How can I get a visa to Teach English in Europe?
Jump into conversation about teaching English in Europe and it won’t be long until you hear the words “EU citizen” and “visa” come up. And the news isn’t usually good if you don’t have that coveted EU passport.
But we have some good news: It is possible to get a work visa to teach English in Poland. And other European countries as well! But we’ll focus on Poland as it has some of the best options for non-EU passport holders.
Getting a visa is never easy and always requires a lot of paperwork, but luckily in Poland it’s not that bad. There are 3 different ways an English teacher can get a visa to legally teach in Poland, and similar options also exist in other EU countries.
1. Get a work visa sponsored by a school
It is a common misconception that schools in the European Union cannot sponsor work visas for Americans and other non-EU teachers. Almost any school or business can sponsor a teacher. Not just in Poland, but elsewhere in Europe as well.
Whether a schools wants to help a foreign teacher get a visa is a different question. Especially if they’re also receiving applications from qualified British teachers who already hold the right to work in the EU.
As such, teachers without EU citizenship will commonly receive replies from schools with a line that reads something like this:
“Do you have a work permit?”
Schools that ask this question are all slightly misinformed, because a work permit is a permit issued to a business in order to employ single individual, and not to an individual seeking employment.
Getting a work permit for a teacher is a very long, laborious, and risky process for a school. First, the government will ask them to conduct a labor market test. This means posting the job on a variety of national job boards and waiting a certain period of time to see if any EU citizens apply. For every EU teacher that does apply, the school must provide a valid reason why they are not suited for the job.
Even if the school is able to prove that there isn’t any other teacher they can hire, it can take a few more months for the work permit to be approved. Most schools simply prefer to hire EU citizens who are legal to start working right away, no paperwork, no hassles. As much of the hiring in Poland and other European countries happens right before the start of a semester, it’s often the case that schools simply cannot afford to wait this long.
Do you like waiting for things? Probably not, and neither do schools. The long wait time of work permits is typically the #1 reason most schools are reluctant to offer them.
So I’ve got a sponsored work permit! What’s the next step?
Hurray congratulations! Once you’ve received a work permit from a school, everything else is fairly straightforward.
The next step is to get a work visa (or “Type-D National Visa” as it’s called in the EU) from an embassy or consulate. To do this, you’ll have to book an appointment at your nearest embassy or consulate. Then the next step is to show up to the consulate on the day of your appointment with the necessary documents. The consulate’s website should provide a list of the required documents.
The visa will be valid for one year, or if your contract is for less than one year, until the end of your contract. To stay longer in Europe, you’ll have to apply for a Residence Permit.
As an alternative, Americans, Australians, and other nationals with visa-free access to the Schengen Area can come to Poland for up to 90-days without a visa. If you’ve already had a work permit arranged, you can legally work for 90 days without a visa. But you’ll still have to apply for a Temporary Residence Permit, as the work permit alone will not allow you to stay beyond 90 days. As the majority of schools in Poland prefer to hire teachers that are already in Poland, this is a very common route for non-EU teachers.
This option is relatively unique in Poland and is not possible in most other EU countries. Spain and Italy, for example, are stricter and will not allow you to come as a tourist and then apply for residency. Some other exceptions where this is possible include Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Usually, the rule of thumb is to make sure you have a right visa before leaving home. But in Poland, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
Another common misconception is that a work visa grants universal permission to work. This is almost always not true in Poland, nor anywhere else in the world.
Sponsored work permits are for one employer ONLY!!
Working anywhere else on a school-sponsored work visa is not legal. This includes private tutoring and freelance teaching. It isn’t possible to “transfer” a sponsored work visa to another employer. So if you decide to quit your job (or get fired), and want to teach at another school instead, scroll up to the top of this page and start again.
We can’t be more serious about this: If a school seems over-the-top happy to arrange a work visa for you, be careful!! Put yourself in the school’s shoes for a second and ask “why are they going through all this trouble to hire me when they could easily hire an EU teacher?”
Maybe you’re incredibly qualified. Maybe you just get along really well with the director and they’re happy to put in the extra legwork to have you on board. Or, maybe there’s a good reason why they’re having this much trouble finding another teacher. Even worse, maybe they like the thought of having a teacher legally bound to their contract and unable to work anywhere else.
Of course, the vast majority of schools in Europe don’t have negative intentions. But do your research and be thorough before making the decision to rely on a school for your legal status in Europe.
2. Get a freelance visa
A trick to get around the requirement of having a school-sponsored work visa is to get a freelance visa or business visa. To do this, you’ll have to register your own company and then essentially sponsor yourself for a work visa. Seems like a good trick, eh?
This tick works in numerous European countries, including Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Spain.
In Poland, this option is only available for US citizens thanks to a bilateral agreement between Poland and the US. Sorry to Canadians and Australians, but hurray for Americans!
With your registered business, you won’t be “working” as an English teacher, but instead “providing services” to schools as a freelancer. Of course in reality you’re just another English teacher teaching at an ordinary school or language center, but in the eyes of the law, you’re an entrepreneur operating your own business
Teaching English? Nope, just “providing English language instruction services.” Same thing, right?
We’ve already written a great blog post on how to register and conduct business as a freelance teacher in Poland, so this post won’t go into more details on the technicalities.
As you’ll have to travel to Poland in order to register your business, most teachers taking this route won’t apply for a visa, but instead a Temporary Residence Permit. Although you won’t have to supply contracts from perspective schools or any financial statements, you will have to provide a brief “plan” of your business. This must satisfy the office that you’re your earnings will be no less than the median income of the province.
The clear advantage of getting a freelance visa or business visa is that you aren’t bound to one specific school. So you’ll have the green light to pick up as many side hustles as you’d like, and you can be far more picky hunting for jobs since you won’t be asking any schools for a work permit.
The biggest downside is that this route isn’t for the faint of heart. As described in our other blog posts, there is a lot of work involved in maintaining your freelance business. So be prepared to deal with a load of foreign-language paperwork and tax forms at the end of each month and/or shell a few hundred złoty on an accountant. You are running a business after all!
So in the end it’s up to you. Are you the type of person that’s not afraid of long forms, weird languages, and Excel spreadsheets? Is the freedom and flexibility of a business visa worth the bureaucratic headaches that come with it? If you’ve answered “no,” it’s probably a better idea to keep reaching out to schools to find one that will get you a regular work visa. Or read on to the third option.
3. Get a visa through a program
There are numerous teaching programs out there in the world which play an important role in bridging the gaps between what teachers want and need, and what schools can offer.
The bad news is that there are very few legitimate programs in Europe that can provide work visas for non-EU teachers. Many will advertise visa “assistance,” but if you read the fine print, all they’re doing is pointing you in the right direction to get the above-mentioned freelance visa. Even worse, some will not-so-secretly enroll you in a university program to get a student visa (legally questionable), or even just encourage you to teach on a tourist visa (completely illegal).
If a program is offering “visa assistance,” make sure to read the fine print. They may be
overcharging you for a visa you can easily get yourself. Or worse, they may not be offering
a legal work visa.
But the good news is that there are some legitimate options!
English Wizards is proud to be the only program in Poland that can get work visas for non-EU teachers. We are also the only legitimate program in all of Europe that is open to teachers without a Bachelor’s Degree. Read more about how our programs work here and our options for getting a work visa here.
If Poland isn’t high on your list, there are a few other legitimate programs in Europe we can recommend. These include:
- The CETP Program in Hungary
- Meddeas and ConversaSpain in Spain
- The TAPIF Program in France (you’ll have to speak French)
- The USTA Program in Austria (you’ll have to speak German and be American)
Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders who are under 30 (sometimes 35) also have a number of working holiday programs available in Europe. This is a whole separate realm of programs that we don’t have room to talk about here, but we’ve found a great blog with a comprehensive list of the working holiday programs available for Canadians and Australians.
Although none of these programs are free, they all provide something that you can’t get anywhere else: a work visa that doesn’t rely on sponsorship by a school.
In many ways, teaching programs present the best of both worlds. You’ll have a work visa that doesn’t rely on the sponsorship of a school and also doesn’t require setting up and managing your own business.
In addition to getting a visa, going with a program also means you’ll have professional support for other “little” stuff, like as finding an apartment, opening a bank account, and dealing with bureaucracy. Sometimes little things like this can really make or break an experience in a foreign country!
* * * * *
So there you have it. Three completely legitimate and feasible ways to get a work visa to teach English in Europe if you’re a non-EU citizen. If you have any personal experience to add, or know of any other legitimate options we can add, let us know in the comments!
Want to learn more about how English Wizards can help you get a visa to teach in Poland? Write to us at [email protected] and be glad to help
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