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How to Find a Paid Job Teaching English in Latin America

Students in Latin America

Although China and South Korea usually hog the spotlight for teach abroad destinations, you've got your eye on another part of the world. You want to teach in Latin America. You've studied Spanish, fallen in love with salsa, or just want to be able to surf on the weekends -- which is why you've decided to find a job teaching in Latin America.

Hiring in Latin America is more seasonal than in many locations.

However, the job hunt for teaching English in Latin America is different than other regions in the world. You likely won't be using a recruiter (like in South Korea), or job hunting online (like you would in the U.S.). On top of that, school years and hiring seasons can be different than in your part of the world, so even figuring out an optimal time to job hunt takes some research. Get answers to when, where, and how to search for a job in Latin America by reading onwards:

1. Figure Out Your Visas

When it comes to job hunting and visas, deciding where to go is an important first step. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama and Peru and some popular starting points. All are rewarding travel destinations in and of themselves, but also typically have enough employment opportunity to be sustainable.

After choosing your ideal destination, figure out the visas. Do you have to have one on arrival? Will you be able to enter on a tourist visa and apply later? What sort of documentation will you have to bring with you to apply? Do you have to apply from your host country?These are all things you should figure out in the research phase. A few tips:

Most countries:

The common practice in the region is to use a tourist visa, which typically lasts for 3 - 6 months and is then easily renewable by leaving and reentering the country, even for just a day trip. This can be a slight nuisance, but it works just fine for most locations.

Brazil:

In Brazil, renewing a tourist visa is more difficult, and that can make it harder to teach there for more than 90 - 180 days. Some schools will sponsor a work permit, but it’s rare, so a lot of people wind up starting out in Brazil, and then transitioning somewhere else after their visa runs out.

Ecuador:

Teachers in Ecuador usually use a special cultural exchange visa. However, you'll have to have a job or be enrolled in a teaching program in order to apply for the visa.

Mexico:

Mexico recently refreshed their work permit process which unfortunately makes it more difficult for foreigners to obtain legal work visas. As of writing this article, it’s not really clear how the process will work moving forward. So if you want to teach in Mexico, be sure to do your due diligence or look into volunteer teaching.

2. Pay Attention to Hiring Seasons

Teaching in Mexico

Hiring in Latin America is more seasonal than in many locations. Generally, it’s better to get started earlier in the year, but this can vary from country to country.

Costa Rica, for example, has its peak hiring season around January, whereas teachers looking for work in Peru should job hunt in January / February or September / October. However, job hunting in January in Chile is a terrible idea (everyone's on vacation; it's summer after all!). Start your search at the very end of February or beginning of March instead.

Even so, there are opportunities to find work year round. This is generally true if your goal is to teach at a private language institute, business English, or tutoring. If you'd prefer to teach children or at a university, timing is more important. Aim to look for jobs before the school year starts and keep in mind that school years aren't always the same as the U.S.!

No matter when you start, you'll want to save money before you go -- especially since Latin American teaching gigs aren't the highest paying. This means either bringing cash reserves with you, or scrapping savings together while you are actually in country teaching. It depends on your lifestyle, but if you live simply and work a full schedule, saving some money is possible.

In sum, it's best to look for jobs in Latin America in February / March or July / August. Central American hiring seasons may be in January / February, and some institutions in Mexico or Nicaragua will hire year round.

3. Get Certified

You’ll need a TESOL, TEFL or CELTA certificate to teach just about anywhere in Latin America. Many employers will accept an online TEFL Certificate, but the best option is generally an in-country, in-person certification course that also includes job search assistance.

Although you can certainly find a job in Latin America online before departure via teaching job boards, you'll have the best luck finding a (good) position by job hunting in person.

It’s typically a bit more expensive, but if you can afford the up-front investment, taking your training course abroad allows you to become accustomed to your new surroundings, make contacts, setup in-person interviews, and ultimately maximize your chances of finding a job in a timely manner. Plenty of accredited courses operate in Latin America, like INTESOL's course in Nicaragua or ITTT TEFL's course in Argentina.

Having a certification is also a necessity for lucrative private tutoring sessions, which most teachers in Latin America rely upon to bolster income.

It’s not necessary to be fluent, but having some knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese is definitely helpful when teaching in Latin America. Many TEFL certification programs will include some kind of local language training too, some more intensive than others, so that is certainly another factor to consider when deciding on your certification path.

4. Look for Jobs in Country

Teaching in Latin America

Although you can certainly find a job in Latin America online before departure via teaching job boards, you'll have the best luck finding a (good) position by job hunting in person.

Gather a list of all the language institutes in the city you want to teach, arrive around their peak hiring season, and begin inquiring in person. Look for adverts at hostels or expat hangouts. Meet other teachers in the area and ask if they know of any openings. Be proactive and hit the ground running.

This method may not be for everyone, but it really is ideal. Firstly, it will help you know in full the conditions of the school you're applying to teach at and avoid scams.

Secondly, it'll up your chances of getting hired. A school would much rather hire someone who can start tomorrow, rather than wait around a month for the teacher to arrive.

5. Check Country Specific Job Boards

Whether you're looking for jobs in advance or in country, check country-specific job boards. Yes, platforms like Craigslist and Go Overseas may turn up a few jobs in the country you want to work in, but don't stop there -- check job boards that post openings specifically in the country or city you're job hunting in.

You can find these job boards in the classified section of English speaking newspapers, like Tico Times in Costa Rica or Peru this Week in Peru, or on expat forums.

6. Look for Private Tutoring Gigs Too

Again, salaries at schools in Latin America typically aren’t going to provide ESL teachers with much more than the basic cost of living, so teaching private lessons is almost a necessity for many people. Advertise on local job boards and through your training center. Private English schools can be a great source for students too, as can sites like Craigslist. Get creative!

7. Look into Government Sponsored Programs

If showing up in a new country without a job is absolutely terrifying to you, or if you'd prefer a short-term (re: 3-6 month) gig instead of a long-term commitment, you should look into a government sponsored program. These programs, sponsored by the host country's government, like Colombia's TEC program, or Chile's English Opens Doors, are ideal for folks who would prefer not to face the job hunt totally on their own.

Without a doubt, Latin America is one of the most vibrant and rewarding places to teach abroad.

These jobs are not necessarily in major cities, but include orientation, a stipend, and housing assistance. You'll need some teaching experience and a certificate to teach through Colombia's program, but not in Chile.

Enjoy It

Without a doubt, Latin America is one of the most vibrant and rewarding places to teach abroad. You may not make bank, but hey -- that's not why you became a teacher, right?

Embrace the local culture, learn the language, and try to communicate. I’ve always been surprised with how patient people in Spanish speaking countries are, so don’t hesitate to bust out those rusty Spanish skills. You’ll learn by doing, and you just might be surprised by how quickly Latin America feels like home.

Photo Credits: Erica Alfonzetti, Jessie Beck, Prinda Mulpramook
Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days. He's part of the marketing team at LanguageCorps and a freelance writer, in between playing drums in various touring bands and trying to be a better photographer. Follow him on Google+.