So, if you’d like to teach English in Ecuador you must first ask yourself some fairly searching questions…namely are you a beach bum, a mountain lion or a machete wielding jungle explorer? The good news is that Ecuador, despite its small size, is perfectly formed and offers all three distinct terrains for you to call home. What’s more, if you’re a bit of a floozy on all sides as myself, you can easily reach all of these completely distinct landscapes within a few hours’ drive from the monstrous capital city of Quito, neat ey?
From the Amazon to the Galapagos, Ecuador is a country full of natural wonderment and cultural delights. It’s a country that one can fall in love within a week, yet spend a lifetime to understand. One of those rare places whose future looks as fascinating as it’s past. It is of no surprise then that it is somewhere that I would personally recommend as an ideal place to teach English.
Ecuador, like much of Latin America is a country in a state of flux; moving forward from the political turmoil of years gone by and looking ahead to a future shaped in its own image. North American culture has made its home in the richer suburbs of the big cities, while in many corners of the mighty Andes and Amazonia the indigenous cultures remain remarkably untouched to this day. Ecuador’s traditions and languages coexist and mingle with one another with many Quechuan and some English words engrained into the Spanish dialects. The culture has become all the more diverse with each new wave of immigration; from the Incas to the Conquistadors, the African slaves to the oil companies. While certainly no Utopia of equality and petty crime a daily grind in parts, this wonderful, small country is a testament to the resilience of human nature, and the fortitude of a single nation struggling with its own destiny in a landscape of outstanding natural beauty.
Like many a developing country, the ability to speak English is of growing importance to many who work within the tourism trade or business. As such, there are many positions available to cater for the preference of the teacher. Whether you’re a veteran or looking to take your TEFL while working out there, there are countless options to explore.
The Ideal Candidate:
English as a mother tongue is hugely advantageous, as is experience. Depending on the quality of the school and the wage you expect to earn, a degree and a CELTA/TEFL certificate will help you to get the best job. But even if you have little experience or qualifications, demand for native English teachers is high and opportunities (including volunteering to gain experience) are abundant.
For my part, I worked with a fantastic institution based within a large university in the capital city. Escuela Politecnica Nacional took me on with limited experience and supported me in my training. They sorted out my visa and my bank account and were flexible in accommodating the hours that I wanted and needed to work. I worked 8 week cycles with two weeks paid holiday in between which gave me the freedom to travel internally and to the surrounding countries of Colombia and Peru. The staff was made up primarily of US and Ecuadorian teachers, with some from Europe and Africa. We were a happy work force and taught classes ranging from beginners to proficient and from high schoolers to adults in the evening.
I have many friends who have worked in other cities from the historic, sleepy city of Cuenca, to the young surfer’s paradise beach town of Montanita. Most institutions are well run and above board but of course like any TEFL experience abroad, one must do their homework and be of the right mind set to enjoy and thrive in an unfamiliar and often challenging world.
You can learn more about the different parts of Ecuador and what they have to offer on sites such as Lonely Planet: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ecuador/places
Most schools are based in Quito and Guayaquil, a few are in touristic centres such as Otavalo and Cuenca. Wages are relatively high compared to the local population in general ($4-12 an hour).
The list below are just a few of options that I know of personally:
Escuela Politecnica Nacional – http://www.cec-epn.edu.ec/
Largest Language school in Ecuador, Excellent at sorting out visa
A reputable School in Guyaquil
TEFL teachers usually earn a decent living wage in Ecuador. If you are hoping to return home with more than just a bit of loose change in your pocket then you will do best to find an American/private school that services the more privileged sections of society. These positions can often pay a wage comparable to Europe or America, but with the cost of living being far less, putting a little away for a rainy day is certainly possible. By the same token, if you choose to work somewhere that offers less money, you will still most likely be able to live comfortably on the money you earn. Personally, I earned a wage of $750 per month, which is perhaps just above average and if you consider rents range from about $100-400 per month, a 660ml beer at $1 and the cost of a meal at perhaps $3, it was more than enough to live, work and travel.
Many institutions will be able to help you sort out your working visa and accommodation, but if not, it’s fair to say that Ecuadorian bureaucracy can be a challenge and is not for the faint hearted.
Unless you plan to get residency, you will be working as an ‘inter-cambia cultural’ cultural exchange visa. This means you are technically a volunteer receiving a stipend depending on the hours you work. In reality, this is the same as a wage. As with all of South America there is a small amount of red tape but it is not terrible. The cultural exchange VISA is called 12-VIII; it requires annual renewal and according to the conditions of your visa, you cannot earn any other form of income within Ecuador nor attend any anti-government protest or Union action.
Before you leave for Ecuador, you will have to visit the consul in your country to confirm details and present passport photos prior to departure to Ecuador. NB. There is a photo on your visa because of recent problems with immigration fraud.
If you travel to Ecuador on a tourist visa only, you can try to obtain cash in hand work for 90 days (after which you must leave the country for 30 days before returning) but this is illegal and would effect your ribht to work or reside in Ecuador thereafter. Alternatively, should you go out on a tourist visa to find work, you can convert your visa into a working/volunteering one; a friend who did this when he changed jobs from Quito to Cuenca found this a frustrating process to say the least.
Luckily, my school (EPN) sorted out the whole VISA process for me, including renewal. The paperwork was submitted on my behalf, after which I went to the immigration office (one in most major cities) with a photo and identification, and had it processed within the hour.
Renting an apartment is a good option if you like your own space($100-$400), but many people do stay long term in hostels for the social life ($6-12 per night).
If you do want you own place, its best to ask around everyone – from other teachers to the man who sells you eggs. Word of mouth and battered signs in windows will tell you more than any agency will. Through most agents, non-residents will not find it easy to rent ‘normal’ long-term apartments and will pay for the pleasure of the short-stay option.
Setting up a bank account in Ecuador is a good idea, with a cash card meaning you don’t have to walk around with large sums on you (and risk being robbed) nor need to pay unpredictable bank charges over a prolonged stay.
Most schools will set up the account for you, if not then both of the largest banks (Banco de Pichincha and Banco de Guayaquil) will most likely offer you an ‘Extranjero’ “foreigner” debit account. This requires a small minimum primary deposit ($300 for Pichincha), passport, utility bill and a letter of recommendation from your employer or an Ecuadorian national.
Online personal banking is in its infancy in Ecuador so you’re best bet is to simply drop into the bank as and when you pass it. There is a ticketed queue system so you won’t need to pre-arrange an appointment.
When you leave Ecuador, advise your bank and close your account. Be aware that you cannot transfer your money abroad, so empty your account before you leave! Since many banks allow a maximum withdraw of $200-300 a day, if you’ve made a nice nest egg, it’s worth planning your daily transactions a week or two ahead of time.
In my experience Ecuadorians love to accommodate and cut loose, so if you come with the right temperament, manners and even just a little basic Spanish, I have no doubt that you will find this enchanting country a particularly exciting and fulfilling one to teach in. Just try to learn some basic Spanish and follow two golden rules; always take a taxi after dark and never pay more than $1.50 per hour on an intercity bus.
By Tanya Hanbury-Aggs
If you have any questions for Tanya or have worked in Ecuador and would like to add some additional advice for prospective teachers please leave your reply in the comments section at the bottom of the page.