Illegally Teaching English in Italy Legally: The Red Tape Limbo
Part two in a 2-part series assessing the legal hazards and risky loopholes for those wishing to teach English in Italy without proper EU work permits.
You’ve assessed the potential legal pitfalls in part one and decided to limbo the Italian red tape anyway. You’re ready to trade in the morning commute for the morning cappuccino, the daily grind for the daily passeggiata, and downshift into the right-hand lane of life—preferably aboard a Vespa.
For starters, be financially prudent. As with any crapshoot, it doesn’t make sense to go all-in on a gamble that might not pan out. You may not be able to avoid Italian bureaucracy, but you can avoid putting a second mortgage on your house while looking for ways around it.
A few Italian schools don’t require teachers to be TEFL, TOESL or CELTA-certified, however, completing an instructional course instantly makes you a more desirable teacher. Most 4-week “in class” certification courses cost between $1,250-$2,000 and are held in exotic locations scattered around the globe. Throw in airfare, lodging and food, and you’ll spend more in four weeks learning how to teach English than you will in four months actually teaching English. Instead, choose an online course. Not only can you complete these 100-hour programs in your pajamas, but you’ll save thousands of dollars. Just ask Henry, an Atlanta resident who spent $295 on ITTT’s online course before going on to teach at four schools on two continents—including three in Italy.
Depending on when you travel, you can find some extraordinarily cheap flights to Italy. AerLingus periodically has one-way fares from Washington, D.C. to Dublin for as little as $164. From there, hop aboard any number of low-cost puddle-jumpers (RyanAir happens to be based in Dublin) that will whisk you and your 15-kilos of baggage to Italy for roughly the price of two panini. To see a full list of low-cost airlines and their European routes, search WhichBudget.
You’ve finally arrived, but without a codice fiscale (Italian tax code), you can’t rent an apartment. Don’t fret: all this means is that you cannot be the person legally responsible for the lease on a contract. However, any Italian city with English-language schools will inevitably have British ex-pats looking for apartments. As long as it’s their name on the lease, you can legally stay there. A less expensive option is to rent a bedroom in an apartment with other tenants who have already assumed responsibility for the lease. As dormitories aren’t nearly as commonplace in Europe as in America, most Italian university students (which can be anyone from 18-40 year-olds) live this way and are constantly looking for roommates. Check the city’s weekly classifieds and bulletin boards at university buildings.
Earning an Income
The following are the pros and cons of three road-tested options used by non-EU expats to earn a modest living teaching ESL while living in Italy.
Working Without a Contract
Working “in nero” at a school is the most commonly traveled path by American expats in Italy, and the one you should be most wary of.
Advantages: Schools act like a middle-man because they provide teachers with students. Having already invested in advertising, they essentially eliminate the legwork you would do as a freelance teacher. With a healthy stream of students at their door, all you have to do is show up. In addition, working at a school is a great way to meet people in a new city.
Disadvantages: You may very well luck out and find a decent boss who gives you no problems, but working without a contract is asking to get exploited. Italian schools are famous for praying on naïve non-EU nationals eager for work. Simply put, schools are reluctant to give illegal immigrants contracts because that would mean they’d have to pay taxes. With no legal responsibilities to pay teachers, some schools don’t. This is especially common at the end of the school term in June; schools know their teachers often return home during the summer months, and, as has happened in many cases, simply decide not to pay them their final month’s wage.
If you don’t work through a contractor, freelancing is essentially getting paid to teach private lessons. The best ways to go about this are by placing ads in the free weekly classifieds printed in most Italian cities, or making your own flyers and posting them around town (hint: place them in and around university buildings).
Advantages: As there is no contract involved, there is nothing illegal about freelance teaching on a tourist visa. In addition, depending on your qualifications and how you market yourself, freelancers generally earn more money per hour than they would at a private English school. You also have more flexibility over your schedule and can continue earning money in the summer months when schools close.
Disadvantages: Being a successful freelance teacher requires a lot of legwork, a good command of Italian, and an outgoing personality. Furthermore, you are dependent on your students for work. Unlike private schools where students have likely paid a large sum of money to be there, private lesson cancellations are common. When your students don’t show, you don’t get paid.
Being a “Contractor” for an American Company
You find a credited school that is interested in collaborating with you but concerned about your lack of EU paperwork. Explain to the school’s owner that instead of directly hiring you, he will be hiring an American company to supply his school with a service (the American company will be someone you trust who owns or is willing to “create” a small business in the States to help you out). The school must draft a simple contract requiring the American company to provide English-language instruction for xxx hours per week for xxx months, in exchange for which it will receive xxx euros per month—all numbers corresponding to the contract your British counterparts sign. You then become the independent contractor of the American company and fulfill the contractual obligations owed to the school. All payments are wired from the Italian school to the American company (that is, your trusted American colleagues’s bank account). Your colleague, in turn, pays you or transfers the money to your bank account. As an employee of this American company, report your earnings and pay taxes in the States.
Advantages: This idea comes courtesy of a creative Italian owner of an English-language school. His lawyer drafted the contract and maintained that the arrangement was completely legal. While it’s convenient if the American company provides educational services, in theory, the contract language—and even name of the American company—can be customized so that the businesses on each side of the Atlantic are comfortable.
Disadvantages: As international wire transfers are not instant, your monthly salary may take some time to arrive in your bank account. In addition, your American colleague must be trustworthy and should report his foreign-earned income to the IRS, offset by the payments in equal amounts made to you, his independent contractor.
In the end, you can call it “hospitality” or “creativity,” but Italians have an uncanny knack for making visitors feel like they belong. Maybe that’s what keeps Americans coming back year after year—in 90-day stints, of course.