Brexit For Members

'No guarantees': Can Brits work in Spain as English teachers post-Brexit?

Cormac Breen
Cormac Breen
'No guarantees': Can Brits work in Spain as English teachers post-Brexit?
(Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

For decades it’s been a go-to work option for countless British nationals living in Spain, but to what extent has Brexit made it more difficult for language schools to hire UK nationals as teachers? We spoke to those recruiting to find out.


A high quality of life, a more favourable climate and generally lower living costs have always attracted young British nationals to Spain, with many finding themselves working in the English language industry.

The high demand for British nationals in the years prior to Brexit, meant that anyone looking for a job in teaching would have no problem in finding one either in the larger cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, as well as smaller, more provincial cities in the south and north of the country. 

However, the impact of Brexit and the loss of freedom of movement within the EU for UK nationals has seen the industry face the prospect of losing their main source of employees and with it, a possible change to their hiring policy.

Employing around 75 teachers, Cambridge House has enjoyed over 25 years of success offering English classes in Madrid’s competitive English language education market. 

The school has always had a large contingent of British nationals, but owner and director of studies, Penny Rollinson, feels that the hiring of new teachers is becoming increasingly difficult as a result of Brexit. 

“The situation at the moment regarding employing British people is very complicated and what I'm trying to do this year is to avoid it completely,” Rollinson told The Local.


As a result of Brexit, British nationals wishing to work and live in Spain are required to obtain a work permit from the Spanish government. 

While it is meant to be a simple administrative process, Rollinson’s experience of the system has been frustrating, and a total disincentive to making the effort to hire British citizens. 

“In theory, they say it's fine, you just need a work permit and then you have to wait three months but it’s really not that simple,” she regretted.

“One of the main problems I see in Spain is that you can't get appointments. Madrid is absolutely flooded as it's where most foreigners come and they can't get an appointment to do it.” 


The backlog in applications and administrative red tape is forcing schools like Cambridge House to begin their hiring process earlier in the year in an attempt to guarantee having teachers ready for the start of the academic year. Despite this, Rollinson feels the lack of assurance in work permits being granted, and the legal costs involved, puts academies off starting the process altogether.

“You basically have to apply for a work permit three months before, go through all the legal process, and then just hope that it comes off. Then they might turn around in October and say, no, you can't have it and we haven't got people for the job. So it's all very uncertain with no guarantees,” Cambridge House’s director concluded. 

Kevin Smyth, owner and director of Keltic English Centre located in the provincial city of Cáceres in the west of Spain, says that he is facing the exact same problems when it comes to hiring British nationals. 

“The main issue we are seeing is that there has been a huge drop in the number of native-English-speaking TEFL teachers available and applying for job vacancies,” Smyth told The Local Spain. 

The hope for English language schools is that the UK government can come to some agreement either directly with Spain or the EU to facilitate the granting of work permits (Photo by FLORIAN CHOBLET / AFP)

“We are now receiving two-thirds fewer applications to our job ads than in previous years. 

“I would go so far as to say that Brexit is the only reason why there has been a decrease in that number. Basically the whole European labour market has been closed off for young UK nationals.”

In terms of how this is affecting the recruitment of new teachers, Smyth explained how this has led to them only accepting applications from EU citizens, or British citizens already in possession of a valid work permit. 


“The bureaucratic process to obtain a work permit for non-EU citizens is not only too long, but doesn’t guarantee that a visa will be granted at the end of the process. 

“Because of this, a lot of centres like ours can only consider British citizens who already have a work permit.”

READ ALSO: Ten things I wish I'd known before I started teaching English in Spain

With a population of close to 67 million, the UK was the main source of employees for schools in Spain but with the ever noticeable impact of Brexit, and a complete drop-off in the number of British teachers applying for jobs, schools are now more heavily relying on employing Irish nationals or in many cases, non-native English speakers.

“We are now more willing to take on non-native TEFL-qualified teachers but they need to have a near-native level of English,” Smyth explained. 

“Our sector has probably suffered the most as thousands of UK teachers used to go not only to Spain where the EFL sector is quite strong, but all across Europe”.


For Cambridge House in Madrid, the issue is not as pronounced given the number of British nationals already living and working in the capital, but there’s the sense that the entire situation is becoming a, “nightmare” and that perhaps there is a lack of incentive on the part of the Spanish government to make the situation any easier. 

“They have no incentive to make the red tape and paperwork easier for us, because why should they? The UK left the EU, ‘screw you’ kind of thing. If they can encourage us to take on Spanish native teachers, well, then obviously it's a win-win for Spain”.

As Rollinson sees it, the hope for English language schools is that the UK government can come to some agreement either directly with Spain or the EU to facilitate the granting of work permits for an industry heavily reliant on overseas recruitment.

This sentiment is shared by Smyth but notes how a “niche industry” such as theirs perhaps lacks the lobbying power to influence such an agreement.

While the situation may seem bleak for British citizens wishing to work and live in Spain, it is far from impossible. 

With some forward planning and time allocated for the length of the process, it is still very much a reality that a work visa will be granted allowing the successful applicant the opportunity to enjoy all of the benefits living and working in Spain has to offer. 

READ ALSO: 'Hard to stay afloat' - Is working for an English language academy in Spain still worth it?


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