By Dave, Karen's husband.
Teaching English in Mexico is a very common way for foreigners to move to the country, earn money while they are here, help the communities that they find themselves in, and integrate into society.
As someone who has worked in the TEFL industry in Mexico for several years, I'd like to share my experience with you. I'm going to tell you about what you need to teach English in Mexico, how to get a work visa, and how much money you can make in different kinds of teaching positions.
English in Mexico
The ability to speak English really makes a difference in Mexico. The ease of trade and proximity to the US in the north, along with the low cost of labor has made the country a prime manufacturing hub for a huge number of multinational companies. This means that in professional roles, it is common for people to have to speak with international coworkers and suppliers, which requires knowledge of English. Many otherwise qualified workers find themselves unable to advance in their careers because their English is lacking. This leads to a strong market for English language education at all ages. For many Mexican people, paying for English classes is not a luxury, it's a safe investment.
Many of the international companies who set up factories and offices in Mexico in order to take advantage of lower salaries find that communication issues between Mexican and international staff can get in the way of doing business efficiently. As a result, it is very common for companies to hire English teachers to offer classes for their staff.
When it comes to young learners and adolescents, English is also seen as a key subject at school. Many middle and upper-class parents hold a low opinion of Mexico's public schools and prefer to have their children privately educated. This creates a market of private schools vying for parent's attention. The ubiquity of colegios bilingües in which half of the curriculum is taught in Spanish and the other half in another language (usually English) is a testament to how highly parents value language tuition for their children.
In short, the market for English language tuition in Mexico is enormous and there are a lot of jobs to go around.
What do you need to teach English in Mexico?
Compared to many other countries, generally speaking, the requirements are quite relaxed when it comes to getting an English teaching job in Mexico - although it does vary greatly from employer to employer.
In most countries, the minimum requirement to teach English is a bachelor's degree in any discipline, along with an English teaching certificate. While these are valued in Mexico, they are not a strict requirement in many places. Mexico is one of a minority of countries where you can teach English without a degree and in all of the teaching positions I have held here, I have worked alongside people who did not have a degree.
Because of this, if you do have a degree and a teaching certificate such as the CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL, you will likely be in a position to choose from a variety of options.
The downside is that if you have higher qualifications, you may not find that they benefit you much. As a holder of a master's in TESOL and several years' experience, finding jobs was very easy for me, but the positions and compensation were not considerably higher than my colleagues without these.
Finding a job
While there are exceptions to every rule, in general schools focus their recruitment efforts within Mexico. Many schools do not post their vacancies online and so from outside Mexico, the job hunt may appear to be more difficult than it really is.
It is possible to find schools in your chosen area and ask if they are looking for teachers via email, but you may find even this approach to be difficult.
Once you are actually in Mexico, it is much easier. Many vacancies are filled by word of mouth so by asking around and calling into private English schools, you will see that there are many more opportunities in reality than it might appear when looking online.
Getting a visa
If you are going to work in Mexico in any guise, you will need a work permit. Fortunately, unlike many other popular TEFL destinations around the world, you don't need any particular qualifications to be granted a work visa. The onus is on the employer to prove that they need to hire you. If you can get a job with a school that has all of their paperwork in order, you can get a visa. Especially with private language schools, the procedure tends to be that a teacher arrives in Mexico and finds a job at a school. The school expects the teacher to work in the short-term on a tourist visa while they process the teacher's work permit. Then the teacher will have to leave Mexico to apply for their new residency and work permit in an embassy or consulate abroad (normally Texas or Guatemala). The teacher then returns to Mexico, finishes off the visa process, and continues working. In my experience, schools often at least provide some assistance in paying for the international trip to the embassy.
Of course, this is not legal and I can't encourage anyone to work on a tourist visa. It is very common, though. Unfortunately, I am also aware of a lot of schools that promise residency and work permits to new teachers but never actually deliver, leaving teachers to work illegally indefinitely.
My experience & salaries
In my time as an English teacher in Mexico, I worked in 3 different institutions. My experience is limited to working in the city of Querétaro so please bear this in mind. To my knowledge, this experience is fairly common. However, things vary from school to school and particularly in different parts of the country.
Job 1 - Private English Center
I was nervous about arriving in Mexico without a job lined up already and so I sent my CV out to a number of schools around Querétaro before leaving the UK.
I only received one reply/interview and this school was able to give me a visa. They were prepared to arrange accommodation for when I arrived in Querétaro and they offered me what was described as a very light workload for a small salary. I was to teach two classes at a factory just outside the city per day, once in the morning and once in the evening. The salary was MX$9000/month after tax. This seemed ok at the time as I was writing my master's thesis and the schedule seemed conducive to this.
When I arrived in Querétaro, it became apparent that the factory was over an hour from the school itself and so the 2 hours of class time a day ended up being 6-7 hours a day once travel was included. This school offered me, the opportunity to teach additional classes, in the school itself for MX$90/hour after tax.
While it is possible to live on this salary, I was counting my pesos and I was exhausted from the travel time. Almost immediately after arriving in Mexico, I began to look for alternatives.
Job 2 - Private High School
I found an advertisement on a local online job board for a teacher in a popular private school with a bilingual curriculum and went for an interview.
The interview process was very unusual. Since this was a Catholic school, after being given the green light from the head of English, I was required to attend another interview to make sure that I met the school's moral standards. In this interview, I was asked whether I would attend a strip club if my friends asked me, what my religion was, and how I felt about homosexuals. I took the job anyway.
The working hours were 7 am to 2 pm Monday to Friday and my class load was around 20 classes a week, although many of these were canceled for activities such as compulsory mass. I was also entitled to paid school holidays of a total of around 2 months a year. This was for a salary of MX$19,000 gross, or around $16,500 net.
Having taught in schools in various countries around the world, I found the students in this school to be the worst behaved I had ever experienced. It was very common for students to throw water and other things at each other during class. They had a habit of connecting their phones to the bluetooth speakers in the classroom and playing their music during class. I became very frustrated at students texting or answering their phones in class and the students would show me that they were in fact texting other teachers.
As you might have noticed, I did not enjoy this job. I could keep complaining but I think I've made my point. The final straw came when I was required to attend a teacher training day at the school, while the students were absent. The first session of the day was a talk about gender & sexuality during which the speaker lectured everyone about how there was a malicious homosexual agenda in the media that sought to normalize immoral ways of living and, as teachers, we were supposed to brainstorm how to counteract this in the classroom to protect our students.
Job 3 - Private English Center 2
Despite its many drawbacks, the schedule of the private school allowed me to teach more classes in the evening at another language center. At this center, I was able to make MX$150/hour, which made for long days but a respectable overall income in local terms.
This center exclusively taught business English to adults and had many contracts with international companies around the city. This meant that the teachers split their time between traveling to companies and teaching in-house. The school took professional development seriously and had a well-developed curriculum, meaning that teachers had to spend very little time planning. Management was efficient and friendly.
This school, like most language centers in Mexico, required teachers to teach a split shift of classes as students wanted to study before or after work, but rarely during the day. The class load was high and full-time teachers would teach around 35 hours a week for around MX$14,000/net per month.
I thoroughly enjoyed working at this school and stayed for some time, finally ending up being promoted to an administrative position.
In my experience, teaching adults in Mexico is a very rewarding experience. Mexican people, in general, are friendly and talkative and happy to practice their English. Many of the classes didn't feel like work and the long hours were made bearable because of this.
I have only taught teenagers at one school and so my experience is limited. This was the most challenging teaching experience that I have ever been through and I would not do it again even if I were paid 10x as much. I would love to hear if other schools are similar.
With the rise in popularity of online teaching, it is difficult to justify working for US$6-8/hour in a language center when you can easily live in Mexico and teach students from other parts of the world for 2-3x this amount. However, working remotely in Mexico makes it much harder to integrate into local society as you are deprived of an office or local coworkers and you have to make a conscious effort to socialize outside of expat circles. Especially as an English teacher, where your job is to speak with people for extended periods of time week after week, you have a valuable opportunity to get to know local people on a personal level.
If you are interested in Teaching English in Mexico, or just living in Mexico in general, check out the YouTube channel La Karencita for valuable information about life in Mexico, cost of living, and other useful content.