Teach English in Portugal

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So, you decided to teach English. Bold move, bringing your knowledge to those who thrive for it. It will all be fun and games if teaching kids is your thing and all the "grownups" will actually put their time into their study! Now, back to reality... While a small percentage of the Portuguese population is, indeed, like that, the rest is only doing it out of obligation, be it mandatory lessons or because their company has told them to, but don't despair; if this is your first time teaching you will have the best time of your life (and the best headaches too!)

  • Peak Hiring Times: Most recruitment happens in the beginning June/July since that's when the academic year ends. There is also a second, smaller hiring period in end December/beginning January. This is usually due to freelance teachers who drop out after the first school term, making you a sub until June, with no contract and working on "green slips" ("recibos verdes"). This is usually a good way to make some extra cash and maybe to get a job for the next academic year.
  • Average Monthly Salary: Though no school wanted to give us a number, while on a contract with a public/private school you should make something between the EU700-EU1000 mark (around 950 - 1 350 USD).
  • Average Cost of Living: Around EU600 (~ 800 USD) including all house bills, transportation card and thinking of a rent of no more than EU400.
  • Save or Break Even? It all depends on your lifestyle... If you don't party hard and have no real interest in eating out, you can easily save some, though if you want more of an easy living, sharing a house will be cheaper and you will be able to save more, while being able to eat out and visit bars.
  • Visa: American citizens can stay up to 90 days without a visa but work ones can be hard to get; you need a proof of accommodation (i.e. a water bill with your name), proof of health insurance, proof of income (Savings also count) and, if employed, proof of Social Security registration. If you have a contract your company should make it all smoother for you but if you are thinking on going freelance on teaching, any type of visa will be hard to come by, unless you go to school.

Most jobs will be yearly ones (if you have a contract) and you will be working with any age. Unless you are placed in a bilingual school or get a college job, parents will be very eerie of a full-out 90 minutes English lesson, mainly because the kids give up early and go home whining that they don't understand anything you say. That gives way to complaints from parents to the school, which will come back to bite you at the end, so learning a small amount of Portuguese won't be a bad idea.

University of Lisbon
Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon
Private/Bilingual Schools

These schools have their own rules and thus salaries vary according to your experience and how good you are at negotiating, but it should, always, be more that in public schools. Some schools will provide housing but it's a bit of a shot in the dark since you have no alternative when choosing one...It can be an old house with sewage problems as well as it can be a newly renovated one in the best part of town. You will be expected to work around 22 hours, usually in 90 minutes classes with no break for teenagers while younger students (fifth grade and down) have 45 min of each class. You will also be responsible for extra activities like participating in all happenings of the school, where your students should "perform" for the parents.

Public Schools

Public schools are kind of a hard fish to get. Providing you know enough Portuguese to pass the admittance exams, then you will need to deal with all the competition and here you are placed in schools of your choice, or area of residence, according to your test score and not according to your experience or nationality. Public school teachers have health insurance but housing is still something you will have to work out for yourself. You are expected to work around 22 hours a week, including office time but most times end of year meetings and/or some field trips might make you go over that, most times with no extra pay.

Freelance/Private Lessons

These are best if you already have some kind of Visa since there is no work security. You can start by putting up ads online, schools, colleges, bus stops, all the works and negotiate with parents or the students themselves. From tutoring, to actual classes and topping it off with college admission exams you can make quite a bundle if you keep your prices moderate and your visibility high. Many just need to work on their speaking so get out of the class (or living) room and don't be afraid to mingle with the rest of the population since a language is best learned when relaxed and when you are enjoying it. Tutoring/private lesson prices currently stand around EU10 per hour, per person but you can give some group discounts or give a discount to those who mention you to their friends.

Universidade Catolica de Lisboa
Universidade Catolica de Lisboa

You can also leave money aside and do some volunteer teaching. You will be placed to the less fortunate places of the country, such as Alentejo, which have very few inhabitants and lack some quality teaching. People are very different here from the ones in the big cities, they remain real to themselves and kids usually take their opportunities a little more seriously than the ones to whom they have been at arm's reach. Plus most already know what they want do when they grow up as young as 15 and if English can help them achieve their goals, you will be in their memory forever.

When and Where to Look for Jobs

You should start thinking about it in the summer so, as soon as June starts, keep your eyes open and be aware that most contracts are signed in late August. Another great time is just after the first school term in December/January. This is perfect if you are already inside the country and want to make some extra cash.

The first step would be to go online and contact the schools or colleges through their website directly. Even if you don't see a "careers" tab send an email explaining your situation and see if they can get you the email from HR, or forward your email to them. Most staff should know at least some basic English but if you don't get a reply in a week try and get your email translated into Portuguese and send it again. Public school contractions are usually carried out online and you must have certain qualifications and exams, which are usually in Portuguese. Everything private (from schools to language institutes) do their search online. Any Portuguese employment site will have adverts for English Teachers (in Portuguese "Professores de Ingles") year-round but keep in mind, most won't offer a contract. I can't stress enough how the ability to negotiate yourself and your terms is important. If they really want you they will, at least, meet you half way. If, on the other hand you would like to teach through a classic language institute, go directly to their website and check if any position is available in Portugal.

Public School Outskirts in Lisbon
Public School Outskirts in Lisbon

While being an English speaking native helps, that alone won't help you get the job. Any degree is valued (though Teaching or Letters/Literature degrees are preferred) and a TEFL never hurts. If you need to get either your TEFL or CELTA you can do so already in Portugal at International House or any other schools that offers it. The school where you choose to be certified might even point you to some schools that may need teachers! Keep friends there and you never know.

Salary & Cost of Living

The usual public school teacher salary is around EU700 to EU1000 (though many are now earning the minimum, around EU500). If you are teaching freelance your hourly rate should be around EU12-15 per hour (which is not a real hour, but 45 minute blocks) but this salary is usually not carried out; most earn EU10. If you are thinking about Private lessons you should be the one to set an hourly price with the student or their parents. Also, make sure you set your terms, such as how many people you will teach, how you will get the money, etc.

Private Bilingual School near Carcavelos
Entrance of private bi-lingual school near Carcavelos

Finding a house is currently very similar to finding a job: its best done online. The best site for this that thrives to delete all users who might try and deceive you is IMOVIRTUAL. Again, it's all in Portuguese but their search is quite intuitive.

From there you can access the, generally, private owners many posts. REMAX is also a good option but since they are a real estate agency other costs might be directly linked to getting a house through them. Neighborhoods such as Mouraria, Martim Moniz, Anjos, Chelas and Sintra are dangerous and complicated to live in since drugs and other things usually go through there.

Although unsafe they are not impossible to live in and if you must locate in those areas, act like a local, avoid late hours of the night, don't show too much wealth and keep your house door locked at all times and you should be fine (making friends with local shop owners also helps).

After you find your house food is the cheapest expense, if you strictly cook; rather than eating out, the Portuguese rather have dinner parties where everyone pitches in to the expense, especially in the winter. On the other hand, if you do want to dine out some days, a meal in a run-of-the-mill restaurant will cost around EU10 per person, excluding tip.

Contributed by Joana Melo

Joana Melo was born and bred in Lisbon, Portugal and has, ever since her graduation in English, been jumping from country to country, before the chance to see it all is missed. This DIY enthusiast loves movies, TV shows and is a bit of a geek herself when it comes to useless trivia.

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