Not all Latin American countries are eager to hire foreign nationals. Brazil, for example, where the attraction may be the legendary night life of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, can be difficult, says Gabriel Rozman, executive vice president for emerging markets at Tata Consultancy Services. "Creating your own company may be the only way to work there," he says. "If you create a sole partnership and your billing is under $100,000, it is easier to come to Brazil for a year or two."
"Mexico is also difficult," Rozman notes.
But most Latin American countries in the southern part of the continent are more welcoming and make it easier to get work permits. "They have more of a culture of immigrants," Rozman says.
Add the fact that many of the Latin countries are still stuck with legacy mainframes where Cobol is a common skill, so anyone who has the latest Java skills, for example, would be sought after. Also attractive are people with an understanding of vertical processes like retailing or banking. "That's a real value-add," Rozman says.
The best job opportunities in Latin America are with firms that sell to the U.S. and thus where English language skills will be at a premium, says Peter Harrison, CEO of product development company GlobalLogic. If the company sells to the U.S. market, you can get a job without knowing Spanish. But if it sells to the domestic market you have to know the local language. That local language is typically Spanish, but in Brazil it is Portuguese, and it can be Dutch or French in a few former colonies such as Suriname and various Caribbean nations.
But don't expect to show up on a tourist visa and start work wherever you go in Latin America. There is a definite procedure with lots of paperwork to be filled out before you get a permit. It could take a few months. It is unlikely anyone without that permit would be hired.
Bear in mind that although the cost of living is lower in Latin America, the salaries across the continent are also much lower. An $80,000-a-year job in the U.S. may translate to a $40,000-a-year job in Santiago, Chile.
Rozman notes that if you're single, you're likely to have a good time after work. "South Americans like to interface with people who travel. And the foreign community itself is very tight. You won't be in the country for a day or two before you know where the best bars to meet people are and get invited to all the parties."