How to: book your own intensive course

Startup Stock Photos

You may have seen our last post on some tips on how to find a gig for the summer. One of the ideas we explored was setting up and running your own intensive course for private students. The time to start advertising your course is around now, so in this post we’ll be giving some more details on how to organize, promote and run your own IELTS, PET/FCE/CAE, or TOEFL course.

First, you’ll want to identify which exams you’re going to offer courses for. Think about what you already have experience teaching. If you don’t have any experience teaching exams, then you have some other factors to consider including: your own education and study background, the difficulty level of the exam, the content on what needs to be taught for the exam and the number of hours involved.

Next, think about which courses are in demand

Right now the Holy Grail/Shared Nightmare for most Spaniards aged 14-45 is the FCE (Cambridge English: First). If you’ve had experience teaching this exam after school, this is a good one to plan an intensive course around.

Despite the high saturation of FCE preparation courses in Madrid, demand is still high (at the time of this writing anyway). As the Spanish education system transitions to being fully bilingual, there are thousands of Spanish-subject teachers who will need to prove that they’ve achieved at least an intermediate level of English in the next few years. Also, while it’s uncertain what exactly the results of Brexit will do to enrollment numbers at British Universities, the FCE and CAE are still relatively popular choices for Spanish students hoping to attend university programs that are taught in English (in the UK and elsewhere in the EU). Finally, many companies in Spain require the FCE (or equivalent) from job candidates before they will even be consider them during the hiring process. So, it looks like the FCE will remain a popular choice for a few years yet.

In order to run a successful FCE course you will need to 1) be familiar with the format of the exam, 2) have a firm understanding of grammar in English and 3) be able to explain not just the grammar structures, but when and why we use them. To pass the exam, students must demonstrate not only an understanding of complex grammar structures, but also a mastery over them by using them successfully to create two coherent, interesting texts in response to writing prompts on the exam.

If you already have a TEFL or TESOL certificate, you should be well-prepared for requirements two and three. Learning the format of the exam can be done pretty quickly, and there are tons of online resources to get you started. If you’ve taught writing at an advanced level (AP English, an introductory level university course, etc.) or worked as a professional writer (journalist, copywriter, etc.) then you probably have a good enough foundation to offer a course.  If you’re unsure of whether or not you’d be able to successfully prepare students for this exam, you could always try taking a mock exam yourself and seeing how you do. You can access a free computer-based grammar test here and you may be able to find complete exam practice books online or in your local library.

If the FCE sounds a bit intimidating to teach, there are other exams you could offer courses for. The PET (B1) is one qualification that private students often ask me about or request classes for. The IELTS is another popular exam that’s widely accepted as proof of language skills for migration, study or work purposes. The Trinity ISE exams have a reputation for being a bit easier than the Cambridge exams, though they are usually considered to be an acceptable equivalent by many Spanish employers.

Plan your course curriculum and set your rates

Before you start advertising, you’ll need to decide what you’re going to include in the course. Will you only teach exam format and strategy? Will you offer a dual-pronged approach and help students who may have just started studying the level of English required by the exam to consolidate their level before they take the test? The second option means a lot more work for you, but it opens up a larger student pool and potential client base.

As we mentioned in our last post about this, you’ll probably have to reduce your hourly rate if students are booking a significant number of hours (more than 4 per week). This is up to you, only you can decide what rate you can live with (and live on). Some teachers who typically charge €25/hr for exam prep may knock their rates down to around ~€15-€18 for more than 6 hours a week. There are things you can do to maximize the value you get for your time however, like having students book longer blocks of time (having class twice a week for 2 hours, instead of four days of 1 hour classes). As long as they have the available time, a small discount is usually enough to encourage students to book you for a longer class.

Encouraging students to find a friend so that they can book a pair class has a number of advantages. First, you can charge each person a little less indivdually while making more money than you would for a one to one class. Second, it’s usually about the same amount of planning for more money. Third, it’s often less work for you once you’re in the class. Two students means you can focus on giving the class instead of having to fill-in full time for the other half of role-plays and discussion activities.

How do you decide what to teach? While I have mixed feelings about textbooks in general, I have found them to be a useful guide for course contents. If you’re dead-set against using a book for your course you can still take a look at the scope and sequence of a course book to avoid getting overwhelmed with deciding what to teach and to give you an idea of how to structure your course.

Advertise your course

Next you’ll need to decide how and where you’re going to advertise. In addition to LingoBongo and TusClasesParticulares you could also try posting on milanuncios or making flyers to tack up around your neighborhood (or a more affluent one). If you’re trying to save time and money you can make them up yourself with a sharpie and cheap photocopies. However, something done up in color will be more eye-catching. Printaholic has some gorgeous examples of full-color flyers that may help you get inspired and Lucid Press has some great free templates available.

If you speak Spanish at the intermediate level you may find that you get more business by posting and doing the initial negotiation in Spanish. I’ve found that I was able to get myself a better deal in terms of pay and schedule by posting my ads in Spanish. I’m not sure why this is. Students may feel more comfortable or they may feel like you’re more trustworthy if they can ask you questions about payment and policies in their first language. Or, it may boil down to the impression that you’re harder to take advantage of since you’ve managed to learn the language.

Regardless, if you’ve been making an effort to learn Spanish it might be worth the extra time to write up some ads and get them checked by a Spanish-speaking friend beforehand.

Charm them in the interview
Interview images

Once you start getting calls about your classes, you’ve almost clinched it. Some students may just want to confirm some things with you regarding scheduling, rates and materials via phone. Others will want to meet you to see if they feel comfortable with you and whether or not you’d be a fun teacher. It’s natural to feel a little awkward (will they want to see a short demonstration of what we’d do in the class? is this an informal chat session? etc.), but do your best to be at ease.

Treating this like most other interviews will help students see that you take this seriously, while a sincere smile and cheerful manner will show them that this isn’t going to be a stuffy corporate class.  It’s always better to be a little over-prepared and slightly over-dressed than under-prepared and under-dressed. You should be good to go in some smart casual separates and a short (1, 2 minutes tops) spiel about your teaching methods.


Whether you’re going full autonomo and providing receipts or whether this is your first time doing a private course, remember that it’s still a job and to take it seriously as such. Although your students ultimately have the responsibility of studying and putting the work in, in and outside of class, you are captain of the ship.

Your students are paying you to help them prepare for something that is more likely than not an integral step towards achieving a study, career or life goal. Make sure you take time to plan your lessons and to correct assignments. If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. However, if you’ve been thinking of one day trying to make the switch from auxiliar to autonomo, then this is a great opportunity to see if being your own boss is for you! 

Whatever the end result, you’ll learn a lot in a relatively short amount of time. Other benefits include: getting to set your own schedule, setting your own rates, continuing to live your life and not having to live at work.

Have you run your own intensive course in the past? How was the experience? Comment or contact us if you’ve got ideas that we missed!

Good luck!



Summer Gigs in Spain: the good, the bad, the ugly.

Spring has just arrived, but some of you reading this may already know for sure that you’re hell-bent on making it in Spain over the summer. It can be tough, a lot of summer jobs get filled almost as quickly as they get posted, but we’ve got some tips and ideas to save you from having to beg your parents for money from July until October.

Summer camps

The good: live rent-free at the beach or in the mountains. 
The bad: you are in charge of a bunch of kids in the wilderness.
The ugly: literally live at work and never be allowed to leave for 2-6 weeks. 

If you have the right personality and get the right placement, being a counselor at a sleep-away summer camp can be a pretty sweet gig. The key phrase here guys is “have the right personality”. Do you love kids, the outdoors and have bundles of energy? Then get on board! Do you have 0 patience, like to sleep to late, and hate listening to miniature humans ramble on about shit like Pokemon Go and Frozen? Then you might want to look a little harder for another job. I reckon that most of us fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and only you can truly decide what pay, conditions and hours you’re willing to put up with for those 2 to 6 weeks.

One of the advantages of working at a sleep-away camp is that you basically live rent-free for the length of your contract since the camp provides you with room and board. This can be a double-edged sword though, as a few places will take this cost out of your check, which means you get sent home with less to live on for the rest of the summer. If you play your cards right though, you can be chilling in the mountains and stacking up that cash while the rest of us are sweating our asses off in the city.

Other pluses include: getting to broaden your social circle by meeting and making friends with teachers working both in Madrid and other parts of Spain, getting to see and experience other parts of the country, and doing lots of sporty activities to keep you fit and active. Possible disadvantages are: having to sleep in a strange bed and give up your apartment if you finally found one that you liked, being the adult responsible for the well-being of over a dozen kids who seem to have boundless energy reserves for shouting, fighting, running and crying, and never really getting a break from that since you’ll be living at work.

Where to look for jobs: LingoBongo, the Auxiliars Facebook page, and this website.

How to get hired: it’s a lot easier to land one of these gigs if you have an EU passport or permanent residency in Spain but there are camps that hire Non-EU auxiliars (make sure you do your own research about the legal ins and outs). Update your CV with any skills that could come in handy as a camp counselor. Are you CPR or First Aid certified? Don’t forget to include that! If you have to send an application letter do your best to sound professional and responsible, but also laid-back and able to roll with the punches. You can send your CV to dozens and dozens of summer camps if you fill out this form.

Day camps

The good: go home and sleep in your own bed, continue to live your life.
The bad: lower wages.

The ugly: camp sing-a-longs, ice-chip candle crafts and freeze tag, all while you continue to sweat your ass off in the city. 

Day camps can be a nice happy-medium; you usually get to work enough hours to give you something to live on, but you get to go home, maybe socialize with other adults who aren’t your coworkers and sleep in your own bed. They aren’t as intense as sleep-away camps, but you usually make considerably less since you’ll spend a lot less time there than someone who is literally living at their job for 6 weeks.

With that in mind though, you would still be free in the evenings and so you’d be able to hold on to any evening private classes if you have students who want to continue lessons over the summer. If you’re doing most of your private tutoring with kids, it’s somewhat less likely their parents will want to continue class over the summer but they might ask you to hang around as an English-speaking babysitter or Au Pair and pay you to play with their kids in English.

Where to find jobs: check out LingoBongo, TusClasesParticulares and the Facebook Groups.

How to get hired: be proactive! Day camps gigs in the past have filled up fast so be ready for when you see a listing or your friend forwards you a link. Make sure your CV is updated and that you’ve listed any skills that could come in handy as a camp counselor or activity leader. Music, theater and visual arts experience are little things that make you an attractive hire. Having a form cover letter ready to go isn’t a bad idea either.

Au Pair work/Babysitting
mary poppins

The good: no lesson planning and no grading.
The bad: make as little as 4€ an hour.
The ugly: put up with some kids’ crazy parents for up to three months to avoid begging yours for cash.

I’ll level with you guys, this is something I personally would never consider. I have worked as a waitress, a bar maid, a marketing officer, a courier, a writer and a teacher, and babysitting stresses me out more than any of them.  You deal directly with the parents and just like in any other job, there is all kinds of crazy out there. On the other hand though, there are some great families out there and I’ve heard stories of people making an amazing connection with some wonderful parents who ended up helping them out later, or showing them a side of life in Spain they would have never experienced otherwise.

If you decide to go with an au pair job you may want to decide first whether or not you’re willing to accept a live-in position. Similar to sleep-away camps, you’ll be fed and living rent-free for the length of your post, but expect to only earn between 40€ and 90€ a week in pocket money. The work can be tough though, and you may be expected to do household chores. Live-out positions pay a bit better since the family generally understand that you have to travel there, buy groceries, continue to pay for your rented room, etc. However, it’s not unheard of for a family to only offer around 600€ for four weeks, Monday-Friday, 9 am – 1 or 2 pm. Upsides are that you get paid in cash, won’t have to do any lesson planning or prep-work, and you may get some perks like a municipal pool pass so you can take the kiddos swimming.

Where to look for jobs: try the usual boards like: LingoBongo, tusclasesparticulares, and the Auxiliar Facebook page. But you could also put the word out to your friends and around your school that you’re offering your services for the summer. There are also loads of au pair agencies but watch out for placement fees.

How to get hired: make a good first impression on the parents; be personable and fun. Experience and qualifications are great, but they aren’t the only thing needed to convince anxious parents to trust you with their kids for the next several weeks. Think about the kind of person your parents would have wanted to leave you with and do your best impression of them.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell anyone that if you’re going to babysit or be an au pair, you should like kids, but just in case: make sure you like kids. You’re not a monster if you don’t like kids or don’t want to hang out with them for up to 6+ hours a day, but you will be totally miserable if you force yourself into doing something you really have less than zero desire to do.

Private tutoring/intensive classes

The good: be your own boss, make actual money.
The bad: do as much as or more planning and correction than you do October-June.
The ugly: be you own boss, make actual decisions and actually be in charge of everything from curriculum content to logistics. 

Last year was the first summer where I had to find my own gig from July 1st, but I found plenty of private classes to keep me busy. All of my adult students were interested in continuing until I left in August to visit my family for a few weeks, and a friend put me in touch with a family who wanted intensive FCE preparation classes for the dad and two teenage sons.

It worked out great. As they were one family booking a ton of hours, I had to reduce my hourly rate quite a bit. It was totally worth it however, because I knew that I was booked for a certain number of hours and was definitely going to have X amount of money by the end of the month. It saved me from having to fret and worry every  other time I had a cancellation that month and saved me a ton of time because I didn’t have to commute to different places for different classes.

Putting something like this together for yourself takes a quite a bit of hustle and initiative, but if you pull it off, I think the results are totally worth it. In the coming weeks I’ll be writing up a post with more detailed information but here are a couple of tips to get you started now.

First, this is going to be a lot easier if you have a recognized TEFL or TESOL certification and some experience. If you haven’t gotten there yet though, don’t fret. If you have 0 experience teaching things like grammar, collocations and writing, I wouldn’t recommend telling people that you have lots of experience. You might be brilliant at it, even without any training or practice, but you might also be terrible and have some very pissed off parents spreading nasty things about you when the next course starts.

If you’re an auxiliar de conversación, odds are you have some experience preparing kids for the speaking portion of KET, PET, Starters, Flyers, etc. This is a great place to start. If you’ve been doing private classes as well, then you probably have plenty of experience in helping kids with their homework and have an idea of how to get the grammar across. So, another direction you could go in, is planning an intensive course to catch up the kids who did terribly in their English class that year, or getting the ones who flunked ready for their make-up exams in the autumn.

Where to find jobs: rather than finding these jobs, you may have to create them. Ask around at your school if parents are looking for summer classes, post flyers in your neighborhood, put up ads on tusclases and LingoBongo.
How to get hired: first impressions are key and so is deciding in advance the limits of your negotiation. Have the minimum you are willing to work for decided ahead of time and start a little bit higher. If it doesn’t work out, be gracious. You never know what someone’s financial situation is and there is plenty of work out there.


The good: explore and live somewhere else during your 2 months off as an auxiliar. 
The bad: the possibility of living in a place with no running water or WiFi.
The ugly:  you have almost no way of knowing whether the people you’ll be staying with are chill hippies who are just really passionate about organic produce, or crazy people with plans to get the most work out of you possible while feeding you as little as they can. 

WWoofing is another one of those things where you really need the right outlook or else you’re probably going to hate it. While a lot of people find farming incredibly rewarding and educational, it is hard, sometimes back-breaking work. You also never know what you’re going to get. I’ve heard plenty of stories from friends of friends that it’s a great experience, even if you do get worked pretty hard during your shifts. There’s also a fair share of horror stories out there, so do everything you can to investigate the farmers you’re thinking of staying with.

All that negativity aside, it can be an awesome opportunity to live in another region of Spain for a short-time. There are awesome hosts out there and if you are passionate about organic farming and sustainable agriculture, it can be a very valuable and fulfilling experience.

WorkAway offers opportunities to do different kinds of volunteering, and get a little experience in hospitality, education, childcare etc. It isn’t exactly “career experience”, but it could be spun into a useful line on your resume and give you a clearer idea of what you do or do not want to do in the future. Depending on your placement, you might have access to some awesome sights or activities to enjoy during your free hours. I knew a girl who did a WorkAway at a bed in breakfast in San Sebastian that was within walking distance to what are supposed to be some of the best surfing beaches in northern Spain.

It is possible WWOOF or WorkAway in another country in Europe, but the legal ins and outs of that can be complicated depending on the passport you hold. Some countries technically require non-EU passport holders to have a visa for any kind of work, even if it’s unpaid. Others will allow to you undertake unpaid volunteer work under certain conditions (for example, if it isn’t the primary reason for your visit) for a more limited length of time (usually less than 30 days).

You might find this reddit post useful, and it’s always a good idea to research the specific country you’re thinking of volunteering in. Immigration and visa rules change all the time, so it is important to always do your own research and not just trust what some chick on some blog wrote.  This page for WWOOF UK has some useful information and it’s worth checking to see if other nations have similar pages as a place to start your research.

Where to find positions: WWOOF, WorkAway
How to get it: every single host will be different, so present your best-self to make a good first impression. Don’t forget to research as much as you can about a potential host so you aren’t left in the cold (and sleeping on a moldy mattress, like that girl in the Matador Network article).

Don’t wait too long to figure out your plans for summer, but from now until June there’s a pretty steady trickle of offers. They go fast though, so be ready! A ton of babysitting gigs get posted between May and June, and some day camps may be shoring up their numbers until just before the academic course ends. We’ll be covering some other ideas to keep some coin in your pocket soon.

Hang in there and have fun!

XO, Tally


Tips and tricks for finally finding a place to live


You’ve been on idealista, easypiso, spothome and fotocasa all day, every day and as soon as you find something it’s gone,  the landlord won’t return your calls, and the realtors want to see 6 months of pay stubs and a permanent work contract.

Does this sound like your life?

Several weeks ago we posted about 10 great neighborhoods to know, and while they were all places you could want to live it seems the problem is everyone else wants to live there too. This year’s piso hunt has extended well into late autumn for a number of auxiliars, so we’re here with our shortlist of tips to help you out of your Air BnB and into a room of your own.

1. Ask around.

Do you have friends who’ve found places to live? Have you started to get friendly with your coworkers over the age of 30? Great! Ask them if their landlords have any other properties. 

While certainly not all, many private landlords own more than one property that they rent out. The disadvantage of this tactic is that you’re kind of stuck with whatever is on offer within your social circle, but you get the major advantages of: 1) getting to deal directly with landlord and not having to go through an agency and 2) by going through a friend or coworker you have a “social in”, which can really count for a lot over here.

It can take awhile before you get any leads, but hang in there and ask literally everyone you know, no matter how tenuous your social connection to them seems. If you have asked everyone you know and come up with nothing, have your friends to start asking their friends. When my roommate and I were apartment hunting this summer the first 10 people I asked told me their landlord didn’t have anything else available at the moment. In the end, I caught one of those people at the right moment. It turned out he and his girlfriend were leaving their sick two bedroom in Arganzuela right around the time when my roommate and I would need to move in. Be persistent!

2. Try an independent letting agents.


One of the problems a lot of people have had is that once they tried going through a realtor, they were immediately turned away since they didn’t have a permanent contract and several months of pay stubs. If you go to an independent leasing agency (NOT RedPiso or TechnoCasa, for example), explain your situation and show them your Carta de Nombremiento from the Ministry, then they may be a bit more understanding and more willing to work with you. It’s possible you’ll have to pay a higher deposit or that they’ll only allow you to sign a lease for the length of your contract, but once you start doing business with them some things may become negotiable.

3. Ask more questions than you answer.

Don’t be a jerk and don’t lie to any prospective landlords, but no one says you need to supply any extra information. When they ask you what you do, tell them you’re teaching English and studying. Both of these things are technically true and it can help you make a good impression right away. English as a foreign language is booming business still in Spain, and since the auxiliar program is technically “work studies” you look extra responsible by being able to say you’re doing both.

Unless they ask about the nature and structure of your classes, there’s no need to say anymore about yourself. Ask the landlord about the apartment, about the current and previous tenants, and about themselves. Even if your Spanish is pretty basic, attempts at small talk (weather, sports, hobbies, etc.) can go an awful long way to ingratiate yourself with someone.

When the time comes, have a copy of your Carta and your auxiliar contract handy, and let the landlord read through it themselves. If they were thinking of renting you the room there’s a good chance they’ll be satisfied enough to read that the Education Ministry is your sponsor. They may have follow up questions. Be friendly and warm, but be brief. Lengthy explanations can get confusing for you and for them, while a chipper tone helps you seem more confident and less cagey.

 4. Find a room you can rent month to month and continue to wait it out.

It’s tough to make a solid prediction on what the market will be like in 2 months, so one option is to rent a place through a service like Aluni.NET, which specializes in student housing. This means of course there are some annoying, dormitory-like stipulations in the contract (I’m dying to know how they enforce their ban on the possession of pornographic materials) but you can avoid committing to an apartment you’re not wild about while you continue to look for the flatshare of your dreams.

You’d also have some basic protections provided through their written agreement, even if you’re on a rolling contract, and having a middle man sometimes makes it easier to get your deposit back from your landlord (less the administration fees, of course). When I visited their Madrid office in January 2014, Aluni had a bilingual staff, and offered copies of the contracts in English. It’s also an opportunity to get to know and get in with a landlord who might have other rooms or apartments for rent.

 If you’re still having piso problems and would like some help, shoot us an email! You can also set up a consultation for some extra, individualized personal assistance. Good luck!

XO, Natalie & Maggie

Being Smart from the Start: Save the receipts

We all hope that our school placement is going to be a glorious year with wonderful coworkers and great kids. However, in the real world, it doesn’t always work out that way. Unfortunately, I’ve been a “bad school” victim more than once, and my best advice is: even if things seem great, you love them, they love you, you’re skipping through a meadow of flowers, KEEP everything in writing. When you ask for permission to leave early for flight, ask in writing. When you go to the doctor, get a “justificante” (doctor’s note) and always give them a photocopy while you save the original.

 Here’s a list of “in writing” situations, though I’m sure I’m missing a few:

  • Excused absences for travel, visiting family, etc
  • Excused absences to go home early at Christmas or in June
  • Escalating problems with a teacher*
  • Swapping days off with another auxiliar or within your own schedule
  • Approved late arrivals or early departures for the day to visit the doctor, Extranjería (immigration), Aluche, etc.

Even the best of situations can quickly change for the worse if you suddenly have problems with the “wrong” teacher or administrator. Many schools can be quite cliquey and you should always be careful of what you say and who you say it to. A lot of people treat gossiping like a competitive sport and rumors can spread faster than wildfire in a gasoline soaked pine forest. Everyone may seem very nice and welcoming at the beginning, but it takes time for you to really get to know the other teachers in your school.

Cover your back by speaking first with your coordinator if you have an escalating problem with another teacher or a fellow auxiliar. In general, the first person to talk about the problem with “the higher-ups” is the one who “wins” the dispute, especially if it’s a petty conflict that escalated from a clash of personalities (which unfortunately can happen).


Again, GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING!! Whatsapp, email, or written correspondence (with you always keeping the original) are the best ways to go!  If your school assigns you an email, be sure to communicate with the teachers regarding the above issues through your personal email, and not the school account. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you use your school account for correspondence during a conflict there’s always the possibility that an administrator could go in later and erase the email threads if someone from the Education Ministry gets called in to resolve or mediate the issue.

This might all sound scary but hundreds of auxiliars develop a great relationship with their schools and experience a minimum of conflict. If something does go down though just remember: get it all in writing, keep a paper trail, save your receipts.

-XO, Maggie

How to get around Madrid: a guide to the public transport system.

We started to talk about the city’s transport system in our article about how to get to the center from the airport. Now we’ve got a comprehensive guide on how to figure out your morning commute and get your travel card!

Everyone sings the praises of Madrid’s public transport system, and while it is extensive and easy to use once you’ve learned it, when you first look at the sprawling criss-cross of colored lines you might be a little overwhelmed.

The Madrid Metro network alone is 293 kilometers long (that’s about 182 miles), has 13 different lines and 301 separate stations. You can start familiarizing yourself with the system way before you get here by taking a look at the interactive Madrid Metro Map, or downloading the official public transportation app available for iOS and Android. Android uses may find the Madrid Metro|Bus|Cercanías app more useful though, since you can look at routes and schedules for the Metro, city buses, Cercanías trains and inter-city buses that head out to the pueblos in one app. Get it here.

Line 1 Closure

One thing to keep in mind is that line 1 (that’s the light blue line) will be closed for maintenance until the middle of November 2016. The city has created a special bus service from Sierra de Guadalupe Vallecas to Atocha Renfe, but people living in the area have reported dissatisfaction with the replacement service. If you come as an auxiliar however, it’s more likely that you’d only be working in Vallecas as opposed to living there. As Atocha RENFE is very easily accessed from nearly all corners of the city center, there’s a very good chance that if you are placed in Vallecas, you’d manage the situation with few to no problems by taking advantage of the commuter rail (Cercanias lines C-2, C-7). The closure is putting more pressure on nearby lines so plan accordingly.

Let’s look on the bright side though! People living in the area will have to contend with far worse and will have been dealing with it since late June 2016. At any rate, the neighborhood is still much better connected than some of the pueblos other conversation assistants have been placed in, and you’ll never need a bla bla car to get down to El Pozo.

Getting Around

The first step to getting to work is figuring out where the hell it is. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you to look up the address on Google Maps, but that is definitely where you should start. Once you’ve got a lock on your location, zoom in, change to street view and click around to explore the ground level. This will let you see if there’s major obstacles between the nearest public transport stop and your destination (ex. train tracks, major highways, etc.), and if there’s any way around said obstacles (walkways, pedestrianized tunnels, etc.)

Once you’ve figured out where your placement or class is, locate the nearest accessible public transport stop on the map. Then, work backwards from that point to where you’ll be living or to the different places you hope to be living (we’ll be looking at some of the popular neighborhoods for people coming to Madrid to teach English in a future post).

To plan your route, typing your origin and destination points into Google Maps is normally all you really need to do, but I recommend figuring it out yourself with the metro app. Google sometimes won’t show bus routes or metro times, and the last time I searched a route it wasn’t taking into account the closure of line 1.

One caveat: Google Maps doesn’t seem to be listing the route numbers of bus stops at this time. It takes a bit more legwork, but if you know the name of the area where you’re going, you can use the official transport site to figure out the route. If your school is located in one of the many pueblos then the bus route you need is probably listed on that village’s town hall (ayuntamiento) website.

Getting the Abono

Once you get here, you’ll need to get your Abono or your travel card. This process is not at all difficult, but can be a bit of a pain in the ass depending on when you’re trying to get it. If you’re reading this in now and haven’t gotten here yet, make your appointment to get your travel card at a Public Transport Card Office now.

If you’re already here or reading this the first week of October, then don’t worry, you can still get a card without an appointment. If you weren’t able to schedule an appointment then don’t go to the transport office in Sol. There are half a dozen other transport offices in the center you can go to get this taken care of such as: Principe Pío, Plaza de Castilla, Moncloa, Nuevos Ministerios, Avenida de América, Ciudad Universitaria and Colonia Jardín. Atocha RENFE also has a transport card office, but it stays pretty busy as it’s very central and one of the biggest transport hubs in the city.

Though the offices take walk-ins, the agent who deals with you may insist you need an appointment. If the office isn’t packed with people who do in fact have an appointment, continue to firmly but politely insist that you don’t need one. If you’re unable to get a card through one of the official offices, you can still get it taken care of at one of the following tobacco shops (estancos): Calle Fuencarral 80 (metro Tribunal), Calle Murcia 9 (metro Palos de La Frontera), Paseo de Delicias 150 (metro Legazpi), Calle Pinzón 48 (metro Vista Alegre).

In terms of documentation you will need: a (Spanish) passport-sized photo of yourself, taken within the last 6 months, a photocopy of an accepted ID (that’s your TIE or passport photo page, and this form completed with your information.

If you’re under 26, the travel card for all zones is only 20€. You might as well get it for all zones, and then take advantage of “free” fares to places like Cercedilla, Alcala de Hernares and Aranjuez for cheap and cheerful day trips on the weekend or your free Friday if you’re one of those lucky dogs with three day weekends.

Cabs and Car Sharing

If you should ever need a taxi, cabs are usually plentiful and so much cheaper than other European capitals like London and Paris. You can even get a discount on your first ride that you book through the myTaxi app with the discount code natalie.ros. Uber has arrived as well, and while it hasn’t been that much cheaper the times I compared fares, the option is there. Use our discount code: natalier3710ue to get your first ride free (*value amounts vary by location).

Those who had the foresight to get their international driver’s license or those who have a license issued by a country within the EU/EEA/Switzerland, may find car2go a useful car-sharing service. Once you sign up and are approved, you can search and reserve a smart car from various parking points around the city. You use the app to start your rental, drive it to your destination, and then park it for free in any public parking within the designated home area.

Wherever you need to go in Madrid, there’s a way to get there! If you’d still like some personalized guidance on finding the best route for your commute, you can always contact us for a consultation.

Ten neighborhoods to know

In our last post we had some tips on how to find an apartment and new roommates, and today we’ve got ten places where you might find a great place to live!


If Madrid was going to host the Hipster Olympics, Malasaña would be the epicenter of all events. A couple of decades ago Malasaña was a bad neighborhood, full of hard drugs, rundown buildings and other signs of urban decay, but now it’s a tidy grid of coffee shops, cute restaurants, and indie and electro clubs. It’s hugely popular with expats, which means you’re more likely to find craft beer bars, American-style brunches but also higher rents. There are some cheap rooms to be had, but they tend to be in older buildings. If you need silence to sleep, this is probably not the neighborhood for you, but club kids and PYTs who came to party will be delighted with all there is to do.
Metro stops: Noviciado, Tribunal, Gran Vía,


Chueca is known to most people as Madrid’s gayborhood and generally cute as fuck. If clothes and indie designers are your thing, then be careful, it’s easy to wipe out your bank account before you go five blocks. Shoe-hounds will have lots to look at too; just off the plaza of the metro station you’ll find Calle Augusto Figueroa, which is lined with shoe boutiques and outlet stores on both sides. Like Malasaña, Chueca is filled with cute cafes and trendy restaurants. There are some gorgeous renovated apartments for rent but they usually come at a price.
Metro stops: Chueca, Alonso Martínez


Moncloa is really close to one of the city’s biggest universities and is full of college kids. The local nightlife has a very young vibe and it’s easy to find inexpensive bars and cafes, making it a good place for a cheap and cheerful night out during the week. There’s tons of flatshares in this part of the city and it’s  not impossible to rent a single room for less than 300€. Some of these rooms are in big Erasmus apartments where you will have 8 roommates and 1 and half bathrooms between you, while in others you’d only be sharing with two other people.
Metro stops: Moncloa, Arguelles, San Bernardo

La Latina

This hot spot for Sunday-fundays (read: day drinking), is noisy and it’s crowded, but it’s fun. The home of the Sunday Rastro Market has gotten more touristy, but its sun-splashed terraces and tapas bars are still popular with locals. As part of the city’s medieval quarter, you’ll find some of the oldest surviving buildings in Madrid  among the narrow streets and spacious plazas. Much of the current construction dates back to the 1800s however, and many apartments have been partially or entirely renovated to increase their value. You should be able to find all the Mod Cons lurking behind those charming 19th century facades, but you might not find an elevator.
Metro stops: La Latina, Puerta de Toledo, Tirso de Molina


Considered up and coming neighborhood by some (which is a nice way of saying “gentrifying”), Lavapies still has a little grit and some inexpensive flat shares. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city with an estimated 60% of the population being of foreign origin and 82 different nationalities are represented in its maze of winding streets. The police are a common sight in the main plaza but don’t let that scare you. Like most of the center, violent crime is rare and the worst thing that’s likely to happen to you is getting pick-pocketed (which is just as likely to happen around the Puerta de Sol).  There’s an excellent variety of entertainment and dining options: within a ten minute walk of Plaza Lavapies you can find a vegan restaurant, an art cinema, Mercado Anton Martin, a Brazilian bar and dozens of South Asian grocers.
Metro stops: Lavapies, Anton Martin, Tirso de Molina, Embajadores


This is Madrid’s Upper East Side, though it’s just north of Retiro Park and only slightly east of the dead center of the Madrid. Its wide avenues, wrought iron work and turn of the century architecture makes for a pretty, tranquil picture. Originally a favorite of the city’s aspirational middle class, Salamanca is home to the IE Business School and many international Young Professionals. Calle Serrano has become synonymous with luxury brands and many designer boutiques line both sides of the street. You won’t have to leave the neighborhood to enjoy Madrid’s nightlife as it’s home to some big name clubs like 1800, Gabana and Serrano 41. Plan your nights out carefully though, as Salamanca is also home to the 50€ cover.
Metro stops: Colón, Serrano, Núñez de Balboa


If you’re more of a morning lark than a night owl, Ibiza might be a great fit for you. Its ordered grid of tree-lined streets borders the east side of Retiro park, which is a favorite of morning joggers across the city. Rents tend to be cheaper than they are in Salamanca and if you’re looking at the right time a nice, well-furnished two bedroom can be had for around 600€. There’s not much of a club scene but if you like to sit on a terrace and chill, there are lots of cute tabernas and bars to enjoy the evening ambience before making it home and in bed by midnight. It’s pretty peaceful at night (aside from regular city night-time noises like rubbish collection), which might make it a good choice for lighter sleepers who need quiet to get a good night’s rest.
Metro stops: Principe de Vergara, Ibiza, O’Donnell


Chamberí is almost a sort of “older sibling” to Malasaña and Moncloa. Like it’s hipper younger brothers, it’s got lots of restaurants, beautiful 19th century architecture, and some cute independent shops. Chamberí is a bit more peaceful however, as there aren’t quite so many clubs and a lot of families with kids and pensioners are still hanging on. Depending on where you are in the neighborhood, rents can be comparable to those in Malasaña and Chueca, but usually get a little cheaper as you move north and west. In addition to some spiffy coffee houses and modern tapas lounges you’ll find also more traditional eateries and a couple of little “cutre” (divey) joints with napkins thrown all over the floor.
Metro stops: Quevedo, Iglesia, Guzman el Bueno, Bilbao

Principe Pío1280px-ribera_del_manzanares_y_almudena

If you want the peace and quiet of a pueblo within walking distance of Plaza de España, then check out Principe Pío. This neighborhood is green, peaceful and pleasant, with plenty of supermarkets, a post office as well as a multiplex movie theater and a decent-sized shopping mall. It isn’t a wasteland of chain shops however, and there are some charming places to eat or grab a terrace to idle away some time over a glass of wine. The station is very well connected and is served by Metro lines 10 (dark blue) and 6 (gray), the R train to Ópera station, Cercanías lines C-1, C-7 and C-10, and several dozen buses. Some of the buildings are pretty new, only dating to the 1970s, which can mean slightly higher rents, but also better insulation and heating and more modern décor. The shady streets are also within easy walking to two of Madrid’s larger parks: Parque del Oeste and Casa de Campo.
Metro stops: Principe Pío


A Spanish friend of mine who lives here once compared his neighborhood to Tribecca in NYC. “The Tribecca of Madrid” might be a bit of a stretch but Legazpi is definitely worth a look. Culture Vultures will enjoy the proximity to the Matadero, a huge arts complex that houses an art cinema, various workshops, several indoor exhibition spaces, plus a massive court yard that regularly hosts expos and events. There are some fashionable restaurants, like Costello Río as well as nicer tapas places. This rapidly growing ward was allegedly a gangland hotspot 30 years ago but now is safer than my hometown. The streets are filled with people of all ages, including parents pushing strollers. There are some older buildings that give some blocks a gritty look, but new builds with swimming pools, tennis courts and underground car parks seem to be going up all the time. The main Metro station is connected to Line 3 and 6, and you have just a short trot up to Delicias for the Cercanías.
Metro stops: Legazpi

Happy apartment hunting! If you’ve found a place but your Spanish is a little rusty,  or if you’d like some help with your search you can always make an appointment with us for a little personalized attention.

How to: Survive the Search for your new roommate

Between the arrivals of thousands of Auxiliars and Erasmus students, last September was a crazy time to be looking for room in Madrid. How to Spain’s Maggie was lucky enough to have already moved in to her place for the year by June, but she was pounding the pavement with other new arrivals and helping them with their search! While we all want to get settled as soon as possible, it’s not a good idea to jump at the first place without asking the right questions.

Aparment Collage

 First, it’s important to be clear on what utilities are included in the rent and what the average cost of each tends to be. An important example that can easily be forgotten in the heat  September is “Is there heating in the apartment?”. Don’t forget to ask for more specific details regarding the character and behavior of the landlord. Are they responsive when there are problems? Do they ever enter the apartment without giving 24 hours’ notice? Do they try to find reasons not to fix things?

Putting aside the technicalities of the apartment you need to make sure that you would be comfortable living in the flat. Ask the other roommates about themselves and tell them about yourself. BE HONEST with them and with yourself. Ask about cleaning habits and social events. Are you about to move into the “After Hours” apartment? Can you live in a party pad? Even if the place is beautiful, if you don’t get a good vibe from the roommate(s), go with your gut. We all have our musts lists (at the top of mine of course is needing a pet-friendly apartment!), so if your potential bedroom doesn’t have a window and you know that you need natural light, move on and keep looking.

 Once you know you like the apartment and have gone over the pros and cons, contact them right away! Apartments go really quickly, so when you know you’ve found the one, take it. Don’t ever settle out of desperation. It’s always better to try and find and AirBnB for another month than move into an uncomfortable situation for the next year.

If you’re new to AirBnB you can use one of our codes to get €30 off your first stay!
Just follow our link here.

Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on how to find and land an apartment! If you’d like some personalized help with the hunt for your perfect piso, contact us to book an appointment!

Touchdown: how to get through the airport and down to the city center

airplane-705389_1920The over-water flight is over, finally, and you’re about to disembark from the plane and embark on several months of new experiences!

Navigating Barajas (and other European hubs)

Barajas (MAD) is big. So is Frankfurt (FRA), Heathrow (LDN), and Amsterdam (AMS), which are all major hubs you might be flying through if you couldn’t get a direct flight to Madrid. I was about to recommend downloading the GateGuru app to help you navigate through these huge international airports but when I downloaded the app to test it and browse the maps myself it wouldn’t even open. There is an app callediFly” and you can download the free version (ad supported) here for Android and here for iOS. Another option is to just download the individual guide apps for whichever airports you’re flying through. However, some of the guides, like the official guide to Munich airport do not include terminal maps.

What Not to Say to an Immigration Officer.

Do NOT volunteer any extra information about yourself. I know, this seems counter-intuitive what better way to prove that you have nothing to hide than by offering to show them all of your documentation and return flight ticket, right? However giving them too many details can actually arouse suspicion and lead to more questioning and delays at passport control. While as an auxiliar de conversación you’ll have all your papers in order for the length of your program, if they decide to pull you out of line for extra questioning you’re gonna have a bad time.

This sounds scary, but if you’re able to stay reasonably calm when you get to the border, they’ll ask a couple of questions and then wave you through. If Spain is your point of entry into the Schengen, then there’s a good chance they won’t ask you any questions at all. Just be cool and it’ll all be ok. Remember, you’ve got pretty much the most legit visa sponsor there is, so even if you do get pulled to the side, everything will work out as long as you have copies of your documents with you.

Getting to the Center

You’ve got your bags and your passport stamp, now all you need is a ride to the center! There’s lots of options, so we’ve broken down the different forms of public transport to help you find the one that fits your needs and your budget.

Cheapest Option: €2.60 T4 Cercanías train to City Center (Nuevos Ministerios, Atocha RENFE, Delicias, Piramides, Principe Pio)

RenfeThis is my go-to if I don’t want to pony up for a cab. The cars are nice and wide, and the T4 stop is the first one on the line. So, when you get on there’s lots of room for you and all your bags (it might be another story once you’re in the center). It’s about half an hour to get to Atocha RENFE, which is the station that connects to all commuter train lines in the city and is one of the major arteries of the city’s transport system. If you need to change lines or switch to the metro, this method becomes much less convenient and more expensive. So while the Cercanías is a great option for people who have their accommodation near one of the stations on the C1 line, it might not be so great for people staying next to Puerta del Sol or Gran Vía.

Easiest to Navigate: €4.80 (€1.80 + €3.00 airport supplement) Metro Madrid Line 8 (Nuevos Ministerios)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking Line 8 into the center is pretty idiot-proof. You can get it from either T4 or from terminals 1, 2 and 3. There is a 3.00 supplement from the airport, but this might be a good time to buy a 10 ride metro pass anyway (12.20 + 3.00€, so each ride you take averages out to 1.52. Single ride tickets are 1.50-1.80€) since wherever you’re going in the next few days, there’s a good chance you’re going there by metro. Once you get to the end of line 8 (pink) you will have to change and the 10 (dark blue) and the 6 (gray) connect to most of the lines you´ll need to catch in order to get the dead center. The metro system in Madrid is very extensive and pretty easy to use. Pay attention to the platform signs in the stations though, as it is easy to end up on the right line in the wrong direction.

Most Popular: €5 Airport Express Shuttle (Corner of O’Donnell and Doctor Esquerdo, Plaza de Cibeles, Atocha RENFE )

Airport ShuttleEverybody I’ve talked to seems to love the Express Shuttle. It’s a pretty reliable way to get down to Atocha directly in about 40 minutes and there’s lots of room for luggage. Keep in mind that you have to be able to lift your luggage onto the luggage rack, so if you have a bunch of heavy bags and you’re traveling solo, this might not be the best option for you. The shuttles runs 24 hours daily, leaving every 15 minutes during the day and every 35 minutes at night.

Most Comfortable: €30 Taxi (anywhere in Zone A)

That €30 price tag may seem outrageous but if you’re trying to cart around 50% of your body weight in your checked bag alone, it’s worth it getting dropped off directly in front of your door. I get it though, when I was 23 I would have fought a bear if I thought it would save me $5.

If you’re worried about saving your back and shoulders, however, here’s a couple of ways you can save on the fare. 1) Find someone to split the cab with you. Even if you have a couple of extra bags between you, there should be plenty of room and that’ll bring the fare down to $15 each. Try posting in the auxiliar pages on Facebook to see if anyone is arriving on the same flight as you, or at least arriving a round the same time on the same date. You can join the communities here and here. 2)  Use a discount code. You might be able to get 10E off your fare if you books with a discount code  through the MyTaxi app (for  Android, iOS, and Windows). There is usually a promo code floating around somewhere on the internet but you can try mine for a discount on your first ride! Promocode: natalie.ros for 10€ off.

Still not sure how you’re going to get to the center? Get in touch with us! We offer an airport pick up service to welcome you and help you get everything you need down to the center.

How to Pack

Not sure on how to squeeze all your essentials down to one 50lb suitcase, a carry on case and a laptop satchel or handbag? We’ve got some packing tips, tricks and hacks to get you and all your stuff to Spain without having to pay for an extra bag.

Saving Space

Packing Suitcase

We could fit a few more things in here, especially with the roll-bundle method

Some people swear by the roll-up method to maximize space and reduce clothing wrinkles, but remember that there’s always more than one way to shoe a horse. Did you know you can fit a fall jacket, a button down shirt, two pairs of jeans, five tops, a dress, a toiletries bag, plus two pairs of shoes all in a dinky little carry-on? Check out this video from Travel Noire to see how she did it. The World Travel channel also has a video upon on how to use the same bundle method to cram two weeks worth of clothes into your cabin bag.

Another thing you can do to free up some precious suitcase real estate is to wear some of your heavier, bulkier items on your person during your journey. Even if you’re traveling during a heatwave in August, the plane will probably be freezing cold, so wear your jacket or a thick cardigan if you’ve packed it, on board the plane. I usually wear my sneakers on the flight to free up a couple of pounds in my checked bag but when space and weight were especially precious, I’ve worn my boots. It’s incredibly uncomfortable but if you have a direct flight and can take your shoes off during most of it it’s just barely bearable.

The Weighing Game


Buy or borrow a luggage scale. I have one I bought at Marshall’s and it changed my life. No more wondering or worrying if my bag is going to be overweight and I’m going to have to throw away liquids or shoes or souvenirs in the airport to get back within my weight allowance. It’s so worth it.

Next, if the airline you’re flying with doesn’t have a weight limit for carry on bags, exploit that fact. Will your boots fit in there? A wool jacket? Any books that you feel you absolutely have to bring? Put ’em in. This will free up space and some of your weight allowance in your checked-bag, which will be essential if you want to bring lots of liquids (shampoo, conditioner, spirits, etc.) with you.

What I usually do is pack my checked bag first and then weigh it. If (when, which is always) it’s over the weight allowance I start assessing what I could move to my carry on. The ankle boots will fit in nicely if I bag them separately and lay them horizontally on top of my clothes. The text books won’t add a lot of visible bulk if I put them in one at a time and lay them flat in the outside pocket so they rest next to each other and not on top of each other. A leather moto jacket can usually be tucked around the edges of the clothing bundle.

If you have to bring any important documentation (like your apostilled background check to complete your TIE process upon arrival) you should back that in your hand bag or carry on. Do not let your documents out of your sight. If your flight has been overbooked and you are forced to check your carry on suit case at the gate, grab your docs and put them in your satchel or hand bag.

Downsize and Declutter


Just think how easily this would all roll up and fit inside a couple of suitcases…

Maybe Marie Kondo’s method of discarding anything that doesn’t give you joy seems a little hippy-dippy to you, but it’s a great philosophy for when you’re trying to shove a year of your life into three black bags. Depending on how you manage your money and whether or not you’re willing to do private tutoring, there might not be a lot of extra dough for shopping so you could be stuck with whatever you brought. That white t-shirt that doesn’t fit right may seem more practical when you’re packing, but you will wear it less than that red sundress that slays.

This is a great time to get rid of things if you’ve been meaning to go through your wardrobe, downsize and donate what you don’t wear. Did you know that some chains like H&M will give you a discount your next purchase if you bring in a bag full of old clothes and textiles for donation?  It’s possible that not every location will participate in the program, but all you need to do is call and ask before you load up the car.

Check out this article from LifeHacker for more tips on how to clear our your closet and declutter before your big adventure!