Latin America is rapidly becoming known as one of the world’s most popular TEFL destinations. With spectacular landscapes, a fascinating diversity of cultures, exciting cities and low costs, tourism is booming.
As a result, English lessons are in high demand both from locals eager to make the most out of their increasing visitor levels and business professionals with an eye on international markets. This means that even newly qualified teachers can find good teaching positions in Latin America, while those with two or more years of TEFL experience can take their pick of roles.
You’re unlikely to get rich teaching English in Latin America but you’ll earn enough for a decent standard of living – and you’ll have jaw-dropping sights on your doorstep.
Latin America is home to the mystique of Peru’s Machu Picchu, the breathtaking biodiversity of the Amazon, the shimmering ‘birthplace of the sun’ at Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca, the mind-blowing thunder of the Iguazú Falls – which span Argentina and Brazil – and the intriguingly magical moai on Chile’s Easter Island, to name but a few.
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If you’re looking to dip your toe into Latin American culture, then Central America can be a great choice. In Mexico you’ll find a strong demand for English teachers, combined with a comparatively stable economy, vibrant culture, fascinating Mayan ruins and stunning scenery – including dense jungles, gorgeous beaches and spectacular volcanoes. If you fancy a less obvious destination, Nicaragua is emerging as a great new pick on the TEFL map, with its friendly, laid-back approach and gorgeous landscape.
Moving southwards you’ll find opportunities galore. Argentina, Brazil and Peru tend to top the list of TEFL teacher destinations. And with great teaching options, flamboyant cities, stunning landscapes and a good standard of living it’s easy to see why these countries are so appealing.
Don’t limit yourself to the more obvious locations though. Why not sample the gorgeous beaches, emerging TEFL jobs market and friendly outlook of Ecuador, for instance? Or what about the 2,400km of coastline in Chile – stretching from close to Antarctica up to the summer heat of the exquisite Santiago?
Of all the continents, Latin America has the lowest entry requirements for paid TEFL work. This means that you don’t generally need a bachelor’s degree to teach in this region. In fact, as long as you’re a fluent English speaker, you should be able to find some form of work, even if you don’t have any further qualifications.
Having said that, if you do have a degree – and particularly if you’re also TEFL certified and a native English speaker – you’ll have a lot more options open to you. If you’ve got previous teaching experience on top, you can pretty much take your pick of the jobs.
The cost of living in Latin America is fairly low. However, TEFL wages are also towards the lower end of the scale so you’re likely to end up spending most of your TEFL salary on general living costs. It’s best to think of Latin America is a place to gain a brilliant experience and break even, rather than make money.
Accommodation is not usually included as part of your teaching package, so this will be your biggest expense costing around £250 to £350 per month. Schools throughout Latin America often provide help with finding suitable housing however and you should be able to rent a decent place to live that falls within a TEFL teacher’s budget in most areas. It’s worth being aware that, unlike many parts of the world, housing costs don’t always drop substantially when you move out of the main cities.
Food and drink is relatively cheap across the region, particularly if you buy fresh produce from the local market and cook for yourself. However, even if you treat yourself to the occasional meal out, you’re unlikely to blow your budget. A three course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant, for example, should only set you back around £15 to £20 and you can eat far more cheaply if you head for the market stalls and street vendors. You’ve got some scrumptious local dishes to sample too – from Mexican quesadillas to fresh seafood direct from the Chilean coast to the meaty feasts of Argentina, not to mention world-class wines which you can taste direct from the vineyards.
The vast majority of TEFL teachers in Latin America work in private language schools, which you’ll find in abundance. These schools cater for a wide range of ages and skill levels from young learners right through to professionals looking to brush up on their skills for business roles, so there are great opportunities for both newly qualified and experienced TEFL teachers.
If you have a formal teaching degree plus teaching experience and can commit to stay for a couple of years, it’s worth looking at public schools, international schools and universities. These tend to pay better than private language schools but do require a longer commitment and higher qualifications.
The other main type of paid teaching role in Latin America is private tutoring – and many TEFL teachers take on private students on top of their main job in order to top up their salaries. Similar to language schools, you can teach a wide variety of ages and skill levels when you’re tutoring privately. Business English classes can be particularly lucrative if you’ve experience in this area.
However, there is also a demand for conversational classes from students looking to improve their accent and fluency.
If you can only stay for a short time or are looking for experience rather than paid work, one other alternative is volunteer teaching. Volunteer positions typically last anything from one week to a year and, while you won’t be paid as such, you may well be given free accommodation.
You will normally need a firm job offer in order to apply for a work permit. Other than that, eligibility requirements are relatively low.
Most employers will expect to see some form of experience or practical knowledge of teaching. A TEFL certificate is often the simplest way to provide this evidence, if you don’t have solid years of teaching experience to point to.
If you’re planning to work in a country longer term you will generally need a work visa. In many cases, you can apply for this in country once you have found work and then cross over the closest border to pick it up from the Embassy. Employers will often help to navigate you through the visa process and provide you with the paperwork that you need to work legally. Ultimately though you are responsible for gaining the correct visa.
Most TEFL roles in Latin America are in private language schools. If you are working in one of these institutions, you’ll usually have around 20 to 30 teaching hours per week plus preparation time. Class sizes tend to be around 10 to 15 students, although this varies between institutions. As these schools cater for young learners and professionals, the peak teaching hours are outside of the normal school and office day. This means you’re likely to have lessons scheduled in the afternoons, evenings and at weekends, leaving you with time off during the day to explore.
If you’re working in an international or public school, you will have a more structured timetable throughout the school week. In international schools in particular, you may well have extracurricular activities scheduled for evenings and weekends on top of your formal teaching hours – so make sure you check your contract before you sign up to a job.
If you’re tutoring privately, you can set your own hours. However, the more flexible you are, the more likely you are to have students. Most private lessons are either one-to-one or for small groups but there’s no hard and fast rule, as long as the demand is there.
You can find great teaching opportunities across the whole region, with the biggest TEFL markets in and around the main cities including Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro.
However, you’ll find private language schools across the continent in both smaller towns, coastal settings and rural areas. If you do have your heart set on a particular location, search for schools in the local area and check if they’re hiring. Chances are there will be something on offer.
Most Latin American schools like to interview candidates in person. This means you stand a far greater chance of finding a job if you’re already in the country. Recruitment can be a very quick process. If a school likes the look of you, you may be offered a job on the spot and be expected to start within a few days.
If you’re not able to travel to the continent on spec, it is possible to find work in advance although your options will be more limited. Check out TEFL jobs boards for the latest vacancies.
Jobs in private language schools are available all year round, so it’s never a bad time to look for an English teaching job in Latin America. The busiest recruitment time is normally in the months leading up to the new school but as this region spans hemispheres, term times (and seasons) vary.
In southern hemisphere Argentina, for example, the school year normally runs from February/March to December, with peak recruitment time in December to February. For Mexico, in the northern hemisphere, the school year starts in late August with the busiest recruitment period from May to August.
You’re unlikely to get rich teaching English in Latin America but you will get a reasonable living wage and a fantastic experience.
TEFL salaries vary from around £400 to £1,500 per month depending on where in the region you’re working. By and large, wages are in line with living costs. In other words, the countries with the higher salaries also cost more to live in so you won’t necessarily be better off. Overall, you should be able to break even but you’re unlikely to have much left over to save.
Many teachers top up their school salary with private tutoring to help afford a few extra luxuries. The amount you’re likely to earn from private tuition varies. Anything from £4 to £20 per hour is normal – depending on the type of lesson you’re delivering and where you’re based.
If you are considering offering private tuition, it’s important to be upfront with your main employer. Some schools don’t let their teachers offer lessons to existing students, as they fear it will take away from their business. However, if you market your services outside of the school and are honest about what you’re doing, they aren’t likely to quibble – and private lessons can be a great way to supplement your salary.
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