Panama is one of the world’s most exotic destinations for teaching English abroad. With its tropical climate, endless beaches and rainforests, mouth-watering food and fascinating heritage, Panama is sure to offer you a wonderful teach abroad experience.
Today, Panama’s tourist industry is booming, and also becoming a winter home for many retired North Americans and Europeans. Construction and new trade relations have also created many new construction, industrial and business jobs in Panama. This means that the demand for English teachers is high – good news for you!
In order to teach English in Panama, most teachers will require TEFL certification. Private schools may require a valid teaching license from your home country. The average salary for teaching in Panama is $900 - $1,500 per month.
In most teaching establishments, your work schedule will be around 20-25 hours per week plus extra prep time. This allows plenty of time to travel and explore! Below are further details on different types of teaching jobs:
Most language schools offer afternoon, night and weekend classes. Students range from college students to business professionals. The 8-week language courses are most common. These courses meet twice a week for a two to two and half hour long class. Some pay hourly, while others pay by the course.
The market rate is around USD $15-16 per hour. It is common for teachers to work multiple courses to supplement their income. Some language centers include ELS Language Centers.
Private primary and secondary schools teach English as a language or use English for other subjects. These schools generally prefer licensed teachers. However, it is still worth a shot! Some private schools include The Oxford School and the International School of Panama.
Private English tutors are common in Panama, although students are often able to learn English through their schools. The average hourly salary of a private English tutor is USD $15-25 per hour. There is also much less job security and reliability.
Students tend to flake after a while, and may not always pay their dues. One option is to get students to commit to two weeks or a month at a time, and pay ahead. The perks of being a private tutor however, is that this can be your part-time job!
Finding a Job
When and Where to Look for Jobs:
Typical start times are in February/March or July/August, and the entire application process usually takes about 1-2 months. Applicants are encouraged to apply in person as it is difficult to get hired beforehand.
Most English teaching jobs are found in Panama City and other major towns and cities. Opportunities and pay will decrease as you go further from city centres. One good way to find jobs is to do a quick Google search for schools in Panama. You will be provided with an extensive list of schools, from elementary schools to universities. Armed with this extensive list, your next step will be to brush up your resume and Spanish skills, and contact each school to make an inquiry. Jobs at private schools and language centers, as well as private lessons, are more common for TEFL teachers.
If you experience difficulties securing a job from dropping in at schools, there is a fairly large ‘Gringo’ (foreign expats) network in Panama. Reaching out to this network will help you get in touch with a teacher or school.
The typical contract length is one year or less. Additionally, teachers are often expected to have a High School Diploma and TESOL/TESL/TEFL Certification. A Bachelor’s Degree is not required, but preferred.
Salary & Cost of Living:
Salaries vary widely across and within cities, as well as different jobs. Depending on the numbers of hours that you will work and your exact location, you can expect to receive a salary range of USD $400 -1000. Employers rarely provide accommodation, airfare and healthcare. Most EFL teachers live in apartments recently vacated by previous teachers, and many room with coworkers. You may or may not get paid on holidays.
Using the Big Mac index, the cost of a Big Mac in Panama will be USD $2.69. A solid hourly wage allows English teachers to live a comfortable lifestyle. Start-up cost will be around USD $1050-1350. Transportation (buses and taxis) are affordable and plentiful, and restaurants are cheap. Naturally, the cheapest (and arguably, the best) way to live is like the locals – buy food from local produce markets and food stands, don’t splurge money on excessive home and “Americanized” luxuries, and you should be able to lead a comfortable life!
Classroom & Work Culture:
Panama has a relaxed work culture and workplaces tend to be informal with a strong emphasis on building friendships. Punctuality is important however, although making decisions quickly is not. Etiquette is also very important. Men and women alike are expected to dress formally in the workplace, and women should not dress revealingly if they want to be taken seriously. Women are treated with respect and men are expected to be chivalrous.
Shaking hands is the expected form of greeting. Additionally, always use the title of the person you are talking to until you get to know them better. First names are not used until a working relationship has been established. Spanish is the working language, so be sure that you are sufficiently fluent in the language!