Relaxing in resorts might be a nice escape from the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. gig back home, but it might not be the adventure you were looking for to develop your resume. As a teacher, the world luckily is your classroom and you have endless options to build your work experience. If your wanderlust has turned into island fever, teaching in the Caribbean is a great way to dive into the cultures that most people only see from afar on vacation.
Why Teach Abroad
An often forgotten region, due to its size and abstract borders, the Caribbean is home to a wealth of localized languages, religions, foods, and lifestyles. It is a great place to develop language skills while teaching in a non-traditional location and enjoying a simplified lifestyle. That’s not to say that everyday in the Caribbean is an island get-away. The region presents a lot of local challenges (such as fluctuating economies and heavy reliance on outside resources) that will build your resilience and creativity as a teacher. Teaching abroad in the Caribbean will also allow you to appreciate the simple things in life (like the white sandy beaches) when you’re not grading papers or developing new assignments.
White sandy beaches aren’t the only great part of island life. Many of the territories in the Caribbean were colonized by the British, French, Germans, and Americans, although other countries have also had strong influences in the government and infrastructure of the region. As a destination for immigrants from Europe, Africa, North and South America, as well as Asia, this ocean region is a crossroads of cultures that have been blended together for centuries. Home to one of the most bilingual populations in the world, with speakers of English, French, Spanish, and the native Creole, the Caribbean is a perfect place to experience diversity and immersion while teaching in a relatively small geographic area, or island for that matter.
The Caribbean is comprised of over 20 nations, spread out over an estimated 7,000 islands. Teaching jobs are available in all areas of the Caribbean, with opportunities to live on the beach or in the built-up “downtown” centers. Teaching opportunities in the Caribbean are as diverse as the beaches, making some locations more strategic than others, depending on the experience you are looking for.
The Dominican Republic offers the most teaching jobs in the Caribbean. Whether you are looking to teach English in the Caribbean, or a more specific subject, the DR is a great place to begin your search. Most options involve working with young kids, and the majority also offer flexible scheduling.
Another great location with a high demand for teachers is Haiti. While the economy has been hit hard in recent years, it has a rapidly growing demand for English speaking teachers. As a developing country, living costs are very affordable for most Westerners, and while the salary won’t make you rich, it will provide teachers with a comfortable lifestyle.
Having been cut off from much of the Western world for most of the past century, Cuba is another great spot to teach abroad. Again, the needs are great and society offers both a comfortable lifestyle and insights into a culture that has been hidden for a long time.
More exotic destinations for teaching jobs in the Caribbean include Curacao, which has long been a hotspot for work in the tourism industry and St. Thomas, where many American brands can make the transition to island life easier for teachers.
Teaching in the Caribbean
Most teaching jobs in the Caribbean involve teaching English as a foreign language. Nearly all programs offer a TEFL certificate as part of the program fee. The most popular teaching jobs in the Caribbean are available in public schools, although teachers are also needed in child care placements within orphanage facilities and at summer camps.
A distinct opportunity for teaching English in the Caribbean includes teaching hospitality skills, due to the region’s booming tourism industry. You’ll need some work experience as a server, desk attendant at a hotel, or a chef in order to train young staff in hospitality specific vocabulary and help guide their professional skill development.
One of the most attractive components of teaching jobs in the Caribbean are the laid back lifestyle and flexible timetables. Depending on your specific teaching placement, you may work anywhere from five to 40 hours a week. That being said, there is some expectation of formality in teaching jobs, and teachers should expect to dress as an appropriate role model for students of all ages.
When teaching in the Caribbean in any capacity, introductory knowledge on how people learn and a passion for teaching will always make you a more successful teacher. Little knowledge of the local language or dialect is required to teach in the Caribbean. English levels vary between islands and countries, but basic vocabulary in Spanish or French should be enough to help you get around.
Salary & Costs
Most of the economies of the Caribbean are still developing and rely heavily on the tourism industry. This makes predicting costs and expenses occasionally difficult. The more touristy areas will typically have higher costs than outlying islands. Additionally, costs and inventories can be quite seasonal depending on availability and shipping schedules to and from the mainland.
That being said, most individuals who teach English in the Caribbean will earn a very liveable wage, with the typical salary being somewhere between $400 and $600 each month. Given the purchasing power of the economy, this will typically cover rent, groceries, and a basic social life.
Accommodation & Visas
Some teaching programs in the Caribbean will arrange housing for teachers, although many do not. If you plan to earn your TEFL certificate in the Caribbean, there may be housing options available for an extra cost (again, depending on your program provider).
Depending on which island you end up teaching in the Caribbean, obtaining a visa can be very easy or very difficult. The easiest method is to obtain a visa or work permit for territories colonized or governed by your home country. For example, teachers from the UK may choose to teach in the British Virgin Islands while teachers from France may look at St. Barths.
If you would prefer to teach in the Caribbean in a territory with a different government from your homeland, you will likely need to commit to a year long placement in order to ensure the necessary support from an employer to sponsor your work visa.
Benefits & Challenges
- Cheap Cost of Living: The purchasing power of most international currencies in the Caribbean makes it a very affordable place to live and teach abroad. While teaching jobs in the Caribbean might not offer the biggest salary, living expenses are very manageable on a teachers income.
- Crossroads of Culture: With many of the Caribbean islands owing their history to various settlers and colonies, there are aspects of many different cultures visible in the region (including some that can only be seen in the region itself).
- Dependency on Imports: While the promise of palm trees and fresh picked fruit can be alluring, life can also be very frustrating and unwelcoming for foreigners. The slower pace of life in the islands is often a large draw for foreigners, however, the lengthy delay in receiving groceries and supplies from the mainland can be frustrating and cause prices to fluctuate.
- Flexible Lifestyle with Stable Opportunities: The islands offer flexible daily routines that are quite attractive for those interested in traveling and teaching. At the same time, international commerce laws allow, and even require, foreign teachers to lock in long-term employment contracts in the region.