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Teaching English in Colombia: Your 2024 guide

Updated: Jan 18

Teaching English in Colombia
Colombia is a land of contrasts!

Why Colombia?

From the peaks of the Andes to the Amazon rainforest, from the Caribbean coast to large modern cities, to the desert to the coffee region, Colombia is a surprisingly big country with a wonderful variety of landscapes and lifestyles, and is often voted one of the happiest countries in the world. Colombia is a little off the beaten path for English teachers, so it's the ideal destination for an authentic and exciting international teaching experience for CELTA-qualified teachers.

What teaching in Colombia is really like

Holly is an experienced English teacher, who has previously taught in Europe and Asia. She moved to Colombia partly because of her own interest in salsa music and dance.

"Colombian students are just so nice - really motivated and engaged. When I was teaching in Japan, one of the main problems was trying to get students speaking; in Colombia, the problem is getting them to stop speaking!"
"I work at a private language school and so do most of the other teachers I know. The hours usually involve blocks of lessons in the morning or the evening or sometimes both. Some days we'll teach split shifts with a morning group at 6:45 am and our last lesson of the day finishing after 9:00 pm, but with a long break in the middle of the day. All of the kids' lessons are on a Saturday, so pretty much everyone I know teaches Tuesday to Saturday and their weekend is Sunday and Monday."
"Finding an apartment in Bogota was easy. Most places for rent are advertised by a sign in the window, so you walk around the areas where you'd like to live and you look out for signs and then you phone the number in the window, which feels a little strange, but is the legit way to do things here! The housing is nice, but most places come unfurnished, which is a little tricky when you first arrive in the country. The areas where most of the English teachers live have strong European influences and you can eat out in international restaurants or go shopping in Asian supermarkets. Of course, Colombian food is amazing too - Colombians sometimes talk about nothing but food and they're really, really proud of the food from their region, so there's a lot to try"

Teaching English in Bogota

Unlike other Colombian cities, Bogota is not too hot, and has a more European climate, with four seasons in one day sometimes. Bogota is a huge city, and is one of the most stable and prosperous Latin American capitals, with a strong economy. It's an attractive city for tourists , with historic buildings, culture and nightlife attractions. One issue it shares with many big cities is traffic. Even though a metro system is being planned, it has not been built. The city has a good bus network and a 600-km cycle network (one of the best in the world) and cycling can be one good way to beat the traffic. Bogota a rich and colourful place, which is exemplified by the famous street art. Because it is the biggest and richest city in Colombia, there are more teaching opportunities here than elsewhere and some chains of language academies have branches in multiple locations.

Teaching English in Cali

Cali is the salsa capital of Colombia, and if you spend any time there at all, expect to dance. Your first salsa class is a rite of passage and refusing to dance just won't be an option! It's a vibrant and exciting place, with dancing and music twenty four hours a day, not just in the city's many bars, restaurants and clubs, but also on street corners and even in bus stations! Cali formerly had a reputation as one of Colombia's more dangerous cities, but crime rates are going down. However, it is important to be conscious of your surroundings and to take precautions because crime is still a concern in the city. Cali is also one of Colombia's hottest cities, so be ready to sweat while you dance! Because Cali is so vibrant and life there is so social, English teachers will have very few problems meeting potential clients for one-to-one lessons to top up a salary.

Teaching English in Cartagena

Cartagena is seen as one of the safest of Colombia's big cities, and is popular with retirees and American expats. It has a beautiful old walled city with colonial influences, with stunning Spanish-style churches and renaissance architecture. Cartagena is a more gentle introduction to life in Latin America than other Colombian cities, with its beachside tower blocks reminiscent of life in other resort towns around the world. The heat and the water do make mosquitos a feature of life here, so keep your repellant spray handy! With its location on the Caribbean coast, it has a unique cuisine, mixing seafood dishes, African influences and local Latin American flavours. Cartagena is more expensive than other Colombian cities, so you will need to be good with money or to top up your salary with private tuition and online lessons in order to live well here as an English teacher.

Teaching English in Medellin

Medellin, Colombia's second biggest city, once had a negative reputation as a run-down and dangerous place, but in the last twenty years it has shaken this off and is now known as a leader in innovation, with its famous green corridors, which brought the city's temperature down. It's a city with a less intense heat than Cali or Cartagena, with a "year-round spring". The city is progressive and open, and has a thriving LGBT scene and is welcoming to foreign visitors. As a modern and tech-forward city, it has a high number of digital nomads and entrepreneurs, and this includes English teachers, running classes online with students all over the world from the comfort of a Medellin terrace!

How do you find an English teaching job in Colombia?

There are lots of opportunities for those who wish to teach English in Colombia. It is a country that is very invested in education and knows that English is essential to its progress and there are jobs in cities all over the country. Learning English as a second language is mandatory in all schools and there are some opportunities in international schools and in universities, but most people who teach English in Colombia do so in language academies or private language schools.

How much does an English teacher in Colombia earn?

Colombia is not a country where schools usually cover accommodation and travel costs. The salaries are low, but allow you to make a comfortable living in Colombia - you can expect to earn between £550 and £1150 a month. The cost of living in Colombia is substantially lower than in the UK; rent is approximately 73% lower and the overall cost of living is approximately 54% lower. While you can have a good standard of living as an English teacher in Colombia, this isn't a country where you travel in order to save money while teaching. Travel around the country is also cheap and you'll be able to go see different cities and attractions on your teacher's salary.

Do I need a degree to teach English in Colombia?

All good language schools will expect applicants for teaching jobs to have a bachelors degree (in any subject) and a CELTA (or equivalent). Most of the reputable language schools will sponsor a work visa for international English language teachers and will help with the application process. While it is theoretically possible to get work without a degree, it will be challenging, unless you're open to volunteering positions.

Do I need to speak Spanish to teach English in Colombia?

Of course it's useful to speak Spanish when living and working in Colombia, and life will definitely be easier if you do! However, it isn't necessary to speak Spanish in order to find work at a language school and a CELTA course will prepare you to teach English through English. Life in Colombia, whether at a salsa class or in a local market, will involve immersing yourself in Spanish and you're likely to find yourself learning the language quickly once you arrive.

Is Colombia a safe destination?

Colombia is a safe country, but it does have a negative reputation for crime. It's certainly true that there were problems in the past, but these are improving. There are still dangerous areas and you will see more poverty than you might in a more developed country, but if you do your research and keep your wits about you, you should be fine. The Colombians say 'no dar papaya', literally 'don't give a papaya' or 'don't flaunt your wealth'. Don't wave expensive phones or bulging wallets around, keep your handbag in front of you or in your hand, and be aware of your surroundings. Use pre-booked taxi apps like Uber, rather than flagging down taxis in the street. It is safe to go out at nighttime, but before you do, find out which areas of the city are more dangerous so that you can make well-informed choices.

Colombia offers a lot to a newly qualified English teacher, with multiple job opportunities in schools where English is valued and you can make a genuine contribution. It's also a country full of character, culture and music and while you won't make millions, you can have an authentic and enriching experience as a CELTA-qualified English teacher in Colombia.

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.

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