(2022 update) This article was originally written in 2020. Things are now slowly moving back to normal, and many schools have returned to in-person education. Other institutes keep focusing on online learning or provide blended courses, so it is a good idea to be ready for both options. This blog post is aimed at newly-qualified teachers who are considering moving to Colombia.
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 emails 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 email, 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 email. 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. If you’d like to receive personalised guidance, you are welcome to take advantage of my TEFL career advice service.