Teaching opportunities

Working as a teacher in Spain

Teaching opportunities

For many expatriates, teaching in Spain means only one thing: teaching English as a foreign language. Although this is a popular option, and an area where there’s considerable demand and opportunity, there are other teaching avenues available and this chapter looks at some of them.

Teaching an art or craft is one. Another is joining the staff of an international school, teaching in English or Spanish.

Information about teaching English as a foreign language for EU and non-EU citizens and how to obtain the relevant qualifications and find a job in a language school is followed by the experiences of two women who have taken things a step further and opened their own language school. There are details of how to go about giving private lessons on a freelance basis, which is an increasingly popular option with expatriates.

Teaching English

Teaching English as a foreign language is a route that many English-speakers choose, at least initially, to make a living in Spain. Whether you’re a young graduate wanting experience of another country and culture, someone planning to live and work in Spain long term, or a professional taking a career break who wants to try something different, teaching English can be a relatively easy way to earn a living.

At the very least, it’s a useful stopgap until you become more established and a great way to make contacts with both English-speakers and Spanish people when you’re new to the country. What’s more, teaching English is one job where you really don’t need any Spanish. In fact, one language school owner said that it was a definite advantage if you couldn’t lapse into Spanish and help your pupils out.

Teaching English to children is a major growth area as a result of the government’s initiative to introduce English as early as possible into the Spanish curriculum. From September 2004, the teaching of English in public primary schools became compulsory from the age of six and the Spanish government has worked in partnership with the British Council for many years to encourage the teaching of English through an integrated curriculum in some Spanish infant schools. In the past, students were mainly adults who needed to learn for business or social reasons and, although that’s still a significant market, teaching children, or English for Young Learners (EYL), is becoming almost as important if not more so. If you think that might be an area for you, make sure you’re properly trained and qualified in this specialist area. The website of the British Council (www.britishcouncil.org ) has details of teaching English to young learners in Spanish schools as well as privately and in specialist language schools.

Non-EU Citizens

EU citizens who are native English-speakers have a big advantage when it comes to teaching English in Spain because, unlike non-EU citizens, they can live and work in Spain without a visa. Unfortunately, EU regulations make it almost impossible for an employer to legally take on a non-EU citizen. Many language schools therefore hire non-EU citizens with just a tourist visa and there are plenty willing to work that way, although it’s illegal. To work legally and stay longer than three months in Spain, the time limit for a tourist visa, you must have a work permit and residence visa, but most employers aren’t willing to go through the complicated procedure required to employ you legally.

If you’re serious about teaching English in Spain and are a non-EU citizen, make sure you have impressive qualifications and that extra something to persuade your prospective employer that you’re worth all the paperwork. Remember that if you originally come to Spain on a tourist visa you must return to your home country and present yourself in person at a Spanish embassy or consulate to obtain a work permit and residence visa. A useful and informative website, especially for non-EU expatriate English teachers, is www.expatriatecafe.com .

Qualifications & Courses

The qualifications you need to teach English as a foreign language are a mass of confusing initials. Most people have heard of TEFL, but there’s also TESOL and CELTA. To confuse the situation further, TEFL and TESOL aren’t in fact qualifications at all, although many people refer to them as if they were. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and TESOL for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. The two are effectively the same thing and refer to the profession rather than any qualifications.

Qualifications in TEFL or TESOL are offered by numerous organisations. If you plan to teach adults, as is most likely to be the case, the qualification you need is the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA). Many institutions offer a CELTA course, but the ‘gold standard’ is the Cambridge CELTA certificate. Cambridge courses are slightly more expensive, but it’s worth paying the extra, as the certificate is highly regarded in the industry and some language schools insist on it. Cambridge CELTA courses are designed by individual centres in accordance with specifications produced by the English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) section of the University of Cambridge Examination Board, whose website (www.cambridgeesol.org ) has details of locations and a sample syllabus.

To take the CELTA, you must be at least 20 and have a good standard of English and of general education, at least similar to what’s expected to enter higher education. Accredited Cambridge courses are available worldwide, so you can obtain the qualification in your home country or in Spain. CELTA courses can be done full- or part-time but they’re challenging and time-consuming. A full-time course takes four to five weeks of intensive study and assessed teaching practice, while a part-time course takes from a few months to year or more depending on how much spare time you have. For each course, you must complete 120 hours of teaching (known as ‘contact hours’) and a further 80 hours or more of assignments and lesson planning. Prices for are around €1,400 for full- and part-time courses.

Once you’ve obtained a CELTA, you can undertake more specialised extension courses so that you can teach business English or English to young learners, which will make your services more marketable. Teaching English to young learners is a completely different skill from teaching adults. Lynn Durrant, a CELTA course trainer at International House in Barcelona for more than ten years and a tutor on their Young Learner courses, says: “It’s absolutely vital that you’re trained specifically to teach young learners. It helps to give you an insight into their behaviour and what they’re capable of learning at particular stages.”

It’s possible to take an online or DVD-based course, such as those offered by the UK company i-to-i (www.onlinetefl.com ) and the US Department of Education-approved Bridge Linguatec Language Services (www.teflonline.com ), whose course takes just 40 hours and cost from aprox. $295. The problem with internet courses is that you cannot gain practical experience, which is a major disadvantage when it comes to getting a job. The more practical experience you have, the better; this will tip the scales in your favour more than any certificate or qualification.

Finding a job

If you’re looking for a job teaching English in a language school in Spain, timing is everything. The main recruiting period is usually from around mid-August with interviews in September for courses starting in late September or early October. The other popular time is January, when some teachers don’t return after the Christmas holiday, leaving schools with vacancies they didn’t expect to have. Start taking your CV around the schools you’re interested in a month or so before you want to start work. Language schools usually prefer you to be living in Spain when you apply, because so many people accept jobs and then return to their home country, never to be seen again.

Jobs are harder to come by in the big cities, as they continue to be favourite destinations for prospective teachers, so it’s an employer’s market. One former English teacher in Barcelona said that every second person she met seemed to be an English teacher, so it’s vital to have as much teaching experience as possible to be able to compete. Rates of pay depend on the area: for example, in a small village with only one school you can sometimes earn more than in a big city, where your skills are less in demand. A good rate is around €12.50 per hour, although many schools pay only around €10 and some as little as €8. Most schools will offer you a temporary contract, so that they don’t have to pay you during holidays, especially the long summer holiday, so bear that in mind when you’re budgeting. Permanent contracts in language schools are rare.

A number of language schools operate on a precarious financial basis. Some offer few or no teaching resources to help their staff do their job properly and fail to pay wages on time, if at all. Recently there have been several well publicised language school closures, leaving teachers out of pocket and having to find alternative employment. It’s therefore advisable to apply to one of the larger, more established schools with a good reputation.

There are plenty of resources to help you find a job teaching English in Spain, including the following:

  • British Council  The British Council (www.britcoun.org ) has offices in Madrid and Barcelona and organises English teaching at schools throughout.Spain.
  • Internet – There are numerous useful websites to look at, including www.segundamano.es , a classified advertisements portal. The Barcelona Online site (www.barcelona-online.com ), sponsored by International House language school, is a useful resource for those looking in the Barcelona area, as are the Barcelona Connect site (www.barcelonaconnect.com ), which contains the Barcelona Connect magazine, and www.absolutebarcelona.com , a classified advertisements portal.
  • Language Schools – You can approach schools directly, and the school that trained you may have a recruitment programme. International House (www.ihmadrid.es ) has schools all over Spain.
  • Newspapers & Magazines – The national newspaper El Pais has advertisements for teachers under the heading Trabajo – Idiomas. In Barcelona, the La Vanguardia newspaper is an excellent resource, especially the Sunday edition. Each of the Costas and main islands has local newspapers, both English-language and Spanish, where you can find details of local language schools and place an advertisement offering private lessons.
  • Universities – It’s worth checking the notice boards in universities to find students (and possibly teachers) who want private lessons. The city of Valencia is home to one of the largest universities in Spain, so there’s no shortage of students who need to learn English to increase their employment possibilities once they graduate.
  • Yellow Pages – Language schools, academies and institutes are listed in the yellow pages ( paginas amarillas) under Escuelas de Idiomas.

Private Teaching

Teaching on a private basis can be a precarious way of making a living, and it’s wise to have another string to your bow until you become established. Whether you’re planning to teach English or offer private tutoring of any kind to either children or adults, you must register yourself for self-employed taxation ( autónomo) and social security. Remember that, once you’re registered, you must pay social security every month, irrespective of the amount you’ve earned, plus 20 per cent tax on any earnings.

There are plenty of opportunities for those offering private teaching in Spain. In the big cities, university notice boards are a good place for advertisements, as well as local newspapers and magazines. Private language lessons are often popular with adults, especially when they begin to learn a language and prefer not to make their mistakes in front of a class full of people. If you prefer to teach children, many expatriate parents in Spain are anxious about their children’s academic progress, whether they attend a Spanish school or an international school and are happy to have their children tutored in languages or other subjects if they think it will help them.

Art Teaching

If you’re a talented artist seeking inspiration from the beautiful light and landscapes of Spain, you could consider giving painting or drawing lessons. Andalusia and Catalonia are the regions that attract most of those offering lessons and potential students. If you’re thinking about setting up this type of course, make sure you research the area you’re interested in and your potential customer base thoroughly. Budding artists often want traditional Spain, quiet locations and stunning landscapes as opposed to big cities and the hustle and bustle of coastal areas.

Joy Fahey, an artist working in Marbella, is registered as self-employed and offers art courses and workshops in Andalusia. She finds that these complement her own painting: “However skilled an artist you are, it’s practically impossible to make a living here just by selling your work. So I decided to supplement my income by teaching. I’ve loved teaching art ever since I studied art therapy many years ago. I think painting is a fantastic release valve for all the stresses and strains of life.” Joy has now been teaching in Spain for three years and remembers that her very first class had a solitary student! She has since built that up to over 50 students, although she says that she has a core group of around 20 who keep coming back. She runs two classes per week and has just been joined by another artist who helps with her workshops.

“You need to work hard at advertising,” says Joy. “When I started, I advertised in the English-language press and gave out leaflets in what I thought were relevant areas.” Now she finds that word of mouth is her most effective form of advertising, but she still works hard to keep the customers coming. The transient nature of the expatriate community means that students come and go for no particular reason and so it’s almost impossible to predict her earnings. She has recently advertised in art magazines in the UK and is waiting to see the response. “Make sure you have plenty of money to live on, particularly when you first arrive. Then, once you start earning, get into the habit of saving a little, for the inevitable lean times, which are a fact of life here. Everyone experiences them at some time or another.”

International schools

There’s a growing number of international schools in the big cities and coastal areas of Spain. As the expatriate population gets younger, so the need for international schools increases. Coastal areas in particular are seeing a massive influx of young families, arriving to start a new life in Spain and, for most parents, one of their greatest worries is the kind of education their children will receive in Spain. While many expatriate parents opt to have their children (especially younger ones) educated in the Spanish system, others prefer to submit them to the UK or US-style curriculum offered in international schools. In addition, there’s a growing demand from Spanish parents who want their children taught in English, especially during their early years of schooling, allowing them the kind of fluency that’s impossible to achieve from the English lessons they would receive in a Spanish school. This entire means that there’s a demand for well qualified, native English-speaking teachers in all subjects.


It’s important to check the kind of curriculum that a particular international school operates. For instance, some ‘British’ schools may closely follow the UK curriculum, offering the same exams as schools in the UK. However, they aren’t obliged to do so, and some adapt the curriculum according to the needs of their pupils. Some offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum, others a mixture of the two. One teacher, who has many years’ experience and is currently teaching in a top international school in southern Spain, pointed out some unexpected difficulties: “The pupil base of an international school is naturally transient, which means that pupils are arriving and leaving with more frequency than they would in a school in the UK. You’re constantly trying to adapt lesson plans to accommodate all levels of ability.” Her advice is that you shouldn’t assume that, just because a school operates a British curriculum, teaching there will be the same as teaching in the UK. “Always expect the unexpected and be prepared for it. Have plenty of your own resource material available and learn to be laid back, but not to the point of disorganisation. Most important of all, enjoy the experience.”


If you teach a subject other than Spanish, it’s possible to work in an international school without speaking much Spanish. However, if you want to make the most of your experience in Spain, the recommendation from those who have done it are clear: “Of course you can get away without speaking Spanish in a popular expatriate area,” says one teacher. “I know many who have been here for years and only have the basics. All I can say is, they don’t realise what they’re missing out on.”


You must have a degree in your subject and a recognised teaching qualification, e.g. a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in the UK. Members of Council of International Schools require at least two years’ teaching experience, but this may vary from school to school, depending on the competition.

Finding Work

If you’re interested in this kind of opportunity, the Times Educational Supplement (TES) is a good place to start, as vacancies for the top international schools are usually advertised there. The TES  also has a comprehensive website (www.tesjobs.co.uk ), which includes a Working Abroad section and details of new jobs both in the UK and abroad; new vacancies are posted on the website every Friday. There are several other websites where you can find useful information about teaching abroad and contact details of schools in the area you’re interested in. The site run by the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS, www.nabss.org ) has alphabetical and geographical listings of all its members, and that of the Council of British Independent Schools in the European Communities (COBISEC, www.cobisec.org ) has a section on Spain and one with vacancies for teachers (although this is throughout the world, not just Spain).

This article is an extract from Making a Living in Spain. Click here to get a copy now.

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Other comments

  • Claudio, 23 January 2013 Reply

    Work in Spain as a English teacher

    I experienced a good experience as an English teacher at the school http://www.idiomas247.com/ Because the number of lessons they give is huge in a day, English teachers are constantly required.