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Sunday December 17 2017
Escaping and Working in Mexico

Doug Bower

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Of all the questions we get from our readers, currently the most common is: Can I move to Mexico and get a job? The answer to the first part of that question is easy. Yes, you can move to Mexico. The second part of that question is not as easy.

We are hearing more and more from younger Americans who want to leave hearth and home behind and do what we did, move to Mexico and become expatriates. It used to be that the issue of working didn’t even register with American expats. Most who moved here were either retirees living on Social Security or artists making a living from their creative ventures.

But now, more and more young people, those with children, want to escape America. The reasons for this, one can only speculate. I have long suspected that we should start calling the new crop of Americans moving into Mexico escapees rather than expatriates.

So, what do you, as a young married couple in your thirties, perhaps with a kid or two in tow, do when you move to Mexico? That, of course, is probably the reason this question is now the major one we get from potential expats. You have to do something to support yourself and your family. Not all can boast of a huge inheritance, a lottery winning, or a movie star’s salary. You have to do something to make a living or you cannot come.

We’ve met scores of young people with children who are living and working in Mexico. They either work for private companies or for their host country’s government. Recently, we met a young couple with two children who have been living in Mexico City for the past two years. The husband, a native of Belgium, has been working on a project that is a joint venture between the governments of Belgium and Mexico. They had it easy and didn’t have to look for a job. His government gave him one and at the same time, secured the proper visas for him and his family.

If you come to Mexico already employed with a company that has a branch here, then you are set. The company takes care of securing the proper documents for you and your family. The official rules are that you can work in Mexico for a foreign business as long as you are not getting your salary from a Mexican source.

Now, a Mexican company can hire a foreigner, but there are hoops through which one must jump. A Mexican company that wants to hire you would have to prove that you, with your skills, education, or peculiar talents, are not taking the job from a Mexican national who could do the work. The company would also have to prove that you had specific skills that no Mexican in that area could provide. There is, of course, the paperwork nightmare that has to be satisfied in order to be employed - you must have a work visa.

A good example of this is in my city, Guanajuato, the state capital of Guanajuato. The University here does indeed hire some Americans to do what no Mexican could do. The logical example is teaching English. Even though there are some amazingly bilingual Mexicans here who could teach English, they could not teach English as good as a native speaker.

The same goes for the American who may have been raised in a Spanish-speaking country. He may even have a university degree with a major in Spanish, but he could not come to Mexico and teach Spanish. However, he could come to Mexico and teach English if it was his first language.

The jobs that are available to you are entirely dependent upon the principle of not taking a job from a Mexican national. Even if you could teach Tae Kwon Do, you could not do it here. There are hordes of Tae Kwon Do schools here that are owned and operated by Mexican nationals. If you taught some bizarre and rare form of Chinese Kung Fu, and could prove some sort of certification, you might have a better chance of opening a school here. Again, you would have to jump through the paperwork hoop-work visas!

We know young married couples with children who have beaten the odds and are now successfully self-employed here in Guanajuato. One woman has an acupuncture practice while her husband has his own metal and wood shop. She has some sort of Oriental Medicine certification and was able to convince the powers-that-be in Mexico to grant her a work visa. She has a practice set up in an area of town that mainly is populated by upper class Mexicans. Her husband brought all his equipment from the States and has a successful business doing work with metal and wood.

The majority of gringos here, I am convinced, are those in the University orchestra. Though there are Mexican nationals in the orchestra, the vast majority are professional musicians from other countries. Many of them have begun coffee shops, restaurants, and so on as sidelines during the off-season.

Another way that some make a living here and never even have to fool with notifying the Mexican government are those with online businesses. Web site designers and translators are two that come to mind.

We have a good friend, from whom we rented our first apartment, who is a translator. He is an American who moved here from Europe with his wife and young daughter. He is fluent in French, Spanish, and his native language, English. He gets translating jobs online, and has his clients wire the money into his bank account. There were no hoops through which he had to jump, no work visas to obtain, nothing to do except to do his work and collect his fee and live happily ever after here in Mexico.

The paperwork nightmare I keep referring to is that according the Mexican law, if you are going to work in Mexico, you must have a work visa. There are two obstacles to the working visa. One is that the process is tedious and difficult, and the other is that the work visa is company-specific and is not transferable. Therefore, if you change your place of employment, you must obtain a new work visa for the new company.

Though the Mexican law says you have to have work papers and you cannot take a position that would keep a Mexican national from employment, foreigners work here all the time and violate these two principles. We often see gringo barmaids, bartenders, restaurant workers, laborers, and bakers. Most of them are working here without papers and are taking jobs Mexicans could do. I know a young kid in his early twenties who has been here as long as we have. Not only does he not have a work visa, he doesn’t have a visa at all!

There is a universal principle in Mexico that is one of the reasons so many Americans want to live here: If you don’t break some major law such as killing someone or dealing dope, no one is going to bother you. They leave you alone here, no one inquires, no one meddles, and no one really cares. Unless you plan on a career as a mass murderer, serial killer, or start your own drug cartel, then you will pretty much be left alone in Mexico.

Teaching English as a second language

The most popular and well-advertised option for working in Mexico is teaching English as a Second Language. In fact, there is a huge industry that grants certification in TESL. If you type “TESL Mexico” into Google search engine, you will come up with 135,000 hits. Web page after web page comes up with promises of getting you certified to teach ESL in Mexico (and elsewhere in Latin America). They make promises of the glamour of living in exotic places while making a decent salary. It looks good, sounds exciting, but most fail miserably.

First of all, there is a difference between certification and accreditation. Anyone can make the claim to certify you for just about anything. The problem is that the word, certification, gives the impression that the schools have met some sort of standard for equipping their potential ESL teachers to go forth into the ESL world and teach someone English. The word accreditation means that some educational institution has made itself accountable to meeting the standards required for equipping potential teachers to teach ESL. There is currently no accrediting body, no organization, nothing to which these TESL schools hold themselves accountable. They are not accredited.

The vast majority of available ESL jobs in Mexico are in private schools. These are small, private schools, sometimes on the upper floor of the director’s home, where the director offers classes in English. Locals send their children to these schools in hopes of improving their children’s grades in the English classes they are already attending in their formal educational institutions.

The wages from these small private setups are abysmally low - the going rate in Guanajuato is less than $2.50 USD per hour. However, there are three ways that I have observed in which gringos who have come here actually made a living teaching English as a second language.

One is by teaching at three or more schools. Since most schools will only give you three classes at the most, you will not be able to work full-time any one school. You may get 6 hours a week, if you are lucky, at each school.

Second is that you could take one of the rare jobs at a public school. The government will grant the school’s request to get you your work visa if they pay you at least $1,000 USD per month. Out of that will come your Mexican Social Security and Mexican federal taxes (around 35% according to one source). With what is left, you will have to buy suitable clothes, pay for your living expenses, and pay for transportation. If you bring a car, then your expenses will be even more to maintain the car in Mexico.

Third you could try and teach private students out of your home. We know of a couple in a large, industrialized city that found their own private students. They advertised and were able to get enough students to make a good living. They mainly had professionals who wanted to learn English for business, and charged $9.50 USD per hour. The kicker in all this is that you constantly have to advertise. Also, you have to live in a major industrialized city to make this kind of money. So, unless you just want to teach ESL as a hobby, you would have to move to Mexico City, Guadalajara, or Monterrey to find private students who would pay that much per hour. Plus, you may just have to get that work visa if you get caught!

You can definitely work in Mexico. However, it is not an easy gig, and it is not a life of luxury.


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