If you’ve ever fantasized about dropping everything and moving to Europe, listen close: Every year, the Spanish government doles out visas like candy to American and Canadian citizens as part of its Language and Culture Assistants program that places native English speakers in public schools—no teaching experience required. Three-hour workdays, plentiful travel opportunities, and affordable living—hola, free healthcare and $2 beers!—are just a few reasons why thousands of auxiliares, or classroom assistants, make temporary, and sometimes permanent, homes in Spain. (Take it from me, a three-year veteran auxiliar who landed in Madrid and never looked back.) From filing your application to receiving your school assignment to making the big move, here are some of the most common questions, answered.
What’s the job?
Auxiliares help kids learn English vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and conversation skills while introducing them to English-speaking countries’ cultures. The duration of the role—and visa—is (a renewable) eight months. You’re there to help the teacher, not be the teacher. So if you’re assigned a class of high-school sophomores, you might be coaching students along on book reports, chemistry projects, or exam prep; if you wind up with first-graders, your day may involve fashioning Thanksgiving turkeys out of construction paper.
There are no hard and fast rules about an auxiliar’s responsibilities—for better or for worse, you basically work at the whim of your co-teachers and school administrators—but there is a set schedule, and it’s pretty sweet: four-day workweeks of 12 to 16 hours, with Mondays or Fridays, plus all holidays and school vacations, off.
To apply, you need a U.S. or Canadian passport and a Bachelor’s degree (in any field) or proof that you’re a junior or senior in an undergraduate program. You’ll also have to pass a background check and a no-big-deal medical evaluation. Not fluent in Spanish? No hay problema—a B2 level is recommended but not required, the idea being that you’ll be speaking almost exclusively in English in the classroom anyway.
What’s the pay?
In Madrid and Barcelona, you’ll receive 1,000 euros ($1,167 at the time this article was written) a month; elsewhere, the pay is 700 euros a month. I know what you’re thinking: How can I live on that?! The short answer is, it’s feasible in Spain, since the cost of living is so much cheaper. In Madrid, for instance, you can find rooms just outside the city center for €300 a month. The lax work schedule makes it easy to double your salary by tutoring under the table (rates run between €15 and €30 an hour). Unfortunately, most formal jobs are off limits, since you’re technically on a non-lucrative student visa.
How (and when) do I apply?
Apply online via the official Ministry of Education page between January and April, and be sure to get your paperwork (transcripts, photocopies, cover letter, etc.) in order a few weeks ahead of time. School assignments are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you apply, the more likely it is you’ll be placed in your top-choice region. The multi-step application process will likely be your first brush with migraine-inducing Spanish bureaucracy—¡Bienvenido!—but luckily there’s an abundance of helpful blog posts like this one to help you navigate the fray.
Can I stay longer than the eight-month school year?
You can be an auxiliar for up to four consecutive years through the government-sponsored program; just reapply annually. If you haven’t had your fill of Spanish life after four years, you can apply for similar positions in non-public schools via BEDA or UCETAM that are sometimes more lucrative.
Is the program right for me?
Whether you see assistant teaching as a stepping-stone for a career in education or as a means to partying and embarking on epic Eurotrips, being an auxiliar is what you make of it. Me? I took the leap because I needed a breather from the corporate grind and a bad-news relationship. Of course, moving to Spain isn’t for everyone: the program doesn’t coddle you like a study-abroad student but rather thrusts you into Spanish society to fend for yourself. There will be inevitable feelings of frustration, culture shock, and loneliness. But the experience will also be rewarding—you’ll no doubt improve your Spanish, make new friends, and travel to places you would’ve never seen otherwise. So take the plunge. Chances are, you won’t regret it.