So you want to teach abroad, and are considering teaching English in Ecuador, but haven’t the slightest clue where to begin? Well, we’re glad you found us here at the GoGo.
This is an exhaustive blog containing relevant information for prospective “newbie” TEFL teachers who are considering teaching English in Ecuador– and really don’t know where to begin! Because we at GoGo have taught English in Asia and South America, we fully understand that it is a large, overwhelming, and intimidating field to get into– but don’t be frightened! We’re here to offer you detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to get started and eventually land a solid English teaching job in Ecuador (or wherever in the world you may want to teach).
Not unlike other major life decisions, a lot of patience and research is required both before landing your first English teaching position. Without a doubt, it will all pay off, as the experiences you will have inside and out of your classroom while living and working abroad will be unforgettable and likely life-changing.
Due to the ongoing global recession, the field of Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is booming. People around the world who are struggling to find employment are using their free time to study at language institutions and are more willing to take a risk and search for international employment.
With the TEFL industry “booming” there are some places in the world where one can make very good money teaching English, such as in Asia and the Middle East. Unfortunately, despite the recent upswing in the TEFL field, it remains difficult to make ” good money” in most countries in South America. If you’re coming to South America armed with little experience and a basic TEFL certificate, you can expect to make an average of $5/hour (USD). Keep in mind that while this kind of salary (roughly $300/month) is a survivable income, if you want to take some side-trips or go out dancing on the weekends, you better arrive with some savings. In Ecuador, your English teaching salary will likely only cover your basic living expenses.
Don’t allow a low salary stop you from coming to South America! There are other ways one can supplement their teaching salary while living abroad. Once acclimated to your new country, you can score some side gigs as a private tutor or find work within another field you are skilled in. Further, the intangible advantages of teaching English in South America over Asia are abundant.
For example, if you have a desire to learn Spanish, it comes much easier to English speakers than Asian languages do, and having a working knowledge of Spanish is obviously a great skill for your future. Secondly, South American culture, while most likely having its fair share of differences from your own, is not going to be vastly different, like Asian cultures. The acclimation process and possibility of culture shock, therefore, is going to be a lot less overwhelming in SA. It is for these reasons that you will make more money in Asia: companies have to offer greater perks and higher salaries to get people to come to Asia and stay awhile.
So, if you are settled on teaching English in Ecuador or other countries in SA, where should you begin?
1. Choosing a country: if you are choosing a country blindly, then all you can really do is read up on it. There are countless blogs and websites out there dedicated to helping you choose a country wisely. Things you should be researching include:
- Salary potential
- Amount of available jobs
- Cost of living
- General safety
Unless you’re going to a politically instable country, there aren’t many countries in South America that are “unsafe.” It could be argued that Los Angeles and NYC are much more dangerous than the vast majority of SA cities. Don’t let stereotypes or your parents’ over-worry scare you away from a country of interest. To put this in perspective, before coming to SA we were warned constantly to not go to Columbia to teach, or even for travel. We quickly learned after mingling with other travelers that Columbia is not only safe, but a top destination for many.
2. Getting qualified: it is important to realize that each continent, country, and even cities sometimes have different governmental regulations and requirements for ESL teachers. Further, different schools will require different qualifications. It should be a red flag if a school doesn’t seem to require what you’d consider “basic” or “industry standard” qualifications. Some schools hire “warm bodies” just to have a foreign face in their classrooms. Spend time researching different TEFL certifications and assure that they are accepted worldwide. Take this seriously, as you don’t want to find yourself unprepared or under-qualified when you’re standing in front of a group of professionals who have paid a lot of money to be taught by you. However, not unlike any other new job, confidence in the classroom comes with time and experience. You will be nervous for your first few weeks or months, but that’s completely expected. If you plan on being hire-able, confident, and being in the field for a while, a CELTA certificate is highly recommended.
In general, though, you should expect to have the following qualifications before applying:
- Native speaker of English
- Four year degree (of any sort, but English or teaching-related majors are preferred)
- TEFL certificate (an in-person certification course is highly recommend, as many reputable schools these days don’t accept a basic, online certificate. The “rock-star” of all certifications is the CELTA, which can set you back as much as $2,000 USD, but is well worth the investment. Some people opt to take this course abroad in their desired new country, as they can start the acclimation process while being trained. CELTA is offered all over the world at varying prices. Some even offer all-inclusive packages, where a home-stay or room & board is included with the course).
- Teaching or tutoring experience (preferred, not a necessity)
- At least 2 years since you’ve graduated from university at the time of application (this is negotiable and varies)
- Willingness to sign a 6-month to a 1-year contract (also negotiable and variable)
- Speak the local language? NO! Don’t worry. A basic understanding of the native language of the country is a plus, but you will be expected to speak ONLY English in your classroom, as it is more beneficial for your students.
3. Choosing a school: aside from considering the salary being offered, you want to find first-hand recommendations and insights concerning the schools credibility and functionality– this cannot be stressed enough! Many schools will try to lure you in, promising X, Y, and Z, but because there is little regulation in the industry, there is little accountability. You do not want to find yourself contractually obliged to a given amount of time in a school that you are miserable in. The best way to find this information out is to directly ask (demand) that whoever you are in contact with (director, recruiter, etc.) gives you email addresses of current and past teachers. If they are not willing to do this, consider this a huge red flag. You need to ask teachers their honest opinion of the school and if they are (or were) generally happy there. Also, in the age of Facebook, many reputable schools will have a FB page. This could be a great source for you to personally attempt to contact current teachers. Lastly, there are TEFL “blacklist” blogs out there. See if any potential school has been blacklisted.
If you find yourself overwhelmed at the endless amount of TEFL websites, another option is to sign up for a free or paid recruiting agency. This can offer you the luxury of sitting back and receiving job offers. However, be weary of agencies, as they are essentially “head-hunters” and “middle-men” looking to score a commission from your hiring. By default, then, they aren’t looking out for your best interests. You should take all of the previously mentioned precautions even when investigating a job offer via a recruitment agency.
4. Visa Regulations/Requirements: it is important to note that each country and school (private or public) has different regulations and requirements for visas. One usually has the option of taking care of almost all visa requirements before arrival (which could prove much more convenient and less stressful) or (depending on the country) you can enter the country on a tourist visa and upgrade it to a work visa upon arrival. Your prospective employer should offer detailed info regarding the current requirements to legitimately work as an English teacher. The key word is “legitimately,” as there are still plenty of schools out there that will hire and pay under the table, which again, should be considered a huge red flag. Finally, some schools will offer to foot the bill for your visa costs, but usually only if you agree to sign a one-year contract. In our experience teaching English in Ecuador, you won’t find too many schools that offer visa fee coverage, or other perks such as ”free accommodation” or “comped airfare.”
5. Finding accommodations: your school should offer some sort of assistance with housing, whether it is hooking you up with a home-stay or helping you find your own flat or a shared-living situation with fellow teachers. Depending on where you end up working and what accommodations are like in that country, finding accommodation can be quite stressful at times, but it is all part of living abroad. Patience is key. Also, you can expect “sub-par” living conditions as compared to back home, unless you have the resources to pay for more than your teaching wages allow. Home-stays can be a wonderful experience and will quickly improve your Spanish, but of course, you sacrifice a certain amount of privacy. You could always do a short term home-stay and then opt for something else in the long run.
6. Why Ecuador? We cannot personally vouch for working & living in other SA countries, but we have over one year’s experience living and teaching English in Ecuador– specifically in Cuenca and Quito (we recommend the former). We highly recommend teaching English in Ecuador because you can enjoy:
- year-round beautiful weather
- low cost of living
- use of the U.S. dollar (especially for Americans)
- vast geographical diversity (for travel and side-trips)
- overall safety (though one still must be vigilant and smart)
- the warmness of its people
- affordable Spanish classes and a very “neutral” form of Spanish that foreigners find easy to understand
- job opportunities
- lively nightlife
- cultural diversity
With an open mind and patience, we can hardly fathom how someone could have a “bad” experience living and teaching English in Ecuador. We assume, though, that this would be similar in many South American countries.
Teaching English in Ecuador and Asia were vastly different experiences for us (each in their own good and bad ways) rendering it nearly impossible to fairly compare the two. However, both experiences have left us with a lot of knowledge and insight into the TEFL world, and we know exactly what it is like to be diving into this field for the first time. In retrospect, we wish we had done more research and exhausted more resources before we first dove in, so we hope our insights can offer some harm reduction and stress relief for prospective TEFL teachers out there.
Please do not hesitate to leave a comment below if you have further inquiries about TEFL in general or about teaching English in Ecuador or China.
And for further reading on the topic, please check out our list of recommended books on the topic.
Happy hunting and happy teaching!