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An Insider's Guide on How to Teach English in Panama

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Interested in teaching English abroad? Why not head to one of the best cities in Latin America to do so?

For those seeking a life in a capital city but on a budget, Panama City could be the perfect spot for you. Although there are plenty of other great places to live in Panama if city life isn't calling out to you. Do know though that most English teaching jobs in Panama can be found here, instead of in small towns.

But I'm getting ahead of myself! I'll cover all of those details and more in just a second.

When I first moved to Panama, I had some experience teaching English online and my 120 hour TEFL certification and not much more. However, throughout my two years in Panama, I gained a variety of teaching experiences, including the different types of schools and institutions you can teach at.

Let's dive into how you can teach English in Panama, the types of institutions and schools that hire, and the requirements you'll need to get hired at each.

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet:

🏫Panama, and Latin America in general, can be a super relaxed place to get a job but not all jobs and places to teach are the same.

📃If you meet the requirements, you can get a work visa. If you don’t meet the requirements, there’s still a good chance you can get a job “under the table,” without a visa.

👩‍🏫The main requirements are: 

🏙️The easiest place to find teaching jobs is in Panama City.

Requirements to Teach English in Panama

Depending on which of the 5 places you choose between, the requirements might vary a bit. In general though, most teachers will expect to have:

  • 120-hour TEFL or TOEFL certification
  • College degree (for most institutes)
  • Teaching license (for some institutes)
  • At least one year of teaching experience

There are a wide variety of schools, centers and institutions you can get hired by in Panama, all with slightly varying requirements, schedules and pay. 

Let's dive into the specifics so you can find the right place for you to teach abroad.

5 Best Places to Teach English in Panama

While you might be imagining that you'd become an English teacher in a local school and that'd be your only option but wrong! There are loads of ways to teach English in Panama and public schools aren't one of them.

As far as I know, public schools will only hire Panamanian teachers, but don't worry, there are 4 more options for you to choose from.

1. International Schools

Panama City, photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

There are several different international schools in Panama. These teaching jobs are the most beneficial but challenging to obtain. The process can be long and tedious, but is ultimately well worth it.

But, a big note on this: at most international schools you won't be teaching English. You'll be teaching a subject in the English language just like you would in your home country.

Think of international schools like private schools that teach the curriculum from another country. Most of your students will be from all over the world but some could be locals that want their kid fully immersed in English.

How to Find Teaching Jobs at International Schools in Panama

Many people join a search agency in order to find a job teaching at one of these schools. One of the biggest is the I Search Association (ISS).

To start the job search process, you have to have a teaching license from your home state and usually 3-5 years of teaching experience. However, some schools do take new certified teachers. You don't need to be TEFL certified to teach at these schools.

When you create a profile on one of the search engines, the schools will contact you and proceed with a Skype interview. 

In addition, you’ll need all your original documents, such as transcripts and degrees, which will need to be apostilled.

If hired, you will be entering a two-year contract where the schools usually pay flights, housing, and a small resettlement allowance. You’ll also have access to personal development and a competitive salary.

Another unique place to teach at an international school is in Grand Cayman. Learn how you can start teaching on the Cayman Island.

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2. Small Private Schools

English teacher with 3 students outside at a river in Panama
Taking class outdoors at the jungle school

At small private schools you would be an English teacher. These schools could be for kids or teenagers but most often they're for kiddos.

I worked for a smaller private, jungle school.

That just means it was a school that taught in a more hands-on, nature-centered way. Most of these schools are smaller and are in more rural areas and neighborhoods, just like the school I worked for. We would have classes outdoors and do nature walks, which were things that were not so accessible in the city. 

What was great about this experience is that I was given the chance to work in a non-traditional environment.

However, working in this type of school meant I had to live outside of the city in a more remote area. At times it was beautiful to be completely surrounded by nature but it also had its challenges because there were power outages and infectious bugs, etc.

There are loads of great places to live in Panama that aren't Panama City.

Depending on the school, they may require you to have a work visa, whereas others might not mind that you're on a tourist visa needing to do visa-runs every few months.

How to Find Teaching Jobs at Private Schools in Panama

To find opportunities like this, it’s best to use word of mouth. However, if you stay connected to Facebook and WhatsApp groups, oftentimes opportunities to work in small rural schools are shared.

3. Private Tutoring for Adults

Bocas del Toro, photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

Panama City is a busy city but it’s not very big in size. This means that if you are an English teacher, word of mouth can and will spread. Although there are many English teachers in Panama, oftentimes the demand is still high. 

That means on top of your day job, or in lieu of, you can offer private lessons to adults. Most adults in Panama City are focused on business English as they want to improve the language to have more opportunities at work. Some might want a more classroom-like setting while others simply want a native to practice speaking with.

How to Find Adult Students to Become a Private Tutor in Panama

I was able to find plenty of adult students through networking at different language exchange events and meetups and by partnering with other English teachers.

You can work with other teachers to teach the clients they cannot attend to or simply start off by stepping in for them when they are sick or maybe want to take a vacation. If you befriend other expats that are also teaching, it can be pretty easy to get a pool of students together that you can share classes for.

Another way I found clients was through posting on social media in expat groups. Not all expats living in Panama come from an English-speaking country, so oftentimes, if you're a native speaker, if you post a flyer or comment on someone looking for an English teacher, you can make a connection.

Do note that this option will not offer you a work visa as you're essentially working for yourself. This kind of work would be done "under the table."

4. Private Tutoring for Families

Panama's Coast, photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

This can be a very profitable market to tap into because English education in most public schools isn’t the best.

Parents like to have private tutors to help their kids really learn and improve with the language. In Panama, there is a very large expat community. On top of that, there are many families who have moved to Panama because the father of the family is working there. 

Thus this leads to a great opportunity to teach English to young children whose parents want them to have more conversation practice. Most of the families I worked for had children that were either bilingual or trilingual.

The ideal situation is to find families with multiple kids so you can change more per class or offer 2 private classes back to back.

How to Find Family Clientele to Become a Private Tutor in Panama

The way that I started was by simply making myself known in the expat community and making it known that I work with children.  

In Panama City, there are many English teachers, some local and some foreign, but usually there aren't many teachers who feel comfortable working with children, especially children around the ages of 5 and 6 years old. There's a gap in that market.

Next, I used online platforms such as Facebook groups for families and mothers. Often in these Facebook groups, mothers will post asking if there is anyone who teaches English and is comfortable working with children.  

When my first family approached me about working with their children, we did a trial run. I came to their home, where the lessons would be held, to meet and interact with the children. Most of the time the children will be shy at first, so it’s a good idea to bring toys or things to break the ice. I brought my tablet with a picture from home and fun pictures of animals. I also brought a children’s book and had a playlist of fun songs. 

Most of the time the parents want to know that you are willing to commit, have qualifications (like an English certificate), and have experience working with children.

Just like teaching adult students privately, this option would not give you a work visa.

5. English Academies

English teachers with a small group of students in Panama
Some of my students & fellow teachers

English Academies are centers that offer supplementary English lessons, either after school or weekend classes. Most of the students here will be from public schools where the level of English is pretty low.

While a lot of private tutoring will focus on conversation and basic English skills needed to use the language in the wild, English Language Schools usually focus on test-taking skills and will follow specific books and monthly themes.

I won't go into too much detail here as I've not personally worked in an English Academy. I prefer a more fluid method of teaching but for new teachers that aren't as comfortable coming up with their own lessons, this could be a better place to start.

Getting a Visa to Work in Panama

I had no idea before moving to Panama but it's possible to work without a work visa. This is actually super common throughout Central and South America.

Depending on where you work, a visa may or may not be part of the package.

Some schools, like international schools, will help you apply for a work visa, but many people stay and work under a tourist visa, even though you technically aren’t supposed to. With a tourist visa you can stay in the country for 180 consecutive days.

After the 180 day time period, you'll need to leave the country for a few nights before returning.

Negotiating Your Own Salary

If you decide to teach at an international school, private school, or English Academy your salary will be pretty set. This will be based on what other teachers are getting and they'll be the ones to suggest the salary for you to then accept or negotiate.

If you decide to offer private lessons, know that you'll need to negotiate your salary from start to finish. You'll most likely need to be the one to first name your price. This can be intimidating so I recommend asking around to see the average salary before you name a number.

My biggest tip though is to start by asking for a higher amount than what you want to settle for. Many times people will want to negotiate. If you start with a higher amount, when it’s inevitably lowered, it’s not so extreme. Also, for private tutoring, make sure that people pay in advance.

Need to supplement your income? Learn how to teach English online as a side gig.

Living Abroad in Panama

Boquete, photo courtesy of depositphotos.com

Panama City, Panama is a booming metropolitan city with a mixture of modern American style buildings and authentic Panamanian culture and cuisine.

Panama is a tropical country, with a typical tropical climate, which means there are beautiful beaches, lush mountains, and humidity 365 days a year, even during the rainy season. Almost any time of the year is the best time to visit Panama, making it an attractive place to live year-round.

Although there are plenty of stunning places to live in Panama, most jobs are in Panama City so that's where I decided to live.

Life Specifically in Panama City

Just like the heat, there is traffic constantly, so the weather and the traffic are two things you will want to keep in mind when traveling to and from your teaching gig.

While the city isn't too, too big, it can take a lot of time to get from Point A to Point B if the traffic is bad. I highly recommend deciding where to live once you get a job so you can avoid a long commute. If you're a short walk or just one or two bus stops away, you'll be thankful later!

The biggest thing to remember is the holidays. During the month of November and part of December, up until Carnival, the city slows down and people work less. This can be great if you also want to enjoy your surroundings but if you're focused completely on private lessons, know that your students might fall off the map during those months, affecting your income.

What I loved about living in Panama City was the diversity. I made friends with not just other Americans, but people from Venezuela, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, and many more places.

If you live in the city, the cost of living can be a little high, but there are endless amounts of things to do.  Panama isn’t a perfect country and oftentimes things move very slowly, but you will learn to embrace the chill Caribbean vibe when some things don’t go your way.

Will You Teach English Abroad in Panama?

While there are so many great countries to teach English, Panama is one of the best.

Given their flexibility in requirements and visas, there are more opportunities for those that might not meet the typically strict standards set by other countries.

In general, Central America is a chill region to live in and once you move here as an English teacher, you'll quickly start to see that firsthand.

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