English teachers are in high demand throughout Bolivia so it’s pretty easy 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 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 at all. However, the best paying schools will generally only hire those with at least 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 which 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 US$212, it still doesn’t provide for a particularly glamorous lifestyle. If you are single, childless and live in a shared house or apartment then the salary is enough for a modest 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 where one can earn big bucks in places like Korea and Japan despite the high cost of living. In Vietnam, Thailand, and China, teachers earn much better wages than Bolivia and have an even lower cost of living, so it makes sense that ESL teachers flock to Asia over Latin America. The few foreign teachers that do work here tend to have an external reason for choosing the country and/or some savings supplement their income.
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’ll 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 because the salaries are said to horrific. Next, make sure your C.V is suitable for teaching jobs, print off a few copies, put on your best shirt and hand those suckers out in person. This is how it’s done in Bolivia, as emails are often ignored.
Almost all institutes will require you to have temporary residency for the purpose of employment, although some might turn a blind eye.
If you have some good qualifications or experience, get in contact with the most expensive private schools first, particularly the American schools. The best schools pay US$1500-2000 which is a lot of money over here.
Finally, offering private lessons is a good way to earn a living, just be aware it will take some time to built up your client base. Advertise online (Facebook/OLX), in the local newspapers classifieds (yes, they still use those here) or by handing flyers out near wealthy private schools. The going rate in La Paz for a private native speaking teacher is US$10-12, so you can expect to pull in about a grand once your client base is full, which is a decent salary in Bolivia.