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The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

Every year thousands of non-EU English speakers get to live and work in Spain by becoming language assistants in Spanish schools. There are however pros and cons to the scheme; here's what those who’ve worked as ‘auxes’ think you should know before applying.

The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain
'Auxes' in Spain are generally not badly paid for the hours they work. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

The idea behind ‘auxiliares de conversación’ is that they help Spanish school students to improve their speaking and listening skills – something aided by regular interaction with native speakers – and also teach the kids about aspects of their culture, language, history, humour, music, sport and customs.

Auxes, as they are known among the Americans (and language assistants by the British) are paid a monthly stipend in return for assisting English lessons for twelve or sixteen hours a week across Spain and Europe. 

Often these are recent graduates or modern languages students studying as part of their year abroad, and the scheme attracts teachers from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, and India.

Although the programme is a fantastic opportunity to live in a new country and immerse yourself in a new culture and language, there are some pitfalls to the programme and things worth bearing in mind when it comes to applying, particularly so after Brexit.

The Local spoke to several auxes and got the lowdown on the pros and cons of the programme:

The Pros

A way into Spain for non-EU applicants

Unless you have a lot of money, you get married to a resident or can find a job in Spain that no EU candidate can do, the chances of you being able to move to Spain as a third-country national are pretty slim. 

One of the easiest ways to get your foot in the door is through this language assistant scheme, which in most cases requires applying for Spain’s long-term student visa. 

This visa has quite a few advantages, such as being able to bring some family members with you, no age limit for applicants, being able to study at university in Spain and being allowed to work up to 20 hours per week. 

Auxes are usually contracted from October to May, but there are ways for them to extend their stay in Spain.

READ ALSO: The pros and cons of Spain’s student visa

No Spanish language requirements, the chance to learn a new language

Spain is one of the few countries that don’t require auxes to have any local language skills when arriving. Although that may present some difficulties when arriving and getting yourself set up (more on that later in the cons section) living in Spain and interacting with native speakers everyday is a priceless opportunity to learn a second language.

Many auxes choose to take Spanish lessons or make use of ‘intercambios de idiomas’ (language exchanges) to practice their Spanish with native speakers and help others improve their English.

You don’t work many hours

Although the salary isn’t the best (see below) most auxes can’t complain as they work so few hours. It varies by region but most language assistantsare contracted to work 12 or 16 hours a week (yes, you read that right) over 3 or 4 days a week.

Most staff at schools are quite understanding, and if you get yourself a good coordinator they are normally quite flexible about taking time off or rearranging classes to allow you to travel and take full advantage of your time in Spain.

It’s paid

Despite working so little, auxes are paid. It’s not the best money in the world and, like with the hours, depends on where in Spain you’re sent, but most are paid between €700 and €1,000 a month. Actually getting that beca (grant), however, can present problems as explained in the cons section.

But all things considered you should remember auxes are paid enough to pay rent and cover most daily costs for very few hours work. Not a bad deal for students and recent graduates, but it’s also very common to top-up pay with private tutoring or work in English academies.

Combining study and work is possible

Many British auxes use the language assistant scheme as part of a study abroad for languages students.

Usually during their third year, they often have to do some (but not much) work for their universities, and often programme coordinators are quite good at allowing you the time to do it.

Daily interaction with native speakers not only boosts your language skills and adds something different to your CV, but for those auxes wanting to become teachers it’s also fantastic experience in the classroom. Whether or not they still want to be teachers by the end of the school year depends on the person – and the kids they’re teaching!

The scheme is a great way for third-country nationals to get to live in the country,but it’s not all advantages. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

The Cons

Like everything in life, even the aux programme has its drawbacks. Most of them are age-old problems common to Spanish society, and many auxes experience them.

You can’t choose where you go

Unfortunately, you can’t choose where exactly you’ll be. You can choose a region and put preferences with regards to whether you’d prefer a city, town, or village, be inland or on the coast, working in a primary or high school, but ultimately go where the regional govt decides they need you.

This means that many auxes are given teaching posts in small towns, and their dreams of living and working in central Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Seville never materialise. 

Commuting isn’t always easy

As you could be placed in a school in a small town in the middle of nowhere, it is worth considering whether you’d want to live in the town itself or in a nearby city and commute. Many auxes do the latter, but if you decide to do that you will be reliant on lifts from colleagues and the unpredictability of public transport in rural Spain.

Those who do end up buying or renting a car should consider how long they’re allowed to drive in Spain with their foreign licences. 

Driving in Spain: Who can exchange their licence and who has to resit the exam?

Payment problems

Many auxes biggest complaint. The many quirks of Spanish administration mean several regions are notorious for paying auxes months late – often not until December – so it’s better to arrive with some savings. Valencia is the worst region for this, and in recent years auxes have been forced to protest outside government buildings to get their pay. 

It’s worth doing some research online before applying, especially if you don’t have access to savings or family support before arriving. Those first few months can be tough, and it often depends if you’re paid directly by the school (like in Andalusia) or as a group by the regional government (like in Valencia and Murcia) so make sure to check when applying.

Spanish admin 

Spanish administration in general can be a shock to the system for many arriving from the U.S, U.K, Australia, or Canada. Sorting out things like your NIE and opening a bank account can be overly-complicated and take a long time. This is compounded if you don’t speak the language, and you’ll soon get used to waiting around at the ayuntamiento. 

READ MORE: 15 terms you need to know to understand Spanish bureaucracy

Sticking to the expat groups

Although many auxes take advantage of their time in Spain to learn the language and integrate into their town, it’s not uncommon for younger auxes to stick together in groups and spend all their time with one another speaking in English. If that’s how you want to spend your time – great.

If not, consider requesting a smaller town placement that will allow you to properly immerse yourself in Spanish culture.

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VISAS

Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you’re from a non-EU country you will need a visa in order to stay in Spain for longer than 90 days, but knowing which type of permit is best for you can be tricky. Here's how to find the right one for you based on your circumstances.

Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you are a citizen of a non-EU country then you may benefit from the 90-day rule, allowing you to visit Spain for 90 days out of every 180 without needing a visa. Countries including the UK, USA, Canada and Australia all benefit from this rule.

Citizens of certain countries require a visa even for a short trip – find the full list here.

However, the tricky part comes when you want to move to Spain and spend longer than just those three months. What are your visa options, whether you want to move to Spain to retire, to work or even to set up your own business? 

Retirees:

The best option for retirees is to apply for the non-lucrative visa (NLV). This allows you to live in Spain for one year, but as the name suggests you are not allowed to work.

In order to apply an applicant must show they have €27,792 at their disposal for one year (€34,740 if it’s a couple), as well as comprehensive health insurance.

If you want to stay in Spain beyond this year, you can either renew it for a further two years (again proving you have the financial means) or change your visa for a work permit or a self-employed permit through the residence modification process.

The NLV is also the best option for those who want to live abroad temporarily. Those who want to stay in Spain for more than three months, but are not planning on living here permanently. It’s ideal for those on a sabbatical for example who have savings or investments and who do not need to work in Spain while here, but want to stay here for a year. It’s also the best option for those who have the financial means to do so.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

retiree in Spain

The NLV is the right visa for most non-EU retirees who want to live in Spain. Photo: pasja1000 / Pixabay

Workers:

If you plan on moving to Spain for work or in order to look for a job, then you will need a work permit. Unfortunately getting a work permit can be tricky because in most cases as a non-EU national, the position you apply for must be on Spain’s shortage occupation list.

Your employer will also have to prove that there were no other suitable candidates within the EU to be able to fulfill the vacancy. This means that only highly skilled workers or those that work in industries that need workers are likely to be successful. These mostly include jobs in the maritime or fishing industries or sports coaches.

If you are wanting to become self-employed, then the entrepreneur visa could be a good option, allowing you to live in Spain for one year in order to open up a business. Be aware however your business must be considered as anything of innovative character with special economic interest for Spain.

You will have to prove you have the necessary qualifications to set up your business and will also have to submit your business plan to the authorities for it to be approved. The entrepreneur visa can be extended for a further two years after your initial one has been granted.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Spain’s visa for entrepreneurs

Investors:

If money is no object and you want to invest in a Spanish property then, you’ll want to apply for Spain’s golden visa. To be eligible, you must invest €500,000 before taxes in a property here. It won’t allow you to work, but it will allow you access to the entire Schengen area. This will also allow your spouse and any dependent children to move to Spain with you.

Another option for investors is the entrepreneur visa as described above, if you want to use your investment to set up a business in Spain.

Joining family members:

If you happen to have a family member who is an EU citizen and lives in Spain or a non-EU relative that has residency in Spain, then you have another option. This is called the family reunification visa. However, in order to be eligible, you need to be a spouse or a dependent child and your relative must have the means to financially support you. 

READ ALSO:

Students:

Enrolling on a course and applying for a student visa is one way for non-EU citizens of any age can live in Spain beyond the regular length of a tourist stay. 

You will have to apply for a short-term or long-term student visa, depending on the length of their course. A student advantages can several advantages such as being able to work part-time or bringing over family members. 

READ MORE: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s student visa?

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