Guide to TEFL in Mexico
Mexico has a lot to offer the qualified TEFL teacher: Being in close proximity to the USA and having an important tourist industry means that the English teaching job market is thriving. Add to this a rich history, diverse culture and world-famous beaches, and you can’t go far wrong teaching English in Mexico. Here’s one teacher’s story of living and teaching in Mexico for ten years…
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.
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.