Living in Mexico means working in Mexico, unless you are independently wealthy or retired with a sufficient income. If you need to work, one of the best opportunities for you to earn an income is teaching English as a foreign language in Mexico.
TEFL means teaching English abroad in countries where the primary language is not English. Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (TESOL) is interchangeable with TEFL because both mean teaching English to non-native speakers.
One big advantage that TEFL teachers can count on is that in the past decade learning English has become a priority in Mexico. According to ICEF, a company focused on international education, nearly 24 million people – or about 21 percent of Mexico’s population – study English. Globally, Mexico ranks 39th in English proficiency in the world despite sharing a border with the U.S.
English learning in Mexico was accelerated in 2009 when the Secretariat of Public Education launched the Programa Nacional de Inglés en Educación Básica (PNIEB) to increase the English proficiency of public school students by offering English classes from pre-primary to the end of secondary school.
A 2015 study by the British Council – the United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities and also the world’s largest English language teaching organization – found that to achieve its goals for teaching English across the country, the Mexican government must recruit and train over 80,000 additional English teachers.
Schools in Mexico prefer at least a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certification, but you can teach without a four-year degree if you have TEFL certification. You can receive your certificate through a wide variety of primarily online schools, such as the International TEFL Academy. Many universities and colleges in the U.S. and Canada also offer academic programs that specialize in TEFL/TESOL training.
The online TEFL certification programs usually take several months to complete and generally cost between US$900 and US$2,000.
To help you get a better idea of what the TEFL teaching experience in Mexico is like, we tracked down two graduates of the International TEFL Academy to tell us about their experiences.
Fifty-five-year-old Ken Weiss is from Niagara Falls, Canada. He first became interested in a TEFL program when he realized that as a mountain guide and a photographer he would have more opportunities with a TEFL certificate, especially the opportunity to see the world.
Patrick McCorkle, 26, like many fellow TEFL certificate holders, was interested in traveling to places abroad, like Spain or Mexico. He graduated with a triple major in history, political science and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh and then worked in a call center for two years to pay off his student debts before landing a TEFL teaching assignment in Mexico.
After Weiss received his TEFL certification, he got an eight-month contract to teach English in Tehuacán from May to December 2016. The city is the second largest in the Mexican state of Puebla, nestled in the Southeast Valley of Tehuacán. He found the job opportunity on one of the many ESL job board websites available.
Weiss said that he never had Mexico on his radar for teaching English, but his job interview made him feel like it could be a great fit. He primarily worked at a private language school in the evening, but he also taught at the local private high school during the day for one semester. He taught mostly high school students, but also adults who wanted to have an advantage in the workplace with an extra language.
While living in Tehuacán, Weiss shared a house with five other teachers. “My rent at the house was paid for and I also picked up extra classes along the way, which helped my overall cost of living,” he said. “I made about 7,000 pesos a month, which was about US$375 a month. I shopped at local markets and constantly ate from the street vendors. There also was a bar near the school that we could go to afterward for liters of delicious Mexican beer that cost US$1.25.”
Weiss worked five days a week, two hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, which gave him plenty of time for exploring the region. “You can find great Maya sites like Cantona,” he said, “which may be a challenge to get to but most great places are.”
But the best thing about living and working in Mexico, Weiss said, is getting to know the local people. “A few of us were invited to a wedding, which was over the top and went until dawn,” he said. “My students had various family events that I was lucky enough to attend, but take note, keep away from any Mexican Grandpa with a Cheshire cat grin who has a never-ending supply of Mescal!”
Although he was not paid a lot, Weiss said he saved enough by the end of his teaching contract for an eight-day vacation in Cancún.
After his teaching experience in Mexico, Weiss decided to move on to Xi’an, China, but Mexico still has his heart. “I have a personal plan to stay in Asia for a while,” he said, “ but Mexico has won me over. The people are some of the kindest I have ever met, the food is great, you cannot beat the history and it is close to home, if I ever get the urge to ski again.”
McCorkle also found his job on an ESL job board website, this one called Dave’s ESL Café, a popular job search website for TEFL/TESOL teachers.
Getting the job in Mexico took so long that he almost ended up in China because of a competing offer from a school there. But McCorkle liked the area of Toluca, the capital of the state of Mexico located about 39 miles west-southwest of Mexico City, and accepted the job offered to him in Mexico.
When he arrived in Toluca he found the cost of living was similar to where he came from. “You’re not saving a lot,” McCorkle said. “You’re here for the experience.”
Though he isn’t making as much as he would teaching English in another country, McCorkle still counts himself lucky when it comes to compensation. “My housing is not free, but I receive a substantial discount,” he said, “and I pay less than half of what the rent would cost on my own because I have a roommate and will have another soon.”
McCorkle works for Pangea Idiomas, a school in the municipality of Metepec, which is just east of Toluca. Although the school has operated in Metepec since 2004, he teaches most of his classes on-site at local businesses.
One of the obstacles McCorkle faces is teaching students who have very busy schedules, which does not always place English learning at the front of their minds. “They often have to cancel class because of meetings or whatever, and sometimes there are interruptions,” he said. “It’s a frustrating environment because to learn a language in the most efficient way possible you need to prioritize it and sometimes you know you aren’t being prioritized.”
McCorkle said motivating his high school students to go above and beyond in their studies is difficult. “It may also be true in other parts of Mexico,” he said, “but most of the kids here go to school from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Then they participate in some sport or activity for a couple of hours, study their homework until it is time for English class and then return home for more homework until midnight.”
But when English finally clicks in, McCorkle said, it is worth it all. “Maybe it sounds naïve but having students listen [sometimes] and participate in class is exciting,” he said. “And when you finally have that moment when they “get it”, they understand what you are teaching them, it’s very rewarding. Just the fact that I did it, and am doing it is rewarding.”
McCorkle said that one of his favorite things about teaching English in Mexico is that he gets discounts on learning other languages. He has used his discounts to learn German, but he also has the opportunity to pick up Portuguese and perfect his Spanish.
He uses his free time on the weekends to take walks and run, visit art galleries, eat street food and celebrate the many Mexican festivals. While it took him a little bit of time to adjust to the Mexican culture – especially getting people to show up on time – he now enjoys learning about it.
McCorkle thinks he will spend another 6-9 months, maybe more, teaching in Mexico before he moves on to another country. “I’m interested in teaching in Brazil, Europe, Japan and China in the future, but this depends on what happens back home and if I become quite homesick,” he said.