Central America is comprised of seven countries bridging the gap between Mexico and South America, with the Pacific Ocean bordering to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Teaching in Central America is perfect for individuals looking to gain experience, make a difference, earn a living wage, and simply immerse themselves in the Spanish language and ethnic culture of the region.
While Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama all offer various TEFL/TESOL certification programs, individuals looking to spend hands-on time teaching abroad in Central America will benefit from focusing their search on Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Costa Rica has the highest number of teaching jobs available for individuals looking to teach in Central America. Although obtaining a paid position can be a bit more difficult than what would be expected in other Central American countries, there are a variety of options for teachers with a wide range of experience. The “pura vida” lifestyle of locals and incredible biodiversity help make Costa Rica the eco- and adventure-tourism capital of Central America. Costa Rica has a high demand for English instruction at every level - from primary education students to adult professionals. San José, the capital city and centrally located hub of the nation, is where the majority of teaching placements in Costa Rica can be found.
Guatemala is the ideal location for beginner teachers looking to gain experience and adventure through volunteer teaching in Central America. Internal conflict, political instability, and lack of resources have increased the need for volunteer teachers across the country in both urban and rural public schools. Some paid teaching jobs in Guatemala can also be found in private and international schools in larger cities - such as in the capital, Guatemala City - including teaching primary education, English language instruction, and various middle and high school subjects.
Honduras offers international teachers the chance to teach in private bilingual schools. While the major cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula provide the majority of teaching placements in Honduras, recently high crime rates and violence make the smaller towns and outlying areas more desirable. Honduras is a destination for teachers with a desire to make a difference in their student’s lives as well as the local community, and although Christianity is not a requirement to teach in Honduras’s private school system, teachers should at least be comfortable reflecting Christian values.
Teaching in Central America
Volunteer teachers are always in demand throughout Central America, especially in impoverished communities and underfunded school systems. Volunteer teaching jobs in Central America require the leave amount of experience, and teachers can choose to teach for shorter periods of time than in most paid positions. Volunteer teaching jobs abroad are a great way to gain experience, impact positive change, and have the adventure of a lifetime.
TEFL/TESOL Certification & Teaching English placements can be found all across Central America. Generally, individuals will pay a fee to take the four to six week TEFL courses in their destination country, then receive either a job placement or assistance in landing a job teaching English in Central America. Requirements typically include English fluency and a bachelors degree, with a six to twelve month commitment (in addition to the TEFL certification program) preferred.
School Placements can include general primary education in both public and private schools, as well as specific subjects in middle-school, high-school, and international schools. Contracts often require at least a school year-length commitment, though some may ask for more. Experience, English fluency, and education in a relevant field are often additional qualifications necessary to land teaching jobs at school in Central America, and also play a role in determining one’s salary.
Adult English-instruction teaching jobs are more limited, but are also available in Central America, and focus on teaching English to professionals and adults. Costa Rica is especially known for providing more prestigious positions teaching in universities, language centers, or places of business, but often require significant amounts of experience and education, and extensive bilingual ability.
Salary & Costs
Teaching abroad in Central America may come with a program cost, a living stipend, an hourly wage, or a monthly salary. The type of teaching position you obtain (volunteer vs. paid job) and your level of experience will largely impact your income and costs during your teaching stint. Volunteer teaching placements in Central America are unpaid and require participants to pay a program fee which generally includes some level of orientation, in-country support, accommodation, food, and other assistance. Teaching placements that incorporate TEFL/TESOL certification with the promise of a job placement post-certification usually generate a set initial cost, with future wages to be earned through paid teaching jobs in Central America.
Up-front teaching jobs in Central America can incur monthly salaries that range between between $250 to $1400 per month. It may seem a tad low, and a broad spectrum, but the cost of living in Central America is comparably lower than that of both North and South America and several factors determine a teachers pay abroad. You probably won’t get rich teaching in Central America, but it is very possible to earn a living wage, and some of the more prestigious employers may even offer medical insurance or visa assistance.
Accommodation & Visas
Homestays are the most common form of accommodation available for individuals teaching in Central America. Not only are homestays usually provided by your program or inexpensive to stay in, but they are also the perfect opportunity to live like locals and learn your county-of-choice’s culture first-hand (not to mention test out some yummy traditional cooking). Communal international teacher housing or apartment style living is also sometimes available, and the option for teachers to seek out their own living arrangements is always available if desired.
Visa requirements for teaching abroad in Central America will vary based upon the country you choose, the type of teaching job you will be fulfilling, and the duration of your stay. Most stays lasting less than 90 days simply require a typical tourist visa that all travelers automatically receive when entering the country. In this case, your tourist visa can be renewed for an additional 90 days by either going to your nearest immigration office or by taking a quick trip to a neighboring country which will mean your visa will renew upon re-entry.
You will most likely need to get a working visa for paid teaching jobs in Central America, however each country’s policy may differ slightly. A working visa generally requires that your passport be valid for a minimum of six months after your trip, that you show proof of a job offer, and have purchased a flight ticket to return home. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to obtain a work visa without help from your employer, and Costa Rican schools can be especially challenging since they often require a year-long commitment from paid employees before sponsoring a work visa to teach in Costa Rica.
Benefits & Challenges
- Timeliness - While teaching abroad in Central America can be a great reminder to slow down and enjoy each daily experience, it can be frustrating at first for those used to following a strict schedule. Don’t be surprised (or offended) if people and plans run late.
- Immersion - There is no better way to learn Spanish than a crash-course in cultural immersion! Not only will your Spanish skills improve while teaching in Central America, but by making the most of your time abroad you will be able to truly appreciate the Central American customs, cuisine, terrain, and people.