TEFL In Latin America
Latin America often seems (well, to me) one of the last unexplored territories for TEFL, and as such should provide both unique experiences and some trail-blazing opportunities. You can look for work in an area with tropical weather, a lively urban lifestyle, or a relaxed pace in a coastal or mountain village. You can also put yourself in a great position to improve your language skills in one of the world’s most useful and beautiful languages.
I have to give credit to Guy Courchesne for much of the information on this page. He is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer who has been working in Mexico for more than five years. You can find both personal reflections and practical tips on This Guy Is Teaching Abroad; you can also see what is on offer as far as TEFL training at the company he works for, Teachers International Latin America.
A BA and teaching experience are the most sought after qualifications in Latin America according to Guy; whether or not a TEFL certificate is an absolute necessity varies by country and employer. Especially if you haven’t taught before, it’s not a bad idea to have a TEFL course under your belt – it will give you confidence and a foundation to build on for your students.
Work permits can prove challenging, judging from a variety of comments on the various Latin America forums at Dave’s ESL Café. One teacher working in Brazil emphasized that they are hard enough to come by that the typical “six months out of any one year on a tourist visa” may be the maximum that many teachers can stay. This Guy Is Teaching Abroad has a thorough write-up about the ins and outs of work visas for Mexico.
One source indicates that Mexico may be the best bet for acquiring working papers, but even then, many people work under the table. Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Costa Rica are notoriously difficult, but again, many work illegally. Students, i.e. clients, want native speaker teachers but the paperwork is so overwhelming that many schools will not take it on. Risks run from fines to deportation, but visa/border runs to neighboring countries are common and there is little fear of repercussion; people come back for a new 90 or 60 day tourist visa.
Finding A Job
Many school hire all year round, but keep in mind the traditional school year timing for peak hiring times. In Mexico and Central America, consider the Northern Hemisphere school year (look for work in August), and in South America, look for work in late February.
Searching in-person as opposed to online is usually recommended because it allows you to check out schools for yourself and not make a big decision based on an online job ad. Also, however, Latin American job posts just aren’t abundant online. One teacher on the Latin America Board at Dave’s ESL Cafe suggested that this does not mean there are no jobs, but rather is the result of a different way of looking at the Internet: schools are simply used to recruiting people in person. It may also be that the only ones that need to turn to the Internet are those that can’t do it in person (because they are shady and no one with local insight will work for them, etc). All that said, another teacher at Dave’s pointed out that some schools are so off the beaten path that advertising online is the only way teachers will find out about them.
Wages tend to allow for a nice local standard of living, though this of course depends on where you are and your personal spending habits. As in Asia, there can be a substantial difference in cost of living between cities and rural areas – the catch of course is that there can also be substantial differences in the lifestyle you can have.
In an earlier post, Guy Courchesne reported that a salary of roughly $600 to $1000 per month is not uncommon for a new teacher, “but expect the harder-to-get jobs at universities and swanky language schools to be the highest paying.”
For more info, check out the following links:
Interviews and Spotlight On Posts: Interview With A DELTA Grad In Chile, Spotlight On Chile, Interview With A Sapientis Teacher in Puerto Rico, Spotlight On Costa Rica, Interview With A Teacher In Mexico, Interview With A Soon To Be TEFLer (who ended up in Colombia)
Sites and Blogs: The Ultimate Peru List, This Guy Is Teaching Abroad, Costa Rica Classroom, TEFL In Mexico, Journal From Oaxaca