Teaching English in Barcelona
Only the Strong Survive
Barcelona is a fabulous city with sunny weather, a laid-back style, and Mediterranean views. There are plenty of people who want to live here, but few people who end up staying for very long. This is because, like many other big cities, Barcelona is expensive and hard to find well-paying work in, especially now with the economic crisis.
Those who speak some Spanish and English as their native language still may have a chance at making it in the Catalan Capital. But let me say right now—only the strong survive. If you have a European passport or work visa, then finding a position in one of Barcelona’s many language schools should be relatively easy (although many schools were hiring less in 2009 because of low enrollment due to high unemployment in the country).
If you do not have permission to live and work in Europe (that applies to most people from the United States and Canada) then welcome to a red-tape nightmare that will make you question your love for Spain and Barcelona many times. You may be thinking that I am coming off a bit pessimistic, and you may be right. Still, after four years in Barcelona and with a Spanish work visa in my hot little hand, I know the ins and outs of working as an English teacher in Spain. From a North American point of view I am here to say, it ain’t easy, but it’s not impossible.
First Thing’s First, Get Certified
So you adore Barcelona and you are determined to stay? Good! Working as an English teacher in Barcelona is never going to make you rich, but it will pay your bills and give you a flexible work schedule. While there are plenty of folks who offer conversation classes and have no formal training, this is not the way to go in the current economic climate. Nowadays, there are plenty of teachers in Barcelona with experience, training and degrees, and in order to complete with them you need to have a teaching certificate.
TEFL and CELTA are the most well known ESL teacher training programs. TEFL is more common among North Americans and CELTA is more common among those from the United Kingdom. When I decided to become a certified English teacher, I opted for the CELTA because it was regarded as slightly more prestigious and focused on teaching Business English, which is what I wanted to go into (other programs are offered if you are interested in teaching children).
You can take CELTA or TEFL courses in many locations around the world but if you are interested in teaching in Barcelona, then consider taking the course in Barcelona. This way, while you are learning how to explain the difference between a preposition and the past participle you can also be setting up your new life in this exciting and at times, overwhelming city.
CELTA courses in Barcelona are offered throughout the year at International House in the center of the city. This intensive 1-month long training is just as rigorous and demanding as it says it is on the International House website. It’s not easy! Those who complete the course will be exhausted, but ready to tackle the many grammatical questions students will throw their way, plus have some idea of where to look for a job and the overall business side of teaching English.
Now That You Are Certified
With your CELTA or TEFL teaching certificate and zippy resume, start emailing schools in Barcelona and the surrounding areas (see job forum listed below). If you do not have a work visa, then you should mention that right away so as not to waste your time. Most of the schools in Barcelona will not hire people without work visas because it is illegal and poses too much of a risk for them. But some schools do not care, and will hire you and pay you under the table. Usually, the more high-profile a school is, the less likely they are to hire someone without a visa. Some of the smaller schools may overlook your legal status.
Those without work visas may also want to offer private classes to small groups or just one-on-one. When I began teaching I started out doing private classes and I have never gone back. I like the personal relationships I build with my students and the flexibility of being my own boss—which combines nicely with freelance writing. However, teaching private classes is not for everyone. If you go this route you will need to have your own materials, books, ideas and be a self-starter who is very organized. The other perk to teaching privately is that you can set your own price (though most private teachers in Barcelona charge between 20 and 40 Euros an hour).
If You Have Got It, Flaunt It
Like my mother always told me, use what you got! So maybe you do not have a work visa? That is fine. If English is your mother tongue you still have a big advantage. People want you and your accent, so make sure to sell yourself as a native speaker. Be sure to also show off your degrees and titles. Play up your University studies, especially if they are in business or literature/writing, and your TEFL or CELTA grade if it was high.
Flexibility is another big advantage. If you are able to work with adults, children, and teens of all levels, you will be more attractive to schools. Also, if you are open to traveling for classes then you have a better chance of finding work. Traveling to teach without a car in Barcelona can be tiring, however, the city has a great transportation system and most destinations around the metropolis can be reached by train or subway.
Getting a Work Visa
This subject is really another article in of itself, but the basics are as follows: Getting a work visa in Barcelona is a catch-22. You will need a company or school to sponsor you to get the visa, but you will need the visa to get a job in the first place. The process is timely and costly. You will need a lawyer, at least a thousand Euros (if not more) and time. As of right now (2010) the Spanish government is not offering visas to English teachers, but this could change in the future.
Your best option is to contact an emigration lawyer immediately upon arrival in Barcelona, and then follow their advice. Most lawyers will charge between 400 to 600 Euros for the legalization process, paid in parts. It is not a good idea to try to figure out the emigration process on your own, so a skilled lawyer who will help you with the process is worth every penny.