UPDATE : I lived and worked in Spain illegally from January 2014 – August 2015. I cannot be sure what things are like now. This is an account of what I experienced and how I went about working illegally as an English Teacher in Spain during that time. Feel free to contact me, I check email infrequently but will write you back. Gracias!
While many people may not be comfortable publicly advocating something that is illegal, it goes without saying that it is being done, so I might as well share my experience and publicize my dirty secret – I am an illegal immigrant, or as I prefer to be called, an international woman of mystery.
I lived in Spain teaching English for a year and a half, and although I don’t write about it much, it has been one of the best experiences of my life by far. I get a lot of emails about the logistics of living and teaching English in Spain illegally – that is, without a visa. I have come to find that there is a general lack of information on how to go about this to be found on the internet, so I hope this clears up some concerns and questions you have.
I was clueless when I moved to Spain and had to figure all this out through experience, so let me clear up some common misconceptions:
- A 90-day tourist visa for the EU can only be renewed by leaving the EU for 90-days. It is not like being in many other countries where you can cross the border for a few hours and return renewed. Taking a weekend trip to Morocco does not do anything but provide for some adventure, good shopping and a foggy head upon return from the hash.
- Travel is absolutely possible while living in Spain illegally. Stay within the Schengen zone (which includes 26 European countries) and you will be fine – flying included. I have friends who have even gone to the states and returned to Spain after living here illegally for over a year without a problem. Simply put, the Spanish government just doesn’t really care.
- Working under the table is much easier than all the other blogs I’ve read make it out to be. Many academies are fine with illegal teachers because they evade taxes and still provide students with a coherent, native speaker. Of course there will be some who won’t hire a teacher without a proper visa, but the smaller academies generally don’t have a problem with it. Private lessons are also a great and highly profitable option.
- There is more to Spain than Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. I chose Granada because of the history, culture, hippies, gypsies, nature and size – and, as expected, fell in love. There are opportunities to work everywhere in Spain and there are some really special places in this country. Branch out and you will surely be surprised by what Spain has to offer.
- You don’t have to be a grammar wiz to teach English if you are aiming to teach adults. Yes, a solid knowledge of general grammar is necessary, but I am human and can’t know everything. A TEFL course will help you brush up on vital grammar and teach you how to share this information with learners. When you don’t know something, saying, “I’ll find out and tell you next class,” does the job just fine.
- Being fluent in Spanish is absolutely not required. While some command of the language is helpful, especially with adult learners, you can easily get by with just the basics.
- Although a TEFL/TESOL certificate is recommended, it is by no means required to teach in Spain. I found this out, to my great disappointment, after proudly mentioning my qualification in an interview to get nothing more than a head nod and asked if I was available to work Fridays. They completely glazed over it and I know plenty of people teaching without certification. If you are a native English speaker, that is enough for this tranquilo country.
- Don’t lose sleep in fear the Guardia Civil is going to bust down your door and put you on the first plane out of the country. They won’t. So rest easy and have fun. Live life like you normally would with an extra dash of adventure.
I lived and worked in Spain illegally January 14, 2014 to August 2015. I started my very first teaching job 5 days after landing in Granada with nothing but a backpack and a heart full of dreams.
When I first looked into teaching abroad I discovered that it is nearly impossible to receive a work visa in Spain unless you go through a program that works directly with the Spanish government – which places you in a region/city that you cannot directly choose, working in a middle school or high school. Every bit of this went against what I wanted so I just decided to pack a bag and try my luck.
I was assured by The International TEFL Academy, where I completed my online TEFL/TESOL certification, that working in Spain sans visa was common and easy to do and they were absolutely right. I am not the only one doing this.
I personally have no fear in terms of being here more than a year past my 90-day tourist visa – which expired April 9, 2014. However, I am aware that not everyone is comfortable with this option. I happen to be wired for adventure and am a thrill seeker, but to be honest, working here without a visa is just about the least exciting illegal thing I’ve ever done. As long and you don’t do anything stupid to get yourself arrested or even noticed by the government (like trying to receive health insurance after living here for 6 months – which someone I know did and got deported…) you will be just fine.
I live daily life like I would in any other city in the states. I just showed up, got work, made friends and have loved every minute of it.
Finding a Job
The demand in Spain is exceptionally high. Whether you want to teach kids or adults, there is plenty of work to go around. I found my first job by email blasting my CV to every academy that came up in the Google search results for Granada. I called ads for academies I saw on the street and talked to people. If you want something, you have to be willing to work for it.
Getting paid under the table is also remarkably easy to come by as there is so much work and academies don’t pay taxes on your income, win-win. Although you won’t have a contract guaranteeing your employment, it is highly unlikely the academy will cancel classes unless they fall below the minimum number of students or there is a serious problem. They don’t want to lose you anymore than you want to lose them.
You can earn more from private classes and there is more flexibility as well. If you are having trouble finding work in an academy, this is a good option. I charge anywhere from 10-15€ per hour depending on the needs of the student and if I have to travel to them or if they come to me. 10€ if they come to me and just want conversation and 15€ if I go to them and need to prepare grammar lessons.
You can find students for private lessons (clases particulares) on a couple of different craigslist-type sites: TusClasesParticulares.com and ClasesParticulares.com. Networking with other teachers and meeting locals is also a great way to learn about job opportunities and find private students.
I work at two different academies with adults (B1 and B2 Cambridge exam prep), have a few private lessons, and teach online via Skype. I work 20-25 hours a week and I earn more than enough to live. It is also exhausting to teach all day so anymore than this would deplete your energy and become a burden.
CV (curriculum vitae) or resume
I had a hard time finding a solid example of a real and current CV that academies expect to see when applying. Want to check mine out? Contact me and I will be happy to share it with you. No experience? That’s ok too, we all have to start somewhere! My very first CV only included pervious work experience from the states, my education and my TEFL certification. Someone will be willing to give you the experience you need.
If you’re interested in obtaining your TEFL/TESOL certification, you can receive a $50 discount through this link by mentioning my name, Morgan Garza 🙂 Spread the love!
Be confident and fake it till you make it.
Obviously, eating out, partying, traveling, shopping, etc will vary from person to person and city to city so this is the bare minimum I pay to live in Granada:
- RENT/UTILITIES/WIFI: 230 €
- CELL PHONE (WITH 600 MB of DATA): 10€
- GROCERIES: About 30€/week…120€/month
To be frank, I don’t have any. Not travel insurance or any type of insurance. While this option is not for everyone, it works for me. It is cheap enough to go to the health center (centro de salud) and get treated for anything from an allergic reaction to a broken arm. Many of the people I’ve met here living illegally have some type of travel insurance that is inexpensive, but that pretty much only covers things like getting hit by a bus or spontaneous combustion. But accidents happen so this one is a very personal decision.
If you are determined to live and work in Spain legally, there are ways. And these ways are Spanish men or women. Getting “married” is a quick(ish) ticket to a temporary visa. If you’re willing to deal with the bureaucracy, the the time it takes to get even the simplest form approved, and the mañana mañana attitude of the Spanish people, then a pareja de hecho is the way to go. It’s basically a civil union stating you live together and are in a romantic relationship. Meet someone, fall in love (or in agreement), start the paperwork process and reap the benefits of legality. This means you are a citizen though and have to pay taxes etc, but you will also get health insurance and other benefits of being legal.
(UPDATED APRIL 27, 2016) : I lived in Spain 100% illegally for a year and a half. When it came time to go home back to the states, I was really unsure of what to expect at the airport. As I am infamous for living spontaneously and not really planning anything (or worrying about anything before it happens) I headed for the airport, expecting smooth travel. I had a lot of friends who traveled freely from the US to Spain and back again with zero trouble going through immigration to leave Spain, so I went in with the mindset of “no pasa nada” (no problem). I was right. As I approached the immigration officer with my ticket and passport in hand, my heart was beating wildly, palms sweating and a rush of adrenaline coursed through my body as if I were at the top of a roller coaster, about to fly through the air head first.
I handed my ticket and passport to the immigration officer. He opened the book, stamped a random page, handed my documents back to me and waved me through. What? That easy? No questions of how long I stayed, where I visited, what I was doing in Spain/Europe for a YEAR AND A HALF undocumented? Nothing! Not a peep, not a look, not a word. People tell me I’m lucky, and that’s fine…but really, don’t worry about going back to the states. Spanish officials want to send Americans home happy and without trouble, so this was just another day in the life that was an absolute dream living in Spain. VIVA!
My grandma always used to say, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” If teaching abroad in Spain is something you can’t stop thinking about, then start seriously thinking about doing it. Anything can be figured out if you have the willingness to do it.
Effort = results
Have a specific question or want to chat privately? Send me an email and I will be more than happy to help you in any way I can. I get such great joy from helping people realize that their dreams are attainable and possible. And when I see people do something from the soul, my heart nearly explodes with love and joy. I want you to be happy and to be your best self. I am here for motivation, to tell you what you already know but need to hear from someone else, and to help you say yes to yourself.