Category Archives: Working in Mexico
I was half asleep, my head on the desk. I’d been in South Korea for about a month, though the school had only been open for a few days.
I was one of the first teachers at a brand new school, and I had no teaching experience. Our boss had no experience running an English school either, though he did already own a small kindergarten.
The secretary stepped into the teacher’s room. “You have a class.”
Really? I shook out the cobwebs and walked down the hall to the sparkling new classroom. At a table sat a 13-year-old boy, calm and expressionless with a notebook open in front of him. Two children rolled and played on the floor.
The boy and I chatted. What’s your name? How old are you? Where are you from?
He spoke English quite well, sitting up straight with his hands folded in his lap. I told the two kids on the floor to join us. One hit the other, and they both started screaming.
This was my class?
Welcome to EFL teaching
EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language, also known as ESL, English as a Second Language.
This isn’t your high school English class, writing essays and reading The Great Gatsby, but teaching the English language to people who speak another language.
There are three things to know before you pursue a career in EFL: the requirements, which country to choose, and how to find the right type of school.
A common misconception is that anyone who speaks English can teach EFL, though in a way this is true. Any motivated, hardworking English speaker could find an entry-level EFL teaching job somewhere in the world.
But not everyone will be good at it. Some people aren’t cut out to be teachers, and you really won’t know if you’re good at it you unless you give it try.
There’s a lot more to teaching English than simply speaking it as a native language or even knowing grammar. (Though you should learn grammar – get a copy of The Elements of Style or Essentials of English.)
Another common misconception about teaching English in a foreign country is that if you teach in Mexico, you need to speak Spanish. Or if you teach in Japan, you need Japanese, and so forth. This is not true. In fact, you will give a more effective class if you teach only in English, even for beginners.
However, once you leave the classroom, you’ll obviously need the local language in everyday life. Make the effort – it will make your experience much better. I always thought there was something strange about language teachers who aren’t interested in learning other languages.
For decent teaching jobs in most parts of the world, the basic requirement is a four-year bachelor’s degree in anything. They will want to see your diploma and transcripts, so make sure you bring originals, along with backup copies or digital photos.
For better job prospects and to learn a little about how to be a teacher, a TESL/TEFL/TESOL certificate will help. They are the same. TESOL/TESL means Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Most courses teach teaching methods, lesson planning, and advanced English grammar. Also, most good ones include a practicum, where you must find an ESL school, observe classes, and get some teaching practice.
You can do a course in a physical school or online. To find a school, just Google “TESL” (or one of its variations) and the closest city. You may find a course in a community college or an ESL school, where foreigners go to study English.
An online course is a good option. The price will tell you how reputable it is. For a complete curriculum, such as what you would learn in a classroom, expect a price of around $1,000 USD. This may not include the price of the practicum.
You can find a cheapie certificate online for as low as $100, and some schools might accept it. But for schools that require it, it may not be enough.
For example, if you want to work at a reputable school in Canada, you need a TESL certificate that is recognized by an organization called TESL Canada. I got mine online from a school called Coventry House at ontesol.com.
However, these courses aren’t necessary for many entry-level jobs. Take a look at the requirements for jobs in the country you want to teach in. The type of job that requires a TESL certificate may also require experience, usually two years. You can always do a TESL course after your first year teaching.
And honestly, these courses do not fully prepare you for being a teacher. You learn to be a teacher by teaching and asking advice from more experienced coworkers.
Many schools understand this, and there is such a demand for teachers in some countries (especially South Korea, Japan and Taiwan) that someone with no experience and no certification other than a bachelor’s degree can easily find a job.
Other requirements depend on the country and type of school. You will find many schools that want previous experience as a teacher, often more than two years.
Take a look at some ads online to get an idea of what specific countries and types of schools are looking for.
Where to go
Where do you want to go: Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa?
Jobs are available everywhere in the world, including cities in English-speaking countries like New York, Vancouver, London, and Melbourne.
Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, the three most developed countries of East Asia, typically offer the most entry-level job opportunities and best pay.
There are jobs in other parts of Asia, like China or Thailand, but with no experience you may get paid very little.
The same goes for Latin America – plenty of opportunities, low pay. But if you are thinking long term, after a year or two you will have more opportunities with better pay and benefits, such as universities.
Europe can be tricky because there are so many multilingual people already living there. Most schools require experience, often a minimum of two years.
Some of the most lucrative jobs in EFL are in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Private schools offer large tax-free income and loads of benefits, but usually ask for a minimum of two years experience. If you really want to go, consider getting your experience elsewhere and then moving on.
Dave’s ESL Café is the best resource for finding a job online. Spend some time on the site – get to know which countries are hiring and what the requirements and benefits are. You’ll get an idea of the types of schools available in various countries: elementary/high schools, small private schools, government schools, universities.
Search for other sites, articles like this one, or specific schools. You may not want to get a job off the internet, but at least you can get some knowledge about the teaching market of a country that interests you.
For an entry-level teaching job, your best option is a small language school, often called academies, cram schools, or its name in the local language (hogwan in Korea, for example).
These may be for kids, adults, or both.
If for kids, you will probably teach kindergarten in the morning and then school-age kids in the afternoon. This is a great place to learn how to teach, because there’s less pressure to know what you are doing. If you teach adults, you’d better know grammar.
Berlitz, for example, is an international company that focuses on adults, often business people. Many schools like Berlitz have classes in the early morning and late afternoon and a long break mid-day. Or you will teach in companies and factories, traveling to them on public transportation all over town.
Teaching university almost always requires experience, but these can be some of the best jobs in EFL, with good pay, good benefits, and vacation time. The same goes for elementary/middle/high schools, although you might find these more challenging because of larger class sizes and discipline problems with immature students.
In many countries you will make a lot of money teaching private lessons. So when weighing your options, don’t only look at how much the pay is, but what your schedule will be like. A job with fewer hours per week gives you more time to teach private lessons. But be ethical; don’t take students from your employer.
Two options to get the job
To get a job, you can find one beforehand (probably online), or travel to your country of choice and hit the streets.
Finding a job beforehand has advantages, especially for first-time teachers. The school may pay for your flight. They may even pick you up from the airport. You won’t have the stress of getting around a new country, dealing with a new language, and worrying about your money running out. Most will provide an apartment.
The downside of getting a job while still at home is that you won’t know exactly what you are getting into. I got my first teaching job in South Korea from home, and I was lucky: My boss was honest – we became friends even – and he kept to the contract.
Many people aren’t so lucky. They find out that they will have to work strange hours. Or they are underpaid and given a dingy apartment. Or they have a long commute. The point is that you won’t know until you get there, though it’s a good idea to speak with other English teachers at the school.
And not all good jobs advertise online. For example, you’ll rarely find a good university job on Dave’s ESL Café.
And if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree and still want to teach EFL, you’ll have to search for small, independent schools that will hire you just because you are a native speaker. These places don’t often advertise online for teachers.
So the second choice is for the adventurous: fly to the country you’re interested in and hit the streets. That’s what I did here in Mexico.
Finding a job in person has many advantages. You can find the jobs that aren’t advertized online. Ask around, look for advertisements in university newspapers – you will find the schools.
More importantly, you can get a face-to-face interview and weigh your options. You can see the school, meet the person who will be paying you, and take a look around the neighborhood you will be living in.
Of course, this method has disadvantages – the greatest being that you may run out of money while on the job search.
Also, if you find a job in person they may not pay for your flight or your apartment, and you may have to apply for the working visa by yourself.
What to expect
You can expect stress, confusion, frustration, maybe homesickness, and possibly a broken contract.
Be as patient and flexible as possible, in and outside of the classroom. Dealing with a new culture takes time. Even after years, you won’t fully understand certain social conventions.
There’s a time to be firm as well. Make sure you get what you’ve been promised, especially if you agree to a contract while still back home.
During my two years in Korea, I learned how to teach. I traveled all over South Korea. I traveled to China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. At the end I went back to the Philippines for three months of beaches, scuba diving, and forgetting about classrooms full of small children.
13 years and four countries later, and I’m a university professor and translator in Mexico. I never planned on making EFL a career. I just wanted to see the world from the inside, not be a tourist, but a resident.
It was a good decision.
In November of 2012 big changes were made to Mexican immigration law. The FM3 is no more, but if you have one it can roll over into the non-immigrant visa for work.
At the top of the card it says Residente Temporal and at the bottom Permiso Para Trabajar. This is what the foreigner needs to legally work in Mexico. Fortunately, the renewal process is much simpler than getting the visa in the first place.
You must apply to renew the visa 30 days before your visa expires, and in most cases it will last a year.
In the State of Mexico, where I live, there were massive lines all summer at the Instituto Nacional de Migracion (the National Institute of Migration, or INM). Just getting information took hours. When I went back in November to pick up the card, the long lines were gone.
In your part of Mexico the office may still be busy. I recommend going early in the morning.
Here is the process I recommend you follow to renew your immigration status in Mexico.
1. Visit the INM office
You need to visit the office at least twice, before and after you pay. Among other things, pick up the payment form on the first visit. Once you have the payment form you can pay in cash at any bank with your passport.
Ask for a list of requirements too. Get specifics on the different types of residency, necessary documents and photo specs. Remember that things change without notice.
At the time of writing (Dec. 2013), what you need to apply are:
1. Your old card and passport.
2. A form called formato basico that they will give you at the office. It is simple personal information and you can fill it out there. Make sure you know your height and weight in metric.
3. A letter from your employer stating that you will continue working under the same contract. They should also give you the form they have from the government to hire foreign workers. Unless you are their first foreign worker, they will know what to give you.
4. Copies of your last three pay stubs. On the official list of documents you need it says just one, but they asked me for three. It is better to bring more than fewer documents.
5. A letter from you stating that nothing has changed in your employment situation. Here, you can use mine:
Instituto Nacional de Migración
Subdelegación Local en xxx
Mi nombre es xxx, y mi nacionalidad es xxx. Solicito mi prorroga de calidad de no inmigrante y manifestó que subsisten las condiciones bajo las cuales me fue concedida la característica migratoria, así como confirmo las mismas actividades en las que me encuentra realizando. Soy xxx (your profession).
De antemano, agradezco puedan llevar a cabo mi solicitud de manera positiva.
6. Infantil (passport size) photographs. Get the form from the office. At the time of writing you need two from the front and one from the side. There should be a photo shop near the office, but it will probably be more expensive than one in another part of town.
Remember to dress nice, be polite, and make copies of everything. Never show impatience or anger. Don’t expect them to speak English either. If you bring someone to help you, they may not be allowed inside, so ask your friend to write down what you need: the payment form, the list of requirements, and the photo sheet.
2. Do the online application
Make sure that the dates on the application and your letters are from within 30 days of expiration, not before. For example, mine expires on May 31st, and if I brought in an application and letters dated in April it would be rejected.
Fill the application out online and print it. Careful with the dates! The day goes first and the moth second.
Here’s the link: http://www.inm.gob.mx/index.php/page/Solicitud_de_Estancia
Under ¿Qué desea hacer? select Extender la estancia.
Under Especifique select Expedición de tarjeta de Residente por Renovación.
If you don’t understand Spanish, get some help.
3. Return to the office and submit your application
Make the payment at any bank (with your passport) and make two copies of the receipt.
Put all of your documents from the checklist in a manila folder, and put the checklist and all backup copies in another folder. It can’t hurt to bring more documents, like your diploma or the originals of your paystubs. Basically bring everything you have, such as extra photographs.
Then go back to the office, wait in line and hand over the manila folder.
Smile and say buenos dias or buenas tardes to everyone. Again, never get angry or complain. If you do, you will get nowhere.
Don’t be surprised if they ask for something that’s not on the list. Don’t get mad or insist that it’s not necessary. Just calmly get as much information as you can.
If you made a mistake on the application, go to a ciber (internet café) and start a whole new one. There should be a ciber nearby where you can print. Tell the immigration officer nicely that you’ll be right back so you don’t have to get back in line.
When they finally accept your application, they will give you a paper with the important numbers for your application (NUT and pieza), including the contraseña (password). Save this paper and bring it and your passport to pick up your card once it’s ready.
Go to this page to check the status of your application: http://www.inm.gob.mx/index.php/page/Seguimiento_de_Tramite
Ask at the office for an estimated wait time. Then call around then.
Don’t rely on the website. Last time I kept checking see if there was any news, but nothing. Finally an office called. When I picked up the card, he asked why I hadn’t come earlier, implying that it had been ready for some time.
If you need to leave Mexico while your card is still being processed, then you need to apply for a departure and reentry permit (permiso de salida y regreso). I was told that it must be done three days before you leave, but I’d say do it a week early.
The fee was around 300 pesos.
Choose Obtener permiso de salida y regreso from the same page where you did your renewal application: http://www.inm.gob.mx/index.php/page/Solicitud_de_Estancia
And that should be it. In my experience the officers were polite and patient, despite huge lines and many applicants who had no idea what they are doing. You can’t use your cell phone. Bring a book or the paper and chill.
Yes I’ve been slacking on updating this blog. I have plenty of stories in the works, but also tons of hours at the day job.
Thanks to all of you who read this blog and especially those who follow it. I love reading your comments, so please let me know where you are and why you are interested in Mexico.
Transitions Abroad, one of the best websites on living and working abroad, just released their April webzine. Three of my articles are featured in it, including one of my favorites, A Drinking, Smoking, Womanizing Saint, researched and written during my first trip in Guatemala two summers ago.
The issue is devoted to Latin America, with many stories focused on finding work or volunteer opportunities.
You can check it out by clicking here.
I don’t want to use this post to just plug the webzine, so enjoy some recent photos: