So, you’ve decided you want to jump ship and swim across the Atlantic to teach English in sunny Spain but you feel a little overwhelmed by it all? Take my hand. I’ll walk you through some of your most burning questions.
Can I teach in Spain? Am I qualified?
Yes and yes (probably).
If you’re a native English speaker with a university degree, you’re hired! Those really are the only requirements. If you have EU citizenship, just show up and you’ll probably get a job right away (timing is important) though its a little more complicated for non-EU because you’ll need a visa.
Do I need to speak Spanish?
Most employers ask that you at least know basic Spanish but you don’t need to be fluent. You might rarely need to speak Spanish in the workplace (although the Director of my bilingual elementary school spoke not one word of English, go figure) but people who come to Spain with some level of Spanish are more likely to get settled in and stick around. This isn’t like a study abroad where your host family will figure things out for you. You’ll need to secure your own accommodation, get a phone, take yourself to the doctor… these things are much harder (though not impossible) if you have no grasp of Spanish. That said, I know people who came over with little to no knowledge of Spanish and did just fine.
What does the job entail?
Most likely your title will be Auxiliar de Conversación which means its your job to help facilitate conversation in English, usually assisting a full time teacher who may not be fluent to ensure proper pronunciation and grammar. It really varies from school to school what your daily responsibilities will be. Most Auxiliares spend their school days chatting with students and helping them prepare for the dreaded Trinity Exam while others will be asked to take over a class and teach solo.
How do I get a job?
For EU citizens, its a piece of cake. Many organizations begin the hiring process around November or December before the school year starts. This is the best time to apply if you want to plan ahead. If you find yourself suddenly in Spain and on the job hunt around September – November, just drop off your resume around town and you’ll surely get picked up.
For non-EU folks, since you’ll need to get a visa to legally stay in the Schengen Zone beyond 90 days, you’ll have to apply and secure a position before applying for a visa. This can only be done while in your home country through the closest Spanish consulate.
I taught in Madrid with the Spanish Ministry of Education program and this is the route I’d recommend for most people. The main benefit of this program is that you’re paid well for not much work (1000 Euro per month in Madrid for 16 hours/week and 700 Euro for 12 hours/week elsewhere). The main difficulty with them is no doubt the convoluted application and, once you make it to Spain, residency registration processes. Luckily, there’s a super-active Facebook group full of other people struggling through the same stuff to help you along. This program sets you up to work within the public school system and you will most likely work four days a week. Though most Auxiliares are placed in Madrid, they also have positions available all over Spain.
Another option, BEDA provides more support so its great for anyone feeling nervous about the whole “living overseas thing”. They even short-cut you through the process of getting your residency documentation, which with the Ministry program is a confusing ordeal that no one, including the program, knows how to properly navigate. You’ll be working in Catholic quasi-private schools and they have a variety of hours available at different pay rates. In general, you will be paid less per hour than in the Ministry program. They also require that you attend (what I’ve heard are immensely useless) four hour classes once a month that you aren’t paid for. You will likely work five days a week with a couple of half days. BEDA operates mostly in Madrid with very few placements in other regions.
Working with private schools, UCETAM is the program for anyone who has teaching experience and ambition to continue in the field. They pay well for more hours and give you much more responsibility and control over your classes and lesson plans. You’ll actually be a teacher, not just an English speaking helper.
There’s also English academies, private lessons and nannying, if all else fails. These jobs are easy to come by and can serve as secondary income though they won’t usually get you a visa.
Do you make enough money to get by?
Yes. Rent in Spain is low and food is cheap. Here’s some average costs in Madrid (outside of Madrid, with the exception of the North, the prices are even lower):
Accommodation: 300 Euro/month (bedroom in a shared flat)
Food & Drinks: 1 Euro for a small beer, 10 Euro for a fixed price 3 course lunch
Cell Phone Service: 10 Euro/month for data
Transportation: 30-50 Euro/month (depending on your zone and age)
If you want/need extra cash, its very easy to get under-the-table gigs that pay well. Many people make at least an extra 500 Euro every month giving private lessons or nannying. A couple of great resources to try are Tus Clases Particulares and Lingo Bongo.
You need to make sure you’ve got a bit saved up before you come too. Remember that, before your first paycheck, you’ll have to pay for at least a month’s rent, a security deposit, airfare, food and local transport.
Where can I teach?
I taught in Madrid but you can apply (with the Ministry anyway) to be placed all over Spain. Beach life in Mallorca, big city Madrid or tapas in Andalucia. Think about the lifestyle you want and do a little research before you apply because you’ll be asked to rank your preferred regions. Keep in mind, you can only request the region so if you choose Andalucia, for example, you could be placed anywhere within those borders including small villages. Also, consider what you want to get out of your experience. People placed in more remote places have more opportunity to immerse themselves in Spanish culture since they’re likely the only foreigner around while those placed in big cities may find themselves just in a more international environment (for better or for worse). Once you’ve been placed, you have to accept whatever location you’re offered. Trading placements with someone else is only very rarely allowed.
How can I prepare?
The most important thing to do during the application process is to stay organized. Make sure you allow plenty of time for your visa since it can take up to a month to process (and that’s after you’ve spent a month waiting for your documentation together and that’s after you’ve spent 5 months waiting for your placement and that’s after you’ve spent a month gathering application materials). Make checklists of all of the documentations and deadlines to stay on top of because the whole process is anything but simple.
Do you have questions about teaching English in Spain or moving to Spain in general? Have you taught in Spain? What advice would you give?