Teaching English abroad can be a wonderful experience. Before making the leap into Colombia, one question to ask is “interior or coast?” This article includes key points about living and working in two cities on the coast, Barranquilla and Cartagena, and information to consider regarding both.
Barranquilla and Cartagena: An Introduction to the Coast
Barranquilla, capital of the Atlántico department, has international trade status as a busy port city. To the locals, Barranquilla is known as “La Rumba,” a Costeño term meaning ”the party.” In February, Barranquilla experiences an influx of tourists during its world-famous Carnaval, one of Colombia’s most important celebrations, with several days of dancing and festivities. During Carnaval, normal activities – including school – typically cease due to an abundance of events.
Cartagena, capital of the Bolivár department, is also Colombia’s tourism capital, popular with first-class travelers as well as gap-year backpackers. Founded in 1533, Cartagena celebrates its Independence Day each year on November 11th, in a week-long jubilation of parties. A colorful city of colonial architecture, Cartagena was deemed an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.
Both Barranquilla and Cartagena are hot, humid cities, with average temperatures between 24° and 28° C. Rainy season is between September and November, with December through April being more mild months.
Teaching English on the Coast
Generally, teachers pursuing work on the coast of Colombia find universities and schools to offer more than learning institutions, and both cities feature notable options for higher education. In Cartagena, there is Universidad de Cartagena and, in Barranquilla, Universidad del Norte, the latter of which is among the top ten universities in Colombia.
University candidates typically need a Master’s degree and teaching experience, however, some schools will accept a teaching certificate, such as CELTA or TEFL, along with several years of experience, and modify a position based on these credentials.
Many teachers pursue work with private schools, which typically offer attractive hiring packages, generous salaries and substantial time off. As with universities, most private schools require a teaching certificate and experience, though some may hire based on one or the other, with the addition of several solid references.
As expected, teaching English in Colombia requires a work visa. Many schools in Barranquilla and Cartagena will provide foreign teachers with legal paperwork before teaching. While both cities have Migracion offices for processing a cédula (foreign ID card), neither has a visa office.
Better learning institutions often offer assistance in processing visas, and some may offer help with the cost, currently around $965,000 C¡OP. It is vital to secure a visa prior to beginning work; not only to be assured that you may stay in Colombia, but to avoid any later complications such as stiff fines for working illegally.
Accommodation on the coast of Colombia normally depends on the desired proximity to work, social and shopping needs, transportation and monthly cost. Many teachers begin by living with a roommate or a family. In Barranquilla, expect to pay monthly between $400,000 and $600,000 COP for a furnished room including services (more for air conditioning); in Cartagena, this cost is slightly higher. Neighborhoods in the north of Barranquilla have a higher estrato (status), which also means they have a higher price. The same is true of Cartagena, where neighborhoods like Crespo, near the airport, or Manga, near the centro, have a higher estrato.
Like the larger cities of Colombia, Barranquilla and Cartagena have their own credo for safety. While in Barranquilla, crime happens daily, Cartagena continually strives to be safer, with tourists visiting the city. Transportation, awareness of surroundings and caution using electronic devices in public all factor in; the best advice is to use common sense. Avoid abandoned areas, keep valuables close, and notify police (dial 123, any phone) as needed.
Barranquilla and Cartagena both offer excellent opportunities to travel by commercial bus transportation. While Barranquilla has easy travel along the coast to Santa Marta, and the top of South America, Cartagena boasts picturesque islands with blue water and white sand beaches.
Notable differences on the coast versus the interior include the weather, the culture, the level of celebration, and of course, the people. While it seems arduous to summarize Costeño life in writing, one good option is to try teaching on the coast and see if it’s for you.
Kate Dana is an independent writer and international educator currently located, and teaching English, in Barranquilla, Colombia. An avid fan of travel, and snorkeling in blue waters, she has lived on the Caribbean coast of South America since 2014. Find her online at www.katedana.com