Teaching English in Latin America, or teaching English as a second language (“TESL”), can be an excellent opportunity for not just aspiring teachers, but really anyone who speaks, reads and writes English to live among and learn from some of the most diverse cultures of the world. The huge continent of South America, along with Mexico, Central America and the Spanish speaking Caribbean countries provide a myriad of opportunities for those who wish to share his/her knowledge of native English.
For this article, we will mainly concentrate on South America.
You can teach in a variety of organizations and environments, ranging from the business circles of Santiago, Chile to the primary schools of Columbia. When you’re in South America, there is no lack of teaching options available even for those who may not hold a professional degree in tutoring.
Are you a native speaker of English? Then it will probably be enough in most cases to land you the ideal dream job. And if you haven’t thought about teaching English in this part of the world yet, keep on reading to find out why you should consider this as a possible career option.
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Why teach English in this part of the world?
South America is an exotic part of our world that has long captivated explorers from far and wide. The paradise-like beaches, the rainforests, dense and populated with wildlife, mountain tops covered in snow, the overwhelming rush of unique sights and sounds, and the diverse culture are the things that attract millions of travelers from around the world.
The continent is just massive and offers so much variety in terms of natural attractions that anyone who has even a bit of sense of adventure would find it hard to stay away. If you want to experience this magnificent land the way it should be, pursuing a teaching career here will be among the best choices. Why? It’s because you’ll get to live among the locals, enjoy native cuisines, and learn about their culture like no other passing traveler can.
With so many vibrant countries, cultures, and cities to experience, deciding to teach English here will put you in the best place to enjoy the wild and diverse continent. Forget about package holidays and tour guides; you can have the best possible travel experience living among some of the most beautiful people in the world, and that too for a noble cause.
Teaching English in Latin America without a degree? Yes.
Similar to many parts of Asia, teaching jobs are available all over South America for the native English speaker even though they may be inexperienced teachers or not even teachers at all. However, those who have the highly valued TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certificate will have a much greater choice of job opportunities due to the weight it carries in these parts. You may also be able to make arrangements regarding employment with a school even before entering the country.
Here are a few online sources where you can obtain the necessary certification – just click on the name to find out more:
Since you’ll be mostly teaching English as a second language, the requirements and qualifications here are not as high as in other English-speaking countries. And the best part of teaching in South America is that in many cases your employment may also include accommodation as a part of the package.
That’s not all, because some schools even reimburse their teachers the cost of their airfare once they have completed their teaching contract. Even though it would be wrong of you to expect very high wages, you can expect to return home with a lot of interesting stories and memories to cherish for a lifetime. Oh! You can make a bit of saving too because the cost of living here is generally very low.
Teachers having TEFL certificates may be able to apply in independent universities that promise slightly better money and other perks. However, conditions will vary based on country and school, so it’s close to impossible to make an estimate without actually inquiring with the institutions first.
Keep in mind that schools throughout the continent usually stay closed during December and January months for the holidays.
Where can I teach English?
Many TEFL certificate holders head straight to the hub of South American nations like Brazil and Peru, but many other locations deserve mention as well. The top destinations that you might consider teaching English as a second language are the following:
Before anyone mentions it, I know that Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish. I travelled to Brazil and found I was able to make myself understood when speaking Spanish but I had a harder time understanding the local people due to different pronunciations and the dialect. The written Portuguese, in my experience, was very similar to Spanish and didn’t really cause me any problems.
Brazil is the largest country in Latin America where there is always a need for teachers coming from native English speaking countries. Brazil is also the fifth largest nation in the world and although is presently in an economic slump, it has enjoyed and will enjoy again further periods of very strong growth and expansion. It will continue to be among the world’s leading “emerging markets” with expanding options in trade and tourism. There is a strong demand for English teachers here.
You’ll find plenty of options by heading to this country, ranging from the state school to reputed universities. However, the best opportunities often lie in corporate teaching and private language schools. Not only do they provide better wages but put you in contact with highly motivated and influential people who are eager to learn English.
Apart from the country’s obsession with football, Brazil is also famous around the world for its extravagant carnivals that are so identifiable with this country. Some people say that Brazil is an ongoing party place offering countless sun-kissed beaches, exotic rainforests, and an eclectic mix of friendly people, cultures, food, and pulsating atmosphere. Just don’t ignore it’s economic potential!
If you’re an individual who enjoys socializing and doesn’t mind the occasional wild party to sweep you off your feet, then Brazil is the place to be!
Argentina is one of the most developed countries of the entire South American continent, and its people are considered in high regard. Even though this country has suffered economic hardships in the past and continue to do so as they default on yet another debt repayment, they have bounced back from their woes much like their neighboring country Brazil. Of course, there’s always a demand here for TEFL teachers.
The vast majority of English-speaking jobs are available in Buenos Aires, and similarly to Brazil you’ll find the best opportunities in private schools and in teaching business executives. Those without the TEFL certificate can also apply for jobs provided they speak native English. However, their choices will be limited in comparison to TEFL teachers.
Argentina covers a huge part of the southern half of Latin America and offers spectacular natural scenery to explore. Once you’ve got your teaching career underway, you’ll be free to explore everything ranging from the northern desert lands to the famous glaciers and thick forests of the far south. If you are a northerner who loves to ski, now is your opportunity to become a southerner who loves to ski.
Needless to mention, with your knowledge of Spanish you’ll be able to mingle with the local crowd as well.
This country also has one of the most beautiful capitals in the world, for which Buenos Aires is nicknamed as “Paris of South America.” Argentina is a country perfect for the cultured and those who appreciate the great outdoors.
As in Brazil, bring your best knife and fork because when it comes to food, the meat served here is superb.
3. Costa Rica
Costa Rica, with its long-standing economic and political stability, has one of the largest markets for native English speakers in Central America, which in case you didn’t know, is actually part of North America. It is definitely one of the better countries for an English language teacher looking for work as salaries are reasonable, and cost of living is economic. One slight negative here is that due to this country’s popularity, the competition for jobs here can be a bit tougher. Even though Costa Rica is less “wild” than other South American countries, it can be a great place to live for those who prefer a slower pace of life.
Since the English language is held in high regard here, you can find decent job opportunities in both high schools and universities. Of course, it goes without saying that private language schools and teaching corporate executives will let you get the best experience regarding monetary gain as well as satisfaction.
Should you decide to head to Costa Rica, the best place to start job hunting would-be San Jose, which despite being the capital city offers a somewhat lower cost of living. Moreover, San Jose is less touristy than other capitals, which means it’s perfect for those seeking a calmer way of life. Need more reasons to come to Costa Rica?
Even though this country is small in size, it still offers a great diversity of natural attractions which includes volcanoes, rainforests, and breathtaking beaches. It is also a country that boosts coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Once you come to Costa Rica, the laid-back natives and the beauty of the country will never let you leave.
Politically, Costa Rica enjoys more stability than nearly all other countries in the region, and is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have an army. It does have some small special forces for certain types of law enforcement, but you don’t need to fear a military coup here. They even celebrate December 1st as Military Abolition Day.
Peru is another country that attracts many native English tutors from around the world thanks to its fast-growing economy and very low cost of living. Here, TEFL teachers will be able to live comfortably even on an average salary because of low costs and high economic stability. The country itself is beautiful and offers many sights and sounds for everyone to enjoy.
As an English teacher, you’ll be able to land the most job opportunities in Cusco, which lies at the gateway of the Inca Trail or in the capital of the country, Lima. No matter what your choice is, the massive tourism industry will definitely give you an urge to explore. Teaching in the capital would be best if you want to impart your knowledge to enthusiastic business leaders.
Peru is best known for its ancient cultures and the fascinating archaeological hotspots that draw people from all around the world. As you may know, this country is the home of the mysterious Incan civilization that has fascinated the world for many decades. From interesting ancient arts, customs and crafts, and some of the world’s most secluded sites, you’ll find it all in Peru.
Here, you’ll also find one of the greatest indigenous populations in the world, with more than 50% of the natives being the descendants of Inca tribes. It is estimated that the rainforests of the country also host more than 100 tribes. Opportunities for earning and excitement are plentiful in this part of the world.
Mexico is one of the United States’ biggest trade partners (third at the moment, and rapidly gaining on Canada), so there is no lack of university students and business executives in this country waiting to learn English from a native speaker. Having nearly twice the population as the next biggest Spanish speaking country, Mexico welcomes you with endless opportunities for teaching English as a second language.
There are even more possibilities for certified English teachers as this is the only country where it is possible to find English teaching jobs throughout the year. Even though most people who arrive here to teach, find their jobs online before landing, many teachers also prefer interviewing in person in places like Mexico City, Puebla, and Guadalajara.
You’ll also be able to land jobs in beach hotspots like Acapulco, Cancun, and Puerto Vallarta as these are locations where people need to learn basic English for employment in the tourism industry. At the moment, I would be a little reluctant to take on anything in Acapulco, due to the escalating violence among the cartels. You are probably okay in the resort and hotel areas but if you venture away from there, beware.
While competition in the tourist zones will be plentiful, for most Mexico is not just a country of tourism; it is a feast for the senses as it boasts of having a fascinating mix of cultures from all over the world and all the attractions that come with it.
Chile is perhaps the most economically stable and prosperous country in South America that is still improving in many ways. The demand for English education here has been on the rise over the last couple of decades, and this place also happens to be one of the few Latin American countries where having a legal work permit is the norm.
As an English teacher, you can expect to earn a salary to live a very comfortable and fulfilling middle-class Chilean lifestyle. To begin the job hunt, you may head to the capital and largest city of the country, Santiago, where the demand for native English teachers is very high. If you’re a certified English teacher, expect to find plenty of opportunities available.
Although a lot of teachers lineup jobs before arriving in the country by way of online interviews, interviewing in person is also lucrative. The hiring seasons in this country are February or March and July or August. Like all South American countries, here too you’ll find teaching opportunities in private schools, universities, and with many business executives.
Other Latin American Countries
Apart from the countries mentioned above, you can also teach in nations like Columbia, Panama, Ecuador, and The Dominican Republic. Each place has its own agent competency requirement and offers vastly different remunerations to native English teachers. Although as a general rule of thumb, you can expect to get paid more, sometimes a lot more, if you have a teaching degree.
All of these are developing countries that provide brilliant opportunities for the budding English teacher to kick-start a career. However, it’s important to know that apart from in a few of the bigger and more famous cities, you’re unlikely to find too many other English teachers as you would find anywhere else around the globe.
This is mainly because a lot of people still hold the misconception that South America is a place of nothing more than crime, corruption, poverty, dictators, and drug lords. That is of course not true because Latin America is home to an enormous variety of generous and charming people who are more than eager to mingle with travelers and learn the language of the “gringos”.
Importance of certification and knowing the regional language
To teach just about anywhere in South America at a professional level, you’ll need a TEFL, TESOL, or CELTA certificate. Many employers accept online TEFL certificate, but your best bet to land a job would be to go for an in-person, in-country certification course that comes with complementary job search assistance.
Having a certification can also help you land lucrative private tutoring sessions, which most teachers in South America rely upon to boost their income.
Why Learn Spanish To Teach English?
There’s a ton of reasons! Because as I mentioned elsewhere, you need to understand your students who will want to clarify things in their own language – put yourself in their shoes. Secondly, the whole idea of this is that you will live and work in Latin America – you need to learn the local language. Take it from someone with real-life experience (me) – life is ten times easier, and ten times more enjoyable, if you have a decent grasp of the local language. Also, at the time of writing, there’s a pretty good chance that not everyone you meet will have their noses buried in their smartphones – yes, a lot of people here actually like to talk to other people. I think they call it “having a conversation”.
While it may not be necessary for everyone to be fluent, having some knowledge of Spanish, or Portuguese in the case of Brazil, will help you a lot while teaching as well as interacting with the native population.
Many TEFL certification programs also offer local language training, some more intensive than others, so that the teachers can begin their journey in a different land with confidence. This is another factor you have to consider when deciding on a certification path.
Credentials are not always needed
Most teachers agree with the fact that South American students are a lot of fun to teach because they are very vocal. If you have lots of enthusiasm apart from good education and are willing to stay back for a whole academic year, you may be able to land a job with a reputed language Institute. Many of these institutes provide their own compulsory pre-job training.
The academic year in most of South America begins in February to early March and continues till December. The best time to start job hunting is perhaps few weeks prior to ending of summer holidays. However, lots of institutes run 8 to 12-week courses throughout the year and are more than willing to employ a native English speaker regardless of the time.
Obtaining work visas require getting together a variety of documents including, notarized and translated copies of relevant qualifications, police clearance, etc. and of course a hefty fee. Consequently, a lot of individuals teach English in Latin America on the basis of tourist visas and obtain a work permit while there. However, the permits must be kept up to date by applying for an extension or by crossing to and from a neighboring country.
Not only will teaching here give you a good exposure to the native cultures, but also let you take in the notorious Latin spirit for life.