(Panama Gringo) In all honestly I scoured the internet for weeks looking for an article with this title. I knew I wanted to go to Panama but there seemed to be so little information about jobs on the net I nearly gave up and considered heading to South Korea for the top dollars and plentiful job offers on the net. How does one find a job teaching English in a country of their choice when programs are not offered to make the process a piece of cake beforehand? I learned purely through experimentation, but managed to land a gig teaching elementary school English at one of the highest paying schools in Panama (I’m making $1,500 a month teaching 3-5th grade English). Here’s my story….
Teaching English in Panama has been my second round of ESL work. My first experience was in Thailand and was quite possibly the easiest job to acquire I have ever had in my life. I signed up and paid for a TESOL certification course in Phuket, Thailand after which I was automatically placed in a teaching position up in the Northwest of the country. All of this was pre-arranged in the comforts of my house back in the States so when I arrived in the Orient for my first time, everything was mapped out for me.
Panama is a vastly different story! After having exhausted a “Teach English in Panama” Google search with virtually no results, I eventually realized a new strategy would have to be in order to find work. Instead of trying to locate a recruiter or website that lists ESL positions I just searched “Schools in Panama.” From there I was provided with an extensive list of everything from Elementary Schools to Universities in Panama. If you read Spanish then you won’t have this problem, but coming from a typical American who can only read one language you will need a browser like Google Chrome that has the option to translate entire webpages for you. Once you’ve compiled this massive list of schools you must tediously translate and explore each and every website for the contact information, write a solid cover letter, get your resume looking sharp and attach a professional picture showing that you are truly a native English speaking Gringo. Then you simply inquire if they need an English teacher and prove to them that if they do, then you are the person for the job. It would help if you had a TESOL/TEFL certificate (you can easily obtain these online while you are at home), but it is absolutely not a requirement.
Another aspect that makes getting the job in Panama difficult is that there is virtually no chance of getting hired before you arrive, which means you need at least a little money to sustain when you first get there. Attempting to contact every single school in Panama will take you a very long time, especially because you can’t just Carbon Copy (CC) your cover letter to every school at once, you need to act like you specifically chose each unique school because of some reason or another. My response rate on emails was about 10%, so if you try and contact 100 schools only expect to hear from 10. In addition, all the schools will do is express mild interest, provide you with their phone number and tell you to call them when you arrive in Panama.
Once you have a couple names of schools you can’t pronounce with phone numbers scribbled on a piece of scrap paper, pack up one dress shirt and nice pair of pants into a backpack, mentally prepare yourself to sweat through everything you own and come down to Panama City. I highly recommend purchasing synthetic “camping-style” khakis and dress looking shirts with vents (easy to find at REI) as opposed to your standard cotton clothing because the humidity is a ferocious beast here in Panama. There is an abundance of cheap hostels to stay in during your job search, although this can be difficult as they are full of young people looking to go out every night and explore during the day which can be distracting! The rest is straight forward, get yourself to a phone, contact the schools and compose yourself to nail some interviews. If somehow none of these schools work out there is a fairly large network of Gringos here in Panama and if you network with them they will more than likely be able to put you in touch with a teacher or school. From what I’ve seen the demand for teachers exceeds the supply so this is a perfect option for ESL work, despite the discouraging information you can find on the Internet. Nearly every working Gringo in the city visits New York Bagels (Click Here to read our article on NY Bagels) fairly regularly so if you get into a pickle just go there and start inquiring Gringo’s what they do for work in the city. Odds are with you that you will find a Gringo who can help you out, maybe it will be me!
If you have more questions about obtaining ESL work in Panama feel free to inquire below.