These are answers to the most frequently asked questions from foreigners who are
coming to teach at Liceo Ingles. We are 5 foreign teachers and have compiled the
answers from our experiences. We all had the same questions before we came, and we
hope this helps you!
Cost of Living/Monthly Expenses
The school pays for foreign teacher’s apartments and they are responsible for paying their
monthly utilities. Colombia operates with a system of levels of social classes based on
neighborhood. Because you will be placed in a high neighborhood, you will pay the
highest amount for your monthly utilities. (The poorest people in the country pay very
little or nothing.) This still averages out to much less than you would pay in the States
for the same services. On average, you will pay per month:
Internet (depending on the plan you have): $85,000 ($42 US)
Water + Garbage service, etc: $40,000-80,000 ($20-40 US)
Electric: $40,000 ($20 US)
Gas: $11,000 ($6 US)
Groceries (shopping once a week): $100,000/ month or more ($50 US)
Maid: $30,000 per visit, usually we have her come twice a month. ($30 US)
Obviously, currency rates change, but this is the easy conversion we have figured out:
just drop the last 3 zeros of the pesos and divide by 2.
(NOTE: when this document was written the exchange rate was about 2,400
Colombian pesos to 1 US dollar. The rate is now about 2,000 Colombian pesos to on
dollar, so equivalent values are all different.)
On the school’s salary, you will easily be able to afford to fly to one destination per
month (good with all the holiday Mondays). If you have time for more trips in one pay
period, you can take buses to closer destinations.
Some average flight costs:
Bogota (40 minute flight): $400,000 ($200 US)
Cartagena (5 hours, including normal layover in Bogota): $600,000-700,000 ($300-350
Santa Marta (same time as Cartagena): $600,000-700,000
Medellin (1-3 hours, but bus is only 5 hours): $475,000 ($230 US)
Budget hotels are easy to come by.
We all go out to eat a lot, and a really expensive restaurant would have entrees around
$25,000 ($13 US).
***The key to remember when you come here is don’t think in dollars. It is difficult, but
you have to start thinking in pesos immediately, or you will think you have won the
lottery and go a little crazy because everything seems so cheap at first. You will adjust
eventually, but the sooner the better, so that you can budget for bigger trips during the
longer breaks and at the end of the school year. You will have to budget—maybe not as
much as at home, but you still will have to.
Obviously, with the rumors about Colombia, security is everyone’s first concern.
However, like most rumors, this is mostly untrue and exaggerated. Some of us have been
here for over 2 years, and have never had a run-in with guerillas or paramilitaries or the
like. The war takes place very, very far from where we are (Colombia is a huge country),
and it will probably have little to no effect on how you live your life or travel.
Kidnappings these days are rare and almost never involve foreigners. If you are an
adventure traveler, or want to go into the jungle, you can always call ahead to get advice
about the security situation and ask around. One way that the war has affected travel here
is that for many years, unlike now, it was so dangerous here that people got out of the
habit of traveling. So if you ask for travel advice from coworkers, you are likely to get
suggestions closer to home. It takes slightly more legwork to travel here than in other
countries, simply because you can’t just ask people and guidebooks aren’t all that helpful.
But it can be done and it is worth it.
All that being said, there is one piece of security you must take seriously, and that is theft.
There is a saying in Colombia about theft, which is ―no dar papaya‖. Basically, this
means to not leave temptation or invite bad luck. Meaning: keep an eye on all of your
belongings, as much as possible. Colombia is a poor country, and you will be seen as
rich. Theft is a problem. You should not be paranoid, but you need to be much more
cautious than usual.
Buy good locks for your luggage and use them. If you carry a purse, keep one hand on it
at all times. Use city sense: do not put it on the floor or the back of your chair in
restaurants. Do not leave money unattended in bags or purses, even in public places.
Taxis are cheap enough here to afford to take them rather than walk more than 10
minutes at night. You should probably not bring valuable jewelry—even an engagement
ring—or watches with you to Colombia, or maybe to wear only on special occasions. It
might seem extreme, but always, always the rule of thumb here is better to be safe than
sorry. I don’t want to scare you, but if you have traveled in the third world before, this is
a fact of life. Eventually you will develop a sixth sense about it and it will be a reflex,
but in the beginning, be cautious.
What to Bring for the Apartment
The apartment will be furnished with basic furniture (bed, kitchen table w/ chairs, sofa,
armchair, and coffee table) and kitchen utensils (forks, knives, spoons, dishes, glasses,
blender, and coffee maker). If you plan on cooking a lot and have some favorite tools it
might be worth your while to bring those.
You will have a set of towels and bed sheets in your apartment. You may want to either
buy more towels and sheets once you arrive, or bring an extra set with you.
The walls of your apartment will most likely be stark white. Also, the walls will either be
made of brick or concrete and it is very difficult to hammer or drill into them. So, if you
plan on brining any wall coverings you may want to keep in mind that the easiest way to
hang things is with tape.
It is very affordable here to hire a maid, so you may want to take advantage of that
service. Keep in mind that while services are very reasonable here, material items
(especially electronic) are expensive. You can probably find anything you would want
for your apartment here, but you might end up paying more for it than you would at
home. Also, there is no guarantee that the quality will be as good.
Organization of School
The school is divided into three schools: pre-school (age 2.10 – 5), primary school (ages
6-10), and high school (ages 11-17). Each school mostly operates independently and
there is not much interaction among the teachers of each school, even though we are all
located under the same roof.
There is a high school coordinator/principal and another principal in charge of both
preschool and elementary. The three levels are overseen by the director.
The pre-school and some of the primary school classrooms are ―open‖ in that they have 3
walls with one side of the classroom open to the outdoors. The other classrooms are
closed, but with many windows. In every level there is teacher’s room where teachers
desks are located. Since teachers might change rooms frequently it is not possible for
each teacher to do all of his/her work in the desks in the classrooms.
The weather ranges since Colombia has 2 seasons winter and summer. If it’s raining and
a bit chilly (ie, 65-70 F), it’s winter in Colombia. In most cities the weather is rather
unpredictable. Since the climate here is warm all year round, you will mostly need spring
and summer type clothes. Occasionally it does get cool so it is a good idea to bring a few
sweaters and a jacket.
It is appreciated by the administration that teachers dress professionally. For women,
skirts, pants, sleeveless shirts and open toed shoes are acceptable. For men, pants and a
short sleeve button down or polo shirt would be appropriate. Blue jeans can only be
worn on special occasions, and Fridays.
Generally, the fashion in Pereira for women is tight clothing. Transparent blouses and
spandex are very popular and you will see people wearing these things to work. Form
fitting clothes are very common, and women may have a difficult time shopping for pants
that don’t hug all the curves. Men will not have a problem finding comfortable and
appropriate clothing here. So, for women, if you like to wear pants to work, I suggest
bringing a decent supply with you.
Another thing to keep in mind is that at times there are heavy rains here. Bring clothes
(and shoes) with that in mind. This is not to say bring slickers or galoshes (you would
look like a fool on the street, as no one wears that here), but at least a pair of
shoes/sandals you don’t mind getting wet. The unexpected rains are probably why
people dress so casually here.
The country has cellular telephone operators with GSM networks. You do not need a
plug adapter since Colombia uses 110 voltage.
You will need your cedula (ID card) to purchase a cell phone. There are three main cell
phone companies in Colombia: Movistar, Comcel and Tigo. You can purchase and
activate your cell phone in one day. Phones range in price, the lowest cost being around
30 dollars. Blackberries, Iphones, and other phones with data service are available. If you
plan on using one of those it might be a good idea to bring an unlocked phone.
Once you purchase a cell phone, you have the option of buying a plan or using the phone
prepaid card service or ―prepago‖. This is the best option for foreigners as you do not
have to pay up front or have a contract. You can easily find the cards for your cell phone
through a street vendor, the particular company store or any major supermarket chain.
The phone cards normally come in 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 pesos. Once you run out of
minutes, you need to buy a new card to make calls. In Colombia incoming calls are free;
you only pay when you dial.
Calling abroad with the cellphones is not advisable since it is quite costly. Going to a
―cabina telefonica‖ is a cheaper option and you can find these stores all over the city. If
you are dialing a place in Colombia, dial "03," plus the city code, plus the phone number.
To call a cell phone you must have the cell phone code (Tigo-300, Comcel-310 and
Movistar -315), plus the number. Many of us also just use internet phone services, such
as Skype or Googletalk, to call abroad, as these are very cheap options and the internet
speed is fast enough for it.
The school tries to help you set up an Internet service when you arrive. The major
internet providers in Pereira are CableUnion. EPM, Telefonica Pereira. Most of these
companies offer plans that include cable television and internet access. For most of these
companies you will have to sign a one-year contract.
DSL or high-speed is available. It might not be as fasta as what you have at home, but it
does the job.
Travel in Colombia is relatively safe. Of course bad luck can hit you anywhere but as
always having common travel sense is useful. You can ask around but most Colombians
will tell you to visit what you can find in Lonely Planet or any other guidebook. Most
Colombians tend to be on the cautious-side and will advise you not to travel at night or
alone. But all of us are female, and we have all travelled at night and alone without
Though bus travel during the daytime is what most people advise, travel in Colombia
during the night is safe. You should take taxis at night and it’s safer to do so directly
from the airport of bus terminal. You should get accustomed to ―requizas‖ which are
random military check points in which you must get off the bus and show your cedula.
Most of these requizas occur in areas that were once notorious for guerrilla activities.
Travel by bus is safe even at night and I have never checked conditions before travelling.
Travel by night is convenient for cities that are 7 – 9 hours away like Medellin and
Bogotá. A bus ticket to a major city will cost fewer than 100,000 pesos. Travel to the
coast by bus is more expensive and can be quite a long trip. If you get a large bus, then
the trip can be rather comfortable.
Travel by air can be costly since we are paid in pesos. High season is whenever schools
are out and plane tickets prices do tend to increase but normally the prices are the same.
A ticket to Bogotá will cost you around 400,000 pesos and a ticket to the coast around
600,000 pesos. Other than the Amazons travel can be made by bus from Bogotá, Pereira
or a city on the coast. Not all flights are direct from Pereira. You can find direct flights to
Bogotá and Cartagena but any other coastal city you will probably have a connection.
Local buses are quite common in Colombia but generally dirty and slow. The exceptions
would be the Transmilenio and the MegaBus in Pereira, which are mass transit systems.
Taxis are generally cheap, so buses are not worth the time. Generally the taxis to and
from airports and terminals are the most expensive but won’t exceed 20,000 in any city.
There is a day and night rate in each city.
Credit cards or debit cards are widely accepted but it’s good to have some cash on hand.
You can use credit cards for car rental, air tickets, commercial stores and in most upscale
hotels and restaurants.
Nearly every city in Colombia can be seen in 2-3 days unless you have particular
activities planned or plan to spend time in the areas surrounding the cities. There are a lot
of 3-day weekends in which you should take the opportunity to travel. Pereira is in the
Eje Cafetero, and there are some areas of interest around (i.e. Salento, Parque del Cafe).
Casual clothes can be worn in most places; formal attire will be necessary for exclusive
dining rooms and social functions. Smoking is allowed in most places, but it’s becoming
Hostels and hotels are widely available and you can find lodging even during high season
so you don’t necessarily have to plan ahead. You can find a listing of lodgings in the
back of the phone book. Most hotels, unless very upscale do not take credit cards. Prices
range; the cheapest option costing 10,000 and more expensive options can be found,
though there are camping areas in almost every place you might visit.
Spanish throughout the country is similar except on the coast where it is similar to
Caribbean Spanish and more difficult to understand if you are not fluent.
PS--One place that has beautiful beaches and might be a bit off the beaten path to visit is
called La Guajira.
Note to vegetarians: If you are vegetarian, good luck. Colombians love their meat, and it
is supposed to be some of the best in the world. If you eat fish and seafood, these will be
options for you here. Seafood in particular is fresh and excellent. Two of us were
vegetarians (who eat fish) this year. If you do not eat fish, you may want to consider it,
because there are not many options for eating out, to be honest. Crepes and Waffles, a
chain here, makes excellent vegetarian food. There is an Arab restaurant and many great
pizza places and really good Italian food. The regional dish, called bandeja paisa, is a
vegetarian bean stew served with avocados and arepas, which you can order anywhere
and without the meat that comes on the side. There is also calentado, which can be rice
and beans (you have to ask, as it just means ―leftovers‖.) In the centro, there are several
vegetarian restaurants (including a Hare Krishna place with yoga classes), but they are
only for lunch.
The predominant religion in Colombia is Christianity with Roman Catholicism being the
most popular denomination. However, if you are protestant you will be able to find lots
of other churches (which here are referred to as iglesias cristianas), such as: Presbyterian,
Baptist, Church of the Latter Day Saints, and Seventh Day Adventists.
The Colombian Health Care System essentially consists of affiliation with a private
health insurance company similar to an HMO, which will provide you with medical
attention and the necessary medication. This affiliation is provided by the school, and
comes with adequate instruction on how to go about making appointments to see the
doctor, including some specialists such as orthodontists, and ophthalmologists. The
system is pretty functional, except records are not kept for extended periods so expect to
give your medical history with each visit, even if your last week was just a week ago.
In the case of an emergency there is a special emergency center where you can seek
Eye surgery is very common here, and it’s quite economical. Many teachers take
advantage of it and say goodbye to glasses and contacts.
Because this system is required by law, it is very difficult to obtain private health care in
the field of general medicine. However, just the opposite occurs in the case of specialized
medicine, and in fact it is advised to seek out privatized attention in cases like these, to
avoid the rigmarole of your health insurance company. So, when you need an
appointment ask Luisa for help.
It seems everyone who comes here wonders about getting a motorcycle. We would like
to say that we would not recommend doing this under any circumstances. One, they are
totally unnecessary, as taxis are so cheap and easy to catch anywhere, and for out of town
travel you can fly or take buses. Two, drivers in Pereira are crazy. Really. You will see
the first time you take the bus to school or take a cab, or try to step off a curb. They have
a bad reputation even with people from other parts of the country. There are several
teachers here who ride motorcycles at home, and wouldn’t even think of getting one here.
Important tip: Close taxi doors softly. Drivers will scold if you slam car doors.