South America is a vast continent, spanning from just north of the equator, all the way down to being within the shortest distance between Antarctica and any other sizable landmass. From the impenetrable rainforests of the Amazon basin to the towering Andes mountains, Brazil’s Gold Coast and Chile’s bone-dry Atacama desert – this is a land of extreme, unadulterated adventure. Let’s not forget about its people either: laid-back, fun-loving, and hospitable, with world-renowned festivals, carnivals, and cities to boot.
TEFL in South America is as exciting as the continent itself. No two days are the same, whether you work in a small rural village or a major language school in a city. An aspect of working in South America that attracts so many EFL teachers is the more laid-back attitude towards qualifications such as TEFL certificates and degrees. Compared to Europe and Asia, the two other major TEFL regions, it is a lot easier to get a job here regardless of past experience and expertise. However, standards are rising as schools become more established. Also, thanks to proximity and ties with the US, Business English is gathering pace.
Below are the five best countries to TEFL in South America, in no particular order…
Pay varies from school to school. It also depends on the type of tutor you become i.e. freelance, Business English etc.. Freelancers should expect between 90 and 130 Pesos ($3-$4) an hour. Although this may not seem a lot, you need to remember the cost of living is significantly lower here.
Working at a language school might see you earn somewhat less. However, it is definitely easier to find work at a school (rather than going through all the hassle of freelancing) and job security is better.
Types of Classes
Like most places, large urban centers tend to host the largest number of teaching opportunities. Language schools are abundant in the likes of Buenos Aires and other cities, as are other TEFL positions.
Business English is especially popular here and anyone with even a little bit of a background in the field will be way ahead of the competition. If you do manage to get into business English
Thankfully, US citizens are eligible to reside for up to 90 days in Argentina without a visa. If you overstay that three month period, you can renew the visa by ‘border-hopping’ – in other words, crossing over to a neighboring country for a day or two, to then return and reapply.
Relative to most of South America, Argentinian employers have, generally, tougher requirements for applicants. It’s fairly rare for a degree to be needed, but is often preferred. You don’t really want to bother applying without any TEFL certificate – Argentina is popular with travelers and many will have some level of qualification. Make sure you have an internationally recognized certificate, to put yourself at an advantage.
Salaries in the large cities of Brazil are definitely at the higher end of the spectrum for this part of the world. Teachers can expect to earn anywhere between 13 and 20 USD an hour. In other words, that’s between $1000-$1600 a month if you ply your trade for the average 20 hours a week.
Again, this depends on the type of teacher you become and where exactly you choose to live. City centers are going to pose higher costs of living, as usual, but also better wages.
Private tutors can see up “$30 an hour” according to the book Teaching English Abroad by Susan Griffiths – and yes, that is US dollars.
Types of classes
In the sprawling metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, all manner of language institutions can be found – from the internationally-recognized to the small and local. You could be teaching any age group, from kindergarten upwards so be sure you are comfortable with whatever might be thrown at you.
As has been highlighted, private classes pay quite a bit more than those run by large schools. Brazil’s growing middle class and large economy mean that, for starters, there are many parents looking to improve their child’s opportunities. Secondly, there is a noticeable demand for business English (particularly in the cities) and tourism-related English. Merely advertising your trade on the newspaper, via leaflets and posters, and online will guarantee some level of traffic.
Annoyingly, visas are a bit of a nuisance in Brazil. To work officially, teachers must acquire a work visa and residence permit. To do that? You only need to land a multi-year contract at a big language school and get them to agree to go through the arduous application procedure; there’s more info on that here.
The most common route, however, is to work via a tourist visa. However, this is illegal and can leave you without any proper documentation.
A bachelor’s degree as a requirement is very rare, although they can be preferred by some of the larger organizations. A TEFL certificate will get you far, as will experience in anything business.
Wages in this exciting nation are somewhat lower than their two southern counterparts, but it doesn’t really matter thanks to the generally lower cost of living. Expect to earn around $700 a month at best. With an average monthly rent of a city-center apartment hovering near 850,000 Colombian pesos (or $300) a month, you should have enough to live fairly comfortably.
Type of classes
Opportunities are popping up all over the place in Colombia thanks to the recent wave of peace and prosperity. Being so close to the US means obvious cultural and trade links, which should prove beneficial to US English speakers. Business English is rapidly becoming more popular among young professionals. As usual, you can expect higher wages in this field.
The National Training Service, SENA, runs a fantastic program in which volunteers work with locals to help improve their English skills. The placement comes with many benefits such as a monthly stipend, accommodation (on the first month), a completion bonus, and more! The internship is pretty much unrivaled in the country and is well worth a look.
According to the US State of Department’s page, “U.S. citizens do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist or business stay of 90 days or less.”. Most people aim to teach longer than just three months, however. Often, schools may provide assistance on the matter.
Usually, little is required of an applicant other than to be available and a fluent, if not native, speaker of English. An exception is the SENA program which does actually require at least a bachelor’s degree and six months of teaching experience.
Often heralded as one of the most stable and wealthy nations in South America, there is a healthy demand for teachers to work in one of the major cities or towns dotted along this thin country. Basic work at the average school will vary between 9 and 12 USD an hour. However, this can so much as double if you find the right employer.
You might start to see a pattern: private lessons and Business English tend to pay remarkably more. Luckily, there’s quite the demand or this type of lesson, so don’t be afraid to move onto bigger and better things if you feel you’re not being paid enough.
Types of classes
The country’s Ministry of Education runs the English Open Doors Program, which aims to improve English literacy across the country by importing native/fluent speakers. This is an excellent chance to teach abroad, live comfortably, and make a difference to the lives of your pupils.
Alternatively, there are countless language schools littered throughout the country’s towns and cities. One possibility is to teach at English-medium colleges who offer longer contracts and relatively better wages.
School term starts in March and ends in December. Aim to look for work in the holidays, usually around February.
There are a number of visa options in Chile. It’s common to arrive on a (usually) free tourist visa. Upon finding a job, a work visa is probably the best way forward. Gathering information on every kind of visa and migration document is no fun for anyone – thankfully, the Chilean Embassy has done all the hard work for us!
Compared to most of the continent, Chile has fairly high requirements. Large private language schools and programs, such as the English Open Doors might expect a degree as well as TEFL certification. These are great if you get into them; otherwise, there are plenty of schools and private tutoring opportunities where a simple TEFL certificate will suffice.
By now, you won’t be surprised to hear that wages aren’t especially high – not that that’s the point of TEFL. Conversely, like Chile, the country’s economy is performing well and has enjoyed an era of stability which translates to better wages for teachers.
The wage spectrum starts at a minimum of $400 per month, all the way to $1200. Like anywhere else, location (city versus rural), type of establishment, and qualifications can affect how much you earn.
Types of classes
As an EFL teacher, you would most likely teach university-level students who are interested in enhancing their graduate prospects. This could take place either in classrooms or on a one-to-one basis.
Business English is thriving here, just it is in all the TEFL destinations mentioned. Classes will take place in the early morning and evening, both to avoid clashing work schedules and to dodge the beating sun.
You don’t need a visa for visits up to 90 days. Extending your stay means seeking help from your employer as you will need proof of employment to receive correct paperwork.
For the majority of positions in Ecuador, employers are happy to hire native/fluent English speakers with the odd TEFL qualification. A degree as a requirement is very rare, and experience is preferred but not a priority.
University classes and business English lessons may force a teacher to prove his TEFL credentials. Keep that in mind if you’re wanting to earn a little bit above the average pay grade.
Teaching in South America is incredibly popular with US students, graduates, travelers, and everyone in-between!
Check out our Jobs Center for any South American postings.
You’ll want to book a TEFL course with us first to gain full access and apply to any vacancy you like!