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Work Overseas in South America, Finding work in Ecuador, Central America jobs
By: Lanier Carson (justin) 2012.01.09

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I was having tea with my "brother" Enrique and his high school pana, or best friend, my third day in Quito, Ecuador when Galo asked me how long I was planning on visiting his country.

"Three years," I told him, and Rique's mother, Yolanda, nearly dropped the desert she was bringing to the table.

"You are my new English Department," Galo exclaimed to my complete approval.

Two days later I was having drinks with them when Rique's older brother, Hernan introduced me to Anastasia, "You two have something in common," Hernan said. "Anastasia owns a magazine and you, my friend, are a journalist."

Suddenly, I was working in two fields I had dreamed of only a week after arriving. Being at the right place and knowing the right people enabled me to work and live relatively well for six years in South America.

Teaching and guiding jobs are two of the most common avenues of employment, and are fairly similar throughout the continent, though naturally differences in economies make some countries more attractive to work in. Some countries have more opportunities for guides also. Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil are some of the top draws.

South America boasts a phenomenal natural diversity, the histories of ancient civilizations, and the exoticism of remote cultures. All this makes for great tourism. And tourists (unlike most travelers) need tour guides.

If you know or are willing to learn about local points of interest, or a specific outdoor skill (like kayaking), tour leading may be the job for you. Showing others the country I was living in helped me to see it in a new light. I landed my most recent tour of duty from late 1996 until mid-1999. I led groups of foreigners because I knew Spanish, happened to be living locally and came recommended by a regional manager of the foreign company running those trips. Yet, many other guides had been hired sight unseen and paid their own way from the US, Australia and Europe and their levels of Spanish varied from learning on the plane down to three years of university level courses.

Tour companies such as Journey Latin America, Tucan and many others work on two-week to three-month trips. Many are specialized as physically demanding adventure trips. For experienced kayakers, rafters, climbers and other sports-oriented fields, jobs are readily at hand in many of the jungles of Ecuador and mountains of Bolivia, and Peru. There are also historically based guides for sites such as Macchu Picchu, and cultural-oriented guiding for those interested in indigenous Indian cultures throughout South America.

While the pay may not seem like the riches of the Incas, (earning about $1, 250 a month, not including tips) when you take into account that most food and all lodging is taken care of, things look much better. With your job hazards the trails to Macchu Picchu, sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru, white-water rafting in the Ecuadorian jungle, boating through Iguazu Falls in Brazil and scuba diving off Isla Rosario on the Caribbean side of Colombia, your wage is increased exponentially by the experience alone.

The real job hazard to being a guide is acting as teacher, medic, party-animal and organizer on-call 24/7 while stuck in the middle of nowhere with people who can be very independent and low maintenance, or very emotionally, physically and socially needy. This is not a job to be taken lightly. Besides the situations where physical risk is real, the pressures of group travel, especially when you are expected to have ALL the answers to EVERYTHING, is tough work.

Jungle Work
Working in the jungles, cloud forests or other reserves, there are almost always positions available. I've been through la junglas of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and even Colombia and in almost every one of them, Ethnobotany, Biology, Pharmacy, Medical and Anthropology majors are highly sought to fill positions from volunteer to full-time jobs.

Man Reserve, Tambopata, Peru and many others in eco-friendly Peru study the behavior of the fresh-water dolphins, beavers, sloths, monkeys, insects, frogs, snakes, and birds. That's not even considering the studies of plant life. I've met people from as far away as South Africa and Australia who had found their job posted on the Web and were working in the lodge while studying their own specific professional interest. In fact, many reserves prefer degreed foreigners willing to commit at least one year to their programs. The isolation and intensity of humid jungle life is not for everyone, Though some people stay in the jungle for years, most don't, and this is why there's a fairly high turnover rate and many chances to get meaningful employment with a bit of research.

Along the Napo River, the Aguarico, Panacocha, and Limoncocha areas and all throughout the Ecuadorian lowlands there are opportunities to work with the indigenous tribes of the Cofan, the Shuar, Quechua, and Hauorani. The tribes are usually eager to learn and teach what they know and help to preserve as much of their diverse heritages and ways through outside help from cultural organizations. Others like the Tagaeri and the Taromenga prefer to remain isolated. New jobs are available as more areas are deemed No-Go Zones, designed to protect such groups and others like them. The Rainforest Information Center, (RIC) of Quito works directly with many indigenous groups. There are many organizations, and a list can be obtained from the South American Explorers Club (SAEC).

Working with these types of organizations involves 60-100 hour workweeks, with very little time off. While not working with tour groups or setting up more sustainable reserves you will be focusing on your field of interest studies, dealing with your tribe or studying their languages.

Pay scales vary depending on exact terms of study, degree and actual time in the field. Some of my friends were pulling down close to $800 a month, but the knowledge gained is priceless.

Computer Heads
There are hundreds of possibilities working throughout Latin America in computer-orientated fields. The newest fields of Web page design and Internet cafes have literally revolutionized the continent.

Hundreds of Internet cafes in even the most remote places of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, have created the need for programmers, mechanics, hardware and software specialists as well as those selling upgrading products for conferencing, video link-ups and discounted, clear, telecommunications.

An old friend of mine, Michael, was perhaps one of the first to set up his own Web page services in Quito, before selling it for a huge profit. Ericsson, IBM, Compaq, Apple and several other companies have offices in the larger cities throughout the continent.

Working in any of these types of jobs is much like any Stateside position: heavy work loads, 40+ hour weeks, and some travel to other cities and even other countries, depending on the post held. Benefits run the same, too, with full medical and dental plus paid vacation.

Work visas are naturally the most difficult aspects of finding jobs. Many travelers take under-the-table-jobs to avoid the bureaucratic trouble. Peru is perhaps one of the easiest, safest, most stable countries to live and work in. Their laws for crossing the border every three months to gain another three-month, visa-free stay is the way many pull off living there for a year or more. Of course, the three-month tourist visa doesn't legally allow you to work, but by then, you can have secured a contract with a company.

However, it is always best to have all long-term visas arranged before leaving your home country if possible. This is achieved by having a contract with a company already existing in the desired country for a year or more. Through either company or governmental regulations, it's common to be required to provide proof of a negative HIV test, passing a full physical; and a current record or statement from police department stating you are not a violent criminal. Very often, your company, school or organization will take care of some or all of the expenses (which can run several hundred dollars). They'll help make sure you've jumped through all the proper hoops if they're interested in having you work with them in South America.

If you are not sure where you want to work or wish to pick up jobs along the way every country in South America allows 3-month tourist visas renewable up to another three months with a small fee for each additional month. I landed with no shots, none of the tests and affidavits and remained illegally in Quito for more than 19 months before my first departure. As always, it's possible to get around the rules. Still, it's best to ask the foreign embassy of your selected country several different times and cross-check info with others and ask again, because inevitably whatever you believe to be the correct way may have changed the week before your plane departs, leaving you down and out in unfamiliar lands. In South America though, you can always count on finding something, a job, or a friend, to get you on track.

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