Rural Conservation Work in Mexico
Jobs Are Available for Foreigners Who Have the Skills
Mexico’s numerous nonprofit local development and conservation organizations are mostly staffed by Mexicans, but there are opportunities for foreigners with Spanish-language skills and specialist knowledge.
Before You Start Looking
Without relevant studies or experience, forget about paid jobs. Instead, find a volunteer option to gain experience and improve your Spanish. Or put your Mexican job search on hold and try to find some relevant job at home for a while (and study Spanish in the meantime). I spent eight months as an unpaid volunteer in Yucatan before finally receiving a job offer. This experience then opened the door to another organization in Oaxaca state.
Relevant fields of study include biology, forestry, agriculture, development administration, sociology, social work, education, medicine, and geography (especially Geographical Information Systems). Very few Mexican universities offer geography courses.
Experienced people in administration, skills training, education, socio-economic research, ecotourism, fair trade and market research, project proposal writing, web and computer skills are also needed.
How to Start
There are a few website directories (see below), but also try general web searches. Some North American foundations and universities have exchange programs and Mexican contacts. Most organizations, even those working in remote areas, have their offices in state capitals and all states have some organizations.
Personal contact with someone in a Mexican organization should be your first stop. Let him or her also recommend other organizations. Then use them as a reference. Networking is essential in Mexican life—and even indirect contacts can do the trick.
Once you have chosen your region of interest, visit. Unless you are exactly the expert they need, you are unlikely to get a confirmed job offer while in your country. Once you are in Mexico, use any contacts you have, attend a conference, visit organizations, and at the same time decide if you really want to live there.
The Legal Situation
Tourists can enter Mexico for up to 180 days on a tourist visa and then apply for a work visa (FM3 visa) while in the country. There seems to be no problem searching for work as a tourist. However, it is illegal to start working until your work visa has been approved, which will take several weeks. For an FM3 visa you need to pay about $200 and show a confirmed written job offer from a formally registered Mexican institution. You will also need to submit a lot of paperwork from your future employer, show a Mexican home address, and proof of relevant studies (very important: certificates must have an official seal, called Apostille, from your home country). Visa information is subject to change: investigate with Mexican Migration Authorities.
- Most of all you need to be positive and really want to work in Mexico.
- You should be hard-working and very flexible and tolerant to work practices different from home.
- Be prepared to travel to remote areas with very basic amenities.
- Even if your main marketable skill is of a technical nature, you need to be people orientated.
The Sometimes Harsh Realities
- Wages are usually at local rates and often even lower than in private Mexican companies and government.
- There is no job security: many organizations depend on project funding for a year or two.
- Be prepared for inefficiency (or worse: corruption) within organizations.
- You may have very long working hours, with constant short-notice deadlines.
If you choose your organization well, you should meet like-minded interesting, committed local and foreign people. You will have a chance to work in fascinating rural communities, learn about rural and Mexican indigenous life, and visit beautiful natural surroundings that tourists never get to see. Many organizations offer a combination of remote field trips and working and living in the often picturesque historic provincial cities of Mexico, allowing you to experience and learn about both Mexico’s vibrant urban culture and remote natural areas.
For More Info
Apart from the following Spanish language websites you will need to do general searches by region and activity. Some organization websites are partly in English, but you will need Spanish for most of them.
An extensive Mexican conservation directory (presently only in print) exists. For more info: www.eambiental.org.
Mexican work visa information: www.inm.gob.mx.