Teaching English in Latin America can be a great option for those looking to live as expats in the region. Latin America is a hugely diverse area that really can offer something for everyone.
Prerequisites for teaching positions vary, but even those who have no experience or relevant qualifications can find a job (albeit probably a lower paying and less secure one) in many places without too much trouble. It’s not a big money spinner, but it can be very rewarding work and in many cities you can still live well on an English teacher’s wage. There are a number of different options available, from volunteering in poverty-stricken areas to working at an upmarket private school. The best way to secure a job teaching English in Latin America is to arrive and start looking, but here is some information to help prepare you.
What is it like to be an English teacher in Latin America?
Being an English teacher in Latin America can be a wonderful job. If you have strong interpersonal and leadership skills, speak at least a little Spanish (in most cases – see below for exceptions) and aren’t fussed about earning a huge amount of money, it could be for you. While English teachers in Latin America generally earn very little money compared to Australian teachers, it’s important to remember that things are usually much cheaper here, so you can often live quite well on an English teacher’s wage. However, it’s unlikely you’ll be saving much money. Latin American people tend to be very open and friendly, so most of the time you’ll have lovely students.
What qualifications do you need to get a job teaching English in Latin America?
In many cases, all you really need to get a job teaching English in Latin America is to be a native speaker of English and a generally professional and responsible person. However, some caveats must be added to this. The amount of opportunities available to you, as well as your earning potential, will certainly improve if you have a Bachelor’s degree (the discipline usually doesn’t matter) and/or TEFL certificate. Having teaching experience will definitely help too. Some schools prefer to hire North Americans, but most are open to hiring any native speaker. However, it’s possible they will ask you to tone down your Australian accent and teach more North American vocabulary (for example ‘sidewalk’ as opposed to ‘footpath’). Some schools will require you to speak some of the local language so you can teach complete beginners, whereas others prefer teachers who have no knowledge at all of the local language.
Choosing where to go
Latin America is a huge region home to astounding natural beauty, pulsating metropolises and fascinating culture. Spanish is the primary language in most countries, but there are some exceptions, for example Brazil (Portuguese) and Belize (English). In general, the culture tends to be very laidback and open, but Catholic conservatism also plays a huge role. The jobs for teaching English in Latin America tend to be concentrated, as you might expect, in major cities and touristy areas. Opportunities to work in more remote areas are usually through volunteer programs. While there are definitely some parts of the region where rates of crime, poverty and corruption are very high, if you stick to expat hotspots and remain open-minded you shouldn’t have any major problems. You can find more information about safety issues on Smart Traveller (http://smartraveller.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx).
Choosing which type of teaching to do
There are many different ways to get work teaching English in Latin America. Here are a few ideas:
Doing a volunteer program to teach English in a disadvantaged area
Working overseas as a volunteer English teacher is a great way to start out if you have no experience. It can also be very rewarding and is a great way to give something back given that most countries in Latin America are still considered part of the developing world. For example, you can check out the Heart for Change English Teaching Fellowship in Colombia. Fellows assist local teachers in public schools and while they are technically ‘volunteers’, they receive a stipend of around US$500 per month, which actually goes quite far in Colombia.
Work at a private school
The conditions and requirements of working for a private English school can vary widely in Latin America. Smaller businesses may be willing to hire teachers who aren’t technically allowed to work in that country and don’t have qualifications. However, in many cases this will mean a much lower salary and less than favourable conditions. Bigger, more reputable schools will be more likely to demand a work visa plus experience and/or formal qualifications, but also usually pay better and offer nicer working conditions.
Work as a private tutor
If you have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit and prefer to go it alone, you can advertise your services as a private tutor. This way you’ll have the freedom to set your own hours and rates, but you’ll also have to put in hard yards to set up a good client base. Most people do this in conjunction with working as a teacher for a private school to supplement their income, as it’s very difficult to make a living solely from working as a private tutor.
While it isn’t technically working in Latin America, this is a great region to live in while you teach online. The cost of living is generally cheap, so you can often afford quite a comfortable lifestyle if you are earning in USD or another strong currency. Of course, working online will usually limit you to living in large cities where you can find a strong internet connection. You can check out a comprehensive list of companies that offer online English teaching positions, and their requirements, here: http://wanderdolls.com/teaching-english-online/.
How to find work
With the exception of working in a volunteer program, which would usually be set up before arrival, the most efficient way to get a job teaching English in Latin America is to arrive in your chosen city and start looking for jobs. You could start searching expat Facebook groups and local job boards before you leave, but it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to find and get a job before arriving. Come prepared with an updated resume in both English and the local language having done your research on your chosen city and decided what kind of work you would like to do. You can then research opportunities in that area and start sending out resumes.
Latin America is an excellent place to teach English if you would like to explore some beautiful places and enjoy a laidback lifestyle, and making a lot of money isn’t that important to you right now. Most native speakers will be able to find some kind of job teaching English without too much trouble, but the quality of positions does vary widely. For that reason, if you’re serious about teaching you might like to look into obtaining a TEFL certificate or trying to get some teaching experience before you arrive in Latin America.
This article is written by Bonnie Gillies. Bonnie is an Australian English teacher and freelance writer. She is currently based in Medellín, Colombia.