If you’ve ever looked into the idea of moving abroad, you probably know how truly difficult it can be. Just getting a visa to live and work in a different country can seem almost impossible.
Unless you have authorization to live in that country or you marry someone from there, you must have an employment offer with a company that will sponsor your visa process. Usually, that only works if you’re very skilled in a specific niche or you’re extremely lucky.
For most of us, we have to look at other options if we are really dedicated to living abroad. Once I had the initial idea that this was what I wanted, I began researching ways I could make it happen.
I was very surprised at how much information I was able to find about this. Clearly I wasn’t the only one to ever think of it. Soon, I stumbled upon several blog posts written by other Americans who managed to successfully make the move.
The majority of them were able to get their visa through an English teaching program. After some looking around, I discovered that there are so many programs in several countries that are looking for English teachers. It was very hard for me to make a decision, but soon I decided that Spain was the best choice.
There are multiple different programs to do this work in Spain. The details and requirements are different for each of them. Some have different working hours or pay scales, others require a payment from you or a special teaching certification in order to participate.
The most popular program in Spain is the North American Language and Culture Assistants program through the Spanish Ministry of Education. This program is free to apply and they do not require a teaching certification. I figured that this would be perfect and as it’s the only program I have personal experience with, it is the one I’ll be talking about in this post.
This program goes directly through the government and brings thousands of English speakers to Spain every year. The reason why I chose this specific program is because it doesn’t require any payment and they have the most available spots, so I believe it is the easiest to be accepted into. The reason I chose to live in Spain is because of the amazing culture. I actually have a whole post dedicated to why I love Spanish culture.
Hours and Pay
Assistants in this program work either 12 hours per week for 700 euros or, in Madrid, they work 16 hours a week for 1000 euros/month. Since we live in Madrid, our situation is the latter. We are paid by stipend at the end of the month and, because we are technically on a “paid internship,” there are no taxes taken out. Of course, the working hours are extremely appealing. The 16 hours are spread over four days a week, meaning every weekend is a three day long break.
Something that concerned me initially was only making 1000 euros a month. I was not sure how I would be able to support myself and travel making this much. After almost nine months, I can assure you, that it is plenty of money to live off in Spain.
The cost of living here is much lower than the United States. Food is very affordable, fresh and amazing. We usually spend around 20 euros, including drinks for two when we go out to eat. Obviously, Madrid is a bit pricier than other parts of Spain as it is a big city. That’s also why in Madrid you will work more hours and be paid more.
Something that most Assistants do with all of their extra time off is teach private English lessons. This can be done either online with a company like VIPKid (click the link for more info) or in person. Being a native English speaker is a huge advantage in Europe as it’s the second language that everyone wants to learn. You can make 20 euros/hour or more doing private English lessons with children or even adults in Spain who want to improve their skills. Sometimes, you can even do a language exchange and learn some Spanish while you’re at it!
Also, Madrid is the only community where the Assistants work from October to the end of June. In other regions, they only work October to the end of May. This means that if you plan to stay and participate in this program for several years, you will have one less month during the summer to have to budget for or find additional work.
Apartment Living and Travel
The rent for apartments here is also quite cheap. Most people just rent a room in a shared apartment for a few hundred euros. Others, like us, rent an entire apartment. Our’s is one bedroom and we pay only 750 euros a month, in a great neighborhood near the Madrid center. Luckily we are able to split all of the costs, and we have plenty of money left over each month for at least one trip within Europe.
A great aspect of living in Europe is that traveling around is so easy and affordable. Most people know that the European Union has open borders, so you can travel around freely. Also, there are several low-budget airlines in Europe that make flying extremely cheap. This is perfect for Assistants, like us, who plan to do lots of traveling while they’re here.
Living abroad offers so many opportunities. Obviously, traveling is at the top of everyone’s list, but the work as an English Assistant is also very rewarding. I have built great relationships with the students at my school and I can see how much I’m impacting their lives. They love asking me questions about the United States and it’s easy to see their language skills improving over time. I know many people apply to this program for the ability to live in Spain and travel, but if the teaching aspect is something you care about, you will thoroughly enjoy your whole experience.
That being said, I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t mention a few negatives of this program. One of them being the crazy disorganization of the Ministry. Spanish bureaucracy is known by foreigners as being a bit if a disaster. It is super delayed and will make you want to rip your hair out at times.
For example, I applied for the program in February, received my regional placement of Madrid in June, and then didn’t actually get assigned to my school until 8 p.m. on September 30th, A.K.A.- the night before my first day of work. I had to leave my job at home, my apartment and family behind, pack up my whole life and move to a new country without even knowing what school or where I was going to be working at yet. This was extremely frustrating, as you can imagine. Luckily, it worked out in the end.
Another issue that I’ve heard many people having is not being paid on time. The way payments work is that the Ministry gives the autonomous regions the payments and then it is up to the region to distribute them to the schools. There are some regions that are known for paying their Assistants several months late. Obviously, this could be infuriating and cause a lot of financial hardship on someone who just moved their whole life to a new country. I can only speak for my personal experience on this one, so I will say that in Madrid, I was always paid on time.
The last bit of negativity I have is that many people seem to have issues with their schools, whether it’s drama with other teachers, the school not following the rules of the contract or something else. I’ve learned that in order to not be walked all over in Spain, you absolutely MUST speak up for yourself. This was so hard for me at times because I’m a very shy person, but people in Spain are not. They are going to be very direct and sometimes seem rude to you. This is one of the many cultural differences between the US and Spain. It’s going to be difficult, but you can’t take it personally and you have to speak up if something is not right or not what you agreed to. Okay, enough about that.
I hope I didn’t scare anyone away. If you’re still here and want to learn more about how to apply, keep reading!
The requirements to be a Language and Cultural Assistant though the Ministry in Spain are pretty basic. After you fill out an online application, you must submit some documents to prove you meet the requirements. These requirements are:
- Be a native English speaker
- Have a bachelor’s degree in any subject
- Cover letter
- Letter of recommendation from your university. If you graduated more than three years ago, this can be from your employer.
The applications for the Ministry program are usually open from January to the end of April each year. If this program is something that interests you, head over to the official website to find more information.
As always, if you are curious about this program or if you have any questions, I’m happy to help! Leave a comment or send me an email!
What do you think of living abroad? Does the idea of teaching English and traveling through Europe sound enticing to you? Let me know your thoughts below!