If you’ve thought about teaching English, without knowing anything else about you I can tell you that you need to go. After graduating, I decided to teach English in Brazil and it was one of the most important, transformative decisions of my young life. I never planned on being a teacher, I had no prior experience, I just wanted to find a way to live and work abroad. So, I chose Brazil and decided I would move there to teach English. Here’s how I did it.
I spent a lot of time researching how to teach English in Brazil. Really, so much time. I emailed countless people, and still felt so unsure of where to even begin. So hopefully this can cut that down for anyone else who wants to teach the same thing. Let me walk you through it. Here is, step by step, how I taught English in Rio de Janeiro, and all the tips and lessons I learned the hard way so that you don’t have to. If you want to teach move to Rio de Janeiro to teach English, this is a good outline of the steps you should follow to get there.
1. Finding a TEFL Course
If you have never taught before and want to teach English abroad, finding a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course is the place to start (articles like this can help you determine that). I knew I wanted to go to Brazil, but I wasn’t sure which part of the country I wanted to live in. But, since you can use TEFL certifications in any part of the world, I found out that I could take a course in a big city like Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo and decide from there if I would stay or go to another city. The flexibility alone sold me.
When looking for a TEFL course, I only found a few options in Brazil. There are some courses online, but I wanted a way to ease into the new country, and meeting fellow teachers while doing the course seemed like a good way to ease the shock of having picked up and moved to Brazil (and the fact that I wouldn’t know how to do any basic life things in this foreign country).
I did a lot of research and settled on Bridge Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. The course is one-month long, all-day five days a week. For this, it was suggested to apply a few months before you want to go (everyone gets in), and commit two months before (you could probably do so much later than that).
I applied in October, committed to the January program in November, put a deposit, and began to make my next arrangements- I was moving to Brazil!!!
2. Planning the Move to Brazil
I wanted to teach English abroad as a way to live and work in another country. So now, I had a course that promised to teach me how to maneuver the work part. The “live abroad” part was up to me.
Finding Somewhere to Live
Bridge Brazil was instrumental in laying out my options for me: basically, they arrange a homestay for the month of the program, or I figure it out myself. Four people in our group planned on the homestay, one booked a room in a hostel, and the other stayed with a friend for the first couple weeks as she looked for an apartment (she had previously lived in Rio). Here’s a little snapshot of those different scenarios…
Bridge Brazil offers a homestay for the month of your course (you can also extend one week before and one week after if you want to). You will live with a local family in a safe neighborhood, you can practice Portuguese with them, you can ask them where the bus stop or nearest grocery store is, and you will get an instant glimpse into the lives of locals. It sounded great to me. And it was, but once I learned what things cost in Rio I felt remarkably ripped off by the program (you can read my more extensive thoughts on it here).
Going back, I don’t know I would have done it differently (even considering the astronomical cost) because worries about safety before coming to Brazil had taken over my gringa imagination, and if nothing else, I was paying for the peace of mind that it gave me (which it really did).
Find Your Own Apartment
If you do the homestay, you’ll still have to look for an apartment after the first month anyways. Or, you can cut to the chase and have your own spot set up for when you arrive. The thing about finding an apartment without being in Rio? You will be ripped off. Unless you know people currently living in Rio de Janeiro who can help you, have sound guidance from someone who recently lived in Rio de Janeiro and feel confident they can help you avoid being scammed, or are renting from someone you personally know, it’s really hard to navigate renting an apartment in Rio as an outsider without learning from your mistakes very quickly. Finding an apartment in Rio de Janeiro is hellish (you can read about that here), and if you have that constant deer-in-the-headlights feeling that you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, wait until you’re there. If you want to take the risk and the plunge from the start, read how to find an apartment in Rio here.
Stay Somewhere Temporary (Like a Hostel)
Are you laid back and open for a social and fun experience? DO THIS. I think, across the board, this is the best option. Here’s why. You can book a hostel for 15 days. Book somewhere that isn’t always sold out, so if you need to you can always stay there the whole month without having to move. Hostels can be pretty cheap, and I recommend researching the cost of the homestay and apartments so you can find what is a good deal relative to those alternatives.
Once you arrive in the hostel, you will be surrounded by people. Others who have recently moved there (and maybe need an apartment). Friends visiting people they know who live there (who may know of an apartment). Employees, who are often university students, who probably know people renting rooms. The friends of employees who come hang out. And tourists of every type, but the point is you are quickly immersed. You have somewhere cheap to live while you look, and are exposed to the largest number of people who may know of something (or at least know where to help you get started).
If you’re on a tight budget, you can also try to get a job in a hostel. By doing this, you can bartend or work reception a few hours a week, and you will have a free place to sleep. Stay somewhere, and after a few days inquire if they need someone to work in exchange for the bed.
A few friends in the program (my month and others) started this way, and either met others looking for apartments within the month of the course and moved out, or loved the experience and ending up living and working there for several months, never needing an apartment. Either way, it’s flexible, low cost, fun, and an unforgettable experience in itself. In my mind, it’s the best choice by far.
If you plan to do this, simply read hostel reviews on ones that are big and well-liked but not the most popular/always sold-out party hostels (find something better for long-term stay and actually meeting people).
Once you have somewhere to show up for your course, and a place to set your things when you arrive, it gets much simpler.
Whichever living accommodation route you take, definitely read our Guide on Finding Somewhere to Live in Rio de Janeiro for the full run-down (sites for searching, common scams, average prices, etc.). We pooled a lot of knowledge for it, and it’s the one thing that I never could find when I made the move (and really wish I had).
Other Things to Do Before You Go
Basically, it’s all on the home end. You don’t need to organize anything else in Brazil until you arrive (maybe transportation from the airport to where you’ll stay, but that’s literally it).
Pack strategically (post on this coming soon), get your vaccinations, secure your visa, make sure to put things on hold that you won’t be using (phones, subscriptions, etc.), tell your bank and credit card companies that you’re going, and do the rest once you get there. Anything on the Brazil end is best figured out while you are in the country, and if you do it from home you will likely do it wrong and have to make adjustments when you arrive anyways, so just cool your jets and wait for the heavenly advice of your teaching peers that will flow in once the course starts (more on that below). Brazil (Rio especially) works in a very informal, word-of-mouth manner, so unless someone has laid things out for you in a very specific and up-to-date manner (friend, blog, etc.), it’s really hard to know what to do before you arrive.
3. Doing the Course
Not everyone does a course in Rio that teaches there so it may not apply for you, but I did so here’s a glimpse of the experience.
I arrived in Rio just a couple days before the Brdieg Brazil TEFL course so I could settle in, adjust to the time change, and figure out where the school was. I got in early Saturday morning, and was scheduled to begin Monday. It was perfect.
The course was downtown at the Bridge school, and we went in at 9 and left at 6. It was like a full-time job. We were in a small classroom with the other people on the course, usually 2-4. Each day, we went over a different language point, were taught ways to teach it, reviewed grammar, learned how to write lesson plans, wrote our own lesson plans, and taught real Brazilian students who came in for free classes.
As you take the course, you realize how much there is to teaching and struggle through it and can see each week how much you’ve learned. When I walked into my first practice class, I was sweating profusely and couldn’t even hear myself talking. I never thought I would be nervous in a small classroom teaching 4 adults the language I speak every day. But the students were lovely, my peer TEFL-mates gave me feedback, my instructors taught me how to improve, and every time the hour ended I had laughed with my students, watched at least one of them have an “aha!” moment when I taught them something, and walked out feeling more sure that someone would eventually pay me to do this and I could live on it.
During this time, we made friends with the other teachers. When you’re in a new country and eager to explore, you now have several people to get a beer with after class. Want to go to the beach on Saturday? You can call them. So confused about finding an apartment? They are too; you’ll figure it out together.
You’re also in that little classroom every day with two teachers (a head and helper), and they’re going to teach you things infinitely more valuable than the English teaching alone. They’re usually close to your age, have been teaching English abroad for a while, and the many things you and your classmates don’t understand (where can you buy your prescriptions in this country?! why hasn’t my package showed up? am I being scammed on this apartment?), they know. They know it all. They live there. And teach there. And the journey you’re embarking on, they’ve been living for a while now and as native English speakers themselves, showed up just as doe-eyed and unsure as you did. They have been through it, figured it out, and they will help you. They will save you from the mistakes they made, as you’ll probably do for the next batch of kids. This is why you should not waste time researching current cell phone plans or where to practice your Portuguese, you should just show up and ask them and get the best advice possible.
Want my full review on the Bridge Brazil TEFL Course? Read it here. Want to know if you even need to do a TEFL course? Thoughts on that here.
Organizing the “Life” Part During the Course
As I mentioned, your fellow teachers-in-training and instructors will help a lot during this time. While doing the course you should: get a cell-phone with a pay-as-you-go-card (if you don’t need data), look for a place to live, get to know how public transportation works, and learn about all the best places to find things when you need them (which grocery stores near you are the best deal? where can you find affordable home supplies for your new place? do you need clothes for teaching?).
4. After the Course: Getting Jobs
The other perk of the course? Finding jobs. The language schools say they have connections all over the country, and I’m not sure about other courses, but I’ve found it pretty untrue for Bridge. However, if you’re doing the course in Rio and plan to teach in Rio, you’re going to be pretty hooked up. They will provide you a list of schools in the city, forward your email to the schools, and you can have interviews set up for the first day after the course.
Your instructors will help you make an English Teacher resume, tell you which schools pay well, tell you how to teach privately, and advise you on every other teacher tip.
When you get the list of schools, email all of them immediately (if you want to work immediately). Some will want you to come in that same day, some will take their time.
Go in with your resume, dress casual but conservative. For girls, you can easily do a long skirt with a short-sleeve shirt tucked in and flats. For guys, have any pair of pants (jeans are okay), and a button-down shirt (doesn’t have to be a nice one). Some people go in with sandals and tees, but stay a little nicer and it’ll pay off. Even though the country lets everything hang out on the streets, they are religious and a little more old-fashioned in the workplace. Avoid shoulders showing, low-cut tops, shorts, or anything above the knee.
They will ask about the course, and sometimes hire you with that and no other knowledge. Some will ask you to get up and ask you to demonstrate. They may say, I’m a student, teach me the past perfect. You’ll explain the things you would cover, then actually teach it to them. They might ask about anything, but you can ask your TEFL teachers before what each school is like and they usually have an idea (if they have been teaching in Rio for a while- one of the reasons you want to check who your instructors are before you sign up for the course. More on that here).
Picking Up Work (Classes)
Teaching English in Rio de Janeiro is basically teaching adults. Here, that’s the market. Most English teachers in children’s schools are either Brazilians (the government doesn’t want to pay for foreign teachers for public schools), and foreign teachers in fancy private schools need many years of experience (people who make a career of this more than people doing it as a way to live and work abroad).
So, you’ll have the most access to work teaching adults, and you’ll make more money. Most of the schools contract you out. So if a business wants a teacher to come in and teach private classes to different executives or run a weekly class with a group, that’s you going in there and leading it!
You don’t usually teach in the actual school you interview in and work for, you work through them and run around town. Which is nice, but you need to be strategic so you don’t waste your time and money changing neighborhoods every hour.
For example, you get a job at X English School. Whenever they get a new student/client, X English School will call you and ask if you want it. They will call and say they have a student who wants private Intermediate Business English classes Monday, Wednesday & Friday around lunch time in Ipanema. Can you do it?
My advice? Pick a couple areas where the most classes are (Centro and Botafogo have the most companies and schools, I’ve found), and stick to those. Maybe in the mornings you’re in Centro, and afternoons/evenings in Botafogo. Maybe you start only taking Centro classes. So you can tell the school when you start, please call me for all Centro classes. Make it known you’re available in Centro every day, and they may call you before someone else who they aren’t sure will be able to do it.
At first, you might have to take what you can get and end up with a hodge-podge of times and areas, but try to commit to ones that make a nice schedule and avoid changing classes later. It’s very difficult to drop classes without a good reason (if you want to keep teaching for that school), so try to honor the commitments you make to each one.
Beginner classes are great for becoming a good teacher. You will have to work on your patience, and really think outside of the box to explain grammar in English when the student doesn’t speak much of it. Advanced classes are usually easier (as the students mainly need a way to practice), but don’t be surprised when they hit you with very specific grammar questions from time to time (and be ready to answer).
Your strategy for picking up classes and getting work will be this: going to interviews, and waiting for the schools to call you when they have a new student and need a teacher (or calling them to check if they have any openings). Then, you begin going to wherever that student is at that set time, and only report back to the school about once a month when you pick up your pay-check and turn in sign-in sheets from the classes.
Starting with the schools is great because they find the clients, do all of the coordination, and have policies on students missing class, etc. Of course, if you cut out the middlemen, you can make a lot more money. Schools generally pay about ⅓ (or less) of what they’re charging the students, so you can make a lot more by working a lot less (or work the same amount and make bank).
If your goal is to teach privately, I would recommend starting with schools to get an idea of how the whole thing works, then after a month begin seeking private students. A great way to do this is to make business cards and flyers with the tear strips on the bottom. Put the flyers up in the university, coffee shops, bus stops in Centro, everywhere. Business cards can be given to people you meet or left in strategic spots (most Brazilians you meet will ask about your private classes, even for a friend!). If you want to be aggressive about it, you can walk around restaurants in downtown at lunchtime and hand your cards out to everyone as well (most successful if you know enough Portuguese to start the conversation).
I did this by making local friends, many of whom had family members who wanted private classes. I put up some posters in downtown and waited for calls. I also hung out with other English teachers I met through Bridge (including those from previous months courses), and got classes from them. The longer you stay, the easier and easier it is to get privates. When other teachers go home, ask to take over their classes. Or, if someone is teaching a lot privately, sometimes they get more requests than they can take. Hopefully, they’ll pass them to you if you show you’re interested. Often, students who like you will begin referring everyone under the sun to you. If you teach someone in their office, co-workers will often come up asking about your classes. Make it clear if you are currently taking on new students, and you can even tell your current students to give your phone number or email to anyone who is interested.
5. Life in Rio as an English Teacher: What a Typical Work Week Looks Like
“Typical” isn’t the best word since everyone’s schedule will be really different. Luckily, you can make it work for you. Most students want classes in the morning before work, around lunch time, or in the evening. Some companies hire you directly, in which case it’ll be any random time during the work day.
So, if you’re not a morning person like me, you don’t have to be. Most days my first class was around 11am. I would teach a couple hours around lunchtime, have an hour or two off, teach a few more hours in the afternoon, have another hour or two off, then finish with a couple after-work classes from around 6-8pm. Some days I would go for a swim in the ocean before work. Sometimes mid-day, I’d meet a friend to check out an exhibit or have lunch or drink coconuts on the beach. Tired? Go home and have a nap. Want to cook your own lunch? Go home and do it!
Don’t want to work 5 days a week? You don’t have to. I fit all of my classes Monday-Thursday, and used Friday as a day to explore the city. Several other teachers had Friday off as well.
At first, I got classes slowly. It took about a month to get to a semi-full schedule (about 12-15 hours per week). At first, I was teaching in up to 4 neighborhoods each day. Over time, I began to narrow to only teaching in Botafogo and Centro. After about 6 months, this was almost exclusively my schedule and I was teaching about 20 hours per week (some weeks a few more, some weeks a few less).
You need about 12-15 to get by, and 20 is a good standard. The most I knew of someone doing was almost 30 per week, and he made crazy money, didn’t sleep and had to drop many after the first month of that.
Even though it’s not the typical “40 hour work week”, it’s a lot more than it sounds. Remember that in between every few classes, you’re on public transportation moving around the city. So if you have an hour-long class downtown and you live in Ipanema, you’re essentially blocking out 3 hours. Which is why you want to aim for “blocks” of classes: try and get several students in the same company in a row so you don’t have transportation time in between. For example, if 3 students from Petrobras want you 3 times a week in the morning, make it 9-10am, 10am-11, 11-12pm on the same days. No buffer. Now, you’re getting paid for 3 hours, with the exact same transportation time (and it’s less exhausting).
As you start teaching, you’ll see how it’s a bit of a performance. One hour of teaching equals several hours of desk work, so don’t overcommit. Enjoy yourself, you’re in Brazil!
That’s just one way to do it- have your own story to share? Please do so in the comments below! (Or email with longer stories that could potentially be featured here).
As you’ll quickly see, being an English teacher means you’re part of a close-knit network of others. Ask others about their experiences so you can start to visualize how it may look for you and what you need to do to teach English in Rio de Janeiro!