Life as an English Teacher in Mexico

Mexico

The First Step: Moving to Mexico

Whether you’re a teacher in your home country or abroad, we can all agree that it is one of the most satisfying jobs in the world. The last few decades have provided us with new opportunities such as teaching anywhere around the globe.

Many teachers have jumped right in, whereas others may be somewhat apprehensive. This is understandable as it is quite a leap to move to another country and begin a new life, and for some, it will almost feel like a new career. Hopefully, my experience of 10 years teaching and running a school in Monterrey, Mexico will help those to make the decision if it is right for them.

I lived in Monterrey on two separate occasions. The first time for four years, the second time for six years. I was not working the first time, because I was pregnant and with two young toddlers. My husband had a toy store in the downtown core, so I was pretty much a stay at home mom. However, in the last 4 months of that time period, I did start teaching English part-time because my American friend had an English school and suggested I would enjoy it since I could choose my own hours and each class was around 2 hours at the most. I thought it would be a great opportunity just to get out of the house for a few hours. I had no idea that would be the beginning of my future journey.

Working for an English School in Mexico – Curriculum and Schedule

I taught Business English to adults in mainly American companies that had offices in Mexico. The material was given to me by the English School and I would only need to do about 20 minutes of preparation before class. The curriculum was mainly a Teacher manual, student Book with exercises and audio to play that coincided with the lessons. Classes were only about 6-10 students and around 1 hour and 30 minutes, which was pretty much the same for any school you worked for in Mexico. They would usually be in my neighbourhood, so I didn’t have to drive far. This is not always the case, however, and when you do have to drive far, that should be included in your time. Occasionally, I was offered to teach an hour class which I always turned down as I didn’t think it was worth the time. I’ll get back to this subject later.

Most of the students I taught had fairly advanced English and so we focused on just perfecting some of their common mistakes and on business aspects, which consisted of talking on the telephone, conducting business meetings, negotiations etc. We worked through the material, but I often deviated to make the classes more practical according to their needs. The average hourly rate was around $10-$15 per hour, but this was in the late 90s.

Teaching English in Mexico as an Independent Contractor / Owning a Business

We had to leave Mexico, though, because our families were missing us. Almost immediately I wanted to return, but 3 years passed before we moved to Mexico again. My husband thought he was going to go back to operating a toy store, but while we were gone, the city had changed a lot. NAFTA had really kicked in and Monterrey was not a small city any longer. We were mistaken to assume anything and should have had a better back-up plan.

So, I decided to call my American friend again and asked if I could teach English for him. His business was booming, and he was more than happy to give me hours. But, as I mentioned earlier that I would get back to this, the hourly rate was just too low at around $10 US per hour and some classes only being an hour was problematic, both aspects that I did not follow as an owner when I opened my own business.

So I started to think that because there was so much more demand that maybe I could just get the contracts myself and therefore a better hourly rate. This was possible, but we ran into an issue in that I only had an FM3 VISA which is the next one after a tourist visa. My husband had an FM2, which is a higher level, and you can run a business with that. I therefore had to apply for my FM2 in order to run a business and be able to invoice companies. An invoice in Mexico is a legal tender. My schedule got filled immediately and I enjoyed every minute. Classes were always casual and fun. I was running around the city, finding the best curriculum, resources and materials since every class was different. Most students were advanced but there were varying levels.

Once my schedule was full, I started hiring other teachers and we subsequently opened an office with classrooms so that we could do in-house as well. I continued to teach out of the office because it was just such a great feeling to see their progress, even though I was quite busy running the business and scheduling teachers, getting new accounts etc. Again, I stuck to my plans and made sure classes off-site were at least 2 hours. I charged a higher rate than competitors so that I could pay teachers properly for their time. We were paying our teachers $25 US per hour and classes were a minimum of 1.5 hours. We also made sure that cancellations had to have 24 hours notice and not more than twice in a certain time period or they were charged anyway, and the teacher was paid. This was not the norm in Mexico, but it was the way that I wanted to run the business properly and the students did respect that. We eventually developed our own curriculum for advanced business English and recruited teachers in other cities throughout Mexico.

Teaching at International Schools in Mexico

My experience may be somewhat different than others because I was running my own business, but I did spend a lot of time teaching. Many teachers who come to Mexico teach in the International Schools and, of course, I met several who took that journey, and they relayed their experience to me. Most did like that as opposed to driving around teaching business classes. It was a set schedule and of course very similar to teaching at a school in your home country. Also, there were teachers that preferred to teach children or high school students and not adults.

In regards to teaching business classes, teachers were generally not certified, but if you want to teach at an International School in Mexico, such as the American School of Monterrey, they are looking for K-12 Certified teachers no matter what grade level or subject.

Salaries for teaching in schools are average, but note that average cannot be universally applied. For example, Canadian teachers, in general, are paid higher than American teachers when teaching in their home countries. It is most definitely lower than a Canadian teaching salary, yet I still came across many certified Canadian teachers who just wanted an adventure and a change of atmosphere since most jobs are offered on a 2-year contract only.

Cost of Living / lifestyle in Mexico

The cost of living in Mexico really depends on which suburb of the city you choose to live in. We chose to live in a nicer suburb, but in that case a much smaller townhouse. Of course, having our own business our income was not bad, although it could be unstable. It’s important to note that the first year, before we established the business, I was just teaching, notably on my own, so it was at a slightly higher rate but it was enough to cover expenses, and we have 3 children as well. My husband also started teaching and my suggestion is that if you are a couple, it will be much more financially possible if both are working.

Monterrey, and specifically San Pedro, were beautiful places to live. Extremely hot though, but at least it was a dry heat. I often would enter my car and not be able to even touch the steering wheel. The restaurants are great and not just Mexican food, but a variety of offerings. Groceries are somewhat on the high end, but not grossly overpriced and there is Costco just outside of San Pedro.

Driving can take some getting used to as it is not for the faint at heart. Lots of quick lane changes!

Going back to teaching in companies, the positive side of that is you can make your own schedule, whether you work for an English school or on your own. You can also make sure that you get paid your worth by sticking to your guns on a few points such as a minimum of 1 hour and a half classes and having a solid cancellation policy. You can earn a decent living if this is the route you choose.

As you probably know, neither of these options will make anyone rich or even able to save, but you should be able to pay your expenses if you are single or if you are a couple and both working, even with a child or two. Even enough to take a vacation once in a while since the cost of travelling to a nearby Mexican resort by plane is not as expensive as when you are outside of Mexico.

A 3-bedroom townhouse in a relatively nice area can run you about $1000-$1200 US per month in rent. Electricity used to be extremely expensive, but it is now much more regulated and basically the same as anywhere else. There are of course bundle packages for cable and internet. Getting a car is much simpler as well and leasing is a little higher than other places. In our time there we decided it was easier to just buy a car but in the last year we were there for the first time we decided to lease, and it was the same as leasing anywhere else.

Visas to teach English in Mexico

When it comes to visas, there are two levels: FM3, which is similar to a work permit visa and FM2, which is basically a resident one. If you get hired to teach at an International School, they will provide you with an FM3. If you want to teach for an English school, then you would need to obtain one. There are lawyers/notaries that assist with this and that can be somewhat expensive, but if you do not know anyone in Mexico, you may need to go this route. It is not extremely difficult to obtain. FM2 is a little harder, but it is necessary if you wish to open your own business and invoice companies/individuals. FM3 was also necessary at the time we lived there to open a bank account.

Safety in Mexico

Safety can be an issue in some Mexican cities. I think you just need to be aware as you would in any large city in the world. Monterrey was very safe when we lived there, but it has had its ups and downs. Even though we were not living there at the time, we heard there were serious issues around 2011. Things seem to have calmed down again though.

The Adventure

I would recommend the experience for anyone who enjoys teaching and by no means do you have to discard the idea if you have a spouse and children. It is possible and was a great experience that my children who are now grown have never forgotten. They also have not forgotten their Spanish, even after several years. We often reminisce as a family about the fun times we had there. My Spanish, which was once completely fluent especially since I had to conduct marketing presentations, now needs polishing. I am sure I could probably get it right back, like riding a bicycle.

It may all seem scary, but it is not and if you are even the slightest bit adventurous or just like the idea of experiencing a different culture or lifestyle, I highly recommend teaching English in Mexico.

Written by Linda McDermott

Linda McDermott is a Canadian/British Entrepreneur who operated an English school in Mexico for 6 years. She is now retired, but uses her experience for content writing projects and developing curriculums for various schools.

Related

Teacher training courses in Mexico
English language schools in Mexico

6 comments and teachers' experiences of Mexico

Note - Some of these experiences were shared before the article above was written

  1. Amanda says:

    First of all, learn the language! Although there are many kind and considerate Latin people who will help you, if you wish to be respected at any level, learn Spanish! The majority of Central American people look at us “gringos” as rich, educated, privileged, and spoiled. Unfortunately, many also are opportunistic and will try to take advantage of your desire to help. They do not see this as a problem. Culturally, it is considered polite to tell you what they think you want to hear – they believe they are pleasing you. To them it is not lying. This can lead to many misunderstandings, and even legal problems.
    Never give up your passport. If you are pulled over by police checkpoints, they usually want money. I once stashed our money in my shirt so I could honestly show them an empty wallet. We were detained for awhile, but released without paying.

    The people are warm, and relationship oriented. They do not schedule their lives around a clock, most not even wearing a watch. You will have to adjust yourself to this. Bus schedules can be fairly accurate, I never understood that one! Public transport is a very inexpensive means of travel, but be sure you know the route before you pay and board. You don’t want to get on a bus that travels an hour before you reach your destination if you need to be there in 30 minutes. It is also very crowded, buses can carry 120 people. Women who do not speak the language should not ride alone.

    ALWAYS allow time for “inconveniences” – you will meet with them every day. Unless you are fluent in the national language, you will pay more for taxis, gasoline, goods, etc. You are rich after all.

    Weekend markets are great places for fresh fruits and vegetables and even wonderful bouquets of flowers – cheap. Boys will be available to help you carry your load for a dollar or two – they will seek you out.

    Banking can be unreliable by U.S. standards, as they may close unexpectedly. Keep a small amount of cash on hand, and some at “home” in a secure place. Don’t wait to exchange your money. You may be left for 3-4 days without bank access. money changers sometimes have a good rate – again, if you know the language, you can find out from locals where your best options lie.

    Best advice is to remember that you must learn to think internationally, and not expect them to think like you – you are after all, a guest in their country.

    And you can drink the water if you boil it or bleach it first!

    • Sylvia says:

      Amanda, I do think you are exaggerating a lot. I was born in Mexico city, with foreign parents (Swiss and Italian), I have a sister and we all have managed to stay free and well for more than 50 years.
      First of all, Mexican people are very nice and try to do the best they can with their badly-spoken English. So you are not so lost in the streets and there are always people speaking English around you. I don’t know what you have done or carried to have the police stopping you and having legal problems as well as with your passport.

      It is strange to listen to you talking about the politeness of Mexican people or their culture. You really don’t understand them at all. They are very shy people who will never tell you the truth in front of you. I do agree about transportation which is CHAOS if you do not have your own car, and it is difficult to be on time if you do not know the city well enough to move around by time schedules.

      Mexican banks have a schedule to open and close, and you must check it, as well as places to change money. You were really unlucky. Saturdays and Sundays they do not work but if you’d paid attention to the time schedule you would already know.

      Speaking of water, you can find it anywhere, any kind of shop will have bottled water that you can drink with no problem. I would add, apart from water, do not eat Mexican food if it is not in a clean space (real restaurants), and do not eat fruit from the vendors in the street. They wash it with any kind of water. Preferably buy your fruit and prepare it in your hotel room.

      Hope this explanation will help readers who are interested in coming to Mexico.

    • Sandra says:

      Amanda, I am afraid that I also think you are exaggerating somewhat. I am Australian and have lived in Mexico for almost 3 years, both in Mexico City and in the south east. I didn’t speak any Spanish when I first arrived but have studied and learned by simple immersion. I rarely had problems back when I didn’t speak Spanish so well. A phrase book is a great place to start when arriving in a new place, and people REALLY appreciate it if you try to speak in Spanish. It doesn’t matter if you get it wrong, it is the effort that counts. Lots of people in the cities speak English, even if just the basics, and will try to help if they can. If in doubt, point to phrases in your phrase book. You will learn quickly enough with the right attitude.
      I really think that Amanda’s points above (some of which I will address below) are unfair and will scare people away from coming to teach English in Mexico. Please do not take everything she has said as being correct. Obviously she had a hard time with certain aspects of living here in Mexico and needed to vent her frustrations in a public forum.

      As for practical advice when coming to teach English in Mexico, it is often the norm if you come to work here that you arrive on a tourist visa. The company who sponsors you will then organize your work permission. This visa is called a FM3 and if the company organizes this for you through their lawyers, they will need to give your passport to immigration for processing. You will keep a copy of your passport and you should get a receipt from immigration/lawyer or company which says that they have it. As when you live in your own country, it is not normal to carry your passport around the streets with you and you shouldn’t need it. Simply keep your drivers license (and a photocopy of your passport if you are worried. I don’t).

      Teaching adults here has always been excellent and a joy. I have found school age kids a bit more difficult as it takes time to get used to cultural differences, and manage certain situations, like with any culture in the world. Here in Mexico for example: general chatter in class seems to be tolerated while others have the stage in the classroom, unlike in my country. This was quite frustrating at first as I was not used to it. The kids were also shocked at what they perceived to be my ‘very strict’ manner. Trial and error and a good attitude is the key.

      Bureaucracy in Mexico is slow and frustrating. Deep breathing helps at times. Things just run differently here, and a lot of processes are manual. Banks however, are modern and as Sylvia points out, have specific opening and closing times… and they stick to them. Expect things/processes in general, to be slower and take longer in the countryside than in the cities.

      I find public transport great in Mexico. Long distance buses are VERY comfortable (although pricey), but the more you pay the better bus you have! In fact, the buses are better and more comfortable than in Australia! Traveling as a single woman when I did not speak Spanish was never a problem for me. When in Mexico city, I disagree with Sylvia and say that public transport is better than having a car! Walking is often faster than driving thanks to the terrible traffic jams in a city whose population is bigger than that of my country! Try and live near a metro station. It is soooo cheap and it is underground where there are no cars! Just use common sense and keep your bag close to you in crowds and don’t travel alone late at night on the metro. Take the bus which is just as fast after peak/rush hour . Also, don’t walk the streets late at night in Mexico City. Again, this is normal and common sense for many big cities around the world.

      In general, when you come to a country where a language and culture are different there will always be frustrating and difficult situations. Treat it as an adventure, a challenge and embrace the challenge. Mexico is a great place with warm and friendly people. Come and enjoy. Below are a few points which I felt I needed to address regarding some of Amanda’s comments. Read on if you wish. If not, simply come and enjoy with an open mind.

      Amanda, I have a few things to point out, the first being that your advice continually refers to the Mexican people as “them’ and “they”. This immediately sets up a ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide, and is quite frankly offensive, and not a great example to set when giving advice to people wanting to visit or live in new places.

      Secondly, and rather importantly, Mexico is in North America, not Central America. I suggest you revise the continents of the world… this however, is a common mistake that many people make.

      As for problems with the police, like Sylvia, I wonder why you seem to have had such problems or bad luck. I have traveled throughout Mexico by both bus and car, and yes there are police check points throughout, but I have never been asked for money nor been asked to hand over my passport. In fact, I have witnessed Mexicans being stopped and hassled far more than foreigners. I have never been asked to show the contents of my wallet to anyone in this country! A little word of common sense advice on buses, is to make sure that you do not put anything valuable in the compartments above your head as I have met people whose cameras weren’t there when they woke up in the morning. Personally I thought them foolish to put them there in the first place. Keep cameras and day packs by your feet. This is common sense for travel in any country.

      Finally, I apologize if you feel attacked, but I really think your advice was rather over-the-top and narrow minded. You may as well have written, “just don’t come… it’s miserable!” I hope you return to Mexico one day, a little wiser, and I hope that it is a better experience for you.

    • Dan says:

      Amanda, lay off the pharmaceuticals and do not provoke the police with your behavior. I have found Mexican police to be very forthcoming and respectable in my few dealings with them. That cannot be said of New York State troopers who placed me under arrest for alleged speeding and who upon searching me prior to being jailed found all my money and offered to “allow” me to post all of it as bail…
      As for the water, I never had a problem drinking it after treatment with inexpensive purification tablets; well, except after big storms when the color can be quite a turnoff.

      During my first visit I spoke some 20 words of Spanish and upon leaving 3 weeks later I was conversational thanks to the patience of all I encountered who took the time to help me change my sign language into vocabulary.

      Maybe it is because I already speak 9 languages and have lived on four continents that I adapt quickly but I Mexico very welcoming and reasonable. And for all the whining about their willingness to pass on a foreigner in favor of a Mexican where are you when Mexican slave laborers are underpaid and mistreated in Canada and the USA. The only way they ever get a visa is if they agree to be paid less than us, pay all the taxes we pay with none of the benefits and agree to be indentured laborers who can be deported at the whim of their “master”.

      Perhaps you ought to offer to work under the same conditions for an FM3 visa, and I am sure they will be willing to sponsor you for half the minimum wage and indentured status, and the state would certainly love to tax you yet offer no protection or benefits. Truth is, as much as you may not like it, that they have plenty of university educated people who cleaned your office or worked on your farms for years, and who speak fluently upon their return to Mexico. Sure, usually they do not have formal teacher training, yet their bilingual fluency and ability to connect with the children culturally means they can learn on the job quickly.

      Public transit, especially in DF, is cheap, and just as fast and reliable as in Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo and other world class cities except USA and Canada. The banks are the same as everywhere else and offer similar hours and service quality as everywhere else. The people in Mexico are warm and welcoming if you are not being a pain in their ****, if you like to be difficult they will placate you with “how are you?” equivalents intended solely as empty words. Certainly you would not give me a situation report if I posed that question to you in USA or Canada; unless you were a close friend and knew I actually cared to know the answer.

      Enjoy living in a country where a balanced lifestyle is still the norm except for when they kill one another over the privilege of supplying us, further north, with the chemical release we need from our miserable secluded existence.
      Just my $0.02.

  2. Jayne says:

    I have been teaching English in Mexico for 10+ years. I am a Canadian citizen (born in Canada) and did not come to Mexico until I had finished two careers in Canada. I agree with Amanda. I have been waiting forever to be treated as a paisano, I am completely fluent in Spanish and am able to hold a complicated political discussion or anything else that requires a university education (in Spanish). I cannot change my white skin and blue eyes, but the Mexican people from Mexico city DO, with lens covers and hair dye, and can change the pigment coloration of their skin. Being a native speaker should be an enormous advantage in teaching, but alas, I have found that when it comes right down to it, the L2 speaker gets the job, to feed their children, regardless of our certification or diplomas. This is Mexico, and believe me, Mexicans take care of Mexicans, first. Some schools are petrified at your request for an FM3 application. Beware, because this usually means that they do not want to “put on paper” certain things about their school, for example salaries paid, taxes paid, who the accountant is, etcetera! Combine this fear, with the fear of your native language education and it can manifest a pretty dead-end situation, regardless of your qualifications and experience.

  3. Laurie says:

    Living and working in Mexico has many exciting benefits but not without challenges. Owning and running a school here has been very rewarding in every area except financially. There just is little appreciation for education and even among the wealthy who pay a lot for their children to go to private schools it seems true learning is something that people don’t talk much about. It is all about credentials and just getting a job. My greatest challenge has been to find teachers that are professional, will stay in a poorly paid position, teach from their hearts and professional backgrounds and let the love, great smiles and hugs of their students be sufficient to keep trying to influence for good the sincere and wonderful students that we teach everyday.

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