Teaching English in Spain: Living in Spain
Located in the Iberian peninsula, with access to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Spain is second largest nation in the European Union (by area). Working as an ESL teacher in Spain will allow an opportunity to experience all that Spain has to offer.
Why Teach in Spain
Whether an ESL teacher’s interests lie in culture, history, landscape, or cuisine, Spain will have what they are looking for. Finding work as an ESL teacher in Spain is not an easy task without a European Union passport; however, citizens of other nations can find employment if they don’t mind a challenge.
Most ESL teachers who choose to teach English in Spain do not do so for the paycheck. Like many nations in Western Europe, salaries are not as high as other ESL markets around the world. Teachers choose to teach in Spain for the experience and culture rather than the money. With careful budgeting, teachers can still have some extra money, but it is best to save up enough money to cover a couple months of living expenses before arriving in Spain. Money is not the reason why Spain is on many ESL teachers’ wish list; it is the country’s vibrancy and richness of culture.
Like most locations in the region, finding an apartment in Spain can be a difficult task. It is almost unheard of to find an employer willing to pay for housing, unless you are applying with a homestay program. However, schools can still be a great resource to point you in the right direction. Finding an apartment in a central area of a large Spanish city will be expensive, yet it will relieve any worries concerning transportation.
Depending on the area where you live, many Spanish apartments are older and lacking in modern conveniences, such as air conditioning, heating, elevators, or Internet. The more modern conveniences that are available in an apartment typically have a direct correlation to the cost of the apartment.
With the amount of people interested in teaching English in Spain, employers never feel the need to include contract benefits such as airfare compensation. There are a variety of airlines that take customers directly from major cities in Canada to Madrid or Barcelona, although they can be very pricey. Other options include flights that will travel to a major airport on the Atlantic side of Europe and transfer to a flight heading to Spain. Teaching in a smaller city or rural area of Spain will require additional travel, either by local airline or land travel.
The Spanish people are covered by a universal healthcare system called the Sistema Sanitario Público. In addition to the public healthcare system, there are many Spaniards who prefer to use the private clinics located throughout the country. User fees are paid out-of-pocket or through private health insurance.
EU citizens are covered under the Spanish healthcare system, while teachers from outside nations (unless stated within your contract) will need to pay for any medical services out of their own pocket. With the risk of high medical expenses, it is recommended that English teachers from outside the EU buy private health insurance. Even if covered under the Sistema Sanitario Público, English teachers will still need to pay for visiting a dentist and prescription costs. It is in the best interest of most to discuss the Spanish healthcare system with any future employer and current/past English teachers at a Spanish school. Plan to purchase private insurance and set some money aside in case of a medical emergency.
The retirement age in Spain is 65 years old. It is not uncommon for citizens to be offered an early retirement for a lesser monthly payment. Older ESL teachers should be aware that some Spanish schools may prefer younger teachers.
Technology and Advancement
Urban areas of Spain are on par with most European nations when it comes to technology. For the most part, cell phone service, high-speed Internet, and paid television services are all available within urban regions of Spain. Certain rural areas in Spain are lacking some electronic conveniences that North Americans live with everyday. ESL teachers hoping to bring electrical appliances from Canada must ensure the appliances can operate at 220V and will need a Type C plug adaptor.
Spaniards are known as being friendly people; however just as anywhere else, crime can happen, especially in urban areas. Practicing common safety precautions such as carrying only small amounts of cash, wearing a money belt, walking in areas with streetlights and with friends, taking cabs, and other precautions should keep ESL teachers safe. A common crime committed against ESL teachers is passport theft, so be aware of where your passport is at all times. Overall, Spain is a safe place to live and teach, but as with any country, ESL teachers should avoid placing themselves in potentially harmful situations.
In today's world, terrorism is something that needs to be researched before travelling anywhere. Spain has made international headlines for past terrorist attacks. The Canadian government offers overwhelming support that Spain is a safe place to travel and for people not to be overly concerned, but English teachers should still beware of past events, such as the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid in 2004.
The transportation system in Spain allows commuters the ability to travel around the country with ease. With a total distance of 14 781 km of track, the railway system can take its riders to most areas of Spain for varying prices. Most of the railway business is operated by the state-owned company RENFE (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles).
In addition to the railway service, Spanish drivers have access to an estimated 346 858 km of roadway to drive on. In urban areas, commuters can ride buses, light rail, or hail a taxi to take them around town.
Due to its location on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain has always been a marine traffic hotspot. Spain has ports and harbors in many of its coastal urban areas.
Most cabs in Spain do not have meters in their vehicles. Rates for getting around in a cab are decided by city officials and cabs are required to display a sign showing all of these fixed rates. This system allows Spain to have some of the cheapest taxi prices in the world.
When a taxi is available, the driver will display a green sign or shine a green light on the car’s roof. Many restaurants and bars encourage their patrons to ask a staff member to call a cab on their behalf to ensure that customers arrive home safely.
Beware of taxi drivers charging extra fees for things like having excess baggage, traveling at night, and other unusual charges. Tourists and other foreigners in Spain are often targeted by drivers for extra money.
Train and Subway
Larger Spanish cities such as Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, and Seville all have subway systems. English teachers should not have any issues getting around town on the Spanish subway system; the subway in Spain is very similar to its North American counterpart. Color-coded maps can be found in transit stations.
The railway system in Spain is one of the most important elements of Spain’s transit system. Most urban dwellers have access to light rail systems that can transport a large number of people throughout the city. Railroads cover most of the nation and commuters can travel throughout the Spanish countryside on the train. In addition to covering most of the country, the Spanish railway also links across the borders of France, Portugal, and Morocco, via an undersea tunnel.
Most cities in Spain have public bus transit. There are lanes on the street designated for buses, which makes travelling through the very busy Spanish streets much more efficient. In order to fit more commuters, buses usually do not have many seats, so riders may have to stand on the way to work. Spending €1.20 to ride the city bus in Spain is fairly standard.
Other Modes of Transportation
Other modes of transportation that are available for ESL teachers include:
With more people around the world being concerned about the environment and rising fuel prices, the option of riding a bike to get around seems appealing to many. Riding a bike through the streets of cities like Madrid and Barcelona is an excellent way to learn about a Spanish city. Many bicycle enthusiasts travel to Spain to tour through the various regions.
Some Spanish bicycling laws include:
- No riding bicycles on freeways
- Riders must wear a helmet anytime they bike outside of a town
- While riding at night, riders must have a light and reflectors on their bicycle and wear reflective clothing
- Cyclists must offer the right-of-way to any motor vehicle
Applying for a driver’s license in Spain is not a simple process. All non-EU citizens must go through a fairly lengthy application in order to get a Spanish driver’s license.
Canadian English teachers wishing to drive in Spain are required to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) prior to leaving for Spain. Canadians are also required to take out a Frontier Insurance Policy (a temporary, obligatory third party policy for motor vehicles). As requirements can change, please be sure to contact the Spanish Embassy to confirm regulations.
Once an IDP (International Driving Permit) has expired, English teachers will need a Spanish driver’s license. In order to receive a driver's license English teachers must take a driving course, a vision and medical test, a written exam, and an in-car test (a driving instructor’s car must be used for the test). The licensing process is known for being both lengthy and expensive; therefore, using public transit, walking, or bicycling may be the best option for most people. Not all difficulties are resolved upon receiving a Spanish license as it is nearly impossible to find a parking space in any Spanish city.
One thing the Spanish are noted for are their siestas. Like a lot of regions with hot climates, many Spaniards take a two to four hour lunch break. In the past, this time was meant for workers to have time to eat lunch and have a nap before returning to work. In modern Spain, workers rarely spend their siesta napping. Instead, people are more likely to walk around town and shop. Another reason for the siesta is to provide workers a chance to rest up for the busy Spanish nightlife scene, or to recover from the previous night's events.
Since joining the European Union, many large companies and government branches are eliminating the siesta in order to have the same business schedule as other European nations.
- Like in North America, when first meeting someone expect to shake their hand. Many men will use both of their hands during a greeting and place their left hand on the other person's right forearm.
- Follow the other person's lead to determine what kind of greeting to extend.
- Kissing on the cheek is a common greeting for women in Spain. Remember to always kiss the right cheek first.
- It is normal for people to greet those around them and strike up conversations with strangers. So don't be surprised to hear a lot of people saying 'Hola' or 'Buenos días'. Not replying is considered to be very rude.
- When waiting, many Spaniards simply stand around without forming a line. People are polite and simply keep track of when their turn arrives.
- The Spanish are well-known for standing close to one another when talking, so be aware if you are used to keeping a little more personal space.
- There are not many public restrooms in Spain. It is considered rude to simply use a business's washroom without purchasing anything.
- When it comes to business, people in Spain like to look the part. There is little or no room for sloppy dressing. Don't be fooled: even if the dress code is outlined as casual, dress professionally.
In business settings it is common for men to have the word 'Don' inserted before their first name and for women to be referred to as 'Doña'. In Spanish and Italian culture this is a way to show respect.
- Past impressions play a huge part in business relationships. Spaniards tend to prefer to do business with people they already know. For this reason, building long-term business relations is a very important element to having success in Spanish business.
- Being interrupted during a business discussion is not an insult; in fact, it is actually the opposite. Speaking out of turn lets the person know that their idea is interesting and has caught your attention. That said, while it may be common for local business professionals, it is still recommended that expats wait until the other person has finished speaking before offering input.
- If possible, never deny someone a business meeting held over lunch. The Spanish take their food seriously and some of the most important business meetings happen while eating.
- Keep hands on the table at all times. It is considered rude to place hands under the table while dining.
- When dining with Spaniards, be sure to keep schedules open. Meals in Spain are long events meant to not only fill the stomach but also to serve as an outlet for conversation. It is common for meals to last for hours.
Being the official language of 21 nations and of an estimated 400 million people, Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world. This romance language has been consistently evolving since its beginnings after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Anyone thinking about teaching English in Spain should consider learning Spanish. With Spanish being such a widely used language, lessons are fairly easy to find in most areas of North America. Here are some examples of common and useful Spanish phrases:
- Thank You.
- Hello, my name is ________.
Hola, me llamo _______.
- How much is it?
- Where is …?
- Where are we on the map?
¿Dónde estamos aquí en el mapa?
- Where is the washroom?
¿Donde está el baño?
- I'm looking for ____.
- Where can I catch a taxi (bus)?
¿Dónde puedo coger un taxi (un autobús)?
- I don't understand Spanish very well.
No entiendo bien el español.
- Excuse me.
One of the great things about being an ESL teacher in Spain is the food. Being on the Iberian peninsula, Spain is surrounded by water, and as such, many Spanish dishes contain seafood. With much of Spain's culture being centered on its food, teachers can expect many long meals enjoying foods like gazpacho, calamares, jamón serrano, and many more tasty treats. From Catalonia to the Canary Islands, each region of Spain adds their own spin on Spanish cuisine and offers dishes truly unique to their region, often built upon their local food resources.
The Spaniards do not devote as much effort to breakfast as they do for other meals eaten throughout the course of the day. A typical Spanish breakfast consists of fresh rolls and jam served with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Travellers to Spain should be aware that Spaniards are known for liking their coffee strong.
The real eating begins during lunch when the siesta begins. Most dishes in Spain are not shy on olive oil and garlic. When the siesta time arrives, the streets are filled with fragrances circulating from nearby restaurants and tapas. The siesta also allows for workers to return home for lunch and to relax before working again in the afternoon. When a Spaniard goes to a bar, there is often food set up at the bar similar to a buffet. Sometimes the dishes are simple and sometimes patrons can eat multi-course meals called 'tapas'.
With Spain being such a warm place, water is the most consumed item throughout the country.
Some of Spain's more popular dishes include:
Cold tomato soup
- Jamón Serrano
- Tortilla de patatas
- Arroz Con Leche
Types of Coffee in Spain
- Café con leche - Literally translated to 'coffee with milk', this drink is half strong coffee and half hot milk.
- Café solo - This is the cup of choice for North Americans who enjoy their caffeine. There is no milk in this drink, only 100 percent Spanish brewed coffee.
- Café cortado - The Café cortado is a popular drink amongst Spaniards, which consists of hot coffee with a shot of milk.
For a country of its size, Spain has a diverse climate that can be broken up into three types: Mediterranean, Oceanic amd Semiarid.
Covering most of Spain's Southern and Eastern coasts, the Mediterranean climate produces hot, dry summer months and cold, wet winter months. This weather climate can also be found in a large portion of California, including San Francisco.
The inland areas of Spain have a continentalized mediterranean climate. The summers are very hot and there are very low temperatures in winter. Although it rarely rains during summer, there is often heavy rainfall in spring and autumn .
Located in the Northern region of the Spain near the Bay of Biscay and the city of Bilbao is where the Oceanic climate can be found. The main characteristic of this climate type is temperatures which do not vary as much from summer to winter. This climate zone covers most of Western Europe, including the United Kingdom.
The semiarid climate can be found in southeastern Spain, in the provinces or Alicante, Murcia and Almeria. This region is known for having a sub-desertic climate, with very little rainfall. The Cabo de Gata Natural Park is located here and is reportedly the driest place in Europe
Natural Disasters in Spain
In recent history, mainland Spain has not been known for having any large issues with natural disasters. Spain does have small earthquakes once every few years, but historical records indicate that there have been larger ones in the past.
In addition to celebrating nine national holidays, English teachers in Spain get to enjoy at least two more regional holidays, depending on where they live.
National Holidays in Spain
- January 1st - New Year's Day (Año Nuevo in Spanish)
Celebration to mark the first day of the year.
- Two days before Easter - Good Friday (Viernes Santo)
Like in North America, Good Friday is a religious holiday which is part of Easter.
- May 1st - Labour Day (Día del Trabajador)
Labour Day is a holiday to mark the achievement of Spanish workers.
- August 15th - Assumption of Mary (Asunción)
A religious holiday based on the Roman Catholic faith.
- October 12th - Hispanic Day/Columbus Day (Día de la Hispanidad)
A holiday marking the day Columbus arrived at the Americas.
- November 1st - All Saints Day
A day when the Spanish remember loved ones and ancestors whom have passed away.
- December 6th - Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución)
Marking the anniversary of the Spanish Constitution's signing.
- December 8th - Immaculate Conception (Inmaculada Concepción)
A region-based Spanish holiday.
- December 25th - Christmas Day - (Navidad)
Similar to Christmas in North America.
Regional Holidays in Spain
Each local government in Spain is able to offer a maximum of 14 paid holidays to their workforce. Nine of these holidays are the national holidays (listed above), while at least two more are regional holidays. The amount of time devoted to regional holidays varies depending the Spanish city.
- January 6th - Epiphany (Día de Reyes)
Celebrated in all regions of Spain.
- March 19th - Father's Day (San José)
Celebrated in Castile-La Mancha, Madrid, Murcia, and Valencia.
- Day before Good Friday - Holy Thursday (Jueves Santo)
Celebrated in all regions except Canary Islands, Catalonia and Valencia.
- Day following Easter Sunday - Easter Monday (Lunes de Pascua)
Celebrated in Basque Country, Catalonia, Navarra, and Valencia.
- April 23rd - St. George's Day (San Jorge)
Celebrated in Aragon, Catalonia, Castile and León.
- June 24th - St. Joan's Day (Sant Joan)
Celebrated in Catalonia
- July 25th - St. James Day (Santiago Apostol)
Celebrated in Galicia
- September 8th - Covadonga and Guadalupe Day (Día de Asturias y Extremadura)
Celebrated in Asturias and Extremadura
- December 26th - St. Stephen's Day (San Esteban)
Celebrated in Balearic Islands and Catalonia