Does the name Ferdinand Magellan ring a bell? This Portuguese explorer led the first voyage around the world (Well, he didn’t make the full voyage, but at least he had the Magellanic Penguin in South America named after him). You too will be bit by the Portuguese travel bug after journeying to teach in this little nation. Feel the mournful longing expressed by fado singers, explore the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo, and stand in line for scrumptious pastéis de nata on your morning break. Teaching can be stressful, but Portugal will show you work-life balance done right.
Portugal has a warm, Mediterranean climate and wet winters, with most of the larger cities lying on the coast. There’s more to do in the cities, but the cost of living is higher, so if you teach in Portugal in more rural areas, you’ll enjoy a slower pace of life and less temptation to speak English.
Lisbon. As the largest city, the capital offers the highest concentration of opportunities to teach English in Portugal. It’s one of the world’s oldest cities, centuries older than London or Paris, and history is practically seeping through the tiles on the walls. Take a stroll through its winding, cobblestone streets (or hitch a ride on a Golden Tram) to The Bertrand Bookstore, known as the oldest bookstore in the world. After a long day of teaching in Lisbon, head to the relaxed, colorful Clube de Fado and absorb the bittersweet melancholy of live fado performances.
Porto boasts one of the oldest European centers, and its historical core was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The People of Porto are proud of their history and aren’t afraid to let loose during festivals like Festa de São João do Porto held each June; this is the only time of the year where it is socially acceptable for participants to hit each other on the head with garlic flowers, limp leeks, or soft plastic hammers. It’s an odd tradition, dating back to pagan courtship rituals, which we can’t really explain, but highly recommend partaking in.
Funchal. This is the capital of Portugal's Autonomous Region of Madeira. It’s a mountainous island in the Atlantic that attracts teachers and tourists alike to its sparkling waters. Back in the day, Funchal’s economy depended on growing fennel (and was a strategic pirate pit stop). Now, instead of buccaneers, the city attracts visitors who come to enjoy its world-record New Year’s Eve fireworks display. Every other day of the year, the crystalline waters beckon vacationers.
Portugal’s economy is pretty stable, although unemployment has grown recently. With the rise in tourism, there has been a growing demand for teachers, especially those who wish to teach English in Portugal. Not to mention, there are ten times more private languages schools than there were at the end of the 1990s.
Teaching English in Portugal
Both public and private schools accept international teachers who wish to teach English in Portugal. Regardless, you’ll likely work in a school with a set curriculum, so lesson planning will be a breeze, especially if you ask your co-workers to plan with you over coffee. While foreign teachers with older students will usually have full control over their classes, team-teaching is saved for the little munchkins in elementary school.
TEFL Courses & Placement Assistance. There are no prerequisites to obtaining your TEFL certification. You just have to pay a fee of between $1,300 to $2,000 for TEFL/TESOL certification courses. However, housing and transportation are usually not included. TEFL program fees often include TEFL/TESOL classes, instructor support, observations by college-level instructors, lifetime free job placement assistance, and support in finding housing. Obtaining a TEFL certificate in Portugal will give you a leg up in the hiring process, especially if you’ve been eyeing a prestigious language school you'd like to work at.
Homestay Tutoring. This option is best if you’d prefer teaching and living with a host family. In these types of programs, teachers pay a program fee and are assigned to a family. Most tutors will spend time teaching their native language. In some cases, you may need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching diploma, but more often than not, you just need a willing and flexible attitude. Most contracts stipulate that you teach English 10 to 20 hours a week at any time of the year and that your families agree to include you on any excursions.
High School Teaching Jobs. International schools are great places to start for job-seeking multilingual teachers. In these schools teachers can choose from a variety of subjects, including English, biology, and chemistry. Since many international schools operate under an American curriculum, they look for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and two or more years of post-certification teaching experience. Contracts normally run for nine to ten months, from September or October. Most teachers have three weeks paid vacation and, by law, Sunday is a rest day. If you opt for high school teaching jobs, perks include health insurance and subsidized accommodations.
Salary & Costs
In Portuguese, there is a handy little saying: muitos anos a virar frangos. Literally, this translates to “many years turning chickens,” but it means having a lot of experience and knowledge in a particular field. The amount of chickens you’ve turned will affect how much money you earn. Luckily, Portugal is one of the most affordable Western European countries to live in.
Most teaching placement providers provide a teaching job in Portugal as well as onsite support, but flights and housing are not frequently included. A typical public school teacher salary is around €700 to €1000 a month. If you do some freelance teaching in Portugal, you can expect to make around €15 per hour, depending on your experience. When teaching private lessons, be sure to set an hourly price with your students, clarify how many people you’ll teach, and agree on how you’ll get paid. Every month, ask for a deposit of the money up front so that your students are motivated to continue the class.
Most teachers are hired from August through September, but some are recruited in January. It’s fairly common for newbie foreign teachers to work several part-time jobs for different schools when they first arrive in Portugal. Once you build a reputation and improve your Portuguese, it’s easier to snag a full-time teaching job in Portugal.
Once you decide to teach English in Portugal and arrive in your new home, expect to live in (culinary) splendor. Even better news? Overall, food, wine, and household items are reasonably priced! Many Portuguese people enjoy throwing dinner parties, in which everyone pitches in their favorite dish. Foodies will delight in the hearty, flavorful cuisine. If you’re a seafood fan, try the pasties de bacalhau (cod fishcakes). The fascination with green food and drink is evidenced by the caldo verde (green soup with kale leaves) and vinho verde (green wine). If you do decide to dine out, a typical chicken or pork plate will cost around €10.
Accommodation & Visas
Some private schools in smaller towns may include boarding options in compensation packages, but most teachers are expected to find their own accommodations; although, some placement providers will provide general housing assistance in locating various options. The majority of teachers choose to live in apartments. There are also many great online sites that offer sublets, roommate searches, and short-term rents. Finding a crib works through word of mouth and college bulletin boards too.
European Union (EU) teachers are exempt from the visa process, making it even easier to teach English in Portugal. Your teaching placement provider or host school will be able to help you through the visa process if you are a non-EU teacher, as you must obtain a work permit. Once you have obtained a teaching job in Portugal, your employer will need to apply for your work permit at the local labor office and then file your paperwork for an entry visa at a Portuguese Immigration Office. Once you arrive in Portugal, you’ll need to get a residency card from the Portuguese Immigration Office as well. Check out to find an embassy near you to learn more this fascinating (only kidding!) process.
Benefits & Challenges
You’re going to get a lot of students eagerly asking “How do you say this in English?” and displaying a lot of curiosity your country. As a foreigner, you’ll be a cultural ambassador. For the less impressed students, it’s ultimately up to you to come up with creative lesson plans, inspire them, make silly jokes, and make the subject you teach interesting, engaging, and relevant to their lives. Your students’ curiosity will help you build relationships smoothly. Practice your Portuguese with them, too; teaching in Portugal should be an exchange of learning between you and your students.
Teaching English in Portugal may be frustrating at first if you’re used to a fast-paced environment; the Portuguese aren’t quick to resolve issues or deal with problems. You’ll hear the word devagar (meaning “slowly”) roll off people’s tongues. This pace translates to thick, inconsistent bureaucratic processes that may affect your job or personal life in Portugal. Try to be patient. Don’t be surprised if you need an insane amount of documents to be signed and stamped before you can legally teach English in Portugal.
However, teaching in Portugal will also teach you the true meaning of work-life balance. After sunbathing at the beach or spending Sunday afternoons lesson planning (or people watching) at a café, you may form a new appreciation for the slow life and will never want to leave!