They say that the only risk in finding English teaching jobs in Colombia is wanting to stay. If you teach in Bogota, this risk becomes a serious danger. Colombia’s capital city is bursting with life, culture, and teaching opportunities. After dancing until your feet hurt in an all-night salsa bar, absorbing the messages painted by street artists all over the city’s walls, and learning the words to very Maluma song at the behest of your students, you will be thoroughly enamorado with Bogota. You’ve been warned: teach abroad in Bogota at your own risk.
Teaching Jobs in Bogota
If you are teaching in Bogota, you will most likely be teaching English. Speaking English is becoming more and more desirable in Colombia, so there are plenty of jobs to go around. TEFL gigs usually crop up in public schools, private schools, and as private classes.
As part of a country-wide drive to improve English skills among high school students, there are many placements available in public schools in vulnerable neighborhoods. This placement is ideal for anyone wanting to use their time abroad to make a lasting difference (so basically everyone). Placements for teaching in Bogota come with a lot of in-country support, a thorough orientation, and the opportunity to see a different side of Colombia. Despite the feels, the environment can be challenging though, so think carefully before taking on this responsibility.
Working in a private institution, you will be interacting with people from an entirely different social strata. You will probably have a more comfortable teaching environment (smaller class sizes, more resources, etc) and better pay. Because of competition for placements, you will most likely need a formal TEFL/TESOL qualification to get hired. Luckily it is easy to get TEFL certified in Bogota, and once you have this under your belt, you will be set to teach anywhere in the world!
Both private and public schools prefer a commitment of one year from ESL teachers in Colombia. The school year commences in February and runs to November, with a long summer break in the middle. Because it will take at least a year to explore Bogota, this is a great length of time to sign up for (to start off with anyway - you may even stay longer!).
Life in Bogota
Bogota is one of the fastest developing cities in Latin America. As Colombia emerges from decades of civil war, Bogota is leading the way for the whole country into a brighter future.
Bogota is not known as a tourist hotspot, but for those who choose to teach in Bogota, there is no shortage of things to do. A vast array of restaurants, theaters, museums, and other cultural centers blend into the colonial architecture, for the perfect blend of traditional and cosmopolitan. In the chic northern suburbs, upmarket shopping malls line leafy green parks, and entertainment districts come into a life of their own after the sun has set.
Bogota is not only home to museums and art galleries that house some of the world’s most famous artworks, it is the canvas for graffiti artists with something to say. Street art and murals are spreading throughout the city, as young artists use their craft to tell their stories and share their voices, on subjects ranging from gay rights, to peace, to political corruption. To understand the movements that are taking place under the surface of the city, you just have to take a graffiti tour around some of the central barrios.
Colombians from any other part of the country will tell you that Bogota has a cold and unpleasant climate. Set high in the Andes, Bogota is certainly chillier than the coastal areas, with temperatures never getting much higher than 65 degrees. You will want to pack a good jacket: rain is a frequent visitor to the capital. If you want to escape to warmer climates though, El Dorado airport has connections to almost everywhere in Colombia and surrounding countries (and Caribbean islands aren’t all that far away).
Salaries & Costs
With the higher prices that come from living in a big, international city, both salaries for ESL teachers and the cost of living are higher than in other locations in Colombia. You will still be earning a modest amount compared to other places however: teachers in Bogota usually earn between $500 and $1000. Teach abroad salaries in Colombia depend largely on your employer: government sponsored programs can only afford to pay a minimal amount, whereas private language schools can up the ante a little. These schools will generally throw in some perks, such as paying for visa costs and sometimes granting you a travel allowance. If you are lucky enough to snag a position in a posh private school, that figure could rise to as much as $1500, which is a phenomenal amount to be earning in Colombia.
It is entirely possible to live off a salary of $500 in Bogota, if you observe Colombians and pick up some of their frugal living habits. Eating almuerzo, a fixed menu which usually includes soup, a main course, and a drink, in a local restaurant is around $3. If you buy your produce in markets, you can keep your grocery bill under $70 a month, and public buses usually only cost about 50 cents each time you ride them. If you are earning a little more, you can splurge on fancier restaurants, where a meal is around $10, buying a few cocktails for $5 each, and taking trips to Cartagena for as little as $60 round trip is you book in advance.
Accommodation & Visas
One of the biggest hurdles to moving abroad to teach English in Bogota is finding a place to live. While program providers will generally guide you through the house-hunting process, and provide you with all the information and support you need to to land a place, you will have to do a lot of legwork yourself. It is helpful if you speak intermediate Spanish, or have a friend who can help you translate, in order to contact landlords. Most teachers in Bogota rent either studio apartments by themselves, or a room in an apartment shared with one or two other people. It can be difficult to sign a lease without Colombian guarantors, so you will need to find places that are available for flexible or short-term rent.
As for visas, you have a few different options for teaching in Bogota. If you travel to Colombia as a tourist, you can stay for 90 days and then renew your tourist visa for a further 90 days, giving you a total of six months in the country. You will still be able to give private lessons, or work for most language schools with this option. A proper visa is better though, and most programs will arrange to have one issued for you. In this case, you don’t need to worry about a whole lot: just provide all the required documentation and your employer will take care of it for you. Work visas are usually valid for one year. If you have any queries or concerns about visas, use the GoAbroad Embassy Directory to contact the Colombian embassy nearest you.
Benefits & Challenges
Bogota is such a big city that it packs in enough variety and excitement to fill a small country. It strikes a balance between having its own distinct culture, yet still having a lot of the comforts and amenities you are accustomed to from home.
You might be there to teach English, but Bogota is a great place to learn Spanish. Colombian Spanish is repeated to be ‘pure’: in loose terms this means it is clearer and easier to understand than other accents in Spanish. It helps that Colombians themselves are gregarious and persistently friendly: ¿de dónde eres? will be the opener to countless conversations and friendships with locals. Take advantage of the friendliness of locals to practice your Spanish at every opportunity.
As in every large city, safety can be a concern in Bogota. You should be aware of your surroundings at all time, avoid going to barrios that are known for high crime rates, and listen to the advice locals will give you: don’t dar papaya, as they say. This literally means “give papaya,” but what they mean is don’t let people take advantage of you. Don’t walk around with your phone in your hand, don’t walk alone after dark, and keep your wits about you at all times.