The cost of living in Spain: “Two-euro wines! Caña believe it?!”
Some of the best things about Spain are its sunny, Mediterranean climate, terrace culture, crowded plazas, food and yes… you guessed it; cheap living! Spain is renowned for its cheap prices across the board and most English teachers would testify to this with a big grin on their face. Even after 8 years in Spain I still find myself greedily over-ordering tapas (or wine…) while declaring in a high-pitched wobble of excitement: “but it’s only €2 guys! How can you say no to that?!” In most areas in central or southern Spain a beer (often with a free tapa) will cost as little as €1-€1.20. A three-course menu del día (lunch menu) with a bottle of wine costs between €8- €15 euros. Even in the north, famed by southerners for being ‘muy caro’ (very expensive), you’d be unlucky if you paid more than €2.30 for a ‘caña’ (a half pint). So, leading an active social life on a teaching salary is easily doable in Spain. Let’s be clear about one thing though: DON’T come to Spain if your objective is to earn the big bucks fast, you will probably be disappointed. DO come to Spain, however, if you’re prepared to save a bit less but live A LOT more…!
Upon arrival: Setting up your life, your banks accounts and your savings
The first thing you have to do when you arrive in Spain is start the exciting (at first…) flat hunt! I recommend doing this on site not from a distance. It’s much better to meet your potential flatmates in person as these people can make or break your experience abroad. Many teachers opt to live with colleagues, often getting in contact with other new teachers before arrival via their employer. Obviously, as a keen linguist, I’m all for living it up with the Spanish to get the most immersive experience possible! There are lots of websites to help you find flat-shares such as www.pisocompartido.com and www.idealista.com. Be prepared to factor in accommodation costs (hotels / Air B&Bs etc) while looking for a flat, which could cost up to €500 or more. Another cost that many teachers don’t expect is the ‘half salary’ in the first month. As schools and academies start in the 2nd/3rd week of September, you normally only receive half a month’s wages for the first pay check (paid at the start of October). I think it’s helpful to arrive with at least one month’s wages in savings to avoid money troubles.
Once you’ve found your flat and future roomies, the second thing to do is open a bank account. Doing this requires you to have an address in Spain and almost always, a work contract with proof of income. It’s fairly easy to set up an account, which is good as most academies won’t hold your hand through the process. If your Spanish level is low, I recommend going with a friend or colleague who can speak the language. Spanish banks generally charge commission to open and maintain an account, although there are some such as the online EVOBANCO which offer low-zero commission on transfers, cash withdrawals and transactions worldwide.
Saving up those pennies:
I find a good strategy to save here in Spain is to take out your weekly budgeted spendings for groceries and nights out in cash and use that. Unlike the UK, there is still quite a cash culture in Spain, so this is a practical way of living to a budget. I find that a budget of €60 euros per week for social events is ample to live off and bear in mind I live in the ‘expensive’ part of Spain. You can easily do all your grocery shopping for about €30, especially if you buy your fresh produce from your local greengrocer’s. Many academy teachers also offer the odd private class for cash in hand ‘spending money’. A couple of hours a week usually brings in an extra €40-€50.
Language Academies: Salaries & Hours
The majority of English teachers in Spain find work in language academies, whether these be international companies such International House & the British Council or local, smaller ones. Salaries and working conditions vary greatly depending on where you work in Spain and how many hours you’re offered. Before going to Spain, you should definitely consider what your priorities are. If you’re after a steady income which allows you to fly home from time to time, afford a few weekends away and maybe even save up a bit, then the bigger cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or the wealthier areas such as the Basque Country are probably best for you. Generally speaking, these places will offer much higher salaries. If money and saving isn’t an issue and lapping up days in the sun or exploring remote parts of the country are your number one priority, then you can afford to be pickier and perhaps head to the south to places such Cadiz, Granada, Extremadura etc.
Hours vary greatly depending on the school and the teacher’s preferences but in my experience, most academies tend to offer teachers between 20-26 teaching hours a week. You should expect to add an extra (unpaid) 10 hours minimum on top of that for personal planning and travel. Travel to off-site locations such as business classes are sometimes compensated for. Often, more experienced or long-term teachers will take on up to 30 hours a week but I wouldn’t recommend this for those just starting out. If you tend to spend a long time planning classes and marking, then 24 hours teaching time is plenty. Anything more than that and the quality of your classes tends to suffer, as teaching demands a lot of emotional and mental energy.
Average monthly salaries:
Ok, so let’s talk numbers…! On average, in most large cities teachers earn between €10- €15 euros / hour. Average monthly salaries in cities like Madrid, Bilbao, and Barcelona generally range from €1,000 to €1,200 per month for 24 hours per week. However, monthly salaries in academies can range enormously from €800 – €1,600. For example, I’ve met some English teachers working in Cadiz who earn between €700 euros per month for around 18-20 hours a week, holidays not included. This is definitely at the lower end of the scale but is reflective of the exceptionally cheap cost of living in the south. You’ll be surprised how people manage to survive off this. When I taught in Salamanca, I was earning between €900 – €1000 per month for about 22 hours/week. In San Sebastian, I earned €1,200 per month for 22 hours teaching time + 2 hours training per week. Most other academy teachers in the Basque country similarly earn around €1,200 per month for 20-24 hours a week. One friend teaching in Bilbao earned between €1,500 – €1,600 for 30 hours a week.
Working Conditions & Extra Considerations
Summer and holiday:
Most academies pay bank holidays, Christmas and Easter holidays but be careful to check this with your employer before signing anything.
You should also consider that most academies work from September to end of June, leaving you jobless or job-seeking for July and August. This is generally not a problem though as there is government support available. Provided you were on a contract and depending on how long you’ve worked in Spain, you should be able to apply for ‘el paro’ (unemployment benefits). This means you’ll continue to receive about 70% of your normal monthly income during the summer months. In Lacunza (part of International House), returning staff tend to earn slightly more and also qualify for the major benefit of receiving paid summer leave in August.
Sick days and Health care:
If you’re off work for illness, you won’t be paid for the first 3 days of sick leave, after which you are paid a reduced proportion of your usual salary.
As long as you’re employed and part of the “seguridad social” system, you should have access to free health care in Spain just like the Spanish. This may vary for those who require visas although it should still be feasible, just with more paperwork.
Other Types of Teaching
Government scholarships for public schools
If you’re a graduate or a final year university student you could take advantage of the ‘auxiliares de Conversación’* programme in Spain. This offers 12 hours as an English language assistant in Spanish schools for 700 euros a month. This is a great option if you’re a new or unqualified teacher and want some initial work experience in the field while still leaving lots of time for learning Spanish and having fun!
‘El autónomo’ – The Self-employed teacher
Academy life might not be for everyone, or simply, might not be forever. Just as I did, many teachers, after a few years, brave the world of self-employment in order to gain a bit of personal and financial autonomy. This was the best decision I ever made regarding my teaching. Choosing my own timetable allowed me to pursue other interests professionally such as singing and acting. The rewards of going self-employed are numerous but it can be a complicated path: mountains of paperwork and unhelpful, grumpy civil servants, so patience and good Spanish are recommended!
Being self-employed is a great alternative for those who prefer to choose their own working hours, place of work, students and of course, hourly rates. On average for a private class, I charge between €23-€30 euros per hour depending on whether the student wants general English, exam prep or if the job requires further travel time. Many teachers turn to group classes as these are the real money-makers. I offer intensive exam courses charging €40/hour, 3 hours per week. If you get a couple of groups per week, that’s €960/month for six hours a week – not bad! These are often very hard to find though and are short-term so one-to-ones will be your main source of self-employed income as a teacher. On average, after tax, a self-employed teacher can earn around €2,000 for 20 hours a week.
Being self-employed is rather complicated and expensive in Spain. Monthly payments to the ‘seguridad social’ (like national insurance) start low, at about €60 euros per month if you’re just starting out but increase to around €300 / month after a few years. These costs are automatically taken out your account even in the summer months when you’re not earning. You also have the headache of filling in your tax returns in summer, (most get a gestor – accountant) and paying your quarterly taxes to the bank. I generally put aside 12% of my monthly earnings for the tax return as a safety blanket. There is also less financial security with being self-employed so make sure you agree a cancellation policy with students before starting the course.
Now we’ve looked at the how much, the where, the how and the what, the only question left to ask is WHEN will you decide to start your experiencia en España …?
Written by Naomi Falgate for Teacher’s Friend