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Living, Volunteering and Working in Colombia

Info., Volunteering, Work

Living in Colombia

A great number of people end up coming to Colombia and falling in love with the country and its oft-flaunted attractions. For the most part, tourists arrive on a regular three-month tourist visa and either prefer to leave the country in order to obtain an extension or run through the demands required of them by the DAS office.


For those who are intent on actually living in Colombia there are a number of ways of doing so.


1. Study: There are a number of world-class universities in Colombia, all of which accept foreign students. Check their websites. If you are already in the country and thinking of this option, it is worthwhile to visit the university/academic institution to find out enrollment requirements.


2. Teach English: The pay is notoriously low, but most English teachers supplement their income by also offering private classes in addition to being affiliated to a language school. It is fundamental to have a TESL or TEFL.


3. Become an investor: Check with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to see what is required of an investor in Colombia to receive a visa. There is a minimum investment fee that frees up a lot of paperwork.


Any of these listed options should present you with a good opportunity to live, earn and fully enjoy Colombia. We strongly advise against people attempting to slip under the radar and go about their business without the correct paperwork. Colombian bureaucracy is substantial. A failure to comply with the required norms is frowned upon and could result in deportation, a hefty fine or some time in a particularly unpleasant Colombian prison.


Volunteering in Colombia

While the opportunities to volunteer in Colombia are increasing, there is still a long way to go for the country to reach the levels now experienced in Ecuador or Costa Rica. Given that many places in Colombia are still very much “out of bounds,” charities can be forgiven for not sending people into the zona roja. Things are changing, however, and foreign-run NGOs as well as local outfits are beginning to recognize the value that willing volunteers can bring.


Many language schools now give students the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and help with local projects, like working with poor children. Several environmental organizations accepts volunteers, like Pro Aves, an NGO dedicated to birding ( and Colombia’s national parks (www.parques Several dive shops in Taganga on the Caribbean Coast are reforesting coral reefs; see Tours under Taganga for more information. Out on Providencia Island, Trees and Reefs Foundation (URL: is looking for natural and social scientists to work on a variety of projects.


Aside from showing up and lending your services, it is worthwhile doing some research and perhaps organizing your volunteering stint from your home country so as to be sure of what you are getting yourself into. One source for information about the groups and charities that are currently receiving volunteers is the Catholic Church, which maintains an up-to-date list of all outfits; contact your local parish. If you are a in the medical or education professions, your opportunity for long-term stints is greater; many organizations listed in the “Information Resources” section take volunteers.


Obviously most organizations will require a voluntary contribution and a minimum commitment period. In order to work with children it is recommended that you make your enquiries from your home country and provide the chosen organization with a background check to ensure the safety and security of the children with whom you intend to work. These organizations list volunteer opportunities:


Globalteer —

Idealist —

United Planet —





Working in Colombia

Most people residing and working in Colombia have come here sponsored by an international private school or a multinational firm. For these individuals securing the correct documents is straightforward. For others this is not the case. It is fundamental to have your papers in order. To do this you must have a legitimate reason for being here, be it teaching English, starting a business or being of some obvious benefit to the country. In order to have everything correct you must first contact the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and have all your forms approved there before then getting your ID card at your local DAS office.


If you have the means and the visa to stay longer, such as by working for an NGO or working as a journalist, then the ideal situation would be to organize a visa in your home country and then to organize the issuance of a CĂ©dula de ExtranjerĂ­a from the DAS office once you have arrived.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Getting There and Away, Capitanejo Safety, El Huerfanito, Laundry, Holidays and Festivals, When to go, Safety in Bogotá, When to go, Safety and Colombia's Religions.

By Richard McColl
With over five years travelling and working in Latin America, Richard feels most at home here in the big Continent. From the former Scottish...
27 Sep 2011

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