Nestled along the Andes, Chile offers an enjoyable personal life as well as steady work for a native English speaker looking for a new experience in South America. Apart from a stable economy and an increased interest in speaking English, Chile is also a country of extreme beauty, friendly people, excellent wine, and sandy beaches. Chile offers opportunities both in and out of the classroom for travelers and English teachers.
Chile’s economy has been gaining strength since the return to democracy in 1989. The capital city, Santiago, is headquarters to many multinational corporations, and features a modern and efficient metro system which connects the central parts of the city. The Chilean peso has recently gained strength against the dollar, making Chile one of South America’s most expensive countries. For travelers this is a burden, but for those who want to stick around and work, it brings better pay. There are a few other industries that will hire foreigners, but the easiest way to get work without experience in technical and professional fields is to teach English.
Teachers are always in demand and work is easy to find most of the year. The best time to look for work is after the Chilean summer vacation, towards the end of February, with most work starting by the first of April. If you are not in Chile though, it is a good idea to contact possible institutes shortly before Christmas to show your interest and get a sense of their timetable.
Work is available in most cities, but the market in Santiago is by far the biggest. It is also possible to pick up private classes, for which the teacher can charge as much as 20 dollars an hour, much higher than what private English institutes pay. However, most businesses want teachers working for institutes to take advantage of the Chilean government’s tax incentive program, called SENCE.
SENCE is a government sponsored program designed to improve the quality of service in the country as well as the average work ability of the Chilean work force. It gives tax breaks to businesses who provide training to a certain percentage of their employees. English classes are one of the many subjects covered by SENCE. SENCE also requires that companies which provide classes under the program meet certain qualifications. This means that English institutes need certified teachers.
Having a TEFL certificate and practice teaching, if not experience, will greatly increase the options available to a prospective job hunter. Despite the government’s requirements, it is still possible to find work without a certificate, but the better institutes require it.
English Institutes come and go, and the quality level differs greatly from one to another. It pays to ask a lot of questions before signing a contract. Most pay per hour, though some offer a fixed salary. There are many horror stories about English institutes taking advantage of teachers. It helps to have a sense of institute’s history, policies, curriculum, and methodology before signing a contract.
Pay rates depend greatly on the institute, as do other benefits such as compensation for time spent on the bus to different business. Some pay nothing, others compensate their teachers well. Compensation for travel will effect the end of the month check greatly since most English classes are in the offices of the students.
To work legally in Chile, a teacher must have a contract with an institute. Two contracts are available, a work contract (contrato de trabajo) and a service contract (contrato de servicios). The full work contract is more common, and requires teachers to pay taxes, medical coverage, and put money into a private pension fund. Paying into the pension fund can be avoided if the teacher can provide proof that they have access to another country’s pension plan. For U.S. citizens this means providing a notarized copy of the teacher’s social security card.
The service contract is available through a few institutes, and requires less money from the teacher on a monthly basis. The teacher only has to pay taxes, using a system of receipts (boletas) that is available online. Both contracts will get the teacher an ID card, and an identification number. Chile’s department of immigration (Departamento de Extranjeria) maintains a web site in Spanish that provides all necessary forms.
Once the contract is signed by both parties, notarized, and sent off to the department of immigration, it takes about two months to complete the entire process. This process can be long and complicated, especially if process deadlines are not met. It is also advisable for the teacher to take an active part in making sure the process is completed, even if the employer says they will handle the application. Miscommunications and missed deadlines will result in annoying fines and more lines to stand in.
Classes in Chile are scheduled to suit the companies that contract the services. This can often be at the expense of the teacher. Most classes are either in the early morning before the work day, during lunch, or in the evening after the work day. This means that a teacher might have a class at 8:30 am, and then not have another until 6:00 pm. Steady blocks of work are harder to find, but exist.
Although most work is in private English institutes, many local high schools also need English teachers. A good level of Spanish is recommended for these jobs, many of the administrative aspects of the work require it. Most public schools start in mid March, and teaching hours are usually during the day. The quality of the school and the resources available differ greatly from school to school. Well financed private schools offer a much different environment and salary than public schools.
Generally, Chileans are eager to learn English, however many teachers get frustrated with students due to extreme tardiness, low motivation, and poor attendance. Chileans are infamous for their tardiness. It is common to have students arrive 15 minutes late or worse on a regular basis.
The work day is also very long in Chile, usually from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, so many students arrive tired and show little motivation to learn obscure exceptions to English grammar. Many students are only interested in conversation classes. This makes the classes pass by enjoyably, but it is much harder to demonstrate progress to the student’s company, who is footing the bill.
Classes are often canceled, because companies mostly offer classes to overworked upper level workers such as managers, executives, and engineers. Due to the fact that almost all institutes don’t pay teachers if the student cancels with at least a day’s notice, this can be a big problem. It is a bigger issue for one on one classes than group classes. Some institutes have policies that allow students to only cancel a certain number of classes. However these policies may be ignored as often as they are followed.
These complications can lead to a salary which is often unstable, slow progress with the students, and both the student and teacher walk away frustrated. Despite this, with a full time schedule, or a part time schedule and a few private classes, English teachers can make a decent living. This is true especially in comparison to the majority of Chileans, and pay rates for English teachers in other South American countries. It is possible to save money for one of the many adventures available to a teacher living in Chile.
The time outside the classroom is to be enjoyed, and the range of activities available to a teacher living in Santiago is the hidden benefit not offered in a contract. Having the Andes next the city, and the beach an hour and half away by bus makes Santiago’s location exclusive. There are countless locations within a two hour drive of the city where the natural beauty is pristine. Many places, such as the Cajon del Maipo to the south, can be accessed through public transportation.
Vacation spots to the south are also an added plus to teaching in Chile. From rafting and climbing active volcanoes, to relaxing next to the beach sipping on a fine wine. Whatever interests one might have, Chile offers a spectrum of activities as well as good work options to guarantee a new and interesting experience.