Teaching English can be a great experience and very rewarding in the non-monetary sense. A lot of people teach English as a means of traveling the world. Hopefully, this section answers some of the common questions of those thinking about doing this in Brazil. Firstly,
TEFL – Do you need it?
A TEFL qualification is not absolutely necessary for finding work teaching English in Brazil. However, those who hold a TEFL certificate may be able to command a higher pay rate and find work at better schools. Qualifications always make the candidate more attractive. Schools don’t need to invest significant time in training and a qualified, native English speaker on staff is a great marketing tool.
TEFL – Where to get it?
It is possible to study for a basic TEFL qualification over the internet. Basic courses take around 3 months to complete and involve around 70 hours of work. If you’d prefer face to face classes TEFL course providers can easily be found on the internet, in the newspaper, or in the yellow pages. If your preference is for face-to-face teaching the most common way is to simply enroll with a course provider in your local area and study a few nights a week. A 12-week course is enough to give you some confidence in front of a class. It does not make you an instant expert on the English language.
Finding Schools Once in Brazil
The best method for finding work is to simply walk in the front door of a school and talk to someone. Make sure you’re well dressed as Brazilians take presentation seriously, slow your speech down a little, and avoid using slang or colloquial expressions. Speak clearly. These are simple points but if the manager or secretary can’t understand you easily, how will the students?
Language schools in Brazil typically teach American English and use American teaching resources. Most culture in the form of television, music, and movies comes from North America so students are much more accustomed to the American accent. This is why it is important if you are not American to slow your speech and pronounce your words clearly. Students might have a little difficulty with your accent in the beginning. Yes, some schools specifically teach British English but American English is most predominant.
Setting up a job before you arrive without any contacts can be a little difficult. It isn’t easy even for experienced professional ESL teachers.
When to look for work
The best time to find work with schools is before the semester commences. Good schools don’t change teachers’ mid-session and schools do not wait until the week before the class starts to think about hiring teachers. For the first half of the year, late January and early February are the best times to approach schools whilst June or early July should maximize your chances for the second semester.
Schools want to know that you will be around for the long term. They’re not really interested in having you work for 3 months to help fund your holiday. If this is your intention you’re better off going into debt a little and working hard for 6 weeks when you get back from your holiday. Teaching English involves a commitment to your students which ties you down to one location.
This is always the biggest problem faced by foreigners wanting to work in Brazil. Teaching on a tourist visa is not impossible but with a 6 month limit on your stay time is short. With a tourist visa, you can not get a CPF (the equivalent of a social security number) which also means you can not open a bank account. This obviously forces you to work for cash but this isn’t a major problem. Typically Brazilian work visas are very difficult to get unless you are working for a multinational company in Brazil or luckily found an English school willing to sponsor you (unlikely to happen due to the cost and paperwork).
Teaching in Brazil is not going to make you rich. Expect all your rewards to come in the non-monetary sense. Illusions of making easy money will see you walking away disappointed. Aim to cover your living expenses but don’t expect to be living the high life. You can eventually earn reasonable money (relative to Brazilian wages only) but it takes a lot of time and effort to set yourself up and develop contacts with business professionals who can afford to pay more. Brazilian companies who employ English teachers prefer to go through registered companies so working solo for cash isn’t the easy way to big money. If they’re paying cash they can’t claim it as a business expense.
The easiest place to find work and the highest paying work is in São Paulo. With almost 20 million people São Paulo is the business capital of Brazil and the largest city in South America. Consequently, there are a lot of wealthy business professionals in the market for English teachers. One issue is that the people who can pay good money work long hours so the demand for your services will be high either early in the morning or in the evening. The challenge is to fill the middle of your day with bookings.
Schools pay about $R22-$R28 an hour. For private lessons, you can charge anywhere from $R30 – $R60 an hour depending on your experience and ability to find high paying clients. Students are usually paying schools around $R50 – $R60 for private classes so this is probably the upper limit of what you can charge but if you’ve got people paying these rates consider yourself lucky.
Remember: São Paulo is your best-case scenario. This is where the money is and where the demand is. Most foreigners don’t want to live in São Paulo so supply is restricted. Everyone wants to live in Rio or Salvador (for good reason) but less market demand and more supply means lower prices. That said the cost of living is also lower.
Again, even with a lot of hard work, there is no guarantee of establishing a comfortable existence. Do not expect to teach English and earn enough money to live and travel to the country. It is most likely your earnings will cover basic living expenses only.