Working in México sounds like a dream; living near the ocean, having a drink in a hammock while the breeze rocks you and the ocean waves lap up on shore. SIGN ME UP!
There is always, however, the fine print to consider. Teaching in México can be a unique and enjoyable experience, but as is the case with moving to any new country, there are always the legalities to consider. We decided to move to México, and more specifically to Mérida, Yucatán (Mérida is a city of about a million people in the state of Yucatán). We are about 45 minutes away from the beach by bus, pay very little for rent and utilities, have access to all manner of social and cultural activities, and can walk safely through most parts of the city.
The Challenges of Teaching Abroad: Getting Started in México
Finding a JobWhen coming to México in hopes of teaching ESL, one of the most important things to remember is that the jobs are not widely advertised on the internet or in the local media.
In many countries where jobs teaching English as a second language are in high demand, it is easy to find work while you are still at home. México can be a little bit trickier. Though there are a multitude of options for teaching in México, but you actually have to get here first. Most people who teach English as a foreign language seek out jobs while at home, then organize all the travel arrangements and job details via email. However, in México there are only a small percentage of jobs being offered online. When coming to México in hopes of teaching ESL, one of the most important things to remember is that the jobs are not widely advertised on the internet or in the local media. The best way to get a job is to have a resume drawn up in both English and Spanish, and also have a list of language schools and business language centers (to make this a bit easier, here is a very helpful site for Mérida and the Yucatán in general. Your best bet is to go to each school and be prepared to interview. Having CELTA, TOEFL or any other type of teaching certifications is an advantage, but is not widely recognized or required in México. Most employers simply require someone who speaks English as a first language. Most schools will have a program developed for teaching languages which they expect their teachers to follow. Another thing to remember is that you will get better wages if you work for a university or preparatory school rather than the language institutes. It is also important to remember that most schools will not offer full time hours at first and it may be necessary to accept jobs from several different schools to pay the bills.
Another issue you will have to deal with is finding housing. You will encounter the same problems finding housing from outside the country as with searching for a job. Most of the houses for rent or sale online target foreigners and vacationers which means they all more expensive than other options intended for nationals seeking housing. Although there are a few local sites similar to craigslist in the United States, they are very limited. Looking online for a house is one of the worst ideas when moving to Mérida, because most of the places that are for rent simply have a small sign that says “se renta” (for rent). When I moved to Mérida, I spent about a month simply walking through the streets in particular areas we were interested in, jotting down numbers that I saw everywhere. It is also possible to charter a taxi for a couple hours for around $250-300 MXP which is about $25-30 USD depending on the fluctuating exchange rate (Usually between 11 and 12 Pesos to 1 USD). I spent a month looking for places to rent because I wanted to be near the center of town, but far enough that I could escape the busy city noises. Another thing that is peculiar about Mérida is that many people will charge one month’s rent, one month’s deposit and one month’s “abogado fees” (lawyer fees for drawing up a rental agreement). You will also have to watch out for people who tell you that you need to have a guarantor or cosigner for the rental agreement. As a foreign citizen this is not necessary. All you will need, regardless of where you are renting, will be the money for rent and lawyer fees. The lawyer will also need a photocopy of your passport and immigration paper (small slip of paper that the immigration officers slip into your passport). You must be sure not to lose this paper because when you leave the country you need to present this paper and if you do not have it, there is a fee of about $100 USD. Some sites which may be helpful for finding houses and furniture would be: http://www.vivanuncios.com.mx/, and http://www.olx.com.mx/.
Stay Here Legally
When you enter the country on a tourist visa, you automatically get a pass to stay in México for up to six months. After six months, you must leave for at least 48 hours before you can return. After the 48 hours (from Mérida it is easiest to cross into Belize about a five hour bus ride away), you may return and enter for another 6 months. One of the issues with working in México is that individuals cannot apply for a work visa. You will need to come to México, apply for jobs, and have your employer file at the immigration office for your work visa. This typically takes 6-8 weeks to process, but can vary depending on the company or institute where you will be working. In order to receive your visa, you will need to leave the country and present your documentation to your embassy in another country since you cannot physically be in México when your immigration status changes from tourist to worker. One of the interesting things is that many schools will not bother with this process and would rather pay you “under the table” claiming that you are teaching in exchange for Spanish lessons or for volunteer work to save themselves the hassle of going through the visa process. While this is a common practice, there are penalty fees paid by both the institute and individual if caught. It is best to insist upon obtaining a work visa to avoid deportation and losing the ability to work legally in México.
Things to Remember in México
Many things in México move a lot slower than they do in the United States. Don’t get frustrated if someone takes three days to respond to an email. You need to remember TIM (This Is México). Keep calm and grab a beer to cool off. Remember that tipping is customary here and 10 percent is an acceptable number; in comparison to the United States, most things are cheaper and come in larger quantities. Buying a cell phone here may be very helpful since many people do not post their email addresses in the local classifieds or on their signs on their rental properties. You will pay the same rates as in the United States for smart phones, but you can find cell phones starting from approximately $18 USD.
Remember that when moving to México you need to be prepared to stay somewhere in a hotel, vacation rental, hostel or with friends for at least a few weeks while house hunting or job hunting.
Remember that the local classifieds in the newspapers as well as walking around will be your best tools to finding houses and jobs. Staying here with or without a visa will have its ups and downs, however it is not of the utmost importance. Remember that TIM (This Is México). Just sit back in that hammock on the beach, grab an icy brew or a margarita and have fun here in México.
Do you have any experience teaching English abroad? What was it like? Let us know in the comments!