What is Teaching English in Nicaragua, “Under the Table”?

Teaching English in Nicaragua “Under the Table” Without a Work Visa – What Does it Mean?

There are thousands of Americans teaching English abroad in dozens of countries around the globe like Spain, Italy, Argentina and Nicaragua. What do 90% of them have in common?

In addition to enjoying the international adventure of a lifetime, they are teaching English “under the table.” In other words they are not legally working in those countries with a work visa. This is commonplace in Nicaragua, and most of Latin America, but it is not technically legal.

What does it mean to teach English abroad “under the table” in Nicaragua, without a work visa?

Typically the following:

  • You don’t have official permission to work in Nicaragua.
  • You are officially working illegally.
  • You enter Nicaragua on a tourist visa (a tourist visa will enable you to stay legally in Nicaragua for 90 days)
  • You can renew your tourist visa or get a new one before your original visa expires (example day 85 of your 90 day visa), by leaving and re-entering the country. We call this a “border run”.
  • You will be paid cash “under the table” or you will be paid by check, and you can cash it with your passport at the issuing bank.(You and the company do not file taxes.)
  • If you are lucky to receive benefits, it will likely be in the form of a transportation stipend, food stipend, or discounted housing.

Why don’t schools offer a work visa in Nicaragua?  

Money and Time: In Nicaragua it may take 6 to 12 months to get a visa processed and the cost of processing a work visa may equal 3-6 months’ worth of wages. In addition the process may include an incredible amount of paperwork and bureaucracy. Nicaraguan schools just are not going to pay that type of money nor can they wait that long for a work visa when the teacher may be gone in 6 months anyway. 

But if it’s illegal, why are so many people teaching English abroad “under the table” and why do schools hire them?

  • Dozens of schools in Nicaragua are in high need of qualified (TEFL-certified) teachers. Many schools prefer to hire people from the U.S. or Canada because demand for North American dialects is extremely high.
  • Often times in English schools or classrooms taught by Nicaraguan teachers, there is little or no English spoken in the classroom. Most English classes are still conducted in Spanish.
  • The bottom line is English language schools are in business to make money, the American dialect is what students want to pay for and the schools in Nicaragua want to hire Americans and other foreign English teachers regardless of work permits.
  • English teachers from the U.S. and Canada, and other countries teach English “under the table” because schools will hire them and pay them enough to make a decent living wage that enables them to pay their rent, cover their living expenses and to enjoy life in the country where they teach.
  • Risk to both the school employing the teacher and the teacher is very low. Thousands of US Citizens and other foreigners teach English abroad in dozens of countries without a work visa, and Nicaragua is no exception. None of ITAN’s graduates have gotten in trouble for teaching English on a tourist visa in Nicaragua.
  • Schools would not hire US English teachers under the table in Nicaragua if it presented a serious threat to the viability of their business. Authorities in Nicaragua just aren’t spending their time looking for US English teachers; they are far more concerned with actual criminals.
  • In Nicaragua, where US citizens teach English “under the table,” native English speakers are not asked to produce a visa to authorities once they have arrived in that country, rather they purchase a 90 day tourist visa for $10 at customs upon arrival.
  • Most schools in Nicaragua do not pay taxes or into national benefit funds (social security, health care etc.) for teachers that are not legally “on the books.” This means it can be 40%-50% cheaper to hire English teachers “under the table” rather than “on the books.”

The big question: what happens if I get caught teaching English in Nicaragua and abroad without a work visa?

  • Nothing. If schools and teachers routinely got in trouble with authorities for employing and working under the table, then nobody would do it. Of all 300+ graduates that took our 4 week course and went on to teach English in Nicaragua, none of them got in trouble for teaching English on a 90 day tourist visa.
  • TIP: If you are looking into teaching in other countries and regions after taking your 4 week course in Nicaragua, we recommend downloading a Country Chart to check what other countries may require for tourist or work visas.
  • Potential penalties for overstaying your tourist visa. Somebody who is caught by authorities overstaying their tourist visa may be subject to modest fines and/or having to do a 3 day border run to Costa Rica. Typically in Nicaragua, your fee will be $2 for everyday you overstay your tourist visa. You will owe this as you exit the country.

Want to learn more about Teaching English Abroad?

Request a free brochure or call 708-357-3353 to speak with an advisor about all aspects of TEFL certification and teaching English abroad, including the hiring process, salaries, visas, TEFL class options, job placement assistance and more.


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* Legal stuff:  International TEFL Academy Nicaragua is an American based company with over 120 new graduates a year.  We understand all the questions and concerns Americans and foreign teachers have about teaching in Nicaragua – a country that does not offer work visas. While we cannot condone breaking an official law, we do believe in explaining the cultural norms Nicaragua and what is realistic, practical and what is not practical in finding English teaching jobs in Nicaragua.  Ultimately it is your choice to decide where you teach English abroad and how you do it, and we will provide you with expert advice and an honest perspective of what is realistic and not. 


  1. What are the Basic Requirements to Teach English in Nicaragua - March 23, 2018

    […] so you won’t need to apply for a work visa beforehand. This means you’ll be getting paid ‘under the table’ by your employers, which is typical in Nicaragua. You’ll either be paid in cash (usually […]

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