The Colombian visa process for English language teachers
By ESL Teacher Jade Hodgkiss
Jade has been traveling around South America and Europe over the last 3 years. She has enjoyed teaching English, both online and in the classroom. When she is not working, she loves to go hiking and study Spanish.
In a nutshell; if you are a citizen of countries such as Australia, The United Kingdom, Germany, France or the United States you can enter Colombia, as a tourist, free for up to 90 days. There is a small fee for Canadians. This is just a case of having your passport stamped on entry, which is valid for 90 days.
It can be extended by a further 90 days online at (https://apps.migracioncolombia.gov.co/registro/public/formularioRegistro.jsf). Choose Permiso Temporal de Permanencia para Prorrogar Permanencia and follow the online instructions. If you have problems doing this, go to any Migracion Colombia office early in the morning and they will be able to assist you. This process allows you to stay in Colombia as a tourist for 180 days per calendar year.
If you wish to stay longer you will need to apply for a visa. There are three main categories of visa in Colombia; Visitor (V), Migrant (M) and Resident (R). The legislation was updated in 2019 (https://www.alcaldiabogota.gov.co/sisjur/normas/Norma1.jsp?i=70275) to just three types of visa to make the application process more refined.
In order to teach English in Colombia, you will need to apply for an M5 work visa, previously known as TP4 visa.
It is worthy to note that there is also the option of working for a government funded organisation, where you apply to work at a school in Colombia and get paid a stipend. Usually, the visa application process is organised by the government-funded company. This is a great option if you’re not looking to make lots of money and just want to immerse yourself in Latin American culture.
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Applying for an M5 work visa to teach English
The visa process will be split into a few different sections.
Step 1- Find a job
The most important part of acquiring a work visa is, first of all, finding an employer that will sponsor it.
There are many teaching companies and schools in Colombia; however, it is difficult to find ones that are either willing, or able, to sponsor you through a work visa application. A company, or school, must be able to provide 6 months worth of bank statements to show that they have an average monthly income of 100 times the minimum Colombian wage; which is around 82,000,000 Colombian pesos (about 25,000 USD).
Clearly, this restricts smaller teaching companies from supporting ESL teachers and therefore limits opportunities. However, there are still bigger schools and teaching institutes ready to employ teaching professionals; especially in Bogotá, and the more remote places in Colombia. Medellín, on the other hand, is a popular city to live and work; so finding the combination of teaching work with visa benefits is more competitive.
Step 2- Prepare the paperwork
In order to make an application for the M5, working visa you will need to provide several documents. These documents need to be organised and scanned into a single PDF document to be submitted online.
- Scanned copy of your passport photo page.
- Scanned copy of your most recent entry stamp to Colombia.
- A scanned copy of any previous Colombian visa(s).
- A contract summary, including details of your work position, completed and signed by your employer.
- Letter of motivation from your employer.
- 6 months worth of company bank statements showing average income of around 82,000,000 COP/month (100 times the legal minimum wage).
- Passport style photo to be uploaded digitally with the online application.
It should be noted that the PDF document should be no larger than 3MB and submitted as one single document.
Step 3- Submit the application
Submitting your application should be a pretty straight forward process.
Just go to (https://tramitesmre.cancilleria.gov.co/tramites/enlinea/solicitarVisa.xhtml) and fill in the online form. It is self-explanatory and shouldn’t be too difficult once you have all of the correct documents.
Step 4- Paying for your visa
The cost of the M5 visa is $282 USD (about 877,000 COP). You will need to make 2 payments online. The first payment is made when you submit the application. This is a payment of $52 USD, then once the online application is approved you will pay the remaining balance of $230 USD.
I found that a payment needed to be done from a Colombian bank account, or someone with a PSE account. The Migration website states you can pay by Servibanca, Banco GNB Sudameris, or at a consular office; but I had some issues with these options. From personal experience, I found the easiest way was to get my employer to pay for it and reimburse them. If you are lucky, you might even find an employer who will offer to pay the visa for you. Another option is to get a Colombian friend to help, or go through a visa application company. https://www.cancilleria.gov.co/en/procedures_services/visa/costs-means-payment-service-offices
Step 5- Getting your visa in your passport
Once the visa has been approved and paid for, you need to travel to Bogotá to retrieve it. You need to go to the main Migration office in Bogotá. The address is: Avenida 19 # 98-03, Torre 100 Edificio, Piso 3.
The office is open weekdays, from 7:30 am until 3.30 pm. You may have to wait there for a few hours to complete the process. They will stick the visa into your passport and then you’re all done.
Step 6- Acquiring your Cedula de Extranjeria
Once you have acquired your visa the final step is to get your Cedula de Extranjeria. This is like a Colombian identity card. You must get your Cedula within 15 days of acquiring your visa.
To obtain your Cedula simply go to your local Migration office early in the morning and take:
- Photocopy of picture page in your passport
- Proof of blood-type (you can go to a local lab and get your blood tested)
- Visa (in your passport)
- Completed online application form (https://apps.migracioncolombia.gov.co/registro/public/formularioRegistro.jsf)
The cost of the Cedula is around $61 USD (190,000 COP). This can increase every year. You can pay this by credit or debit card at the Migration office. They will also take fingerprints and photographs while you are there.
They will give you a reference number; which you can use to check when your Cedula will be ready online. Then you will need to collect the Cedula from the same Migration office at a later date.
Having a Cedula means you can do lots more things in Colombia. You can use it to get discounts, apply for services at home, get a bank account, fly and take buses within Colombia (without needing to carry your passport), amongst much more. Once you have your Cedula it is an obligation to carry it at all times. The police can (and regularly do in cities and along major intercity bus routes) do random spot checks and if you are found not to be carrying any I.D at all you may be fined.
That’s everything! Once you have the visa you will be allowed to work in Colombia for up to 3 years (contract permitting). The application was pretty pain-free overall, the difficulty came with landing the right job. However, once you have found it you won’t regret it. Happy hunting!
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