Travel & Teach - Ecuador
Ecuador has a rich history dating back to the Incas and Spanish Conquests. It is a country of outstanding beauty and diverse geographical and ecological regions. However more recently it has suffered severe economic problems, which led to it defaulting on debt repayments in 1999. El Niño, the weather system has that caused worldwide problems, severely affected Ecuador and compounded the problems of recession. In August 2001 the administration completed an effective transfer of the country’s currency, changing from the Sucre to the US dollar.
This financial suffering may mean that your money does not go as far as it once did. However, the cost of living is cheap and provided that you do not expect to save money, you should be able to live quite comfortably. It is also comparatively safe, compared with some other countries in the region, although it is never wise to be complacent. Everything considered, Ecuador represents one of the most promising South American destinations for the travelling teacher in search of an EFL adventure.
So if Ecuador is on your horizon you will find a welcoming country with a wealth of teaching opportunities. As with many countries in the region you’ll find a preference for American English, although this should not deter teachers from other countries in their search for employment. The key requirements are often native speaker ability and simply being there. A degree and online TEFL qualification will enhance your prospects, as will any business qualifications or experience, as the commercial sector generates much of the better paid EFL work.
British Council: http://www.britishcouncil.org/
British Council in Ecuador: www.britishcouncil.org/ecuador
Ecuadorian Embassy UK: http://ecuador.embassyhomepage.com/
Ecuadorian Embassy USA: http://www.ecuador.org/
Ecuadorian National Tourist Office: http://www.vivecuador.com/
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If you can’t get work secured before travelling, you will find yourself working on a tourist visa, which is of course illegal, but this is what most people will end up doing. Changing a tourist visa to a working one once you’re in the country is very difficult - like most other Latin American countries, Ecuador can be very bureaucratic. It’s a common scam that schools will deduct tax even when you’re employed illegally - they obviously aren’t paying tax for you, but in the circumstances there’s not much you can do about it.
It’s very easy to get work by just dropping in to the British Council in Quito with a CV - in Spanish if possible. Neat dress is important - people will not take you seriously if you’re scruffy. I found it very easy to get private students, but there’s one big problem with them. That is that they keep cancelling classes, often at the last minute! This is because most people in Ecuador work extremely hard for very little money - 25 cents an hour is not unusual - and they find it very hard to fit English classes into a 12 or 14 hour day, even though there is a lot of pressure on people to learn English. For this reason I think it’s easier to work for a school – at least if you’re teaching a group, there’s more chance of some of your students turning up and allowing you to get paid.
Ecuadorians themselves are some of the warmest and most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and it’s a pleasure to teach them and work with them. Unfortunately for them, US dominance in their country means that many people have the attitude that learning English will lead them to a life of wealth and luxury. This is sad, but the positive side is that they make very attentive and hardworking students.
It’s a fairly safe country, but definitely not by European standards - there are guns everywhere, and the police force is worse than useless. Carry as little of value on your person as possible, and check with locals about where to avoid in each town.
Travel and Teach
The cost of advertising abroad, low salaries and the difficulty in arranging working visas means that most schools in the region do not advertise in the UK press. Most private schools rely on travelling teachers passing through the region although speculative CV’s can be sent beforehand to be followed up on arrival. Demand is great in even the small towns. However, the best bet on arrival may be to try the larger cities of Quito or Guayaquil where there is a strong business English demand and plenty of work. It will also provide an invaluable opportunity to make contacts and meet other expats before exploring the rest of the country. Other sources of invaluable contacts are English language bookshops. Alternatively you could also try English language publications, such as ‘Q’ magazine. The British Council (see Useful Contacts) may also provide a list of schools throughout the country.
To help you find work, ensure your CV is professionally presented and highlight any business or commercial qualifications or experience. You might find the guide to writing your CV on our site quite helpful here. Similarly it may be wise to dress in a business-like manner to create that vital first impression at interview.
The academic year runs from March to December and schools or institutes sometimes recruit at college fares in the USA, so this may be a way in. But there will certainly be opportunities for the adventurous traveller to pick up work on the spot. This is what one Global English graduate, James O’Connor, did - you can read his experiences below in our Student Comments section.
As previously mentioned, speaking English and simply being there are sometimes the most important criteria in finding work. However, we would recommend at the very least you take a Global English Level 1 TESOL before you go. If you are able to secure work before travel, your employer may help you to obtain a cultural exchange visa, which entitles you to stay for a year. But it is still a bureaucratic process and additional supporting documents that you will need to collect include a return air ticket, health certificate, 2 character references, a police report, a financial sponsorship letter and health certificate. Instead, many people work on a tourist visa that is valid for 6 months for UK citizens. It is technically illegal and cannot be ‘upgraded’ to another type of visa. However, it can usually be extended by leaving the country and re-entering.
If you are working for a private language school, expect pay to be the equivalent of $3-$5 p/hour. While this sounds poor, it should be remembered that the tax rate is only 12% and the cost of living is very cheap – indeed rent in shared accommodation may be as low as $40 per month. So many EFL teachers live quite well by local standards. Be prepared to make up a full timetable by teaching in various locations, a least at first. If this is the case, allow plenty of time for travelling across the bigger, congested cities.
The benefits of working in Ecuador are unlikely to be financial but the experience of living and teaching in this country should be one of the highlights of your life.