For years, Guatemala has been a haven for students of English and Spanish alike. With lush jungle, historic Mayan ruins, active volcanoes and a rich, diverse culture, it's easy to understand why thousands of people flock to Guatemala every year to study, and why many stay in the country to look for jobs.
Getting your Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification in Guatemala will not only qualify you to work as an English teacher in Central America, but will also give you a firsthand introduction to the local culture (and food!). You'll have a chance to learn teaching techniques in colorful, colonial Antigua and put them into practice in local classrooms.
No matter your schedule or experience, there's a TEFL program in Guatemala waiting for you. Here are a few options to get your certification in one of Latin America's most beautiful and biodiverse countries.
One of the most common certifications, TEFL is a basic requirement for most English teaching jobs around the world. The main benefit of getting TEFL-certified is that you can use your certification in just about any country where it's recognized. Here are a few of the different types of courses you might encounter in Guatemala:
Standard on-site TEFL courses usually range between 120-150 hours, with that time divided between in-class instruction on everything from teaching vocabulary to assessment strategies, "homework" (outside reading and written assignments), classroom observation, and practical teaching with local non-native English speakers.
Sometimes called "accelerated" programs, hybrid courses are a blend of on-site and online instruction, designed for students who may not be able to take a full month to go overseas to get certified. Hybrid courses blend instruction through online modules, self-study and guided tutoring on Skype with in-country lesson planning, observation, and supervised classroom teaching.
Online TEFL courses have come a long way. Online courses used to be kind of frowned upon because they relied almost entirely on ESL theory, without any of the important classroom application. These days, most online courses still include independent reading, lesson plan design, and written assignments, but also offer tutoring and even practical teaching components through programs like Skype or Google Hangouts.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
It might surprise you to learn that most TEFL courses in Guatemala are not offered in the capital, Guatemala City. Instead, most English teacher training takes place in Antigua, a stunning colonial city surrounded by volcanoes in the southern part of the country -- not a bad place to spend a few weeks studying.
Choosing a Program
Whether you opt for an on-site or online course, look for an accredited program that's at least 120 hours, since this is the minimum accepted by some schools. Your program should also give you an opportunity to get at least 10 hours of practical classroom teaching and observation time, as well as evaluation and feedback from a supervisor.
Because there are so many travelers and students in Antigua, housing is typically fairly easy to come by. Many programs offer housing in shared apartments, student accommodations, or through homestays with local families.
Citizens of the US, UK, and other English-speaking countries don't need a visa to stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days (Guatemalan immigration officials can grant an additional 90-day extension upon request). If you plan to get a long-term job or stay in Guatemala for more than 180 days, you will need a work visa, or face a penalty (10 quetzales, or about US$1.30, for every day you overstay).
Health & Safety
Traces of the Zika virus have been found in Guatemala. To learn more about Zika and how to avoid getting infected, read the Washington Post's article on Zika precautions.
Antigua is a small, walkable city and is generally quite safe, though you should still take normal travel precautions like avoiding walking alone late at night and leaving valuables at home.
Discuss with your healthcare provider what would be best for you, but the vaccines that are usually recommended for traveling to Guatemala are hepatitis A, B, and typhoid. Consider getting a rabies vaccination if you plan on handling animals or heading into caves during your stay. Antigua does not have a risk of malaria, but if you want to head out of the city, bring malaria tablets to be safe.
Finding a Job
One of the great advantages of getting TEFL-certified is the freedom to look for English-teaching jobs all around the world. Many programs offer job placement assistance, but the number of jobs available may be limited, so don't expect them to magically find a job for you. Since Guatemala is so close to Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, you might want to consider extending your job search beyond the borders.
If you're hoping to stay in Guatemala, your best bet is to look at the larger population centers, especially Guatemala City, Antigua, and the smaller city of Quetzaltenango, known as Xela, in the Western Highlands. The demand for English is highest in fields like tourism, international business and education, which tend to be concentrated in urban areas.
Antigua has several English schools, but jobs are also more competitive, due to the city's popularity among foreigners. Guatemala City offers the largest number of job opportunities at English institutes, bilingual schools, nonprofit organizations, and even embassies.
You can also teach your own private English classes, though the paycheck might be a little less predictable. Like in other Latin American countries, applying for a job in person is usually the best way to ensure a response.
What to Expect
Non-profits usually offer a six-month contract to foreign teachers, and private schools and institutions tend to ask for a minimum commitment of one year. January is prime hiring time in Guatemala, though some jobs also open up in early summer (June and July).
Your salary will vary depending on where you're working, but average income for TEFL-certified English teachers at an institute or school will likely be somewhere between US $350-600 per month.
This may not seem like much, but the cost of living in Guatemala is almost certainly much lower than where you're from, so that salary should easily cover your basic living expenses. Some private schools may help teachers find a place to live or even provide subsidized housing, so it's worth finding out if that's an option.