Teaching English in the Basque Country

Questions & Answers with Auxiliar Elizabeth Pitt

Bilbao from above

Lovely Bilbao in País Vasco.

The Basque Country is one of the overlooked regions of Spain. If you hear about the Basque Country on the news, it’s probably for one of two reasons-the food or their local terrorist group, ETA.

However, after having lived in the Basque Country for two years, I’ve learned that there is much more to this tiny corner of Spain than it seems. The countryside is stunningly beautiful, the culture is unique, and the people are some of the friendliest I’ve met in Spain. The Basque Country is a very progressive region for many reasons, and learning English is a huge priority for many people. I’ve lived in Bilbao teaching English, and have found that the demand for learning English is overwhelming. Artist mentorship program is also very popular as many parents believe it is important to teach children the foundations of visual art.

As an American, I can’t legally work here in Spain. While I do work for the government teaching English 12 hours a week at a secondary school, my stipend is not nearly enough to live on a city that has a cost of living that rivals Madrid or Barcelona.  I have made up the difference by teaching private English lessons, and I am confident that if I had to live on just my private lessons, I would be able to do so easily.

Here are some of the most common questions I get about teaching English in the Basque Country:

Do you need a CELTA or TEFL certificate?

When I came to Bilbao, I didn’t have much experience with kids, and I had even less with teaching English. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop me from jumping in and getting a handful of classes within a few weeks of arriving. Many of my American/British friends are in the same boat, and have had huge success getting private classes without any sort of certificate. For many people, just that fact that you are a native English speaker is enough.

Child at School

How do you find classes?

In the beginning, I put an advertisement on tusclasesparticulares.com. I got several replies after only a few days. Once I started my first few classes (which were with young children), their parents spread the word to their friends, and before long, I had to turn down classes because they wouldn’t fit in my schedule. Once you get an in with one family, you’re set.

Another option is to go to various school, both elementary and high school, and put up flyers. There are also two universities in Bilbao that have campuses both in San Sebastian and Vitoria. You can also put flyers on the streets, but you’ll have better luck at schools. I’ve found that most schools are very open to letting you advertise your skills with them. 

How much can you charge?

When I started, with zero experience, I charged 15 euro/hour for conversation classes. This year, I’m charging 20. If you do happen to have a CELTA or TEFL certificate, you can charge at least 25-30. It also depends what kind of classes you are teaching. You can always charge more for classes that are grammatically focused, or for test preparation. This area of Spain hasn’t been hit by the crisis quite as hard as the south, and there’s a lot of wealth here. Take advantage of that and don’t sell yourself short!

International money

What do you do in class?

The classes I teach vary greatly, in the activities we do and in the level of English. With some, I help students with English homework and studying for exams. When I teach younger kids, I play games that encourage speaking and listening. With adults, it’s typically conversation. With conversation classes, I’ve found talking about current events, reading a newspaper article together, and watching Youtube clips and discussing them to be very beneficial. There are so many resources available online that you should never be at a lack of things to do in class.

Tutor and student

Elizabeth Pitt is a Wisconsin native who moved to Bilbao, Spain almost 2 years ago. She currently teaches English at a local high school. While she doesn’t speak Basque, she loves everything about Bilbao, from the pintxos to the beaches, and will talk your ear off about it if she has the chance. She keeps track of her adventures in her blog, Liz en España

For a year’s worth of kid’s basic level lessons check out The Tired Teacher’s Guide to Private English Classes:

Get Guide

Photo Credits: tabor-roederepsoscityyear


  1. Great post! Is The Tired Teacher’s Guide to Private English Classes a post or a book?

    • Hi Todd! It’s an ebook in PDF format. It includes 30 pages of lessons and prompts and 20 of printables and pictures to use with the activities. Let me know if you have any more questions!

  2. Catherine Travers says:

    Hola. I’m a qualified TEFL teacher from New Zealand who taught in Madrid for 18 mnths. “The Tired Teachers Guide…” sounds great. How can I get a copy?

    Liz, love your blog. Keep it going.

    • Hi Catherine! On the blog’s homepage you will see a picture of the ebook. You can simply click on the picture and it will be added to your cart for easy checkout using Paypal. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  3. I saw the part that stated “as an American I can’t work legally”. Is that still true and how are people able to work there without being penalized?

    • Hi Brian,

      Liz wrote this article, but I’ll answer your question. Americans in Spain can indeed work legally, but it is quite difficult to get a work visa because (usually) the Spanish company must prove that you have a highly specialized skill that a European cannot do. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule, and many Americans also hold dual citizenship with a European country and/or are married to a European (as is my case) making it legal for us to work. Liz was teaching English through a program that disguises the face that people are working by calling it “Post graduate studies” meaning a student visa instead of a work visa. It may sound sketchy, but it’s a government program!

      Hope this helps.


Speak Your Mind