Central America is an ideal location for future TEFL teachers who want to experience countries with larger-than-life personalities, astounding flora and fauna, and of course, to learn Spanish. If there is one thing that connects all seven Central American countries, it’s perhaps the people's’ love of talking, anytime and anywhere. By getting your TEFL certificate in Central America, you will be ideally placed to find the best teaching jobs, as most schools and institutions will only interview in person. Additionally, many TEFL courses will prepare you specifically for life in your new country, giving you an edge over online-only certificate holders.
While TEFL courses are available throughout Central America, the most popular locations to earn TEFL Certification in Central America are Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
Offering the most TEFL courses in the region, Costa Rica is considered by many to be the most advanced country in Central America. It is also home to the greatest number of available TEFL jobs, making it a top pick destination for TEFL teachers. As a hugely popular tourist destination, most Costa Ricans are eager to learn English, so English courses and TEFL jobs are widely available in the capital city of San Jose, as well as in more rural areas, which are perfect for those who enjoy the idea of TEFL courses with a side of surf and sand.
In contrast, Guatemala has a more volatile past, and as a result, fewer resources; but, this also means the demand for English teachers is great, making it an excellent choice for the intrepid teacher. Popular places for TEFL courses in Guatemala include picturesque Antigua, peaceful Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, and the capital, Guatemala City, where the majority of ESL teaching jobs can be found.
Nicaragua is still flying a little under the radar in terms of travel destinations, but it is precisely the lack of tourists that makes it a perfect place to get immersed in the local culture while completing your TEFL certification in Central America. Add to that the low cost of living and being its rank as the safest country in the region, and Nicaragua won’t remain a secret for long! The best places to get TEFL certified in Nicaragua include the capital Managua, Leon, Granada, and San Juan del Sur.
TEFL Programs in Central America
It is possible to gain employment as a TEFL teacher in Central America armed only with an online TEFL certificate, however your chances are greatly increased by getting your TEFL certificate in the country in which you intend to teach English in. In-country TEFL courses in Central America are normally four to eight weeks long, and should include at least 120 hours of training and in-class teaching.
The latter aspect is a great way to prepare you for life as a TEFL teacher and is increasingly in demand from schools and institutions seeking certified teachers. Many TEFL programs in Central America will help you organize interviews during or after your course, including helping you to prepare your CV. Prior teaching experience is normally not required to get a TEFL job in Central America, however some schools may favor teachers with a degree.
TEFL courses in Central America are usually held between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, though depending on the course, practicum (teaching training) elements can also be held during evenings and weekends. Typical elements of TEFL certification programs include grammar, second language acquisition, classroom management and lesson planning. Many TEFL programs follow a model of teaching by immersion, meaning they are very hands-on. Therefore, common practices also include role-playing, group work, and discussions. Exams are normally set during the course, and your instructors will also observe you during practicum sessions, in order to identify your strengths and weaknesses and better help you prepare for employment.
TEFL courses in Central America are available year round, in most countries; however, they tend to fill up quickly in November and December, since the school year in most Central American countries start in January or February. It is still possible to find TEFL job openings throughout the year, because some schools and language institutions hire continuously. Additionally, picking up private tutoring lessons is a popular alternative or supplement to teaching in schools in Central America.
Costs & Affordability
The cost of a TEFL courses in Central America very much depends on where it is located and the program length. Typical TEFL program costs range from around $1000 to $3500, normally including housing and course materials. Important items to budget for outside of program fees are travel insurance and flights, as these items are normally not included. Many TEFL certification programs in Central America act as a gateway to guaranteed, paid teaching placements and/or will guide you to the best TEFL jobs, making TEFL courses a good investment and time saver.
Expected salaries for TEFL jobs in Costa Rica range from $800 to $1000 per month. Salaries are generally higher in larger cities where the cost of living is also higher than in rural areas. Teaching contracts with public schools and language institutions normally provide monthly salaries, whereas private tutoring is often paid by the hour.
In Guatemala, the average monthly salary for TEFL teachers is between $500 and $1000. In general, private employment will offer higher salaries, though Guatemala is not the country to choose if you are planning on saving money. Instead, salaries tend to adequately cover monthly costs, such as rent and food, allowing you to live comfortably.
On the lower end of the spectrum, in Nicaragua, monthly salaries are generally from $400 to $800. Therefore, many ESL teachers look for more than one teaching contract to boost their income, or take on private tutoring in the evening and weekends; the normal pay rate for tutoring jobs in Nicaragua is around $5 to $15 per hour.
The cost of living in both Guatemala and Nicaragua is extremely low compared to the U.S. and Europe, with average monthly living costs between $300 and $600. These are not countries where you will be able to save much of your salary as a TEFL teacher; rather, most teachers come to Center America to experience the local way of life and all it has to offer.
Accommodation & Visas
Most TEFL courses in Central America offer on-site accommodation, which tends to be in shared dorm rooms. However, opportunities for private rooms are normally available at a premium. Where on-site accommodation is not available, common options include: hostels, cheap hotels, or local homestays.
During TEFL jobs, the most common accommodations teachers live in are rented apartments close to the school where they work. Often, TEFL program providers will be able to guide you and help you find suitable accommodations at your preferred rate and style. Living stipends or housing benefits are normally not included in teaching contracts in Central America; however, some institutions and schools may offer housing discounts.
For UK and U.S. passport holders, visas are not required to visit most Central American countries for up to 90 days (except Belize). Although, some countries, like Costa Rica, will demand proof of onward travel. Since most TEFL courses in Central America do not exceed eight weeks, participation generally does not require visas.
Getting a work visa in most Central American countries is technically possible, but in reality very few TEFL teachers are able to get work visas as it involves lots of red tape, lengthy teaching contracts, and sponsorships from local employers. Consequently, a common practice is the “visa-run” (i.e. exciting the country for 72 hours and then returning to gain a new 90-day stay). Work permits are typically the responsibility of local employers, but many schools and institutions refuse to supply these.
Benefits & Challenges
For teachers with valid TEFL certificates, finding a teaching job in Central America is relatively easy; however, you will often need to apply in person. Many TEFL teachers, therefore, find jobs through word-of-mouth or by advertising on local job boards.
It is possible to find teaching jobs in Central America without any qualifications, but this is not recommended, as salaries are generally lower and you will lack the necessary preparation a quality TEFL course will give you.
Given that most of Central America is Spanish speaking, it certainly helps if you pick up a little of the language. While TEFL teaching is always done using only English, knowing some of the local language will definitely come in handy in your everyday life.
Some teachers find it difficult to adjust to the different pace of life in Central America, where timeliness is not seen as something particularly necessary. On the flip side, this is just one of the many things that make living and teaching in Central America a unique experience.