Work and Travel in South America
WORK IN SOUTH AMERICA ALL YEAR ROUND
Volunteer and Paid Work Opportunities in South America for Travellers
A deceptively huge continent, South America is considered the holy grail for many travellers. Nature-wise, it has everything - Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil have the biodiversity of the mighty Amazon rainforest. Peru and Chile hold the Andes mountain range running along the spine of the continent. While the north is tropical, once you’re in Argentina you’ll encounter glacial lakes and bracing deserts alongside the cosmopolitan charms of Buenos Aires.
Like much of Asia, South America still has the allure of being cheap for backpackers. Coupling this with the sheer vastness of the continent and its easy connection to Western markets like North America, the countries of South America are an ideal place to work and travel, especially if you are new to the lifestyle. Read our country guides to determine the perfect South American work & travel adventure for you.
1. Teach English
Due to its proximity to North America, alongside a recent increase in tourism, in all of the South American countries there’s a real need for competent teachers of English. In the rural areas of countries such as Bolivia and Brazil, poverty levels are high and education levels consistently low. Although many of the teaching opportunities in places like these will be volunteer-based, you can be confident that you’re making a difference in the lives of those you teach, and not just making a profit for a company.
2. Work in an Orphanage
Like in Asia, many South American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela have had turbulent histories. Unfortunately, these years of coups, guerilla warfare, and drug-based violence have left many children without parents. There are orphanages all over South America filled with kids who need help.
Foreign volunteers can work in South America and do a lot of good and give you an instant connection with the local people. Orphanages may be in big cities or remote locations. Just make sure you link up with a reputable organisation.
3. Rainforest Conservation
Since much of the northern half of the continent is filled with the Amazon rainforest, opportunities abound for working travellers hoping to use their skills to help conserve the “earth’s lungs.” In Guyana, for example, you can help to plant new trees and study the foliage there in an attempt to understand how scientists can improve conservation efforts. These opportunities fill up fast, so start looking early.
WORK & HOLIDAY VISA / PERMIT REQUIREMENTS FOR PAID WORK AND VOLUNTEERING IN SOUTH AMERICA
Each of the 14 countries that make up South America has its own visa policies. So below we give you a sample of what requirements you may come up against depending on the region of the world you come from.
EU and UK Citizens: If you have a UK or EU passport then the situation with visas for most of the South American countries is very simple: you do not need a visa to visit any country in South America as a tourist. However, you should make sure that your passport must have 6 months validity remaining on the date of entry to each country. One notable exception is Suriname, for which you must obtain a Tourist Card from a local embassy.
US Citizens: No visa required for a stay of up to 90 days in most countries, with some exceptions. A visa on arrival is required for US citizens to visit Bolivia and Paraguay, and a Tourist Card is essential for entry to Suriname. To enter Venezuela, Americans must obtain a tourist card from a Venezuelan diplomatic mission.
Canadians Citizens: Generally fall under the same requirements as EU citizens, with the exception of Paraguay, where a visa is required for entry.
SEASONAL WORK IN SOUTH AMERICA
South America straddles two hemispheres and the equator, so seasonality is incredibly varied depending on how north or south you find yourself. Parts of Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia are in the tail end of the rainy season during much of the spring, so outdoor work in late spring may consist of cleaning up and repairing infrastructure damaged during the rains. Spring is the start of the school year in deep southern countries such as Chile. The school year runs from March until December, so it’s relatively easy to teach English at this time of year; both in schools and in a private fashion.
Summer is winter in Argentina, so the colder temperatures are a great time to get away from agricultural heartlands and head to cities such as Buenos Aires. If you already have a TOEFL qualification there’s no reason why you can’t find paid work in Argentina. Universities and schools will sometimes employ foreigners on a limited basis. Summer is high tourist season in Northern countries such as Bolivia. Head here now to work in hotels, hostels, and tourist cafes.
As winter is the high season in the southern hemispheres, Work and travel opportunities in countries such as Chile reaches their lowest point at this time of year as the ski tourists have left and the backpackers have yet to arrive yet. It’s a good time to start preparing for the height of the tourist season at this time of year, however.
Up in the northern countries like Venezuela, however, autumn is the start of the school year, so it’s an ideal time to secure employment. With so many teachers dropping out of the profession, it’s an ideal time for travellers to find work in major cities like Caracas.
High tourist season in the Southern hemisphere. Backpackers from all over the world will come to travel to countries like Chile. You should concentrate your efforts on finding tourism work, such as working in hostels or joining excursion companies that need an extra hand.
In the north, Brazilian children are out of school and attending summer sports camps. As you would expect, football is by far the most popular sport here. For one of the best volunteering opportunities in Brazil, attend a football camp, become acquainted with the locals, and have lots of fun!
ATTITUDE TO FOREIGNERS WORKING IN SOUTH AMERICA
There are huge economic and cultural disparities between the various South American countries, and even within the countries themselves.
Brazil, for example, is the most expensive country in South America, a modern country with a modern economy. Foreigners are not looked at with a sense of wonder. But yet dire poverty is rampant in certain sections, so backpackers should educate themselves on which neighbourhoods are struggling and take care not only to look after their wallets but to be respectful and sensitive to local needs, not taking up low-skilled jobs such as cleaning when the work is desperately needed by locals.
If you decide to work and travel in a country like Guyana, on the other hand, your experience will be quite different from travelling in a major country along the backpacking trail. The majority of volunteering opportunities in Guyana will bring you into contact with the locals. They will be curious about you and your homeland because most travellers who come here are often rich and travel as part of a guided tour. Backpackers don’t come here in large numbers because of how difficult it can be to get to the country at an affordable price.
- Edited on Jun 7 2021 by Lily