I taught English in Santa Marta, Colombia for a month last year with my partner, Darien. We were on an 8 month backpacking trip through South and Central America and volunteering/working along the way. Teaching English in Santa Marta was one of my favorite experiences during our trip!
In short, this blog will be all about my FIRST teaching English experience abroad and answers to all your questions about teaching English, visas, salary, local culture, and more!
How did you get the job?
I got the volunteer position off of one of my FAVORITE sites called Workaway. The site has TONS of volunteer opportunities all around the world. Usually the arrangement is volunteer for 20 hours/week in exchange for housing and food. Overall, you can save A LOT of money if you volunteer for an extended amount of time. You can sign up for a year membership for $54. It’s totally worth it!
I emailed the host and got the job right away. The volunteer teaching English position was for one month at a private school (mostly private classes + translation work). We received breakfast, lunch, and a private room in exchange for working about 20 hours/week.
Who did you teach?
I taught all ages. My weekend classes were groups of kids aged around 8 to 11 years old. During the week I had private classes with adults aged 18 to 50 years old. The students had all different goals ranging from passing national language tests to learning English for fun.
How was the work load?
The work load was fair. I had a total of 3 private students and 1 group class. The private classes ranged from 1 to 3 hours long. After about a week, my boss challenged me to create my own lesson plans. Lesson plans took awhile for me to create. I really cared about my students and their learning. I wanted students to feel challenged and not bored. Also, I didn’t have any experience, so I spent most of my time lesson planning.
In short, I don’t think I ever worked over 20 hours (teaching + creating lesson plans + some translation work).
Did you have teaching experience?
No! Well, no classroom experience. I do have experience mentoring, training, and teaching dance. I’m sure if you think about it, you have some teaching experience! There were some challenges, but overall I loved teaching!
Note: NEVER say you don’t have experience when applying for jobs!! Be creative and think of related experience! (lol)
What are the requirements to teach in Colombia?
The school I volunteered at required that I had a Bachelor’s degree, but didn’t require prior experience or a TEFL certificate. (Although the school never verified if I actually had a Bachelor’s degree.)
From what I read, most schools require a Bachelor’s degree and native proficiency. Some may require a TEFL and prior experience. It all depends on the school!
What are the visa requirements?
I volunteered on a tourist visa. Tourist visas are 90 days. I stayed over my 90 days and got it extended. The extension process is pretty easy!
Colombia is super relaxed compared to teaching in places like China and South Korea. Most teachers that I’ve met get jobs and figure out their visa AFTER they arrive. Your school should help with your visa process.
Click here for more information on visas.
Where did you stay?
The school was in a 3 bedroom home. The 3 bedrooms were for volunteers and the housekeeper. Darien and I got a private room with two twin beds and a full closet. The room was good size. Unfortunately, there was not air conditioning. There was a full kitchen we could use and a balcony upstairs.
How much is rent?
Although I didn’t have to rent an apartment, I did stay in Airbnbs before and after my month of teaching. I stayed in Airbnbs as low as $10/night which would be around $300/month. I’m sure you can find cheaper and more expensive depending on location and how long you are staying.
Tip: Look for places upon arrival. You can ask locals and find cheaper rent in person.
What is the average salary? How much money do I need?
The salary for ESL teachers in Colombia is not very high ($500-1,000/month), but it should cover your monthly expenses. If you do not have much saved, I recommend teaching online and/or tutoring when you arrive to make some extra money.
It all depends how long you plan on teaching and traveling. For instance, for backpacking trips I usually budget around $500-1,000/month. I am only bringing around $1,000 to teach English in South Korea for a year, because I am going to be making a high salary. (I always travel with emergency credit cards.)
Things to know before going?
First off, it’s important to remember that Colombia is a conservative country. Therefore, we were asked to cover all our tattoos and wear long pants and long sleeves while teaching in 100 degree weather. (lol)
In addition, I recommend understanding basic Spanish before you arrive. It is hard to get around without it. You can always take Spanish classes in Santa Marta!
What is Santa Marta like?
I’ll be honest, it was not my favorite city in Colombia. Coastal cities are notorious for drug traffic and Santa Marta was not an exception. People were selling drugs like candy on the streets. Also, It was SUPER HOT, easily the hottest city I’ve ever lived in. The humidity is awful. However, if you can look beyond the sketchiness and weather, it’s not too bad!!
The downtown area has a pedestrian walkway with a ton of cool restaurants and shops. It’s not as touristy as Cartagena, which is a plus. There are great beaches and some hidden treasures (ex: Playa Tortuga). We signed up for a local gym membership and did our best to integrate into the culture. I took Zumba classes a couple times a week and become friends with locals in the class. Darien played basketball at local parks and even ended up joining a local basketball league.
I loved the surrounding areas of Santa Marta like Tayrona National Park and Minca. There are so much great places for weekend getaways!
Is Santa Marta dangerous?
First off, It’s important to have a level of caution while roaming the city especially at night. Therefore, I would not carry ANYTHING valuable at night time (phone/cards/etc).
Secondly, local men can be aggressive. I was gropped twice during and harassed regularly. However, everyone has a different experience! In other words, I wouldn’t let my personal experience stop you from making your final decision.
If you’re curious about my negative experience, click here for part I and here for part II.
Overall, I recommend teaching English in Santa Marta if you like the heat and are a laid back person. However, It’s not for everyone! I think the key to enjoying a new city is making friends with locals and exploring!
Write any other questions about teaching English or Santa Marta in the comment section or contact me direct on Instagram or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). <3
Thanks for reading!!! Good luck on your ESL journey! xo