Panama City, Panama is a booming metropolitan city with a mixture of modern American style buildings and authentic Panamanian culture and cuisine. When I moved to Panama City, I came with my 120 hour TEFL certification and some experience teaching English online. However, throughout my two years in Panama, I gained a variety of teaching experiences.
General Requirements to teach in Panama:
- 120 TEFL or TOEFL certification
- College degree (for most institutes)
- Teaching license (for some institutes)
- At least one year of teaching experience
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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.
1. International Schools
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. Many people join a search agency. One of the biggest is the I Search Association (ISS).
To start the 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 teachers. 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.
2. Small Private Schools
I worked for a smaller private, jungle school. It is an option to seek employment in smaller more rural areas and neighborhoods. Depending on the school, they may require you to have a work visa. What is great about this experience is that you get to work in a non-traditional environment.
Where I worked, we would have classes outdoors and do nature walks, which were things that were not so accessible in the city.
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.
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. Independent Adult Clients
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.
I was able to acquire many adult clientele through networking at different language exchange events and meetups and by partnering with other English teachers.
Depending on the time of year, many people are looking for work. Although there are many English teachers in Panama, oftentimes the demand is still high.
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. 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 post a flyer or comment on someone looking for an English teacher, you can make a connection.
4. Tutoring for Families
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 a tutor to help students 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 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. 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.
5. English Academies vs Public Schools
It can be difficult to work in public schools, as many public schools will only hire Panamanian teachers, as far as I know. However, it is possible to work at some English academies.
Academies usually focus on test-taking skills and follow certain books and themes.
2 Bonus Things to Know about Working in Panama
1. It is possible to work without a work visa.
Some schools, like the 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.
2. In Panama, if you decide to work independently or work for families, you will most often have to negotiate your salary.
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, make sure that people pay in advance.
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Expat Life in Panama
Panama is a tropical country which means there are beautiful beaches, lush mountains, and humidity 365 days a year, even during the rainy season. And 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.
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.
What I loved about living in Panama 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.
Not sure teaching in Panama is right for you? Check out our resource catalog to read about teaching in +10 different countries around the world to find your perfect match.