Teaching English in Mexico
Last update
7 December 2012

The 2012  Immigration law greatly restricts who can work in México. It boils down to a Visitante with permission to work and Residente Permanente.  A Residente Temporal is allowed to work only when employed by a Mexican company.

Free-lance teachers must have a  Residente Permanente


This page is drawn largely from the writings of my friend Bill Masterson who wrote in response to questions from a US citizen interested in teaching in Mexico.  

I have also included some comments and warnings from two other experienced ESL teachers.

This is by no means a complete discussion of ESL teaching in Mexico, but it does answer some of the basic questions.  And it presents a view from an experienced teacher.  Bill spent several years teaching English in Mexico City.

A very helpful "teaching in Mexico" information resource is the Mexico Job Discussion Forum at Dave's ESL Cafe website where persons who are now, or who were in the past, teaching English provide up-to-date information and share their experiences.

Here is a useful webpage for those interested in addition training in ESL:Online Masters in ESL Programs 

The Documents You Will Need

There are several documents that you will need for your teaching job.  Since application requirements are inconsistent and not uniform in Mexico, I suggest you over-prepare to save the expense of having to return home for something you didn't bring.  You should have your birth certificate, university/college transcripts and diploma, letters of reference from persons in a professional field attesting to your good moral character.  If you are married, divorced or widowed, you will need a certificate for that.  And, of course, your passport.  If you'll be arriving unemployed, the letters of reference are likely to be helpful when you interview for a job, and they may help you when it comes to renting an apartment, etc.

Your documents will have to be translated into Spanish.  That will be discussed shortly.  Your official documents -- birth certificate, college transcript, diploma, marriage certificate, etc -- will need to be notarized and have a apostle attached.   (Click here to learn about an apostle.)

To work in Mexico, you will need a Residente Temporal visa with a work endorsement.  For details about this, look here Working m México.  Note that TFEL certification is required in order to get the visa for teaching English.

Document Translations

INM requires that the document translations be done in Mexico by translators approved by the government.   If you want to see if you can have the translations done in your home city,  I suggest that you pay a visit to the nearest Mexican Consulate and pose the question to them. 
It is sometimes possible to get a translation done in your home country.

Finding Work Before You Arrive

Finding someone to hire you in advance of your arrival, sight unseen, isn’t something you should expect.   I’m not aware of anyone who does that in Mexico.  

Most people from the U.S. who teach in Mexico are working for a school (i.e. elementary, secondary, high or university), for a company that provides language training classes to employees of client companies at the offices/plants of the client or for one of the many (mostly franchised) language institutes.

From my own experiences in Mexico and from what I read and hear from teachers of English in other parts of the world, teaching English in Mexico ranks at the bottom of the scale of TEFL jobs – relatively few foreigners end-up enjoying their time in Mexico and most complain about the low pay and lack of hours to work.

Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey are the cities where you’ll find employers paying the best wage to Americans teaching English.  Some state/private universities scattered around the country also offer “ok” pay (well, that depends on your frame of reference).


Of the three types of entities hiring English teachers, working for a school is considered by most as the best teaching job because: the work is almost always under a minimum one-year contract, the salary and benefits are better, the employer is typically reputable and reliable and pays salaries on time, the working conditions are better.  Landing one of these good jobs requires, almost always, a teaching degree and prior teaching experience -- not just ESL experience, but experience teaching other courses in English.  


Companies providing language training classes to employees of their clients will be found in most cities of any size and where there is an active commercial scene.  Few of these companies will require you to have prior teaching experience; being a “native speaker” of English (U.S.-style English) is good enough for them.  I’ve witnessed lots of incompetent people leading classes just because they’re native speakers.   No matter the experience level you bring with you from teaching jobs outside of Mexico, these companies, typically, start newbes at the bottom of the pay and hours scales.    Some of the companies require teacher candidates to first complete their proprietary teaching course before being permitted to work for them even though they have the required TEFL certificate.

My experience has been, primarily, with companies in Mexico City.  What I’ve seen and heard from others is that many of the companies are not reputable, frequently pay teachers less than promised, and frequently pay teachers 2 to 4 weeks later than promised.  Many newbies, anxious to begin work, accept one of the first jobs offered,  and later regret doing that.  In the larger cities, there are many companies with which to work, and the best ones are typically the ones with which it takes a little longer to find work; but I think it’s worth the wait. The problem is that a newbie, other than using instinct, isn’t likely to know which company is better than the rest.  It’s not always an easy thing to do, but I suggest that newly arrived teacher candidates ask for permission to speak with current teachers (foreigners) at the company, and to see a client list.   While teachers working for these companies operate more as an independent contractor than a company employee, it’s wise to have the company put in letter form the hourly rate you’ll receive, benefits (if any), etc.  I suggest against working for any company unwilling to document your arrangement.

Language Institutes

The language institutes (Harmon Hall, Interlingua, English First, Quick Learning, etc.) are usually in search of native speakers to teach English classes because the turnover in those operations is high and/or there are so many offices to staff.  Even if a teacher candidate has prior experience teaching English, many of the institutes require the teacher candidate to complete its own proprietary teaching course (and often at a cost to the candidate) because their methods are rigid and teachers very often are not permitted to stray from the institute’s lesson plan.  Again, the higher hourly wages are paid in the larger cities.  One of the advantages often cited by foreigners who teach in the institutes is that they’re offered more hours than in the company classes, and they don’t have to travel from location to location several times each day to get to their classes.  I haven’t worked for any of the institutes, but I’ve read many complaints about low pay, not being paid on time, etc.

Private Classes

Often talked about, but not often found, are the private lessons.  Most of the people I know who teach in Mexico and give lessons on the side found their students as part of other work teaching – mostly by teaching for companies.  People with the most discretionary money to spend are in the upper middle-class.  While tutoring can provide a small amount of additional income, it will not be all that much for most teachers.   Tutoring does provide the opportunity to get into people’s homes and make friends with them and their families.

Here are some useful comments and warnings from another experienced ESL teacher.  

As a teacher who moved to Mexico to teach several years ago, I would be very suspicious about that salary.  (She is responding a prospective teacher who has been offered $11,000 pesos per month)  It is way out of line!   When I first went to work at a private language school in Chiapas, foreign teachers were offered the world to come on down from Canada or the US or come on over from England.  This transportation was, of course, at our own expense.  Then when we got there, things often changed.  For example, weekly classroom hours were cut prior to the opening of the term, we were often moved into very expensive apartments and rooms of the director's friends, etc. since at first most of us could not find housing for ourselves and families.  Took a while to realize we were all being taken. (And I was taken by more than one private language school before I learned better.)  Turn over among instructors was high, but there was always such a supply of eager, enthusiastic foreign teachers available to replace those of us who opted out.

Some Mexican laws (state? federal?) limit foreign teachers to no more than 19 hours classroom time per week per employer.  That brings us an hour short of full time pay and benefits.   Also native Mexican teachers are often paid for 8-hour days even though they only log half in actual classroom hours.  The rest of paid preparation time.  If you indeed teach 30 hours a week, that probably means 6 different classes per day (and 6 different preparations) over each 5-day period.  A daunting task for any teacher!

Many foreign teachers work 19 hours per week at each of two different institutions for a total of 38 hours, which is allowed, although again no benefits other than health care accrue because the work at each place is still part-time, under the magic 20 hours for full time status.  Such a schedule usually requires several early morning classes, for adults before work, and several hours of late afternoon/early evening classes (think babysitting) for wealthy school aged students.  A brutal schedule which breaks up your day unnaturally and allows for very little in the way of free time to enjoy the pleasures of living in Mexico!

Again, figure each classroom hour as a totally separate class requiring totally separate lesson plans and papers to grade.  And the immigration laws won't permit you to do private tutoring on the side.

Back up money is a must!  You must have your own funds to fall back on if things don’t work out.  Here are some stories.

I had a friend from England who moved "permanently" with her 10-year old son to Chiapas to teach in a very exclusive, expensive private language school.  She had been told that she could live in the director's house for free.  When she arrived, however, having paid her own way over from England, she was not installed in the director's house at all but placed into the spacious upstairs of one of the director's personal friends.  A gorgeous two-bedroom apartment with a view, private bath, and sitting room on the stair landing plus two meals a day cooked by the maid.  It sounded like a dream.  But it wasn't.

Two BIG problems: (1) they couldn't stand the food cooked by the maid, never having been exposed to Mexican foods before; and (2) although the furnished apartment with meals, utilities and maid service was a bargain in anyone's mind at only 2800 pesos per month (less than $280 US for everything), the teacher was told at the last minute that she would only teach three classes in the early morning hours for a total of 1900 pesos per month.  The rest of her meals/lodging she would have to make up from her own pocket.  She lasted two weeks and went back home to England on a last minute plane ticket that cost a bundle.  I don't think her son had eaten a bite since they arrived in Mexico!  An expensive job offer, no matter how ideal it had seemed when she accepted the offer.

One summer I was offered 3600 pesos to teach English to young adults (my favorite students) for 4 weeks at what was called "The American School." Nothing American about it except the wealthy Mexican owner spoke fair English and had visited the US on several occasions as a tourist.  When the summer term actually started, the owner went on vacation to an undisclosed location and I ended up with one class of 4-year olds who still needed potty training and a small group of younger teenagers who were mostly the badly behaved children of the owner.  They were so bad the swimming teacher suspended them from school for a week!  I was eternally grateful to him!  At the end of two weeks, I was paid only 1200 pesos when I was expecting 1800, because the owner sent word she hadn't attracted enough students to pay me more.  I did not return.

The following semester another experienced teacher from England accepted an offer to teach at the same "American School."   By that time I was teaching at the University.  His students were so badly behaved (probably some of them the owner's kids), he actually slapped the hell out of one of them!!!

Acceptable in England, but certainly not in Mexico. He had to go home muy rapido, with the loss of his job and dormitory housing.  And with the encouragement of Migracion.  He was happy to do so.  Said he just couldn't understand the total lack of discipline permitted among the students. Another cultural difference you will learn while teaching in Mexico -- you can't discipline students whose parents are paying big bucks for you to baby-sit them in ESL classes.

Again, have back up money, especially if the housing you have has been arranged by your employer.  If your job doesn't work out, neither will your place to stay.

Here is another teacher with a happier experience:

My experience was completely different.  I found a job teaching English at Harmon Hall like anyone would, by reading the classifieds and then interviewing with the company.  While the job was stressful at times, in general it wasn't so bad.

My one huge complaint is that not only is the month long training unpaid, but so are any subsequent trainings. Working 6 hours a day, I made around 11,000 pesos per month.  Had I wanted to work more, I could have, but an eight hour teaching day can only be done so much.  I made enough money to live comfortably, but frugally, and when working 8 hour days, even save up a bit of money.

Now I say "live comfortably, ' but things like buying a car would have been a strain on the budget.  Doable, but painful. I'd never experienced anything like the teacher on the web page described as far as payment of services.  I was paid on time for 4 years, and when there was a problem with my check (the accountant was not only incompetent but nasty), the director and I would figure out the correct amount, and she'd take care of it, often paying me in cash if she had the money on-site.

When I was researching work in Mexico, I came across many people on the net who seemed to have had awful experiences or knowledge of places like Harmon Hall, so I was ready to find the worst, sketchy characters whose main purpose was not to teach English and run a school, but to swindle unsuspecting expats looking for work.  Instead, I found a school competently run by an Australian woman, and a mostly Mexican staff (that fluctuated over time), some of whom had been at that school for ten years or more.  Mine was a different picture from what is painted on the Internet.

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