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An increasing number of expats are calling Colombia home, attracted by the natural beauty, welcoming locals, and easy-going lifestyle. The country has made impressive economic progress over the last 15 years despite political instability. It has enjoyed massive growth in the information technology, mining, construction and tourism industries.
The abundance of natural resources, relative stability of the economy, low cost of living and the nation’s promotion of free trade agreements have led to strong foreign investment in recent years. As one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies, Colombia remains an attractive destination for foreign investors and entrepreneurs.
Expat entrepreneurs often find that the process of starting a business is much less tedious than searching for a traditional job. Entering the Colombian job market is often quite difficult for expats, though some knowledge of Spanish will make the process easier. Securing a job before arrival is uncommon. Obtaining the necessary visas can be a lengthy and frustrating process as well. If a company wants to hire an expat, they will need to submit a document detailing the employment offer. They will also have to explain why they aren’t hiring a Colombian for the position. Smaller companies, such as TEFL language schools, may be reluctant to sponsor an expat's visa.
Job market in Colombia
Due to the growth of tourism in the country and an increasing emphasis on locals learning English, most expats in Colombia tend to work as English-language teachers. These jobs are plentiful and are relatively easy to secure for native speakers. Teachers can work in government-sponsored programmes, language schools or they can give private lessons. The pay tends to be quite low, though. Many expats start off teaching in an effort to make connections and adjust to Colombian culture in a more relaxed environment.
Expat job markets are largely centred on Bogotá and Medellín, but jobs can be found across the country.
Finding a job in Colombia
It can be difficult to find a job before arriving in Colombia. Colombians value face-to-face contact and prefer to meet prospective employees in person before making hiring decisions. However, expats can begin the process from home by making contacts via social media, professional networking sites and expat groups or forums.
Other expats may prove to be the most useful resource in searching for opportunities, though job advertisements can also be found in local newspapers, on noticeboards and community forums, or through online job boards. Spanish fluency will be crucial when searching for a job on Colombian websites and in the local classifieds. Many employers won't speak English either. It's important to make sure all necessary documents, including resumes, have been translated into Spanish.
In some cases, it may be easier to start a new business in Colombia rather than finding a traditional job. The country is actively promoting entrepreneurship and seeking foreign investment.
Work culture in Colombia
Expats will find that fostering good relationships with friends and colleagues is central to Colombian work culture. Inland cities such as Bogotá and Medellín are more formal in their work culture, while in coastal areas like Cartagena locals have a more relaxed approach to business.
Time and punctuality are not generally of great importance. Expats should be prepared for meetings to start late and run overtime. They shouldn't be offended if colleagues are not punctual for appointments.
►To find out which visas are required to work in Colombia, check out Visas for Colombia
"Regarding the work culture in Colombia vs the US, there are good and bad differences. Generally speaking, things tend to be much more slow-paced and disorganised than in the States. That has its perks and drawbacks. While expats will generally have it much better, employees are generally also not valued or treated as such by management here."
Check out the rest of American expat Adam's interview with Expat Arrivals here.
Are you an expat living in Colombia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Colombia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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