I’ve lived in Santiago, Chile for six years, and in just this short time I’ve witnessed Latin America’s tech ecosystem grow by leaps and bounds. Programs like Start-Up Chile, 500 Startups: Latam, and NXTP Labs are seeding Latin America’s tech ecosystem and providing incredible resources for local entrepreneurs. Thanks to these programs, and many others, I’ve seen a surge in not only Latin American companies launching for local markets but also in US startups opening offices here, along with local entrepreneurs attacking the US market. This growth has generated a new wave of highly-skilled, international tech companies operating in Latin America.
As someone who has operated a tech company in Latin America and worked with countless startups with a Latin American presence, I receive numerous emails from US-based tech workers who are curious to know what the current tech job market looks like and how they can get involved.
The short answer is, the most in-demand professionals are Ruby on Rails developers, UI/UX designers, and online marketers. But there is also a significant demand for native English speakers to fill sales and customer service roles. As the Latin American startup ecosystem gains traction and more and more tech companies around the world are granting their tech workers the flexibility and/or option to work remotely, the number of emails asking me for advice on how to land a tech job in Latin America has picked up. I thought it would be useful to break down the four options for expat tech workers who are looking for job opportunities in Latin America:
Working remotely for a US company
Working for an established Latin American company
Working with a Latin American startup targeting Latin America
Working with a Latin American startup targeting the US market
If you’re interested in landing a job at a startup in Latin America or just learning more about how you can work remotely from Latin America, here’s a breakdown of each of these options as well as a list of the top tech hubs in Latin America to help you get started.
1. Working remotely for a US company
If you have the opportunity to work remotely for a US company and still make a US salary or hourly rate, you can live exceptionally well in most Latin American cities.
Of course, the downside of working 100 percent remotely is you won’t really be exposed to the local tech ecosystem, and it will be harder to make friends with locals. If you’re a freelancer with established US clients, a good way to tap into the local tech ecosystem is to work from one of the numerous, affordable coworking spaces across Latin America. Some of the most notable coworking spaces include:
Edge Cowork, Santiago, Chile
AtomHouse, Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia
Piloto 151, San Juan, Puerto Rico
WeWork, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, México City
Sinergia Cowork, Montevideo, Uruguay
Keep in mind, if you’re working remotely for a US company, you will have a harder time getting a work visa and will need to arrange your travel plans accordingly. For example, you may be required to leave the country or change countries every 90 days so that you can stay on a tourist visa.
2. Working for an established Latin American company
If you would like to try working for an established Latin American company, remember that tech salaries in the region are much lower than in the US. Fortunately, so is the cost of living. If you choose to go this route in countries like Chile, getting a work visa can be relatively easy. All you need is a job offer, and you can quickly get a one-year temporary visa. Keep in mind, more established companies do tend to favor fluent Spanish speakers and professionals with degrees from reputable Latin American or US universities.
Additionally, similar to working for larger companies in the US, you probably won’t be working on the most cutting-edge technologies. You might also have a manager who doesn’t know all that much about technology, and you might find the working conditions unorganized and chaotic. However, the advantages of a stable income, decent salary (even if it’s less than what you’d make in the US), and a work visa can offset some of these challenges.
3. Working with a Latin American startup targeting Latin America
Over the last decade, the number of work visas being granted by Chile alone has risen by an average of 25 percent per year as the demand for more foreign professionals has spiked. According to Cisco, Latin America will lack nearly half a million IT professionals by 2019, with the largest skills gap in emerging technologies such as video, cloud, mobility, big data, cybersecurity, IoT, and software development.
If you have experience in any of these areas, you could find exciting opportunities to put your skills to work for a Latin American startup targeting the Latin American market. Most of the Latin American companies hiring tech workers in these fields will pay $2,000 – $3,500 per month. Good places to search for positions like these at Latin American startups is Workana or Chiletrabajos.
Although the founders of most Latin American startups and some of the tech team will speak English, be prepared for most, if not all, of the product and marketing to be in Spanish. On the plus side, working for a Latin American startup can make it easier to get a work visa, and your team can help you quickly integrate with the local tech scene. You’ll also have a chance to polish your Spanish – it’s how I learned!
If you don’t currently have any tech skills, or you are looking for an entry-level position, consider coming to Latin America to work as an intern, as the costs of living are lower, and learn some new skills. This will help you get connected with the local startup scene and then you can stay to work full-time afterward. Latin American boot camp programs, such as World Tech Makers, Desafio Latam, and Digital House, will teach you the tech skills startups are looking for and even help connect you with companies during and after the program. You can also look at Awesome Jobs, which lists job opportunities with tech companies from around the region, many of which welcome people who could benefit from on the job training.
4. Work with a Latin American startup targeting the US market
The last and perhaps best option for English-only speakers, is to work with a Latin American startup, or a foreign startup with offices in Latin America, that is targeting the US market. There are countless startups with a product or service for US consumers that have back offices for their tech and sales teams in Latin America. For example, did you know there is an agile team building core parts of Eventbrite’s global platform in an office in Mendoza, Argentina?
Working for a Latin American startup targeting the US will bring a monthly salary similar to working for a traditional company in Latin America; however, if you have a lot of experience or a specific skillset that is in high demand, you could bring in upwards of $6,000 per month.
Even though it’s difficult to find a job with a salary that matches US salaries for the same position, your day-to-day expenses will be significantly lower in most Latin American countries, allowing you to live as if you were earning 2x-3x as much in the US. Not to mention, companies that target the US market will offer added benefits such as the ability to work in English and obtain a work visa while working on interesting tech problems and still having the opportunity to learn Spanish.
Tapping into this tech scene can be challenging as information is often outdated or dispersed across various networks. Just as in other parts of the world, the best opportunities often come through word-of-mouth. There are many ways to get connected to the Latin American tech scene, such as attending networking events, workshops at local universities, and meetups. A good place to start is Hackers and Founders, Founderlist, or Meetup.com, which offers dozens of groups related to tech and startups in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and more. To find job postings, be sure to frequently check Craigslist, LinkedIn, and expat forums, which are widely used to share opportunities in English.
Where to start your search: Latin America’s booming tech cities
So where are the tech hotspots in Latin America with the most potential? Here are some of the best cities to start your search:
Santiago, Chile: This capital city is home to Start-Up Chile, one of the most successful startup programs in the world. The program has placed the country on the global map and turned the city into Latin America’s “Chilecon Valley.” Last month, the Chilean government introduced a new tech visa allowing tech workers, investors, and entrepreneurs to obtain a work visa in just 15 days.
Medellin, Colombia: The tech scene in Medellin is growing fast with support from talented entrepreneurs, smart venture capitalists, and programs like Ruta N that offer grants to help entrepreneurs and local tech talent succeed. A short plane ride away from major US cities, Medellin is uniquely positioned to continue expanding its position as a key tech hub in Latin America.
Mexico City, México: With a population over 25 million, Mexico City is home to many tech companies that have found success solely by servicing the local market. However, proximity to the US still attracts entrepreneurs with a global vision, and many US companies also have offices of their development teams in the city.
Guadalajara, México: Though a smaller city, Guadalajara is another booming tech hub in Mexico to keep on your radar. Some of the best engineers in Mexico are located here, which has also attracted US companies to set up their development teams in the city.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: Home to one of Latin America’s most vibrant venture capital ecosystems, Buenos Aires has a wealth of IT talent and tech companies in a range of sectors. Last month, the government introduced a new Entrepreneurs’ Law that promises to help companies launch their businesses in 24 hours and give more incentive to local VCs to fund new ventures, meaning local companies are going to find it much easier to scale their teams.
San Juan, Puerto Rico: With a highly-trained workforce and attractive tax structure, Puerto Rico is turning to technology and entrepreneurship to revitalize its economy. Programs like Parallel 18 have helped the island quickly make a name for itself as an emerging tech hub in the region, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
There are many other cities that could be added to the list, but the point is, Latin America’s tech scene is thriving, and there’s never been a better time to be a part of it. If there is one thing startups struggle with, no matter where they’re located, it is finding top tech talent. So if you’re amazing at what you do and eager to immerse yourself in the local startup ecosystem, Latin America could be a good move for you.
Full disclosure: Magma Partners is an investor in Founderlist, Awesome Jobs, and Chiletrabajos.
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