English teachers are in high demand throughout Bolivia so it’s not too difficult for a native English speaking gringo to land a job here. The bigger cities have far more potential students so the odds of finding a placement are much better in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.
Experience and qualifications are not necessarily a requirement depending on the institute’s policy and the demand at the time. Some places are so desperate for native speakers they will offer at least a trial contract to a gringo who doesn’t have any experience. But the most renowned and best paying institutes will generally only hire those with a TEFL certificate and a proven track record.
The biggest downside to this profession in Bolivia is low salaries. You should expect to earn only around US$5 to 6 per hour in a private institute. This does not include any preparation time or time between classes. Given that a full time schedule for a teacher is rarely more than 20 class hours per week, teachers take home less than US$500 per month. While this is well above the minimum monthly salary of $212, it still doesn’t provide for a particularly glamorous life style. If you are single, childless and live in a shared house or apartment then the salary is enough for a modest but comfortable lifestyle. Just don’t expect to be able to regularly visit expensive bars and restaurants or do much travel.
Salaries are far better for the ESL teacher in Asia. One can earn huge salaries in places like Korea and Japan despite the high cost of living. While in Vietnam, Thailand and China teachers earn much better wages than Bolivia even though the cost of living is lower. For this reason many ESL teachers prefer Asia over Latin America. The few foreign teachers that do work in Bolivia tend to have an external reason for being here. They also often have supplementary income or savings to support their lifestyle.
Offering private lessons is a possible way to earn extra cash. The going rate is around US$8 to 9 per hour, which is significantly better than teaching through an institute but the difficult part is finding reliable clients. Possible strategies include advertising in the local paper, posting flyers around town or being recommended through word of mouth.
So how does a gringo go about finding a teaching gig in Bolivia? In my case a friend’s institute happened to be looking for staff so I got a job through him. I’d never really thought of teaching before so it just sort of happened.
This probably won’t happen to you so you will need to actively search for a job. First do some research to find out where all the private language institutes, universities or schools (collegios) are in your city. Don’t bother with the public schools and universities until you are really desperate as the salaries are said to horrific. Next edit your C.V to cater for teaching jobs and print off a few copies. Then put on your most respectable clothes and go and speak to those institutes in person. The more you speak to the better your chance of finding a placement. Many might not be looking for staff at that time, so offer to leave your C.V to be contacted at a later date.
Almost all institutes will require you to have temporary residency for the purpose of employment. Very few will allow you to work on a tourist visa, which is of course illegal. See my post on the visa process for more information, but keep in mind that the Department of Immigration has since changed the process in November 2014.