Are you an adventurer? An explorer? An entrepreneur? Then you need to head straight to Paraguay, which has yet to become a tourist destination.
It won’t stay this way for long though! Once word spreads about the beautiful scenery, low cost of living and friendly citizens, Paraguay will undoubtedly become the next “big thing.” It’s the ideal location to learn Spanish, teach English or volunteer with nature conservation. So beat the crowd and spend your gap year in Paraguay!Photo credit: Deni Williams.
How you spend your Paraguayan gap year depends entirely on your interests. Paraguay is off the beaten path for most travelers, so, whatever you choose, it’ll be a unique and authentic experience.
English is the universal language of business and tourism. Learning it can open many doors for someone in a country like Paraguay. So consider the rewarding experience of teaching English during your gap year!
International teachers are treated with a great deal of respect and affection in Paraguay. When looking for a job with a private or public school, it’s always helpful to initiate an email conversationgo before arrival. Don't be disheartened if you don’t find a position in advance, as cities like Asuncion, Encarnacion and Ciudad del Este have been known to hire travelers in person with little teaching experience.
The school year runs from February to December. Similar to the rest of the world, private schools in Paraguay are better funded, have smaller classroom sizes and are overall cushier. Private educational facilities will have libraries, computers and air conditioning.
Public schools on the other hand are a bit more rough. With minimal funding available, public classrooms can have anywhere from 40 to 70 students and few school supplies. It’s truly a situation where molding young minds and broadening their future prospects is the greatest reward -- you really are making a difference.
Spanish is the second most prominent language in the world and, yes, it’s time you finally learned some! The friendly people and low cost of living make Paraguay a great place to take a gap year and learn Spanish. Asuncion is the best location to find a Spanish language school.
Most programs offer the opportunity to stay with a host family, which bolsters your language learning experience. Language Vacation offers weekly activities for students that include tours, dance lessons and cultural classes. IDIPAR has been recognized by the Ministry of Education and Culture and also offers private lessons.
Volunteering with Nature Conservation
Volunteers looking to protect the environment should definitely consider a gap year in Paraguay. Paraguay is lush with forests and wetlands, and has struggled against people who seek to abuse those resources. Deforestation is an increasing problem and volunteers play an important role in protecting the land.
The highly recommended program Para La Tierra is located in the remote San Pedro region. Volunteers have the opportunity to create their own volunteer program, choosing what they’d like to learn and constructing a plan on how they can help.
The Peace Corps has a strong presence in Paraguay. Their ecological programs focus on agricultural extension and environmental conservation. Volunteers are given the opportunity to work in soil preservation, beekeeping, reforestation as well as creating environmental awareness and teaching eco-friendly habits. Do note, however, that although you can apply directly to specific countries in the Peace Corps now, Latin American countries tend to be more competitive.
Cost of Living
Paraguay is one of South America’s least developed countries, which translates to low pay and a very low cost of living. The Paraguayan Guaraní is the national currency. If you arrive in the country with even a few hundred dollars in savings you’ll be well on your way to living a life that could include frequent spa visits, tailor-made clothing, and delicious food.
For a nice meal, you can expect to pay about $4 USD. A liter of water is $1.50, a beer is $1.10, and a cappuccino $1.60. Rent in Paraguay, like everywhere else in the world, depends on where you live. An apartment inside the city center is $300 a month, while locations farther outside run at $180.
What kind of visa will you need?
Visa requirements for Paraguay differ based on your citizenship, so always check with your local embassy before traveling. Anyone planning to work in Paraguay will need a sponsor letter from their employer to obtain a work permit.
UK citizens do not need a visa to enter Paraguay and can stay for 90 days. Be sure to receive a stamp at immigration or you will incur a fine upon leaving the country. US citizens require a tourist visa, effective for 90 days. Prerequisites include a passport with one blank page that is valid for 6 months past your departure date, a return airline ticket, two passport photos and sufficient funds for day-to-day expenses.
A visa-upon-arrival for US tourists can be obtained in person at the Silvio Pettirossi International Airport in Asuncion for $160 USD cash only. If you do not intend to fly into this airport, you’ll need to apply for a visa in advance.
Additionally, there is an airplane departure fee if you plan to fly out of Paraguay, so be sure to save some additional funds for your final goodbye.
Traces of the Zika virus have been found in Paraguay. To learn more about Zika and how to avoid getting infected, read the Washington Post's article on Zika precautions.
Paraguay does have some crime and safety concerns to be aware of. Pick-pocketing and robbery -- especially in the larger cities -- is common. Do not openly display signs of wealth like fine jewelry, cameras, or electronics as it makes you a more visible target. Armed robbery is a growing concern. Resistance is not advised in those circumstances, as it may escalate the situation.
The police force is known to solicit bribes, which is not lawful, but you may find yourself in a position where it’s easier to pay up than to not. Avoid demonstrations or large protests, because, while usually peaceful, they have been known to turn violent.
It is also important to follow health precautions when spending a gap year in Paraguay. Always ensure your food is entirely cooked and only drink from factory-sealed containers. Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food. Travelers’ diarrhea is common among visitors to Paraguay, so ask your doctor if you should carry a supply of antibiotics with you.
The country is known to have both malaria and dengue fever, so bring mosquito repellent! 20% DEET is recommended as well as sleeping under a mosquito net. Doctors also suggest that visitors to Paraguay receive a rabies vaccination. Even in urban areas, dogs are known to carry the disease. Satisfactory health care facilities can be found in Asuncion, but be aware that outside of larger cities there may not be any medical assistance.