Many TEFL qualified teachers head to Latin America as it is a region that promises endless opportunities for adventure. Teaching jobs are abundant in many areas and there are rarely any restrictions on who is eligible to apply. Whether you are a native English speaker or not, and whether you hold a degree are often irrelevant in many countries. Several countries also have clear structures in place for obtaining an official work permit, while salaries are typically high enough to afford a comfortable lifestyle.
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Unlike some other popular regions for foreign teachers, there is generally no requirement for teachers in Latin America to possess a college degree or to have extensive experience in the classroom. However, most employers will expect their teachers to have completed a reputable TEFL training course. Although an online certificate is often sufficient, many employers prefer to hire teachers who have completed an in-class course as these should include teaching practice with genuine students in a real classroom.
A relatively small number of jobs across Latin America can be secured from within your home country by visiting online job boards and then interviewing over the phone or on Skype. However, the vast majority of employers typically prefer to hire teachers who are already in the area. The most common approach is to decide where you want to live and work and then simply head there and start applying for jobs in person. Although it might seem daunting to head overseas without having a job in place, it is common practice in this part of the world.
To give yourself the best chance of finding a suitable job it is important to be aware of the peak hiring seasons in your country of choice. Throughout much of South America the best time to look for teaching jobs is during February and March, and again in July and August. In contrast, Costa Rica and other Central American countries have their peak hiring season in January. Although peak hiring seasons for schools and universities are dictated by term times, you will also find that jobs with private language academies, business English employers, and private tutoring are available at anytime of the year in many areas.
As Latin America covers a large number of countries, visa procedures inevitably vary considerably from one to the next. To be certain you have the most up-to-date information it is advisable to visit the embassy website of your host country before making any final plans. The most common practice in the region is to enter on a tourist visa that is typically valid for three to six months. From within the country, you can then apply for a work permit or simply work without a permit and renew the tourist visa every few months by crossing the border into a neighboring country. While teaching without a work permit is technically illegal in most countries, it is common practice in much of the region and rarely causes any problems for the teacher or employer.
Before you jump on the plane it is essential that you have the finances in place to see you through until you receive your first paycheck. The majority of employers pay on a monthly basis so you should budget for at least six weeks of expenses including accommodation, meals, and transport. Most countries in Latin America have a relatively low cost of living so you can get by on a lot less than you would need in your home country, however, you will still need somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 to see you through until payday.
As mentioned, most employers in the region prefer to hire locally rather than advertising positions online. Although this scenario can be a little scary as it means leaving home without having a job in place, it also has its advantages. Firstly it will greatly enhance your chances of being hired as you will be immediately available to start work. It also allows you to evaluate the school that you are applying to before agreeing to take the job.
Your choice of destination will have a large impact on the number of options open to you. While you may dream of working at a beach resort with swaying palm trees and soft white sand, the competition for jobs is likely to be very fierce. By heading to major cities such as Santiago in Chile, São Paulo in Brazil, or San Jose in Costa Rica, you will have a huge number of potential employers to apply to. Once you have compiled a list of schools in the area simply visit them in person and drop off a CV. By contacting twenty, thirty, or even more schools, you should find you are able to choose the position that suits you best.
Mexico offers huge potential for English language teachers. Due to its extensive trade links with the U.S.A. there are many options in the field of business related English, particularly in major cities such as Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Puebla. As a popular international tourist destination there is also a strong demand for teachers within the tourism industry. World famous resorts such as Acapulco, Cancun, and Puerto Vallarta have a significant number of openings year-round, although competition is typically very fierce in the most desirable locations.
Chile has been a popular destination for English language teachers for many years due to its stable economy, good salaries, and healthy job market. Unlike some other countries in the region, teachers in Chile are generally able to secure a legal work permit, as well as a salary that provides a very comfortable lifestyle. The vast majority of jobs are located in and around the capital city Santiago, with smaller markets in other areas such as Concepcion and Valparaiso. Although jobs may be found online at any time of the year, the most common way to secure a position is to head there during the peak hiring seasons of March/February and July/August to interview in person.
As the English translation Rich Coast suggests, Costa Rica is considered one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world. Famous across the globe for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and exotic wildlife, Costa Rica offers a unique opportunity to live and work in a tropical paradise. Although the average salary is relatively low and you are unlikely to save much during your stay, you should still earn enough to live comfortably and to enjoy all the highlights of this wonderful location. The peak hiring seasons within the country are January/February and June/July.
Second only to Mexico in tourist numbers across the Latin America region, Argentina attracts huge numbers of visitors every year due to a fascinating mix of natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage. A large number of foreign teachers also arrive every year as there are plenty of job openings to be found in the capital Buenos Aires. A significantly smaller market may also be found in cities such as Cordoba, Rosario, and Mendoza. The vast majority of employers prefer to hire from within the country so you should plan to arrive during the peak hiring seasons of February/March and July/August.
The majority of foreign English teachers working in Costa Rica have no more than a tourist visa in their passport. Unlike many other countries, it is technically legal for teachers to work without the need for a work visa. For many nationalities, including Americans, Canadians, and most Western Europeans, tourist visas are issued on arrival in the country. Visas are valid for 90 days and can be renewed by crossing a border to a neighboring country and then simply crossing back to receive a new one.
When entering Costa Rica it is worth remembering that you are not legally allowed to work on a tourist visa until you have registered for a tax number from within the country. To avoid any unnecessary problems at the airport, you should avoid mentioning your intention to work and declare yourself to be a regular tourist if asked. Also, it is not a good idea to arrive with bags full of teaching paraphernalia in case you are randomly searched by customs officials. By arriving as a normal tourist you should have no problems entering the country.
In order to work legally on a tourist visa you need to register for a tax number at a government office known as the Tributacion. All you need to register is a copy of your passport and your local address in the city where you are registering. You do not need to wait until you have secured a job before applying. Once you are issued a number, you need to visit a print shop to obtain a book of receipts. Whenever you receive a payment you simply rip out a receipt and hand it over to your employer. The threshold for paying taxes starts at $8,000 per year so many teachers end up paying none or very little. In addition, many teachers and their employers find there are ways to avoid paying tax even if you do cross the threshold.
Mexico is an increasingly popular destination for teaching English abroad as it has a huge job market and it is possible for most foreign teachers to obtain a work visa. Another reason for its popularity is that foreign teachers do not need to possess a four-year degree or be a native English speaker to secure a good quality position. As long as you have completed a TEFL certification course with a reputable provider you are eligible to apply for a work visa. With this official stamp in your passport you will be free to enjoy all the fantastic culture, stunning beaches, and bustling nightlife that Mexico has to offer.
There are very few restrictions on who can apply for a work visa for teaching English in Mexico. Passport holders from all countries except North Korea and Iran are eligible and there are no age restrictions. No teaching experience or a college degree is necessary, but you will require a TEFL certificate. The only other requirement is a formal offer of employment from a local employer on official school paper. Please note that regulations can change at any time so we recommend you check with your nearest Mexican Embassy for the current requirements prior to departure.
First you need to find a job that suits your plans and obtain an official offer of employment from the school. You can then fill out an application form which can be found on the Mexico immigration website. Within one or two weeks you should receive confirmation and a request for further documentation. The requested documents need to be submitted along with the application fee (currently $90). Required paperwork (subject to change):
- Copies of passport pages
- Tourist visa that was issued on arrival
- Three passport photos
- Proof of residence (apartment, guest house, hostel etc)
- Copy of your TEFL certificate (apostilled)
Once you have submitted all the necessary documents you will receive a NUT number which allows you to track your application online. As soon as you receive clearance for the visa you are required to collect it from a consulate outside of the country within 15 days. At this stage there is also a final fee to pay (currently $290). You then have 30 days to re-enter Mexico to activate the visa. The work visa should be valid for 12 months and can generally be easily renewed each year.
As the application process can be confusing and is often subject to change, many people use a third party to help them through it. There are plenty of legal establishments that will complete the process for a fee or better still your future employer will often be used to dealing with work visa applications. In some cases the school will also cover the cost of the whole application so you should confirm this during the job interview.
As Chile is one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Latin America, it has long been a popular destination for ESL teachers. Jobs can be found in advance via online job boards or by interviewing in person from within the country. Alternatively, you can take advantage of the popular English Opens Doors Program (EODP) that places foreign teachers into schools across Chile on a volunteer basis. Participants on the scheme work as teaching assistants with the aim of improving the English language skills of children ranging from 10 to 18 years old.
The EODP is a highly respected program that is sponsored by the Chilean Ministry of Education and the United Nations Development Program. The program is open to native or near-native English speakers between the ages of 21 and 35 (applicants outside this age range are assessed on an individual basis). Applicants also require a bachelor's degree and sufficient finances to pay for transportation to and from Chile, as well as living expenses during their stay. Any teaching qualifications or experience of international travel will also be taken into consideration when applying for the program.
If accepted in the program you will be placed into a public school where you will work under the guidance of a local teacher. Placement areas are decided on many factors so personal preference cannot be guaranteed, although you can specify your preferred destination during the recruitment process. A typical work week involves 24 hours of English teaching in the classroom, plus 11 hours of extracurricular activities. The students in your classroom could be aged anywhere from 5th grade (10-11 years old) to 12th grade (17-18 years old). For more information please visit the official EODP website.
The main benefit of this program is the chance to live and work in a fascinating environment that provides invaluable classroom experience and a huge potential for adventure and personal development. While the EODP is a volunteer scheme, it does provide some additional benefits for its participants.
- All housing costs are covered if you choose the homestay option
- All meals are also included
- A monthly stipend of 70,000 CLP (currently $110)
- Week-long orientation course in Santiago
- Free transport within Chile
- Free health insurance
- Free online Spanish course
- No visa fee