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Teaching English in Madrid, Spain - Q&A with ITA Alumna, Christina Bates
Written by: Christina Bates
Last Updated: January 5, 2021
Okay, this post has been a long time coming, it’s a long read but I get so many questions all the time I figured I’d put them together. So below you will find a total of 18 FAQ’s I receive all the time about teaching English in Madrid, Spain, and my responses - Enjoy!
1. What did you do before teaching English in Madrid?
I’m a Las Vegas girl, born & raised. I went to UNLV and majored in Hospitality & Business. I’ve held various jobs from working front desk at a 5 star hotel, to working in HR and being a recruiter at zappos.com, but my previous role before being an English teacher was working as a Marketing & Events coordinator at a kick ass company called “Rock ’n Roll Wine”. Basically I got paid to drink wine & watch amazing concerts while hosting wine events. Many people thought I was crazy for leaving such a cool and comfortable job.
2. Why did you make the jump?
In March 2016, I took an unforgettable and spontaneous trip to Peru to meet up with a friend. It was then during that trip that I realized two things… How terrible my Spanish was and how much I needed to travel. You see I never really travelled in college, I didn’t study abroad and I had only been out of the US a couple of times. I had always wanted to live abroad and I really wanted to learn Spanish so I was set on making that happen. Even if it meant leaving a fun and comfortable life.
3. Why did you choose Madrid?
Like I mentioned above I wanted to live in a foreign country and specifically a Spanish speaking country so I could learn Spanish. I suppose I could have chosen to live in Latin America, especially since I’m half Colombian, I could have easily moved there and it would have been closer. But I had never really been to Europe and I wanted to get to know it. I chose Madrid over Barcelona or Seville or any other popular Spanish city because I wanted to be able to travel easily throughout the country and to other countries. Being in the center of Spain definitely allows for easy travel. Plus, the Spanish in Madrid is more commonly spoken, I don’t have to worry about learning a different type of language like Basque or Galician. Lastly, there are more job opportunities in the capital of Spain for English teachers than there are in other smaller cities.
4. Why did you choose to get TEFL certified?
I can speak English natively but I had no clue on how to actually teach English. I wanted to make sure that if I was going to sell everything, pack up my bags and move to another country to start a new profession that at least I was prepared to take on the new challenge and that if I didn’t like it, well then at least I tried my best! Thankfully, I fell in love with it. I chose to get TEFL certified here in Madrid at ITA's partner school as opposed to taking the ITA online TEFL course because I know myself and I learn better in a classroom. Plus, I didn’t know anyone before moving to Madrid so when you start the course you’re put into a classroom with other soon to be teachers and close friends. The opportunity to meet new people and have a community of support in a new country is invaluable!
5. Are you on a visa and if so, what was the process like and how long did it take to get it?
Yes, I’m currently on a one year student visa, which I’ll be renewing for the 2nd time now. I know of people who live & work here in Madrid on an expired tourist visa (expires after 90 days) but I’ve heard it makes things much harder. For example, some academies will only hire you if you are legally on a visa here in Madrid so finding a job right away can be difficult and traveling outside the EU Schengen region can be very challenging. I knew I wanted to have the option to travel back to the US whenever needed and I also wanted to be here legally so I didn’t have any issues living & working in Spain so this is why I opted for the student visa.
The process was fairly painless. I decided in March 2016 that I was going to move to Madrid and I moved to Madrid in July 2016. So in less than 4 months I was able to process everything but I will advise you to give yourself as much time as possible. I had to pay extra fees to expedite some documents and I was cutting it really close. Also since I went through ITA for my TEFL certification, they helped me throughout the visa process so it wasn’t that daunting after all.
6. Do you need to speak Spanish?
No. However, it definitely helps if you have some basic knowledge before you arrive. It makes setting up a phone, bank account, finding an apartment, etc. much easier. Download DuoLingo, read some blogs on how to say some phrases in Spanish when doing any of the above and get ready to be surrounded by Spanish! Yes, there’s a lot of English spoken here too but not as much as you would think…hence why we have a job. So get uncomfortable and dive head first into the language, it’s a beautiful thing.
7. How did you find housing?
I arrived about a week and a half before my TEFL course started. Luckily, my TEFL course set me up in a private Facebook group of our soon-to-be classmates and I had connected with a few of them before arriving. One of them found a 3-bedroom apartment looking for a temporary renters to only rent the rooms out while they were away for summer for a couple months (they were auxiliary English teachers). This was ideal because I was able to rent a room (which I only saw pictures of prior) in the city centre on a discounted rate (€325 per month) for just a couple months. If you get this kind of opportunity and you trust the people, take it. Because finding a room to rent in Madrid is CRAZY no matter when you arrive.
Since my room was only for a couple months it gave me time to explore other neighborhoods and get an idea of what I was looking for. After the two months I found my next “official” apartment by using an app called “Badi” here in Madrid. It basically functions as a roommate finder. People post the rooms they are renting out and create a profile. You then create a profile and share what type of room you’re looking for. I found a room for rent with a Spanish brother and sister and I ended up moving in with them. Since then I’ve moved a couple more times but I can finally say I’m pretty comfortable in my current apartment.
8. How did you find a job? What is the ESL market like? Any tips?
During my last week of the TEFL course in Madrid, they offered a resume review and had sign up sheets for interviews with various language academies. I signed up for a few that taught adults and had the interviews later that week. I was hired by a language academy on the same day I interviewed with them and started working with them the following week. I’ve since switched language academies but I’ve always taught business adults in company. There is a high demand for English teachers here in Spain and specifically in the bigger cities like Madrid and Barcelona.
My best advice would be to get TEFL certified, it’s surprising how many academies look highly at the certification. Tailor your resume to any previous coaching or teaching experience you may have had. Send it out to as many academies and job sites as possible and customize your message to those who you really want to impress. Lastly, network as much as possible once you get here. Dive into the expat community and find other teachers, ask where they are working and if they can refer you. It never hurts to ask!
9. Can you make enough money teaching in Madrid to live comfortably and pay off student loans, travel, etc.?
Yes and no. On average you make around €1,000 per month working about 20 hours a week. You obviously can make more if you work more or earn a bit more. But most academies pay around €11-17 per hour to non-EU citizens. If you’re an EU citizen lucky for you because you don’t have to get a visa and you can make more per hour. Since Spain is relatively cheap to live in you can live comfortably on this salary. However, if you’re looking to pay off student loans or have some extra cash to travel it can be a bit tougher because it’s a break even country. You’ll have to find a higher paying job (not easy to come by) and/or work more than 20+ hours a week but its possible!
10. How can I prepare before the big move?
Get TEFL certified, brush up on some Spanish, spend as much time as possible with your friends & family and pack lightly then just get ready for a whole new life!
11. How much should I save before I move to Madrid?
I would recommend saving enough money to be able to support yourself for the first 2-3 months (around 2-3k). You have to take into account you’ll be moving, looking for a place to live, trying to find a job and once you find one they don’t pay you until the end of the month so definitely plan for that. The more money you have saved, the easier the transition will be. Also, don’t spend it all once you arrive. Try to budget and be smart about where you spend your money in the first few months. Although, a quick weekend trip to Ibiza might sound enticing, don’t splurge and go crazy. Ok, maybe a little but trust me on this one, you’ll need that money later.
12. What do you know about the other teaching government programs like auxilares, beda, meddeas, ucetam, caps etc.?
Not a whole lot to be honest. I have a few friends who are or have done the auxiliares program and some like it and others don’t. The main reason I decided I didn’t want to go that route was because I wanted to be able to control as much of the process as possible, plus I didn’t want to teach kids. The thing with those programs, while it might be a more less expensive route, it’s completely up to luck where you get placed and who you end up teaching. This can make or break your teaching experience. I’ve had some friends get placed in the Madrid area and other gets placed an hour and a half away. Some love their schools, others have had a not so pleasant experience because they have to do a lot more than just be an assistant teacher. It’s completely based on luck.
13. How do you become a TEFL teacher and is it as amazing as it sounds?
When I was doing my research on how to live and work in Spain, I kept coming across the TEFL certification and the number one recommended academy to get certified with was “International TEFL Academy” so I reached out to them and they provided me with a ton of information. I decided to take their 4 week onsite TEFL program in Madrid and I’m so glad I did. Through the TEFL program I learned the method behind “how” to teach English, brushed up on grammar I had since forgotten and taught 6 in person classes to real life Spanish students in various classroom settings. It was challenging, it was fun and through the program I’m surrounded by hundreds of TEFL certified alumni.
Now fast forward to almost 2 years of teaching English as a TEFL certified teacher and I can honestly say its pretty awesome! While it has its challenges, in my opinion, the good out weighs the bad and I love teaching my students. The sense of gratification I get seeing them improve and the desire they have to want to learn makes it all worth it. I enjoy it because my students enjoy it and I honestly feel like I’m making an impact in their lives.
14. What does a typical schedule look like and do you have time to do other things?
Typical… haha doesn’t really exists in the teaching world. It varies all depending on who you teach and the type of classes you teach. If you’re placed in the schools here in Madrid, you’ll likely work M-Th or T-Fr from 8am until sometimes 4pm. Don’t forget to build in commute time. As for business classes, most are in the morning around 8 or 9am or around lunch1-3pm or after hours 5-7pm. You can teach private classes and those can be anytime really. When I first started teaching I was teaching M-F traveling to 3-4 different businesses and my day started around 8am and ended around 6pm. I also taught phone and Skype classes at the time too.
Now, with over a year of experience, I only teach at one business M-F from around 10am until 5pm averaging about 20-25hours per week. With my current schedule, it’s very flexible. I can change around my classes as needed and I have plenty of time to do things in the evenings and/or on the weekends. Plus there’s so many holidays in Spain so yes, you’ll ultimately have time to do other things outside teaching.
15. Do you need a degree?
No, you can get away without one but it does help if you have one. A lot of academies appreciate if you have a university degree and even more so if you are TEFL certified. Also, it doesn’t really matter what you major in. However, it is helpful if you have a degree in Business if you plan to teach business adults and of course, if you have a degree in Education that’s very helpful too but not mandatory.
16. What do you do after your 1 year student visa expires?
Well don’t wait until it expires, definitely decide a few months prior to expiring if you’re going to renew. If you choose to renew on a student visa, you’ll have to find a language academy or a school that fulfills the visa requirement and sign up / pay for another year of classes or however many hours are the minimum required. Make sure if you do plan to renew, save up for it because for non-EU citizens it’s around €800-€1,000.
17. What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced?
You will face some challenges and its different for everyone. For example, it took me about 6 months to acclimate to living in Madrid for others its shorter or longer. One of the main challenges I have faced is how to budget properly. Like I mentioned above, you make enough money to live comfortably in Madrid but if you want to travel and do other things you have to make more money and budget wisely, unless you come from a wealthy family then lucky you! As for me, I’m finely at a place where I can live comfortably & travel. Lastly the one challenge that will never go away no matter where you live is being away from your family & friends. It’s hard missing weddings, baby showers, birthdays and other life events but you have to remember you’re living your life too and when you do see them it makes that time so much more special.
18. Final thoughts… would you change anything?
Overall I’m super happy I made the decision to teach English in Madrid. I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been easy and it has its ups and downs but for me it has been 100% worth it and I wouldn’t trade this experience. Every day I’m learning something new, challenging myself to grow out of my comfort zone and try new things and every day I’m falling more and more in love with this city…who knows maybe I’ll never go back to the states, maybe I will, maybe I’ll move to another country. All I can say, is that if you’re not sure what to do my vote is to go for it…you can always go back but if you don’t try you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what it would have been like.
Just a small town girl living in a lonely world, Christina Bates decided to leave that small town of Las Vegas, NV in search of a city boy born and raised in South Detroit. She hasn't found him yet, but she's found fun and fulfillment in her job as a TEFL teacher in Madrid. Christina is one of ITA's awesome Alumni Ambassadors and this is her first time living abroad!
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