Teaching English abroad is one of the most popular ways for people from the United States to live and work in another country. And with over 1.7 billion people learning English around the world, there are opportunities available to qualified teachers in every region of the planet.
Many years ago, when I was a fresh graduate with a shiny English degree, I considered going abroad to teach, and I took an online course to get TEFL certified. One of the countries that I found most appealing was Spain, but I quickly learned that there are some hurdles when it comes to living and working legally in Spain when you are a U.S. citizen.
The United States doesn't have a working holiday agreement with Spain the way Canada does, and it's just about impossible for someone from the US to get a work visa in Spain for teaching English.
There are some people who choose to travel to Spain on a tourist visa, overstay it, and teach under the table. And while this isn't uncommon, it's not something I would want to do or would even recommend. Do you really want to be the one sorry soul who got banned from the EU forever because you decided to chance your luck working illegally?
While I ultimately ended up never teaching abroad, I did a lot of research into the various ways U.S. citizens can teach legally in Spain, so I decided to go ahead and list out some of the more common ways for anyone who is just starting off on their teach-abroad research.
These aren't the only ways to teach legally in Spain, but they are some of the more popular ones, and they are all legitimate.
The Cultural Ambassadors program AKA the North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain (Auxiliar de Conversación)
This is probably the most popular and well-known program for teaching English in Spain. This program is run by the Spanish government, and places native English speakers from the United States or Canada into public schools throughout Spain to work as Conversation Assistants.
Participants spend an entire academic year in Spain, from October to May. Placements are available throughout the country and are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
You can learn more from the official website, here.
This is another program that works to place individuals in schools as Conversation Assistants. You are given a stipend each month, which varies depending on a couple of different factors, including whether or not you choose to do a homestay or live on your own.
Depending on which program you apply to, there are different educational requirements ranging from a degree plus a TEFL certificate (Advanced program) to simply being a native speaker (Speakers program). There is also the intermediate Graduate program. There is no fee and all participants will receive a stipend, though the amount varies depending on which program you are in.
Unlike the government program, which only starts in October, you have the option to start in January.
Visit their website here for more information.
With BEDA, individuals are placed in private Catholic schools around Spain to work as Conversation Assistants. From what I’ve read, most posts are in Madrid. You can reapply to the program each year for up to four years, and can stay at any one school for up to two years. Another feature of this program is that you are required to take a class once a month that typically covers some kind of professional development topic. Applicants need to have a college degree.
See their official website, here.
Another way to live in Spain while teaching English is to get a student visa. There are multiple companies that will help you facilitate getting this setup. One such program is run by the International TEFL Academy, which is where I took my online TEFL course. You can teach in either Barcelona or Madrid for this program. However, in order to do this program you must get your TEFL certificate from ITA, either onsite in Spain, online, or at one of their other international locations.
The price tag for this program is a bit high, but those I have talked to who have done it have generally reported good experiences. Participants will get to take part in professional development courses and cultural activities, and will also receive guidance with applying for the visa, getting set up in Spain, and finding a job.
Other options for teaching legally in Spain?
The programs I have listed here are just a few of the ones designed to allow U.S. citizens to live and work legally teaching English in Spain. There are others, but it is important to always be careful and do your research to make sure any program that you use is legitimate and worth your money.