What’s it like living and teaching in Spain?

Spain is not only popular with tourists, but teachers, too – Tes looks at the practicalities of working in the country

Chantille Rayman-Bacchus

Teaching in Spain: What's it like for a UK teacher to live and work there?

Spain continues to be a favoured destination for British ex-pats and other international teachers alike. With more than 100 international schools scattered across the country, it’s easy for teachers to find the ideal post. 

Why Spain?

It is the largest country in Southern Europe, divided into 50 provinces offering their own culinary and cultural particularities. It is also the most climatically diverse country with landscapes varying from snowy mountain ranges to dry and grassy savannahs and the world-renowned coastlines. 

No matter what the time of year, there’s always something to do. In winter, 34 world-class ski resorts open and there are excellent eating opportunities all year round.

Spain’s vibrant culture, rich in music, dance and the arts, echoes the diverse historical influences that are evident in its architecture. Graceful arcs and intricate motifs lend an air of romance to narrow, winding streets where annual fiestas are celebrated: tomato throwing, human-tower building and bull running to mention a few.

Teacher salary

In Spain, wages are set as industry standards. The basic annual salary for teachers working in international schools is approximately €21,950 (£19,800), which is typically divided into 15 payments of €1,462 (£1,320).

This means teachers can expect a double payment three times a year. By taking on extra roles and responsibilities, it is possible to increase the basic salary and it is not uncommon for teachers to take on private lessons after school.

It is worth noting that income tax is 15-18 per cent and the cost of living is generally cheaper than somewhere like the UK.

Academic requirements

To work in British international schools in Spain, teachers must hold an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in education. While experience is generally preferred, it isn’t necessary.

While teachers are not expected to speak Spanish, it is a bonus and not only helpful when dealing with parents but also when it comes to organising trips and contacting organisations outside the school. 

Cost of living

Many international schools are found in and around important towns and cities, and there is a marked difference in the cost of living compared with less populated areas. In Madrid or Barcelona, it is difficult to find a two-bed apartment for less than €1,000 (£900) per month. Typical prices start at €1,300 (£1,170) for a decent, modestly furnished flat in a reasonable neighbourhood. 

There are plenty of international schools around coastal areas. In Malaga, the rents are a more comfortable €500-€600 (£450-£540) for the same – if not bigger – two-bed apartment, and in Murcia they are even cheaper. 

Throughout Spain, the cost of food is generally 10-15 per cent cheaper than in the UK, and that includes grocery shopping as well as eating out. Items considered a luxury in the UK, such as olive oil and avocados, can be purchased for considerably less, and all alcohol is cheaper and often served with a generous hand as optics and measures are seldom seen.

For teachers living on the Balearic and Canary islands, life is generally more expensive and particularly subject to the tourist boom that summer brings.

Culture

Guaranteed good weather inspires the sunny disposition and laid-back "mañana" attitude Spain is so famous for. Traditionally speaking, punctuality is not something the average Spanish person is concerned with, so meetings and social engagements can start a little late.   

Shops and many businesses open from 10amt to 8pm, but the custom of siesta is still evident as many close 1.30-4.30pm, and banks, as well as government offices, don’t open after lunch.

Views from teachers in Spain

Karen Donald-Godfrey, head of English at Queen’s College, Mallorca

Karen moved to Spain three years ago and saysit has been one of the best choices I could have made.”

“The lifestyle and culture here are very easy-going. Whilst this can be a little frustrating at times when you want to get things done, I have learned to embrace it. Obviously, the amount of sunshine here helps to make it possible to get outside more, which really helps me to unwind," she says.

“As a regular classroom teacher, my GTP and PGCE were sufficient to allow me to teach here. As a head of department, my experiences as head of KS4 English and head of Year 8 may have been favourable.  

“The actual teaching side of working out here has been pretty much the same as the UK. Naturally, it has taken time to adapt my lessons to the different international specifications. It's refreshing to leave behind the bureaucracy from the world of UK teaching, and be given greater autonomy and professional trust. 

“Work-life balance is fantastic. For the first time in my life I can say that I work to live, and not live to work. Yes, there are times when work is more intense but I never work the ridiculous hours that I used to in the UK.

Nathan Parry, English teacher in Vigo  

Parry has worked in various international schools in Spain – in Barcelona, Madrid and Mallorca – and also speaks positively about his life in Spain. 

“Galicia is a beautiful and cheap place to live (both in terms of daily living costs and housing – rental or to buy)," he says.

“People are very friendly and open and welcoming, and the natural beauty of the beaches and coastline is breath-taking. On top of all this – if you love food – Galicia offers incredible seafood and other culinary delights at a very reasonable price. 

“There are many teaching jobs in Spain but Galicia only has a few British schools. However, working in a language academy is very easy as there is a huge demand for native English teachers. 

“It’s not too different to teaching in the UK except for perhaps smaller class sizes in general, and there is a very good work-life balance for teachers.”

Chantille Rayman-Bacchus is a secondary English teacher who has been working in British international schools in Spain for 15 years

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