Santiago, Chile English Teaching Q and A with Kayla Swanson

Tell Us About Yourself!

What is your citizenship? 

United States

What city and state are you from?

Minneapolis, Minnesota

How old are you?      

What is your education level and background?

Bachelor's Degree in French

Have you traveled abroad in the past?   

Studied abroad in France for a year and traveled to Brazil a few times. I have also been to Norway, Italy, England, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Monaco, Greece & Mexico.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?

There were many things that led to my teaching English abroad. First, studying abroad in France was spectacular. I was bitten by the travel bug, learned so many things about myself, had many new experiences, and became a citizen of the world. It really opened my eyes and changed who I was. It was upon my return to the States that I first spoke with the International TEFL Academy about teaching English abroad. And I almost took the leap of faith and left for South Korea. But life sort of got in the way.

Three years later, I was miserable at my corporate office job and didn’t know what to do with myself. I knew I needed to make a change and it seemed like the best time for me to go abroad again. I was itching to travel and live like a local in a foreign country. Lots of things just lined up and I didn’t see how I could pass up the opportunity.              

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

Just like most people, I worried a lot about money and finding a job. I also had some concerns that I would struggle since I didn’t know the language and that it wouldn’t be as amazing as my first experience living abroad.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching English in Chile?

My friends were excited for me and very supportive from the beginning. My parents took a bit longer to come around. At first they were apprehensive, but eventually I got their support.

Teach English in Chile TEFL


Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?  

I don’t believe I would have landed a job (or as good of one) if I hadn’t received a International TEFL Academy certificate. I decided to do it because I wanted to take every possible step necessary to ensure my success. I would have regretted moving abroad and failing just because of one thing I had chosen to ignore.

I chose the International TEFL Academy because… well, there was never much thought about going with another company. It was the first one I looked into back when I had first considered moving abroad, and my advisor Ian Davis was extremely helpful. He answered all of my questions honestly and eased my concerns and fears. I never felt pressured from him and I knew I could trust ITA.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?               

Online TEFL Class

How did you like the course?

I really liked the online course. It made it possible for me to work a few part-time jobs in order to make money for my move, and complete the certification in a short amount of time. I enjoyed the live lectures that were offered and I especially loved the practicum [live practice teaching]. I was fortunate to work with a wonderful organization where I met a lovely teacher and great students. I actually hope to continue to volunteer there when I return to Minnesota!

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?      

My TEFL training helped me learn how to be a teacher! Just because you know the language doesn’t mean you know how to teach it. I learned how to plan lessons, how to teach grammar and pronunciation, and how to manage a classroom. I think the most I learned though was from the practicum. It gave me the chance to be a teacher in a live environment where I could make mistakes. I got to follow the lead of the main teacher and learn from her techniques. When I had my first class of my own I was not as scared because it wasn’t my first time.


Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?   

Santiago, Chile because I wanted to be in South America, and Santiago has the most job opportunities and the best economy in SA. It is also very safe and rather developed. And mostly, Chile has so much to offer in terms of nature activities!

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?

I have been here for about 3.5 months and I plan to stay for 6 or 7 more.

How did you secure your English teaching job in Chile?            

I contacted schools via e-mail immediately upon arriving in Santiago and had a few interviews within days.

What school, company, or program are you working for?

English First 

How did you get your work visa for teaching English in Chile?         

EF helps full-time teachers apply for their work visa. The owner even went to the notary with us to get it all sorted out. I really didn’t have to do much. I haven’t yet received my visa, but it is being processed and it is normal for it to take a few months. (Just a tip: When you arrive in Chile, you will be handed a ‘tourist visa’ paper. KEEP IT! Some people have had trouble applying for visas because they did not keep their paper.)

Tell us about your English teaching job in Chile!

Overall, I really like my job! EF offers face-to-face teaching or online. I teach face-to-face which means I get to meet Chileans and learn about their culture. The hours are varied and change every few weeks or months, depending on if I get new classes or old ones finish. Sometimes they are at the EF locations, but sometimes I need to travel to my students’ offices. The pay isn’t the most out there, but with the hours I get and the rather consistent work, I can pay my bills. My one complaint would be that I can be away from home for 13 hours in a day, yet only get paid for half that time. It’s a pain, but most English teachers are in the same boat. You just need to find ways to fill up your downtime, like Spanish classes or private lessons.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?

Finding a place to live was extremely easy for me. I live with my boyfriend (who is not from Chile). We started looking on sites like Craigslist prior to moving to Santiago, and then when we got here we started contacting people to visit the apartments. We ended up going with the first one we saw and we are really happy with it!


Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc. about your country:

First of all, the Spanish spoken in Chile is completely different from any other country. Even native Spanish speakers can have a hard time understanding them. They speak really fast, drop some syllables and use a lot of slang. Also, most people do not speak English, even a little bit. This is great for English teachers looking for work, but it makes it difficult for foreigners who don’t know Spanish. I highly recommend learning a decent amount before coming to Chile.

Public transportation in Santiago is pretty good. It’s one of the best systems in South America. However, a semi-recent change has caused a huge amount of people to use the metro (instead of buses), which makes rush hour travel a pain. Just getting onto the metro at 8:30am is an adventure, since you have to push your way on. It’s extremely uncomfortable and people can be very rude and angry, but it really is the best way to get around. There are loads of buses, but from what I hear it is sometimes difficult to quickly get around since you have to change buses and traffic is terrible. I mostly stick to the metro.

Nightlife in Santiago is comparable to most big cities, I would say. I don’t often go out late, but there is plenty to do and most bars/clubs are open until very late. You can see live music, go to a club and dance, or hang out at a more relaxed bar just to drink and talk. It seems there are places for all types of people. The most popular area to go is Bellavista.

One of the nice things about Santiago is there are lots of expats. It makes it easy to meet new people from different parts of the world. There are also Spanish-English exchange groups aplenty. I think no matter what hobbies you have, you could find a group to join and meet people who enjoy the same things.

Unfortunately, the most disappointing part about Chile for me was the food. It is not very good quality and has no flavor. I love to try new foods and it is my favorite part about traveling, but Chile is not a place to go to eat. It seems they only eat to nourish themselves here. It’s rather expensive too, especially considering the quality and taste. There have been a couple decent experiences, but the price of those restaurants is not something I can afford to pay on a regular basis. I find it best to try to cook at home whenever possible.  

The travel opportunities within Chile are pretty excellent. There is a vast landscape in this country, from dry desserts to the ocean to mountains to volcanoes to lakes and glaciers. Any outdoor activity is possible; it just depends where you are. The unfortunate part of travel in Chile is it can be expensive and it takes a lot of time to get from Santiago to just about anywhere, considering the length of the country. And international travel can be tough too, again, because of distance and cost. If your plan is to come and travel, I would recommend doing a lot of research as to where you plan to go and try to live close. Or, save a lot of money and plan to travel extensively before or after teaching.


What are your monthly expenses?

I haven’t been good about line-itemizing things out each month, but I will do my best to estimate. In general, Chile (or at least Santiago) is pretty expensive.

Rent: I share rent with my boyfriend, and we split the 320.000 pesos/month for rent ( approx. $460 USD). On top of that, there are utilities (water and electric) and building fees. We don’t pay for Internet because we share with our neighbor and had trouble getting an Internet contract since we didn’t have our RUTs (Chilean ID numbers). Building fees usually average around 30.000 (approx. $43 USD) and water and electric are also about 20.000 (Approx. $29 USD) or less combined. We live in a new apartment that has a lot of amenities (gym, pool, laundry) and is very centrally located. (Laundry is 1.100 pesos - approx. $1.60 USD -  to wash and the same to dry.)

Food: This is the hardest one for me to estimate. We buy groceries at least once a week so we can have fresh vegetables. I’d say it’s around 100.000 pesos/month (approx. $145 USD) just on normal groceries, maybe more. We also need to eat out for lunch during the week, at least some days, since we are out working. You could easily spend 5.000 (approx. $7.15 USD) or more per meal (depending on where you eat), but I try to spend under 4.000 (approx. $4.75 USD) and I usually only grab lunch 3 times per week. Wine is cheap here at about 2.000 pesos (approx. $2.90 USD) per bottle. It’s even possible to find a box for the same price. Going out to eat is the biggest extra expense, and you could easily spend 20.000 pesos (approx. $29 USD) per couple (10.000/person - approx. $14.50 USD). It’s not impossible to spend less, it just depends where you go and if you want tasty food or not.

Transportation: It seems cheap at first, but can add up quickly, especially for teachers who are traveling around town. Rush hour metro prices are 680 pesos (approx. $1 USD). I can’t remember the lowest rate. While you can change lines or go from the metro to the bus without paying again, once you leave the metro you do need to pay to enter again, no matter how long ago you left. For example, if you exit the metro and need to take it again within the next hour or even 20 minutes, you have to pay again. I probably pay an average of 10.000 pesos/week (approx. $14.50 USD) on the metro. It can be more if you travel more for work or if you go out and use the metro often.

Phone: I have one of the most basic phones here and mostly use it for work or to contact friends about meeting up.

Having come from a place so dependent on texting, it is hard to cut the cord at first, but I have tried really hard to limit my texting and calling to save money. I try to limit myself to 10.000 per month (approx. $14.50 USD). I’m happy to have a pay-as-you-go plan, and only charge it when it gets low. The credits last for 3 months. Lots of people use Whatsapp here too, but I haven’t wanted to pay to use Internet on my phone. It just depends on your preference and your phone.

Travel is sort of across the board. We have stayed in some relatively cheap hostels, like in Pucon (~7.000 pesos per night - approx. $10 USD), and you can get some rather cheap buses to nearby towns from Santiago. We took the bus to Pomaire, which is about an hour from town and it was around 6.000 pesos roundtrip (approx. $8.50 USD). Viña del Mar and Valparaiso are only 2 hours away and I think bus tickets are 10.000 pesos maximum roundtrip (approx. $14.50 USD). However, flying is really expensive in Chile. We recently bought plane tickets to San Pedro de Atacama and Punta Arenas from Chile on a discount. For two people, roundtrip to San Pedro it was 147.000 (approx. $215USD) and to Punta Arenas it was 180.000 (approx. $260 USD). Buses tend to be cheaper, but can take 24 hours to get from Santiago to San Pedro, for example. And I think with our discount we actually got flights for the same price as a bus ticket.

How would you describe your standard of living?       

It’s quite good. I live in a new, clean, furnished apartment and enjoy all the comforts of home really. That being said, Santiago is quite expensive (and even locals will agree), so I do feel I’m on a tight budget.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?

It depends on your goals, I think. If you don't want to do a lot of extra things, like travel and go out often, you can live modestly and get by on about 400.000 pesos ($575 USD). Personally, I want to travel and save a bit, so I try to make at least 600.000 pesos (approx. $650 USD).


What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?

1.    Save as much money as you can before you leave. Chile is not cheap (if that is where you want to go). Also, people tend to underestimate how much money they will need.

2.    Learn some of the language, especially in the case of Chile. Most people do not speak English and your life will just be so much easier if you know at least some Spanish.

3.    Don’t let yourself think of all the reasons it could go wrong or reasons you shouldn’t move abroad. In the end, most people worry about money and yet most people who go abroad find that they do whatever it takes to earn what they need to survive. The things you learn from the experience and the memories you make will be more than worth it. There is always an opportunity to go home and make more money.

4.    Get a TEFL Certificate. It will only make the job-hunting process easier, and make your life as a teacher much easier too.

5.    Thoroughly research and think about where you want to go. You need to consider not just teaching opportunities and pay/benefits, but the country, language, culture, etc. Choose a place you think would be a good fit for you. If you hate the place you live, no job or amount of money will make you happy there. At least if you end up not liking teaching that much, if you love the country you are in, it will make up for it.

I recommend teaching English in Chile. Chile has plenty of English teaching opportunities and you will have no trouble finding a job or making money. Also, Santiago is quite developed and sometimes doesn’t feel very different from being back home so culture shock isn’t as tough as say moving to the Middle East or Asia. However, as I mentioned in Tip #5- do your research and make sure it is the experience you are looking for!

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