10 Pitfalls to be Aware of Before Teaching Abroad in Chile 

by Charleen Johnson Stoever

Chile is a land of extremes (perfect for ESL teachers in search of bragging rights). You'll be living in a country with the world’s tallest active volcano and some of the world's deepest mines. You can explore vast deserts to the north or hike the massive glaciers of Patagonia to the south. There’s no question that this Andean country is a popular attraction for adventurous teachers like you! As one of South America’s most developed nations, Chile’s economy demands attract more and more international teachers every year.

In order to have the best experience teaching abroad in Chile, be sure to do your research. Get excited! But be on the lookout, too.

Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia Region, Chile

After you’ve researched what to look forward to in Chile, and have been acquainted with the types of English teaching jobs in Chile, you’ll need to know the nitty gritty details of things to avoid. Here are 10 MAJOR pitfalls to look out for as you plan your teaching stint in the deep south of the equator.

1. Teaching on a tourist visa.

Your tourist visa expires after three months in Chile. You will also have to obtain a visa with the endorsement of your employer to begin full time work. If your employer tells you that you don’t need a work visa, they are breaking the law. Teaching jobs in Chile require different visa types.

To avoid mix ups, check out GoAbroad’s Chilean Embassy Directory to locate an embassy where you can ask about visa requirements.

Getting a visa and an ID card can take months, depending on how long you are contracted to work. You will most likely have to pay for a visa to work in Chile. Luckily, some employers pay for all or some of the costs. You need a visa to access your bank accounts. Ask your bank about how to withdraw funds before your visa expires. If your visa expires, the Chilean government may absorb your savings. Be aware of that.

2. Renting the first apartment you visit.

Shop around for a good salary and a cheap apartment, both of which you just have to spend the time to look for. If you rent, factor in that you won’t get the deposit back-this is the case for Chileans and foreigners. Shop around for a lower deposit to avoid losing your savings!

Factor in how much you will earn in order to pay for your apartment. Many private schools pay teachers hourly wages ranging from $10 to $20 an hour. Teacher salaries will depend on the school, students, and location. Teachers in Santiago will earn more than in cities like Valparaíso and Concepción, but they will also pay more for rent, especially if they are in the center. Depending on the school and hours worked, teachers can expect to earn anywhere from $500 to $1,700 per month teaching in Chile.

3. Choosing a program that doesn’t take good care of you.

There are many different providers or agencies to help you have a meaningful experience as an ESL teacher in Chile. Companies like Teaching Chile, LanguageCorps, and the International TEFL Academy can all set you up for success. But those are just a few of the many different programs you can sign up for to teach English in Chile.

With so many options, how does one choose? The answer is simple: research.

It is up to you, would-be ESL teacher, to take the time and make the effort to investigate and analyze all of your program options. You can be picky during this process. Want to teach in Valparaiso? Don’t consider programs that only operate in Santiago. Prefer working with adults? Scratch the companies that work with kindergartens.

Palacio de La Moneda, Chile
Read reviews of the different program options, talk with alumni when you can, and overall, follow your gut.

4. Isolating yourself.

You will be in a different country, so you will have to move outside of your comfort zone to connect with others. Luckily, you will be able to make friends with other teachers. Some schools, including international schools, provide teachers housing. You might live in the same buildings as your co-workers. This can be a plus for you as they help you navigate the highs and lows of your teaching experience.

Also, don’t avoid your students' parents. They are there to help. Ask your principal if it is normal for parents to donate teaching materials. Ask them how involved parents are before you start the school year. In the private schools at least, parents will have the financial resources to donate materials. Parents want their children to succeed in the classroom, and establishing a relationship with them will help you cruise through the school year. Having positive parent relationships mean having stellar student relationships.

5. Becoming frustrated with the bureaucracy.

Accept the fact that things in Chile may seem more tedious than you’re used to. The paperwork that comes with working abroad might seem hectic. You may be responsible for signing your name every 45 minutes in a government book, but that's just protocol. Every country has a different way of doing things, and the workplace is no exception! Everything takes twice as long as you may be used to. Be okay with that. Don’t get mad at people and judge the system. The term “efficiency” is interpreted differently.

6. Worrying your Spanish isn't good enough.

Study as much Spanish as you can before arriving in country, but don’t be too hard on yourself. As an English teacher, not speaking Spanish well will actually help your students soak up the English you are using. You may have to draw photos and make gestures to communicate, but this is a good sign. If you are teaching English in Chile, you didn't come to Chile to become a human replacement for Google translate. Instead of associating English words with Spanish words, they will associate them with your gestures, sounds, and pictures, which is the communicative immersion approach.

Don’t let the Spanish intimidate you. Spanish idioms, accents, slang, and expressions are different in every country, but Chilean Spanish is particularly unique. "Como estás?" In Chilean Spanish, is pronounced "Como tai, po?"

Easter Island, Chile

7. Assuming your colleagues will speak English.

Even if you teach English at a fully immersive international English school, that doesn't mean everyone is expected to speak English fluently. You may work at an international school where the principal doesn’t speak English at all. That’s why schools recruit teachers from thousands of miles away.

8. Wearing jeans to work.

Research the dress code. Presentation matters, especially when you are a new face. When people know nothing about you aside from how you are dressed, they will either assume you are professional or not. In countries like Nicaragua, teachers wear jeans. Not in Chile. Bring a few pairs of khakis, and you'll be ready for the classroom.

9. Splurging on creature comforts.

Chile is one of the wealthiest South American countries. In the larger cities, you will find comforts like Nutella and peanut butter. On the downside, the cost of living is higher than in other South American countries. So, don't spend all of your hard earned savings on mint chocolate chip ice cream in the first week.

10. Feeling stuck with one teaching job.

With all of the holidays and breaks this Catholic country sees, you are bound to have free time to make some more cash. Make room for private students and network to build your client base. To give you an idea of where to begin, start at 10,000 Chilean pesos an hour and work your way up to 12,000 for new clients as you get more practice and confidence.

Your students may be eager to learn, but the follow-through often isn't there. In Chile, it’s pretty common to sign up for classes and bail for a variety of excuses. Feeling overwhelmed is one of them. Have your students pay at least a month's worth up front so that they are motivated to stick with your class. That way, you will have more peace of mind.

Andes Mountains, Chile

*BONUS* #11. Thinking you’ll be TEFL certified in a snap.

If you plan to get TEFL certified in Chile, you’ll need patience and dedication. Also, having an undergraduate degree is a general requirement. TEFL programs in Chile last about four weeks. TEFL courses here normally offer 120 hours of classroom time, 20 hours of classroom observation, and you’ll tutor ESL students, all while being guided by an English teacher mentor. Getting a TEFL certification in Chile is a hefty investment. Courses cost about $2,000, but programs will usually help you find a job afterward, and provide learning materials and access to alumni networks. After your training is finished, expect to earn about $500 to $800 per month teaching English in Chile.

If you’ve chosen Chile as your destination to teach abroad, you are in luck. You will live in an economically stable country that offers the comforts of home with a uniquely Chilean touch. The language, customs, and work environment will need some getting used to, but now you have more strategies to navigate your teaching stint.