Unless you plan to become a teacher or have a contract with a foreign company, coming to Colombia with hopes of landing your dream job might be a poor choice. Despite being one of the booming economies of Latin America, the labor market here is not very attractive from a foreigner’s perspective. Here’s why…
If you don’t speak the language perfectly, you automatically disqualify for 95% of all jobs.
After 30 you are considered old here. My neighbor, a 45 year old former branch manager in a bank, spent more than a year finding a new job. The reply he constantly got, was that he was too old. Most companies here are looking for someone young and energetic, willing to sacrifice their soul realizing someone else’s dream. Someone to underpay and over-work.
They will not tell you this, but if you have a family, that is considered a distraction to work. Not a first, but wait until you ask for a day off because you have a sick baby at home and see what kind reaction you will get from your superior.
Colombia has a lot of national holidays, but still, working for a Colombian company and it could be very hard for you to plan any type of vacation. Many of my local friends have had their vacations cancelled last minute, because their boss could not survive a week without them. This is a very common way of showing dominance here.
Most employers focus on the amount of hours you spend at the office more than on what actually gets done. I’ve seen first hand how my girlfriend had to stay in to office until 6pm, even though she was done with all of her tasks at 4pm. Two hours of waste. She could even work from home with a computer, but they never allowed her to do so.
Work hours here run Monday to Friday from 8am to noon and again from 2pm-6pm. Saturdays from 8-noon.
Yes, it sounds like 8 hours workdays like anywhere else, but what can you actually do in a two-hour lunch break when everything except restaurants are closed? Lunch here is the big meal of the day. I only need 30 minutes to eat lunch and I’d much rather leave work at 4pm. For me, it’s like wasting 7,5 hours a week or 390 hours a year.
The current weakness of the Colombian peso makes it worthless if you plan on spending any your hard-earned wages abroad. Minimum monthly wage in Colombia, set in place by politicians who have never had to live on a minimum wage, is $644.000 (2015) and equals a lousy USD$200 by today’s exchange rate. 55% of the working population here earns minimum wage (or less). If you raise the bar to $1.000.000 pesos (USD$300), which by many is considered a good salary here, the number rises to 75%. Only Venezuela comes to mind when I think of a worse place to be earning local currency at moment.
Don’t be surprised if they ask you to take a lie detector test as part of a job interview. Trust is good, but control is better.
My neighbor and his wife both work for one of the big sugar companies here in the valley. They’re intelligent people with university degrees, so-called Profesionales. They dress well. Yet, their superiors did not like they way they dressed, so they hired “experts” to come help them change their style. That’s a warning. Next time, you’re out.
Work culture here is very different as well. I read a study some time ago, that the average latino works 50 hours a week and produces less than his European counterparts who work 37 hours a week. For any productive individual, the pace of things here will drive you nuts.
There are always exceptions – the major ones here include Colombian businesses owned by foreigners. They tend to treat people better. But I think you get the point. Colombia is not a very attractive place to be an employee. Especially not if you are an independent worker looking to self-actualize and also have some spare time to pursue other interests.
It’s easy to fall in love with the exotic lifestyle, the people and wanting to stay. Work-wise, Colombia is way more interesting if you dream of creating something. It’s a great place to be an entrepreneur. Lots of the products, services and qualities that we are used to having in Europe or North America has yet to arrive here. I’m not saying it will be easy, but all of this untapped potential do leave you with many opportunities.
Finally, Colombia is also a great place to live if you’re a digital nomad and can live anywhere as long as you have your computer. I just read yesterday that the average worker at Google earns $153.000 dollars a year. With that kind of money you can live like a sultan in Colombia.