Living and Teaching English in Portugal
Portugal is a beautiful, historic country full of opportunity to live, learn, and work as an English language educator for those willing to put in the legwork. We’ll introduce you to some of the steps you need to undergo on an exciting new chapter in your life as a professional in one of Europe’s warmest nations.
“Why should I teach English in Portugal?” Perhaps it is prudent to answer some other questions first. Why do you want to teach English as a foreign language? Who are you willing to teach? What exactly does Portugal offer that other countries and locations don’t? Perhaps you’re a young college graduate seeking employment or someone who wants to get into the teaching field via rather untraditional means. Investing in a TEFL diploma and looking to work in Portugal is an option.
Good reasons to teach English in Portugal include creating connections with a new and friendly populace; learning Portuguese (that will help with scratching “learn a foreign language” off the life accomplishments list); immersing yourself in a culture and sliver of the world many people will not get to experience. Portugal is not as popular an EFL destination as France, Spain, Germany, or Japan, but the country has offerings and opportunities if you’re willing to seek them out and put in the effort. After all, one of the best ways to find a job teaching English is to look where no one else is looking.
Earnings and cost of living
English teachers earn a modest salary in Portugal of around 1,050 to 1,500 Euros for around 20 to 25 hours of instruction per week, which provides time for travel for more restless teachers. Teachers who want to earn a little more can offer tutoring services to students or professionals on the side. However, Portugal has some of the most modest costs of living in Western Europe. According to Expatistan, rent for a studio apartment can be as low as 497 Euros in a normal area; fully furnished apartments in expensive areas can be as high as 1,088 Euros. As with any country, cost of living will be influenced by where you live. Smaller cities and towns will likely be cheaper whereas cities such as Libson and Porto may be more expensive. Consider your needs and budget, and keep in mind Portugal is a small country. You can get anywhere in a matter of a few hours and if you’re smart and frugal, weekend trips and day trips are more than possible.
Applying for jobs in Portugal
The barebone requirements to teach English in Portugal are a four-year degree and a TEFL certification, a valid passport, and a visa or other documentation permitting you to work in the country. It is possible to work in Portugal if you play your cards properly, have some patience, and consider all of your available teaching options. Your first step should be to explore where you can teach in Portugal. However, most employers will want an in-person interview before hiring you and Portuguese employers are unlikely to sponsor non-EU citizens, so EU citizens looking to teach EFL in Portugal have distinct advantages over other applicants from other nations. Those that are undeterred can still press on though; just be prepared to take several extra steps.
Fortunately, the demand to learn English is increasing due to the demands of the tourism industry and international companies operating within Portugal needing to teach their employees how to communicate in English. Major cities such as Libson (the capital), Porto, and Coimbra offer ample opportunities for English language teachers. Teaching in public schools requires fluency in Portugese, but private schools and English language centres such as Wall Street English, Cambridge School, are options worth considering for the up-and-coming EFL educator.
The best times to start looking for work are in the months of May and June to give yourself time to apply for positions. Most employers will have filled positions by August or September, but it never hurts to keep an eye open and an ear to the ground for mid-academic year hiring opportunities around December and January. With some patience and luck, you might find a job teaching in Portugal.
Teaching EFL as an EU citizen
Thanks to the freedom of movement to seek employment and residency between European Union member nations protected under the European Pillar of Social Rights, EU citizens should have few issues finding work as an EFL educator. EU citizens will not need a visa and can simply use their national identity card and passport, but they must report and register their residency to the proper authorities in their host country. For Portugal, this is the Immigration and Border Services, or the Servico de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (the SEF). However, as an applicant to teach English you will be required to have a four-year degree and a TEFL certification/diploma. Furthermore, you will need to apply for recognition of your qualifications (degrees, diplomas, etc.) in Portugal if you want to work there. More information about the degree and diplomation recognition process can be read about here, and a form to apply for recognition of those documents can be found in English here. This process ensures that you actually are who and what you say you are and creates a foundation of trust between you, your employer, and the Portuguese authorities.
Teaching EFL in Portugal as a non-EU citizen
Portuguese employers are unlikely to sponsor work visas for non-EU citizens because it is easier to find people to fill positions from the EU itself, but should you be determined to live and work in Portugal, there are steps you can take. Citizens from non-EU nations, such as the United States for example, will need to acquire residence visas with proof of employment and then acquire residential status from the SEF. Expect to pay around a couple hundred Euros or USD to apply for and be issued a visa to enter Portugal as a teacher. Your employer will need to submit an offer of employment to the Portuguese authorities, basically vouching for you and stating that they intend for you to work for them. Required documents and materials include:
- A completed residency application form for teaching: information and forms available here
- Two recent, identical passport-sized photographs
- Valid residence visa
- A four-year degree
- A TEFL certification
- Evidence of funds to support yourself once in Portugal: it is recommended having around 2,000 to 3,000 Euros in funds available to support yourself for at least one to two months
- Proof of Proposed Accommodation
- Permission to conduct a background check
- Valid proof of employment, such as a labour contract
- Proof of your current tax situation
- Document(s) proving citizenship/residency of the nation from which you are departing
- Money for airfare and transport to an in-person interview and lodging/return flight home: expect to pay around 500 USD minimum for a round trip flight from New York City to Libson, and around another 300 to 500 for transport and lodging expenses related to an in-person interview to be on the safe side.
- Money for airfare and transport to your site of employment should you be hired
Applying for a visa will require you to contact the Portuguese embassy in your country and the SEF to complete a background check and the application process. Like your EU counterparts, you will need to have your degrees, diplomas, and qualifications recognized by the Portuguese government. These processes take time and patience, but if you are determined and bent on living and teaching in Portugal, it’s worth it. More information about the visa application process for Americans can be read here. Internations.org has more complete information with links to useful resources available here (this is recommended reading). Once you have arrived in Portugal, it is critical to make an appointment with the SEF to document your residency within the country. More information can be found on their website in English here.
Teaching EFL in Portugal as a UK citizen
Brexit has been a confusing process and has left many people with several questions about working in the UK and the EU. According to the SEF’s Brexit page, the Withdrawl Agreement transition period expired as of the 31st of December 2020. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, teaching EFL as a UK citizen is unpredictable at this time, but is still viable. More information for UK citizens interested in working in Portugal in 2021 should read about freedom of movement and the SEF’s official Brexit FAQ for further information. For now, it is advisable to prepare to obtain a Portuguese work and residency visa as outlined in the previous section and await further developments.
It is our hope that you found the information this article offers useful for your decision to live and work in Portugal. It would be a delight to run into a new expat somewhere down the road, and we hope that expat is you.
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