I have heard from many travelers that it is a piece of cake to get a teaching job in Colombia, since the locals like foreigners and prefer them for language teaching positions.
Well…yes and no.
It is indeed relatively easy for a native speaker to find a teaching gig because many people assume that being fluent in a language is an equivalent of being able to teach it.
However, it is definitely possible to work as a teacher even if your native language is not one of the popular ones. In my case, it meant sending countless CVs, motivation letters and emails, and also a little bit of luck. Since my native Slovak is not very useful, I was applying for positions of English and French teachers.
I only have a diploma from the French language and I have no formal pedagogical education, however, I did work as a private tutor and school teacher before – having experience will certainly help you in your efforts. In fact, finding a teaching job with zero experience, without a diploma and as a non-native speaker will be very hard – I don´t want to say impossible, but you will make your chances a lot better if you take an exam and get a nice paper stating the level of your language abilities.
I do know people who arrived in Colombia and had a teaching job lined up within a week, but they were all native speakers and also (in my humble opinion) lucky. Plus these were informal jobs both times, meaning that they were able to find direct students, or were “hired” by a school without the legal paperwork. This is not the ideal situation and I will explain why later in this article.
The rest of us, looking for a real full-time job, will have to do with what other options are available.
How to find a teaching job in Colombia? (for non-native speakers & without agencies)
In this article, I will cover the following:
- What you need to work as a teacher in Colombia
- Basic Spanish
- Where to start when looking for a job
- Types of schools
- How to apply for job offers (+what to include)
- What to expect at an interview?
- What is a normal teacher salary in Colombia
- Applying for a working visa at the Immigration office
Ready to start? Hold your hat and read on, profe!
What do I need to work as a teacher in Colombia?
As just about everywhere else, it will make the job search a lot easier for you if you actually are a teacher. Don´t assume you automatically qualify just because you can speak a language – while being fluent can get you a job, don´t expect it to be the dream with all the perks that is often advertised on some alluring teach abroad websites. So what do you need to become a teacher in Colombia?
Let´s assume that since you want to work as a teacher in Colombia, you have some actual experience teaching. When I was looking for my teaching job, I was able to put several years of experience in my CV – in spite of only having a Bachelor degree at the time (I ran away to Colombia leaving my Master studies behind, in fact), I had already worked with a private primary school, a language school as a private tutor and countless students who found me online via tutoring websites back home. I started teaching when I was seventeen and by the time I arrived in Colombia as a 23 years old scaredy-cat, I already learned a thing or two about preparing classes and dealing with students and their parents. It didn´t save me from the initial shock of actually working at a school, but it did help me through the interviews.
The more experience you have, the better. Don´t expect fancy private institutions to fight for you if you have never taught before. In fact, gather all your patience and get up to some serious job search.
If you have a pedagogy degree in the field you want to work in, you are golden. Nothing equals a proof of formal education when it comes to working for prestigious schools – after all, they want to make sure they hire a person with the right skill set!
In Colombia, most of the university educated people have a pregrado (the equivalent of bachelor in my country) which is perfectly enough to work as a teacher up to high school level. If you have a Master degree, you get some plus points and maybe even a better salary.
If you don´t have a pedagogy degree, don´t hang your head just yet. Do you have a diploma from your target language? Many people go for a TEFL / DALF / equivalents of these language diplomas, but other types will work too. As long as you can present a decently looking proof of your language skills, you are good to go. I have a so-called State Exam that I obtained in Slovakia when I was finishing my bilingual high school. It states I am C1 level in French language with particular emphasis in natural sciences (I´d never dare to teach sciences further than first grade though. No, scrape that. I don´t dare to teach sciences. First graders know more than I most probably.) and explains the European framework of language learning. While my French language skills certainly deteriorated a bit since I´ve left school (and stopped speaking daily), my diploma is enough to prove that I have studied the language extensively.
Experience living abroad is also good since it shows you are not doing this for the first time, but it is not crucial.
Patience and guts
I already know you have some serious guts – hey, you want to work as a teacher! – but you´ll also need some patience. There are many schools looking for teachers and if you put in enough effort, you´ll eventually land some job, but it might take time too!
I was never too sure about who was going to receive my email and if they were going to speak English, let alone French. That´s why I wrote the text in Spanish and included my CV and motivation letters both in Spanish and English. (I figured the HR people probably wouldn´t speak French most of the time so I didn´t bother.) Basic Spanish will also help you understand the job listings and other information provided by the schools.
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Where to start when looking for a teacher´s job in Colombia?
There are several websites where employers (not only schools) post available jobs that you can apply for. The problem is that many other people apply too!
While you will obviously start your search online, I´d advise you to start with looking at the map. Where do you live? If you are in a big city (I was living in Bogotá) you will want to look for a school that is relatively near your home. If you don´t know where you´ll live yet, your best bet is to check where most of the schools are located (ask a local friend if you have no idea) and start looking there.
I was spending about two hours a day just traveling to and from work and I was living close – but the traffic jams are merciless. Some of my colleagues were traveling up to six hours daily. I don´t see myself living like that!
Types of schools
In Bogotá, most of the private schools (= good salaries) are located in the north of the city. Many of them are campestre – in nearby villages, surrounded by fields and fresh air. These colegios with big gardens and parks are very nice to work at!
Apart from private schools who offer the best deals most of the time, you can also apply at language schools. These usually pay by the hour which means a lot of hustle. Before accepting a job like this, do find out if you will teach at their premises or travel to students homes (which can take ages) and also if they will reimburse your travel expenses. Think of the money you will pay for your working visa – is the salary worth it? Can the school guarantee you a minimum number of hours from the start? I don´t have a good experience working with this type of school, but it varies from case to case. At least it can be a good starting point. Before starting to teach, try to talk to other tutors and ask them about their experience and if they are happy working for the company, but also if they are getting paid on time and regularly. There are a lot of scammers out there, unfortunately.
Public schools are another option. Depending on the location, it can be safe or not to work at a public school. There is a lot of delinquency in certain areas and sadly this includes schools as well. I heard good and bad things about public colegios – they might be more relaxed about the way you dress or if you have tattoos, but the salary is also lower most of the time and many of the students have problems at home. While these kids need role models, lots of care and a dedicated teacher to motivate them to learn, you have to decide for yourself if you are ready to work in a harsh environment. Obviously, there is a lot of variety among these schools and you cannot really know what awaits you before you dip your toes in. While I would personally hesitate to take a job at a colegio público in a big city, I would love to work in a public school in a village one day.
Primary and high schools follow different calendarios (schedules) – they are divided into A and B, with B starting the school year in September and finishing in June, while A starts in February and finishes in November. So for example, the best time to apply for a job in calendario B is around April, before the end of the school year when vacancies for the next year are being sorted.
Depending on the level of your education and skills, you can also apply for jobs at universities, but I don´t have experience with this.
Websites: Where to look for job offers
There are several websites with job listings, such as these:
and many others. Some of them will require you to create a profile and fill in your CV, others will let you attach your CV when applying. Personally, I applied to many jobs posted online, but it felt like screaming into the abyss. After a lot of emails without any answer, I simply searched for all the schools in and near my city and started to send emails to all of them, one by one, in hopes that some would be in need of a teacher.
The website that helped me immensely with this was this one:
This site gathers “the best schools”, their rating, specialties, addresses, contact information and other details, all in one place. All you have to do is to find the contact (often they also list a human resources email and the name of the person, which makes it easier for you), write an email and hit send. On repeat. Until you get an answer. Hopefully (and probably) it will be sooner than you manage to contact all of them. This website is particularly good because it is aimed at parents and so all of the schools do their best to submit as much information as they can.
Another website of a similar kind that also includes public schools. I haven´t used this one but should be worth checking out.
If you feel like going for a walk, you can also print out a bunch of CVs and simply walk from school to school and ask at the reception. Most likely they will call a person who´ll know if the school is looking for new teachers. The trick is to speak English (or French, German, Russian, whatever you want to teach) so that the security and reception people connect you with somebody from within.
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How to apply for job offers and what to include
When applying for a position in Colombia, include the following:
- Your CV (in Spanish, English and/or another language)
- Your diplomas and certificates
I had my diplomas officially translated to English (legal translation) and verified at a notary office back in Slovakia. This might or might not be necessary depending on the original language of your papers. (Slovak is too obscure a language to send to foreign employers, obviously.) This way, I already have the translations scanned for any other job I might want to apply for abroad in the future.
- Motivation letter
I heard it is not common in Colombia to send presentation/motivation cover letters, so this might differentiate you from the other applicants.
- Optional: references from previous employers
Most probably you will be asked to provide these anyway, but you can include some right from the start.
Accompany all these files with a nice email including the name of the person and of the institution and hope for an answer. Repeat as many times as necessary.
If you apply in person going from school to school (I hate that, don´t you?), leave your CV wherever you can and bring a copy of your diplomas in case you land an interview right on the spot. Good luck!
What to expect at an interview?
You finally got an invitation to an interview – yey! Now all you need to do is relax and give your best impression.
Colombians are fond of elegance, so you should dress up a bit and wear some makeup (for women). As for men, long hair and a beard are not seen very well (don´t shoot the messenger!), but in the end, it always depends on the person you speak to. However, my (short haired) colleague was repeatedly asked to shave his (well trimmed) beard at my workplace. (He didn´t. People said he could ignore it just because he was a foreigner. Who knows?)
I attended perhaps five different interviews before getting a job and they were…pretty normal, like interviews. Some gave me language tests before even speaking to me, another asked me to draw a house (to check if I am a psychopath, probably), or just talked to me. It is common that they check your language skills – if the HR person doesn´t speak your target language, expect to do it via phone call. They will probably ask you about your teaching techniques and to describe how you run a class, or even take you to a classroom and see what you´ll do.
I was also asked a bunch of personal questions that were inappropriate in my opinion (“Are you married? Do you live alone? Do you want to have children? Are you Christian?”), but I just smiled and answered honestly. I wanted that damn job!
What do teachers earn in Colombia?
This might vary a lot, depending on your experience, skills, subject you teach (language teachers tend to get a bit more) and so on. In 2015, my fancy private school was paying me 3.000.000 COP (yeah, get ready to be a millionaire) minus healthcare, pension etc. In the end, I was getting about 2,5 million pesos.
The colleagues who were working there for several years were getting a raise every year (apparently this is common) and we were all getting half of our salary as a Christmas bonus (this is a legal obligation for all employers) and another half as some sort of savings that we could withdraw at the end of the year (also mandatory for the employers). These extra payments are only given to employees so if your contract is that of a freelancer (contratista) you are unfortunately not eligible. Most of the people in Colombia never work as employees and don´t get this kind of advantages. The work system is often unfair and rough, but that is another topic.
Before landing this spot in the sun, I was also offered as little as 1,5 million COP (minus healthcare etc.), or even 10.000 per taught hour (which I didn´t accept). For a short time, I was working for 18.000 COP per hour that never materialized since the company went bankrupt and its officials suddenly disappeared. (Cough cough, it was British Alliance and they later became London Club.)(Jeez, I hope I´ll still manage to get a job one day when I´m back in Colombia even if I told you this!)
At decent private schools, you can ask for 3.000.000 COP and see what happens. Once they even told me that “Well, we pay a bit more than that.” So you could even get lucky. Before going to the interview, ask around – the fancier the school, the better your payment should be.
Note that some schools will only give you 10 months of a contract which will leave you without a salary during the vacations.
Applying for a working visa at the Colombian Immigration office
If your new employer is half decent, they will help you with this process. You will need some paperwork from them where they state how much they will pay you and such – basically a contract resumé and some more papers that I will hopefully explain to you in a different article.
If you get an employee contract, your company will promptly affiliate you at a health care provider (EPS) of your choice. (This is a huge benefit, believe me. EPS companies are really picky and it can be hard to get into a good one without a good job. I was in Sanitas and very happy with the care provided, but inform yourself as these things might change.)
You will need to inscribe yourself in the pensions system such as Colpensiones (that one is easy) and choose a savings company such as Porvenir where your employer will send monthly payments of your bonus. (Ask your colleagues for an advice as for which one is better.)
If you are a contratista, you will need to sort out the paperwork yourself.
In both cases, speaking Spanish or having somebody local to help you is really practical.
The immigration process (obtaining a working visa) is rather simple, requires a bunch of papers, some money and a little time – it can be done in one or two days. You are no longer required to leave the country and apply at a Colombian embassy abroad (really, it used to be like that), but you will have to travel to Bogotá to apply at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Read more: Chasing waterfalls in Putumayo jungle
Finding a job in Colombia
Working in a school in Colombia was certainly a great experience for me as a person and as a teacher too. I learned new skills, mastered the Spanish language and had a chance to look at the culture from an insider´s point of view.
While finding the right job without any help from agencies might require a lot of effort from your side, don´t feel discouraged – after all, a job hunt is always a struggle, no matter where you are!
Set a daily goal (how many interviews do you want to send every day?) and keep applying until you get The Call. After you get invited to an interview, it´s up to you to convince them that you are the one they are looking for.
While there are different companies that offer help with finding a job and solving your visa – some based on volunteering such as AIESEC (which I hear is also a good option, although I don´t have a first-hand experience), others businesses – I didn´t find an appealing project at the time I traveled to Colombia. I didn´t want to pay a lot of money to work somewhere – my resources were limited and I simply decided to risk it and take a step into the dark.
I hope my article gave you an idea of the teaching jobs in Colombia and how to search for them – do let me know if you have more questions, or when you get your dream job! I am always curious to hear what worked for you.
Learn Spanish online with me
Did you know I also give private Spanish classes online? If you want to prepare a bit before heading to Colombia, or need a few refreshing classes, I am happy to help you. Get in touch with me via email – girlastray.blog(at)gmail.com – I am looking forward to hearing from you!
Do you have an experience with finding a job abroad? Do you want to work in Colombia? Have some more tips? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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