You most definitely do not teach English in Guatemala for the money: the cost of living may be low, but the average teaching salary is also low, and whilst you’ll be able to afford day-to-day living in Guatemala, you certainly won’t be saving any extra money. English teachers in Guatemala go there for the experience, and the ability to make a difference to others’ lives, which many would argue is more important than money.
Accommodation costs are high considering wages, with a one-bed flat costing approximately £280/$450 or 80% of your monthly salary. Luckily, Guatemalan employers nearly always provide accommodation free of charge, so you won’t need to take this into account when budgeting!
Basic food items are relatively expensive in Guatemala, with a litre of milk costing just under a dollar. You can pick up fresh fruit and vegetables from the street markets, like Guatemala’s Central Market behind the Metropolitan Cathedral. Just be aware of the huge crowds on market days – it’s seen as a social event where old friends will meet for a catch-up.
Nights out are cheap, but with Guatemala’s cities fairly dangerous (especially the capital), you may not want to be out too late. If you are, make sure you’re in a group with your new Guatemalan colleagues: you could enjoy a meal in a traditional Guatemalan restaurant for only £2/$3.
Traditional Guatemalan food is quite basic, with a huge emphasis placed on beans and rice as they’re both cheap, but very filling. Start the day with a traditional Guatemalan breakfast: eggs, tortillas, beans and plantains (similar to bananas).
When cooking meat, Guatemalans don’t like to waste anything, so if you order a chicken dish in a restaurant, don’t be surprised if your chicken still has its feet attached!
Alcohol-wise, be sure to try the national beer of Gallo, translating to rooster, which explains the rooster-head logo emblazoned across all of the packaging. It’s 118 years old and is very traditional – you can pick it up even cheaper in the supermarkets, with a can costing 55p/$0.90.
Guatemala is referred to as the ‘land of eternal spring’, which sounds very appealing, due to its constant warm temperatures: summers stay a warm 25 degrees Celsius, and in the winter it rarely falls below 13 degrees. Guatemala is lucky in respect that as it is surrounded by mountains, it’s protected from the hurricanes that its neighbours suffer; but the heavy rain that comes in causes serious flooding from June to November – so don’t forget to pack an umbrella if you decide to make the move to teach English in Guatemala!
Accommodation is typically provided free of charge by the employer, in housing close to the language school, and you’ll be sharing with another English teacher. In the rare cases where teachers aren’t offered accommodation, they tend to stay with a host family when they first arrive, before finding their own place.
Although demand is very high for English teachers in Guatemala, it’s less so in smaller towns, and mainly focused in the larger cities of Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango (or Xela, as it’s referred to by the locals).
You’re more likely to teach middle-class children in Quetzaltenango (Xela) than in Guatemala City and this can be seen in either a positive or negative light by potential TEFL teachers. After all, many people teach English in Guatemala to help give something back to the poverty stricken.
As a whole, Guatemalan public transport is old and decrepit! The buses serving the cities are referred to as ‘chicken buses’ and are essentially old school buses with cheap fares (15p/$0.25 for a one-way ticket), where passengers are piled high inside! Charming, but not the safest option.
An average working week for an English teacher in Guatemala is 25 hours, so you’ll have plenty of free time to explore your new home! To see more of what Guatemala has to offer, there is a fleet of buses (known as Pullman buses), that offer connections between the larger cities. You can get a one-way ticket from Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango for £6/$10, taking 4 hours, but these are also subject to armed robberies. However, with a lack of airports, you can’t fly domestically to different cities.
If you’d prefer to jet off somewhere further afield, there is the option of flying to nearby countries, but the cost of flights are high – and when considering an average teaching salary in Guatemala, they’re practically extortionate! For instance, you can fly from Guatemala City to Mexico City for £330/$530 return – but to afford this you’d either have to teach a LOT of private lessons, or bring savings with you to spend on travelling.
Interactions in the classroom are less direct in Guatemala than what you’ll be used to, with decisions made gradually. If you hear students making mistakes when speaking in English to each other, rather than blurting it out straight away; approach the subject slowly at the end of the lesson, before making gentle suggestions on how to correct the mistakes.
Another thing to consider in your classroom is the dress code. Self-presentation is extremely important in Guatemala, despite how poor the country is – if you’re in shabby or revealing clothes, it can be misconstrued as you having a lack of respect for your job and the wider community. If in doubt, dress conservatively: trousers for men, and knee-length skirts with tights for women.
Guatemala is famous for its many active volcanoes, and one you have to see is Volcan Pacaya, which last erupted in 2010. There are hiking trails around the volcano, but with the molten lava ever-present, make sure you take care!