Teaching in Europe

As a CELTA-qualified teacher with over four years' experience teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at private language schools in Portugal, Poland and Spain, and at a residential summer camp in the UK, I have acquired a fair amount of information relating to visa requirements, qualifications and working conditions among other things, which may be of some use to others hoping to teach in Europe.

Except where otherwise stated, the information below relates to the role of an EFL/ESOL TEACHER in a private language school/academy. Qualifications, hours of work and salaries will be different for those looking to work as Senior Teacher, Young Learner Coordinator, Exams Coordinator, ADoS or DoS. Likewise for Auxiliares de Conversación, primary/secondary teachers and university lecturers. Visa requirements, however, remain the same.

My favourite class ever – G Tigers, Poland (Oct 2011 – June 2012)


Generally speaking, to find legal work in Europe you must be (a) the holder of a passport from an EU member state, either through birth or ancestry, or (b) married to an EU citizen, or (c) in possession of a valid work or study visa. EU law dictates that employers cannot just hire a non-EU citizen – they first have to prove that there were no suitably qualified EU citizens who could do the job, which is not a very likely proposition. Notable exceptions, however, are candidates with specialist qualifications or niche areas of expertise.

For the reason given above, aside from Germany* and a few Government-run programmes that may enable you to work here short-term (see Programmes for North Americans and Programmes for Australians & New Zealanders below), Western Europe is pretty much a no-go for non-EU citizens. But while Western Europe may be as good as off the table, Central/Eastern Europe is a whole other ball game, and it is still possible to find legal work there without too much difficulty. Demand for teachers is quite high in Poland, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine among others. However, the Ukraine might not be the smartest choice at the moment.

As a non-EU citizen you would enter mainland Europe with either (a) a Schengen short-stay visa (type C), which must be applied for in your country of residence BEFORE arriving in Europe, or (b) a visa waiver, which involves having your passport stamped on arrival with your entry date. North Americans, Australians and New Zealanders can all enter under the visa waiver scheme.

The visa waiver is for tourism purposes ONLY and it gives you 90 days in the Schengen zone (http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/borders-and-visas/schengen/index_en.htm) – that's 90 days across all the countries (divided as you like), not 90 days per country! Failure to get sponsorship for a work visa through an employer within that time means having to leave not just the country you entered but the entire zone for a further 90 days. Note that border runs to restart the clock are no longer possible. Overstaying your visa is not advisable. Quite aside from the lack of employment rights and healthcare, in a bid to crack down on illegal immigration, border security has been tightened. If caught you will be deported and may be subjected to an exclusion from the entire zone for five or more years.

North Americans who are qualified primary (elementary) or secondary (high) school teachers in their own state/country and who have at least two years' experience – ideally in their home country – might consider applying for jobs at International Schools. These are schools that teach the British or American national curriculum. Familiarity with the American curriculum should give you the edge over EU citizens and make it easier for your employer to justify getting a visa for you. To find a list of International Schools, go to http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/c1699.htm. To find a list of current vacancies, go to http://www.tes.co.uk/jobs/ and select 'Europe' from the map.

Where in Europe...? (Photo © theeurolifestyle.com)

*For now at least, Germany is the one country in Western Europe where it is still possible for non-EU citizens to live and work legally. This is because the majority of the work requires you to be freelance. On paper this sounds good; in practice, it’s simply not a viable option for an inexperienced newbie with a questionable grasp of German. Compulsory deductions would see you losing almost 60% of your wage and that’s before you’ve paid any rent.

You may have to return to your own country (on your own dime) while the visa is being processed as it's not always possible to change the visa waiver into a work visa, or to convert one type of visa into another while in-country.


The jobs market in Western Europe, and in particular in France, Spain and Italy, is extremely competitive. Most TEFLers have a degree, which can be in anything although related degrees are always good, a CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL (as opposed to an online TEFL certificate) and at least a year’s full-time experience, ideally teaching European learners. Experience in preparing students for Cambridge exams – Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET, PET, FCE, CAE, CPE and BEC – or, to a lesser extent, Trinity exams is especially desirable. Nonetheless, it is possible to find work with a degree (related or otherwise) and an online TEFL certificate or even just an online TEFL certificate – be prepared to look outside the main cities.

Outside of short-term summer contracts, the market in the UK is very small thanks to the Government having recently made it much harder for foreign students to study there. Fewer students means fewer jobs, and the little work there is tends to go to British citizens with bags of experience and a DELTA and/or a related Master's. The market is even smaller in Ireland, and again, jobs go tend to go to qualified and experienced locals.

Unless you are exceptionally highly-qualified, i.e., think a Master's (which can be in any discipline) and able to lecture in that subject at university level, you can pretty much forget about teaching in The Netherlands or Scandinavia. The education systems in these countries mean that Dutch and Scandinavian nationals usually have a very high level of English, so there is little need for private language schools. There may be some opportunities for teaching English to immigrants but these posts are few and far between. In addition to that, the CELTA and DELTA are not recognised in Scandinavia, and since most private language schools are Government-run, you would need to hold Scandinavian teaching qualifications to work there.

In recent years, a degree has almost become a prerequisite. As with Western Europe, this can be in anything, although related degrees will likely be given preference. You also need a decent TEFL qualification and, with so many good course providers in places like the Czech Republic, this should probably be a CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL or other 120hr face-to-face qualification that includes a minimum of 6hrs of observed and assessed teaching practice. You should be willing to teach YLs (7-12 year olds), and even VYLs (2-6 year olds), and any experience you have with those levels/age groups will work in your favour.

The beautiful Plaza Mayor in Madrid


Despite the recession, there is currently no shortage of TEFL jobs in Europe. If anything, the market is burgeoning, particularly in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia.

The peak hiring time for academic year jobs is September. If you miss this window, there will be a smaller hiring peak in very early January to replace teachers who jumped ship at Christmas. For these jobs you will probably need to hit the ground running, so they might not be the best call for teachers with no prior experience. After that, there is precious little around until March/April when hiring begins for the summer camps. Note that summer camp jobs don’t start till mid-June at the earliest. Schools tend to shut down completely in August so bear that in mind when planning a CV (résumé) drop.

The best site for jobs in Europe as a whole is undoubtedly http://www.tefl.com. If you have a recognised and respected qualification such as CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL, EDI CertTEFL, Cert IV in TESOL or SIT TESOL, you can apply for jobs with International House (http://ihworld.com/jobs). Once you have two years' full-time experience, you can apply for jobs with the British Council (https://jobs.britishcouncil.org/).

Note that with the exception of Russia, jobs tend NOT to be found from abroad. With so many teachers in the country already, employers simply don't need to take chances on someone they've never met. So while it may be possible to apply online, don't be surprised if they ask you to fly out to the country – at your own expense – for a face-to-face interview. Your other option is to be on the ground at the right time (see above) handing out your CV.


A typical academic year contract starts in September or October and runs for 8-10 months. If you get a January start, your contract will last for around 6 months. While some summer work may be available, it's almost never guaranteed. In any case, longer-standing teachers get first dibs. Consequently, you either need to put some money aside all year to cover the summer period, or you need to look for summer work elsewhere (see Short-Term Summer Contracts below).

The ideal contract would see you teaching around 21hrs pw. However, in Spain it's common to teach 24hrs pw or more. In Italy you may be expected to teach up to 30hrs pw. For an experienced teacher that is tough-going, never mind for an inexperienced newbie. When applying for jobs check how many contact (teaching) hours you'll have each week. Remember that you'll have to factor in planning time on top of the teaching hours and, depending on where you live and the type of job you have, travel time.

Wages in Europe tend to be quite low in comparison to the cost of living, especially for inexperienced newbies. Rent will be your biggest expense, particularly in the larger cities where you could be spending 33-50% of your salary on a room in a shared apartment. Employers in Europe rarely reimburse flights or pay for relocation. Free housing is not necessarily a good thing as it’s generally (a) poor quality, and (b) only provided when the salary is far too low to live on.

In Portugal you can expect to take home €700-1,000 pm (£560-800/US$937-1,339); in Spain you're looking at €800-1,400 pm (£640-1,120/US$1,070-1,873); taxes in Italy are high and net salaries start at around the €900 pm mark (£720/US$1,205); in France you can expect to earn €1,100-1,600 pm (£880-1,280/US$1,473-2,142). Central/Eastern European salaries tend to be lower – the worst I've seen (and it was nowhere near a living wage) was around €350 pm (£280/US$469) with free accommodation thrown in. Generally though you'll be looking at €500-1,000 pm (£400-800/US$670-1,339).

If teaching Very Young Learners (VYLs) is your dream, Western Europe is unlikely to be the answer as the bulk of the teaching is with older learners. In France, Germany and Northern Italy there's an emphasis on Business English classes. Elsewhere in Italy, and in Spain and Portugal, you can expect to teach mainly teens with a few adults thrown in for good measure. Cambridge exams (Main Suite and YLE) are VERY popular, so any prior experience with them will work in your favour.

The further East you go, the younger the learners get, with English-language Kindergartens being quite common in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Ukraine. Some of these take kids as young as two, which can make for some pretty challenging 'classes'!

No matter how difficult the day, students can always make you smile!

All conversions, both in the Money section above and in the Short-Term Summer Contracts section below, were done on 18/08/2014 using xe.com and are to be used for guideline purposes only.


English-speaking summer camps are very popular throughout Europe, and may be a good way of testing the TEFL waters. As with all European jobs, you will need to have a passport from an EU member state or a valid work/study visa – summer camps DO NOT organise visas for people. Note that it is illegal to work with the visa waiver or on a Schengen short-stay visa.

Be advised that summer camps are NOT for the faint-hearted. You have to work long hours (including weekends), split-shifts are common, you will probably only get one day a week off, and your duties will usually involve far more than just teaching. Nonetheless, if you are prepared to work hard, you should be able to find work for 2-8 weeks during the summer.

The pay varies greatly. In the UK you can expect to earn £250-£465 pw (€313-581/US$418-778). Note that you are legally entitled to holiday pay of 12.07%, which may be included in the base rate or added on top – check before you sign! In mainland Europe wages are lower so you can expect to earn €500-€750 (£400-600/US$669-1,003) per fortnight. Most summer camps, both in the UK and mainland Europe, are residential, so essentials such as food, accommodation and a laundry service are provided. Some employers deduct a small amount of money for these services – I'd avoid those ones like the plague! I'd also avoid any of the voluntary jobs, unless you are super keen to gain experience.

So where are these camps? Well, there are hundreds of them in the UK, though you may find that you need a CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL or EDI CertTEFL (as opposed to an online TEFL certificate) to work at one. PGCEs are usually accepted too. If you don't meet the criteria, or the UK doesn't sound very appealing, how about working in Spain or Italy? There are numerous summer camps in both countries. One of the more well-known and reputable ones in the south of Spain is TECS (http://recruit.tecs.es/). They also run year-round language schools so you may be able to secure work for the academic year by doing a summer camp. Another camp that seems to be quite popular is Forenex (http://www.forenex.com/teachers-zone). I haven't worked for either of these, so please DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH before applying.

To see what other jobs are available, either Google 'English summer camps in [country]' and apply directly via their websites or visit http://www.tefl.com/jobs/search.html and choose 'Europe' and 'short-term summer post' from the drop downs. The hiring period usually commences in early January (although for summer 2014 jobs schools started advertising in November), and by late April most of the 'best' jobs will have gone.


Having recently come across a number of questionable internships and teaching programmes, I've decided to add a section to this page where I can list any reputable programmes for Britons (or Irish citizens who are studying/have studied in the UK). I'll add to it as I discover more. NB: I have no personal experience of these programmes, so please DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH before applying.


British Council's English Language Assistant Programme
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
This programme is open to native English speakers who have completed all their secondary education (11-18) in the UK and who have completed and passed at least two years of a Higher Education (university-level) course. Positions are available in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Language proficiency may be required. To find out more, go to http://www.britishcouncil.org/languageassistants-ela.htm.


British Council's Comenius Assistant Programme
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
This programme is open to native English speakers who are studying towards a teaching qualification that will enable them to teach in UK primary/secondary schools, or who have recently qualified but have less than six months' experience. You can teach in the other 27 EU countries, the four EEA countries and in EU candidate countries. To find out more, go to http://www.britishcouncil.org/comenius-assistant.htm



If you are American or Canadian there are quite a few programmes that, if you meet the criteria, will enable you to legally work as a teaching assistant in Western Europe for a fixed amount of time. While there are no Working Holiday Visas for Americans, Canadians are eligible to apply for a Working Holiday Visa which will enable them to legally live and work in a nominated country for a 12-month period. NB: As an EU citizen I am merely aware of these programmes – I cannot vouch for any of them, so please DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH before applying.


North American Language and Culture Assistants Programme (NALCAP)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
A very popular programme offering teaching assistant placements in Spain through the Ministry of Education. The application period opens in January. The earlier you apply, the greater your chances of being placed. See: http://www.educacion.gob.es/eeuu/convocatorias-programas/convocatorias-eeuu/auxiliares-conversacion-eeuu.html.

Bilingual English Development and Assessment (BEDA)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
A private organisation that places language assistants in Catholic schools, Most of the placements are in Madrid, but there are a few placements in other parts of Spain. See: http://www.ecmadrid.org/en/programs/beda-program

Unión de Cooperativas de Enseñanza de Trabajo Asociado de Madrid (UCETAM)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
Programme placing US citizens as English Teaching Assistants in schools in Madrid. See: http://www.ucetampbu.es/index.php/programa-de-auxiliares/auxiliares/el-comienzo

Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
Like the NALCAP (see above), this programme offers teaching assistant placements in Spain through the Ministry of Education. Unlike the NALCAP, successful applicants are subject to steep fees of up to US$2,000. Still interested? See: http://www.ciee.org/teach/spain/


Centre International d'Études Pédagogiques (CIEP)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
This programme offers teaching assistant placements in France and is open to citizens not just of the US and Canada, but also South Africa, Australia and NZ among others. You MUST be aged 20-30 and attending university at the time of application. You also need to have a reasonable knowledge of French (B1 level or higher). See: http://www.ciep.fr/en/assistantetr/index.php


US Teaching Assistantships (USTA)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
Similar to but separate from Fulbright (see below), this programme offers US citizens the chance to be teaching assistants in Austrian secondary (high) schools. See: https://www.usta-austria.at/site/home


Study, Intercultural Training and Experience Programme (SITE)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
This programme offers teaching assistantships in schools in the Lombardy area of Italy to US citizens who are university students or recent graduates. Placements last from 3 months to a full academic year. See: http://siteprogram.pacioli.net/home


Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
Programme placing US citizens as English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) all over Europe. Language proficiency may be required. See: http://us.fulbrightonline.org/eta-program-charts (click on 'Europe' to see placements, grants and language requirements, then use the drop-downs in the menu bar to find out how to apply.

Working Holiday Visa Canadians
This programme grants participants a long-stay visa which allows Canadians (aged 18-30/35) to live, and work in a nominated European country for up to 12 months. Countries include Ireland, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain among others. Interested? See: http://www.international.gc.ca/experience/destinations_out-destinations_sortant.aspx?lang=eng


Most of the programmes I come across are for North Americans. However, there are some options for Australians and New Zealanders. Note that the programmes under the 'Western Europe' heading provide visas NOT jobs. These visas enable you to legally live in your chosen country for a fixed amount of time, and to work, although finding that work is your responsibility. NB: As an EU citizen I am merely aware of these programmes – I cannot vouch for any of them, so please DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH before applying.


Bilingual English Development and Assessment (BEDA)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
A private organisation that places successful applicants as language assistants in Catholic schools in and around Madrid. The programme is open to various nationalities, among them Australians and New Zealanders. See: http://www.ecmadrid.org/en/programs/beda-program


Centre International d'Études Pédagogiques (CIEP)
Applications for 2014/15: CLOSED
This programme offers teaching assistant placements in France to a few nationalities, including citizens of Australia and NZ. You MUST be aged 20-30 and attending university at the time of application. You also need to have a reasonable knowledge of French (B1 level or higher). See: http://www.ciep.fr/en/assistantetr/index.php


Working Holiday Maker Programme Australians
This programme grants participants a long-stay visa which allows Australians (aged 18-30) to live, and work in a nominated European country for up to 12 months. Countries include Ireland, the UK, Germany, France and Italy among others. Interested? See: http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/australians-overseas/#a

Working Holiday Scheme New Zealanders
For a 12-month Working Holiday visa, New Zealanders (aged 18-30) need to apply to the appropriate embassy in NZ. Participating countries include France, Germany, Italy and Spain among others. Interested? See: http://www.nzembassy.com/. The website is far from user-friendly. Click on the country of your choice, then 'New Zealanders overseas' (from the right-hand menu), then 'Living in [country]' and finally, 'Visas for [country]'.

Last updated: 10/10/2014 | Disclaimer 

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