Saturday, August 15, 2009

Answers to reader questions

Randy recently posted a comment with lots of questions (see the comments for my previous post: Absolutely nothing to do with Spain!). Since the comments were getting kind of long, I thought I'd do my best to answer his questions in a separate post. Here goes!

1) Should I take my TEFL certificate training in Dallas or should I move to Spain and then get it there?
-- One advantage of doing a TEFL course in Spain is that you have instant connections for teaching jobs. Many of the TEFL academies are also English academies (meaning they also provide English classes for Spanish people), so you can often just get a job through them when your course ends. If not, they may provide you with the names of specific academies or even people to contact. One final advantage is that you can start looking for a potential job while working on your TEFL certificate, since you'll already be in Spain. In your free time, you can go around to academies or post ads offering private classes.

2) What about finding a LEGAL English teacher job in Spain BEFORE moving there? I hate the idea of moving to Spain and THEN trying to find a job.
-- I understand not wanting to move to Spain without a legal teaching job. However, if you do not already have your legal residency status sorted out, it's difficult to find a job before you get there. (I should also warn you that I know of a few people who were scammed -- they were told that a job would be waiting for them and that the academy would sort out their visas, etc. They had to pay several hundred dollars for the "visas" and of course were left with no job, no visa, and no money.) There are two options for North Americans to get legal, paid teaching work ahead of time in Spain: with Fulbright España or through the Ministerio de Educación. Check their websites for deadlines, pay, etc. and ONLY go through the official websites (there are several scams that pretend to be one of these services). When I last checked, the site for the Ministerio did not have any active information, but maybe they just need to update it, so I'd just keep an eye on it. One problem with these programs, though, is that the pay tends to be pretty low.

3) How hard is it to find legal work as an English teacher, given that I am NOT an EU citizen and am competing with British teachers that ARE EU citizens? With determination, will I be able to find a job? I know unemployment is over 20% now too! Surely there has to be a way to get a stable job!
-- I'm not in Spain at the moment, so I don't know how much the unemployment has affected English teaching. In the past, Americans could almost always find some sort of teaching job. Some academies won't hire Americans without working papers, others say they won't but really do, and others will just take anyone. And most private students don't care (or ask) if you're legal or not. To get a better idea of the current situation, you could try posting in a Spain expat forum, such as Spain Expat or Notes from Spain.
-- One other thing -- have you looked into getting a residency visa through your kids? I know there's something called reagrupacion de familia that allows non-resident foreigners to join their family members who are legal residents of Spain. However, I know NOTHING about how this works (e.g., how long the legal residents have to be in Spain before bringing family over). You could try calling the Spanish consulate near you to see if they have information, or search for info on the Web.

4) I am guessing that I will need 1350 euros per month (AFTER taxes, see below), and that factors in NO misc type expenses at all! Yikes. Remember, I am single and support 2 kids half the time.
Monthly Expenses Guess (in Euros):
• 600 rent

• 100 utilities
• 400 groceries
• 100 car gas
• 50 car insurance
• 50 phone
• 50 internet
Just how accurate are the above expense costs? Do I NEED a car?

-- Again, I would post this in one of the forums I mentioned above, so you can get the most up-to-date information. When I left Spain last year, my rent for a 2 BR flat in a fairly crappy neighborhood was 700 euros per month. My Internet/phone package (though only calls to land lines were free) was almost 50 euros per month, but then I had a cell phone as well (and most numbers I called were cell phones, so I had to pay for those). My guess is your expense estimate is low for one adult and two teens, though you could probably cut down on the groceries and maybe car gas (depending where you're driving). Of course, I'm also basing this on Madrid. In other parts of Spain, rent can be much, much cheaper.

5) What can I expect to earn, per year AFTER taxes, in Spain as an TEFL English teacher with no EU citizenship?
-- It depends where in Spain you're living, how much of your salary is through an academy versus private classes (you'll usually earn more per hour for private classes, but the students may cancel more often). It also depends whether you can find work in the summers, since most academy work dries up. Again, once you target a place (or at least general area -- Andalucia, Madrid, Pais Vasco, etc.) where you want to live, go on the forums and look for people who have taught in those areas.

6) Who should I email for further advice? I am looking for individual Americans that live in Spain and that I could email with questions!
-- I think you know what I'm going to say! The two forums I mentioned above, as well as MadridMan's All Spain Message Board and ESL Cafe's Spain Forum.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Absolutely nothing to do with Spain!

So I recently came across some old magazines (late 70s) in my parents' basement, and I find the old cigarette ads fascinating. I mean, can you imagine a time when saying "If it wasn't for Winston, I wouldn't smoke" somehow reflected positively on Winston cigarettes?!? I suppose this does in a way loosely relate to Spain, since smoking is fairly acceptable there, as it once was in the U.S....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pay phone credit card scam?

A strange thing happened on my recent trip to Spain.

I had to make an international phone call from Barajas since my flight had been delayed. Having no more credit on my Spanish cell and no loose change, I decided to use my credit card. The pay phone even had a place to swipe the card, so -- I thought -- I wouldn't need to go through the usual hassle of speaking to an operator or dialing in all the details.

Here's where it gets strange... Even though I had already swiped my card and dialed in the number I was calling, a man picked up and claimed to be the international operator. He asked for the number I was calling and the number of my credit card. I figured perhaps the card swiper didn't work, so I repeated the information. He then asked for the name on the card and the security code. I hesitated a bit, but again justified it, since you normally provide this information if you use your card online. I did make a point of slurring through my name, though. The real kicker was when he asked for the zip code of the billing address to verify the account. I've never had to give so much information to make a simple phone call.

I mean, the information he requested is not extraordinary -- I have to do the same if I order from or any other site -- but it seemed odd since I had already swiped my card. I worried that somehow my call had been redirected to a scammer. (I have no idea how, but I suppose anything is possible. They could rig the card swiper, perhaps... or the pay phone...?) However, I had to make the call and was not about to buy the minimum 20 euro international phone card available at Barajas. Plus, as the card I was using was in fact a debit card with very little money in the account (since I thoroughly expected to get pickpocketed or have my card copied at some point in Spain ~ only slightly kidding), I figured the worst he could do was withdraw the remaining $50 or charge items that I could dispute as soon as I got home.

The call went through, so I felt a little better. Maybe I was wrong about it being a scam. But when I got back to the States a week later, I checked my bank account online to see how much the call had cost. There was no charge. I called my bank to see if any charges were pending, but there weren't any. I told them about the supposed international phone operator and my suspicions, and they immediately canceled my card and issued a new one with a new number. It's now been nearly three weeks since I made the call, and still no charges have shown up on my account. Strange.

I've tried looking for information on credit card calls from Spanish pay phones, but I can't find anything other than complaints about the outrageous costs. Perhaps I'll never know.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trip to Madrid

I finally made it back to Madrid for a visit. Not much has changed, really. They've inaugurated the new Cercanias station in Sol -- something which would have been VERY useful when I was teaching English -- and some bars and restaurants have bowed under the pressure of the "crisis". But there was still a fair share of Madrileños (native or not) out enjoying the terrazas despite the unbearable heat!

A few pics from my recent trip:

A percussion concert at the Reina Sofia as part of the European Music Day celebrations (June 21).

A fish stand at the new and improved Mercado de San Miguel (near Plaza Mayor).

Images taken from the rooftop terrace of the Cirulo de Bellas Artes.

Statues in the Retiro.