The Reality of Getting Paid Work Abroad as a North American in Europe
So you dream of a life teaching English in Europe. You imagine sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris after teaching a class, or walking past the Colosseum on your way to work, or meeting friends at a tapas bar in downtown Madrid to kick off your weekend.
Unfortunately, if you are an American or Canadian citizen, it’s not easy. Most ESL markets demand large numbers of native English speakers from all over the world, but Western Europe is a special case. With EU labor laws allowing the free flow of workers among the European countries, employers can hire English-speaking teachers from the UK and Ireland without the hassle and expense of sponsoring a visa, for now at least. This means that there’s no incentive for a school in continental Europe to hire an American or Canadian teacher.
So how do you, as a North American, get to that sidewalk cafe?
The first step is to let go of your notions of making a lot of money. High-paying ESL jobs are just not readily available for you in Europe. The businesses that pay the big bucks are almost always going to hire someone who doesn’t need a visa. The second step is to expand your definition of teaching English. In Asia or South America, you’d likely be in a school, teaching your own class; in Europe, teaching might take the form of conversation practice at the dining room table with your host family.
So how do North Americans do it?
In Spain, Italy and France, there are government-sponsored programs which place North Americans in public schools. These programs are great, but have limited placements, are competitive, and require a full school year commitment. People also work under the table across Europe. This means no visa, so if you stay for more than 90 days, you are illegally in the EU and you run the risk of being fined (or, in rare cases, banned from reentry) for overstaying your tourist visa. These jobs usually take the form of private tutoring or part-time work for private language academies. People who do this successfully are outgoing, hard-working, self-starters; it’s not easy to piece together a living on freelance teaching, especially if you don’t speak the local language. The business is mostly referral-based, so you have to work hard to network and get your name out there.
Why should I pay to live abroad?
As you’ve seen, moving to Europe to teach English just isn’t simple. The government programs are very limited. The freelance, go-it-alone method is highly risky–you won’t be able to line up any work until after you’ve already arrived in Europe, and you’ll probably spend several weeks living in a hostel, while you try to patch together enough private classes to pay for an apartment. Ultimately, this is a very expensive and stressful way to kick off your life abroad, and even if you get your business off the ground, you’re living illegally in a foreign country, always running the risk of getting caught. Going through a program, while requiring an initial investment, eliminates that stress and uncertainty and sets you up for a positive, productive experience.
So what are my options?
If you’re interested in making a career of teaching English, you could complete your TEFL certification online and use the job placement assistance to help you find work anywhere in Europe. You could also earn your TEFL certificate in the Czech Republic where it’s more likely to make a livable wage AND be on a work visa teaching in Prague following your course.
More interested in cultural exchange? Teaching English in a Homestay is a great option if you really want to immerse yourself. You’ll live for 1 to 3 months with a local family in country destinations like Italy, France, or Spain. You’ll spend 15 hours a week tutoring the family in English–the rest of the time you’re free to explore! Your program fee covers your lodging and your meals, so no worrying about rent or groceries.
While that fee may seem high at first glance, think about what it would cost you to backpack Europe for 3 months, or to pay for a hostel for weeks while you get that tutoring business going. Western Europe is expensive. You’d go through that money in a month (having run out of money and lived on stale baguettes in the last week of a backpacking trip, I’m speaking from experience).
Really want some classroom experience? Teaching English in Italy or France is the way to go. You’ll spend 3 months living with a host family and working as a volunteer teaching assistant (15-18 hours/week) at a local school. Again, your lodging and meals are covered, and the job is only part-time, so you’ll have plenty of time to travel, study the language, and immerse yourself in Italian culture.
Apply today to kick off your European adventure!