How to Become an English Teacher in Italy

I’m often asked the question, “So why teach English in Italy?”. It’s one of those things I never know how to answer exactly. It’s just…well…it’s complicated.

How I Became an English Teacher in Italy

I first started teaching English in Italy in 2012. At the time, it wasn’t exactly a part of my “life plan”. That’s not to say that being an English teacher isn’t a great job, it’s just that it wasn’t what I was interested in at the time. I had graduated with a Bachelor’s in Accounting the year before and just completed my Master’s in Business Administration from Providence College. All the doors were lined up for me to become a businesswoman, only there was just one problem: while I enjoyed studying the theory of accounting and business (thanks to a series of wonderful professors I had), I hated it in practice. Business suits weren’t (and still aren’t) for me.

What I did know was that I loved Italy and I wanted to spend some time living abroad. After doing a bit of research I realized that the easiest way to move to Italy was through teaching English.

I signed up for month-long TEFL program in Florence, Italy at a school called Via Lingua. Before attending the course, I had to gather all the right documents (visa, health insurance, passport etc.) and book my flight. I applied for a 6-month study visa and told the Italian consulate that I would be taking a TEFL course in Florence and then have 5 months of teaching practice. I wanted to have a visa because I knew that many English schools would not hire me without one. I’ve heard from recent Via Lingua students that the consulate is no longer accepting this program for study visa applications since it is technically only a 1 month program and a short-term study visa requires a six month course.

While completing my TEFL course I began to search for a job. I sent my CV to many schools, but many were reluctant to hire me because I was American and only had a short-term visa. I finally got lucky and was hired by My English School. They told me that as long as I had a visa I could work there.

After my six month visa expired, I returned home and and applied for another study visa. Since then I’ve maintained my visas and was finally able to convert my study visa into a work visa in April 2014.

I am currently in the process of transitioning to Genova to open a new English school with a team of collegues. We will be opening a new My English School branch in Genova at the end of August.

I’ve also had many other odd jobs here there, including translation from Italian to English, private English lessons and babysitting in English.


Teaching English in Italy FAQ

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I receive about teaching English in Italy. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

What is a TEFL certification and how do I obtain one? 

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification is required by almost every English teaching job out there – no matter which country you’re in. You can usually complete this course in your home country or abroad. I recommend doing a TEFL course near the city you ideally want to work in. I completed a month long TEFL certification course in Florence, Italy at a school called Via Lingua. For one month, 5 days a week, 5 hours a day, I attended this course which covered English Grammar, Pedagogy, Teaching Skills and many hours of hands on teaching practice and peer reviews. At the end, I earned my TEFL certification and was ready to start work.

What’s the difference between CELTA, TEFL, and TESOL certification? Is one more widely accepted in Italy?

This is a pretty hot topic debate among those in the industry because there are many different types, each claiming to be better than the other. All are equally valid certifications, but there are a few key differences between them (I’ll try my best not to offend anyone here!).

CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)

  • issued by the University of Cambridge
  • four to five week course (full-time)
  • widely accepted in Europe
  • highly standardized
  • slightly more expensive
  • intensive courses
  • require some prior English qualification
  • usually best for those who want to pursue a career in teaching English full-time

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)

  • no governing body, but rather independent courses over see certification
  • four to five week course (full-time)
  • generally accepted in Europe, widely accepted in Asia
  • less standardized and course material taught can vary depending upon school
  • usually best for those who want to teach English part-time or for a short-term period

TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)

  • same thing as TEFL certification
  • TESOL acronym generally used in Australia and USA, or used to refer to teaching immigrants/refugees that have moved to an English-speaking country and are now learning English as a second language

There is also the DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults). This is an advanced qualification for those who already have a CELTA certificate and want to advance their skills.

Choosing the right qualification really depends on your circumstances and career plans. Whichever you choose, be sure to research the program thoroughly beforehand!

I’m TEFL certified and I want to teach in Italy. How do I find a teaching job? 

Even the most college educated and fully TEFL certified candidate can experience difficulties in finding an EFL job. My lack of teaching experience and my American status (see *disclaimer* below) made it quite difficult (but not impossible!) to find a job. My best advice during this process is this:

  • Prepare an excellent CV that highlights any teaching experience or language abilties you have.
  • Physically go to the English schools to inquire about opportunities – it’s more work than simply sending an email, but you will get a lot more attention by doing so.
  • If you can’t physically go to the school, call or email and express your interest (written or spoken in perfect English!). Also, if you are outside of Italy you might want to prepare a video clip of a demo lesson or offer to do one via Skype.
  • Prepare several sample lesson plans beforehand and be prepared to give a demo lesson during your interview.
  • Always bring a copy of your CV with you when you visit a school.
  • Always dress for success! I would say a suit and tie is too formal, but you shouldn’t wear jeans or a t-shirt either. Business casual is best.
  • TEFL job sites can also be helpful, especially for figuring out what most schools require and which schools are hiring.

How much does a TEFL teacher earn?

An English teacher’s salary in Italy can vary, depending on the schools and the number of hours worked per week. In general the average TEFL teacher wage is somewhere around 15-20 euro/hour, 20-30 hours a week for a grand total of 800-1200 euro/month. It’s not exactly a Wall Street job, but it is sufficient. Plus, you can usually pick up a few private students for 20-25 euro/hour (see 7 Best Practices for Promoting Yourself as a TEFL Teacher in Italy).

TEFL RESOURCES

What is the cost of living in Italy?

It greatly depends on the city you live in. Check out this awesome statistic site that gives you the different cost of living statistics for each major city in Italy (I did however write a thorough post on the Cost of Living in Bologna). You should be able to save at least 10% of what you’re earning, something to keep in mind when budgeting for an apartment, travel expenses, etc..

Is the demand high for English teachers in Italy?

Yes! Don’t be put off by my lengthy list of job search dos and donts! English is definitely the number one needed language in Italy, for both kids and adults. I’d like to argue that finding an English teaching job in Italy is easier than finding most other jobs elsewhere – as long as you’re a native English speaker, TEFL certified and not a complete idiot, rest assured that you will find something.

*DISCLAIMER: If you are an American looking for a job in Italy, come prepared! Get a visa, because without it most schools won’t hire you. Some schools do hire teachers illegally, paying them under the table, but you are way better off doing it legally, as it will open up your possibilities and allow you to live in the country without fear of getting deported.

41 comments on “How to Become an English Teacher in Italy

  1. This great and very informative… my daughter is currently doing a TEFL course in London and hopes to work, initially in Spain but also Italy and other parts of the world eventually! Will pass on your blog and info to her! :)

    • Angelina – most English schools require that you have at least a TEFL or CELTA certification before hiring you. Most courses only take a month to complete, so it’s not that time consuming and you can also complete them in your home country first. I took my TEFL course in Italy because I thought it would be easier to search for a job while I’m completing the course, which is completely doable. Hope this answers your question!

      • Ahh, okay! Very cool! I may do that then, by doing a TEFL course (I have a CELTA already) in Italy, like in Florence or something and be able to have the time to find a school who’d be able to hire me. Thanks sooooo much, Sarah!!!! ^____^

        • Angelina, I’d avoid the costly TEFL courses (namely TEFL International, Via Lingua, TEFL Academy, etc) that are more than 1000 euro. They’re not worth the money.

          Instead I would either take an inexpensive online TEFL course just so you have the piece of paper or go TEFL-less. If you have a copy of your United States Bachelors diploma (assuming you’re a college graduate) and you bring it with you to job interviews/inquiries, that’s often a better way to go.

          The TEFL industry is a bit of a bait and switch scam in my humble opinion- companies tell you that you really need a TEFL just to sell you on their course. Most of the knowledge that you’ll need for being a teacher will come from reviewing grammar on your own to make sure you know it backwards and forwards and then on the job experience interacting with students, etc. A lot of these TEFL courses include student teaching but the problem is that you’re taught only one style (usually communicative)- and it may not fit with what you do well as a teacher. They kind of mold you into a little 30 minute robot.

          Also- make sure that you have the proper visa for Italy more than the standard 90 day tourist visa. It’ll make things a lot more difficult if you can’t work legally. The quality, “good” schools usually require you to be working legally.

          Hope this helps anyone who is reading!

          • Hi, Cindy! ^^

            Is any long-term visa ok to be able to work legally in Italy?
            Like, a study visa? I know getting a work visa is difficult to get for European countries.

            Thanks! <3

          • Hi Patty – A long-term study visa will give you the ability to work 20 hours/week maximum under legally contracted hours. A work visa instead will allow you to work under normal working hours, although you do need to show that you are working more than 20 hours/week in order to apply for a work visa.

            Work visas are difficult to get, which is why I think it’s sometimes easier to apply for a study visa first, and then later convert your study visa into a work visa.

          • Nuts! I forgot, any good schools you recommend studying under a long-term student visa? I’m thinking I do want to try to study a bit of italian while working or while I’m there before i start a job. Cheers!

          • Hi Patty! In my opinion, it’s always a good idea to invest in education, especially a language! I think studying Italian is a great option for those who need a long-term study visa, although it can be difficult to procure a long-term study visa beyond 6 months for a language school, since most language courses aren’t long-term courses.

            Another option is to enroll at University – this will give you a long-term study visa (1 year, renewable) and is actually not as expensive as most language schools. I know it sounds crazy to attend university but there are lot of options and its something that worked for me.

            I recommend ARCA Italian School in Bologna for language schools, or
            the University of Bologna for university.

          • Cindy – I agree that most of your teaching knowledge will come from hands of teaching and reviewing the grammar yourself. Nevertheless, there are many schools (at least in my experience) that still require that you have a TEFL or CELTA certification. So, even if you only learn a few basics during your course, being certified can really up your chances of being hired. :)

  2. Thank you for your blog posts on your experiences with TEFL, I’ve found them very helpful!

    I’ve been in contact with Thomas at Via Lingua Florence, and I’m receiving conflicting information regarding visas – I’ve always been under the impression that some kind of work visa is required of non-EU passport holders such as myself, which needs to be acquired prior to arriving in Italy, however he has informed me that you can’t organise these prior to arrival and in fact, schools arrange this once you start.

    • Hi Emma,

      I’m so glad you found my posts helpful. Thanks for reaching out to me about Via Lingua. They shouldn’t be telling you not to worry about it – you absolutely do need it. Sometimes its possible to find work “under the table” and this may be what they are talking about. However, most English schools want you to have a visa before hiring you and chances are they will not help you get one (plus even if they did, you’d still have to return to the U.S. for several months to get it).

      I’m updating my Via Lingua page to include this information. I’m disappointed that they are telling prospective students misleading information.

      Any other questions, let me know. :)

    • Emma, don’t fall for the sales pitch. You can’t get legal, good work in Italy without a proper visa. The best you can hope for is some cowboy school. Italian employers do not arrange visas for you.

    • Emma, I highly recommend that you try to get a visa before coming to Italy. Although it’s possible to find work without one, You’ll be much more limited in what you can do, not to mention living illegally in Italy (which means if you stay longer than 90 days, Italy will eventually kick you out!). It’s a lot of paper work, but it’s worth it in the end and you may be able to eventually transform your study visa into a work visa.

  3. Ciao Sarah! Your blog is awesome! :) I have been an ESL instructor for about 5 years and am TESOL certified but not a native speaker. What do you think are my chances of getting hired?

    • Hi Johnro! It depends on the school. Some schools only hire native speakers, while others are more open to hiring teachers as long as they have the certification and experience. Ask around and see what they say. I know that TEFL and CELTA certifications are more widely accepted in Italy, but again, it depends on the school. Good luck!

  4. Hi Sarah, when you first became employed – could you talk fluent Italian? I am slightly apprehensive about applying too early because my Italian is far from fluent!

    • Hi Sam, In my opinion you don’t need to be fluent in Italian to teach English in Italy. The language can help, but if you’re a good teacher you should be able to teach English well without having to use any Italian words. The school I work for hires many teachers who don’t know Italian and they do just fine. :) Of course, you’ll want to learn as time goes on but you’ll improve the longer you live in Italy!

  5. Thanks a bunch for a very informative post. What I’m struggling with the most is how I go about getting a visa. I read thru the comments and the reoccurring advice is to get a visa before trying to get a teaching job, however from all the research I’ve done, it’s practically impossible to get a visa without having a job offer. So how does one happen without the other? Thanks again for sharing all your insight!

  6. Hi Sarah,

    I’m a little late to the party but I have found your blog to be immensely helpful! I’m planning on attending the Via Lingua TEFL course in Florence this upcoming October. I have documents from Via Lingua that say I will be studying for one month then practicing teaching for 5 months after that. I just saw above that you said people had reached out to you and said that the consulate no longer grants study visa for this circumstance. Do you have any updates on this now? Also do you recommend that I apply for another type of visa?

    Thanks for the help! :-)

    • Hi Nia,

      Every circumstance is different. When I went to the consulate for my second study visa, they were very strict. I also heard from several other Via Lingua students that they weren’t able to acquire a study visa in this way. If the consulate accepts it, great. If not you’ll have to find another study program that will allow you to have a study visa granted. It really depends on how strict the consulate is.

      Good luck,
      Sarah

  7. Thank you for your invaluable tips. Is there any chance for a non-native certified English teacher to find a teaching position somewhere in Italy?

    • Hi Farid, I think so. It might be a bit against the norm, but it’s definitely possible. A new law was recently passed in Europe stating that English schools cannot post in their job descriptions that they only hire native speakers. So…legally they’d have to consider you if you applied!

    • Hi Alexandra, It might be a bit against the norm, but it’s definitely possible. A new law was recently passed in Europe stating that English schools cannot post in their job descriptions that they only hire native speakers. So…legally they’d have to consider you if you applied, but that doens’t mean they won’t stick to the old-fashioned native-speaker only. A lot of it depends on how strong your accent is (if impairs learning or not), how well you are fluent in English and your teaching experience.

  8. Avoid Via Lingua like the plague. They lied to me when they said I didn’t need a visa. Italian employers don’t arrange visas for you unless you are super lucky. They want that taken care of before they will hire you.

    Well, I finished their course (way over priced and poorly executed… they give you very little materials and instead use you as “free labor” to teach some of their conversation courses).

    But the worst part, besides the poor quality of instruction in the course and the misleading information about the visa, was their job support network. When you talk to Via Lingua they boast about their amazing global job network and placement program. Literally when you get towards the end of the course they give you access to a binder in the classroom which has a list of schools and their contact information. They couldn’t even bother to comment on my resume and cover letter when I emailed them my samples. This list of schools is someone that anyone could find online for free. They don’t have any special “contacts” with schools in Florence either. Most of the people from my program (even those who had the proper visa) were jobless after 2 months and had to return home or head to teach in Asia.

    • Hi Teacher, I had a similar experience. Although I can’t confirm what it is Via Lingua advertises about its program (I don’t remember what they said about having a visa/job placement options), I can say that the support is minimal. On the other hand, I don’t know how it compares to other TEFL programs and I think there is a limit to how much a TEFL program can help you. I didn’t expect them to hold my hand in the job search process or the visa process. It’s out their realm. I’m sorry if they are advertising these services.

    • Thank you so much for sharing that info with us and wow….I’m so sorry you had went through all of that, that is crazy! I do hope you find better opportunities than the time you had at that place. Sounds like they should be in a black list or something. Cheers and God bless.

  9. I have just a few questions. First, can I still teach english if I don’t speak italian fluently? Second, do I need a 4 year college degree as a prerequisite to teach english abroad?

    • Hey Skip, You can certainly teach English without speaking Italian fluently. Sometimes its helpful to know some Italian when explaining some words, but it’s also nice to not speak Italian and therefore force your students to think only in English! As for the degree, it’s preferable, but if you have teaching experience and a TEFL or Celta certification it might not be that hindering. It just depends on your qualifications.

      • I have teaching experience from the software company I work for. For years I would teach new users how to use the software through Go to meeting or log me in rescue. Does this count as teaching experience?

        • Hey Skip, It’s definitely helpful. Every school has their own teaching style or method they’re looking for. So if your style of teaching fits their method, then that’s great. Still, keep in mind that teaching English as a foreign language has its differences from teaching another subject. That’s why its essential to have a TEFL or Celta certification. Good luck!

  10. I have taught for more than eight years in my home country and have a degree in Spanish. My mother tongue is English. I am fluent in Spanish and English.
    I do not have TEFL or any other certification.
    What are my chances here teaching?
    I have a soggiorno and am married to an Italian and live here for three years now.

    • It’s not impossible, but having a TEFL/CELTA certification will definitely increase your chances of finding a job. I recommend doing an onling TEFL course, which doesn’t cost too much and will at least boost your CV.

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