I started teaching English abroad nearly three years ago. I spent two years in the beautiful city of Budapest, Hungary, and am now in Madrid, Spain. The two countries could not be more different in culture, but that is why I chose to do this in the first place, and why I decided to teach English in Spain.
Navigating contrasting cultures is a true challenge, so what are the perks of teaching abroad?
→ Experiencing cultures
→ Watching students grow in confidence and skill
→ Witnessing your own (sometimes slow) progress in cultural acclimation
→ Challenging yourself and, in the process, learning more about who you are
So, if you have ever considered teaching abroad, do it! If you have the option to take a year off or if you’re looking for a change a pace, it’s a great way to shake things up.
You can teach almost anywhere in the world, but if your heart is set on the Iberian Peninsula, here’s how to teach English in Spain.
How to Teach English in Spain
1 | Choose your program
Spain is a large country, one with several programs to help you establish yourself as an ESL teacher. These include the government’s ministry program, as well as several private programs. Let’s look at the most popular options in a little more depth.
• Language and Cultural Assistants, Ministry of Education
Your new identity is an “auxiliar”. Each year, the Spanish government places thousands of “auxiliares” from English-speaking countries into schools across nearly all regions. It’s the easiest program in which to apply, due to its first-come, first-serve structure. Basically, if you get your application in early and you meet the very simple requirements, you’ll be placed in a teaching assistant position. If you’re gunning for a particular region, then apply early.
The application is in Spanish, but the process is simple enough and Google Translate can be your friend. The best advice I received when applying was to upload all information on the first day the application process opens. Even if you haven’t written your personal statement or received your letter of recommendation, for example, then just upload a blank document and return later to edit your application. This will secure your spot in line, which is very important when applying with the Ministry. The better your number, the better chance of being placed in your region of choice.
Application Period: January – April
Timeline: October – May (some regions differ)
Hours Worked: 12 – 16 (depending on placement)
Salary: 700€ a month (1,000€ for placements in Madrid)
BEDA is a private program that places teachers into private, often religious schools. Being religious is not a requirement, but just be honest with your comfortability and expectation. As long as you apply by the deadline, you will be considered; but in order to proceed with the process, you’ll need to interview.
Application Period: November – January
Timeline: September – June
Hours Worked: up to 23
Salary: 800€ – 1200€ depending on placement and hours worked
*Requires a fee of 175€, but it’s to cover classes at a university
Meddeas is another private program, but one specifically for recent graduates. Placements vary throughout the country and most English classes are split into small groups. You will also work with teachers at your school, helping to build their conversational skills. The deadline for applications is open all-year, and you can choose between a half or full-year placement.
Application Period: year-round
Timeline: September – June or January – July
Hours Worked: 20
Salary: 300€ – 900€ depending on housing (independent or family)
UCETAM is a private program that places teachers into cooperative bilingual schools in the city of Madrid, as well as smaller villages in the greater community. It pays the most, but also requires more hours of work. I applied to all of these programs, but ended up choosing UCETAM in the end. This is because of the higher pay scale, but also because I wanted to work in an international school and teach subject-based English in addition to ESL. It completely depends on the school in which you are placed, but I was able to teach science, math, and ESL. But, be warned that they are looking for experienced teachers, which is why they pay more. You also have no say in where you’ll be placed, so I spent my year in a town of about 1,000 people and didn’t love it (I didn’t hate it either, I just didn’t love it).
Application Period: January 15 – February 15
Timeline: September – June
Hours Worked: 18 or 26
Salary: 1,000€ – 1,300€ depending on hours
2 | Get your documents in order
In order to teach ESL with any of the programs above, you will need to apply for a student visa for Spain. If you want to work as an ESL teacher, you must secure your student visa prior to entering the country. If you are from the US, you will need to make an appointment with the Spanish embassy/consulate that serves your region. But in order to apply, you will need the following documentation:
→ Job contract from your program (“carta”)
→ Medical certificate from your doctor (translated)
→ Background checks from any country where you resided within the past five years (translated and notarized)
→ Valid passport
→ Proof of transportation to Spain
Now, there are a few tricks of the trade. First, consulates tend to fill appointments months in advance, so get started early. Your medical certificate and background checks will need to be no older than three months when you apply. So do the math and get these two out of the way as soon as you can. You want to have everything ready so that the moment you receive your job contract, you can apply at the embassy. Obtaining these documents, as well as translating and notarizing them, takes time. You want to have all your ducks in a row in case something goes awry.
Such as these common issues:
· The embassy is too far away!
There are only 9 Spanish consulates/embassies in the U.S.. Therefore, yours could be a flight away. If you don’t have the option to book an expensive flight just to submit paperwork (on top of an international flight to Spain), then contact your consulate/embassy and ask if you can apply by mail. Some will let you (not all) so call early, plead your case, and don’t be afraid to beg.
· There are no appointments available until after my start date!
So you waited too long to make an appointment, and the next available one is October 5 and you’re expected to be in Spain on October 1 (for example). Although the best thing to do is make an appointment far in advance (but only within 3 months of your departure), don’t panic. You have some options. First, check back on your embassy’s website everyday, multiple times a day. If someone cancels an appointment, it’ll pop up as available and you’ll want to snag it. If that doesn’t seem to be working, call your embassy and grovel. Explain your situation and beg for forgiveness. If you catch someone on a good day, they could make a spot for you. Or if all else fails, just show up and wait. Chances are someone will be a no-show or the person at the desk will take pity on you.
· My appointment is tomorrow and I STILL haven’t received my “carta”!
Your “carta” is your job offer. In order to apply for the visa, you must have this document stating that you are hired and have employment in Spain. The private programs will give you this paper with plenty of time to spare, but some people run into issues with the government ministry program. The carta can be late, and without it, there is no point in going to your appointment. Ideally, you made your appointment at least three months in advance, but each month that passes without receiving the carta, make a new appointment and cancel your old one. You might have to do this numerous times, but you do not want to be in this no-carta situation. So always try to have an appointment at least two months out (even if this means scheduling/canceling five times). Of course, if your flight leaves October 1, you can’t push your appointment later than your departure, which is why you shouldn’t make a flight until you have your documents (see next point).
· My flight is tomorrow and I STILL haven’t received my carta!!
Do not make a flight until you have your documentation. I know it’s scary to watch ticket prices increase, but you cannot go to Spain to teach ESL without your visa. So until you receive your carta, have your documents in order, and have a scheduled appointment with your consulate (or have arranged things by mail) do not book your flight.
3 | Determine your budget
Perhaps you had a slight panic attack reading the salaries above. Believe it or not, you will live fine on 700€ a month in Spain. It won’t be anything fancy and perhaps your savings account will take a year off, but you can survive. 700€ is also the lowest salary, but associated with the lowest number of hours. Most schools in the ministry program will ask you to only work 3-4 days a week. This gives you plenty of time to make extra cash by tutoring, either within your community or online. In fact, because you have lower hours of teaching, some auxiliares in the ministry can make more than those in private programs.
Everything depends on where you are placed. If you’re in a city, cost of living is higher than in smaller villages. You’ll probably need to live with a roommate (see next point), so plan on spending between 200€ – 500€ in rent. Food is affordable, including street food and drinks, and don’t forget to save a little for exploring the country.
4 | Find a roommate
Sorry to burst your introvert bubble, but you will most likely need to find a roommate or two (or three!). There are several websites and Facebook groups to help. It’s very common to have roommates in Spain, and really it’s almost an essential part of the experience. So unless you can dip into your savings, start the roommate search as soon as you land.
And no sooner than that! That’s because, unfortunately, there are housing scams in Spain. Every year, numerous unsuspecting auxiliares get tricked into paying for housing that either doesn’t add up to the promise, or simply doesn’t exist. The general rule to follow is never pay upfront. Look first, then rent. You will find a place, I promise, so just practice patience and get an Airbnb for the first week or so. (Smaller towns can be an exception, but still listen to your gut and try not to pay too much upfront.)
5 | Brush up on those language skills
Many people ask if knowing Spanish is a requirement. The short answer is no. Even if the program recommends it, you will be totally fine without knowing the language. And it might even be for the best, considering how much the language and dialects differ throughout Spain. You can come in with a fresh slate ready to absorb all the colloquial goodness. With that being said, however, your experience will be far more enhanced if you can speak a little Spanish (or Catalan or Basque!). So either learn the basics before you go or take classes once you get here. It’ll be worth your time.
6 | Join a Facebook group
Applying for the programs, trying to figure out your visa, coordinating travel … it’s nice to have a community to help support all of this. So join one of the numerous groups on Facebook where you can connect with people who have already done all of it and can answer your questions. It’s also a great way to make connections with others before arriving to Spain, maybe even splitting the cost of a temporary rental as you house-hunt, or at least grabbing a caña.
· Auxiliares in Spain (there are many regional groups as well)
7 | Get into the Spanish mindset
This could very well be the most important point of them all. The fact is that Spain operates differently than your home country. Its culture is very distinct and traditional in many ways. Don’t expect things to work the way you are used to … welcome to the world of being a foreigner! It takes time to acclimate, but be patient, and forgive yourself, and you will adapt. If you can understand that the challenges you will face in Spain are not personal and will take time to navigate, then you will be in a better position. And if it still feels tough come May, consider giving it a second year. The second year is always easier and more rewarding than the first.