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Things to Know Before Teaching in Brazil
As I head into my 5th year as an ESL teacher in Brazil, I often get asked how to get a teaching gig here. The Olympics turned the global spotlight on Brazil, & put it on the radar of many teachers seeking new adventures. I have adored my time here, & encourage any interested to consider Brazil, provided you can be open-minded & keep these tips in mind:
Go into any teaching job here as a temporary assignment, because it’s unlikely you will find a school in most Brazilian cities to sponsor you for a work visa. They are extremely expensive and wrought with the red-tape common in Brazil, and so not worth the trouble or the expense for many schools. Schools located in larger cities – such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – may have the money to afford that process. However, there are also way more Brazilians who speak English in larger cities, so those schools are more likely to higher them instead. In addition, if you are looking for a real Brazilian experience, I would encourage you to work in a city other than Rio and Sao Paulo.
You may ask: What about public/private high schools looking for an English teacher? That is certainly a possibility. But again, they are unlikely to sponsor you for a work visa; you would have to have your own independent residency first, which isn’t impossible, but it’s not easy or quick.
So, how do you work in Brazil? On a tourist visa. Is this technically legal? No. Does EVERYONE do it? Yes. It’s the norm here, both for teachers and for schools. It works like this: When you enter Brazil on your tourist visa, you are given a three-month time frame to remain in the country. A few weeks before that deadline approaches, you go to the local federal police office in your city, and ask for a three-month extension. I have not met one foreigner, whether they are a teacher or just a traveler, who has ever been denied an extension. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. But it’s not common.
As a westerner, this idea may leave you feeling icky. Yes, you will be working without a contract, and yes, you could be “fired” with no recourse. But that’s unlikely in such a short time frame, and most schools here will deal with you fairly, as having a native speaker teach at their school is a plus for them and the reputation of the school. Just keep in mind that Brazil, like many other countries in the world, work on a looser idea of some regulations than places like the U.S., and that is part of the experience. Embracing this idea means you can spend at three-to-six months teaching in Brazil.
FINDING A SCHOOL:
A simple Google search on any Brazilian city will yield tons of private language schools. Some common ones here are CNA, CCAA, Wizard, and IBEU. Email the school and tell them you are seeking some temporary work in that city. However, Brazilians can be slow to reply to emails, and a phone call or in-person visit usually works better. This means that you may want to incorporate your ESL opportunity as part of a larger travel plan in Brazil and South America. This may also feel uncomfortable, as westerns like to have everything locked up before they arrive. But Brazil is rarely a “lock-it-up-in-advance” type of place, so the sooner you adapt to this attitude, the easier you will find your time here.
YOU’RE NOT GETTING RICH WORKING IN BRAZIL (OR SOUTH AMERICA, FOR THAT MATTER)
Teachers are mostly underpaid the world over. That is no different here in Brazil, especially for ESL teachers at private language schools. Working on an exchange rate of 3.12 Brazilian reals to $1.00 US dollar, the average pay per hour in a smaller city is about US$7.00 – 8.00. At a busy school in a smaller city, you can bring in about $636 – 796 per month, which is more than enough for rent, food and extra-curricular activities. However, it is not enough to save money, nor pay bills you may have back home. It is also not enough to support a healthy lifestyle in a larger Brazilian city. In Uberaba, rent in a luxury apartment building (doorman, elevator, balcony, sometimes a pool) is about $286 per month; with a roommate that is certainly possible, and cheaper accommodations are definitely an option. Brazilian food is also very cheap; sushi and other “ethnic” food is not. Electricity and wifi run about $64 per month. You can also pick up some side gigs, but be aware that most language schools do not appreciate your taking business away from the school and may terminate you if they find out. People do it, but be careful. In addition, most schools ask you to not teach at competing schools; if they find out they will ask you to leave. Most average Brazilians do not have a ton of expendable income, so competition for students can be fierce.
SCHEDULES ARE MORE RELAXED THAN IN THE U.S.
I still remember my very first class, which started at 3pm. At 3:15, no students had arrived. Convinced I had gotten the time wrong, I went to confirm with the receptionist, who told me not to worry: The students would soon arrive. And they did, 25 minutes late, with no apology and no apparent awareness that they were late, or that it was a problem. This manner took some getting used to!
This doesn’t mean that I follow that example; I am never late for class or teacher meetings. But I developed an understanding for the Brazilian idea of “time” and don’t take it personally. In addition, when I meet friends or have a meeting, I always ask if the time is “Brazilian time” or “US” time, so I know what to expect and can manage my expectations. Be aware that time is also more respected in larger cities.
ENJOY YOUR LUNCH!
Before moving to Brazil, I spent 20 years as a TV journalist in New York. I ate lunch at my desk almost every day, hurriedly, without thought or relaxation. Brazilians would be horrified. Not only do most teachers eat lunch in a relaxed manner – and rarely at their desk! – but in many smaller cities, there is time to relax afterwards. This is the norm in most cities in Brazil, even in Rio, Brasilia and Sao Paulo, although these cities may have some exceptions. The idea that you would rush through lunch at your desk is a foreign concept at most companies. This is lovely idea, although I never nap after lunch. In fact, I used to be restless with so much free time to eat, while the rest of the school took on a quiet, slumbering atmosphere. Maybe one day…
Ah, the Internet. There is a common excuse for slow/faulty wifi here: the weather. When the wifi goes down, whether it be at the school, or a hotel on vacation, any inquiry to the problem will inevitably follow with a reply of “The whole city is having this problem. It’s the rain/sun/wind/clouds.” I’m no technician, but even I know that’s BS. However, people are rarely concerned about it; Brazilians have this “what can you do” attitude and patiently wait for the wifi to return. You can clearly spot any non-Brazilians in this group; they are the ones fidgeting off to the side, consistently checking their phones.
As a teacher, the loss of wifi in the classroom can be jarring. Be prepared to chat with students; practicing conversation with a native speaker is always useful for students, and shouldn’t be underestimated. Most schools work off prepared materials and books, so really the biggest problem with losing wifi is that you have no access to Google Translator, which can be a struggle if you’re instructing a beginner level. But if you’ve learned anything by your time in Brazil, it’s that going with the flow will keep you sane. A positive attitude is everything!
(Please keep in mind that the above tips are based on my personal experiences and knowledge from teachers in other cities, and there are always exceptions to the rule!)
And a quick note about Zika: When I went home to New York for the holidays, I was shocked to see a Zika warning sign in the NYC subway. I am fairly certain the risk for Zika – in December – on the NYC subway is… zero! Many people have asked me about Zika, and from my own experience, I can tell you that I have not met one person who has had it. Not a single person. I have met many who have gotten Dengue – I have had it twice myself. But not Zika. Of course, my area of Brazil is much less humid, and thus, may attract less Zika mosquitos than say, cities located in the Amazon or along the coast. I am in no way minimizing the risk of getting it if you are pregnant or plan to get pregnant soon; those risks are real and you should take every precaution. But for anyone NOT in this high-risk group, I would say you shouldn’t let Zika fear keep you from coming here. I’m no doctor, but I do feel that the media coverage in many western countries about Zika has been overblown. Wear bug spray, get screens for your windows, and you should be OK.
Any questions? Leave me a comment…
After Fran did her CELTA at Teaching House New York,she moved to Uberaba, Brazil, where she teaches ESL at all levels and is head of the school’s Education USA department, which helps Brazilian students study abroad in the U.S. She's recently traveled solo through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, and hopes to teach in Asia soon. You can follow her adventures at FrannysFootsteps.com.
Latest posts by Fran Zarnitzky (see all)
- Things to Know Before Teaching in Brazil - May 10, 2017
- Expat Insider: Life in Brazil Vs. USA - August 30, 2016
- Three Things I Had to Learn Moving from New York to Brazil - April 7, 2016