Whether you’re looking to live in the mountains, by the beach, or in a bustling city, there’s something for every type of teacher in South America! From the influences of Spanish and Portuguese in architecture and language, to the ancient ruins of Mayan civilization, any educator will find that South America is a great place to teach.
Each year, as the number of tourists in the region increases, more and more people are hoping to learn English to both communicate and work with expats and individuals overseas. There’s no time like the present to grab a slice of the action, by teaching in South America!
By far the most common employment option for foreign teachers, English language schools are abundant in South America. These schools are a great option for both experienced and novice teachers, as they offer a range of courses for every type of student. Language school students, which include young learners, working professionals, and those in the tourism industry, commonly attend evening and weekend classes to gain extra practice in their training. This class schedule allows for flexibility, you will have time to explore local surroundings and neighboring cities during your free time! Language schools are incredibly popular in Brazil.
If you are looking to live in South America long-term, you might want to start a career at an international school. Most schools are looking for teachers that have a master’s degree in their field of study, making this a great option for qualified educators seeking 2+ year contracts. For example, there are international schools located in the cities of Buenos Aires in Argentina or Cusco in Peru.
TEFL + Teaching:
For new and inexperienced teachers, a combination TEFL + teaching program is a great option. Teachers first take an in-class TEFL course, with at least 120 hours of training (the minimum for TEFL courses). Then, the local program office will assist in job placement, providing interview tips and so on. This assistance will ensure that you can find a good fit at a local school or language academy. ITA, Bridge TEFL, and LanguageCorps all offer programs across South America.
Once you’ve settled down in South America, you can give private lessons to earn some extra cash. Many families or individuals hire foreign teachers to receive supplementary instruction to practice their English. You can teach young learners, who may be in elementary English language courses, or businessmen who wish to work on conversational English. Either way, tutoring is a great way to meet your local community and get paid! However, don’t rely on tutoring as a sole source of income. Sometimes students will cancel at the last minute, or even ditch lessons! Make sure to create a firm cancellation policy before agreeing to tutor students.
Considered ‘developing’ in a number of countries, South America is still in need of major educational reform, particularly in lower-income or neglected communities. Often times, teachers have the chance to assimilate into their town’s small community, by living with a host family or simply spending time with their students. The most popular destinations for volunteer teachers are Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Top 5 Places to Teach in South America
- Brazil: The energetic country of Brazil will captivate any teacher hoping to mix business with pleasure. Teachers will have the chance to help many students cultivate their language skills, as there is no required English curriculum in the vast majority of schools. You will find rewarding experiences not only in the classroom, but also by traveling locally and soaking in the vibrant culture of Brazil.
- Argentina: There is something for everyone in Argentina, and that includes English teaching positions. Explore the bustling city of Buenos Aires, visit the sprawling wine country in Mendoza, or take a trip to the mystical Iguazu Falls. Find a teaching job at a language school or offer private lessons – either way, you will earn a steady income and enjoy the perks of living in Argentina.
- Ecuador: A popular destination for English teachers, particularly volunteers, Ecuador is full of children and adults hoping to improve their language proficiency. Teach in one of the three largest cities of Quito, Guayaquil, or Cuenca. In addition, education reform in rural communities is on the rise, and many ESL teachers are needed all over Ecuador. Cost of living is quite inexpensive, as you will be able to live as the locals do. It is easy to make friends and see why Ecuador is a great destination for travelers!
- Chile: Chile is rapidly opening its doors to foreigners, and English teachers are included in that group. One of the best locations to teach English in the region, Chile is full of natural wonder, including mountain resorts (for skiing), expansive deserts, and beautiful lakes and rivers. Teachers have many choices in Chile, which include employment through volunteer work, private lessons, language academies, or private schools.
- Peru: Peru is home to many students who are hoping to learn English from a native speaker. ESL teachers will find Peru to be an enchanting and dynamic country, with a great deal of natural and historic beauty. With many eager to gain proficiency in English, teachers have to option to volunteer with local organizations, work at private language school, or international school. Whichever you choose, there is no doubt that Peru will exceed expectations!
Cost of Living in South America:
In general, the cost of living in South America is very affordable. As the region is considered ‘developing’, it is easy for a teacher to live on a budget. Although certain cities, such as Sao Paolo and Bogota, have high costs of living, most locations, rural or urban, boast affordable housing and food prices. A great way to earn extra income is to provide private tutoring services. Once you set up a local network of co-workers and friends, it will be easier to advertise your services as a tutor of English or any subject.
Although it is not required in many South American countries to have a TEFL/TESOL certification, the job hunt will be much easier if you have some teacher training. Most teaching jobs, aside from volunteer teaching, will ask that you demonstrate some practice or experience - TEFL certifications are a great way to show that you are a professional, serious teacher. In some schools, you are required to be a native English speaker. However, if you are neither TEFL-certified nor a native speaker, you will still be considered for positions if you have a few years of solid teaching experience. There is a place for every type of instructor in South America!
It is difficult to get permanent residency in South America, unless you plan to stay longer than 2 years. Many teachers, who are employed by language schools or private companies, often stay in their country for less than 6 months, due to difficulties with visas. However, if you are hoping to settle down for longer than a year or two, it is advisable to seek a contract with a reputable school that will sponsor your work visa.
Classroom and Work Culture:
You may find that meetings or rendezvous in South America often do not start on time. While this isn’t true for every meet-up, many companies or schools are not as strict on punctuality. This is not to say that South Americans do not work hard - they do, but set times for meetings are often relaxed and variable.
South American schools generally have a short, on-the-spot interview process. Unlike in the United States, where interviews are typically drawn-out for weeks or months at a time, schools will hire you on the spot if they think you’re a good fit. Make sure to dress professionally (or business casual) in the classroom. Never wear flip-flops and avoid dressing in blue jeans while working.
Questions to Ask:
- How many hours per week will I be teaching?
- Are teaching materials provided?
- What is the school’s dress code?
- Are housing and a round-trip flight (for pre- and post-employment) included in my contract?
- Does the employer arrange sponsorship for a work visa?
Where should I teach in South America?
There really isn't a bad option in South America. There are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture in just about any country in South America. If you are hoping to refine your Spanish skills and live like a local, then you may want to avoid major cities and tourist hotspots, since it's easier to get by in places like Buenos Aires or Cuzco without fully engaging with local culture since they're more international by nature. Look for programs that offer you some say in where you get placed, or that emphasize teaching placements in more rural areas, and you'll get the immersion experience you're looking for, regardless of where you are.
Bolivia and Paraguay are often overlooked by English speakers interested in teaching abroad -- they're also the two poorest countries on the continent--so there's definitely need for more teachers there, and you'd likely face less competition for job openings in one of those countries.
How much can you make teaching English in South America?
Wages for English teachers will vary by the country, city, and type of school you're hoping to teach in. In Argentina for example, you could expect to make between $600-$1,200 per month, while in Bolivia you might make $400-$600 per month. Keep in mind that countries that have a lower salary range will also generally have a lower cost of living.
How do I become an English teacher in South America?
To become an English teacher in South America, you'll first want to do your research and pick a general location where you'd want to teach. You'll need to pay attention to the hiring season since South America is in the southern hemisphere and has opposite seasons from North America. Requirements for training and qualifications will vary depending on the country, but for the most part, you'll need to hold a Bachelor's degree and you may also need a teaching certification, such as TEFL or TESOL. You can then start researching jobs by checking out job boards, government jobs, and private tutoring options.