Teach English in Brazil – Interview with Josh Plotkin

Teach English Abroad


Teach English in Brazil
Teach English in Brazil Interview with Josh Plotkin

How long have you been teaching English in Brazil?

I’ve been teaching English in Brazil for a little over a year. I originally came to Brazil on a trip around South America and stayed for two months. During that time I fell in love with the country and resolved to come back and stay longer.

Please tell us about your job?

When I first came here I started working at a few different English schools. I taught either 1 on 1 or to groups of two people at these places. The majority of these students are business people who need to learn English for their job and so they are pretty motivated to learn and show up to class. These types of schools are pretty common and offer greater flexibility and better wages than chain schools.

These types of schools are great for when you get started because they can get you a lot of work hours immediately. You can show up tomorrow and be teaching 25 hours next week if you wanted to. The only downsides are those which are common throughout the English teaching industry, in that you have big blocks in your schedule and you have to scurry back and forth between classes across the city. For the most part, students want to learn English before they go to work (6:00-9:00), during lunch (12:00-14:00) and after work (18:00-21:00). Occasionally you’ll find an oddball who wants class outside of those hours.

You are paid by the hour at these schools and generally you’ll be paid for a class if a student doesn’t give 24 hours notice of cancellation. If you need to take time off for some reason you can tell your boss and they’ll find someone else to cover your classes during that time. Your vacation time will be determined by the Brazilian calendar, which has a lot of holidays where people don’t go to work. Nobody wants to learn English during Christmas and Carnaval, so you’ll get those periods off as well.

After I lived in Belo Horizonte for a while and I built up my contact list, I was able to focus more on teaching privately. In general this pays twice as much as you can earn teaching at a school. The downside is that you’ll be the one responsible for all scheduling and collecting payments. Make sure you have your students pay you monthly in order to avoid trouble.

How did you find your job?

If you look around on the internet for information about teaching English in Brazil, you won’t find much. If you try to find an agency that will place you in an English teaching job you’ll have just as much luck. The problem is that despite the astronomical demand for English teachers in Brazil, they don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle foreign teachers. You’ll be on your own when it comes to finding a job, getting a visa, getting an apartment, learning Portuguese, etc.

When I came to Belo Horizonte I spent a few weeks handing out my CV and going to interviews. The problem is that I was only applying to chain schools and I came when they were outside of their hiring season. I didn’t know to seek out smaller mom and pop operations. My big break came when I went to an expat meetup and met other English teachers. They told me where were some good places to teach, and the next day I had two jobs. My biggest piece of advice is to find English teachers in the city you are planning on moving to and ask them where you can find work.

Does your school provide accommodations or pay for your travel expenses?

Unless you get a job at a private school, you shouldn’t expect to get any kind of additional financial help.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?

The demand for English teachers in Brazil is so high that any reasonably competent native English speaker can find work without much trouble. Whether deserved or not, the perception is that native teachers are better than Brazilian teachers and Brazilian students generally prefer natives. They give extreme preference to foreigners who speak Portuguese, even if just at a basic level.

When getting hired, its more important that your boss or potential student likes you as a person. If you present yourself as a competent professional they will hire you. The fact that you are in Brazil demonstrates that you are serious about teaching English and have the confidence necessary to do the job.

How did you get your work visa?

The only English teachers you’ll hear about who have work visas are ones who work at fancy private schools with multiyear contracts. Its not an option for the average teacher.

Many teachers in Belo Horizonte came here with their spouse then started working as an English teacher when they got here to make money. If you get married to a Brazilian you can get permanent residency in a matter of months.

Another option is to take Portuguese classes at the local university and get a student visa. A student visa is valid for a year and while it wont allow you to formally take part in the Brazilian legal system, it will give you more time in the country to figure out a more permanent solution.

What is especially common in Rio and São Paulo is to see foreigners show up on a tourist visa and start teaching. You can legally stay in the country for 6 months out of every year, and each day beyond that you’ll be fined R$8.28. If you overstay multiple times they might ban you for a year.

Is it possible to arrive without a work visa and find work?

Schools recognize the difficulty of the Brazilian legal system and the impossibility of an English teacher getting a work visa. While they would prefer that you had legal status, you won’t encounter very many places that will turn you away for only having a tourist visa.

What is Brazil like?

Brazil’s biggest draw is its people. Even by South American standards they stand out as being especially friendly, cheerful and outgoing. Its really hard to be unhappy when you’re surrounded by your Brazilian friends, they always carry an upbeat positive energy that infects you and makes you smile. Brazilians love foreigners and will go out of their way to help you out. If you look lost, don’t be surprised if someone comes up and tries to help you, even if they don’t speak English.

Teaching English in Brazil
Teaching English in Brazil

What is your cost of living?

All prices are in Reais, which exchanges about 2:1 to the dollar.

Rent: R$650
Bus fares: R$200
Groceries: R$200 – I’m vegan so I mostly eat at home.
Eating out: R$200 – My biggest weakness is açaí which costs around R$8 for a 500ml bowl. If I eat out for lunch I spend between R$8 and 10 at a sem balança restaurant. The most common type of lunch restaurant is a per kilo restaurant, where you load up your plate and are charged by weight. In BH the cheapest kilo I’ve seen is R$14.99. Sem balança means unweighed, and you get to fill up your plate with food but only get one piece of meat. I would pay around R$30 for the same amount of food if it was weighed.
Bottled water: R$100 – You can drink the tap water here, but I prefer drinking agua com gas.
Gym membership: R$100 with student discount, up to R$250 without.
Drinking: Expect to pay around R$20 if you’re hanging out with your friends drinking beers, and anywhere from R$50 to R$150 if you go out to a club. Almost every bar has a cover charge, around R$10-20, and every nightclub has a cover between R$20 and R$60.
I rarely spend more than R$2000 in a given month, but keep in mind that I am single, I don’t go out to clubs, I seldom drink and I cook at home.

How does Belo Horizonte compare to Rio de Janeiro?

In general, the hourly wage that you’ll make as an English teacher is consistent throughout major cities in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro is the 12th most expensive city in the world and your cost of living will be significantly higher. I haven’t been able to find a sem balança restaurant in Rio, and the cheapest kilo at a per kilo restaurant I’ve seen is R$24.99. Rents are significantly higher, especially if you want to be by the beach in Copacabana or Ipanema. Rio is a lot bigger so you’ll spend more time and money getting around. You’ll have to work a lot more in Rio to have the same standard of living that you’d have in BH. You probably wont mind too much since you’ll have a beach nearby.

Is it possible to save much money teaching English in Brazil?

If you spend a few months here you can build up an army of private students who pay you R$50 an hour for class. If you teach 20 hours a week you’re making R$4000 a month. If your expenses are close to mine you can save just about half of what you earn.

Are there opportunities to earn income on the side?

Once you are fluent in Portuguese you can start doing translation jobs. Ask your school if they have any translation work that needs to be done. If you are legal and can get a contractor number you can find translation work that pays several thousand per job. These types of jobs require a high level of fluency in Portuguese or Spanish and you have to be agressive in seeking them out.

Right now all of my focus is on internet marketing. If you have any kind of web skills (programming, web design, e-commerce, SEO, Adsense, Adwords) then you need to get on the next flight to Brazil. It’s not even funny how much low hanging fruit there is here in the online world. Business models that no longer work in the US because of extreme competition are still profitable here. Imagine going back in time 5 years with all of your current knowledge and starting an online business and you have an idea of what its like in Brazil.

Do you recommend Brazil for other English teachers?

I would absolutely recommend Brazil for other English teachers. Brazil offers English teachers a unique combination of a fascinating culture that isn’t hugely different to western culture (as Asian cultures might be), good hourly wages, outgoing and friendly people and students who are eager to learn. Because of Brazilians’ outgoing nature, it will be easy to get them to open up and talk in class.

Would you recommend a particular city to teach in?

Every city has its unique pull. If you want to live by a beach, check out Rio, Florianopolis, or Bahia. If you want to live in the business capital of South America, go to São Paulo. If you want a traditional Brazilian experience in a place where not too many foreigners go, then come to Belo Horizonte.

Can you please provide some links to online sites geared towards foreigners in Brazil?

In general there isn’t much information online about teaching English in Brazil. There are a few sites that are focused more towards expat living in Brazil, or learning Portuguese. Because of this huge lack of information I’ve started putting everything I know online to be of assistance to those thinking about teaching English in Brazil.
I have a resource page on my site that I am constantly updating with information about teaching English in Brazil, as well as a list of job boards, though I don’t recommend you use them.
Check out Gringoes.com which has been around forever and has a ton of information about Brazil, as well as a forum where you can ask specific questions.
Brazzil.com is a news site about Brazil
Transitionsabroad has a page on Brazil with a few articles about teaching English.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English in Brazil?

Learn as much Portuguese as you can before you come, and try to make as many friends as you can before you get here. The quality and quantity of your relationships will be so much greater if you learn Portuguese before you come.

Brazilian systems don’t always make sense and you’ll go crazy if you spend too much time dwelling upon it. At first glance things may appear to be chaotic and unorganized in Brazil, but if you dig deeper you’ll realize that there is an order that comes from this chaos. It will take you a while to learn the jeitinho brasileiro,  but don’t lose hope. Make friends here and they will help you navigate Brazil’s bureaucracy.

Please tell us about your site BrazilianGringo.com?

The biggest obstacle facing those who want to teach English in Brazil is the lack of reliable information about the process. There are a few scattered articles on the internet that give you somewhat of an idea of what the process is like, but no one has aggregated that information and really focused on the problems that English teachers have. I started BrazilianGringo.com to help newcomers understand what they can expect when they come to Brazil and to assist them in getting started.

Right now I am focused on creating useful content for people and making sure that it gets in front of those who need to see it. My business model is to create the best content that I can and build deep relationships with my readers. I have a few product ideas for how to monetize the site, the first of which is a book on teaching English in Brazil. If theres a demand for it I’ll help people get a student visa and find an apartment for a reasonable fee.

Brazilian Grigo
Facebook: Brazilian Gringo.
Follow Josh on Twitter: Josh @BrazGringo

English Teaching Jobs in Brazil
Teach English in Brazil (General Information)
Teach English in Brazil (Cost of Living)
Teach English in Brazil (Visa Requirements)