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Top Ten Cities to Teach English Abroad in Latin America
Written by: Glenn Schneider
Last Updated: December 23, 2020
Wondering where to teach English in Latin & South America?
Here are top 10 cities where you can find international ESL jobs overseas in Latin America:
As you go through this list, you will realize that most of these places are the capital cities or the largest cities in their respective countries. That is not a coincidence. Not only does a larger population simply mean more people looking for an ESL instructor, but also these cities are the financial centers for their country or region. Many large companies put a high priority in its employees learning English in order to communicate with business partners all over the world.
For example, when I taught in Colombia, there were entire companies that had partial American or British ownership, and thus, they were providing English classes for their entire staff of 100+ people! That was enough work to keep a small English teaching company with 5-10 teachers busy. And that was just one company!
This market is unique because most jobs do not require a four-year degree nor native English speaking teachers. This is typically considered a breakeven market, meaning you will earn enough to live a good life and explore around the country, but you will not be saving much money. The work week is usually 20-25 hours which gives the teachers plenty of time to enjoy the culture and explore. If you do need to make some extra coin to put in the savings account or pay some student loans, supplementing your income by teaching a few online classes online is a great option.
Finally, this is mostly a market that will only interview face-to-face, meaning you will have to go to the country and visit schools in person in order to get hired. I know this is super daunting! Not to worry though. Hundreds, even thousands of teachers do this every year and find work. That is how I found my job in Colombia. So if you are brave enough to hop a one-way flight to Latin America without a job and can convince your family that you know what you are doing, this market has so much to offer! And know we wouldn’t suggest it as an option if we weren’t sure you would be able to get a job. There even are a few countries that you can consider in order to avoid the face-to-face hiring situation. Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and a few other countries will sometimes consider interviewing/hiring you before you leave home.
The peak hiring seasons are important so when planning your adventure to go teach in Latin America, so you will want to plan to be down there either in February/March or July/August.
1. Bogota, Colombia
Voted the “Happiest Country on Earth” numerous times over, Colombia does not only offer a huge demand for TEFL instructors, but also an incredibly warm and welcoming culture. The English market is booming in conjunction with the growth of trade and the popularity of English language media in Colombia. Past associations with drug related crime and violence are beginning to subside making this a great country to both teach and explore.
Colombia is also a Latin American country where teachers have the opportunity to obtain a work visa as some schools will help with the process, and as mentioned above, some schools even are willing to hire in advance via Skype interviews. However, some schools are okay with their teachers working as freelancers on their tourist visa, and border hopping every three months to renew their visa which provides a fair bit of freedom for the teacher.
Read More: Colombia TEFL Country Profile
2. Mexico City, Mexico
The country of Mexico has the largest Spanish speaking population in the world. It has an incredibly diverse and vibrant culture as well as a huge variety of landscapes not to mention its beautiful cities and historically rich villages. And, of course, some of the most delicious food on the planet! Mexico is within the top ten most visited countries in the world with over 20 million foreign tourists visiting every year.
Because Mexico is such a large country and is so close in proximity and business relations with the United States, there are many cities that offer English teaching opportunities. Unlike the majority of Latin America, Mexico offers the opportunity for ESL teachers to instruct a wide range of ages from children to university students to business professionals or adults. It is also common for employers in Mexico to help ESL teachers with the Temporary Residence Visa which enables foreigners to legally work in Mexico and it is one of only a handful of Latin American markets that will interview and hire before you arrive to the country.
Read More: Mexico TEFL Country Profile
3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
In additional to tango dancing in the street, delicious wine, and world famous beef, Argentina also boasts one of the largest ESL markets in Latin America. This is especially true in the capital, Buenos Aires, where many international businesses, restaurants, tour guides, and hotels seek English speaking employees to accommodate their international clients.
It is not typical for employers to hire teachers before arrival in the country or assist with work papers or a work visa. ESL teachers without Argentine citizenship can expect to work on their 90 day tourist visa and will need to renew it before the 90 days are over by visiting a neighboring country which isn’t too difficult with tons of ferries running the few hour trip out of Buenos Aires to Uruguay daily.
Read More: Argentina TEFL Country Profile
4. Santiago, Chile
Chile has one of the most unique and interesting topographies and geographical configurations in the world. 80% of Chile is covered by mountains, and it runs from deserts in the north to the glaciers of Patagonia in the south. The capital of Santiago is a very modern city in what is considered South America’s most economically stable countries. Santiago has lots to offer including a huge English teaching market.
The largest market for English is with business professionals or adult students in private language schools. This is also is one of the few countries that will consider hiring in advance as well as will help you in securing a work visa.
Read More: Chile TEFL Country Profile
5. Montevideo, Uruguay
The capital of what is often called the “most peaceful country in South America” is full of students looking for ESL instruction. Over half of the country's entire population lives in Montevideo where the temperature stays pleasantly warm year round. Because of its European history and the ethnic makeup, Uruguayan culture has a very European feel. Uruguay also shares some cultural aspects such as art and music with surrounding Latin American countries, specially with its neighbors Argentina and Brazil.
Because of the high demand, like many other ESL teaching markets in South America, schools are pretty lenient on requirements for teachers, and it is a pretty straightforward process to get your Residence Permit (Cedula) in order to live and work legally. That said, much like in Santiago, Chile, Montevideo is one of the more expensive places to live on the continent so most teachers opt to work at more than one language academy (still much less than 40 hours a week), to make the necessary money to live a financially comfortable life.
Read More: Uruguay TEFL Country Profile
6. Guadalajara, Mexico
The second largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara lies near the West Coast in the state of Jalisco which touts its title as Tequila capital of the world. There is even a town called Tequila here! Not to mention the a gorgeous coastline just a few hours outside of the city which is where Puerto Vallarta and tons of lovely beach towns are nestled.
And as with other locations on this list, Guadalajara’s ESL market is robust thanks to its large population as well as its reputation as one of the business centers in Mexico. And as mentioned for Mexico City, the visa process is straightforward giving teachers the chance to work legally with no need to worry about border hopping or running out of time on a tourist visa.
Read More: Mexico TEFL Country Profile
7. San Jose, Costa Rica
Costa Ricans were declared to be the happiest people in the world according to the New Economics Foundation in 2012. Ticos (as Costa Ricans call themselves) are the most content people overall, have the longest life expectancies, and leave a very small ecological footprint compared to many other countries. This makes complete sense for a country, a people, and a culture whose motto and way of life is described as a “Pura Vida” or Pure Life. They also are famous for producing delicious coffee and a spicy Caribbean-infused cuisine full of fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, and a variety of meats.
Because of Costa Rica’s booming tourism industry, the demand for English teachers is huge as the local tour operators need to to be able to communicate with their clients. Thus, most of the students are business professionals and the schedules can be quite flexible. Also, this is one of the easier spots to teach on a tourist visa because you can get a “Tribuacion” making you legal to work, though you still need to make a border run to re-up your tourist visa every 90 days. They also will consider hiring in advance.
Read More: Costa Rica TEFL Country Profile
8. Medellin, Colombia
Quite possibly the most beautiful and well developed big city in Latin America, Medellin touts a fully developed public transit system that includes trains and even a cable car that climbs up into the neighborhoods that are sprawled along the picturesque mountainside. It is known as the place of eternal spring, and while all Colombians are known for being friendly, these “Paisas” are famous for their kindness. Also, the state that Medellin sits in is the largest producer of coffee in the country and is host tons of fun festivals including the famous “Festival of Flowers”!
And while Bogota has way more people than Medellin, this city is still has a very strong market for English teachers. It has a robust expat community as well as a strong market for private tutoring.
Read More: Colombia TEFL Country Profile
9. Quito, Ecuador
Ecuador has an incredibly vibrant indigenous and colonial culture creating a unique and dynamic country. Add in the stunning Andes mountains and the exciting beach towns, and you have quite an amazing place to live and work. Quito lies in the heart of the Andes mountains, but since Ecuador is the second smallest country in South America, one can easily use it as a home base and explore the country’s other wonders, including the famous Galapagos Islands, without too much trouble.
Quito is the capital city and thus business hub of Ecuador. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, these are the places where the demand for English teachers is highest. There are plenty of language academies as well as a very strong market for private lessons. Plus, this is one of only a few countries in Latin America that will consider hiring in advance as well as provide work visas for teachers.
Read More: Ecuador TEFL Country Profile
10. Sao Paolo, Brazil
Sao Paolo is one of the largest cities in the world and one of 13 cities in Brazil with a population with a population over 1 million. Brazil is famous for its size, rainforests, and tropical beaches. The warmth of Brazilians certainly parallels these other natural wonders of the country. Always ready with a BBQ or hang out, Brazilians are simply wonderful!
And with the urbanization and globalization of Sao Paolo, as well as the big tourist draw, the demand for English teachers is always growing. ESL teachers seeking employment should arrive in Brazil sometime either in February or March after the grandiose celebration of Carnival (unless you want to partake in the festival) as many schools are closed during this time. A second hiring period in Brazil occurs in late summer during July and August. It is not typical for employers to hire teachers before arrival in the country or assist with work papers or a work visa. Though the visa situation is a bit trickier as work visas are very hard to come by, and thus many teachers simply have to work under-the-table on a 90 day tourist visa with the possibility to extend the visa 90 more days.
Read More: Brazil TEFL Country Profile
Posted In: Teach English in Argentina, Teach English in Mexico, Teach English in Colombia, Teach English in Brazil, Teach English in Ecuador, Teach English in Chile, Teach English in Latin America, Teach English in Costa Rica
Glenn returned to his roots in Chicago after completing a three year wander through North and South America which included a year teaching English to coal miners in Colombia. His experience in education also includes 2 years in the City Year program working on literacy projects in a Chicago Public School; earning a Master’s in Literature; tutoring in Chicago public schools for 4 years, volunteering in Latin America; and teaching literature in Chicago city colleges. Glenn is currently a member of International TEFL Academy's Student Affairs team.
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