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An Overview on Teaching English in Spain

Teach English in Spain?

It’s Still Possible, But Only if You Have Ganas

By Kate Doyle

For several years it’s been illegal for language academies and companies in Spain to hire non-E.U. residents who do not have work/residence permits; however, many still hire North Americans and Australians without proper papers. While finding a job is about four times as difficult for an American as it is for a Brit, it is entirely possible if you have ganas (gumption) and the energy and savings for a possibly long job search. If you really wish to teach in Spain, here are some suggestions:

Research your destination. Think about the city size that you’ll be most comfortable with and the surrounding areas you’d like to visit. In general it’s better to start off in a city where the number of schools and companies gives you better odds. Keep in mind that the cost of living is generally lower in southern Spain and highest in Madrid and Barcelona.

Enroll in a teacher-training course in your destination city. This is particularly important if you’ve never taught before. 1-month intensive courses, offered by several large organizations, are rigorous and notoriously difficult. But having a certificate makes getting work easier, and, more importantly, it gives you some know-how in the classroom. Having English as your mothertongue and a great personality does not necessarily make you a good English teacher.

While the course will keep you incredibly busy, you will inevitably become friends with other students in the school. Business contacts develop quickly this way. Bulletin board postings in the language schools are vital, too. It’s unlikely that you’ll have much time to fax or hit the pavement till your course is over, but with minimum effort you could have a list of leads to explore upon finishing.

Another good option or complement to a teacher-training course is a short Spanish class—especially if you have never studied it. You will need Spanish for everything you do here when you’re not teaching English, and it’s another good way to meet people in and around a school. Through either course you can do a family homestay or share an apartment with young Spaniards. Both options can lead to English teaching job leads.

Save money. Academies only offer jobs onsite, so you’ll have to job search here. While the peseta-dollar exchange rate is favorable for Americans, you should still aim to have several thousand dollars at your disposal to cover a basic U.S. healthcare plan while you are away, a teacher training course, and living expenses while you find a job and an apartment. Everyone here, regardless of profession, is paid once a month, so you’ll want to have the first of couple months of rent before you start working. And, of course, you generally won’t get rich teaching English anywhere (though there are exceptions in regions such as Southeast Asia), so it’s nice to have some money available to you for occasional luxuries.

The job hunt. Prepare a special seeking-English-teaching-job resume. Most training courses will advise you on the contents and the accepted European style. Academies receive hordes of resumes; the more succinct and clear yours is, the more you will stand out. Visiting schools in person is best. Be prepared for automatic rejection if you don’t have proper papers, but pay attention to how emphatically the schools say no. In the mad rush of early October, many administrators change their tune. The same holds for employment agencies that place English teachers in companies. If you appear at the right time, they make exceptions.

Working illegally has few disadvantages. It means you don’t sign a contract, and in theory the stability factor is lower. But it also means you don’t pay taxes. In some cases you will be paid in cash, while some schools and agencies will give you a monthly pay-to-bearer check cashable at a designated bank.

When to go. The end of September is the best time to look for work, since hires are made at the last minute possible. August and September, then, are the months to arrive and get settled here so that you’re ready to teach when most schools begin in October.

Language schools offer few classes during the summer, and companies offer none. And, of course, cities slow to a crawl in August, the traditional month of vacations. All this makes it nearly impossible to find work without proper papers.

So yes, a bit of a lio (trouble) awaits you if your American heart is set on teaching on the Iberian penninsula (or in other E.U. countries for that matter), but Americans without credentials can teach in Spain—if they come with enough time and money and inform themselves upon arriving.

Teaching Legally

The tourist time limit throughout the E.U. is three months. To stay longer, technically you must have either a work/residency visa or a student visa.

To obtain a work visa, find a school, employment agency, or company that is willing to petition the Spanish government for your residency/working papers. The employer must prove that a Spanish native cannot do the job adequately. With a huge number of Brits, Scots, and Irish looking for work, very few schools are willing to do this. It takes up to 12 months to complete the process, in which time you must fly to the U.S. to obtain and sign documents.

A student visa, which must be obtained before leaving the U.S., allows you stay a minumum of six months. You must apply in person at a Spanish consulate. You will need a passport valid for a minimum of six months, four recent passport photos, original letter from a school or university saying you are a full-time paid-up student, a letter typed on doctor’s stationery saying that you are in good health, and one of the following (subject to change):

  • A bank account in a Spanish bank demonstrating that you can maintain yourself during your stay in Spain.
  • A notarized letter from your parents assuming full financial support.
  • A letter from a study abroad program assuming full financial responsibility for tuition, room, and board for the length of stay in Spain and proof of having received financial aid covering expenses for tuition, room, board and personal expenses.

Contact the Spanish consulate website for more on visa information.

KATE DOYLE is an English Teacher and writer currently based in Barcelona Spain.