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How to Move to Mexico City and Teach

Caitlin Evans, Vagabond Journey’s Mexico correspondent and owner of Mexico City blog Chilangish writes about how – realistically – to move to Mexico City. Since moving to Mexico City a year ago, more than a few friends back in Canada have mentioned wanting to follow in my footsteps. Why all the interest? Despite its increasingly [...]

Caitlin Evans, Vagabond Journey’s Mexico correspondent and owner of Mexico City blog Chilangish writes about how – realistically – to move to Mexico City.

Since moving to Mexico City a year ago, more than a few friends back in Canada have mentioned wanting to follow in my footsteps. Why all the interest?

Despite its increasingly bad reputation, the appeal of Mexico is still undeniable: wonderful climate, great food and a complex, multifaceted culture. Many Americans, Canadians and Europeans dream of moving here and enjoying the life of a Mex-pat.

While most just dream, many actually do it. Thousands of Canadians and Brits live in Mexico in addition to hundreds of thousands of Americans. A large proportion of these settle in Mexico City.

Why live in Mexico City, and not some quaint small town?

Bellas Artes in downtown Mexico CityWell, when it comes to traveling and shorter stays Mexico’s smaller cities and towns certainly have a lot of charming appeal. But when it comes to living somewhere long-term or indefinitely, charm is not as important as finding a viable place to live. I don’t know about you, but for me a viable place to live requires three things: availability of decent jobs, an open and diverse population from which to make friends, and lots of things to do. Cosmopolitan, cultured and seemingly endless, Mexico City fulfills all three of these requirements without a doubt.

For most foreigners, the easiest kind of work to find in Mexico City is teaching. As long as teaching is somewhat appealing (don’t do it if you hate the idea), it’s probably your best option. Don’t expect a dream job or lots of money but it is perfectly possible to get something decent. Because all my experience in Mexico is in teaching, that’s what I’ll speak about here.

So, how to make the move to the megalopolis and start teaching?

Old houses in la Ciudadela neighborhoodFirst of all, don’t try to land a job from outside Mexico. Just don’t. 95% of the jobs I’ve seen advertising online offer horrendous pay. Mexico City is an in-person kind of place, and to score a good job you need to be here and willing to immediately meet with any potential employers. So save up some money (I’d recommend about 2000 dollars to play it safe), come here on a tourist visa and start looking!

Second, have the credentials. Mexicans care about credentials, so you should at least have a degree. To save potential hassle later on, have your degree and birth certificates apostilled at home. (If you’re Canadian, get them notarized and then send to the Mexican embassy in Ottawa to get them approved.)

Unless you have a degree in teaching already, you should think about getting trained. The best option is getting the CELTA (certificate in teaching English) at International House in Mexico City because this certificate is recognized by Mexican immigration. Also, if you don’t have a degree, a CELTA will likely land you a job anyway.

Third, decide what kind of work you want. You can teach in language schools, go to businesses and teach corporate classes, or work in universities, high schools and elementary schools.

Private high school and elementary schools pay the best (between 14,000 pesos and 30,000 pesos a month), and you can teach English or other school subjects in English at one of the city’s many bilingual schools. This work can be tough, though, especially since students at private schools can be rich and bratty. Surprisingly, as long as you have a degree in the subject area you want to teach, you can work at most schools without teaching certification from your home country. The best time to look for these jobs is between May and August for the new school year starting in August.

Photography exhibit on Paseo la ReformaUniversity jobs are coveted, but some foreigners eventually snag them. They hire before each semester, which start in August or January (most jobs are for the August semester, however). Pay can be decent or atrocious.

Language schools and corporate classes go together, as most of schools’ clients are corporate. You will likely spend a lot of time on public transportation going from class to class, but the students will be respectful adults and often a lot of fun. Additionally, these places hire at all times of year! Pay is not extraordinary, but you should be able to do ok.

No matter what, don’t accept a job that will pay you less than 10,000 pesos a month if you want a tolerable lifestyle in Mexico City.

Fourth, start looking! Google schools. Send a million emails. Go around the city and drop off resumes. Make sure you have a Mexican cell phone. You are sure to get some (or many) bites.

Once you have your job, you should think immediately about getting legal status by changing your tourist visa to a work visa. Any decent employers will sponsor your visa, and many will pay and/or do the legwork for you. If for some reason they won’t, you’ll have to do all the immigration office trips yourself (a headache) or hire an immigration lawyer to do it for you. That’s what I did (I’m lazy) and it cost 2500 pesos.

A favourite spot in the Condesa neighborhood. As for living in the city, you will find many interesting neighborhoods and lots of options for accommodation! If you are a single foreigner, your best bet is to look for shared accommodation with other people. It will not only save you money but it’s an easy way to meet people. A room in a shared apartment, depending on size and location, will cost from 2500 – 4500 pesos. Good places to look in include Condesa (expensive), Roma, Escandon, San Miguel Chapultepec, Colonia Juarez and Colonia Cuauhtemoc. These neighborhoods are all centrally located. Craigslist, Comparto Depa and Couch Surfing are good places to search.

If you want your own place, walking around and searching for rental signs is the best way to look. Since you probably won’t have access to a co-signer, you’ll probably have to smack down a big deposit or pre-paid rent, however.

Other than that, enjoy! Mexico City can be challenging, sometimes annoying and it takes a bit of time to break in and build a community. But it’s rewarding, fantastic, surreal and a treat for the senses. Sometimes I wonder: why would anyone live anywhere else?

After traveling around the world for a number of years, Caitlin Evans of Chilangish.com has landed in Mexico City. After poking around the English teaching circuit here, she landed a real posh position and now calls herself, “expat.” She is Vagabond Journey’s travel correspondent for Mexico, and if you have any questions for her, feel free to send them over at Mexico travel questions or check out her Mexico City expat blog Chilangish

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Filed under: English Teaching, Expatriots, Mexico

About the Author:

Caitlin Evans is a teacher living and working in Mexico City. She runs Chilangish, a Mexico City guide and blog. has written 2 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

17 comments… add one

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  • Wade Shepard June 26, 2011, 8:29 am

    This makes me want to return to Mexico City . . . and stay! It is truly one of the most amazing, livable cities I’ve been to in 12 years of world travel. Thanks for these great tips!

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  • jim johnston June 26, 2011, 8:34 am

    Great information. Thank.

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  • Gary Denness July 13, 2011, 5:01 pm

    That’s a good article. Just to add a few comments of my own…

    Second, have the credentials. Mexicans care about credentials, so you should at least have a degree.
    For a lot of corporate and private classes, if not the majority, the most outstanding qualification you can have is white(ish) skin and a passport from an English speaking nation. Positive discrimination….

    The best option is getting the CELTA (certificate in teaching English) at International House in Mexico City because this certificate is recognized by Mexican immigration.
    There’s a bunch of TEFL certificate options available. I wouldn’t say that a CELTA is the best option, or even a better option, for teaching in Mexico City. Others will do just fine, even 2 week courses that cost half the price. The bonus with the CELTA is that it’ll work for you anywhere in the world, whereas some of the TEFL courses inside Mexico won’t get any recognition beyond the borders.

    No matter what, don’t accept a job that will pay you less than 10,000 pesos a month if you want a tolerable lifestyle in Mexico City.
    I would disagree with you here, especially as far as newly landed people with little or no previous teaching experience. I’d suggest they take the first job or classes they come across. You’ll get practice teaching English, you’ll get out and meet people, get leads for better classes, and keep your funds topped up a little.

    I’d be more inclined to tell people what sort of living they can expect once they’ve established themselves, and to make sure they bring enough funds to keep them going for a few months. I do agree that 10,000 pesos is pretty much the minimum you’d want to be earning once you have got established though. Teaching private Business English classes, I’d say that 15,000 to 20,000 pesos per month is a realistic goal after six months or so.

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    • Wade Shepard July 13, 2011, 7:13 pm

      Good discussion here. I have to disagree with you here on two points though. For the first one, lack of creds often mean schools hiring you for an “on sale” rate — meaning dirt low. For your last point, I would agree if it weren’t for the fact that many teaching jobs want longer term contracts. So unless you are willing to put in an entire year of working at a substandard wage, take Caitlin’s advice and hold out for a while and get a job that pays at least the 10,000 peso minimum.

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      • Gary Denness July 14, 2011, 2:36 am

        A degree is really only mega important for the uni jobs. It does help with the best schools too. Otherwise, your experience, appearance and ability to negotiate are going to be the biggest factors.

        As for long term contracts….firstly it depends both on the type of job you’re going for – Business English, language school or school. Secondly, an awful lot of employers will treat contracts as if they are written on toilet paper to be disposed of when convenient.

        I’m not suggesting that that means anyone should go out of their way to be unethical when taking a job. But if the employer isn’t the best, then I’d have no problem cutting myself loose after a couple of months,

        The only issue is how you get the FM3 work visa – it’s usually tied to an employer, so that might give thought to exactly what sort of job you take on I guess. But FM3’s are easily changed.

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        • Caitlin July 14, 2011, 3:28 pm

          FM3s are no longer tied to employers, I believe. At least that’s what my incredibly cheap immigration lawyer told me, as well as the people at immigration when I got my visa. Not sure if it’s true for everyone but it was cool with me!

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          • Gary Denness July 15, 2011, 12:53 pm

            Well that definitely makes life easier! I know they changed the procedures etc with FM3s a year or two back, but after I got my final one. I understand the process is much easier now, most of which can be done online, and you get a little plastic card rather than a booklet. It used to be a mini nightmare when I first arrived in Mexico.

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    • Caitlin July 13, 2011, 7:23 pm

      I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree. I don’t see the purpose of taking the first job that comes your way. The first job that came my way offered me 60 pesos an hour. Unless you come here with absolutely no cash, you should be able to tide yourself over while waiting for a good gig.

      My first job here, with no experience – and the first job of many people i know – paid 180 an hour. If you look there’s no reason you can’t make a decent wage.

      You might be right about the CELTA if you think you’re going to be permanently in Mexico. But if there’s any chance – even a slight chance – that you’ll go somewhere else one day better to get the name brand class.

      About credentials, I guess it comes down to what kind of work you want. Private and corporate classes you’re right: it’s all about being white and looking good. But for university and colegio jobs you need at least a degree. And correct me if I’m wrong, I think you need at least a degree to get a work visa.

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      • Gary Denness July 14, 2011, 2:48 am

        We might have to disagree, but I really think it depends on the persons circumstances and what they intend to do. With Business English classes especially, I’d say take the first jobs you get offered. I got offered some rubbish 90 peso an hour hour jobs within days of landing. I took them. I got some great experience, earned a few extra pesos, learned my way around the city. And directly from two of those jobs, within a few months, I got classes paying 200 plus pesos an hour. If you look you can get decent jobs, yes. I guess I’d refer to my advice as one way of looking, with a bit of pay and experience thrown in!

        Officially, if I remember right, you do need a degree for a work visa. In practice, you definitely don’t. I knew plenty of people without degrees who had no trouble getting work visas, myself included. This is Mexico!

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      • deborah June 17, 2012, 7:41 pm

        I am confused. You say CELTA is fine in Mexico but get the “name brand” if you want to go elsewhere. I’m just learning about these things, so could you be more specific? Thanks!

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  • Megan July 31, 2013, 11:10 pm

    I am not fully convinced on the whole CELTA is the end-all-be-all thing. I have heard from friends near and far that any in-person, 100+ hour TEFL will get you employment in the majority of locations worldwide. I am specifically interested in taking a course in Chiapa de Corzo that has received many fine reviews. I know this article (which is great by the way!) was written two years ago, so I am wondering if you have any updates regarding the TEFL vs. CELTA debate – specifically in Mexico. Thanks!

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    • VagabondJourney August 1, 2013, 1:34 am

      TEFL will work but CELTA is better. My wife and I have 100 hr online TEFL certificates, and they work fine — my wife has landed or been offered jobs all over the world with it, including Mexico. Though the full on CELTA will obviously give you an edge and help land the really good jobs.

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      • Megan August 1, 2013, 10:52 am

        Thank you for your response. I am wondering which you feel honestly prepares you better for the classroom though? I am looking for very practical training.

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        • VagabondJourney August 1, 2013, 8:53 pm

          It is my impression that the best experience of classroom time that you can get is working. Really, I believe this is something you really figure out on the job rather than through a course.

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          • Megan August 1, 2013, 10:23 pm

            Thanks, Wade. Good to know!

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            • Megan August 1, 2013, 10:25 pm

              I should add that it sounds simple enough – the best way to learn is through work rather than any course – but I am getting so many mixed messages about the realities. I guess it’s best to take the plunge and go for the best option I have and see what happens from there.

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              • VagabondJourney August 1, 2013, 10:37 pm

                Once you have teaching experience the type of English teaching certification you have becomes rather negligible. Sure, a big bad CELTA always looks good, but real experience and successfully completed contracts looks better. After you complete a contract and have a university degree with any type of cert the options will really start opening up globally.

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