Work and Travel Colombia: Everything You Need to Know
Did you know that Realismo Mágico (Magical Realism) is the official tourism catchphrase?
And, in our opinion, it’s an accurate description of Colombia.
The country is well and truly safe enough to visit, and many visitors yearn to stay longer, whether it be to explore the country’s unspoiled natural splendor or to mingle with its amicable people.
Read on to learn what you need to know to work and travel in Colombia.
- Colombian Visas
- Jobs for Foreigners in Colombia
- Traveling in Colombia
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Getting a tourist visa for Colombia
Most nationalities are granted a 90-day tourist visa on arrival. Canadians must pay 201,000 COP (91 CAD) if arriving at the Bogotá airport, while others need to get one sorted in advance.
The tourist visa can be extended once by another 90 days through a relatively simple process at any Colombian immigration office. The maximum amount of time a tourist can stay in the country is 180 days per calendar year.
Getting a work visa in Colombia
The Colombian migration visa process changed in December 2017. Most would-be expats should now apply for an M5 (migrant worker) visa to be allowed to work in the country, although other options may be viable, such as M1 (marriage), M6 (investment) or M7 (specialized skills) visas.
Frustratingly, M5 and M7 visa class holders can only work in the position for which their visa was granted. Effectively, this makes it difficult to switch between jobs.
Compared to other Latin American countries, the process is relatively straightforward. Applicants can apply online using helpful information from an official English language guide.
A new R (resident) visa can be obtained after three consecutive years living in the country, while a V (visitor) visa is useful for certain types of temporary work and volunteering.
Jobs for Foreigners in Colombia
Any form of remunerated work (work in exchange for money or goods and services) is strictly prohibited on a tourist visa and could result in fines and/or deportation.
Colombian Spanish is fairly easy to grasp, although region-specific slang does exist. Employers require Spanish proficiency for most—but not all—jobs in Colombia. Study up to become competitive in the job market!
Glassdoor and GoAbroad list a number of positions for English speakers. Meanwhile, popular Latin American recruitment websites such as Indeed, Learn4Good, Trabajando and Computrabajo offer more general positions.
English language teacher
Teaching English as a second language is the most popular entry-level job for foreigners in Colombia, because any native speaker is essentially already qualified.
Granted, a TEFL certificate and experience will greatly increase your chance of landing a well-paying position. However, there are plenty of institutes out there where staff would be happy just to have a gringo on board.
Qualified teachers can expect to earn around 1,000 USD per month, while newbies make significantly less. Shop around for different opportunities and always research a school before signing a contract.
Teachers can also give private lessons, but it takes some time to build up a solid client base.
With the world becoming increasingly more connected, some young workers are shunning the office cubicle in favor of working remotely around the world. Location independent jobs encompass a variety of fields, from writers to graphic designers and everything in between.
To find work, approach potential clients directly to offer your services or peruse freelancing websites like Upwork.
The Patio Bonito neighborhood in Medellín is home to a strong contingent of foreign digital nomads.
Colombia’s burgeoning backpacking scene has prompted countless hostels to pop up in recent years, many of which are staffed by a foreign workforce. Most places will hire pretty much anyone, meaning jobs are straightforward to come by. Check out Workaway or approach hostel managers directly.
On the downside, pay and conditions leave a lot to be desired. Don’t expect to receive much more than a bed to sleep in, some food and maybe a modest allowance.
The travel industry
The tourism industry is always on the lookout for international workers. Email or drop off your resume at foreigner-oriented travel agencies, which tend to congregate in the most touristy sections of each city.
Outdoorsy types could work as a tour guide, either hiking, cycling or bungee jumping their way to monthly wage. Adventure sports are big business in the backpacker haven of San Gil.
Scuba diving instructor
The San Andrés and Providencia islands are a haven for scuba divers all year.
Potential instructors would need a PADI certificate as well as extensive diving and instruction experience to even get a look in.
Seasoned salseros (salsa dancers) might be able to find work teaching other foreigners how to dance the county’s seductive national dance.
However, there’s one major hurdle: Colombians are among the best dancers in the world. Any immigrant hoping to tutor would really need to know their stuff.
The coffee industry
Savvy businessmen or women could export the product to sell for a considerable profit overseas. Of course, a strong knowledge of ins and outs of international trade would be required to export on a large scale.
For the quintessential Colombian countryside experience, foreigners can volunteer on a coffee farm in exchange for accommodation with full board. Workaway has a number of positions available.
The Peace Corps
It may not be a high paying gig, but a stint with the United States Peace Corps is an immersive experience where volunteers gain a true appreciation of rural Colombian life.
Only Americans can apply, around 80 of whom volunteer in Colombia at any given time. Positions are typically based in remote communities and focus on development and education.
Of course, this kind of work isn’t for everyone. Participants must commit to a minimum of two years and will live in basic conditions on a modest stipend on par with the national minimum wage.
Workers with certifiable specialist skills, such as doctors, engineers, architects and media professionals, could land a job on Colombia.
For these workers, employers typically assist with the M7 visa and expect a strong command of Spanish.
Traveling in Colombia
Where to go
Spanning the Caribbean, Amazon and Andes, Colombia’s diverse geographic zones are ripe for exploration.
- Urbanites will adore the energy in its bustling metropolises. Shimmy away to salsa in Cali, peruse top-class museums in Bogotá or savor the cosmopolitan vibe of Medellín. These ever-exciting cities boast everything a bohemian could need.
- Beach bums could spend weeks relaxing on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Tayrona National Park is the star of the show, although you’ll also find idyllic stretches of sand on seaside towns of Cartagena and Santa Marta. Offshore, the San Andrés islands are the ideal spot to sunbathe and snorkel.
- Colonial splendor is alive and well in Colombia, best appreciated within the walled city of Cartagena and the cobblestoned streets of downtown Bogotá. For a history fix in a quaint countryside setting, head to the charming villages of Barichara, Popayán and Villa de Leyva.
- Colombian beans rank among the best in the world. Coffee aficionados can sample their flavor firsthand in the lush central coffee-growing region. Base yourself in Salento, dose up on caffeine and embark on the Cocora Valley trek for an unforgettable day trip.
- Amazon adventures are a hot commodity in Colombia, most of which take place in the far-flung border town of Leticia. For a different kind of jungle experience, tackle the tough Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) trek on the Caribbean coast.
Travel advice for Colombia
- Comfortable and modern buses ferry passengers around the country. The standard South American bus normal (rigid seat), semi-cama (reclining) and bus cama (lie-flat) are all available. Ask for discounts on last-minute fares.
- Domestic flights can be a good value and are worth considering on long-distance routes. The best airlines to check out are Avianca, LATAM, Copa Airlines and TACA Airlines.
- Most backpackers sleep in gringo-oriented hostels, although locally run hospedajes (guesthouses) can be a bargain as well.
- Safety has increased immeasurably in recent years, but it still pays to be careful. Ask for local advice in each location and stay away from zona rojas (danger zones) such as La Candelaria late at night. Most security issues occur in Colombia’s raucous party scene, so keep your alcohol consumption in check.
- Colombians’ Spanish accents are fairly easy to understand, making the country an excellent destination to study. Local immersion programs yield the best results, but you can also create your own immersive learning environment with authentic content. Little things like tuning in to local radio stations, checking out Spanish movies on Netflix and watching subtitled media clips on the FluentU language program are just a few examples of Spanish immersion before and during your trip.
Obtaining an appropriate visa and finding well-paying work in Colombia may be a challenge, but it’s certainly possible!
It’ll all be worth it in the end, however, as the Colombians are among the most outwardly friendly people on the continent. And, of course, there’s no shortage of fascinating places to explore. Say hello to those beaches and coffee farms for us as your work and travel in Colombia!
Harry Stewart is a South America-based freelance writer who covers travel, arts and culture, among many other things.