If you wish to work as a teacher in Colombia, you need to have a valid work visa. If someone wants to hire you without appropriate documents, walk away. A school that is willing to break the rules and employ you illegally will probably make your life miserable in other ways. Seriously, it’s not worth it.
Disclaimer: This article is based on my own experience. The requirements and processes may change in the future. Make sure to check Cancillería’s website before starting the process. You can also contact the visa office directly and ask for more details.
Fortunately, Colombia has a reasonably easy visa process, especially when compared to other popular TEFL markets. If someone is telling you that you need to use a visa agency, they just want your money. You can enter the country as a tourist and talk to potential employers. When you find a job, you will have to apply for an employee visa (M – trabajador) using your and your employer’s documents. The electronic application, which is available both in Spanish and English, can be found here.
I recommend that you click through the application to see what is required. At first, you fill in the form with your personal data. Then you are asked to upload a photo. It doesn’t need to be professional; one taken at home with a cell phone is fine. After that you have to upload two pages from your passport: the data page and the one with an entry stamp. Finally, you need to attach an apostilled degree or work certifications demonstrating your experience. Please note that those documents need to be translated into Spanish by a certified translator and Cancillería has the right to ask you for additional documents. You can find the official requirements in Article 74 of Resolución 5477.
Let’s continue and see what your employer has to do. At first, they have to fill in this form, which you have to sign. It contains personal data and information about the job. Then they have to write a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explaining why they decided to hire you. A good employer will have a template for that. Sometimes you may be asked for your contract, but that is not necessary in the first stage. The company also has to provide bank statements from the previous six months to prove that the company is legitimate.
Again, nothing difficult at all. If an employer is telling you that the visa process is very lengthy and complicated from their side, they are talking nonsense. Some job ads even go as far as stating that only candidates with a valid visa will be considered; that means only foreign residents or those with a partner visa can apply. I really don’t understand that because the requirements are quite simple. They just need to provide you with three documents that could easily be issued in thirty minutes. If that represents a huge obstacle for a potential employer, they aren’t someone you want to work for, and I recommend that you look for a job somewhere else.
When you get the documents, you have to upload them to the form and pay an application fee. Various payment options are available; click here for current prices and information on payment methods. You will then receive a reply to your email within 30 days. In my experience it usually arrives much faster. If your application is approved, you’ll pay for the visa and receive a digital copy by email. Thanks to the 2022 visa reform, there is no need to get the visa stamped in your passport anymore. As you can see, the whole process of obtaining a work visa is really straightforward.
In addition, I think you should complete the application by yourself. I made the mistake of allowing an employer to do so on my behalf, which resulted in a botched application and I had to spend an extra week in Bogotá. If your details are given to an incompetent HR employee or a work experience kid and they mess up the application, you are the one who pays the price. For example, I have seen my name misspelled in several different ways by people who had a copy of my passport. You don’t want someone like that to be in charge of applying for a crucial document. If your future employer insists on filling in the application, you should be in the same room to double check that it is done correctly. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Remember that you can start working only after your visa has been issued. Your employer’s name will be stated on the document and you can’t work for anyone else with that visa. It will be valid for the duration of your contract, but only up to the period of three years. When it expires, you will have to ask for a new visa again. That is also true for your ID (cédula de extranjería), which you need to apply for within 15 days of getting your visa.