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Teaching English in Spain: How to Get Started

Teaching English in Spain has been a life-changing experience for thousands of teachers who have taken the leap.

New and experienced ESL teachers alike who consider cruzando el charco – a Spanish phrase meaning “crossing the puddle,” in reference to transatlantic travel — have questions about the Spanish ESL work life.

We’ve got answers.  

About Teaching English in Spain

teaching english in spain
One of many famous squares of Spain

Teaching English in Spain is all about having your cake and eating it too – you get to soak in millennia-old, rich European culture without the blistering cold winters you might get further north on the continent.

Combined with relatively low English proficiency (in 2019, Spain ranked 25th place out of a total of 33 European countries in English skills) and the government’s heavy investment in, and prioritization of, ESL education, Spain is a leading destination for ESL work with a booming English-teaching sector and high demand for qualified teachers.

Here are the main urban centers with the greatest concentrations of ESL jobs awaiting the right applicant:

  • Madrid
  • Barcelona
  • Bilbao
  • Alicante
  • Valencia
  • Sevilla
  • Zaragoza
  • Malaga

What are the requirements to start teaching English in Spain?

The exact requirements vary by school type and the individual preferences of hiring managers. However, here are the basic requirements you must likely meet to qualify for a position:

  • University degree. A 4-year bachelor’s degree is generally a bare minimum higher education qualification. Be sure to have scanned copies of your degree as well as transcripts ready before beginning the application process. (You might still be able to find an unpaid ESL position, such as with a volunteer organization, without a university degree.)
  • Native English-speaking status. Native English speakers are generally considered UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South African passport holders.
  • Clean criminal record. In many cases, you’ll be asked to supply a certified criminal background check showing no history of criminal convictions. Minor misdemeanors may not disqualify you from a position, but it’s important to be transparent with potential employers.
  • TEFL certification. This is a big one. You’ll almost certainly need a TEFL certification to prove your ESL bona fides on an application. Learn more on how to get a TEFL certification. For an affordable and flexible self-paced TEFL course option, which you can complete even if you’ve got a busy work or school schedule, consider the 120-hour online course from fully-accredited provider TEFL HERO.

Get Certified to Teach Anywhere!

What’s it like being an English teacher in Spain?

The web is full of memoir-style, detailed descriptions of work-life in Spain. Most are overwhelmingly positive — Spain being famous for its hospitality, warm weather, relaxed work culture, and first-world amenities.

In many ways, adjusting to life in Spain is a lot easier for a Westerner than less economically developed, more foreign destinations, such as Cambodia.

Natalie Danza with a lovely British accent describes her ESL experiences in Spain:

Spaniards are notorious for their mid-day naps, a historical much-welcome respite from the afternoon heat – known as the “siesta.” So if getting some employer-sanctioned shut-eye tickles your fancy, Spain might be ideal.

What visa do you need for teaching English in Spain?

You have several options for visas in Spain. Getting one is markedly more challenging for ESL teachers coming from North America than those from Europe.

Here are a few visa options:

  • Work Visa. EU citizens automatically qualify for visa-free employment in Spain – the “perks of membership,” as they say. Passport holders of non-EU countries must apply for a work visa unless they hold another visa they can use to teach.
  • Student Visa. If you’re North American, unless you dazzle a hiring manager, convincing a Spanish ESL employer to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to get you a work visa in Spain can be difficult. Teaching on a student visa is totally legit in Spain, so that might be your best option if you’re from the US or Canada.
    A Spanish student visa permits the holder to work up to 20 hours per week – conveniently, the industry standard for ESL teaching hours.
  • Working Holiday Visa. Aussies, Canadians, and Kiwis qualify for a working holiday visa – which is exactly what it sounds like, enabling visitors to work while on vacation in Spain for up to a year.

*Note on working on tourist visas: In previous eras, Spain-based ESL teachers commonly worked under the table on tourist visas. The government has recently begun greater enforcement against this technically illegal activity. It’s inadvisable, accordingly, to teach on a tourist visa, as you risk deportation, fines, and even possible jail time.

Types of English teaching jobs in Spain (+ salaries)

Here we’ll take you on a survey of the most popular types of English teaching jobs available in Spain.

ESL Job Type #1: Placement program in a public school

Enrolling in a placement program makes navigating the logistics easier; they find the schools, they onboard you once you arrive in Spain, and they have a network to support you while you work.

Check out ConversaSpain, for example:

teaching english in spain
  • 16 teaching hours per week max
  • Half-year to one-year contracts
  • Ages range from kindergarten to high school
  • Tax-free monthly stipend (€1,000 in Madrid, €875 in Murcia and €700 in Castilla-La Mancha)
  • Healthcare included

A major downside of such programs is that they place teachers in only a few geographical areas, usually major urban centers.

ESL Job Type #2: Private language school

Private language institutions dot the entire Spanish landscape, so you can find a job almost anywhere in Spain if you take the private route.

Here is a recent ad for Barbara’s School in Elche, a midsize city of about 200,000 on the southeast coast:

Some important standout features of private school jobs compared to public schools:

  • Classes are usually in the afternoon/evening
  • Usually involve weekend work
  • Smaller class size

ESL Job Type #3: Summer Camps

English learning doesn’t stop when school ends. Spain, like many countries with strong ESL industries, hosts numerous English summer camps throughout the country.

Here’s one happening in Tarragona

As you can see from the graphic, the requirements to get a job at a summer camp are generally more lenient – you might not necessarily need a degree or other credentials.

Summer camps are ideal networking opportunities for new teachers, as well as ways to maintain an income stream during the offseason.

Teaching English online to supplement income

teach english online
Some teach online to supplement their income

Digital ESL jobs are more plentiful than ever before. It was a booming sector of the ESL industry before the pandemic, and only greatly accelerated as schools worldwide switched to online learning.

Some estimates indicate that the online ESL industry was worth $10 billion in 2021. What that means for you, a work-ready ESL teacher, is that you can easily secure online part-time gigs to supplement your income while in Spain. Consider some of these online ESL jobs

Related: Teach English in France – How to Get a Job This Year

How to find an English teaching job in Spain

You have a handful of options for identifying and nabbing open ESL positions in Spain: a.) referral by professional networking (usually only available to well-established teachers), b.) the online route via job board postings, or c.) physically visiting schools in person.

If you’re currently in your home country, the online avenue is obviously ideal because you can do it from anywhere. If you know which sites to use for the job search, you can easily find dozens of jobs in just a few minutes of browsing.

ESL job boards

Here are a few key places to start the online job search:

  • ESLauthority.com
  • Indeed.com
  •  Linkedin.com
  • TEFL.org
  • Glassdoor.com
  • Eslcafe.com
  • ESLbase.com

It helps to set a realistic goal you can stick to: for example, responding to at least 2-3 online job postings each day.

Government programs

We referenced previously the large Spanish government investment in ESL education. Accordingly, numerous government-sponsored and government-administrated ESL programs offer employment opportunities:

  • North American Language and Culture Assistants Program NALCAP. Known more succinctly locally as “auxiliares de conversación” (“conversation assistants”), the program places native North American English speakers in Spanish classrooms to both teach conversational English and introduce curious students to your native culture. There are roughly 2500 spots available each year. The program runs from October to June.
  • ConversaSpain places auxiliares de conversación teachers in classrooms in Madrid as well as the region of Murica on the Mediterranean coast.
  • Meddeas places teachers in private or charter schools in Spain. Participants receive a monthly stipend as well as immersive training.

Each of these programs is a good opportunity for new ESL teachers without a lot of experience under their belts to get their foot in the door with a reputable organization.

They are ultra-competitive, however.

Paid programs

Paid programs can be good alternatives to government programs – if you find the right one. They do more hand-holding than government programs, and because they are paid, they are easier to enroll in.

One such paid program with a pedigree is Language and Culture Assistants from CIEE. You’ll get an orientation, a week’s hotel stay before finding more permanent housing, and placement at a school where you’ll make about 1,000 euros/month (about $1,100/month) teaching 16 hours per week.

Paid programs offer a softer landing, with more structure and institutional support – so they’re often ideal for first-time travelers with understandable trepidations about making big international moves.

How to get hired

hired in spain

In addition to browsing the web, another option to get hired is to fly to Madrid or Barcelona, or wherever you have your sights set on teaching in Spain, and pound the pavement.

You’d be surprised how many schools are receptive to hearing a pitch from a native ESL teacher who shows up at their doorstep – even if they don’t have an active recruitment campaign, even if they never posted a single job ad.

These hidden gems do exist.

To get really serious, here are the key tactics for an overall effective strategy to find and land your ESL dream job in Spain:

  • Apply for a handful of jobs online each day.
  • Follow up with recruiters/hiring managers after a few days if you don’t hear back – it’s possible you just fell off their busy radar
  • Send a thank-you note after each interview – a few kind words goes a long way
  • Relocate to Spain, if possible. September/October is the hot hiring season.
  • Visit schools in person that you saw ads for online. They are more likely to look favorably on a candidate they can physically see who is already in the country.
  • Visit schools you are interested in that you haven’t seen ads for – you never know if they might be interested in hiring a full-time or part-time native English speaker.

FAQs about teaching English in Spain

If you’re considering a transcontinental (or intracontinental) jump to Spain, you’ve probably got a lot of questions. Let’s cover a few of the many frequently asked questions that prospective ESL teachers in Spain ponder.

Do you need to speak Spanish to teach in Spain?

No. Spanish language skills are an asset for sure, but most schools want an English teacher who will teach in English in a native accent – that’s the big value proposition of a foreign teacher. Many schools also pair teachers with an in-classroom teaching assistant (TA) who speaks the local tongue.

Do you need a degree for teaching English in Spain?

Generally, yes. Unlike in many host destinations, there is no government-mandated requirement for a degree to legally teach English. However, the majority of schools and institutions do require candidates to have a 4-year degree as a baseline requirement.

Do you have to be a native speaker to teach English in Spain?

Generally, yes. Speaking status is the same issue as a degree – it’s not technically a requirement under law, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a job without native speaking status and a passport from a recognized native-speaking country.

Do you need a TEFL to teach English in Spain?

Yes. Increasingly, TEFL certification is a baseline credential for an applicant. Many schools won’t consider a resume lacking TEFL certification from an accredited provider. 

Alternatives to Teaching English in Spain

Teach English in Portugal

Teach English in Poland

Teach English in Italy

Teach English in Germany

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Spain requires a TEFL

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