Guatemala is an incredibly interesting and diverse country, with a turbulent and often heartbreaking past. There are wide range of teaching English opportunities available here, both within private schools and colleges, as well as non-profit organizations, positioning this uniquely challenging and stunningly beautiful place as somewhere absolutely worth considering when planning your teach abroad experience.Photo Credits: Rémi.
Life for many Guatemalans is extremely tough in a country where domestic violence is endemic and almost half the population is malnourished. Many non-profit organizations are increasingly identifying English as a valuable tool in helping people transition out of poverty. Although teaching positions with these types of organizations are often not so well paid at around US $150 - $250 per month, the experience is likely be intensely rewarding. Expect a full time commitment.
Private Language Academies/Schools:
Positions within privately funded institutions will require long hours and are predominantly based in the capital, Guatemala City, but come with a number of perks, including a salary of around US $600 per month and often subsidized accommodation. Organizations like Berlitz, or international schools such as The American School of Guatemala are some examples of places where you can start looking for teaching jobs.
Teaching Embassy Staff:
There are a limited number of positions within the various international embassies for teaching the employees. These are mainly not advertised but it is worth checking the Foreign Office website for your home country in Guatemala and sending them an email of inquiry. The rates are competitive, starting at around US $500 per month.
One of the benefits of going private is you can manage your own schedule, but it can be difficult to cultivate enough work to sustain yourself financially. The best way to find these kinds of jobs is by networking, posting flyers, and consider placing an advertisement in the local publications. Keep an eye on regional expat magazines like Que Pasa, Revue and La Cuadra for notifications. Expect to charge a minimum of around US $6–10 per hour.
When and Where to Look for Jobs:
Big and notoriously dangerous; the country’s capital, Guatemala City, has a bad reputation. Nevertheless, there are a collection of charities operating within the capital, as well as a host of universities, colleges, and international schools that recruit foreign staff, so don’t dismiss this as a possibility. Indeed, some of the most lucrative possibilities exist here.
Venture outside Guatemala’s largest city, and you’ll find teaching opportunities in the smaller towns and countryside. Antigua, a UNESO World Heritage Site, is a haven for backpackers, volunteers, and aid workers. Surrounded by volcanoes, Antigua’s cobbled streets, colonial architecture, and close-knit community feel make it is easy to see why many people chose to base themselves here.
Another place to look for jobs include, Quetzeltenanago, or “Xela,” which is located about a four hours drive away into the Western Highlands. It is generally considered edgier, less touristy and a bit more “real” than Antigua, yet safer than the country’s capital. It is also great place to learn Spanish and look for work. The website Xela Pages is an extremely useful site in terms of employment listings.
These are the most obvious locations in terms of English teaching, however, opportunities exist across the country. Typically, in the more rural areas, around Rio Dulce and Lake Atitlan for example, you will receive food and board rather than monetary compensation.
It’s common for schools in Latin America to hire you after they meet you in person. Guatemala is no exception. For small, non-profits organizations, it is unlikely that you will be able to apply online from abroad. If you are looking for a teaching job with a grassroots organization, you will get a better handle of the types of opportunities are available once you are on the ground in Guatemala.
With larger organizations, it is advisable to be in touch prior to arrival. They can then help you organize airport transportation and assist with setting up accommodation.
Non-profits usually operate six-month contract for foreign teachers, while private schools and institutions tend to ask for a minimum one-year commitment. The peak hiring times are in January, followed by a period of turnover in June and July. It is worth noting that this is also the time students from the U.S. gravitate towards Guatemala for the summer, so there can be more competition for short-term positions. Additionally, almost everything comes to a standstill on either side of Christmas and during Semana Santa (Easter Week). Avoid looking for work around these periods.
Teaching experience is highly advisable but not compulsory. If you are not able to take your CELTA or TEFL before arriving in Guatemala, invest in some teaching materials and maybe ask to shadow a teacher in your local area for a week or two. Having at least a basic grounding in Spanish will be a huge asset in the classroom. If you don’t know Spanish, brush up before you arrive or book a language course for when you arrive in Guatemala.
Working Visas in Guatemala
It is possible to work on a tourist visa, although technically you should not. Many small organizations, especially volunteer driven non-profits, will get around this hurdle by categorizing your wage as a “living allowance”, and pay you directly with check or cash. Unlike a work visa, you will be required to renew a tourist visa every 90 days. When these 90 days expire, the first time you will simply be able to renew it at the immigration office in the city, but you cannot do this twice in a row without leaving the country.
To complicate matters further, in order to get a new stamp, you have to travel outside of Honduras, El Salvador, or Nicaragua as these countries formed an alliance with Guatemala meaning they all operate under the same visa regulations. For more information about work visas in Guatemala, take a look at VISA HQ.
Salary & Cost of Living:
Although the cost of living is low, so are the teacher’s wages, which makes it difficult to save money, especially if you travel during your time off. When people first arrive, the trend is to stay with a host family, which is a great way of adjusting to the culture and language. For the longer-term, a nice room in a shared house in Antigua, is around US $150 per month. Finding a second job to subsidize a teaching wage is very common.
Classroom & Work Culture:
As a general rule, things in the workplace take longer, and interactions are less direct in Guatemala than they are in Western cultures. The approach is one of discussion and gradual decision making. If something really needs to be done, or there is an issue you feel needs to be addressed, take more time than you perhaps usually would, and make your requests in a gentle, conversational way to your colleagues.
The way you present yourself in Guatemala is also extremely important, and signifies politeness and authority. In terms of dress code, avoid overly trendy or shabby clothes, as this could be mistaken for a lack of respect to your community and workplace.
Think business, and dress smartly and conservatively. Skirts below the knee for women are fine, as long as they are also worn with tights, but absolutely avoid shorts. Unless otherwise instructed, opt for more conservative attire if you’re teaching. Finally, greetings at work should always use the Spanish formal “usted” form, along with a handshake when greeting people.