Despite being named the world’s top travel destination in 2016 by Travel + Leisure, there’s much more than sightseeing, nightlife, and beaches in Panama. If you decide to teach English in Panama, you’ll be at the confluence of not only two continents, but a special blend of cultures. Whether you opt for the Pacific or Atlantic coast, or somewhere inland, you’ll have a chance to immerse yourself in a deeply proud Latin American country while giving back to young minds eager to understand their unique place in the world. Are you convinced that teaching in Panama should be next on your bucket list?
Though just over 28,000 square miles in size, Panama has an immense diversity in everything you can think of. You can dip your toes in the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise, and then cross the highlands and watch the sun set over the Pacific on the same day. When it comes to choosing where to teach English in Panama, there are several choices that reflect that same diversity.
The biggest city in Panama by far is Panama City, a global metropolis containing all the amenities you can imagine. You’ll also find the greatest number and variety of teaching jobs in Panama City, from elementary to secondary level and public to private schools. On weekends and between academic semesters, you can enjoy Panama City’s renowned nightlife, budding gastronomy scene, or explore the colonial history in the old town, Casco Viejo. Whatever your own extracurricular interest, you can strike a balance between time in the classroom and “homework” experiencing your new home.
If you’re looking for somewhere less urban to teach English in Panama, consider Bocas Del Toro. This seaside town isn’t big, but offers a beautiful setting and plenty of beaches with world-class surfing you can enjoy in between grading assignments and writing lesson plans.
Other cities you might consider applying for teaching jobs in Panama in include the small town of Boquete and the mid-sized city of David. Both of these cities are likely to offer more immersive experiences of Panamanian culture than a global destination like Panama City, and both have a need for teachers and educational programs.
On the whole, education in Panama is a growing priority; though students are only required to attend seven years of elementary and three years of middle school, over 60 percent of young people in Panama complete these compulsory years and 90 percent of Panamanians are literate. As Panama continues to rise in international importance, both economically and as a tourist destination, the need for teachers to support education, English language education specifically, will continue to grow.
Teaching Jobs in Panama
Education is of increasing importance in Panama, so the range of teaching jobs in Panama reflects this. There are three main types of teaching jobs in Panama: private school jobs, English teaching jobs, and private tutoring.
In a private school teaching job, you will likely be teaching English, or another subject if you speak Spanish too. In most cases, you’ll need to have some form of accreditation to teach English in Panama at a private school, such as a TEFL/TESOL certification or a teaching certificate from your home country. Private school teaching jobs may entail preparing lesson plans, carrying out daily lessons, and collaborating with other teachers.
Teaching English in Panama may take a variety of forms, from working in a language school or international school to being employed by a company that provides English language instruction. In any case, you will need TEFL/TESOL certification in order to apply for most English teaching jobs in Panama. However, you could always opt to earn your ESL teaching certificate while in Panama.
Finally, you may opt to teach in Panama as a private tutor. In these positions, a solid, fluent grasp of Spanish will be fundamental to your success as an educator, since you will likely work with individual students and teach English as a Second Language (ESL). Many ESL teachers also supplement their income by taking on tutoring jobs in addition to their full-time teaching jobs in Panama.
Your schedule while teaching in Panama will largely depend on the placement(s) you choose. Working in a formal elementary or middle school will likely result in you receiving standard Panamanian employee benefits, including 13 paid holidays (including five days for Carnival in February each year!). As a private instructor or tutor, you will have more flexibility and control over your own work schedule and time off.
Salaries & Costs
The good news teaching English in Panama is that it offers both fair compensation and an affordable cost of living. Together, these combine to make teaching in Panama less stressful than some other countries, such as in countries where wages may not be enough to reduce the stress of paying your monthly bills.
Teaching jobs in Panama offer salaries that are commensurate with both experience and the cost of living in Panama. Given that the cost of living in Panama is roughly 25 percent lower than that of the U.S., salaries are similarly reduced. Meals often cost between $5 and $15 in most places, and rent for a one bedroom apartment is usually around $700 in a city like Panama City. The affordability of living and teaching in Panama is also related to the rurality of the setting; rent, food, and utilities are significantly less expensive in smaller towns, such as Bocas del Toro and Boquete, but wages will also be somewhat lower.
In most places, teaching salaries are between $900 and $1300 per month. Private tutors often pull rates of between $15 and $25 per hour, which is excellent as as a supplement to another income stream. Your salary will be more than adequate to cover the cost of living in Panama, even in bigger cities.
Most teaching jobs in Panama do not include the cost of flights in compensation packages. Also, most of the time, housing is not included in any sort of benefits package; however, there are rare programs which offer housing assistance. In any case, be prepared to find your own accommodation and book your own flights to Panama.
Accommodation & Visas
Panama provides teachers with the opportunity to easily manage the logistics of moving to and living in a foreign country. While you’ll certainly encounter the normal hurdles of language barriers and paperwork, most opportunities to teach English in Panama include assistance in navigating the moving process once you have accepted a job offer.
Most teachers end up finding accommodation on their own in houses or apartments, rather than through dorms or shared housing. Accommodation in Panama is roughly 20 percent lower than rent in the U.S., but there is a wide range in the quality of housing you can find; it’s certainly possible to get a great deal for an apartment in Panama, but creature comforts, including air conditioning, may not be included. Remember that Panama is a Central American country, so it is not far from the equator!
When it comes to visas required to teach English in Panama, you’ll have two choices: go through the meticulous and somewhat expensive process of applying for a work visa to be in Panama for the duration of your teaching contract or work in Panama on a tourist visa, taking quarterly trips to a neighboring country to re-set the clock on your visa. It is always best to get legal with your paperwork and be sure to not overstay your visa if you have one! Be sure to consult to get information on visas so you can determine which one better suits your professional and personal goals.
Benefits & Challenges
At first glance, teaching English in Panama might seem to be a complex set of hurdles to jump over, including deciding where to teach geographically and in what kind of institution, figuring out what kind of subjects you are qualified to teach, and determining which qualifications you will need. Panama has a complex system that creates such bureaucracy to help protect its students and ensure they receive a high quality education.
If you choose to teach in Panama, however, you will be rewarded by passing on the joy of knowledge to your students, regardless of the subject you teach. Education in Panama is important, and at many levels your students will be enthusiastic and eager to learn, and teach you life in their community too.
As a teacher in Panama, you will have the opportunity to engage students with information that may serve them throughout their lives. At any academic level, the service you’ll do for your students will help improve not only their individual lives, but their community as a whole. For a teacher, there is no greater reward than that!