My Spain Story: Transitioning from the auxiliar program in Spain to full-time English teacher

Katie McEwen arrived in 2014 through the auxiliar program in Spain. She then went through the visa modification process to get a work permit, and landed a job as a full-time English teacher at a private school. We asked her a few questions about her experience!

Expat: Katie McEwen (US)

  • Current city: Madrid
  • Arrived in: 2014
  • Initial visa type: Student Visa through the CIEE program
  • Current visa type: Work Visa and residency

How long did it take you to go through the process to get a work permit?

From start to finish, including research, probably one year. I started to talk about and research my options in November. I then didn’t make an appointment until around May the following year which was very late. I ended up making an appointment for June, LUCKILY, and actually had organized all of my paperwork for the wrong process (arraigo social but I hadn’t been in Spain for three years yet).

Check updated article on How the Spanish student visa is affected by the new immigration law regulation in 2022

So, in June I made another appointment for July and was able to go for a student visa modification because this process has a grace period of 90 days. After my appointment in July, I received my approval October 29 and then finally got my card, after another mishap in Aluche, in February.  

How many different visa/permit processes have you gone through in Spain? (Tourist, Student, Work Permit, Pareja de Hecho, Marriage, Nationality)

I have had two visas, Student and Working por cuenta ajena (contract).

What process (if you have done several processes) was the easiest and/or the most difficult to go through?

Student Visa Modification was more challenging than any student visa process. It requires many more documents and a much longer waiting period. All papers are submitted and for three months you basically just have to wait. Furthermore, it’s easy to confuse student visa modification and arraigo social because they are very similar processes.

It’s really important to know what the difference is between student visa modification and arraigo social.

What is something you regret about your whole legal process for Spain? Anything you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had arrived with the auxiliar program in Spain earlier my first year so I could have more easily done Arraigo Social. Then I could have applied for teaching jobs with my paperwork at a time more appropriate to the school year.

How much longer do you see yourself in Spain?

I’m thinking of moving back home next year. But, it depends on a lot of things.

How does Spain compare to your home country? Why do you prefer living here?

Moving to Spain is very different in many ways. I love the way of life here, it’s slower. But also at times that drives me insane as well. As the years have passed, I’ve grown to love and hate many aspects as one does while living anywhere. I enjoy the life I’ve been able to build here. But I do miss my family a lot as the years go by.  

What is your current profession in Spain?

After leaving the auxiliar program in Spain, I’m currently a full-time English teacher at a Private School in Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid. I have an indefinite contract.

What have been your past professions in Spain and for how long?

I was on the auxiliar program in Spain for two years, then a teacher with a 25-hour week contract on a student visa in a Colegio Concertado (Charter School). I got this through the program MEDDEAS before then moving on to become a full-time contracted teacher at a different private school, where I currently work. Again, now I’m a full-time contracted teacher at my current private school in Pozuelo.

As you’ve been part of the auxiliar program in Spain, could you briefly describe your experience working for the various programs? Which programs have you participated in? Which comunidades did you work in? Which program did you prefer and why?

I’ve only lived and taught in Madrid. I did the auxiliar program in Spain for two years in a public Secondary school in Boadilla del Monte (Madrid). It was a fun, relaxing experience. However, by the end of my second year I didn’t want to be an auxiliar or assistant anymore.

I’m a trained and certified teacher in the United States so being an assistant or having people assume I was just a native speaker attempting teaching or even lower expectations was something that drove me insane. I wanted to continue my teaching career, not be an assistant anymore.

On the auxiliar program in Spain, you teach lessons and can be as proactive as you want about your participation in the classroom but you don’t have the normal responsibilities as a teacher. You’re able to come and leave school more freely. You aren’t required to create or mark assessments. You don’t have duties in the school or meetings with staff and parents. So, it’s just the bare minimum of teaching. You don’t even start on the first day of school, so it wasn’t a satisfying position for me.

Is there any advice you would like to give to anyone trying to “make it work” on the auxiliar program in Spain?

Though at times the work can be mundane or you aren’t being used to your fullest potential, keep with it. Be proactive and if you want to practice more or improve as an educator, it’s on you to do it. If you’re just doing the auxiliar program in Spain to enjoy the country—that’s great! They are short work weeks and very high, untaxed pay compared to teaching full time at private schools.

How easy or difficult has it been for you in Spain to find a job? (Especially in a country with such high unemployment)

Being a native English speaker can get you a lot of teaching jobs, especially in academies or as assistant teachers. As I stated, teaching is my profession of choice and what I studied and trained in, so I was looking for more than that and was also more qualified for many of those positions.

To finally find a satisfying job as an English teacher in Spain, it took me 2-3 years but mostly due to hold ups with paperwork. I was offered a position my second year that was ideal for me and exactly what I wanted but due to the fact that I couldn’t get working permission, I couldn’t take it.

After my third school year, I was offered similar positions but couldn’t take them due to paperwork again. So, actually getting the job can be challenging due to paperwork even though there are many opportunities out there. Not many companies or schools want to help with the process of getting a work permit.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects about living abroad in Spain – personally, professionally and culturally speaking?

Personally, I really miss my family now that I’ve been away for so long. Though I’m able to see them two to three times a year, I come from a very close family and I miss seeing them more often throughout the year.

Professionally, the challenge of paperwork and being offered jobs then having the offer rescinded due to paperwork was extremely frustrating. Also, it kind of feels like the process is never ending.

Culturally, I love feeling relaxed and laid back but sometimes the lack of urgency drives me insane.

Any future goals for your life here in Spain both personally and professionally?

I would like to begin to enjoy the city more like I did when I first arrived. I definitely got brought down by the paperwork and road blocks I kept hitting due to it and stopped enjoying the city and Europe as much as I used to. Professionally, I would like to continue growing and moving up at the International school I am at.

Have you ever considered going back to your home country/or to another country? Is it still on the drawing board or are you only focused on staying in Spain? Why or Why not?

I‘m truly considering moving back to the US in the next year or so. I would like to be closer to my family again and I feel as an educator that I’ll be able to grow more professionally in the USA than here in Spain.

Any tips for those still deciding whether to stay long term to live in Spain?

My tip is that it’s something that you really need to commit to and focus on. Planning is important and always plan for the worst; you should also have a plan B but also be pleasantly surprised if you don’t need it.

Don’t lose sight of why you love Spain and don’t be brought down by rejection. It will happen and it’s not due to personal reasons but probably due to paperwork and someone else who already has paperwork being easier for them to hire.

What’s your Spain story? Why’d you move here?

Residency experiences in Spain can feel like a rollercoaster journey – we know, we remember those frustrating days. That’s why in this SpainGuru blog series, we’ve interviewed successful expats so they can share a more personal side of their residency experience.

We hope this series helps guide those who have some of the same questions and are in the same spot as we were once in our residency decision/process in Spain. 

Thanks so much!

Shaheen, Stacey and Tina

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