|My favourite class ever – G Tigers, Poland (Oct 2011 – June 2012)|
Generally speaking, to find legal work in Europe you must (a) be the holder of a passport from an EU member state, either through birth or ancestry, or (b) be married to an EU citizen, or (c) be in possession of a valid work or study visa. Employers in the EU 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.
What this means for non-EU citizens
For the reason given above, Western Europe, with the exception of Germany*, is pretty much a no-go for non-EU citizens. Eastern Europe, however, is a whole other ball game, and it is still possible to find legal work without too much difficulty. Demand for teachers is quite high in Poland, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine among others.
As a non-EU citizen you would enter Europe on a Schengen visa, which is essentially a tourist visa that 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). Failure to convert your visa into a valid 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. Overstaying your visa is not advisable. 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.
Options for qualified school teachers
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 might consider applying for jobs at International Schools. These are schools that teach the British or American national curriculum. Familiarity with the American curriculum would 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.
*Germany is the one country in Western Europe where it is 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.
|The beautiful Plaza Mayor in Madrid|
The jobs market in Western Europe – in particular in France, Spain and Italy – is extremely competitive. Most TEFLers have a degree and a CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL (as opposed to an online TEFL certificate) and at least a year’s full-time experience. 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 and an online TEFL certificate or even just a TEFL certificate – be prepared to look outside the main cities.
Unless you are exceptionally highly-qualified, i.e., think a Master's (which can be in any discipline) and able to lecture at university level, you can pretty much forget about teaching in The Netherlands or Scandinavia. People educated in these countries 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.
Despite the recession, there is currently no shortage of TEFL jobs in Europe. The biggest markets appear to be in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia. The best site for jobs in Europe as a whole is undoubtedly http://www.tefl.com. If you have a CELTA, Trinity CertTESOL, EDI CertTEFL or SIT TESOL, you can apply for jobs with International House (http://ihworld.com/jobs) and, 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 – you really need to be on the ground at the right time handing out your CV.
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 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 drop.
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 more popular locations where you could be spending 33-50% of your salary on a room in a shared apartment. Employers in Europe do not tend to reimburse flights or pay for relocation. Free housing is not necessarily a good thing as it’s generally only provided where the salary is far too low to live on.
In Portugal you can expect to take home €700-1,000pm; in Spain you're looking at €800-1,200pm; taxes in Italy are high and net salaries start at around the €900pm mark; in France you can expect to earn €1,100-1,600pm (I haven't looked into this properly to determine whether these are gross or net figures). Eastern European salaries tend to be lower – the worst I've seen, which was nowhere near a living wage, was around €350pm with free accommodation thrown in. Generally though you'll be looking at €500-1,000pm.
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.
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 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 popular in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Ukraine. Note that some of these take kids as young as two, which makes for some pretty challenging classes!
|No matter how difficult the day, students can always make you smile!|
SHORT-TERM SUMMER CONTRACTS
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 on a Schengen (tourist) 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-£450pw (with holiday pay of 12.07% on top); in mainland Europe wages are lower so you can expect to earn €500-€750ish per fortnight. Many of the camps are residential so food and accommodation is 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 is TECS (http://recruit.tecs.es/) in the South of Spain. They also run year-round language schools so you may be able to secure work for the academic year by doing a summer camp.
To see what 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 commences in early January. By late April most of the 'best' jobs will have gone.
PROGRAMMES FOR NORTH AMERICANS
If you are American or Canadian there are a few programmes that, if you meet the criteria, will enable you to legally work in Western Europe for a fixed amount of time. 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
A very popular programme offering teaching assistant placements in Spain. Applications for the 2014/15 academic year open in January 2014. Note that early application is essential. See: http://www.educacion.gob.es/eeuu/convocatorias-programas/convocatorias-eeuu/auxiliares-conversacion-eeuu.html
Bilingual English Development and Assessment (BEDA)
A private organisation that places language assistants in Catholic schools primarily in Madrid, but also in the a few other places in Spain. Note that this programme is also open to Australians and New Zealanders. Applications for the 2013/14 academic year closed on 31 January 2013. See: http://www.ecmadrid.org/en/programs/beda-program
Unión de Cooperativas de Enseñanza de Trabajo Asociado de Madrid (UCETAM)
Programme placing US citizens as English Teaching Assistants in schools in Madrid. Their website is in Spanish (so language proficiency is definitely required) and is fairly light on information but there are at least contact details. See: http://www.ucetam.org/
Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE)
This programme offers teaching assistant placements in Spain. Applications for the 2014/15 academic year close on 1 March 2014. See: http://www.ciee.org/teach/spain/
Centre International d'Études Pédagogiques (CIEP)
This programme offers teaching assistant placements in France and is open to citizens of the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia and NZ among others. You MUST be aged 20-30 and attending university at the time of application and have a reasonable knowledge of French (B1 level). Recruitment is open from mid-October to early January/late February. See: http://www.ciep.fr/en/assistantetr/index.php
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).