The curious case of native speakerism in Colombia

A lot has been written on the topic of native speakerism. In short, some people believe that a teacher’s passport is more important than their actual qualifications and experience. That kind of thinking obviously isn’t very enlightened, but it’s something non-native English speakers have to deal with if they decide to get involved in teaching.

Fortunately, there are people who fight against this type of prejudice. If you aren’t familiar with the work of Marek Kiczkowiak from TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy, you can watch him being interviewed on the subject of native speakerism in English and Spanish. I believe that he provides relevant arguments to support his point of view. Most of that is common sense, but convincing people to change their long-held beliefs is the tricky part. I think Hugh Dellar made some great points in his post The curse of native speakerism, which was published just a few days ago.

Dealing with native speakerism

My own experience with native speakerism has been rather peculiar. When I got my first teaching position in Colombia, another teacher and I delivered classes to professionals involved in tourism. Both of us were referred to as ‘nativos’, even though neither of us qualify as native English speakers and we wouldn’t be able to get a visa in some Asian countries. I just figured that it was probably a marketing ploy to promote Colombia Bilingüe, which is an ambitious programme run by the Ministry of Education. Our classes were free of charge, so I just let it go.

Fast forward a few months, and I started teaching in a private language institute. When I introduced myself to my students, I openly talked about my origins. I described some traditions from my country and taught a few Czech words to my students. After the course had finished, the students were asked to fill in a survey and evaluate my performance. To my surprise, quite a few of them said that it was great to be taught by a native English speaker. Hold on, that doesn’t make much sense…

Then I realised that it wasn’t just my students who thought that way. I had sent my CV to the language centre of a university, and its director decided to interview me via Skype. It was quite an ordinary conversation until the director said, ‘Our new teachers have to take a language proficiency exam, but since you are a native English speaker, you don’t need to do that.’ I didn’t want to take the job anyway, so I didn’t respond to that. I guess they didn’t even bother to properly read my CV.

It all got even stranger when I spoke to a teacher born and bred in the USA who told me that some Colombians didn’t believe that she was from her country of birth. Then I read Cristine Khan’s research paper that focused on the same issue, and it confirmed my suspicions that it’s not just about your passport or accent. I think it’s obvious why I am incorrectly considered to be from an English speaking country while genuine native English speakers have their identity questioned. In many people’s eyes, a ‘nativo’ is simply a white foreigner.

I think this misconception stems from the way stereotypes work. If you look like a native English speaker, then you must be a native English speaker. To be honest, it makes me feel quite uncomfortable at times. I often get asked by students or their parents for private classes because they want to be taught by a ‘nativo’. When I tell them that I am not a native English speaker, they can’t get their head around it. If I am too busy to offer private classes, I recommend that the students contact some of the local teachers who might be available. Of course, there are many amazing Colombian teachers here. Some of them actually grew up in the US and their accent is more “native-like” than mine. Sadly, my suggestion usually isn’t met with enthusiasm.

As you can see, we are dealing with something completely irrational. If you wish to get involved in TEFL in Colombia, you need to be ready for the fact the country is still a bit conservative in some respects. I have already mentioned that your CV should include a photo when applying for a job. It’s really strange to see that some irrelevant features can be so advantageous. I know these stereotypes won’t disappear in the near future, but I feel it’s important to share my thoughts. When someone brings up this subject, I always say that looking at someone’s passport and complexion is a pretty unreliable way of judging their ability to teach English. We need to move on from those unhelpful ideas and make sure that teachers are given equal opportunities to prove their worth.

ELT Concourse is a priceless resource

A year and a half after completing my CELTA, I decided that it was time to upskill. I chose a Delta Module One course with one of the major providers and was accepted after a successful application. However, when I tried to pay for the course, the payment didn’t go through. No matter how many times I tried, the portal didn’t allow me to send the money, so I gave up. In the end, that payment portal’s malfunction turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Even though I didn’t pay for any course, I managed to pass the exam.

What happened was that I stumbled upon a free Delta Module One course on ELT Concourse and went through all the content in addition to my own background reading. I found the course extremely useful, and there is no doubt that it positively contributed to my passing the exam with a very good grade. Saving quite a lot of money was a nice little bonus as well.

ELT Concourse

ELT Concourse is a website on which you can find tons of materials related to teaching English. It takes some time to click through the sections because there are so many of them. For example: CELTA, TKT, phonemic transcription, a glossary of grammar, lexis and phonology, A-Z training index, etc. Anyone involved in ELT will find someting valuable on the website.

The content is heavy in terms of information, but it is written in a concise way. In addition, you can check your knowledge using various tests. This 100-item test in terminology is a personal favourite of time.

You won’t find ELT Concourse advertised on social media. The person responsible for running the website prefers to stay out of the spotlight. Although the content is undoubtedly worth a lot of money, it remains completely free for non-commercial use. High-quality professional development courses are usually quite expensive, so I find the fact that someone provides so much useful information for free really commendable. Thank you, ELT Concourse!

How to obtain a partner visa

If you want to work in Colombia, you need to have a valid visa. Getting an employee visa is reasonably quick and simple as long as you find a decent employer. However, that type of visa has its disadvantages because it is tied to your employer and you can’t work for anyone else with that document. Apparently there is a process of adding another employer to your work visa. I have heard anecdotal evidence of people who have been successful with that, but also of those whose application was denied. Another potential issue is the fact that when you leave your job before the end of your contract, you have to apply for a new visa or leave the country within 30 days.

Fortunately, there is another kind of visa that gives you more options. According to Article 20 of Resolución 6045, partners of Colombian citizens have an open work permit, which allows them to perform any kind of work in the country. That gives you the power to negotiate better work conditions because you are permitted to work for as many employers as you wish. Another benefit is that this visa is valid for three years and you can ask for a resident visa only after two years.

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.

This visa is awarded to a spouse or a permanent partner of a Colombian citizen. If you are interested in information about getting married, you can read about it on Medellin Guru. I am going to focus on becoming a permanent partner, which is a bit simpler. Colombia allows partners (of any sex) to enter something called unión marital de hecho. Basically, it means signing a document confirming your permanent partnership in a lawyer’s office, so there is no wedding ceremony. Your partner then has rights to your assets that were obtained after signing the document. 

There are two main ways of getting the document. You can go to a notary and ask them to formalise your partnership as a notarial act (escritura pública). The problem with this option is that you will probably be asked for the same documents that are used in case of a marriage. You will need to get your birth certificate apostilled in your country and then have it translated in Colombia by an official translator. Only certificates issued within the last three months will be accepted because for some reason Colombian birth certificates include the holder’s marital status. My country’s certificate doesn’t have that kind of information and issuing a new one won’t change that, but most officials don’t care and they will ask you to get a new document. You may be lucky and find a more lenient notary, but in most cases this option is really time-consuming.

Fortunately, I encountered an alternative option  in this article. You can simply go to a Centro de Arbitraje y Conciliación, which belongs to Cámara de Comercio, and get the unión marital de hecho done with just an ID: that means your partner’s cédula de ciudadanía and your passport (or cédula de extranjería if you have one). Sounds great!

Well, it seems this service is offered only in Bogotá. I unsuccessfully tried to get it in Pereira, Ibagué, Manizales and Medellín. Curiously, all of them had different requirements. In one case I even asked the employee to call the Bogotá office. They actually confirmed that it is possible to get the document only with an ID, but still refused to help me. It seems local offices aren’t used to dealing with foreigners, so they just make up their own rules. You may try your luck there and hope you find a reasonable person to talk to.

Anyway, you will still have to go to Bogotá to pick up your visa, so getting your unión marital de hecho there is just a minor inconvenience. I recommend that you contact them in advance to confirm that you can get the document only with your passport or cédula. I was given the choice of going to the following offices: Calle 76, Chapinero and Cedritos. The process is very quick and simple. At first your and your partner’s personal information is collected and you pay a fee of 459,000 pesos. Then a lawyer double checks all the data and you sign the document in their presence. The whole process should take approximately one hour. You may need to wait a little bit before receiving your copy, and then there is nothing more to do. Congratulations! You have just entered a permanent partnership according to the Colombian law.

Going through the Centro de Arbitraje y Conciliación is rather expensive, but you pay extra money for the speed of processing and the fact that you don’t have to submit other documents. In order to apply for the partner visa with Cancillería, you will need just a couple of more things. Your partner has to write two documents that need to be authenticated at a notary. The first one is a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explaining why you should get the visa, the other one grants you the power to submit the application on their behalf. You also need to attach a copy of their cédula de ciudadanía. The authentication costs just a few thousand pesos.

The usual visa application process applies. You have to upload your photo, passport and the four aforementioned documents. Then you will pay the application fee and wait for a reply. Most likely you and your partner will be invited to attend an interview. Couples are usually interviewed together and asked questions about their relationship. Having some photos in your phone is definitely a good idea. If your application is approved, you will pay the fee and get your shiny new visa in your passport on the spot. Don’t forget to apply for a new cédula de extranjería within 15 days of getting the visa.

Please note there is one extra requirement that is not listed on Cancillería’s website. If you currently hold another type of visa and wish to switch to the partner one, you will probably be asked for a document proving that you are currently involved in the activity related to your visa. For example, if you have an employee visa, you should have a document that shows that you indeed work where you are supposed to.

Getting this visa represents a huge advantage because it will make your life easier. It gives you the opportunity to start working for any employer without additional paperwork. Just make sure that you and your partner are completely sure about entering unión marital de hecho because it is a serious act that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Valle de la Samaria: Colombia’s hidden gem

I am a big fan of Salento, the colourful town visited by scores of tourists every year. Many of them travel to the nearby Valle del Cocora, which is one of the most impressive places in Colombia thanks to its wax palms. You can find plenty of information about that online, so I am going to focus on something else today. If you have some spare time to explore the country, I would like to recommend a destination that is just as impressive, and it has the added bonus of not being crowded at all.

Valle de la Samaria is absolutely breathtaking. There are countless of wax palms set in beautiful scenery and yet many Colombians have never heard of it. If you travel there, you will be one of few visitors; you may even get lucky and be there just by yourself.

The reason for Valle de la Samaria’s lack of popularity is very simple: it is not that easy to get there. The closest city is Manizales, which is not the most accessible location itself because its airport often gets closed in bad weather. Then you have to go to Salamina. A bus from Manizales takes three hours, or you can take a shared taxi, which is faster but more expensive. Both leave from Terminal de Manizales.

Another option is to take a bus from Medellín’s Terminal del Sur. There are two routes available (via La Merced or Aguadas) and both should take approximately five hours. The problem is that the closer you get to Salamina, the worse the road becomes. Travelling by bus on an unpaved winding road isn’t exactly a comfortable experience. The road becomes unsafe in bad weather conditions, and there have been some tragic accidents on the way to Salamina. I don’t think the town will have to deal with mass tourism in the foreseeable future.

Salamina is a nice town with colourful houses. It is worth spending a night or two there so that you can enjoy its atmosphere and try some traditional dishes. There is a possibility of hiring a jeep to take you to the valley. Since I don’t like paying exorbitant prices, I opted for a bus. I recommend that you check the schedule at the small station on the corner of Calle 10 and Carrera 6. There were only two options when I was there: one bus early in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Don’t forget to ask about the return journey to avoid being stranded in San Félix, which is the closest village to Valle de la Samaria.

San Félix is a sleepy little place with a nice church and no amenities for tourists. If you arrive in the morning, you may find it almost completely deserted. There is a small grocery store at the corner of the main square where the path to the valley begins. The 6-kilometre walk is really pleasant. At first you pass bright green cow fields, and then beautiful hills covered with wax palms emerge.

There is just one place that caters for tourists. Fortunately, it is a great one! Mirador is a mountain cottage, which is run by the Abril family with the idea of promoting sustainable ecotourism. The facilities were built from scratch only a couple of years ago, and I actually became the first visitor from the Czech Republic there. The owners are amazing people with big plans for the valley, and they are involved in planting new palm trees. You can go for a guided hike and enjoy delicious food afterwards. There are even rooms for guests in case you wish to stay overnight.

Mirador reopened its doors a few days ago, but you should call them or get in touch through their Facebook page in advance to make sure that you can be attended. Don’t forget to take a jacket with you because the highest point is at almost 3,000 metres above sea level. It is also very easy to get sunburnt at that altitude, so it is necessary to apply sunscreen!

There are a lot of beautiful places to visit in Colombia, but Valle de la Samaria stands out thanks to its serene atmosphere. It is a perfect destination to escape the noise and pollution of major cities. Going there requires a bit of effort, but I highly recommend it to every nature lover. You can spend time in an amazing fairy-tale landscape and support a conservation project that is worthy of our attention.

Applying for a teaching job in Colombia (post-pandemic)

Even though Colombia has reopened its borders, I don’t recommend looking for a job here this year. Many teachers have lost their positions or had their teaching hours reduced because of the health emergency. Classes take place online, which presents numerous challenges. This articles describes a situation before the pandemic. I decided to publish this post because I believe we will eventually return back to normal at some point during next year, so some readers may find the information useful in the future.

Latin American countries are considered to be traditional when it comes to applying for jobs. Don’t expect to be hired from abroad. If you contact potential employers while being outside Colombia, they won’t get back to you in most cases. There are some exceptions, though. One is having an excellent academic profile with relevant qualifications and experience. The other is applying for a programme that is based on bringing foreigners to Colombia. Most people simply travel to Colombia as tourists and start looking for a job after their arrival. This is perfectly legal and the good news is that you don’t need to leave the country to get your employee visa.

Please note that when you travel to Colombia as a tourist, some airlines may ask you for proof of onward travel. You can book a refundable ticket and cancel it after arriving, or there are some online services that can help you overcome this issue.

When you finally make it to the country, you should get a Colombian phone number because nobody is going to call your foreign number. What is important to know is that when you use a Colombian SIM card in a phone imported from abroad, the mobile phone provider will probably ask you to register the phone. You might even have to produce a receipt to demonstrate that the phone is yours. This anti-theft policy is quite annoying, but you have to go through the process, otherwise your phone will be blocked.

When it comes to applying for a job, you may use websites like CompuTrabajo. However, most of the offers there aren’t great and the whole process takes a lot of time. The fastest way of getting an interview is simply dropping off your CV in person. Just look for schools, institutes and universities in the city and leave your CV there. If you are lucky, you may even get an interview immediately. I also recommend getting a nice photo taken for your CV. It may seem unimportant, but in some cases your appearance can improve your chances of landing a job, especially if you look like an obvious foreigner. It shouldn’t really be that way, but that is how it works with some employers.

As I mentioned before, you should be flexible in terms of locations. Putting your eggs in one basket may not be the best strategy. It could be a good idea to contact potential employers in various cities so that you can compare their offers and choose the best option.

The problem is that most places don’t believe that having a ‘Work with Us’ section on their website could be beneficial. Sending your CV to e-mails like info@[schoolname] is completely futile and your message will most likely never be read. What you have to do is to get contact details of a relevant person. They are not called Director of Studies here, but their title is something like Academic Director, Academic Coordinator or Director of Language Department. You need to ask the potential employer to pass you the person’s details. If your Spanish isn’t good enough to make a call, try to contact the place through social media.

Once you have the person’s e-mail, you can send them your CV that way. Apparently, sending cover letters is not a thing in Colombia. Most people just submit their CV and wait for a call. That seems like a missed opportunity to me, and I believe that adding a personal message can’t hurt. Try to indicate why you would be interested in moving to that city. If you have some references, you should attach them as well. I highly recommend mentioning that you will need visa assistance to set correct expectations. Someone might go through the hiring process with you and then tell you that they can’t help you obtain an employee visa, making the whole thing a colossal waste of time.

Don’t be disheartened if most people never respond to your e-mail. Receiving a polite rejection message is not common and in many cases your application will simply be ignored. Applying in person or getting recommended by someone else is still preferred.

If you are a qualified teacher, you should receive some responses. You will probably be invited to teach a short demo lesson in addition to an interview. Many employers are worried that a foreign teacher may leave after a few months, so coming across as someone who is serious about the profession is a huge advantage. Being well-dressed definitely helps. Don’t be surprised if you get asked to undergo an intrusive psychological evaluation and a perfunctory medical exam (both completely in Spanish).

I would also recommend that you take your time and talk to more employers. Accepting the first offer that comes your way may not be the best decision you can make. It is always a good idea to have a backup plan. I will always remember the time I was offered a job at a private institute and everything looked fine. Well, instead of preparing all necessary documents for my visa application, the employer stopped communicating with me without any explanation. By the time they got back to me with the papers a month later, I had already found a better position.

Hiring in Colombia works in a slightly different way to other parts of the world, but if you are qualified, professional and persistent, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to find a job once the pandemic is over. Good luck in your search!

The importance of teaching qualifications

As I mentioned in the article about an employee visa, I was never asked to prove that I held teaching qualifications in order to work legally in Colombia. All I needed was a valid passport and an employer willing to provide a few documents. Is such a lenient approach a good idea? You be the judge of that. Anyway, there are signs that this policy is coming to an end because some visa applicants are asked to produce degrees or other documents.

Let’s get something important out of the way right at the beginning. Backpacker teachers have a bad reputation in Colombia. This refers to unqualified people delivering low-quality lessons for a while and then moving somewhere else. There is nothing wrong with travelling and volunteering; however, asking for money from your students is frowned upon in that situation.

Even if you have no qualifications whatsoever, you may be able to find someone who would like to employ you. Please, don’t be that person. Put yourself in your students’ shoes: Colombian public education system is not renowned for effective English classes, so many people pay extra money to learn the language. It is really important for your students’ careers; many of them wish to study or work abroad. They deserve to be taught by someone who knows what they are doing. Some employers don’t care about their students and they will hire anyone whose only qualification is being able to speak English. That doesn’t mean it is okay to participate in that terrible practice. Try to be a good teacher. You owe it to your students.

Do you need a degree? In theory, you don’t need one to get a visa, but it is highly recommended to have at least a Bachelor’s. I understand that you can be a good teacher without a degree. I also don’t think that everybody with a Bachelor’s degree in Modern Languages automatically knows how to teach. It has more to do with your status. You may teach English to someone who has already finished their Master’s and is now working on their PhD. If you teach children and teenagers, their parents may ask you for your qualifications. Having no degree could lead to some awkward conversations in those situations.

Again, I suggest that you look at it from another point of view. If you wanted to learn Spanish, would you pay for classes with a random Colombian whose only qualifications are being a native speaker and finishing a high school? I guess not. That is why having a degree is important. If it is related to education and includes teaching practice, you are ready to apply for a job.

Even if your degree is unrelated, there are options to get qualified as a teacher. Many people opt for online courses. You can find some ridiculously cheap ones on Groupon and apparently they are good enough to get a visa in many Asian countries. Since you don’t really need that in Colombia, I don’t see why you should take that kind of course. How can clicking through some online content prepare you for teaching real students in a classroom?

Some online courses are quite expensive and they will undoubtedly teach you something. However, I still don’t think that a course without assessed teaching practice represents a good investment. I would recommend buying Jeremy Harmer’s book The Practice of English Language Teaching instead. Another point to consider is that the best-paying employers won’t even call you for an interview if your only qualification is an online certificate.

If you are serious about teaching, you should take a course that includes teaching real students and getting feedback from a qualified tutor. The most recognised ones are CELTA and CertTESOL. Basically, they are four-week boot camps for teachers in which you give classes and receive constant feedback on your performance. Obviously, such a short course can’t transform you into an amazing teacher. What it can do, though, is equip you with practical techniques to survive your first job. When I observe other teachers, I can instantly tell if they have taken a CELTA course; and I mean that as a compliment.

There are CELTA courses in Colombia provided by International House and the British Council. Most of them take place in Bogotá, but there are usually one or two in Medellín every year. Both CELTA and CertTESOL are standardised and externally assessed, which means that it doesn’t matter where you take them. You can find a course close to your location here: CELTA, CertTESOL.

The good news is that Colombian employers recognise both certificates. Even if you have no teaching experience, having a CELTA or CertTESOL can help you avoid the pitfalls of being offered only terrible positions (and there are plenty of them in Colombia!). Your students will appreciate that as well because both courses produce teachers who try to make their lessons as learner-centred as possible.

A word of warning at the end. There are some in-class courses, some of them taking place in Latin America, which claim to be a CELTA equivalent. Those courses may actually be really useful, but the problem is that they aren’t externally assessed, so nobody really knows how good or bad they are. You may then end up having to explain what the course was about during a job interview and that is not a position you want to be in. The British Council and International House won’t accept that kind of certificate. It may seem unfair, but that is the way the ELT industry works. Taking those courses is a risky decision, especially considering the fact that some of them are even more expensive than CELTA.

Have you taken any of the courses mentioned in this post? You are welcome to tell us about your experience in the comments section.

How to obtain an employee visa

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. An employer who is willing to break the rules and hire you illegally would 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 probably the easiest visa process in Latin America. 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. And that, my friends, is all that is needed from your side. A valid passport and a current photo. No apostilled diplomas, certificates, criminal records or any other stuff that is common in other countries.

That said, Cancillería has the right to ask you additional documents. Just because I managed to get my employee visa without uploading my degree doesn’t mean that you won’t be asked to produce it. I have heard from various sources that asking for additional documents is becoming more and more common, so I believe it is a good idea to get your degree and criminal record apostilled in your home country. Your employer may want to see them as well. It is also important to add that if you get asked for extra documents by the visa office, you will need to have them translated into Spanish by a certified translator based in Colombia.

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. And the last thing is bank statements from the previous six months to prove that the company is legit. You can check the list of requirements here.

Again, nothing difficult at all. If an employer is telling you that the visa process is very lengthy and complicated, 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 Colombian partner can apply. I really don’t understand that because as you can see, the requirements are simple. You just need your photo and passport, and three documents from the employer 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 about payment methods. You will then receive a reply to your e-mail within five working days. In my experience the reply usually arrives much faster. If your application is approved, you’ll pay for the visa and pick it up in person in Bogotá (UPDATE: The visa office is currently closed because of the health emergency. You will receive a digital visa to your e-mail.). The whole process of obtaining a work visa is really straightforward. I have had only good experiences with Cancillería’s employees, who have always been polite and helpful.

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.

Everybody wants to live in Medellín

Many people say that Medellín is the best city in Colombia. The usual arguments are that its weather is perfect all year round, the locals are friendly, and they have the only metro system in the country. I completely agree with that. I would also add opportunities for nice trips in Antioquia and a very strong entrepreneurial spirit in the whole region. The truth is that I genuinely love the place. There’s just one problem with all of that. There are loads of other people who feel the same way!

Medellín has been receiving praise in mainstream media and on blogs for years. As a consequence, the capital of Antioquia receives a steady stream of starry-eyed English teachers who want to live in the city of their dreams. I know that very well because I was one of them. This influx has been interrupted by the pandemic, but I am pretty sure that is just a temporary blip.

Medellín: a view from Pueblito Paisa

What usually isn’t said is that the high number of foreigners living in Medellín has an inevitable effect on the job market. Simply said, you are easily replaceable. As a consequence, many employers will offer you a crap deal that involves working split shifts from Monday to Saturday for a very low salary. If you don’t like it, they will find someone else. Another effect of Medellín’s positive reputation is its rising cost of living. If you are an inexperienced teacher, you may end up working long hours and make only enough money to pay for a room in a shared flat. To be honest, I’d prefer to aim a bit higher than that.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a good job in Medellín. If you have found one, hold on to it and enjoy the experience! I would just like to suggest an idea that may actually make your time in Colombia more pleasant: Consider looking for a job in another city.

Colombia is a big country and there are numerous options in terms of locations. The most obvious ones are the other two big cities: Bogotá and Cali. I have a love-hate relationship with Bogotá. On one hand, there are tons of things to do. On the other hand, it gets really cold at night and the traffic is terrible. If you get a job that involves teaching off-site, you’ll waste a lot of time travelling around the city, and that could quickly make you feel miserable. Cali sounds like an interesting place, but I’ve never been there, so I can’t really comment on that.

What I want to suggest is looking at smaller cities. For example, if you love Medellin’s climate, you should check out Pereira and Armenia. Both of them are located at the same altitude as Medellín, which guarantees spring-like weather all year round. Pereira and Armenia are developing cities in the coffee region with some really nice areas. There are shopping centres where you’ll find everything you need. Both cities are close to Salento, a major tourist destination.

If you prefer a warmer place, you could try to look for a job in Ibagué and Bucaramanga. You can wear shorts day and night in those cities because of their climate. That said, I can’t imagine living on the coast due to the heat. Places like Cartagena and Santa Marta are great for vacations, but I’d find it difficult to stay there permanently. If you don’t mind very hot weather, you could consider those as well.

Manizales: a view from Los Yarumos

Probably the most livable city in Colombia is Manizales. The capital of Caldas is really developed and you can have a great time there. Just prepare yourself for cold nights and two rainy seasons; and rain in Manizales means torrential downpour. If you for some reason prefer a place even colder than Bogotá, go to Tunja (the capital of Boyacá) where you need a proper jacket to stay warm.

The point I am trying to make is that Colombia is more than just one city, and it’s worth checking out other options. Do you research, starting with capital cities of each department. They may not be as glamorous as Medellín, but there are nice and safe areas in each of them. A huge advantage of living in Colombia is that wherever you are, you are always close to some spectacular places, so moving to another region represents a good opportunity to explore them.

Going off the beaten path can be beneficial in terms of your job prospects. As one of few foreign teachers living in the city, you can negotiate better working conditions. Couple that with a lower cost of living and your odds of enjoying the whole experience will inevitably improve. You can have a really good time instead of just surviving in a big city. Many websites paint Colombia as a paradise for English teachers. Well, they don’t tell you about the people who leave the country disappointed. Working crazy hours, commuting, and living in a place where you can’t relax eventually takes its toll on everyone.

Yes, moving to a smaller city means leaving your comfort zone. If your Spanish is limited, it will have to improve fast. There is no option of staying in your bubble composed of foreigners or English-speaking locals like you can do in El Poblado. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Working away from big cities will broaden your horizons and provide you with a more authentic Colombian experience.

I would like to happy to hear from other teachers who work in lesser-known locations. How did you get there? What do you like about the place? Let me know in the comments section.