It’s that time of year again. The applications are about to open for the auxiliar de conversación teaching English in Spain program that I’ve done for the past two years. Let the mayhem commence!
With many many posts on here about being an auxiliar, from tips and tricks, to expat stories, to travel and tapas advice to problems with the program, I’ve written about it all. I get a lot of emails and messages about the auxiliar program, and now what many of you are asking about are the regions. There are 17 regions in Spain and it can be daunting to pick the one that will be home for you over the next year. Let me help!
With over 3 years experience living in Spain, I’ve traveled around most of the peninsula and always have an opinion. I decided it would just be a good idea to share here my opinions and thoughts about all the different regions (comunidades autónomas) in Spain to help you decide more when you pick your top 3 choices for the application.
Before you chose, you need to ask yourself some important questions about what kind of experience you want. Do you want to live in a remote place or somewhere convenient to travel around Europe? Do you want a big city or would you be ok with a small village or commuting? Do you know any Spanish already-some regions are bilingual or have very heavy accents which makes learning Spanish trickier. I always used to laugh at people who would tell me they wanted to go to Spain to learn Spanish and then they go to Barcelona. And finally, the auxiliar program is notorious about paying us late, some regions are better about it than others. For example, Galicia usually always pays on time whereas in Murcia, you’re guaranteed to go months and months without seeing a penny. Do you have a lot of savings and are planning to work outside the schools in Spain? Some things to think about.
Here’s Spain’s take on the different regions, not too far off base.
Here is my take for the different regions around Spain including my thoughts on the payment and language situation.
Make sure to check out my page with a budget breakdown for over 30 cities in Spain before you make the move to help plan expenses. Seriously, I spent over a month collecting all that data and building it up as a resource. Share the love.
Auxiliar program: yes, with many spots
Notable cities: Seville, Granada, Córdoba, Málaga, Almería, Huelva, Jaén and Cádiz
Paid on time: Depends, Andalucía is a huge region with thousands of auxuliars, the payments depend on where the funding comes from, and some people will be paid on time, others not, and some schools will lend money while others can’t
Language: Spanish, though Andalucía is famous for it’s very thick accent, andalú, it can be challenging when you first arrive, even knowing Spanish. I lived in Spain for a year and spoke Spanish fluently and I struggled my first few months in Córdoba
Thoughts: Andalucía is a popular choice for the auxiliares because it’s seen as “traditional” Spain, with flamenco, bull fights, the ferias and Semana Santa. It is known for being more laid back than the rest of Spain but it is also seen as “lazy and poor” by others. At the risk of being called a racist blogger (again) Andalucía is rather known for it’s gypsy/Romano population. Many people love living there, it is very beautiful and there are many amazing cities and festivals to experience; seriously, they know how to party in the south. I have written a lot of posts about Andalucía and living in Córdoba though ultimately I preferred living in the north; it felt more modern, at least in my opinion. Córdoba, Sevilla and Málaga are all on the high-speed AVE train line which means you can get to Madrid in around 2 hours and there are airports in Málaga and Sevilla.
Read more: 5 Reasons to Go to Southern Spain
Castilla la Mancha
Auxiliar Program: No, they cut it last year because of funding issues in 2012
Notable cities: Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Toledo
Language: Spanish, easy to understand
Thoughts: Castilla la Mancha is the land of windmills and Don Quijote, vast and sprawling, it is home to beautiful cities and is very historical. Toledo is one of my favorite places in Spain, and worth a trip there, no matter where you are living. It’s on the high-speed AVE train line that connects Madrid to the south coast.
Read more: Photo Friday: Castilla la Mancha
Auxiliar Program: Yes
Noble cities: Murcia
Paid on time: No, late every year, and very very late at that, totally inconsistent
Language: Spanish with a heavy accent typical of Andalucía and southern Spain, dropping “s”s and slurring words together.
Thoughts: I haven’t been to Murcia nor have I heard much about it. They seem to have many problems with the auxiliar program there and many people leave early, huge payment problems. I feel like it gets a bad reputation and I am sure there are many people who like it. It is very traditional with beautiful beaches and the ancient city of Cartagena is worth a visit and the people are very welcoming, something very typical in southern Spain and in less tourist-trafficked destinations. It is close to the airport in Alicante for travel and near Almería and the beautiful remote beaches of southeast Spain.
Read more: Why I Hate the Auxiliar Program-there is a long comment in there about someone who lived in Murcia and the problems she had there. I have nothing nor know of any blog posts about Murcia. Anyone got any links to share?
Auxiliar Program: Yes
Notable cities: Badajoz, Cáceres, and Mérida
Paid on time: Late but sometimes the schools would advance payment, depending where you are placed.
Langauge: Spanish with a very heavy accent distinct to this region, known as extremeño.
Thoughts: One of the lesser known regions in Spain, it is very traditional and beautiful. It’s right next to Portugal and between Madrid, Castilla y León and Andalucía which means you are well situated to travel around Spain. It’s central and unknown, so if you are looking to blend in and have an authentic year abroad without lots of foreigners, Extremadura is the place for you.
Read more: 10 Reasons Why I Love Caceres from the infamous Will Peach
Auxiliar Program: No, they cut it last year because of funding issues
Notable cities: Valencia and Alicante
Langauge: Spanish and Valencian. Spanish is spoken everywhere but they also speak a local dialect called Valencian, similar to Catalán.
Thoughts: Valencia is a very cool city and it was a very popular choice for the program before it was cut, mostly second-years were placed there. It even has a Starbucks (swoon)! Famous for its fire festival in the spring (Las Fallas) and its beaches in the summer along with its paella, Valencia is a beloved city in Spain. Unfortunately it is extremely corrupt and in huge debt problems along with Cataluña which is one reason why it was cut.
Read more: Check out Zach’s blog, Not Hemingway’s Spain, an expat living in Valencia for more info
Auxiliar Program: Yes, huge program, only region that requires 16 hr work weeks and offers 1000 euro monthly stipend, also starts Oct. 1 and ends June 30 instead of May 31.
Notable cities: Madrid and Alcalá de Henares. Madrid is both a city and a region, so you might have to commute
Paid on time: Yes for the most part. Some funding comes from different sources, so some people have been paid late, but for the most part, people are paid on time
Language: Spanish. The Spanish spoken in Madrid is easy to understand and some of the most “typical” Spanish you will hear around Spain.
Thoughts: the cost of living is higher in Madrid but you are paid more which evens it out. Barajas airport is there so you can fly all over Europe cheaply and easily. Madrid is a beautiful city with a lot to do and see, and there are lots of young people there now because of the job market and studying. It’s a great place to be located in Spain but there are also a lot of Americans and tourists there which can downsize your hopes for a truly “local” experience. It’s so big that you can find your niche.
Read more: Expat interviews with Lauren from Spanish Sabores and Casey from Gee, Cassandra
Castilla y León
Auxiliar Program: Yes, also starts Sept. 15 and ends June 15 instead of October 1-May 31.
Notable cities: Salamanca, Valladolid, Segovia, Burgos and León
Paid on time: Yes, this year they paid 3 months late.
Language: this is the region that is where modern Spanish was born, so it’s very easy and clear to understand everyone. It’s a great region to learn Spanish though it is known for having people who are “cold” whatever that means. Salamanca is a big university town, and I had the time of my life studying there from 2007-2008. It is close enough to commute to Madrid and also Portugal and the north and there are many beautiful cities and castles there. The famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage runs through northern Castilla y León. This is a great region to “go native.”
Read more: about Castilla y León here
Auxiliar Program: Yes with plenty of spots
Notable cities: Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Orense and La Coruña
Paid on time: yes
Languages: Spanish and Gallego. The Spanish spoken here is very musical because of the Gallego and Portuguese influence. Gallego is one of the official languages in Spain and it’s a romance language which means it’s not too hard to pick up. There are bilingual schools.
Thoughts: Many people chose Galicia as their third choice or get placed there by as a last resort. I think it’s because Galicia is simply so far from the rest of Spain. It’s a pain in the ass to get there but it’s worth it. There are several airports, and you can even fly into Porto, Portugal just south of the border, which is a beautiful place. Galicia is known as the Ireland or UK of Spain because it’s very verdant and green. It rains a lot but the coast is beautiful and the food is great. It is also very cheap. I have heard nothing but good things about the auxiliar program in Galicia. Whoever is in charge knows what they are doing and it sounds like the best organized region of the bunch.
Read more: About Alisa’s experience as an expat in Galicia
Auxiliar Program: Yes, small amount admitted, competitive. Most people here are 2nd years
Notable cities: Oviedo and Gijón
Paid on time: Yes as far as I know
Thoughts: I would live in Asturias if I had the chance and I haven’t even been there! It’s supposed to be an amazing little region, very green and mountainous with the famous Picos de Europa mountain chain on it’s south side and then a rugged, beautiful coastline. The only downside is just how far it is from everything else, it’s very isolated. For the most part, the best food in Spain can be found in the north (in my humble opinion) and Asturias is well-known for their food and their hard cider. Also, Vicky Christina Barcelona, anyone?
Read more: Jessica from Hola Yessica’s take on Oviedo and Gijón
Auxiliar Program: Yes
Notable cities: Santander
Paid on time: as far as I know, yes
Thoughts: Beaches and cows, that’s what I think of when I think of Cantabria. It’s a small region that is also overlooked but I’ve driven along the coast there, and it’s beautiful. There are green forests, mountains and beautiful seaside towns. it’s also smack in the middle of many other beautiful cities like Oviedo, Bilbao and Burgos. It also has an airport.
Read more: Erik’s an expat in Cantabria, check out his blog for more info
Auxiliar Program: Yes
Notable cities: Bilbao and San Sebastián
Paid on time: Paid in three month stints, once in the beginning of December, in March and in May.
Thoughts: I LOVE the Basque Country! Great food, interesting culture and history, nice people and a beautiful landscape. Seriously, it’s one of the most beautiful regions in Spain with lots to see and do. It’s more expensive than other regions but it’s manageable and you make more money giving private English lessons. San Sebastián is one of my favorite cities in Spain, and it’s right next to France so you can easily travel around the north. Bilbao has a major airport and is a fun city on its own. The Basque country is industrialized and modern.
Check out my friend Liz’s guide of why you should chose to live here.
Language: Spanish and Basque (Euskera). There are two official languages in the Basque Country, so all signs, many schools, ect are bilingual. Basque is unrelated to any other language in the world which means it’s very difficult to learn, read and pronounce but it’s very interesting and very cool to learn about. Everyone speaks Spanish, only in the remote villages will be Basque be spoken predominantly, so you don’t really have to be concerned about learning it since everyone speaks Spanish
Auxiliar Program: Yes
Notable cities: Logroño
Paid on time: No, but most of the time the schools advanced the money to the auxiliars
Language: Spanish, easy to learn, the “typical” Spanish is spoken here
Thoughts: I love La Rioja, end of story. A tiny region smack in the middle of northern Spain, it’s sandwiched between many of the great northern cities, Pamplona, Bilbao, San Seb, Zaragoza. It’s very beautiful here with all the vineyards and mountains and it’s very cheap to live there. The downside is it’s a 4 hour bus ride to Madrid and the trains up there aren’t all that great. There are lots of buses that are cheap and easy to get around. Logroño was named the gastronomic capital of Spain last year so the food there will blow your mind. I can’t say enough good things about La Rioja.
Read more: My Rioja posts are here and many articles I’ve written about it here.
Auxiliar Program: No, they have their own auxiliar program geared mostly towards Brits.
Notable cities: Pamplona
Languages: Spanish and Basque, schools are bilingual, has the most advanced language learning programs in Spain and Europe, most schools teach 4 languages, highly educated kids here
Thoughts: I love Navarra, it’s one of my favorite regions. Most people only go to Pamplona during San Fermín in the summer, which is a very fun and debauched festival, but there are many other lovely places to visit in this region too. It’s very diverse because of the Basque influence and the landscape is awesome because it’s at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. It’s near a lot of great northern cities but far from Madrid and Barcelona.
Read more: Here are all my Navarra posts
Auxiliar Program: Yes, small amount admitted, competitive
Notable cities: Zaragoza, Huesca and Teruel
Paid on time: Yes, as far as I know
Language: Spanish, clear no heavy accent
Thoughts: I’ve been to Aragón half a dozen times and I really love. Zaragoza is a big city in Spain and completely overlooked by tourists. It’s a great modern region to be based, with big cities and you can fit right in with the locals without huge crowds of tourists. Zaragoza has an airport and it’s on the high speed AVE train line between Madrid and Barcelona so you can get around Spain quick. Zaragoza and Aragón are a great place to have a very integrated, “Spanish” year abroad.
Read more: I wrote about Zaragoza here
Auxiliar Program: No, they cut it last year because of funding issues
Notable cities: Barcelona, Girona Lérida, and Tarragona
Langauge: Spanish and Catalán, Catalán is one of the official languages in Spain. Unlike the other bilingual regions, people here speak Catalán for the most part and some people can be rather haughty about it and not want to speak Spanish to you.
Thoughts: I’m not the biggest fan of Barcelona but I love Cataluña. It is a very magical region that’s very different from the rest of Spain, hence the strong separatist movement. There are lots of little towns and the Costa Brava will blow your mind it’s so pretty. Ultimately it doesn’t feel like the rest of Spain which can be both positive and negative, depending on what you are looking for.
Read more: I stayed in Girona for the TBEX travel blogging conference in September and fell in love with this smaller city. I also stayed in Besalú for a few days at the BlogHouse. Read about Barcelona here and here.
Las Islas Baleares
Auxiliar Program: Yes, small amount admitted
Notable cities: Palma de Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza
Paid on time: Yes as far as I know
Langauges: Spanish and Catalán
Thoughts: I spent a weekend in Mallorca 5 years ago and I can’t wait to go back one day. Crowded mostly during the summer months, the Balearic Islands are equally as beautiful in winter. Lots of foreigners living on these islands but they have their own unique culture and language thanks to the Catalán influence. There are regular flights to the peninsula and around Europe, and the cost of living is only a little higher than the rest of Spain.
Read more: Casey has spent some time in Mallorca, see what she’s got to say about it on her blog Gee, Cassandra
Las Islas Canarias
Auxiliar Program: Not for Americans, only British Council teachers are placed in the Canary Islands
Notable cities: Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma
Languages: Spanish, though it’s such a big destination and beach capital, most people speak English along with German and many other European languages because of the tourists and expats there.
Thoughts: The Canary Islands are a very popular beach destination in Spain, warm all year round, though living there all year round might be more challenging to some. It’s a solid 3 hours flight from Madrid, which is hefty if you want to travel a lot, though many of those flights are on budget airlines. I’m not a beach destination traveler, but I totally fell in love with Lanzarote when I went for a long weekend last February. Definitely a great weekend getaway from Europe, especially in winter.
Read more: I spent a long weekend in Lanzarote, read about it here.
*Images for Valencia, Extremadura, Asturias, and Murcia came from my Wander Pinterest board
*Funny Spain may source
128 Comments on “A Guide to the Regions in Spain for Auxiliares de Conversación”
Liz, you forgot the Autonomous Cities of Ceuta and Melilla! How could you?! 😀 hahaha just kidding. But in all seriousness, do you know if anyone has ever worked there? I feel like I’ve heard of maybe one person who got placed in Ceuta last year. So strange that Spain still lists them as an option on Profex.
Confession: I’m totally bookending my Semana Santa trip to Morocco with stops in Ceuta and Melilla. My excuse is that they’re ferry ports, but in reality I’m just the world’s biggest hipster and completionist (gotta visit all the communities!!!).
Haha that’s hilarious! I didn’t even know they placed auxiliares there!
I’m definitely happy that I chose to do the program in a smaller city (Seville) and if I was to choose again I would have done one year in Seville and another in Galicia or Asturias. After learning Spanish and getting into the culture of the smaller cities, moving to Madrid was great. But I think if I’d started in Madrid my Spanish would be a lot worse, I wouldn’t have had half as much fun, and I also wouldn’t have had the chance to observe a lot of small town/city culture (Seville’s Fería and Semana Santa are two “big” examples).
Couldn’t agree more Lauren!
If I could do it all over again, I’d probably still pick Andalucía (and thank for the mention, meanie!!). I was looking to get out of the snow and cold of Seville and wanted to be in a city that wasn’t too big or too small. I dreamed of Granada, and was placed in Seville. I’m convinced my life would have a much different course if it weren’t for that little stroke of fate.
My second choice was Madrid, then where I stuied, Castilla y León. I had zero payment problems in Andalucía, got to actually teach in my school and was treated as an equal. I cried when my rejection letter came! And, really, the auxiliar program is only 12-16 hours a week. My life in Spain has ALWAYS been about what happens after work, and my attitude against all of the ups and downs of living abroad. If I did the program again, I would write Andalucía, Madrid, Galicia as my top choices (you could just choose al azar when I worked as an assistant, no first, second, third columns).
A list of posts related to my experiences from 2007-10 as an auxiliar in the Sevilla province: http://sunshineandsiestas.com/category/auxiliar-program/
Hey Cat, the only outside posts I’ve linked are ones about topics I have no content on here about, like Valencia or Asturias. I have lots of posts on here about my time as a auxiliar in Andalusia.
Yea, I don’t know why Galicia is usually a third choice. Pulpo, Magosto, Licor Cafe, Ribeira Sacra, so many delicious food fairs, and free hot spings! Such a great region!! We did have issues getting paid (in 2010/2011 year), but only in the beginning. We got our first payment, no later than mid November, and always on the first after that.
Another thing: In some schools, Gallego is the main language. Personally, I didn’t have any issues with this, but I know my roommate, and another close friend, heard nothing but Gallego all day long at their schools. It made it a little more difficult for them to adjust, but eventually they got over it. All in all, Galicia is a wonderful region, my experience was great, and I miss it a lot. Especially the fresh pulpo stand right across from my apartment, that would come every sunday 🙂
I just applied to renew the program for a second year, moving from Andalucía to Galicia, and this comment encourages me a lot. I felt a little uneasy selecting such a remote region, but like you and many, many others have said, Galicia is a really beautiful place with a language that’s easy to pick up and a fascinating culture. I also preferenced Galicia because I’ve consistently heard (you being the most recent instance) that they have their act together when it comes to paying people on time. I got lucky this year in Andalucía since I believe my school is paying me directly, but people in my same province didn’t get paid till mid-December! I’d rather not take that risk again next year.
I’m sure you’ll love Galicia, I have heard nothing but good things about it. I passed through in September and it looked amazing!
I am living in Galicia now. The people are great and we get paid on-time every time. All the comments listed above are accurate. You do have to contend with the Gallego here…its definitely different. But it is extremely cheap to live here! However, you need to consider the weather. I haven’t seen the sun in weeks…and it can really start to wear on you after a while. I am hoping for a nice spring!
I feel like Galicia is so underrated! It’s so beautiful but I think people are deterred by how far it is from the rest of Spain and the other language.
Word! Galicia is the best, and I’m so glad to see you giving it some love, Liz 🙂 It may not have flamenco or bullfights, but Galicia is such a hidden gem. It’s got a fantastic mix of more cosmopolitan culture in the big(ger) cities like Santiago and A Coruña, but then there are these endless green mountains, full of trails and little towns to explore. Plus it’s almost comically cheap. I cannot think of a better place in Spain to be living on 700E a month.
I also love the accent here, because it’s so musical and distinct…but at the same time crystal-clear and extremely easy to understand. You definitely don’t need to speak gallego to get by, but it’s super-prevalent everywhere you go, especially in the schools. At the same time, it’s pretty easy to pick up, at least to the point where you can follow conversations, if not actually speak it.
And you’ve also gotta love the Xunta. They, as Liz said, know what’s up, are super-organized, and pay us on time. I also think the regional government really values the program–the president of Galicia spoke at our orientation–which I think says good things about continued funding and governmental support.
In conclusion, hooray Galicia.
I definitely learned some key phrases! And had lots of friends who wanted to teach me. Yay Galicia!!