Mexico and Guatemala, Chile to Argentina… Latin America is as richly diverse and breath-taking as it gets.
From the heat of the baking sun and the local cuisine in the north to the obsession with football and steak culture far south, there’s an infinite number of attractions, delights, sights and sounds in Latin America.
What’s more, it’s a region crying out for English teachers. Nations like Mexico, Honduras and Colombia rank well below 500 in the English Proficiency Index 2021, and the demand for TEFL teachers in such countries continues to gain pace.
You might be asking then, how do I go about finding TEFL jobs in this culturally rich and massive region? Do I need a degree and previous teaching experience to get started, or is it the ideal place to begin a TEFL career?
Where, specifically, is good to go, and what is the job demand like for TEFL teachers in Latin America?
Hopefully, we’re about to answer all those questions and more, as we take a look at this underrated corner of our globe for TEFL teachers.
Why You Should TEFL in Latin America
When it comes to TEFL destinations, there are some absolute classics.
China is a very popular destination, and why not? It has an enormous economy and a wealth of fascinating history and sights from border to border. Spain, of course, is ever-favoured, with its excellent schools, great weather and welcoming locals. France, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand – there are several countries and whole regions that have a demand for English teachers and face an overwhelming number of applications.
Latin America, however, remains an underrated gem. For one thing, it’s a gigantic area – when we say ‘Latin America’, we’re encompassing the continent of South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. In all of that land, there are a range of customs, histories and crucially, languages. 19.2 million square kilometres, in all, and so much to explore.
It’s also, in certain areas, one of the more progressive parts of the world. As highlighted in our guide for LGBTQ+-friendly TEFL destinations, where Chile and Uruguay were featured, and it’s little wonder – same-sex couples have been allowed to adopt in Uruguay since 2009, while in Chile, massive popular support led to the legalisation of gay marriage.
The continent also houses the Amazon rainforest, Machu Picchu, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, Iguazu Falls and countless other breathtaking sights.
What about the TEFL scene, though? How easy is it to find a job?
Applying for jobs in Latin America
The key thing that sets Latin America apart from its global contemporaries? It’s actually easier to find a job when you’re there, as opposed to applying in advance.
There’s more of a gig economy when it comes to teaching English in certain parts of Latin America. For example in Mexico, contracts are shorter-term, and turnaround is higher. Similarly, in other parts of Latin America, you might get a contract for a term, as opposed to something more permanent.
In the main, employers aren’t necessarily as interested in taking applications from abroad, so the adverts you can find online don’t really represent the level of demand. They want to see a willingness to move to a particular area, and integrate with local culture. While there are programmes and initiatives available – as we’ll explore later on – the approach to work is different, in the sense that it’s better to get there, and show face to employers.
Having a personal touch, as well as the confidence to make yourself known, will pay dividends.
No degree? No problem…
Of course, every country and every job is different, but there are only rare cases where a degree is a requirement for a TEFL job in Latin America.
In Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Bolivia and more, you don’t need to hold a bachelor’s degree to teach English. Normally, a 120-hour TEFL qualification will do the trick.
In Peru and Chile, things are a bit different, with degrees being preferred more often than not for TEFL jobs. However, every role is different, and it’s not to say you should rule these fantastic nations out if you don’t hold a degree.
A great place to gain experience
So you’ve not taught EFL before?
That won’t be an issue. Of course, many employers will prefer you to have classroom experience, whether in English or another subject.
However, it’s not a deal-breaker, as it can be in other parts of the world.
This makes Latin America a fantastic launching point for any aspiring TEFL teacher. You’ll find wages, even for the inexperienced, are more than enough to get by on, and there’ll be ample opportunities to tutor and do extra language teaching outside of the classroom.
Maybe you don’t have experience, but so what? Latin America is full of opportunity, and for such a gigantic continent, you can be sure that teaching in Bolivia won’t be the same as it is in Chile, for example.
Demand is high
Latin American nations have, over recent decades, realised the importance of English on the international stage.
Huge sporting events like the 2016 Olympics, the 2014 World Cup, and the Copa Americas finals have seen the continent open up to worldwide audiences more over recent years. This stands in opposition to a previously-held reputation that Latin America had, of being closed-off and isolationist, especially in politics.
It’s all changing now. Plenty of South American countries, according to this study by Kathryn Cronquist and Ariel Fiszbein, have mandatory English lessons in schools, and high proficiency targets. Chile, for example, made English learning compulsory in schools, with rigorous teaching standards, proficiency goals and assessments and a rigid curriculum.
Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia – virtually everywhere across Latin America is making strides to improve the level of spoken and written English.
So, yes – the demand is sky-high for newly qualified and enthusiastic TEFL teachers to make an impact across Latin America. Could you be one of them?
How to get a TEFL job in… Chile
If you’re looking for a TEFL opportunity in Chile, then your first port of call has to be the English Open Doors Program, which launched in 2003. A Chilean governmental initiative, EODP aims at building English proficiency at school age, while giving opportunities to native-level English teachers.
The programme also has several excellent features for both kids and teachers, like debates and English camps, while prospective teachers are encouraged to stay with a local family, learn Spanish and integrate into Chilean culture.
If a programme like this isn’t for you, and you’d rather dive in without the safety net of a government initiative, don’t despair – big cities like Chile’s capital, Santiago, are always calling out for English teachers.
How to get a TEFL Job in… Argentina
There are a few stereotypes that ring true with Argentina.
As a country, they are absolutely daft about football. Boca Juniors v River Plate may be the biggest derby, but as a nation, “passionate” doesn’t begin to cover how fanatical people are about the Beautiful Game.
It’s also the home of steaks. Due to the fantastic environment for grassland in Argentina, cows get to graze on some top-quality turf in Las Pampas, and there’s strict regulation on the use of antibiotics or hormones.
What isn’t said enough about Argentina, though, is that it’s a fantastic place to start your TEFL career. Non-native English speakers are allowed to teach there, you don’t need a degree, and it’s not a requirement to have experience in teaching.
How to land that job in Argentina? There’s a more casual job structure in the country, which makes it great for TEFL teachers wanting 6-month or part-time contracts. If you do have TEFL training, it’s far easier to land a full-time job, though those are a bit more scarce.
In terms of programmes, take your pick: Teach Argentina, CiL, Ecoposada del Estero Ecolodge, which encourages not just TEFL but ecology and biology… there really is a range of options for TEFL jobs in Argentina.
Your usual job searches and scouring the employment sites will help, too, but there are myriad programmes to get your teeth into, with the term beginning in March.
How to get a TEFL job in… Mexico
Ah, Mexico. Home of festivals, baking heat and – potentially – the best food in the world?
Famous for its party atmosphere and celebrations like Dios de la Muertes, Mexico has a reputation of being extroverted, colourful and a fantastic holiday destination.
However, it, like the rest of Latin America, needs English teachers, and between the parties, there’s some serious work to do. Out of 112 nations, Mexico ranked 92nd for English proficiency, ranked as “very low” in terms of English comprehension.
There are, however, a range of programmes to get involved with if you’re wanting to head out to Estados Unidos Mexicanos’ 32 states. Relaciones Culturales, for example, is an 11-month initiative which hires English teachers for kids, school pupils and adults alike. English 4 Life, as the name gives away somewhat, is a business school in Mexico that wants TEFL certified teachers.
Teachers Latin America is also a great resource which helps TEFL teachers connect with opportunities in Mexico, as does The Anglo Mexican Foundation. There are resources aplenty if Mexico takes your fancy.
TEFL in Latin America – an adventure awaits
In so many ways, TEFL in Latin America is just different.
For one thing, the importance of applying on the ground cannot be overstated. Employers really do prefer you to show face, or at least have a postcode that’s local. That’s not to say you can’t land a job from afar, but the TEFL teachers we know have had a more fruitful time applying in person.
It’s the incredible diversity of the region, though, that truly makes it stand out. TEFL teachers can get started in Latin America, sure, but there’s nothing stopping someone from teaching English abroad permanently across the vastness of the region.
Each country has its idiosyncrasies, charms and challenges, but it remains bafflingly underrated as a TEFL destination.
Go and buck that trend.
Download our Guide to Latin America to discover the best TEFL destinations in this exciting part of the world!