Can you make a living teaching English in Madrid?
Here’s a question I get asked a lot…
Can you make a living teaching English in Madrid?
It’s complicated, but the short answer is yes.
You can make a decent but not glamorous living as an English teacher in Madrid – and probably elsewhere in Spain.
The long answer is: it depends on what you’re doing and what you consider to be “a living”.
I managed to survive on an English teacher’s salary for 10 years – and I still do it online.
But it was hardly getting me rich.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the cost of living in Madrid. And you should definitely take that into account as well.
Madrid’s cheaper than some other world cities, but the salaries are also lower.
If you move here you might end up “scraping by” on salaries that wouldn’t impress people back home – once again, depending where home is.
Either way… Have fun!
Here I’m going to present a few different ways that English teachers earn a living, and the pros and cons of each.
Work as an au pair in Madrid
A lot of people come to Madrid or other cities in Spain to work as an au pair.
If you’re not familiar with the word, it’s sort of a babysitter or nanny with language skills.
You’ll spend a few hours a day with the kids, and usually live with the family. The pay is pretty low – just a few hundred euros a month – but you’ve got room and board covered, and usually your mornings are free to take Spanish classes or what have you.
Most of the au pairs I know are female, from English-speaking countries or the north of Europe, and under 25 years old… So there’s that to take into account too.
(Some families are looking for French-speaking or German-speaking au pairs too. And potentially other languages.)
A lot of people have great experiences as au pairs: they get to live in Spain for a while, learn Spanish, have an adventure, maybe save a little money.
Others end up with shitty families and don’t do very well.
It’s hit or miss. Some families are hoping to get a cheap servant, some apparently treat their au pairs very well.
You can find an agency online and see what happens. I don’t have any I personally recommend, but I’m sure you can google around.
Also, you can…
Work as an Auxiliar de Conversación
An auxiliar de conversación is a sort of “language assistant” working in Spanish schools.
Spain’s invested a lot in their bilingual education system in the past decade or so – basically as long as I’ve been here.
And the auxiliares program seems to be effective at raising the general level. Basically, you’ll give a few lessons each week in English, and generally help the teachers with language stuff.
The salary is about 1000 euros, which is enough to live on. And a lot of auxiliares have enough free time to give some private lessons for some cash on the side. Either way, you’ll be able to rent a room, go out to lunch, travel on weekends, and have a good time.
Pros: you have the visa worked out from the get-go. You just have to stand in a few lines and boom! You’re legal. Not all of us were so lucky.
Cons: I’ve heard that the Spanish teachers in a lot of schools are a bit unfriendly to auxiliares. They probably feel threatened somehow.
And… um… I’m not sure how to put this politely, but Spain isn’t known for its high levels of organization and efficiency, so you’ll have to deal with that.
Another con, I guess, is the application, which has to be done from “home” and which is probably long and complicated. You’ll need to get a criminal background check, fill out a lot of forms, jump through all the Ministry of Education’s hoops.
Still, thousands of young people do it every year, so you can surely pull it off if you want to. For more info, check out one of the active Auxiliares groups on Facebook – the one I’m familiar with is Auxiliares de Conversación (The Original).
And here’s another option…
Give in-company English classes
Here’s another very common way to make a living teaching English in Madrid…
A lot of Spanish companies have in-house English teachers giving classes. If you apply to a language school or academy, they might offer you company classes first.
Pros: the hourly rate is usually higher. Your students can be fun. You might learn something from seeing the inside of a bunch of different industries.
Cons: you’ll probably be running around town on all forms of public transport all day. I used to criss-cross the city for 16 euros an hour when times were good, then when times got bad I continued criss-crossing for just over 10. It sucked. I’m really grateful to be out of that game.
Another con would be the early start. A lot of your students are probably executive types, who want to do English before their real work starts… usually around 8 AM. After that, you might be free till 1 or 2, do a few lunchtime classes, and then free again until the evening.
My experience with in-company classes was just that: 12 hours out of the house on most days, with only 5 or 6 hours of actual in-class money making time.
And then there’s the issue of the management. I hope you don’t have this guy as a boss. He’ll probably ruin your life… or at least your sleep.
On the other hand, if you have contacts or more business acumen than me, you can probably find a way to eliminate the middleman – in which case you can earn pretty good money by dealing with the company directly.
I know some private teachers who manage to work out contracts with companies directly, and they do pretty well. But mostly they’ve been around a while and know people.
Here’s another goody…
Give private English lessons (clases particulares)
I did a good bit of this one myself, back in the day.
Giving private English lessons can be fun and relatively “easy money” compared to some of the other options. And there always seems to be a healthy demand for one-on-one classes.
I was charging 20€ an hour back in the day – by which I mean 2009 or so, when dinosaurs ruled the earth and we all carried candy-bar phones…
And the price seemed to be holding steady. I never managed to charge much more and never had to go much lower. Some teachers manage to position themselves better and earn more.
Cons: the transport, again. Students don’t care that you took an hour to get to their house and they’re probably not going to pay you more because of it. The solution? Look for classes closer to home. Or just suck it on the metro for 9 hours a day.
Another con is that a lot of people are kind of flaky and love cancelling classes. The best thing is to work out a sort of pre-payment plan where you keep their money if they cancel with less than 24 hours’ notice.
Not everyone will accept those terms, but some will – and it’s better for you as a teacher. You can’t pay your exorbitant rent on that awesome shared flat in Malasaña with the money you were “gonna” make but didn’t.
Pros: like I said, the money’s better, and you can sometimes be pretty flexible with your schedule. Also, new students are easy to find – except in summer, when the city grinds to a halt.
More about that in a minute.
Teach English in a language school in Madrid
Language schools are what I personally have the most experience with.
Pros: it can be a lot of fun, and if you work in certain places you have a block of hours – meaning you’re not running around the city all day. I spent most of my time teaching English working in a language school that’s since gone out of business, but I met a lot of great people and had a hell of a time doing it.
My block of classes was from about 4:30 to 9:30 PM so I finished late every day… but it sure beat the hell out of doing the early morning thing in companies.
Cons: the salary is okay, but usually lower than you’ll make on company classes. On the other hand, the block hours mean that often you’ll make more per month because you’ll be able to fit more classes into the day.
Another con: most schools won’t give you much help with the work permit, so you should try to get that taken care of before coming. It’s a process, and it usually requires a lawyer or some good information from someone who knows.
(That person’s not me, incidentally. If you message me, I’ll try to help you, but I’m not an expert on immigration law.)
Not everybody teaching English in Madrid has a work visa when they arrive – you might be able to do a bit of under-the-table work, but I would never EVER recommend something like that.
Keep it legal, kids.
And one final con: you should have a contract if you’re working at a school, but not all contracts are created equal. A lot of schools give you sort of partial contracts in order to avoid paying your social security…
So if you’re hoping to get a fat unemployment check when the contract’s up, you’re going to be very disappointed at the amount.
Your unemployment compensation is calculated based on your official on-contract salary – not on the envelope full of 20s they’re handing you at the end of the month. And if you’re only getting paid 400€ a month above board, your check is going to be pretty damn small.
Anyway, when you’re looking for a job, just keep in mind that all language schools are different.
Some schools do everything above board, others do as much as possible under the table. It all depends. (It’s also not unheard of for schools to pay late because the owner’s out binge-drinking everyone’s salary… but I guess that’s a story for another day.)
Can you make a living teaching English in Madrid?
I guess it sort of depends.
The most I ever earned was with a mix of company classes and working in a language school, and that was about 1500€ a month. Most months, however, were closer to 1000€.
Also, you have to take the long, hot summer into account. On the plus side, you won’t be working much for the months of July, August and September. On the other hand, nobody’s paying you either.
Pro tip: start saving money in January so you don’t spend the whole summer eating rice and beans, while watching the contents of your “secret money sock” dwindle towards zero.
A lot of expats end up going home for the summers, or trying to scrape by on private classes or working at summer camps in faraway towns…
But again, it’s not glamorous. You probably won’t save enough to live like an aristocrat – or even a starving artist – in Paris all summer, because let’s face it: Paris is expensive.
In the end, you can definitely make a living teaching English for a while.
But I personally decided to get out after a few years. I realized I was going to be making the same salary forever, and didn’t want to be some 45-year-old guy who’s still living a 25-year-old’s life.
No disrespect to that, it just wasn’t for me.
What do you think? Hit me up, right here in the comments.
P.S. I’ve written a bunch of other articles about what it’s like to make a living teaching English in Madrid and Spain. Check out the TEFL job interview, for example. Or maybe how to teach beach and bitch.
P.P.S. Also, check out what English Droid has to say about in-company English classes. You’ll be glad you did.
P.P.P.S Okay, here’s a new article about job offers and why English teachers sometimes get annoyed with them. It’s a bit less informational, but maybe it’ll help if you’re on the hiring end.