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Teaching in Latin America

November at the Times is dedicated to a series of articles from Sharon K Couzens de Hinojosa, the creator and writer of TEFL Tips, The LA Job List, and The Ultimate Peru List.

Unlike places like the Middle East and some parts of Asia where you can save a lot, here in Latin America, you might not be able to pay off your debts, but you can live like royalty with little money. By working 35 hours a week, you can have a laid-back lifestyle, afford a maid, dine out daily, and still have money left over to travel is what draws people to Latin America. You can find lists of schools at The LA Job List.

Where to work

There are many countries in Latin America, starting way up north in Mexico and moving down to Argentina, each country is different and has amazing things to offer. The first thing that you should do is do a bit of research and see which countries appeal to you. Then see if there are opportunities for English teachers. Costa Rica and Mexico are popular destinations and it’s easy to find work there. Places like Panama, due to visa issues and Belize, due to language issues are harder to get into. Here are some things to keep in mind upon arrival.

Many teachers end up at language schools/institutes. You may have to work split shifts as they cater to business people or students. If you have more experience, you should try to get into a bilingual or international school, where you’ll get a higher salary and paid vacations. If you have qualifications and experience, you might be able to teach at a school. There are bilingual and international schools. International schools are more competitive. They require QTS (Qualified Teaching Status) in your home country and usually two years teaching experience in a primary or secondary school. Universities might be another option as well, you’ll have to have at least a BA and a couple years teaching experience.

Although many places want to meet you before having you sign a contract, it is possible to set up interviews and sometimes even jobs before you arrive. The best thing to do is start contacting schools and let them know you are interested in working for them. Tell them when you will arrive and try to set up an interview. The majority of teachers are able to secure teaching positions within one or two weeks. Wear professional clothes (no shorts, jeans, tank tops, or sandals) and go to the schools you contacted with your CV in hand. After interviewing you may have to do a short demo lesson, but don’t worry, relax and smile. Keep in mind that timing is also important. Coming during holidays, such as Christmas and New Year’s is not advisable since many people go on vacations and teaching jobs are limited during these times.

Most institutes will want you stay for at least six months, though some will accept teachers for shorter terms, such as three months. Universities and primary or secondary schools will want you to sign a contract for 1-3 years. Remember the longer you stay, the better pay and more benefits you will receive. If you do decide to leave, remember to write a letter 30 days beforehand and have it signed and stamped by the school. Keep one copy of the letter for your record.

Many institutes and universities will have you work split shifts meaning that you’ll get a break in the middle of the day to eat lunch and relax for a few hours. Sometimes classes finish at 9pm, or even as late as 10pm. Although at first it seems difficult, you will get used to it and can use the time in the afternoon to take a nap or run errands. Remember that you will usually only be teaching 20-30 hours a week, and then the rest of the time is prep time. If you manage your time well, you will have plenty of time to teach private lessons.

Signing a Contract

Remember that each school is different. Some institutes hire only those with working visas. Others hire teaching on tourist visas. Some will require you sign a contract, some require a working visa, and some are more flexible and just have verbal agreements. If your school uses contracts, then after you’ve passed your interview and demo lesson, you will be asked to sign.

Typical contracts usually include the minimum number of guaranteed hours, amount and frequency of pay, length of service, hours the teachers must be available to teach, whether teachers can teach classes outside of the school, and how the contract can be broken. Make sure you read everything, including the fine print. Some places have “no compete” policies. This varies from school to school and can mean anything from not being able to teach at another school while you work for them, not being able to teach privates, or even not being able to teach in the same city for X months after you finish their contract. So make sure you ask questions about anything you don’t understand.


Countries seem to be changing their visa regulations all the time. For example, Ecuador just cracked down on their visa laws, eliminating border hopping and visa extensions and now it’s almost impossible to teach on a tourist visa. On the other hand, Peru just changed its 90 day visa to 183 visa, making it easier to stay.

Be sure to check about visa rules beforehand and know how long you can stay and if visa extensions are allowed, and if they are, how much more time you can get. Some countries have a limit on the total numbers of days you can stay in a year, some enforce this law and others are more flexible. Others give you 90 days, and then let you renew your visa for up to three months, and then have you leave the country. Others make you pay a fine if you overstay your visa.

It’s not uncommon for people to work on tourist visas, it’s not legal, but it’s still done. Just don’t tell the authorities that you are. If you are working on a tourist visa, you may have to border-hop every once in a while. You simply leave the country, stay in another one for a couple of days, and then re-enter and are given a new tourist visa that’s good for X amount of days. Or, if the country you are in fines people who overstay, you could just overstay your visa and pay the fine as you leave. It might be cheaper than border-hopping. I know a handful of people who have been on tourists visas here in Peru for two or three years. They just border hop every couple of months. If you’re looking for short-term work and don’t mind working under the table, you’ll probably have no problems finding a job, just realize you won’t get the best pay.

Primary and Secondary Schools are more likely to get you a work visa than other places, although universities will do so as well. Check with your employer about what you need to bring. Often you will need to get your original university degree Apostillised in your home country before. If you enter on a tourist visa and you’ll need to find out if you can convert the tourist visa to a work visa, or if you have to leave the country, or even go back to your home country. If you have a business or work visa, what you have to do to get your residency ID card. Ask who is going to cover the costs for this and how long it takes to get it. You’ll need to know about the requirements. Sometimes you may need a medical check up or a police background check in order to get residency. And find out if you’ll get help to do all this.

If you’ve married a local, then you should be entitled to residency and a work visa, be sure to ask immigrations for more information.


Having a BA is often a basic requirement when teaching in Latin America, although you maybe able to get around that if you have life experience or teach at a more laid-back institute. TEFL certification classes will help you know about your subject matter and giving you practical teaching tips and experience teaching students. If you aren’t able to do a TEFL cert now, then at least go to your local library and do some research, observe some classes, or talk to some teachers. Whatever you do, you should prepare yourself before arrival. If you have teaching experience, all the better. You’ll know what to expect and might have some resources as well.

Money Matters

Many teachers end up at language schools, and they typically pay about 6 to 15 dollars an hour, depending on what country you’re in, the city, the type of institute and your qualifications. Some schools may offer you room, board, and a small stipend in exchange for teaching. Others pay you a salary. You may find yourself working at more than one language institute to pick up enough hours. Getting jobs at other schools are fairly easy, just make sure that if you sign a contract, you’re allowed to work at other institutes or teach private classes. If you’d rather just work in one school, try to take on a couple of private students. Private students aren’t difficult to pick up and once people learn that you’re a good teacher, you’ll have a full schedule. Try advertising at schools, universities, or try putting an advert in the local paper. Teachers usually charge between $5 and 20 USD an hour.

Taxes depend on the country you’re in, your immigration status and how much you earn. Check with your school for more details about taxes.

As usual, when moving to a new place, you should bring money to tide you over before you get paid. 1000- 2000 USD should be more than enough. Cost of living here in Latin America is pretty low compared to other places such as North America and Europe. Most teachers can easily earn 800 USD a month by teaching 25 hours a week. Most teachers can live off of 500 USD a month provided that they don’t expect to live in the lap of luxury and learn tips from the locals. For example, learning how to navigate the bus system and cooking at home are great ways to save money, meaning that you’ll have more money to use to study Spanish or explore Latin America.

Most teachers will want health insurance. Teaching and living in Latin America is exciting, but also poses many unpredictable situations, such as injury or illness in a foreign country. This is why teachers should secure international health insurance before arriving. Be sure to ask if they cover medically supervised emergency evacuations, emergency reunions or repatriation. Some places will provide health insurance for their teachers. If your institute does, be sure to ask exact what is and is not covered.

Some places will provide housing or assistance in finding housing. If housing is provided, be sure to ask for details, such as is it furnished? single or shared? are utilities covered? Other places wil offer free housing, meals and language lessons in exchange for English classes, read this article to find out more. If you have your own housing, find out about costs, such as utilities.

Sound fun?

If you want information, try chat with teachers already in Latin America with this Skype network available from Teacher’s International. If all these things sounds appealing, then dust off your CV and start applying for jobs, in a couple of months you could find yourself basking in the glory of living in Latin America. Don’t forget adapt to the local customs. See Respectful Travel for more information.

About the author

Sharon K Couzens de Hinojosa is the creator and writer for TEFL Tips, The LA Job List, and The Ultimate Peru List. She enjoys answering people’s questions about TEFLing and Peru.

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