Teaching English in Mexico – A Guide
So, you’ve gained your TEFL qualification and started processing which area of the world you want to start making a difference in, am I right?
If money is not your main desire, but fascinating culture, mind-blowing food, incredible people and insanely confusing political situations are…then Bienvenida Mexico!
From the hot and dusty cartel controlled areas around Nogales and Chihuahua to the surf loving South West of Oaxaca this is a vast and wide land that promises you more than just teaching others English, but learning about yourself.
If you have been looking online and cannot find a job through a reputable website or will not be considered due to being out of the country then the route I have taken (which has proven successful and fun on the way) is just to turn up!
At the airport you are immediately granted a 180 day visa and then you can decide where you want to travel and where you want to try and gain employment.
Now, Mexico City is huge, not just huge, but HUGE. It stretches so far into the distance that your eyes wobble as you follow the houses built up the mountain sides. With a city holding a population of almost 9 million people you know there will be a business for teaching English here. Of course there are hundreds of schools available, some are start ups that will give you a room and board in return for your teaching and some are more reputable private schools who will support your Visa FM2 (which we will talk about later) application and provide benefits and bonuses. Some Universities now will employ teachers for Saturday lessons meaning if you work hard you can get 2-3 jobs and potential 1 on 1 lessons. Email all the schools and universities. Call them, drop in on reception and ask to speak to the English co-ordinator or principal. Never give up.
Pride yourself on how you dress, this is very important in Mexican Culture. Always be friendly and polite and try to throw in as much Spanish as you can. Most people you meet will want to know about England so satiate them with fun facts and ask them where they would like to go. A friend in one place such as reception can sometimes persuade the principal to hire you!
All major cities have many schools and Universities that need English teachers. Look into the economy of the state you wish to teach in and you can work out the amount of money per class you can make. In the city you will be looking at around 150-300 peso per hour. In Veracruz perhaps 140-170 peso per hour and Oaxaca (being of one of the poorest states) 70-110 peso per hour. The cost of living varies accordingly though.
How to get a Work Visa in Mexico
Mexico was never known for it’s perfect bureaucratic system, paper work can be lost, never have appeared, changed in the past 2 hours or just simply null and void as a blank face stares into your distraught face.
My lesson to you is be strong, this culture prides itself on strength and working your way up through the system. After all you will never be seen as Mexican, not even after 20 years, not even if your Spanish is fluent and your accent perfect. You will always be a foreigner. But that is not a negative as Mexicans love to help and ask anyone for advice, I am sure it would be their pleasure (and a great story for their family later).
The FM2 Visa is vital to be able to gain legal employment. Once you have a school willing to employ you you must go to the local immigration office and gain all the information from the employees on how to proceed. What paperwork will be needed for this type of school etc…
Then you will go online to apply via the website www.inm.gob.mx and there you will see an application area. This is where it really begins!
It is best to do this with the school as certain codes and names of the principals may be necessary.
Once this application is filled in and printed (I recommend 3 extra for safety!) it should be signed by the principal and also a photocopy of his ID.
A letter, signed and dated, should be provided by the institution ensuring that they have offered you employment and for the duration of… Most schools will expect a years contract and this is the simplest and easiest way to apply for the FM2. If the school puts ‘indefinitely’ then you are most likely going to be denied this visa.
To gain your FM2 after your online application you must visit the consulate in Guatemala to have an interview to make sure your answers correlate with the application they have received. Again, be polite and open, dress sensibly and respect the local culture. Once you have APPROVED on your papers life truly begins!
Getting to Guatemala can either contain a few dangerous bus trips spreading across long 15 bumpy and loud hours, over enthusiastic border control guards and a multitude of texts and emails homes containing ‘I love you mum’ leaving them thinking you are now part of a cartel and their precious child will be doing donkey runs for the foreseeable. Or you can fly from Mexico City for around $300 USD return, this gives you some safety but takes a chunk out of your funds and if your interview is re-arranged (which it might be) it might help to check what the policy is with the flights on cancellation or changing the date.
The police do checks to make sure that tourists do not work without the appropriate legal papers, but I myself have seen many companies employ (cash-in-hand) teachers who have not finished a degree. This will save you a lot of toing and froing but if you are caught then the school will be fined, you will spend a few days in a detention centre (not a pretty sight) and then will be deported and never allowed back into this beautiful country, it’s do-able but not recommendable. Not by me.
Life in Mexico – The Basics
Now you have your FM2 you will need this to open up a bank account for your wages to be deposited in. There are numerous banks in Mexico but some favorites are Banamex, Scotiabank and HSBC. Find an account that will suit you and your wages.
Mexico has never been known for having well paid jobs for foreign teachers. But they do stipulate that what they pay is enough to live on…you will not be eating caviar washed down with champagne, but you will enjoy your city or Pueblo. If you throw yourself into the authentic Mexican lifestyle and enjoy street food and haggle and make friends it can easily be cheaper than Thailand or any other south east Asian country.
Of course there is negative press about the state of affairs in Mexico but it is made very clear where to avoid. Police and Army presence is common in all communal areas and I am yet to see any shootings or danger. My laptop was robbed once while I was asleep but that was the worst that has happened to me.
Be on your guard with your bags and documents. Keep any expensive looking jewellery to a minimum but all in all, just be friendly. Smile and make a real effort to learn the language, a simple “Mucho Gusto” when you meet somebody can make all the difference.
What to Expect when Teaching
Now most public schools are slowly implementing English lessons into their itineraries because of Government initiatives that have been introduced. The hard part about this is that when you arrive to your first class of 30 highly strung 6 year olds who have never heard any English and their teacher cannot translate for you is that you must put your heart and soul into getting them to WANT to learn.
This is where you revert to being a 6 year old yourself and sing, dance, shout and paint your heart out. Repetition becomes your best friend and after a few weeks of this, when you see them say ‘Hello Miss!” and ‘Thank you” without making them, it really warms your heart.
Private schools are very different, especially when they are simply coming for personal development and not a curriculum based scheme. I have had children as young as 1.5 and as old as 89 discussing the benefits of the NHS system (well perhaps not the child) to how to make the best taco. It’s been befriending the shy teenagers whose parents are at a loss at how to make them go to school again. It’s been tough and it’s been difficult but I have loved every minute of it.
This can all depend on whom you work for and whether they are a registered institution or not. Some private (non-curriculum) schools can go from 8am -10pm with a short lunch break. Like I said it can be tough!
The public schools can be 4 hours in a row of rotating classes and then end and the private curriculum are based on more normal hours such as 8am – 3.30pm. Saturday classes are sometimes expected too.
If your new school does not offer a package of helping you with accommodation (this can be an assistant or an actual room until you find an apartment) then most cities have a main newspaper with an ‘OPPORTUNIDADS’ section available, skim past the weird and wonderful ads to the ‘Se Rente’ section.
Another way is to drive or walk around an area of town you like and just look for the aforementioned ‘se Rente’ sign which will include a cell phone number and practice your Spanish! Estate agents may help but will cost more and are obviously more for sales. Make friends and see if they have any spare rooms but consider safety, distance and other factors that may affect your life in Mexico. This is a big step and one that must be considered carefully!
So, in conclusion, Mexico can offer you a dream lifestyle, an opportunity to learn a language that is steeped in history and romanticism and let your taste buds delve into the extreme! You will laugh till you cry when each of you try to copy accents, dance well into the morning to traditional Mexican music mixed with the hottest DJ’s and be welcomed into the arms of the friendliest and happiest people I have ever met. Do it. I promise you won’t regret it.
If you have any questions for Amber or have taught in Mexico 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.