Have you ever considered teaching English in Portugal? For many non-Europeans, it’s perhaps a country that is less familiar than some of its near neighbors, yet it is endowed with an equally fascinating and colorful history. The capital, Lisbon, is situated on the long Atlantic coastline to the west, while numerous Mediterranean resorts can be found in the southern Algarve region. It’s rich culture and national heritage have been well preserved, and Portugal is blessed with a climate that is largely characterized by hot summers and mild winters.
Demand for EFL teachers has risen dramatically in recent years, partly driven by the hugely successful European Football Championships, hosted by Portugal in 2004. There are now 3 times more private languages schools than there were at the end of the 1990s. The highest concentrations of language schools are found in Lisbon, Leiria, the university town of Coimbra or the second-city, Porto, in the north. Although the Algarve is a hugely popular destination for tourists, there are few English teaching opportunities. However, if you particularly want to teach in this area those with good experience may be able to secure a position by going door-to-door.
It has to be said that the majority of EFL teachers in Portugal are from the UK and Ireland. This is because, as EU-citizens, they are exempt from the time-consuming visa application procedure that is required for non-EU citizens. However, in principal, schools will accept applications from residents of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Regardless of English ability, it is highly unlikely that non-native speakers will find employment as EFL teachers in Portugal, as many local instructors are qualified for such positions.
To teach English in Portugal you will almost certainly need a university degree, although some schools may offer seasonal positions to undergraduates. Internationally recognized TEFL qualifications, such as CELTA or Cert. TESOL, are very highly regarded, and will undoubtedly help you to secure more favorable teaching conditions. There are many institutions in Portugal that offer courses which lead to TEFL certification, so it may be possible to begin work while studying for this qualification. Some ability with at least spoken Portuguese would clearly offer you an advantage when applying for more sought-after positions but is not usually a job requirement.
Most employers are seeking teachers with a minimum of 1 year of teaching experience. Also, when applying for jobs, be sure to highlight any business experience or any contact you’ve had with children, regardless of whether it was teaching related.
In most cases, your students will be either young learners in the 7-16 age range, or business professionals. Teaching positions are available privately owned language schools; kindergartens (which provide for non-compulsory education between the ages of 3 and 6); primary, secondary and tertiary education in both the public and private sectors; and classes hosted by international companies, which provide business English lessons for their employees. Many teachers also supplement their regular income with private lessons, which are usually held in the student’s home or place of work.
Many language schools in Portugal have contracts to supply teachers to local primary schools, so you should be prepared to teach large classes and expect to be working off-site much of the time. There are two types of schools for students in secondary education; regular junior-high and high schools, and those that are known as professional schools. Professional schools cater more to the needs of more practical-type careers, such as farming, fishing and carpentry, but students also take English classes and graduates may enter university. In the tertiary education sector, there are both public and private universities, and polytechnics that cater more to professional careers.
Regardless of where you teach, most schools have a set curriculum which will, by and large, seem quite familiar to most teachers, particularly those from the UK and Ireland. However, in most situations, experienced teachers will be encouraged to teach in a style that best suits their personality, and incorporate their own resources into the system. Foreign teachers usually have full control over their classes. Only in classes containing very young children is it common to team-teach with a local educator.
As with most TEFL destinations, salaries are commensurate to both qualifications and experience. In Portugal, they will also vary widely between locations and employers. Although an average salary would be in the €850-1,000 (US$1,080-1,270) per month range, they can be as low as €600 (US$760) or as high as €1,200 (US$1,530) per month. It’s best to ‘shop around’ for the most favorable positions rather than accept the first one offered to you. Some schools pay a yearly bonus equivalent to one month’s salary to long-term teachers who have renewed contracts. Many teachers also recruit students for private tutoring and normally charge €12-15 (US$15-19) per hour.
Contracts are normally for 9 or 10 months, beginning in September or October. Flights and accommodation are rarely included in first year contracts, but you may be able negotiate these into later contracts if you decide to stay on with the same school. Most contracts include three weeks paid holiday, and numerous public holidays throughout the year. By law, Sunday is a rest day and you may also receive a further full or half-day off, though not necessarily on the weekend. In most cases, you will teach between 20 and 30 hours per week, although it’s likely that your work day may include morning, afternoon and evening classes, with breaks in between.
There are an equal number of opportunities for male and female teachers and, generally speaking, schools will hire anyone up to the age 59. The prime hiring period is in late-August through September, although some schools will be looking to recruit teachers in January. It should be noted that most EU-citizens work several part-time jobs for a number of schools when they first arrive in Portugal. It’s usually easier to obtain full-time positions once you developed a reputation as a good and reliable teacher.
Portuguese employers are generally fair and honest, and you can expect to be paid on time. However, some teachers have experienced problems when working in Porto. If you choose to work in this city, it might be better to look for jobs with well-known national or international schools. Be wary of accepting jobs at small schools offering accommodation for first contracts, but if you do be sure to check the fine-print in your contract.
While Lisbon itself is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe there are plenty of other places in Portugal that are well-worth visiting in your free time. The old Moorish town of Evora is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the 14th-century castle-town of Castelo de Vide, with it spa dating back to Roman times. Many people head to the Algarve in summer where you will find some superb beaches such as Meia Praia, or the more secluded Praia do Pinhão. The Douro Province in the north is quite different to the rest of Portugal, with it’s spectacular mountains, gorges, rivers and vineyards that produce the region’s world-famous port wine. Throughout the country you will discover quaint villages, and old towns with narrow, winding streets, lofty castles and a wealth of historical sites dating back to medieval and Roman times.
Seafood is prominent in Portuguese cuisine, but pork is also very popular. Some specialties include pasties de bacalhau (cod fishcakes); linguado grelhado (grilled sole); caldeirada, a kind of seafood stew; carne de porco a Alentejana, pork with clam and tomato sauce; sopa de marisco (shellfish soup cooked and served with wine), substantial enough to be served as a main meal; and caldo verde (green soup with kale leaves).
There are many restaurants, bars, cafes, nightclubs, theatres, cinemas and concerts in all the larger towns and cities. Eating out is very much part of Portuguese culture and it is not uncommon to find yourself still eating dinner at 10.30, even on work nights. A variety of sports and outdoor activities are popular, including soccer, cycling, golf and a number of water sports such as surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking and sailing.
Most shops are open from 9am-7pm, although many will close for a 2-hour siesta between 1:00 and 3:00pm, particularly during summer. It is common for shops to be closed on Sundays, except during the run up to Christmas.
Portugal has an accessible rail network and cheap bus services, including express services between major cities. Lisbon and Porto also have reliable metro networks. Taxis are commonly available throughout the country. Visitors are even allowed to drive using their national licenses, provided they are written in a language that uses Roman characters.
The Portuguese economy is fairly stable although unemployment has risen is recent years. Portugal has a relatively low rate crime rate, particularly where violent crime is concerned. However, you should be wary of pickpockets when visiting popular tourist sites or when using public transportation. You should also be careful about using ATMs in isolated or poorly lit areas.
Portugal is one of the fastest growing destinations for EFL teachers, offering competitive salaries and a low cost of living, that provides plenty of opportunity to explore one of Europe’s most captivating regions.
Detailed living costs for teaching English in Portugal
Information on visa requirements to teach English in Portugal