The Cost Of Having A Maid In Colombia

in Culture/Plan to stay

One of the things about Colombia that makes life here feel luxurious, at least in the eyes of a foreigner, is the fact that services that include manual labour are very affordable. For me, personally, having a full-time maid is something I would have never been able to afford in Europe. But with two little girls (aged 7 months and 2,5 years), and both me and my girlfriend working from home, it would be almost impossible to get anything produced here if we didn’t have someone to help us out. Especially since our kindergarten only offers daycare from 8 AM to noon.

Having someone in your house, though, taking care of your kids and sniffing through your dirty underwear is a matter of trust – a rarely traded commodity in Colombia. With time, your maid will know pretty much everything about your habits, the little secret places where you hide your valuables, how to enter your home etc. It pays to do your due diligence well before deciding to hire a person.

How to find a maid

Like many things in Colombia, going by reference and asking for recommendations is the way to go when looking for a maid. That’s how we found our first, second and now our third maid. But even this does not guarantee success. We’ve had one woman steal from us. Not only is the feeling of betrayal terrible, but it’s also emotionally hard on your kids to let go of a person that they have bonded with.

While I will never accept that someone steals from me, I don’t carry a grudge. I understand that hiring people who will work for minimum wage sometimes mean that you could be dealing with desperate people.

The ideal scenario for me is finding a woman who can clean like a champ, cook like a chef and who also loves playing with my girls. Kind of like a wife. Just without the sex.

It can be hard to find someone who ticks all your boxes, so try lowering your expectations a little and just be happy with the fact that you are fortunate enough to be able to afford this kind of help around your house.

Always make sure that your contract includes a 3-month trial period, which leaves you with an out in the case of a bad match.

How much to pay

Most women looking for jobs as ama de casa or empleada de servicio, as it is known here, know that the salary being offered is the minimum wage, currently $644.350 pesos (US$200) for a full-time position, which equals 8 hours of work per day from Monday to Friday and 4 hours on Saturdays. Several places pay even less.

Estimating 25 workdays per month, it comes to about $25.000 pesos per day.

When I just arrived in Colombia, we started out paying $25.000 pesos per day to our maid. Because I liked her, I raised it to $30.000. Then $30.000 plus transportation. It ended up being around $35.000 pesos.

The thing is, when you pay a salary in Colombia there is a ton of legal requirements that you have to comply with. Things like healthcare and pension are all mandatory but are not included in the $644.350 pesos per month. While many people are willing to work “unofficially” and not receive the benefits, it does not make it right to take advantage of desperate people who are willing to settle for less. I’ve did it for two years and I’m not proud of it. It’s also worth noting that Colombian labor laws are very pro-employee. If any member of your staff reports you to the Ministerio de Trabajo, you are almost guaranteed to lose your case no matter the circumstances. It’s a very common trick here for employees to ask for all their benefits afterwards by demanding them through the Ministry. And unlike all the other public entities in Colombia, el Ministerio de Trabajo are fast in making decisions and demanding the rights of their workers.

So I started thinking. How much would it cost me to hire an employee – the legal way? I called up my accountant. Here are the numbers for an employee who works Monday to Friday, 8 hours per day. We like to travel on the weekends, so our maid does not work Saturdays, which explains the lower base salary.

Monthly

$ 550.000 base salary
$    54.825 healthcare
$    77.400 pension
$      3.400 ARL – insurance to cover labor-related injuries
$    25.800 caja de compensación – like Comfandi. Organizations that offer subsidies for families

$ 711.425 subtotal

$ -51.600 that you can subtract. It is the employee’s own contribution to the benefits

$ 659.825 in monthly expenses

Annually

$ 624.000 cecantias – savings that the employee can withdraw only to buy a house or pay for education
$ 275.000 vacation pay
$    0           prima, an extra monthly salary paid in December that does not apply to maids
$ 74.880 interests that comes on top of the cesantias

$ 973.880 in annual expenses. Divided by 12, this number comes to $ 81.156 per month.

Total costs per month

$ 659.825 in monthly expenses

$    81.156 in annual expenses divided into monthly chunks

$ 750.981 in total monthly expenses 

That amounts to $37.049 pesos per day if she works 20 days per month, which is only a paltry $2.000 pesos (US$0.65) in additional expenses, compared to the $35.000 I was paying before.

If you’re looking to hire someone 6 days per week or have a live-in maid, your calculations will be different, but I think you get the point: Hiring a maid the right way and complying with all the legal requirements is by no means as unaffordable as one might think. Not only are you being fair as an employer, you’re also avoiding a potential legal headache.

How to treat your maid

I’m sure there are a ton of opinions on this subject. I’ve heard a good deal of horror stories from our maids about how, especially the older generation of Colombians, have a habit of treating their service employees like shit. Several women have told me how they have been screamed at, not allowed in the living room, couldn’t sit on chairs designated to el patron and so forth. I’m the king, you’re my slave. That kind of thing.

I take the opposite approach. To me, having a maid is a luxury and for that reason I treat the people who work for me like I treat the other things that I cherish in life: With respect.

How could I possibly tell my kids, that the woman who plays with them every single day is not allowed at our dinner table or to sit in our couch?

We eat together, we joke, we small talk and we genuinely care about the well-being of our maid. She’s just like an extended family member, who happens to make her living helping us out around the house.

An alternative solution

If you don’t need help every day and don’t want to deal with the legal BS of signing a contract and paying the right entities every month, there’s a new service provider on the market called Hogaru, which may be just what you’re looking for.

They offer a maid service by the day for people living in Medellín, Bogotá, and Cali. If you buy a package with 6 days – they don’t have do be consecutive – your daily price will be $60.000 pesos. I called and asked for a monthly plan, which they sell for $1.080.000 pesos. It includes 40 hours per week, 8 per day from Monday to Friday.

All their employees get reviewed and the scores are available on their website. If you take out a plan, you will be guaranteed the same women every day unless she is sick, in which case they will send another one.

Hogaru takes care of paying all the benefits, transportation etc. It seems like a great option for rental apartments or people who only need the assistance a few days per week.

(Photo credits: Dan Brady – creative commons at Flicker.com)

Passed through Cali for the first time in 2011, on his way from the US to Brazil on a motorcycle. Ended up kissing a caleña on his last night and the rest is history. Has been a resident of Cali, Colombia since 2013 and currently living in Barrio Bellavista with his girlfriend and 2 daughters.

16 Comments

  1. Nice article with some great information. One thing to add is to be very careful about how you physically pay fro your maid. Preferably one would have a contract and at least, obtain signed receipts for all payments. When we rang the labour office, they were adamant that for example, we should pay the Pension portion ourselves, to ensure it is registered and logged to avoid future legal problems.

    I would at least set out an invoice for her to sign that, if for eg she was paid 45,000 pesos a day, it broke down that 45,000 into the different portions.

    Great link to the company – there are a couple of others available as well ie http://chesas.com/

    • Very good point Steve! Documentation is essential in Colombia, so if you’re paying in cash always get a signature.
      I use recibos de pago for everything. Get the double layered ones that give both you and the other party a copy. You can buy them at the local papelería.

      Saludos, Patrick

  2. This is great! What if you would like a housecleaner for just a couple of days a month (& don’t live in one of the areas served by Hogaru), is it legally ok to just pay a per day rate?

    • Barbara, thanks for commenting.
      To be honest, I don’t know. I’d have to ask my accountant again.

      I know that at many of the beauty salons they only let people work for 4 hours a day – as so-called prestadores de servicio.
      Hiring people in this way makes the employer exempt from paying all the benefits.

      Maybe our friend Óscar can elaborate on the subject?

      Saludos, Patrick

  3. Will the government hit you for a penalty on top of the back benefits? Would they consider jail time? Those costs may be even more important to me.

    • Steve,

      The short answer for your first question is yes. Labor law establishes a series of penalties for unpaid salary / benefits; but to be more specific then we’d have to dwelve into the different kinds of scenarios. And just to be clear, penalties would also be applicable if you are paying UNDER the minimum wage (as in, you may be paying salary and benefits proportionally, but if you’re not paying what the minimum wage would, fines would still be applicable).

      As for your second question; no. As a general rule Colombian law does not encarcerate individuals over their debt in private, commercial or labor activities. To be considered for jail time you would have to incur in some kind of criminal activity (as in, established specifically in the penal code). Again, take it as a general rule as it might occur that a certain action could have both “private” consequences as well as criminal, but that’d be a case-by-case study.

      Excuse the lengthy reply. I’m a Colombian lawyer, so I wanted to be very clear and precise.

      • Óscar, thank you for this well-explained and very precise reply.
        Maybe you can help clarify for people how it works if one is looking to hire a maid just a few days per week? Any feedback would be much appreciated.

        Saludos, Patrick

  4. If I told of all the adventures (and misadventures) of dealing with “muchachas”, and “guachimanes” while Tom owned “The Great American Disaster “, mine wouldn’t be a comment, but an essay!
    We did have a cook whom we kept for long periods of time, even though she was ill-tempered and I had to bail her out of jail after she was caught with a load our stuff which she stole because she was in love with our waiter! Crazy stories 😅

  5. Hi Patrick,

    I came across your blog post and was quite interested in the read as I have been living in Cali for a few years and have struggled to find information about benefit pay for my part-time employee. Like you, I also wanted to make sure that I am paying a wage that covers healthcare, pension and insurance. While I’m sure you intended no ill intentions, making jokes like this is extremely offensive towards women and girls everywhere: “The ideal scenario for me is finding a woman who can clean like a champ, cook like a chef and who also loves playing with my girls. Kind of like a wife. Just without the sex.” Comments like this feed the misogynist attitudes, double standards and gender inequities that exist overwhelmingly here in Colombia and worldwide. I would appreciate it if you removed the statement from your post.

    Emily

    • Is that not all the qualities one looks for in a maid though? He’s not saying he thinks all women should act like that…just literally his maid…good cook, cleans great, plays with the family…he’s looking for a maid…not everything has to be turned into a feminist platform.

      • Amen! Thanks for that Andrew… I thought it was quite funny and so did my girlfriend. For that reason I chose to leave it. Not trying to offend people, but it is my platform and if people don’t like it, then I am happy to part as friends.

  6. About how to treat your maid. Treat her with respect yes. but like an extension of the family? no. Maids have this thing that they repeat what they hear (parrot like behavior). if you got family/frieds reunions or you like to have conversation at the table i do recommend she should not be near. in short treat her nice and all but always keep your conversations private for obvious personal and security reasons

  7. I can agree to a certain extent… but I also know people who have had the same maid for 30 years. She has been the one practically raising their children. My neighbor’s daughter calls the maid for “mama”. In these scenarios, I would treat her like an extension of the family… that doesn’t mean that you should tell her where we store your valuables or talk about financial transactions in front of her. It’s a relationship based on trust and of course trust takes time to build. In the end, everybody has a different situation and you should make up your own mind about how much you trust the people you let into your house.

    • Anna, although quite technical for people without the sufficient Spanish skills, this document from the Colombian Ministry of Labor is very useful and describes in detail all you need to know when hiring a domestic worker.

      Thanks for sharing! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*