I’ve always been fully aware of the advantages that come with being an American citizen. Not until I went south of the border, however, did I realize the privileges of being a native English speaker. Thanks to Manifest Destiny and over a century of cultural, political, and economic hegemony, English has become the global language. There are more English speakers in China than there are American citizens. Due to the high demand for this commodity, us natives have a comforting get-a-job-anywhere-in-the-world pass.
Although I can’t speak for Bangladesh or Finland, you’d have to have an intellect on par with Forrest Gump not to be able to land an English teaching position in Buenos Aires. Making a living as an English teacher is a bit more of a challenge, however.
First things first: the visa. Whether you wear a kilt or play a didgeridoo, it doesn’t matter a cent. It’s an egalitarian English teaching world down here. No prior paperwork. Show up with a passport and you’ve got three months as an official tourist. There are ways of getting a temporary work visa, but there’s a lot of paperwork involved and it’s probably not worth the effort. It can be a hassle to leave the country every 90 days, but it provides a great excuse to travel and it’s really no biggie if you ‘accidentally’ overstay for a few months.
Recently the fine for an expired tourist visa has spiked sharply. The fine used to be a $50 peso fee that could be paid at the airport before departure, but they’ve gotten wise on all the foreigners cheating the system and now it’s something closer to $300 pesos.
Once you’ve arrived in Argentina, getting an apartment can be tricky. Check out my article on apartment rentals in Buenos Aires or Craigslist for less expensive options or shared rooms.
Now its time to get that elusive English teaching job. There certainly is a hierarchy of teaching positions and the lowest end of the food chain are the English institutes. They’ll pretty much hire any natives any time (assuming they’re not convicted felons). Classes are large. Lesson plans are usually provided and the pay is “meh”: $45-65 pesos per hour (all prices are subject to inflation). Most institutes don’t supply full-time work, so plan on visiting a few. (Note- there is, however, an overwhelming dominance of British English taught in the city. There has been debate over the practicality of this phenomenon).
Outsourced companies have a solid grip on the middle rung of the ladder. With a little bit of ambition and persistence it’s possible to ”pass go” and begin immediately with one of these guys. The downside is that they’re not frequently hiring and sometimes require prior experience or a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certificate for teaching in Argentina. But the pay is better ($55-75 pesos) and the classes are smaller (five students maximum).
The idea is to use institutes to strut your stuff. A dynamic performer is worth more than a dull grammar expert. Establish some rapport. Make some connections. And hopefully someone’s aunt works in HR at Volvo or someone’s sister-in law is looking for private classes with a native.
Which brings us to the top of the English teaching pyramid: private lessons. I don’t recommend wasting time and money on self-advertising. Establish a decent reputation and before long the offers will come pouring in. The going rate for private classes with a native is between $60-100 pesos these days, and if you can get close to 30 hours per week you can live a pretty cozy life down here.
English Teaching Tips
-Traveling to and from classes can be a time-consuming bitch. If a company will hire you for an 8-hour day, pounce on it (even if it’s pushing an hour to get there). Also, once private lesson requests become more frequent, only accept the students that are willing to go to your house/local coffee shop.
-Teaching one-on-one is usually more taxing. Offer a $100 peso class that three students can divide mutually. This also appeals more to the younger crowd.
Generally speaking, most students want conversation. Having minimal English grammar knowledge is a disadvantage but certainly nothing to fret about. Upper Intermediate and Advanced levels are always the easiest to teach because they can speak fluently on a variety of topics, allowing you to serve as a mere mediator that corrects errors.
A handful of students at the office buildings don’t enjoy learning English. In this case the idea is to entertain them enough to keep them appeased. Actual learning is secondary.
Check out the website: breakingnewsenglish.com It’s got prepackaged lesson plans on current events with an article and corresponding exercises.
YOU WILL GET BORED. Most people don’t last more than a year, so be prepared to look for alternative jobs if you fall in love with this city (which you will). Just keep an eye out for other Buenos Aires job opportunities, should they arise.
– The great things about teaching English is that you get paid in cash under-the-table. No need to set up a bank account here. Plus, you’ve got flexibility. It’s totally acceptable to give a few weeks warning that you’ll be traveling to Mendoza for 10 days the following month. Flexibility is ever so precious. Cherish it.
Updated December 21, 2011