Latest revision June 6, 2021
Questions like, can an American work legally in Spain as an English teacher are now frequent.
So can an American work legally in Spain as an English teacher? The short answer is yes, and it is not only Americans who can work legally in Spain as English teacher, but also other non-EU nationals. This includes the latest addition to the list of non-EU countries, the United Kingdom.
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The days of working off the books have by no means disappeared, but the thought of not being able to work legally in Spain as an English teacher scares off some people because they do not know the facts.
This article attempts to explain all available options for working legally in Spain as an English teacher.
To answer the question “can an American work legally in Spain as an English teacher?”, another question must be asked: “How long do you want to stay in Spain?”. Do you want to stay for a couple of months, six months, a year, forever?
The student visa route to work legally in Spain as an English teacher
Spanish student visas are issued for attending courses of between 6 to 12 months duration. The courses must be taught by a state registered organisation (usually a college or university) or by a Cervantes Institute Spanish language school.
The Spanish student visa is an odd animal. It allows residency in Spain for its period of validity, it is renewable, and it has a work provision. The work provision states that the holder may work as long as the work relates to the course sector, that the work does not impede studies and that the work is not full-time. Furthermore, it states that the job can be voluntary or a paid position. Spanish law states that a full-time position is between 35 to 40 hours a week.
Your average English teacher in Spain, legal or not, usually works between 20 to 25 hours a week.
EBC offers a student visa eligible, one academic year study programme (Road2Spain) in conjunction with a Cervantes Institute Spanish schools in Madrid, Malaga and San Sebastian.
So if you want to come to Spain, study Spanish (course sector “language learning”) and teach without worrying about looking over your shoulder, getting a student visa is an excellent option.
Working off the books
Some people work off the books; others do not. So it is very much a matter of personal choice.
According to government statistics, there are around 500,000 illegal workers in Spain. These people live and work in Spain, off the books. So, as you can see, if you decided to work off the books, you would not be alone.
Having said that, it has its risks. In the unlikely event that you are caught teaching, you will have to move apartments. Spain usually does not arrest and deport illegals unless they have committed a crime.
You will need to stay in Spain and if you travel around Europe, make sure it is within the other 26 EU countries that respect the Schengen agreement. If you leave the Schengen zone, there is a risk that you will not be allowed back if your period outside the zone is less than ninety days.
Working off the books happens and is a well-known problem for the Spanish government. If you want to travel this route, the choice is yours. You are an adult, we have explained the situation, and we will not pass judgement.
To see how the Spanish government addresses this problem, look at the “I’ve been illegal for two years, so give me residency” section shown below.
Getting a work permit through “normal” channels
There is no such thing as a temporary or short-term work permit for foreigners in Spain. You must be an EU resident. As an EU resident, you can apply for an English teaching job or any short-term job.
If you want to get a work permit for Spain, it automatically means you are here for the long term. If you are not planning to make Spain your permanent home, getting a work permit is not worth considering.
Getting a work permit means that you will also get full residency in Spain, which translates to a long-term commitment.
As you can well imagine, Spanish immigration does not give a residence permit to anyone who walks in and asks for one. There is a long and drawn-out process (many months), and there is no guarantee of success. During this period, you are supposed to be back in your home country and wait for the result of your work permit application. The waiting period can be as long as nine months.
Getting residency by the back door
Parents and grandparents
The key to a work permit is EU residency, and it can be with any EU member nation.
All EU residents can work in any country in the EU regardless of the EU country where they were born. It is the same principle as someone from New York being able to go and work in California.
Many countries within the EU have a “grandfather” law, which allows people who were not born in the EU to apply for EU residency because their parents were born in the EU. Some EU countries even allow as far back as grandparents. The rule about eligibility varies from country to country so if you think you may be eligible, get in touch with your nearest consulate.
Fiancé, partner or spouse
Spain officially recognises couples regardless of gender. This means that a couple with an EU and a non-EU partner (common-law or married) have official state recognition.
Spain also allows residency for the non-EU partner for officially consummated common-law partnerships and marriages. The marriage procedure needs no explanation, but there is a standard process for creating a common-law partnership. In Spanish, this is called a “pareja de hecho“ and is another road to residency, but it obviously has serious personal implications and commitments.
The “I’ve been illegal for two years, so give me residency law.”
I often refer to this as the “Outer Limits” law.
Please feel free to investigate this to the last syllable because it truly sounds like the “Outer Limits”.
Spain has a law called the “arraigo social”. A section of this law is the “arraigo laboral“. This section of the law offers people who are not from the EU the possibility of gaining residency if they can prove they have been living and working in Spain for at least two years. But, of course, implicit in this is that they have been working illegally because, as we all know, non-EUs who are not EU residents cannot work in Spain, right!
Hold on a minute! Everyone says you cannot work in Spain without a work permit.
Spain is full of contradictions, and this law is possibly the clearest example.
To cut a long story short, the law gives residency to anyone who can show he or she has been living and working illegally in Spain for at least two years.
There is also a formal procedure for registering yourself with the town hall. Your illegal residency clock starts on the day you register with the town hall. The process is called “empadronamiento“.
A similar section in the law applies for common-law partnerships (“arraigo familiar”). NOTE: If you come to Spain with a student visa, you cannot use the “Outer Limits” law for the simple reason that by having a student visa, you are in Spain legally. The “Outer Limits” law is only for illegals!
Brexit and the removal of the British monopoly on English teaching jobs in Spain
Brexit means that the British no longer have an automatic right to live and work in Spain. They also now have the same problems as Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and all other countries that are not members of the EU.
The British are out, so who is filling the vacuum concerning English teachers?
Well, no one right now, so teaching vacancies are rising. The Spanish economy is still not the same as it was six years ago, but according to all official channels, including the IMF, Spain is on the right track. Moreover, big investment firms like Morgan Stanley have been recommending Spain to their investors for over a year.
A summary of how to work legally in Spain as an English teacher
So there you have it. There are several ways to work legally in Spain as an English teacher.
- Temporary (one year) residency with a student visa
- Off the books
- A work visa through “normal” channels
- Residency via partnership or marriage
- Residency through EU parents and sometimes grandparents
- Residency by being illegal
Spain is certainly not closed to non-EUs. You need to know where to look. We hope this article has been useful. Now you have to decide what is best for you.
This page is not legal advice and EBC accepts no liability for any decisions you make. This page is a commentary based on facts and experience at the time of publication. If you need legal advice, get in touch with a lawyer.