How long did you teach English in Chile?
I taught English in Chile for one year. The summer months in Chile are November until the end of February. Therefore, students start registering and classes are in full swing by the beginning of March. I moved to Chile in January to get acclimated to the city where I would be teaching, started meeting all of my fellow teachers, and I went through some basic training sessions on how the institute I taught for organized their classes. Most schools or institutes in Chile hire their teachers in November and December before everyone starts taking summer vacations. So, you will want to keep this in mind as you start your search. I would recommend starting your search and submitting resumes in August or September.
What city did you teach in and why?
I taught in the northern part of the country in Iquique, Chile. I chose Iquique rather than the popular capital city of Santiago because I felt it would offer a more intimate experience, and that I would really be able to become part of a community. Iquique is only about 300,000 people as opposed to the millions that live in Santiago. I also chose Iquique because it sits right on the water, it is a surfing and body boarding community, and also the perfect gateway to both Peru and Bolivia. There are good teaching opportunities in the northern part of Chile as well because of the copper mining industry and the international port. Most people venturing to Chile for the first time do teach in Santiago, because they are not sure where else to go. However, there are various beautiful cities besides Santiago to teach English. Also, If you are willing to work in the far north or the far south typically you will earn a bit more than in Santiago. Because Chile is such a long skinny country and the northern and southern parts of Chile are the most extreme (In the north the Atacama Desert and the south The Patagonia), they typically attract less teachers.
Please tell us about your job?
I worked for a private institute that taught 7 different languages. The language institute where I taught also set themselves apart by having native teachers available for all of the languages they taught at the institute. Initially, I taught a mix of children, teen, and adult classes (regular ESL and Business ESL). While working at the institute, the majority of my classes were in the evenings from 4:00pm until 10:00pm. Teachers would always have full night classes in two hour increments. Most of the time the children and teenagers would come after school and have classes from 4 until 6 and then the adult classes would take up the hours from 6 until 10. However, I also had adults who took Business ESL classes, and I would travel to their office during the day to conduct classes at their worksite. Almost all of the teachers on our staff working this schedule would have between 25-35 hours per week. The last 6 months working in Chile, I actually got the opportunity to work onsite at a copper mine in the middle of The Atacama Desert. When working on location there, I worked four straight ten hour days (Mon-Thur) and I was off Friday through Sunday which was great for weekend getaways. During my year working in Chile, I was also able to take a 2 week vacation during the months of June or July. This is the winter break period for Chileans, and most students are out of school and families are traveling which minimizes class schedules.
What is Chile like?
Chile is a very diverse country with tons of nature. In the north you have nice beaches, many active surfers, sand boarders and body boarders, the beautiful San Pedro de Atacama, various national parks, and Lake Titicaca (one of the world’s highest lakes). In the center region of Chile you can be on the beaches of Viña del Mar and then go inland about 2 hours and be in the Andes zipping down the ski slopes. In the southern region, there is the breathtaking views and outdoor activities of the lakes region and The Patagonia. Chile is truly an outdoor paradise with endless activities to divulge in. The Chilean people are very hospitable, and they love to have guests in their home for long nights of sipping wine and endless conversation. I found it interesting and very challenging that normalcy for Chileans include having dinner at midnight, going out at 2 am, and staying out until 5 or 6 am. If you are going to Chile, you should start practicing late nights now! After a year in the country, I was still horrible at this part. Food in Chile was more bland than I expected. I found the best food in Chile to be in the southern region which is known for its amazing seafood and booming salmon industry. Many people in the states who I would speak to often had the misconception that Chile is another poor south American country. However, Chile has one of the most stable economies in south america, a non-corrupt government (you can’t bribe them), and most Chileans are working class.
Have you taught English in other countries?
I have not taught English in any other countries, but I did a lot of research on teaching in various countries throughout central and south america. Through all of my research, I found that Chile has some of the best teaching opportunities due to its International port, their strong banking and mining industries, and their English Opens Doors Program. Teaching in South America will not offer you the same amount of compensation as teaching in Japan or China, but I was able to live comfortably as a local, received vacation time (unpaid) to travel, and received a completion bonus at the end of my year to pay for my flight back to the states.
How did you find your first English teaching job?
This is the first question most people ask me. There are various programs out there that offer assistance in finding an ESL position. However, my business background is in Human Resources and recruiting so I decided that before exploring those options, I would set out on my own to find a position. As stated earlier, I did a lot of research to decide exactly which country I wanted to teach in. Once I decided on Chile, I utilized online job boards such as Dave’s ESL cafe, ESL Jobs, ESL employment, among others. I personally found Dave’s ESL Cafe to be one of the most comprehensive resources across various areas. I also looked up all of the private language institutes in Chile alongside the main contact, and started contacting them and sending out my resume. I solicited my resume, set my interviews, negotiated my contract, and secured my position prior to arriving in Chile without the assistance of an agency. The process included lots of research, a significant amount of time preparing my resume and answering institute specific questions via email, and various interviews via Skype.
How easy is it to find English teaching positions in Chile?
It depends on how you would classify easy. Chile, like many other South American countries do not have as strict of requirements for native English speakers. Although I was ESL certified, it is not always necessary to be ESL certified to be able to teach English in Chile. The requirements vary by institute. So, in this respect, it is a bit easier to teach English in Chile than in some other countries. But, if you plan on securing a teaching position before you arrive (which I recommend since it is very possible) you will need to prepare to initially spend at least 10-20 hours a week doing research and preparing/sending resumes and letters of interest. Santiago, the capital of Chile will be more competitive so if you are open to teaching in the North or South of Chile, you may be able to secure a position easier due to the demand of teachers in these areas.
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?
It varies by institute and also whether you are teaching for the public school system or for a private language institute. Most public schools require a teaching certificate while in private language institutes it is not necessary. Typically, for North Americans it is not necessary to have an ESL/TOEFL certificate or to have an extensive amount of teaching experience. North Americans are valued for their accent and ability to teach conversational English classes. Many times, native North American teachers will teach intermediate classes or higher so the students can have conversational practice with native teachers. But, keep in mind that schools typically do hire individuals with teaching experience or some sort of experience interacting with children or adults in an educational environment. If you do not have a teaching background, think of what you currently do, and how those skills can be transferable in a classroom atmosphere. Be able to express and communicate this on your resume. Alternatively, prior to your trip, start volunteering with your local Junior Achievement Program, do some English tutoring, or volunteer with your local literacy council. All of these volunteer activities will help you gain useful experience to secure a teaching position abroad.
How did you get your first work visa?
In Chile there are different types of visas, but many English teachers are there initially on a tourist visa. This allows you to be in the country for 3 months. Because Chile is very narrow, you can easily cross over the border into Peru, Bolivia, or Argentina for the weekend, and when you return to Chile it renews your tourist visa for another 3 months. If you will be teaching for only 3- 6 months, most schools will actually allow you to do this. But, if you are securing a long term teaching position, you will initially work on a temporary work visa (visa sujeto a contrato) until you get a temporary visa to be in the country. The institute where I worked paid for my work visa and provided me with the contract that I had to have to prove to the Chilean government that I would be teaching. However, this was a very long and confusing process. Make sure your institute will be willing to assist with this process, and that they explain it thoroughly.
Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?
Yes. If you are arriving in Chile, and then looking for a position you will be able to enter the country on a tourist visa while completing your job search. However, keep in mind that a tourist visa only allows you to be in the country for 3 months at a time.
What is the cost of living in Chile?
The cost of living in Chile is more expensive than other South American countries such as Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. When I was there (2008) rent varied depending on whether you lived in an apartment or if you rented a room in someone’s home (which is very common). Living in the northern part of Chile, I found that if you wanted to rent an apartment you could expect to pay anywhere between 140,000 – 190,000 pesos ($280US-$380US) for a one bedroom. However, you can very easily rent a room for much less than this. You can rent a room including bills between 70,000-100,000 pesos per month ($140US -$200US). In order to not stress about money, I would recommend not spending more than 150,000 pesos for rent. Food is relatively inexpensive as long as you go to the local markets. You can also eat The Menu del dia for lunch at many local restaurants for 1,200-2,000 pesos ($3-$5). This usually includes the main dish and a small desert. If you are one to hit the local night scene, you are in luck. Chileans love their Happy Hours! Almost all local pubs and discos have 2×1 specials all night. Liquor of course is more expensive costing around $8US but it includes 2 large drinks and they are very generous with their spirits. If you are a beer or wine lover, in most places I found that the cost of either was cheaper than the cost of water. Local beer and house wines would be as cheap as 500-1000 pesos ($1-$2US).
How much money can the average teacher expect to save?
If you make it a point to not live extravagantly just because it’s cheaper than your home country (rent a room or share an apartment, don’t always eat out, etc) then you will be able to save a little bit of money along the way. The typical hourly rate for native teachers at private institutes in Chile is around 5000-5500 pesos ($10-$11US). To put it in perspective, a middle class salary in Chile is around 750,000 pesos per month. So, as a teacher working 120 hours a month at 5500 pesos, you would make 660,000 pesos per month. One thing to keep in mind though is that hours throughout the year can be very inconsistent. You may have several months where you work 100-120+ hours and then several months where you are barely working 70. So you will want to budget accordingly. While teaching in Chile, you should not expect to save a large amount of money, but you will be able to save enough to help you travel if you budget.
Are there many opportunities to earn income on the side?
With most private schools and the school I worked for, several of the teachers worked for the public school system as well. Also, as long as you did not solicit students from the school, there was no rule about having your own private classes on the side. For native teachers, if you are willing to put in the extra time, you will always have an opportunity to pick up private students. Many taxis I got into, people I met while out, and tour guides would often ask for private lessons.
Do you recommend Chile for other English teachers?
I would definitely recommend Chile for your destination to teach English. Chile is a beautiful country with tons of diversity, culture, and history. I also found the people to be very warm and welcoming. I was also able to make enough money to survive and travel. I didn’t feel unsafe in the country at all. I discovered that Chileans have a contagious energy for life, and I met some of the most wonderful people on my journey in Chile!
Is there anything you didn’t like about Chile?
Anytime I travel, I go for the experience…the good and the bad. However, in Chile I can say that there wasn’t anything that I completely disliked. I was surprised initially that the cost of travel and eating at restaurants was actually a bit more pricey than I expected. If you ate in an actual restaurant (not local family spots on the sidewalks) that you could spend about the same as you would eating out in the states. Also, Chile is a very long country. So, many times I would want to fly as opposed to take the 25 hour + bus ride down the country due to time constraints. However, the price of flights were more expensive than domestic US flights so I had to spend more time traveling by bus to destinations I wanted to visit within the country.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?
My advice for anyone considering teaching English abroad would be to do some volunteer tutoring in your local community with adults or children to see if you actually enjoy teaching. I would also recommend reading job boards and reaching out to people who are currently teaching in the country you are interested in so you can have a true perspective of what to expect. Be patient and flexible. And, if you are going to South America to teach learn to love the word mañana! – There are no deadlines.
Alisha Robertson is an avid traveler passionate about education. You can read about her travels, volunteer and teaching pursuits, and tips and advice at Small World Pursuits – an educational blog about broadening horizons, traveling and working abroad, volunteering, and connecting with cultures from around the world.