In fact, unless you have lots of savings or another source of income, you will more or less be living at the level of a backpacker while you teach English in Colombia.
But there is nothing wrong with that and it is all part of the adventure. If you are in your 20’s or even early 30’s, it is good to live this way at times. It is healthy for the soul to be wild, free and never knowing what the next day will bring. Of course, the other route is to go to Colombia with a fair amount of savings or have some other form of income that is coming in each month. Another way to subsidize your income is to pick up a couple of private lessons or a little bit of online teaching.
How can I find accommodation?
It really depends on the school and job. While it is possible to find a position that offers free accommodation or provides a stipend to cover the rent, this certainly is not the norm. In many cases, you will be responsible for footing the entire bill. Except for some of the pricier parts of Bogota, you can usually secure a nice, modern, one-bedroom apartment in Colombia for $400 to $500 a month. If you want to live on a shoestring budget, then you could always rent out a room for $200 or $300 a month.
Another option is to stay in a cheap hostel or guest house for a couple of weeks when you first arrive in the country. It is always best to get a lay of the land and the various parts of the city before settling on a place to live.
How much start-up money should I have to move there?
After buying your plane ticket, it might be a good idea to have a bare minimum of $2,000 to hold you over until you start generating income. Remember that most teaching jobs in Colombia will only hire you from within the country, so from the time you arrive, check out the landscape, find a job and get your first paycheck, you could be looking at two to three months.
I think if you want to be comfortable and not have to take the first job thrown your way, you want to have at least $4,000 to $5,000 to stay afloat. It really just depends on your spending habits and how often you go out.
I know when I taught, lived or traveled abroad, I was always out and never saved a dime. If you want to play, then you have to pay. If you want to sit in your room and count your pennies, you will surely miss out.
What is the cost of living in Colombia?
Colombia certainly is not cheap like Thailand or even Ecuador, but the cost of living is generally more affordable than say your typical US city. There are plenty of inexpensive markets and cheap eats throughout the country. Compared to the US and Europe, transportation and accommodation are relatively inexpensive. To get a better sense of the cost of living, take a look at some of the examples below.
- A meal at an inexpensive restaurant: $3.50 to $4.00
- One pint of domestic beer: $1.00
- A loaf of Bread: $1.00
- A liter of Water: $1.00
- Monthly Internet: $35.00
- Cinema: $4.00
- Pack of Cigarettes: $2.00
- One-way bus ticket (one-way) 0.75 cents
Is teaching in Colombia a great way to learn Spanish?
Of course, it is and this is one of the biggest perks of living in Colombia or anywhere abroad. Learning a language can be one of the most satisfying endeavors of your life. At times, you will want to scream in frustration, but there also will be times of rejoicing as you begin to understand more and move up to a higher level.
People in Colombia are generally easy-going, hospitable and friendly. Although there are language and cultural differences, the culture of Colombia is still Western culture. In many ways, they are probably more open-minded then we are. Actually, in the English-speaking West, we like to pretend that we are open-minded, welcoming and tolerate when often the opposite is true.
If you are easy-going, like to laugh, are willing to dance, aren’t picky about food and are eager to learn Spanish, you are going to do well in Colombia. Whether you are a man or woman, people will naturally gravitate towards you and you will be sought out if you meet the before-mentioned characteristics.