Travel in Latin America
Of all the questions we get from our readers, currently the most common is: Can I move to Mexico and get a job? The answer to the first part of that question is easy.
Yes, you can move to Mexico.
The second part of that question is not as easy.
We are hearing more and more from younger Americans who want to leave hearth and home behind and do what we did, move to Mexico and become expatriates. It used to be that the issue of working didn’t even register with American expats. Most who moved here were retirees on Social Security or artists who made a living from their creative ventures.
But now, more and more young people, those with children, want to escape America. The reasons for this, one can only speculate. I have long suspected that we should start calling the new crop of Americans moving into Mexico escapees rather than expatriates.
So, what do you, as a young married couple in your thirties, perhaps with a kid or two in tow, do when you move to Mexico? That, of course, is probably the reason this question is now the major one we get from potential expats. You have to do something to support yourself and your family. Not all can boast of a huge inheritance, a lottery winning, or a movie star’s salary. You have to do something to make a living or you cannot come.
We’ve met scores of young people with children who are living and working in Mexico. They either work for private companies or for their host country’s government. Recently, we met a young couple with two children who have been living in Mexico City for the past two years. The husband, a native of Belgium, has been working on a project that is a joint venture between the governments of Belgium and Mexico. They had it easy. He didn’t have to look for a job… his government gave him one. Also, his government secured the proper visas for him and his family.
If you come to Mexico already employed with a company that has a branch here, then you are set. The company takes care of securing the proper documents for you and your family. The official rules are that you can work in Mexico for a foreign business as long as you are not getting your salary from a Mexican source.
Now, a Mexican company can hire one but there are hoops through which one must jump. A Mexican company that wants to hire you would have to prove that you, with your skills, education, or peculiar talents, are not taking the job of a Mexican national who could do the work. A Mexican company who would want to hire you would have to prove that you had specific skills that no Mexican in that area could provide. There is, of course, the paperwork nightmare that has to be satisfied in order to be employed. You have to have a work visa.
A good example of this is in my city, Guanajuato (the state capital of Guanajuato). The University here does indeed hire some Americans to do what no Mexican could do. The logical example is teaching English. Though there are some amazingly bilingual Mexicans here who could teach English, they could not teach English as a native speaker.
The same goes for the American who may have been raised in a Spanish-speaking country. He may even have a university degree with a major in Spanish. But, he could not come to Mexico and teach Spanish. He could come to Mexico and teach English, though, if English was his first language.
Which jobs are available to you is entirely dependent upon the principle of not taking a job from a Mexican national. Even if you could teach Tae Kwon Do, you could not do it here. There are hordes of Tae Kwon Do schools here that are owned and operated by Mexican nationals. If you taught some bizarre and rare form of Chinese Kung Fu, and could prove some sort of certification, you might have a better chance of opening a school here. Again, you would have to jump through the paperwork hoop—work visas!
We know young married couples with children who have beaten the odds and are now successfully self-employed here in Guanajuato. One woman has an acupuncture practice while her husband has his own metal and wood shop. She has some sort of Oriental Medicine certification and was able to convince the powers-that-be in Mexico to grant her a work visa. She has a practice set up in an area of town that mainly is populated by upper class Mexicans. Her husband brought all his equipment from the States and has a successful business doing work with metal and wood.
The majority of gringos here, I am convinced, are those in the University orchestra. Though there are Mexican nationals in the orchestra, the vast majority are professional musicians from other countries. Many of them have begun coffee shops, restaurants, and so on as sidelines during the off-season.
Another way that some make a living here and never even have to fool with notifying the Mexican government (and I do not think they would want to be bothered) are those with online businesses. Web site designers and translators are two that come to mind.
We have a good friend, from whom we rented our first apartment, who is a translator. He is an American who moved here from Europe with his wife and young daughter. He is fluent in French, Spanish, and his native language, English. He gets translating gigs online, does the work, has the companies wire the money into his bank account and no one cares a bit. There were no hoops through which he had to jump, no work visas to obtain, nothing to do but do his work and collect his fee and live happily ever after here in Mexico. One could do worse, if you ask me!
The paperwork nightmare I keep referring to is that according the Mexican law, if you are going to work in Mexico, you should have a work visa. This is the official word on working in Mexico. I have a friend who opened up an English bookstore. She was able to obtain work documents. What this woman had to go through I would not wish on most Republicans I know. But she did it. This is what you are supposed to do. By law, you should get the work visa. The work visa is company-specific. Therefore, if you change your place of employment, you must obtain a new work visa for the new company. They are not transferable.
Now, follow me closely here. Everything that I have just said in the last 1000 words of this essay is about to be flushed down the commode.
Though the Mexican law says you have to have work papers and you cannot take a position that would keep a Mexican national from employment, foreigners work here all the time and violate these two principles.
We see gringo barmaids, bartenders, restaurant workers, laborers, and bakers. You name it, we see it. Most of them are working here without papers and are taking jobs Mexicans could do. I know a young kid in his early twenties who has been here as long as we have. Not only does he not have a work visa, he doesn’t have a visa at all!
There is a universal principal in Mexico that is one of the reasons so many Americans want to live here: If you don’t break some major law such as killing someone or dealing dope, no one is going to bother you. They leave you alone here, no one inquires, no one meddles, and no one really cares. Unless you plan on a career as a mass murderer, serial killer, or start your own drug cartel, then you will pretty much be left alone in Mexico.
The most popular and well-advertised option for working in Mexico is teaching English as a Second Language. In fact, there is a huge industry that grants certification in TESL. If you type “TESL Mexico” into Google search engine, you will come up with 135,000 hits.
Web page after web page comes up with promises of getting you certified to teach ESL in Mexico (and elsewhere in Latin America). They make promises of the glamour of living in exotic places while making a decent salary. Some of them even guarantee job placement. It looks good, sounds exciting, but fails miserably.
First of all, there is a difference between certification and accreditation. Anyone can make the claim to certify you for just about anything. The problem is that the word, certification, gives the impression that the schools have met some sort of standard for equipping their potential ESL teachers to go forth into the ESL world and teach someone English. The word accreditation means that some educational institution has made itself accountable to meeting the standards required for equipping potential teachers to teach ESL.
There is currently no accrediting body, no organization, nothing to which these TESL schools hold themselves accountable. They are not accredited.
The vast majority of available ESL jobs in Mexico are in private schools. These are small, private schools, sometimes on the upper floor of the director’s home, where the director offers classes in English. Locals send their children (and they are mostly kids) to these schools in hopes of improving their children’s grades in the English classes they are already attending in their formal educational institutions. If these schools have a curriculum, you will be lucky.
The wages from these small private setups are abysmally low. The going rate in Guanajuato is less than $2.50 USD per hour. You can occasionally find a school that pays a little more.
For another article I wrote, I did a survey of these sorts of schools all over Mexico. I was able to get responses from at least three schools in all the major cities. All of the directors told me in their e-mails that they rarely pay more than $3.00 an hour. I found one or two that paid $5.00 an hour. The overwhelming answer to the question, “Could some gringo make a decent living teaching ESL?” was an emphatic “No!” In fact, one person said someone would be hard-pressed to make a living teaching ESL in his school.
Also, each school that responded to my inquiry said that a certificate in TESL was not a requirement. Most did not care if the potential teacher even had a degree. This begs the question then, why are there so many places promoting the “TESL Certification” when it isn’t accredited nor required? The no-brainer answer is: MONEY!
These places make bucket loads of money off gringos who think not only will this training secure them a job but also that the TESL school will find them one. These schools also have all manner of ancillary things like “home stays” that will increase their coffers and decrease yours. You can even do this online before coming to Mexico.
Guadalajara is like some kind of TESL Mecca. There is school after school, all highly competitive for your attendance. They will send you a classy video presentation of their schools with the usual promises of changing your life forever if only you will come to their school for a gazillion dollars.
Ok, having said all of this; let me drop the bombshell.
It is not impossible to make a decent living teaching English as a Second Language in Mexico. After all, since it is the most popular form of foreign work in Mexico, there has got to be a way of doing it.
There are three ways that we have observed in which gringos who have come here actually made a living teaching English as a second language.
One is by teaching at three or more schools. Since most schools will only give you three classes at the most, you will not be able to work full-time any one school. You may get 6 hours a week, if you are lucky, at each school. We know of a girl from California who had to teach at three schools plus teach a few private students just to pay living expenses.
All of her time was spent busing or running from school to school. Only in this way could she get enough hours (at $3.00 USD an hour) to make ends meet. She was so exhausted by the weekends that she could nothing but stay in her apartment to recover and prepare for the next week.
No thank you!
Second is that you could take one of the rare jobs at a public school. We have seen these advertised occasionally. The government will grant the school’s request to get you your work visa if they pay you at least $1,000 USD per month. Out of that will come your Mexican Social Security and Mexican federal taxes (around 35% according to one source). With what is left, you will have to buy suitable clothes, pay for your living expenses, and pay for transportation. If you bring a car, then your expenses will be even more to maintain the car in Mexico.
My wife was offered a job at a school affiliated with a university. However, it was not a city where we wanted to live (it’s fairly industrialized). She would have had 4 classes a day plus 4 hours a day for preparation and meetings. The school paid $800-1000 USD a month (less taxes and Social Security). However, the classes would have consisted of 30-50 students each. Whereas the smaller, private schools pay smaller wages, you do not have 35-50 students in a class like you do in public schools. In addition, she would have had to sign a “morality contract” with conditions set by the school (for example, no drinking or buying alcohol in public; only dressing in clothes approved by the school…even outside of school hours).
Third you could try and teach private students out of your home. We know of a couple in a large, industrialized city that found their own private students. They advertised and were able to get enough students to make a good living. They mainly had professionals who wanted to learn English for business. These people charged $9.50 USD per hour and made their students pay one month in advance.
The kicker in all this is that you constantly have to advertise. Also, according to my wife’s interview with this couple, you have to live in a major industrialized city to make this kind of money. They said unless you just want to teach ESL as a hobby, you would have to move to Mexico City, Guadalajara, or Monterrey to find private students who would pay that much per hour. Plus, you may just have to get that work visa if you get caught!
These schools that promise to get you certified to teach ESL fail to tell you that you are NOT going to land a plum job in Puerto Vallarta or Cozumel and will not be spending your off-hours lounging in the sun on the beautiful beaches.
You can work in Mexico. It is not an easy gig. It is not a life of luxury. Think about it!
Our Newest Book!
My wife and I, Americans living in Guanajuato, Mexico, have co-authored a BRAND NEW print and ebook titled, "GUANAJUATO, MEXICO Your Expat, Study Abroad, and Vacation Survival Manual in The Land of Frogs".
We feel there is no publication available anywhere that covers the material we do with our unique first hand experience at settling in Guanajuato, Mexico. And the need for what we say in this ebook is much needed.
Long time Expat residents of the other Mexican towns are now looking to Guanajuato to move since they are being priced out of the housing marketing in towns such as San Miguel de Allende. Also the cost-of-living in those traditional American Expat Enclaves has increased making it difficult for the expat to live. The issue is that living in the city of Guanajuato is nothing like living the Gringo Landias or Gringo Gulches of San Miguel de Allende or Puerto Vallarta.