We get it.
You just want to pack your bags and take the next flight out.
Maybe the Andes Mountains are calling to you. Or Brazil’s vibrant cities. Or Colombia’s rainbow-colored river.
There’s a lot that might draw you to South America!
And if you’re an English teacher, you have a fantastic opportunity to see it all without draining your bank account.
However, if you want to have the best, most productive time while you’re there, you’ve got to do some planning beforehand.
That means visa research. Budgeting. Job hunting.
Listen, don’t stress.
You’ll be stepping onto a plane before you know it!
Why Teach English in South America?
Teaching English in South America is definitely rewarding. There are 12 South American countries filled with diverse cultures and rich histories to explore. You’ll meet plenty of friendly people who’re happy to chat it up with a foreigner living abroad. And, whether you’re already planning to or not, you’ll likely find yourself learning a new language as well.
There are also plenty of English students in South America. From families introducing children to a new language to eager professionals looking to enhance their careers, many people see the value in knowing this global language.
Taking any amount of time to teach English in South America can enhance your professional profile as well. Whether you want to teach ESL in your home country or tout your international experience in future job interviews, teaching English abroad is a powerful experience.
There’s certainly a lot to consider, but you’re in luck. From TEFL certificates to job interviews abroad, here are expert tips to make your South American teaching experience a success.
How to Prepare for Success Before You Go
Calculate and Save Startup Money
Teaching English in South America is rewarding… but not necessarily monetarily. You definitely won’t get rich during your stay. However, the experiences and people you meet will certainly have a lasting impact.
It’s essential to have an idea of costs and how much startup money you’ll need to make your experience a successful one. For example, the cost of living is far higher in, say, Argentina than in Bolivia.
The first step is to decide where you want to go and do plenty of research. This online cost of living tool is a great way to compare prices between your top-choice locations.
To get a clear picture before you go, here are a few important cost of living points to consider:
- Monthly rent (including expenses like utilities)
- Transportation costs
- Cost of internet
- Hospital visit cost
- TEFL course cost (if needed—more on this later)
- Travel and fun budget
These are staple costs for any teacher abroad. Ideally, you want to have at least three months of living costs covered before stepping on that plane.
Research Visa Requirements
Depending on where you’re from, visas can be problematic. It’s absolutely vital to research the visas you need and how to get them early in your planning. You should also aim to fill out all the necessary paperwork and have your visas in hand before stepping foot on that plane.
Here’s a list of South America visa requirements for U.S. citizens by country. For citizens of other countries traveling to South America, this site has good information. It’s important to note that visa requirements change periodically, so always crosscheck visa requirements with a country’s tourist visa page.
Depending on how long you plan to stay and the type of teaching gig you’re after, you’ll most likely only need a tourist visa to teach. The tourist visa works for volunteer arrangements, teaching in exchange for accomodations or working online rather than accepting a job from a local institution—think casual.
If you’re planning to stay longer or obtain formal, paid employment, you’ll be required to obtain a work visa (or another long-term visa that permits employment). Many language schools will sponsor you, in which case you’ll be able to get this visa easily, but you may required to sign a long-term contract with the school.
Remember, visas can be quite costly, so be sure to plan ahead.
Get Your Resume in Order
Here’s what you should include on your resume:
- A short paragraph outlining your teaching skills
- Your education background (degrees, certificates, etc.)
- Professional experience
- Other languages spoken (like Spanish)
- Your email address (make sure it’s professional sounding)
- LinkedIn page (but be sure your resume and LinkedIn match)
- Local phone number (if already in South America)
Many language schools in South America still require a paper copy of your resume, so it’s ideal to print off a number of high-quality resumes before leaving.
If you really want to impress, get your resume translated to Spanish (or Portuguese, if you’re aiming for Brazil). You can find a translator on Fiverr’s translation page, or if you have a native-speaking friend or family member, let them have a go.
Know the Local Hiring Seasons
Don’t assume the hiring seasons will line up with what you’re used to at home. For instance, if you cross the equator, the school vacation seasons are flipped. This means that there may be not be a whole lot of hiring going on in, say, December and January, the beginning of the summer.
Here are some hiring seasons by country to consider before purchasing your flight, according to International TEFL Academy:
- Argentina: March, April, July and August
- Brazil: Middle of February, March and August
- Ecuador: February, March, July and August
- Colombia: Middle of January, February, July and August
- Bolivia: Middle of February, middle of March, July and August
- Chile: March, April, July and August
How to Land a Dream Job Teaching English in South America
1. TEFL Course Employment Opportunities
The Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate can be a definite bonus for any English teacher abroad, though it isn’t always needed. In South America, depending on your background, you can easily get a teaching job without a TEFL.
For instance, most language schools only require you to have an undergraduate degree, despite what their job ad may say. If you’re a native English speaker who can show some kind of teaching experience, you’ll often have an automatic leg up.
However, aside from the resume boost, one reason to consider a TEFL certificate is that many TEFL courses have a network of language schools you can tap into for a job once you’re certified. They’ll quickly give you some local professional connections that could take years to build up otherwise.
- GoAbroad serves up a great list of TEFL courses in South America that’ll build your network on the continent. Their team will help you pick the right program for your needs.
There are even courses like this one in Peru that come with an employment guarantee!
- We noted International TEFL Academy earlier—they’re a great resource, as well. Their education and employment pipeline will set you up with a job advisor and, if you take an in-person TEFL course in South America, they’ll have local staff to help you enter the job market there.
Check out their teaching opportunities in Latin America here.
2. English Teacher Job Boards
There are lots of job boards where you can find the most recent English teacher openings in South America and filter out the responses based on your needs.
Your first stop should be Craigslist for the city you want to teach in, if you’ve narrowed it down to a specific location. Language schools have long used Craigslist as an easy way to find great ESL teachers like you. Just search “craigslist + [your desired city]” and then click the Education page under Jobs.
Next, start browsing these job boards:
- Dave’s ESL Cafe International Job Board: Dave’s ESL Cafe has been around for quite awhile now and is a go-to meeting spot for ESL teachers from around the world. The International Job Board may seem like a bunch of links haphazardly pasted onto a webpage, but these postings are actually all good teaching abroad opportunities.
You may need to scroll a bit to find South America opportunities, but at least the job board is updated almost daily!
- ESL Job Feed South America: ESL Job Feed is a great resource for any teacher with eyes set on going abroad. Their South America job feed is a compilation of ESL jobs pulled from other job posting sites like Yahoo, Monster and Guardian Jobs.
This makes it a one-stop shop for finding great ESL opportunities in your desired location. The postings are also updated often.
- ESL Employment: ESL Employment has a number of teaching opportunities listed for South America. Regardless of where you want to teach abroad, this is definitely a great site to bookmark. You can choose to filter results by continent or country.
- Teach Away South America: Teach Away is another go-to job board for teachers looking for opportunities abroad. The interactive map of ESL teaching jobs in South America makes it easy to search for jobs in countries you have your eye on.
For instance, if you want to teach in Ecuador, select the green dot over that country and then choose “Teach in Ecuador” at the top of the popup. Once on the Ecuador page, use the search bar to find all the listings based on your desired parameters.
- TEFLOnline Job Board: This job board is easy to use and has a number of opportunities for ESL teachers looking to head to South America. Scroll down and select “Latin America” in the large drop down menu of regions. You’ll see teaching jobs from Bolivia to Brazil.
This job board is also a great resource for ESL teachers looking to teach anywhere in the world, so be sure to share it with colleagues.
- JimmyESL Latin America Job Board: Looking only for full-time teaching opportunities? Or just planning to teach for the summer in between college semesters? The JimmyESL job board can help.
You can filter ESL opportunities using the “keyword” search bar or select jobs by full-time, part-time, freelance, internship and temporary. This is also a great job board to find language schools in your preferred country and contact them for any new opportunities as well.
- Jobs Abroad Bulletin: The Jobs Abroad Bulletin (JAB) is a great resource for ESL teachers looking for jobs, as well as maybe some part-time work to supplement that teacher income. You can scroll through the current jobs listed for South America and also peruse the “Featured Jobs” and “Job Channels” listings.
This job board is easy to navigate with plenty of resources to get your job hunt off to a fantastic start.
How to Prepare if You’re Selected for an Interview
If you’re job hunting using the employment board method, one major factor will be whether you’re already in the country and can go to an in-person interview. There may be an initial Skype interview, but to seal the deal, you’ll often need to do an in-person interview as well.
Many language schools want to have a short meet and great, go over your resume with you and see whom they’re hiring in person. You can certainly schedule interviews a week prior, but usually not more.
You’ll want to wear semi-formal dress and, of course, show up on time! It’s also helpful to have a local phone number for the hiring manager to call you and deliver the good news. Normally, local SIM cards are easy to find and relatively cheap.
Once you have a few replies in your inbox, start scheduling interviews. Be sure to think about how much time you’ll need to go from one language school to the other. You can use Google Maps Transit to see how long transportation may take and then add extra time to be sure.
3. Be Your Own Boss
Not all English teaching jobs in South America need to be through a language school or agency. You can go out on your own and be your own boss. If you build a solid base of steady clients, this can often lead to more income as an English teacher, too.
How do you set up shop in a foreign country? A great first step is to set up a website for free using a platform like WordPress. Your website doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a short bio, pricing, availability and a few blog posts about teaching English, to start out.
In particular, consider that business English is all the rage. Capitalizing on the business English trend sets you up for more professional clientele who are inclined to pay more for your services.
Remember to keep a business card handy for when you meet potential students while enjoying the new South American city you’ve chosen to explore and teach in.
You can also supplement your income by teaching English online. You may be in South America, but not all your students need to be. China, Japan, Russia and a number of other countries are in need of English teachers online.
Should You Set Up Shop in Big Cities or Rural Towns?
To be a successful English teacher in South America, you need to go where the students are. This often makes teaching in major cities a must. Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; São Paolo, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia are just a few major cities with loads of students eager to learn English.
Major cities will also often have better pay and more resources for travelers abroad.
However, teaching in a major city does have certain pitfalls. One is transportation. You can find yourself commuting up to an hour one-way, depending on the city.
Can you teach in rural towns? Sure. There are plenty of teaching opportunities in rural areas. You definitely don’t need to worry about getting stuck in traffic either.
But teaching in rural areas can limit student availability for private classes. Plus, if you need a change of scene, the options can also be quite limited—traveling out of the rural area could prove challenging, and not very cost effective after you deduct bus tickets and time from your hourly pay.
There’s a lot you need to accomplish before heading to South America to teach English. But with the above expert tips under your belt, you can easily plan and land your first teaching job.
The rewards of teaching abroad are immeasurable. You’ll meet people from different, vibrant cultures and embark on an adventurous career. The world is certainly your oyster as an ESL teacher, so make the most of it.
Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With nearly a decade of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.
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