Going autónomo – pros and cons for TEFL teachers in Barcelona

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You’ve been teaching for a few years, you’ve built up your own network of professional relationships and a reputation as an excellent teacher, and you’re getting fed up of being offered a low hourly rate for academies. Going autónomo (self-employed) is beginning to look like an attractive option, but is it worth it? We spoke to a few different autónomo teachers who gave us some insight into the benefits and disadvantages of being an autónomo English teacher in Barcelona.

Reasons to go autónomo

The chance to work independently is a massive plus for a lot of teachers. A lot of schools will hire autónomos because it’s cheaper and easier for them than hiring a teacher as an employee, but you can charge academies a higher hourly rate for your time as a result. You’ll also develop your own professional relationships, both with private students or with companies that you work for. Valentina Valoroso, who teaches English and works as a translator, has been an autónomo teacher since January and has found it an easy transition. “Once you have your own clients and they like you and get to know you over time, they’ll recommend you to friends and other companies.

It’s an opportunity to make more money. Jim McLaughlin has been an autónomo teacher for 18 years and cites the financial benefits of being able to charge a higher hourly rate, an advantage also mentioned by Kate Howden: “One of the pros for me is that I can earn more money per hour.

Having a flexible schedule. You can work twelve months a year – you’re not limited by the nine month contracts offered by most language schools. Week to week, you’re in charge of your own schedule which is a big plus for the teachers we spoke to.

You’ll be taken more seriously by academies and agencies. There are a lot of English teachers on the scene at the moment, and TEFL teachers can have a reputation for being recent graduates looking to ways to fund their year of fun in Barcelona. If you are an autonomo, it shows that teaching English is your career, not a gap year activity. Several of the teachers we spoke to mentioned this advantage, with one autónomo teacher commenting that “the biggest advantage for me is that it looks more professional and serious to a potential client or employer.”

Reasons not to go autónomo

It’s expensive. The monthly autónomo fee is an eye-watering 260€, though discounts are offered for the first 18 months of being autónomo for men under 30 and women under 35. On top of that you’ll be paying fees for a gestor every month which adds another 30€ – 50€ to your expenses. One of the most difficult aspects of being autómomo, mentioned by almost everyone we spoke to, is that the fee is the same regardless of how much money you earn that month. “One of the cons is obviously the financial strain that the monthly autónomo payment can put you under during periods of the year when there is less work.”

You need to be proactive. Work won’t come to you – you have to actively seek it out. Valentina says, “If you send out enough CVs and you’re good at marketing yourself, you can make a good living.”  When you work for an academy, they take care of the marketing, the materials, the scheduling – but when you’re autónomo it’s all on you, so a proactive attitude is crucial to being successful as an autónomo.

You don’t have the same security.There’s no sick pay, maternity pay or holidays,” says Kate. You need to be able to think on your feet and pick up other work quickly. Valentina also made similar comments: “Work can be unstable. Clients might cancel classes from one day to the other and, unless you have an agreement with them, you won’t get any money for the time spent preparing the class. At times you have short-term cancellations and you have to find other work fast.

You need to hire a gestor and be organised. If you’re the kind of person who keeps important documents stuffed in a box under your bed, then going autónomo probably isn’t for you. “Being aware of requirements and changes to rates and conditions is difficult. There is an awful lot of misinformation,” one teacher commented, which is why so many people hire gestors to keep on top of all the small changes. However, it can be hard to find the right gestor. For Valentina, having to use a gestor was one of the biggest downsides to being autónomo. “They never give you the right information or tell you how to do things legally; they try to invoice much more than agreed on and just give you a lot of trouble. I have found that changing to another tax advisor doesn’t make any difference, as they all behave like that.” However we have managed to discover a few gestors that come recommended – their details will be in the following blogpost.

If you’ve decided that becoming an autónomo teacher is something you’d like to look at, then don’t miss our next post, a guide to the process of becoming self employed. As always, any comments are welcome!

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