When it comes to teaching English in Europe, the continent is so diverse with different cultures and vibes that it’s difficult to pick just one country, isn’t it?
If you’re not sure where to start, you’re not alone! You’ve got the castles and pubs of the Czech Republic, the rich colonial history of Spain, iconic fashion and culture in France, and plenty of countries in between attracting adventurers and bucket listers alike.
We know we’re a bit ambitious trying to cover a region consisting of 50 countries — well, technically only 45 if you don’t count the five that are transcontinental (or share territory with other continents): Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia — in this one guide to teaching English in Europe…
…but, the continent overall is the second smallest on Planet Earth (next to Oceana), and that is precisely why it’s such an ideal place to live abroad.
Europe has a ton of heart in each of its corners. Perhaps choosing one place to live and teach English is a tough decision, but take comfort in knowing you’ve got easy and quick access to the rest of Europe no matter where you end up!
Europe by Region
If you’re not sure where you’d like to teach, start by learning about the differing regions, and you will find common themes within each. Think castles in Prague, the opera in Budapest, or fun little taverns across Vienna. Central Europe is what some refer to as the heart of Europe (including us!), and with its central location, it is a perfect springboard to see many more countries on your bucket list.
Is it the adventure of learning a slavic language that interests you? Maybe it’s the green rolling hills of Romania, or the fact that you know very little about Ukraine and would like to learn more in an immersive setting. The museums, the towers, the beer, the interesting languages, and all of the hype surrounding countless tourist attractions mean you won’t get bored in these countries! There is also a deep history that will dip you into the past at every corner.
Europe can be divided in many ways. The United Nations splits it up into four regions: Southern, Northern, Eastern and Western. However, when it comes to economics and culture, there is a defined Central Region that stands on its own, and we’ve chosen to include that in our list below as well.
Central Europe consists of the following:
- Czech Republic
Northern Europe is commonly referred to as the Nordic countries, and consists of the following:
- United Kingdom (Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
Western Europe includes the following:
Eastern Europe consists of:
Southern Europe consists of:
- San Marino
- Vatican City
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
If dividing Europe up into parts hasn’t helped in narrowing your search, try hunting for opportunities in countries of interest to you (be it for the language, the food, the culture, etc — learn more about each below) in order to determine the best fit for teaching English there.
Pinning down an all-inclusive weather pattern across the entirety of Europe is nearly impossible, but you can think of it this way: there are typically four seasons, and your summers are hot while your winters can get really cold, depending on how far north you’re located. Expect humidity in Southern Europe. Expect unpredictability in the months of spring. And as always, do an analysis on the country you have chosen before you pack!
For a quick reference, here’s a generalized breakdown by region (as defined above):
The far northern countries present a subarctic climate, which means long, bitter cold winters with few hours of daylight and short, cool summers with almost total daylight,
Most of Southern Europe falls in the Mediterranean climate zone, which typically means lots of sunshine and warmth all year round, without much fluctuation in the temperature from season to season.
Most of Western Europe falls in the marine west coast climate zone, which typically means both mild summers and mild winters. It experiences seasons but temperatures do not rise or drop drastically enough to become uncomfortable. Humidity and precipitation are also common in the western region, presenting as rain and cloudiness.
Central & Eastern:
Most countries in these two regions fall under the cool-summer humid continental climate zone, which typically presents as mild summers and cold winters, often experiencing snow.
Regardless of the region, there are several mountain ranges throughout Europe which will ultimately create a different climate in nearby areas. Destinations located in high elevations in the Alps, Pyrenees, Carpathians, Balkans and the mountains of Norway will often experience a very cold climate, with snow year ’round.
Oh wow, how much time do you have? There are at least 24 different languages spoken across Europe—from French, Italian, Spanish, all the way to Bulgarian, Romanian, German and Russian. Some countries, such as Switzerland, speak different languages in different regions, from Swiss German in the north to Italian in the South. And it’s just one tiny little country!
One of the beauties of so many languages is hearing many of them spoken simultaneously when you step into popular areas. And depending on which country you choose, you’re going to have the beautiful opportunity to learn that language, too.
Here’s a list of the most commonly spoken language by country (though keep in mind that many countries have several official languages):
- Denmark: Danish
- Norway: Norwegian
- Sweden: Swedish
- Finland: Finish
- Iceland: Icelandic
- United Kingdom (Great Britain and Northern Ireland): English
- Lithuania: Lithuanian
- Estonia: Estonian
- Latvia: Latvian
- Jersey: English; French
- Ireland: Gaelic (the official language); English (most common)
- Italy: Italian
- Spain: Spanish
- Greece: Greek
- Czech Republic: Czech
- Croatia: Croatian
- Austria: German
- Hungary: German
- Germany: German
- Poland: Polish
- Slovakia: Slovak
- Slovenia: Slovanian
- Switzerland: German; Italian; French
- Liechtenstein: German
- France: French
- Belgium: French; German; Dutch
- Luxemburg: French; German; Luxembourgish
- Monaco: French
- Netherlands: Dutch
- Portugal: Portuguese
- San Marino: Italian
- Vatican City: Italian
- Andorra: Catalan
- Montenegro: Montenegrin
- Macedonia: Macedonian
- Albania: Albanian
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Serbia: Serbian
- Malta: Maltese; English
- Romania: Romanian
- Ukraine: Ukrainian
- Moldova: Moldovan/Romanian
- Bulgaria: Bulgarian
- Belarus: Belarusian; Russian
As with the amount of languages spoken across Europe, there also many religions practiced. Depending on the proximity to neighboring regions, the predominant religion practiced bleeds across borders.
However, according to a 2012 poll, 72% of Europeans claimed to Christian, and 16% were agnostic, leaving 7% atheists, 2% believing in Islam and the remaining 1% split between various religions including Judaism.
Why Teach English in Europe?
The decision to teach English in Europe is what we would refer to as “classic” when it comes to regions of the world (Middle East, Asia, Central America, South America, etc.). What that means is is that you can’t go wrong!
With so many flavors to choose from, it’s about deciding which country resonates with you most and why. The soul searching in order to determine the answer to this question is just as fun as traveling around Europe to do a different kind of soul searching while you teach English there.
Some of the many benefits that make Europe stand out among other areas in the world for teaching English abroad are:
- Living anywhere in Europe makes for easy access to the rest of the region
- Those coming from the Western world will find the culture fascinatingly different, but not so much so that it’s difficult to understand
- It’s often easier to learn one of the European languages than say, an Asian one.
- With many major airports nearby, travel to other destinations around the world is often quite affordable.
- Many find European politics rather inviting
If Europe has ever called to you (as it has for so many people), then this is your chance to jump in!
Qualifications for Teaching English in Europe
Qualifications that get your foot in the door across Europe are going to vary slightly, but in general, you must have the following (with one important caveat!):–
- A fluency in English
- A TEFL certificate
- A bachelor’s degree*
Western Europe will often be more strict, requiring native English speakers (or European citizens), a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate, and sometimes even prior experience. Typically, the further East you look, the less restrictions you’ll find.
Teaching English in Europe Without a Degree
*Did you know that not all countries in Europe require you to have a university degree? It’s true. The further East you look (including Central Europe), you’ll find more and more TEFL job opportunities that have fewer qualification requirements. Check out this list for a couple European countries that are exceptions to that rule. (And there are more!)
Teaching English in Europe as a Non-Native Speaker
If you’re a non-native speaker from the European Union, then you have a golden ticket for teaching around Europe given the ease of obtaining a visa and the understanding that many Europeans speak fluent English.
Even if you’re a non-native speaker from outside the region and you want to try your luck at teaching English in Europe, there are opportunities available. Again, the further East you search, the better your chances.
I consider this experience a wonderful and extraordinary life lesson and I would not hesitate to do it again…I have grown as a person and as a traveller. I have learnt to understand and coexist with different cultures and personalities and I will be going back home with many beautiful memories. If a journey should not be measured in miles but with friends, then I certainly have come a long way.”
Teaching English in Europe in Retirement
While some (if not all) of the government-operated teaching programs have an age limitation, other positions are available to the over 50 crowd. Consider teaching English in a language institute or, if you’re qualified, in an international school where they’ll be happy to add your experience to their roster.
Kinds of Schools You Can Work In
Depending on the country, you can find jobs in public schools, through private tutoring opportunities, international schools (typically require a degree in education and experience), language institutes, or teaching adult business professionals looking to diversify their language skill sets. Holding both a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate will make you more competitive in each country in Europe, but if you are missing a bachelor’s degree, don’t shy away too quickly—there are several countries that don’t require one!
What You’ll be Required to do
Most teaching gigs will only have you teaching part time at 20-25 hours per week, hence why a lot of foreign English teachers in Europe choose to also take up private tutoring. There are full time opportunities — which only require around 30 hours per week — but it really depends on the kind of institution or training program you have chosen employment with. The options are widespread, which is one of Europe’s many perks!
If you’re seeking a public school position you’re likely dealing with a government-run program, such as Spain’s Language and Cultural Assistant program or France’s Higher Education program. If so, you’ll be a part-time language assistant, meaning you’ll have a co-teacher who leads the class and asks you to step in to help with facilitating conversation in English. This gives the students exposure to English and foreign culture. It also offers you a light work load (generally not more than 20 hours per week) and a great first experience with teaching English as a foreign language.
In other cases, like most positions in the Czech Republic, you’ll be employed by a private language institute and work full time. You’ll have full reign of the classroom and be responsible for teaching all aspects of the English language, from grammar and conversation to reading and writing.
What the Students are Like
If the bulk of positions you seek are at private language institutions, you’ll likely be teaching a mix of both children and business professionals (this is especially true in Eastern Europe, where a boom in the market is occurring).
If you work in a public school program like one of the government sponsored ones, you’ll likely be working with elementary students.
Private tutoring opportunities can vary in any age group, but you can set your preference and only take on the clients you prefer to work with.
With the range of cultures, ages, backgrounds and skill level, the characteristics of your European students will vary depending on where you decide to teach. In general, you’ll find the students are both respectful and used to an engaged classroom, so they will be prepared to speak up when asked.
Salaries to Expect
The cost of living is higher in Europe than other regions in the world, but of course, there are exceptions to that rule. If you’re looking for a way to save money, perhaps you should check out countries in Central and Eastern Europe where the cost of living is lower.
There are so many different types of teaching English opportunities across the region, but most in Western or Southern Europe won’t be stuffing your savings account each month. This is about experience and immersion!
In Eastern Europe, you might find your salary to be between $300USD and $600USD, but with a cost of living that’s comparable.
Most countries fall somewhere within the $300USD to $1,800USD range, so you just have to weight the pros and cons, based on your goals.
Getting a Visa
Depending on your country of residence, getting the proper visa to teach English in Europe can vary. There are working holiday visas, which allow you to work and travel within one country for 12 months. There are student visas that some foreign English teachers hold that allow some space for part-time work; and then there are tourist visas, which is not really a legal way to go about things, but is still pretty common in many countries within Europe.
There are also countries with their own set of specific rules like Czech Republic or Germany, but If you zoom into the country of your choice with some research, which type of visa you’re going to need will become clear.
Getting a Bank Account & Getting Paid
You may have already asked yourself this question after the last section, which is, if I’m entering and working within a country on a tourist visa, how do I get paid? Well, in many cases in Europe, you will be paid in cash.
The gist: there are thousands of foreign English teachers across Europe without proper visas permitting them to work. If you choose a country with more specific visa requirements, such as France, Czech Republic, or Germany, then how you get paid is a question best answered by your employer (typically still in cash). Otherwise, you’re looking at cash payments and figuring out which countries accept setting up a bank account from a non-resident. Bulgaria, just for example, allows anyone with a passport and proof of residence to open a local bank account, so this is possible!
There is also a chance that who you bank with at home has a branch or two in Europe. Find out where, and what banking there would be like in terms of cost(s).
Depending on where you land a job, your employer/program may help you find accommodation (though it is rarely provided for free). If they don’t offer this perk, then we suggest waiting until you arrive to secure something long-term. You can always book something for a week or two on Airbnb, VRBO, or just at a local hotel until you figure out the lay of the land and where you’d like to be.
If you’re open to having roommates, consider joining a Facebook group for expats in the country you’re going to and seeking their advice. You’ll be surprised how helpful there are!
Easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
~Connor MacDonald (Canada)
Holidays for Teachers in Europe
If you’ve landed a job within an institution belonging to the European Union, you’ll get standard holidays like Christmas and New Year’s off. Additional vacations for teachers would be determined by the institution you were hired by, but look out for these and a few other holidays:
- Easter Break (March/April)
- All Saints Day (November)
- And a few extra holidays sprinkled throughout the month of May
Political Climate and Crime Rates in Europe
Well, as with any Ultimate Guide, this is often the hard part to describe to others. And we’re not talking about you, the English teacher, we’re talking about describing political climates and crime rates to your friends and family who may be concerned about where you’ve chose to pack up your life and move to. You’ve probably heard about petty crimes against tourists in almost any country within Europe, and political issues can run deeper depending on where you are.
As with our other Ultimate Guides, we recommend using a crime rate comparison tool to show similarities or (sometimes) huge differences between the types of crimes in your home country versus where you’re considering teaching English. Keep in mind that in Europe, things might look different from European Union members vs. non-members, and proximity to bordering nations affects crime rates.
Communicating with People Back Home
Speaking of friends and family, it’s sometimes difficult to relay to them how best to communicate with you while teaching English abroad. Once you’re in a foreign country, the rules of communication obviously change because you can’t reach out to your home country as easily as before. We suggest setting up a time that works for both you and the callee based on your respective time zones, and sticking to that time however many times per month is necessary to update them on your life, or to just let your parents know that you’re still alive (because we all know how much they worry!).
So do your friends and family a favor and tell them just how they can reach you before you leave:
Probably the most popular texting app over wifi, WhatsApp is a reliable form of communication, as long as those you’re trying to reach set the app up on their phone, too (hey, this part seems to trip people up if they’ve never had to use it before!). The nice thing about WhatsApp is that it also has a video chat feature, as well as a free wifi calling and a voice chatting feature for when you can’t type out everything you want to say.
Though not as strong of a communication platform as WhatsApp, let your Facebook friends know they can reach you via Messenger should they need to. It also comes with voice calling and a video chat feature, but usually only works well when there are no kinks in the Wi-Fi network.
Skype seems as though it will always be a reputable way to actually see your family, friends and loved ones instead of just hearing them speak, and they luckily still have free options available.
FaceTime and iMessages
If you have an iPhone, iPhone users back home have an advantage over others in that they can send you iMessages (and you to them while connected to wifi) and FaceTime call or video chat you at any point with no need to download something extra. But because not everyone has an iPhone, you may find yourself using iMessages less, and WhatsApp more.
Good Old Fashioned Email
This might be an obvious choice, but the nice thing about an email is that there is no limit on length like there is in texts, or while connected to a potentially spotty Wifi connection while trying to get one sentence through over video chat. Just saying.
See how many you can send in one calendar year! Though it may take a while for the postcards to reach their destination, we can tell you the receiver always appreciates them, and they become little mementos to hang on fridges (you may even spark their interest to come visit you and see how amazing Europe is for themselves!).
Also, bonus: you get to see what a post office looks like in Europe. Guaranteed to be an experience!
Obtaining Health Insurance in Europe
Some of the government-operated teaching programs (such as in Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, etc.) will include health coverage. Other times there are local agencies that will cover you should you decide to pay for it yourself. There are also traveler’s health insurance plans that cover you while you’re abroad. It really depends on how long you plan on staying in the region and which country you’ve chosen, but asking your employer when you get there will improve your chances.
Dealing with Taxes
What would this guide be if we didn’t also discuss dealing with taxes while you teach English in Europe?
One important note to make here is that if you do find yourself being paid under the table, that means you are not paying taxes and neither is your employer.
If you’re working legally with a work permit, your taxes will likely be taken out of your paycheck automatically, and the rates will vary greatly by country. Make sure you inquire before you accept a position.
If you’re trying to retire overseas and still earn your pension, make sure to ask your CPA about the rules, do research on your national tax collection agency’s website, and/or try to reach out to a teacher who has gone through the process before, either through Facebook groups designed to connect foreign English teachers, or through inquiries on chat posts, in order to figure out how you won’t be penalized for this later.
Dealing with Student Loans
Dun-dun-duuuun! Don’t forget about your pesky student loans, too, while teaching English in Europe!
For Americans, we have that nifty income-based repayment plan option that is your saving grace when life takes you to teach English abroad. Read more about it here. Your adjusted gross income (AGI) and student loans are connected, so be sure to understand just what you’re getting into after moving abroad for work. This also has to do with your student loan interest deduction, and whether you will qualify for that when tax time rolls around. When on an income-based repayment plan, be sure to discuss the changes (if any) working overseas will do to your monthly payments with your loan servicer, as the answer to this question can vary.
Sending Money Home
As long as you have a personal account and your family member or friend has one, too, then it’s free to send money to one another from Europe back to them.
Did you know that Western Union still exists?! We didn’t! Just like PayPal, Western Union lets you transfer money back home online, though there are fees involved.
Similar to Paypal but more commonly used in Europe, you can electronically send and receive money for a low, per-transaction fee. All you need is a bank account on each end!
How to Make Extra Money while Teaching in Europe
If you find there isn’t enough wiggle room between your salary and private tutoring while teaching English in Europe, then there are ways to supplement your income. There’s always teaching online in your spare time by setting your own schedule.
There are also other ways to earn more money while teaching in Europe that have, well, nothing to do with teaching! Have you ever considered becoming a virtual assistant? Small businesses are often in need of help with their social media accounts, scheduling, technical assistance, and anything in between! You may be more qualified for this type of job than you think! In order to find jobs, there’s always Craigslist, but a large portion of quality positions can be found within Facebook groups. Just pop “virtual assistant” into the search bar, select groups, and join up!
Potential Downsides to Teaching in Europe
Yeah, we know, sometimes bringing up the downsides of choosing a region takes the spark out of it all, if only temporarily. But we want to be as real as possible with you.
The continuous thread of legality in choosing to teach in many countries within Europe is of concern, and we get it. But did we mention thousands of people are doing it, and that it’s due more to a broken system than anything else? Getting in trouble for teaching without more than a tourist visa is possible (except in those countries that have specific rules, because you’re going to follow them, right?), but the most that will happen is a fine to the school who chose to employ you and a wave goodbye from the airplane as you head home.
To play it safe, we recommend choosing a program or finding a job that will help you obtain a proper working visa.
Living in Europe, with the exception of some Eastern nations, is not exactly cheap. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Europe on vacation or perhaps through an educational tour, you know how important it was to save some pennies before embarking on that trip. We do recommend having some savings to fall back on, but remember that travel hacking in Europe can and should be done!
The best piece of advice we can offer is to just go. Pick a country that interests you — be it for the history, the adventure, the culture, the language — and go. The only part people ever regret teaching English in Europe, or teaching English abroad anywhere for that matter… is not having gone.
Words by Jessica Hill and Jayla Rae Ardelean.