Whether you’re looking for a short-term cultural exchange opportunity or a place to hang your hat in your retirement years, teaching English in Central America is your destination. From pristine beaches and tropical paradises, to cloud forests and inland adventures, there’s something to offer everyone who may want to call this part of the globe their home (even if it’s only for a short while).
While it may be a small region, Central America packs a big punch when it comes to sheer beauty, fascinating history, rich culture and friendly people. From Guatemala and Belize in the north to Panama in the south, and Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras in the middle, the countries that make up Central America are as unique and varied as the people who seek to move there.
About the Region
From the gorgeous lakes and coffee plantations in Guatemala to hikeable volcanoes and beaches in Nicaragua, to the adventurous spirit everyone seems to adopt while in Costa Rica, Central America is full of hidden treasures and worldwide known-reasons to travel between its countries. Latin culture lives and breathes here-—you see it in its food, in its textiles, in its eco-tourism, and in the people who warmly greet you when you arrive.
Central America is a special place. To find out just how special, you would need to explore it on your own, but we’re here to give you an inside scoop anyway.
Fair warning: getting excited about teaching English in Central America is addicting. Join in and start lusting alongside us!
Now with all of that gorgeous scenery you can take in all around Central America, there is one small catch: humidity. Though this kind of humidity is not as strong as you might find in Southeast Asia, it will pack a punch—especially if you’ve been living in or are used to dry weather. The good part about this is that with any teaching English gig comes a contract, which means you will have ample time to adjust to the weather there!
There are two seasons in Central America: wet or dry. The humidity and heat may vary country to country, but the dry season is typically from November to May, and rainy season is usually from June to October. Rainy season in these countries can mean hard rain for short bursts of time multiple times per day. But just because it’s raining doesn’t mean the beauty decreases: think wonderful rain forests.
Culture and language barriers, yes. Experience and journey of a lifetime, yes!” ~Carlye Goldman (USA), Costa Rica TEFL Program
Spanish! Learning to speak Spanish is one of the most valuable life skills you can develop, in our humble opinion. Though the core of Spanish will remain the same when traveling between all seven countries in Central America, you will find different variations on words (a slang word can mean something entirely different from one country to another, for example) and relative speed of speech throughout the region. While Central America has a built-in tourism economy and locals working in the industry know at least some English, you will find plenty of remote locations or sub-populations that do not speak English. All the more reason to learn Spanish while you teach there.
Fun fact: indigenous Mayan languages are still spoken in Central America! In Guatemala, you can find over two dozen Mayan dialects throughout the country. Even in a popular place like La Antigua, you can hear a Mayan dialect spoken on the street as you pass, in a shop while you buy textiles, or while roaming coffee farms, or fincas.
The majority of populations in Central America practice Catholicism. You will also find groups of Protestants. Most Catholic holidays and traditions are observed, and you’ll notice the abundance of catholic churches in every city you visit.
Why Teach English in Central America?
We may have already mentioned that Central America is experiencing a boom for the teaching English market, and therein lies your opportunity—don’t leave it to waste! Since many countries are new to the TEFL scene, there are many more jobs available than teachers to fill them, so finding work should be a piece of cake. Plus, with some of the least strict qualifications to getting started, super simple visa processes and extra low cost of living, teaching English in Central America is a win-win-win.
If you’ve ever had an inkling that Central America is your kind of vibe and have been dying to go, why not make it happen for real this time? Give yourself the space and freedom to see what’s it’s all about and how you fit in. You just might find yourself wishing you had done it sooner.
Central America by Country
Countries like Costa Rica — where tourism has been a part of the economy for much longer than other Central American countries — have had a teaching English market for quite some time, but countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala are evolving more each year. All you have to do is choose which one is calling you:
Guatemala has a special place in our hearts at globalU. You might feel the same way after visiting, but if you don’t, we won’t hold it against you. You will find several schools and private teaching opportunities in need of your English expertise around the country, with a majority in Guatemala City and La Antigua, which are just 45 minutes away from each other. And if you know nothing about Antigua, start digging because you’re going to love it.
Teaching English in Costa Rica may feel like the obvious choice for some, and heaven for others. Perhaps you’ve already been there (or social media makes you feel like you have), and the idea of making a living there is just too good to be true. But it’s not, because Costa Rica still needs English teachers even with a longer history than other Central American countries in this market. Here you can find a mix of students—business professionals, children, and a bevy of private teaching opportunities. And while many of the other countries host larger markets in their biggest cities, Costa Rica has opportunities throughout the country.
Nicaragua is a sweet bet in Central America because it’s often referred to as Costa Rica’s young cousin, and thus has a booming English teaching market with fewer tourists and and a lower cost of living. This is what we call a magical combination for English teachers abroad! Look for teaching opportunities at bilingual schools in Granada, Managua, and Leon, and plan your weekends visiting beaches or climbing volcanoes!
Panama might not be your first choice when it comes to Central America, but we implore you to see it as a viable option. What Panama gives you is access—access to South America, and access back into Central America when it comes time to make your travel plans. It’s also home to some of the most beautiful beaches around. Many business professionals are in need of your English skills, and Panama City is a great place to start looking, though opportunities can be found elsewhere as well.
Honduras has a lot of political unrest from year to year, and traveling here is often made difficult for that reason. It’s not completely off limits though, and there are teaching opportunities. Check out both paid and volunteer positions in the bigger cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Because of Honduras’ reputation, your skills will be greatly appreciated in communities there.
Small but mighty, El Salvador is an interesting place. While the capital city of San Salvador is large and multi-cultural, you can find a rich Mayan history elsewhere. The importance of English language skills in adults is increasing, so you will find teaching opportunities mostly in private language schools. If volunteering is more important to you, you will find opportunities in more rural areas.
If you’re surprised to see Belize on this list because you already knew that the national language is English, then hang on a second. There is still ample opportunity to teach in English here, you just might find it in other subjects like math or science. Belize is home to some stunning scenery, jungles upon jungles, and some of the coolest ecotourism in Central America (dare we say that it rivals Costa Rica?).
Qualifications for Teaching English in Central America
While teaching opportunities will vary from private language institutes and local businesses to public schools and one-on-one tutoring, there are a few basic requirements that you’ll need to get started with a decent job in Central America. Here are a few requirements to get your foot in the door:
-A fluency in English
-A TEFL certificate
-A desire to live and teach in Central America
Kinds of Schools You Can Work In
Depending on the country, you can find jobs in public schools, through private tutoring opportunities, international schools (typically require a degree in education and experience), language institutes, or teaching adult business professionals looking to diversify their language skill sets. Holding both a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate will make you more competitive in each country in Central America, but if you are missing a bachelor’s degree, don’t shy away too quickly—this is one of the few regions in the world that doesn’t require one!
What You’ll be Required to do
This will differ with the kind of school you decide to work for, but there shouldn’t be anything your TEFL certification course won’t prepare you for. In public and private schools, you can expect to teach 20-30 contact hours each week, with the remaining hours meant for planning, prepping, grading, etc. You can expect the hours to be Monday – Friday from 7:30-3:30.
In English language institutes, you may work closer to or more than 40 teaching hours per week and your schedule could have less time for planning, etc. built in. Be prepared to work nights and weekends, since most of your students will be attending after school/work hours.
If you set up private tutoring, you’ll be able to work with your student to set up the hours and times per week.
In any case, you’ll be meeting your students where they’re already at. Are they A1 level in English, or B2? You should be prepared to gauge their level and determine where they need to go from there to improve. In some cases, you’ll be teaching only conversational English (simply getting them to use the skills they already have), and in lower levels you may be teaching vocabulary and grammar. With advanced levels, they may already be communicative and wanting to perfect their grammar and vocabulary while adding in your cultural slang (yes, they love to learn about that!).
What the Students are Like
Since most teaching opportunities in Central America are in the private sector, students will be in all ages and levels of English. Most students are very respectful of their teachers, and you’ll be highly regarded as a professional in your field. Expect them to be studious and ask a lot of questions.
Salaries to Expect
Don’t move to Central America to teach English if you plan to get rich, since that’s likely not going to happen. Most full-time positions pay monthly salaries between $500-$700 USD, which is usually enough to live on and break even in your chosen country.
How to Make Extra Money while Teaching in Central America
If the low cost of living and comfortable teacher salary aren’t quite enough to satisfy your financial status while teaching English in Central America, then there are ways to supplement your income. There’s always teaching online in your spare time by setting your own schedule, or choosing to privately tutor on the side. Many foreign English teachers choose to tutor, because you can make those connections with students who require or wish to get more help with their English through the institution you’re already working at. Once you’re all set up in-country, making those connections and learning where to find tutoring possibilities will come naturally.
There are also other ways to earn more money while teaching in Central America that have, well, nothing to do with teaching! Have you ever considered becoming a virtual assistant? Small businesses are often in need of help with their social media accounts, scheduling, technical assistance, and anything in between! You may be more qualified for this type of job than you think! In order to find jobs, there’s always Craigslist, but a large portion of quality positions can be found within Facebook groups. Just pop “virtual assistant” into the search bar, select groups, and join up!
Vacation/Holidays for Teachers in Central America
If you land a job with a language institute, your holiday vacations are going to vary from public school holidays. The structure of summer and winter breaks will likely differ from what you’re used to as well: summer is often Christmas through February, and winter is 1-2 weeks in July or August.
Other holidays to look out for:
- Ash Wednesday
- Easter Break (1-2 weeks)
- 10-15 other national holidays that will differ between public schools and language institutes
If you’re wondering if there is enough time to travel and explore-—yes, of course! The only major difference between Central America and other regions is that there is not a long summer break in Central America. However, you’re going to have other holidays dotting your schedule to give you plenty of room to take trips.
Getting a Visa
Most program providers will walk you through the steps to proper visa attainment in your chosen country, but for the most part, getting a visa to teach English in Central America is just as easy as the living: get a tourist visa stamp on your way in. In most cases, the only catch is that you have to renew it every 90 days by leaving the country and then returning to get another stamp. Looking for an excuse to visit somewhere else in Central America? That’s your chance! There are exceptions to which citizens can obtain a tourist visa upon arrival, so always be sure to check with the consulate of your chosen country to be sure you qualify.
Visa access in Guatemala is a little different in that you need a passport valid for at least six months. If you’re planning to stay for longer than a 90-day period, you will need to make a visit to the General Directorate of Migration in Guatemala office for an extension.
A unique feature of obtaining the proper visa in Nicaragua is that you need proof of your return ticket.
Depending on your resident country, you will need to do additional research to determine how to obtain the proper paperwork to stay longer than 90 days by checking the consulate website.
Getting a Bank Account & Getting Paid
Depending on the country, you may find that your own bank has a branch in Central America. If that’s the case, do your research on how to access your account while you’re abroad.
If you don’t have that option, ask your new network of English teachers before choosing where to bank. Ask about the pros and cons of each and if they can help you with the process. Having someone who has done it before on your side will help smooth things out immensely! Once you’ve chosen a bank, processes are going to vary. In some cases all you need is your passport, but in most you will also need proof of residency. Just make sure to have a structure with how to access your account from your home country while you’re waiting on residency permits to come through, whether that’s using an ATM or figuring out a wire.
Networking in your teacher community is a cinch in Central America, and finding a place to live shouldn’t be difficult. Shared apartments or homes are always an option, if you want a sense of community during your time there. Depending on the program you have chosen, some may be able to point you in the right direction for shared housing situations, though accommodations are usually not included in Central America for teaching positions. Additionally, because Central America is popular amongst travelers on a budget, you might look into hostels. Many offer private rooms if that’s important to you, but many cities with available TEFL positions are going to have an abundant amount of hostels to choose from.
I stayed with a homestay and loved it, especially my host mom’s cooking.” ~ Kaitlyn Bacca (USA)
Political Climate and Crime Rates in Central America
Well, as with any Ultimate Guide, this is often the hard part to describe to others. And we’re not talking about you, the English teacher, we’re talking about describing political climates and crime rates to your friends and family who may be concerned about where you’ve chose to pack up your life and move to. You’ve probably heard about the dangers in El Salvador or Honduras, and it’s true that political unrest is not a thing of the past in Central America.
As with all of our Ultimate Guides, we use a crime rate comparison tool to show similarities or (sometimes) huge differences between the types of crimes in your home country versus where you’re considering teaching English. Keep in mind that in Central America, things might look a little rough on paper, but know that you—a foreign English teacher—are not the target for many crimes.
Communicating with People Back Home
Speaking of friends and family, it’s sometimes difficult to relay to them how best to communicate with you while abroad. Once you’re in a foreign country, the rules of communication obviously change because you can’t reach out to your home country without paying a fortune. We suggest setting up a time that works for both you and the callee based on your respective time zones, and sticking to that time however many times per month is necessary to update them on your life, or to just let your parents know that you’re still alive (because we all know how much they worry!).
So do your friends and family a favor and tell them just how they can reach you before you leave:
Probably the most popular texting app over wifi, WhatsApp is a reliable form of communication, as long as those you’re trying to reach set the app up on their phone, too (hey, this part seems to trip people up if they’ve never had to use it before!). The nice thing about WhatsApp is that it also has a video chat feature, as well as a free wifi calling and a voice chatting feature for when you can’t type out everything you want to say.
Though not as strong of a communication platform as WhatsApp, let your Facebook friends know they can reach you via Messenger should they need to. It also comes with voice calling and a video chat feature, but usually only works well when there are no kinks in the Wi-Fi network.
Skype seems as though it will always be a reputable way to actually see your family, friends and loved ones instead of just hearing them speak, and they luckily still have free options available.
FaceTime and iMessages
If you have an iPhone, iPhone users back home have an advantage over others in that they can send you iMessages (and you to them while connected to wifi) and FaceTime call or video chat you at any point with no need to download something extra. But because not everyone has an iPhone, you may find yourself using iMessages less, and WhatsApp more.
Good Old Fashioned Email
This might be an obvious choice, but the nice thing about an email is that there is no limit on length like there is in texts, or while connected to a potentially spotty Wifi connection while trying to get one sentence through over video chat. Just saying.
See how many you can send in one calendar year! Though it may take a while for the postcards to reach their destination, we can tell you the receiver always appreciates them, and they become little mementos to hang on fridges (you may even spark their interest to come visit you and see how amazing Central America is for themselves!).
Also, bonus: you get to see what a post office looks like in Central America. Guarantee it will be an experience!
Obtaining Health Insurance in Central America
In many cases throughout Central America, you’re going to find cheaper prices for healthcare than say, in the United States. Once you have been awarded a training or teaching position in the country of your choice, ask your agency how temporary residents get healthcare. You might be hard pressed to find any coverage included in your position package because it’s a super rare benefit to find in Central America, but don’t let that deter you. There are also traveler’s health insurance plans that cover you while you’re abroad. It really depends on how long you plan on staying in the region and which country you’ve chosen, but asking around when you get there will improve your chances.
Dealing with Taxes
What would this guide be if we didn’t also discuss dealing with taxes while you teach English in Central America? If you’re coming from the United States, what you earn as an English teacher is considered foreign earned income and therefore you are eligible for a foreign earned income exclusion benefit. This will walk you through the process of filing the benefit, and ensure you meet all of the qualifications. If you’re coming from another country, ask your CPA, do research on your national tax collection agency’s website, or try to reach out to a teacher who has gone through the process before, either through Facebook groups designed to connect foreign English teachers, or through inquiries on chat posts.
Dealing with Student Loans
Dun-dun-duuuun! Don’t forget about your pesky student loans, too, while teaching English in Central America! For Americans, we have that nifty income-based repayment plan option that is your saving grace when life takes you to teach English abroad. Read more about it here. Your adjusted gross income (AGI) and student loans are connected, so be sure to understand just what you’re getting into after moving abroad for work. This also has to do with your student loan interest deduction, and whether you will qualify for that when tax time rolls around. When on an income-based repayment plan, be sure to discuss the changes (if any) working overseas will do to your monthly payments with your loan servicer, as the answer to this question can vary.
Sending Money Home
As long as you have a personal account and your family member or friend has one, too, then it’s free to send money to one another from Central America back to them.
Only requiring a debit card on both ends, this option is just a few clicks away from sending money back and forth. Small fees may apply, depending on the amount of your transfer, but it usually only takes 1-2 days to process.
Did you know that Western Union still exists?! We didn’t! Just like PayPal, Western Union lets you transfer money back home online, though there are fees involved.
Potential Downsides to Teaching in Central America
Yeah, we know, choosing a region (or specific country) to teach English in can sometimes be hard when you want to see the whole world. Considering all of the pros and cons of countries in Central America would be impossible to do ahead of time, but there are potential downsides to teaching English there.
Though straying away from a country known for its political unrest sounds smart in theory, the thing about this region is that things could change very rapidly based on a particular election, countrywide dilema, or even how the United States implicates immigration laws. Keeping your eye on the news and local happenings is crucial. Don’t find yourself in a protest zone when you weren’t prepared.
With all that beauty throughout the region comes a bit of a price tag: mountains are actually active volcanoes. Beaches are parallel to the Caribbean Sea, known for its hurricanes or storms. And yeah—it’s pretty serious! This is why having a personal emergency plan in place is super important in Central America. Know what to do in the case of an evacuation based on your area and associated threats. Your program provider should offer safety tips during orientation.
The Life You Want!
What are you waiting for?
With Costa Rica doing most of the hard work of putting Central America on the map as a popular destination for travelers and expatriates alike, the result is super cheap airfare to San Jose, the country’s capital. From the hub of Costa Rica’s international airport, one can easily travel to the surrounding countries for cheap, whether you prefer an overland adventure by bus or a more direct route on a local airline carrier. If money is not an issue, you can fly directly to any of the major cities in the region and save yourself the extra time.
No matter how you choose to get there, the most important thing is to JUST GO.
Words by Jessica Hill and Jayla Rae Ardelean.