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Teaching English in Spain
Flamenco, Tapas or Don Quixote?

Teaching English in Spain is close to a dream come true for those who want to combine down time with income - you can travel in a fabulous country and make money at the same time.

Teach English in SpainStreet scene at the entrance of Santiago de Compostela

Now, I'm biased. I grew up in Spain and it's one of my favorite countries - the extraordinary food, the Flamenco music, the historic interior... And it just has that romance about it - but can you make money with English teaching jobs in Spain?

It depends.

If what you want to do is spend some time in the country, share your knowledge of the English language with Spaniards and get to know them for a while, you don't actually need to teach.

You can apply for a position with Pueblo Ingles, an organization that places Spanish speakers in English-speaking environments. All you have to do is speak English for a week - and Pueblo Ingles will provide you with free room, board and wine!

My friend Lisa did this for a week and here's what she said: "It gives you a chance to meet and get to know Spanish professionals. And after a week together, talking, laughing, and dancing, I came away with life-long friends and an experience that I will honestly never forget."

This is a fun way to spend a week in Spain for free, but you can also earn money teaching English in Spain.

If you have an EU passport - if you're from the UK or Ireland - it's simple: no visa or work permit required. Just find a job and start working.

If you're from another English-speaking country, say the US or Australia, for example, you should know this up front: there is no legal way you can get a visa to teach English. Spain has a national law against this because it deems it has plenty of legal (EU) teachers available - the only way a non-EU citizen can get a work visa is if an employer proves no Spanish person can do the job. But more on that in a minute.

Certification to teach English in Spain

Unlike some countries, teaching in English in Spain does not require formal qualifications. Plenty of people find teaching jobs without them. But there's no question that having some kind of certification will help you get hired faster and get paid more.

You can get your teaching certificate before you come to Spain, or you can get it once you're there. Not only will you ease yourself into the country, but you'll also benefit from the resources provided by your academy, like job placement, job boards, contacts with other students, local help and so on.

Most job ads require you to have a CELTA, Trinity College CertTESOL or similar qualifications. But once you apply, you'll often find you can get a job without one. Mostly the certificate is requested to eliminate those backpackers who are more dilettante than teacher.

Getting that job teaching English in Spain

Most teachers agree: your best bet in finding a job is to go to Spain in person rather than apply from abroad. Especially if you're illegal, there's every chance prospective employers will want to see your face before they hire you.

A Schengen visa will allow you to stay in Spain for 90 days, ample time to find a job. Even better is a student visa, usually valid for six months at a time from the Spanish consulate in your country.

Once you're in the country, brush up that CV, and start knocking on doors to teach English. Spain, unfortunately, won't pay you top rates unless you're from an EU country, but that's the outcome of working illegally, I'm afraid.

Most work comes through contacts, so start meeting people. In Spain, it's a lot easier than in many countries. People are friendly and outgoing and love a good time.

The best time to get a job teaching English in Spain? Right after the summer. Because of the nine month contracts, many teachers move on during the summer and when the 'season' reopens, teachers are in demand. Schools often wait till the last minute to hire, so this will be a good time.

If you don't have any certification yet, why not get it in Spain? It'll help you learn some Spanish, and meet people locally as well.

Cost of living in Spain

Living in Spain is not cheap, and it's most expensive in the larger, more popular cities like Madrid or Barcelona. If you're planning on teaching English in Spain, don't expect to earn much more than 16 Euros an hour if you're on contract with a school, or 20 Euros if you're an independent, or 'autonoma'. You'll make more if you teach privately, but clients are hard to come by. Most of them come through word-of-mouth, so cultivate your contacts!

Girona by the riverGirona - a lovely medium-sized provincial town in Spain

It's best to stay legal, but if...

I don't think this is a good idea, but if you're desperate enough to teach in Spain illegally, you should at least know what you're getting into.

Here are some of the drawbacks and outright risks of working 'in the black market':

  • You'll get the worst jobs since the best ones will go to teachers with legal papers.
  • You won't have a contract - hence no job security, and no health insurance. If you're in a traffic accident or an irate boyfriend turns you in, you'll be found out as an illegal, you'll probably be deported.
  • You probably won't work downtown. You'll be in the suburbs or working for business clients. Employers don't want illegals on their premises if the authorities come snooping around.

All is not lost, however. In some cases, employers - especially large businesses - prefer an American accent so you've got a chance. Non-EU citizens do get hired every day, so if this is what you want, go for it!

Also, there's not much risk. The Spanish authorities are much more concerned with North African illegals risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean in leaky boats than with single illegal female English teachers from the West.

Teaching English in Madrid

Madrid is the favorite city for teaching English in Spain, for a number of reasons: there is plenty of work, a high turnover, decent wages, it's a wonderful city (not just my opinion!), it has great food and entertainment, and if you're illegal, it's the city where you have the best chance of finding work.

It's also not the only major city.

Plenty of teachers head for Barcelona, a favorite city of backpackers. And what about teaching in Valencia? Spain's third largest city is sunny nearly all year round and has a beach right downtown. It's also a hopping city, with a great ambiance, as any port city should, and a nice, laid-back feel. You may earn less than in Madrid or Barcelona, but it will also cost you less to live there.

Southern Spain is immensely popular with English teachers - no surprise, since the publication of Driving Over Lemons has sent hundreds scuttling for Andalucia. But so many teachers means few jobs and even less money.

Some resources for teaching English in Spain

Teach Abroad listings
The Expatriate Café, a wonderful blog
Spain Expat, a series of posts on teaching in Spain
Transitions Abroad article on teaching English in Spain
Loquo classifieds for lodgings

Tips for teaching English in Spain

Here are a few additional things you should keep in mind when deciding whether to teach English in Spain is right for you:

  • Most contracts are for nine months only. From July to September, urban Spain almost closes down as everyone heads to the beach. So, no pay during that time.
  • Most people do not espouse a stressful lifestyle, so classes tend to be laid back and even a bit unruly. Young people especially have far more important things to do than study!
  • Certification is better than no certification, and experience is better than nothing. You'll have a far better chance of finding work if you have a CELTA or similar qualification. Or a university teaching degree. Or hands-on work experience teaching.
  • Try to find private students, especially in a company, in addition to your school or academy. You'll probably need the extra income.
  • There's a good chance you'll be overworked and underpaid, especially if you're working illegally. Don't let that color your view of the country. Remember, it's a buyer's market.

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