Insider’s Guide to Teaching ESL in Mexico

Are you thinking about teaching ESL in Mexico?

Teaching English in Mexico can be incredibly fun and rewarding. Mex-pat life is always an adventure. But when you’re new to the language and culture, day-to-day living can sometimes get frustrating. So we’ve prepared a few insider tips to help you make the most of teaching ESL in Mexico.


English teaching positions in Mexico don’t usually include housing like they do in some other countries. Luckily, rentals can be surprisingly inexpensive if you follow a few simple rules. 

Rule #1: Wait until you arrive to rent a permanent home.

Online prices quoted in English are typically grossly exaggerated. Plus, the rental you choose may be a bit different from the photos on the internet.

Rule #2. Rent in local neighborhoods instead of tourist areas. 

You might not have a killer view, but you’ll cut your rent by at least half. Besides, it’s a great way to supercharge your Spanish. We recommend finding housing near your teaching location.

Rule #3. Wooden crates are your friends. 

Wooden crate furniture is both inexpensive and trendy. They make cool shelves and other makeshift furniture. Your local produce stand will usually sell a few crates, called “huacales,” for around 10 pesos each. Check Pinterest for easy DIY designs. When you decide to move, you can use the crates to pack.

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Generally, getting around Mexico is convenient and inexpensive. In smaller towns, public transportation can get scarce after dark. Mexico offers several public transportation methods for you to choose from, including:

  • The Metro: Mexico City has an extensive metro system. According to an article published in Business Insider, Mexico City’s Metro is even better than New York City’s subway system.
  • Camionetas: Camionetas are covered pickups that serve as local buses in rural areas.
  • Collectivo Taxis: These shared taxis hold up to five passengers. Sit in the back for more room, especially if you’re tall. If you choose the passenger seat, you’ll probably have to share it with another person. Unless you’re a human pretzel, try to avoid the front.
  • Commercial bus lines: Mexican first-class buses, such as OCC and ADO, are air-conditioned and really comfy for long-distance travel. In rural areas, you can even flag one down for shorter distances. Shhh… don’t tell the boss!
  • Second class buses: The Mexican version of the chicken bus is fine for short trips. However, they can be crowded and less safe. 
  • Suburbans: These are shuttle vans that travel between cities. Suburbans are cheaper than first-class bus lines and safer than chicken buses.
  • Private taxis: Most towns have fixed rates for popular routes. Ask the locals about taxi prices, and always confirm the fare with the driver before you get in. Take note of the cab number, so that you can make a report if you have a problem.
  • Driving: You can use your home driver’s license to drive in Mexico. There’s no need to have an international driver’s license.
teaching esl in mexico

Navigating Common Misunderstandings

Learning Spanish will help a lot. But even if you speak the language fairly well, you might still find yourself in a jam. Here are a few insider tips, so that you can avoid common misunderstandings.

Negotiating Prices in Mexico

Unless you’re shopping in an overpriced tourist area, there’s no need for hard negotiation. Mexicans will typically engage in some gentle back-and-forth for bigger-ticket items like furniture. Buying simple things like groceries doesn’t usually involve negotiation. Mexican stores tend to be clustered by type, so you can check next door if the price seems too high.

Being Called a Gringo

Calling a foreigner a gringo isn’t an insult. You’ll get used to it and start calling your friends “gringo” before long. The word may harken back to US military uniforms or the color of the dollar. No one knows for sure. 

These days, the name “gringo” is simply a much easier way to refer to foreigners, especially those from the USA. It’s way easier for everyone to pronounce than the formal alternative, “estadounidense.” Say that three times fast!

Ahorita: Now or Never?

If you’ve already started studying Spanish, you probably assume that “ahorita” means something like “right now.” No way, José!

If a Mexican tells you they’re going to do something “ahorita,” they may mean in a few minutes, a little while, a couple of hours, a few days, or never! The same idea applies to mañana. Try to get an exact time and practice patience.

teaching esl in mexico

Teaching Private ESL Classes in Mexico

Teaching private ESL classes is an excellent way to make a little extra cash while you’re in Mexico or to get started while you’re waiting for your work visa to process. You can even make a decent full-time living from private English lessons. Here are some insider tips to improve your private lesson hustle:

  • Make business cards and flyers. Printing costs are super low in Mexico. Hang cards and flyers on bulletin boards in upscale neighborhoods. Just remember to ask first.
  • Offer small group classes. You’ll be able to accept students who can’t afford to pay your full fee for a teaching session.
  • Be open to trade. The barter system, known as “trueque,” is common practice in Mexico. Your student will often give you more than the value of your class in trade. Just make sure that it’s something you can use.
  • Volunteer at the Casa de la Cultura. You can plug into the community and get more private students.
  • Get a TEFL certification. Mexicans love credentials. A TEFL certification will give you the skills and the authority to charge what you’re worth. Advanced English learners are willing to pay more for lessons from qualified instructors. GlobalU’s in-person certifications or online TEFL programs will give you the advanced skills you’ll need to get high-paying students.

Not sure where you want to teach abroad? Compare 60 popular countries with our free Country Comparison Chart!

Compare salaries, cost of living, benefits, contract length and more for 60 of the most popular countries to teach English abroad.

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Tips for Staying Healthy in Mexico

Staying healthy is a major concern when you’re living abroad. Let’s check out some insider tips to keep you in tiptop shape while you’re teaching ESL in Mexico.

  • Don’t drink tap water! Don’t even brush your teeth with it. Most Mexicans buy their water in 20-liter jugs called “garrafones.” Water companies offer delivery to your front door.
  • Buy traveler’s insurance. Emergency insurance is a must for fly-outs to your home country or to avoid costly hospital bills.
  • Make friends with Dr. Simi. Farmacia Similares sells over the counter and other medicines at a fraction of the price of other Mexican pharmacies. They also stock decent quality nutritional supplements and provide cheap doctor’s consultations. You’ll recognize Farmacia Similares by the big plush Dr. Simi, who often dances to reggaeton outside of the store.
  • Locate your nearest Casa de la Salud. Every Mexican town has at least one free clinic called the Casa de la Salud. The clinic treats minor injuries, such as cuts and scorpion stings. They also test for tropical diseases like dengue fever and Chagas.
  • Make friends with your local lifeguards. Lifeguards save people from more than just drowning. They act like all-around safety volunteers in beach areas. Plus, most of them give surf lessons and know where to get the tastiest munchies in town.

Now that you have some insider tips for living in Mexico, why not jumpstart your teaching career with globalU’s TEFL certification course in Mexico? Our in-person training programs include an internationally recognized certification, hands-on teaching experience, and guaranteed job placement anywhere in the country. We’ll even throws in a free week of Spanish lessons and salsa dance classes!

Te esperamos!

Words by Cat Winske.