As you’ll be expected to find your own accommodation and salaries are fairly low, you won’t save much money during your time teaching English in Portugal. That being said, you’ll be close to the sea with warm weather and good food and a lot of teachers would say that’s good enough!
Expect to spend half of your wages on rent if you live in Lisbon, with a one bed flat costing around £410/$655 per month. Make sure you do plenty of research into the different areas before you sign a contract – there are some very rough areas outside the major cities, such as Mouraria, Chelas and Martim Moniz in Lisbon. Whilst rents are cheaper there than anywhere else in the capital, they have lots of drug issues, and are very unsafe after dark – it’s just not worth living there for the sake of saving some money.
Food is cheap in Portugal, and you can pick up staples such as milk for little cost. Every city houses dozens of kiosks where you can relax after work and enjoy a coffee and a cake. If you’re in Lisbon, be sure to visit Pastéis de Belém – home to the original custard tart – where you can pick up one for just 85p/$1.35!
Family and friends are very important to the Portuguese, and rather than eating out, they tend to throw huge dinner parties instead where traditional cuisine is cooked – don’t be surprised if you’re invited to one of these famous dinner parties at some point during your time teaching; or even better, surprise your new Portuguese friends by throwing one of your own!
One dish you have to try while in Portugal is Bacalhau (salted cod), with each region having their own spin on preparing the dish. If you’re in Porto for instance, the dish is called Bacalhau à Gomes de Sã, which is salted cod served with onions, eggs and potatoes.
It goes without saying that the Portuguese enjoy a drink, and without a doubt the favourite alcoholic beverage is Port, enjoyed not just in Portugal, but all over the world. First created in the 16th century, it’s a fortified wine, and as such, can be quite expensive if it’s vintage. Try a Tawny Port, which is lighter and less sweet – you can pick up a 5-year aged bottle for around £15/$24 in Portugal.
If you like warm weather, then Portugal is definitely the place for you: boasting one of the warmest winters in Europe at a mild 15 degrees Celsius, it hardly ever snows! Its positioning by the Atlantic coast stops temperatures from getting unbearably hot though, with a permanent breeze, so don’t go packing away your warmer clothes, as you’ll definitely need them – especially at night!
Portuguese employers don’t provide accommodation for teachers, and rarely provide help finding somewhere either. However, you can find accommodation easily online on IMOVIRTUAL – it’s in Portuguese but is easy to translate – with whole flats and rooms available to rent. The standard of accommodation in Portugal is fairly good, although in smaller towns like Arronches near the Spanish border, housing can be fairly basic, with bathrooms looking like they belong in the 1970s with their strange tile patterns, but functional nonetheless!
There is a high demand for people to teach English in Portugal, and you’ll find that there are vacancies all over the country, not just in the large cities, but the smaller towns too. However, the majority of vacancies can be found in Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra.
The peak hiring time for teachers is during June and July but there is also a small increase in vacancies in December, when freelance teachers drop out. It’s easier to get these freelance positions if you’re already in Portugal, as they’re not advertised online because they’re last-minute vacancies. In these cases, you’ll be working ‘recibos verdes’ (green card), which means you won’t be on a contract; but a lot of teachers find these positions beneficial as they’ll be getting paid, gaining experience and will already be in Portugal ready for when vacancies arise the following summer.
Lisbon is the richest city in Portugal, and the children you teach English to here will come from Portugal’s wealthiest families. Due to the large number of international companies based in the country, there are more opportunities for teaching business English. Lisbon is a charming capital, and if you love quaint, quirky places, it’s the perfect place, with gothic cathedrals, cobblestone streets and cute little cafés.
If you enjoy the smaller-city feel, then Porto is the ideal place, where you can enjoy long walks down the Douro River to the valley. One thing that might surprise you about Porto is the nightlife, which is actually really good! Head to the Ribeira district, where bars and late-night café’s line the quay, and enjoy sophisticated drinks: or try out Industria, the locals’ favourite club, where famous international DJs perform every weekend.
If you enjoy European history, then Coimbra – the former capital, and founded in 1290, the oldest city in Portugal – is perfect. Built on a hill, the Royal Palace looms over at the top, and can be reached by Escada do Quebra-Costas, which translates to Backbreaker Street. This is also the place where you can enjoy fado; a traditional Portuguese song, which is performed every hour on the hour. With a third of the city’s population University students, there’s more of an opportunity to teach English at degree level in Coimbra, although these positions are very competitive and are filled very quickly!
Portuguese cities are all served by a network of trams, and Porto and Lisbon both have metros (Lisbon’s is full of contemporary art, so it’s quite interesting to walk through!). Despite Lisbon’s fame for the being the ‘city of trams’, the network has actually shrunk to a quarter of the size it once was, with the local’s favouring the metro as it covers all of the centre and the outskirts, and at £1.20/$1.90 for a one-way ticket, it’s reasonable too. If you live in the smaller cities like Coimbra, you’ll probably find that you don’t need to catch public transport to get to work, with the majority of places in walking distance.
Taxis are a great way of getting back home once public transport has stopped running at 1am; and drivers are trustworthy, with scams a rarity. The majority of drivers won’t speak English, so it’s best to have your destination written down in Portuguese; but prices are cheap, with a 15 minute journey costing around £7.75/$12.50 – even cheaper if you share with someone else!
Typical teaching contracts in Portugal are 25 hours a week, and with contracts ending in June, you’ll have two whole months to go travelling!
The best way to travel through Portugal is by train, and you can reach most places easily and cheaply, with a return ticket from Lisbon to Porto costing £23.50/$37.80, taking 3 hours… you could spend your holidays visiting the different resorts and deciding what your favourite beach is!
If you want to travel further afield, low-cost carriers serve Portugal, connecting it to most European countries. You can fly to Madrid return from Lisbon for a mere £45/$72 return, taking 1 hour 20 minutes for a cultural weekend. You could even cross continents into North Africa, with the tip of Morocco less than 300miles from Morocco – a return flight to Casablanca is slightly pricier at £230/$370 return, but you can say you went to Africa, so it’s got to be worth it!
If you’re moving to Lisbon and want to live in an area popular with expats, then have a look for accommodation in the Alfama and Bairro Alto districts. These picturesque areas are home to many artists, with the colourful buildings housing late-night café’s and eateries. Rents are cheaper here too, with an average of £50/$80 less than the centre of Lisbon.
Something to be aware of is that the Portuguese like to complain, and you’ll find a lot of children moaning to their parents they don’t understand their English classes, resulting in parents complaining to the school! Portuguese schools are used to it though – it’s not a bad reflection of you as a teacher; just try to prepare as many fun activities as possible for students!
Be sure to spend at least one weekend in the picturesque resort of Vilamoura – laze around on the breath-taking beaches, indulge in some retail therapy at the boutiques by the marina; or enjoy a spot of dolphin-watching on-board a luxury yacht: Vilamoura gives you the perfect chance to live like a celebrity!