The truth about finding a teach abroad job in Europe

Teaching abroad in Europe

Who wouldn’t want to teach in Europe?

It’s a continent of dazzling culture, fascinating history, beautiful landscapes, and some of the world’s most delicious food (Bonjour to pizza, tapas, and croissants 😋) Often you’ll find a captivating mix of all these elements in one country, before you even begin thinking about the multitude of travel options living in Europe puts on your doorstep.

So, it’s no mystery why teaching in Europe is popular. But what is hard to understand is why it can be so difficult to find a teaching job there, whether you're teaching English or another subject.

What’s the difference between Europe and the E.U.?

And… how does this relate to teaching? Well, it’s a (highly exciting!) question of visas and work permits. Bear with us...

Europe is the geographical region stretching from Portugal in the west to Russia in the east. The most northern point is in Iceland and it goes as far south as Greece. There are 44 countries in Europe, with some (like Turkey and Russia) also being partially in Asia.

The E.U. (European Union) is a political union between 28 of the countries in Europe. It includes most western European countries such as popular teach abroad destinations like Spain, France, Italy, and Germany.

So, basically all countries in Europe are European but only some are in the Union. Got it? Then let's move on!

Yup. But how does this affect me getting a teaching job in the E.U.?

Getting a job in the EU

It comes down to two factors: competition and cost.

Let’s imagine you are a qualified and experienced teacher from the U.S. who wants to find a teaching job somewhere in the E.U.

What competition are you up against?

Your biggest competition will come from E.U. citizens who also want to teach in a country other than their own. E.U. countries have a “freedom of movement” agreement which means their citizens can all live and work in each other’s countries without needing a visa.

To give an example, a school in Spain could easily recruit native English teachers from Ireland for their English language classes. They wouldn’t have to go through any more paperwork than employing a Spanish teacher in fact, because both countries are in the E.U. And they might not even have to look too hard—there could be plenty of Irish teachers legally living in their Spanish town already, available to work part-time, on a flexible contract or whatever the school needs.

And that’s before you factor in all of the Aussie and Kiwi teachers that could be living in Spain. Wait, what? You’re right—they’re obviously not from the E.U. so how are they living and working there? Australia and New Zealand have a working holiday visa arrangement with Spain that allows 18 to 30-year-olds from each country to live, travel, and work in the other for 1 year.

Unfortunately, no such visa situation currently exists between Spain (or any other E.U. country) and the U.S.

Gotcha. How does cost factor into this, then?

Even though North Americans don’t automatically have the right to work to the E.U. what if you found a school that really, really wanted to hire you. Couldn’t they sponsor your visa?

Well, technically yes! But realistically, hard no.

It’s just too expensive for most schools to consider, especially when they have access to so many other teachers they can hire without any associated costs.

On top of this, many schools in the E.U. (language schools in particular) don’t hire teachers on full-time contracts. It’s actually pretty normal for TEFL teachers in the E.U. to work freelance for multiple schools and private students to make up a full salary. This makes it even more unlikely that a school is going to shell out on visa sponsorship for a teacher they’ll only see a few hours a week.

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So, is it possible for North Americans to find teaching jobs in the E.U?

You might have guessed from what you’ve read so far, it’s not necessarily easy. But it is possible. Here’s how:

Focus your search on one or two specific countries

Each E.U. country has slightly different visa requirements. For example, Canada has a working holiday visa agreement with France, much like the one Spain has with Australia and New Zealand. Make sure you double check what the visa requirements are in any country you’re interested in teaching in.

Look for teaching programs for North Americans in your country of choice

Most E.U. countries do run some government programs that allow North Americans to teach in schools under certain conditions - normally you have to be a student to be eligible. Check out in the Cultural Ambassadors program in Spain or TAPIF in France.

Refocus your search

If none of the above options yield any results, try switching focus to non-country specific programs. CIEE runs teaching programs for North Americans in The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Spain. You need a bachelor’s degree but no teaching experience to apply.

Be flexible and stay positive

Don’t discount countries you don’t know much about! Remember there are 28 countries in the E.U. and 44 in Europe, each with a unique culture and heritage. Research somewhere that wouldn’t be your automatic first choice and you might find a hidden gem.

Here is a good place to start: Discover 5 of the best ESL teaching destinations in Eastern Europe

Plus, fights, trains, and busses between countries in Europe can be quick and affordable so living in one country doesn’t cut you off from what another has to offer.

You might have to jump through a few hoops to get there, but with a flexible mindset and a bit of perseverance, a teaching job in the E.U. could well be yours!

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