There’s an easy way to work in Spain legally in exchange for 12 to 16 hours of speaking English a week: the North American Language and Culture Assistant program, which has been around for a decade. Think stipend, student visa and health insurance all in one little package (with some cañas and tapas thrown in for good measure during that ample time off).
What is the Language Assistant Program? An Overview.
Spain is often the butt of European language jokes. Ever see that video of Madrid mayor Ana Botella presenting the Spanish capital’s Olympic bid or the thousands of parodies that came shortly after? Spain needs you and your native tongue.
The Spanish Ministry of Education started the Language Assistant Program in order to improve oral communication at public primary and secondary schools as well as at official government language schools. Known in Spain as auxiliares de conversación, the program employs more than 2000 English speakers every year, the majority of whom are placed in Madrid, Andalucía and Galicia.
Applications for the Auxiliares de Conversación program will be open from approximately mid-January until mid-April, 2017 for the 2017-2018 school year. Just be prepared for the server to be jammed, and note that you can begin the application even if you’re waiting on one last document or recommendation letter and thus grab a lower inscrita number.
Candidates accepted into the program are expected to work eight to ten months for a small stipend. The amount of money assistants receive monthly depends on regional assignment, but due to the low cost of living in many parts of Spain it’s more than enough to get by on. (see our Cost of Living series for dozens of towns and regions!)
As of late 2016, selected candidates to Madrid earn 1000€ a month, while participants in every other region receive a 700€ stipend. The job, officially considered as a government grant, includes paid vacation for all national, regional and local holidays, as well as medical insurance for the duration of the program.
Accepted applicants are expected to attend a pre-course orientation to receive necessary paperwork and learn about the job. Once on site, assistants work alongside teachers giving anything from music, gym and even science lessons in English.
Job duties, work schedule and even dress code will depend on your placement, with one of the biggest drawbacks to the program being that there is no all-encompassing description of duties and expectations. Some schools have integrated assistants into their teaching curriculum; others have no idea what to do with them.
One year in Spain not enough? You’ll be given preference to renew your contract – be it at the same school or another – for a second academic year. This usually occurs towards the end of the first trimester, in late November, and remains open until late February.
How to Apply for the Auxiliar Program
You are invited to apply for the auxiliar program if you:
- are a native English speaker, or have a high, certified level
- are over the age of 21 (age limit is 60 in all regions)
- hold a university degree or are in your last year of study
- have a clean criminal record and be of good health
The majority of participants tend to be in their 20s, and many are just out of university, though a growing number of assistants are taking career breaks and spending a year or two as an auxiliar. Basic knowledge of Spanish is preferred, though not required.
The application process is done through an online platform called Profex. As a rule of thumb, the lower your inscrita, or inscription number, the better chance you’ll have of getting your first choice of regions, though acceptance into the program is a rolling process. This number will be assigned to you once you’ve completed the application process online.
You will need the following documents scanned and ready to upload as a PDF to start your Profex application:
- a copy of the picture page of your valid US or Canadian passport
- a copy of your college transcript or college degree
- a statement of purpose in English or Spanish
- a letter of recommendation from a university professor or boss
The program website has a wealth of resources to help you through every step of the process along with a must-read manual on the process of applying.
The steps are quite straightforward: after creating a PROFEX user and password, you’ll be asked to fill out a curriculum vitae and other pertinent information of interest to the program, such as previous teaching experience. This is also where you will upload the PDF forms of the aforementioned documents.
Next, you’ll be taken to a page asking you for your placement preference of either a city/town/village or no preference, to choose a primary or secondary school and finally your preferred autonomous regions. Regions are chosen from either groups A, B, or C. Note that North Americans cannot be given positions in Ceuta and Melilla, and Cantabria cancelled the program for the 2016-17 school year. Click submit.
You’ll be given a PDF summary with your inscrita number. Applications are processed in order of inscrita number and positions assigned accordingly. Smaller regions will fill up fast, but you can always be asked to put on a wait list, thus losing your placement in your originally assigned region.
You must print your Profex PDF, sign it and send it to the regional coordinator, whose mailing address is given in the program manual, along with a checklist that must also be initialed, signed and dated (and if you’re in a New York, a MOU that is no older than 60 days). This paperwork must be approved, in hard copy form, no later than April 20th, 2016. When that paperwork arrives successfully and you’ve met all of the requirements, your status on Profex will be changed to registrada, which means that your documents are being reviewed.
Get used to waiting, which seems to be a pastime in Spain.
Placements are not publicized until mid-May or even later, after which you’ll be required to apply for your visa and book your travel to Spain (Iberia offers great deals for assistants, and STA Travel usually has bargains, too). This will come in email form, so add email@example.com to your address book so the notice doesn’t go to your spam folder.
How do I apply for a visa and resident card in Spain?
Once your status on Profex has been changed to admitida, you’ll receive a regional placement. At this point in the process you still won’t know which city you’ve been assigned to but you must make a decision: you’ll have just three short days to accept or reject your placement through Profex.
The visa process begins when you receive your carta de nombramiento, or your school/city assignment, via snail mail. Once you have received this letter, make an appointment at the Spanish consulate nearest your place of residence. Required documentation depends largely on the consulate, so call ahead and ask, and bring both originals and copy. Visa fees differ slightly, but expect to pay between $100-$200 in processing fees, plus any travel and translation fees.
At the consulate, you’ll be asked to surrender your passport, to which a visa will be affixed and returned to you. This process can take several weeks so plan to start as soon as you receive your carta de nombramiento and book your appointment at the consulate. We suggest applying for an FBI background check immediately upon admission into the program, as the process can actually strecth months!
Your Spanish visa is good for 90 days upon entering the EU, and will include your Número de Identificación de Extranjero, or a foreign resident’s number. The NIE is your short-term residency permit in Spain, allowing you to legally reside in the country as a student and perform tasks such as opening a bank account. Before your visa expires you must go to a Foreign Resident’s office in order to apply for your TIE, which is used as an ID card in both Spain and Europe, allowing you to travel in and out of the EU freely, along with your passport, until the end of the program.
The process for applying for a TIE card will again vary slightly from province to province. Wait to begin the process after your general orientation meeting, as certain necessary documents regarding health insurance and payment may be given to you at this time.
As a North American it is not recommended that you come to Spain expecting to find a paid teaching position outside of school hours unless you have work papers or are willing to risk deportation. In our experience, even private language schools are unwilling to hire anyone who does not have credentials and a valid work visa. That being said, as an auxiliar you can apply for permission to work up to 20 hours a week on a student visa through the Oficina de Extranjeros.
What are the drawbacks to the Auxiliar Program?
The biggest complaints about the language assistant program tend to come from lack of organization at the school and ministry level and late payment. Do your homework before arrival to determine cost of living in your region or look for forums with veteran assistants to see if they’ve had problems with payment. However, often times there’s not a whole lot you can do except be patient and plan ahead.
This unique opportunity to teach English and learn Spanish depends largely on your outlook and despite its issues, the North American Language Assistants program offers one of the best ways to live and work legally in Spain.
Have you been accepted to the program and are at a loss at where to start looking for housing, a cell phone and getting a lay of the Spanish school system?
Our first eBook, Moving to Spain: a Comprehensive Guide to Your First Weeks on the Iberian Peninsula, has been winning praise from 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 assistants. It’s a great price, chock-full of information about setting up in Spain and includes anecdotes and vocabulary lists for newbies to Spain. Check it out for just 10 euros!