Choosing an Auxiliares de Conversación Program

It was a typical March evening. I was shopping for things I didn’t need at the local Marshall’s when an email notification popped up on my phone. “Congratulations, Olivia! We have good news!” the quasi-spammy subject line blared. I almost ignored it completely until I realized it was from CIEE.

I immediately abandoned the $4.99 microfiber hair wrap I was holding (“Dries your hair 70% faster than regular towels!”) and opened the email. This was it. I’d been selected as an auxiliar de conversación, or English language assistant, and I had 10 days to confirm or decline my placement.

I panicked. 10 days? 10 days is not enough time to make that kind of decision. I have expired nail polish and heavily discounted pleather jackets to buy!

After a lot of planning, discussions, and approximately two existential crises, I decided to commit. I was officially going back to Spain. Not one to ever leave things till the last minute, I confirmed my placement and paid my program fees on Day Nine.

For Americans, the Spanish government’s North American Language and Culture Assistants program, or NALCAP, is one of the easiest ways for non-students to legally live in Spain. It places native language speakers in elementary and high schools across the country. Depending on the region, auxiliares are compensated €700-1000 (about $900-1,300) a month for 12-16 hours of English-language assistance each week. The government wins because they get cheap English teachers in their schools, and you win because you get to live somewhere in beautiful España.

There are a few ways to become an auxiliar de conversación. You can apply through:

If you think I’m Type-A now, you should have seen me two years ago. My semester in Alicante taught me how to relax. A lot. With the Spanish, it’s either adopt the infamous no pasa nada attitude or die. I learned that “to-go” is a dirty word, that buses don’t always arrive on time, and that you can’t run errands on Sundays (unless you want to pay 50% more at OpenCor, the price-equivalent of Walgreens in Spain). That said, organization was still my biggest reason for choosing CIEE’s Teach in Spain program.

The low-down: CIEE does a lot of the bureaucratic dirty work for you. Or at least they’ll answer the phone when you call with complaints. And I think that’s worth it.

Choosing a Program

CIEE’s Teach in Spain staff basically acts as an intermediary between you and the infamously disorganized Spanish bureaucracy. Technically, I’m still a government auxiliar: I work for a Madrid public school and I get paid by the government. But I applied through CIEE, I was selected by CIEE, and I’ll go through orientation with CIEE.

I definitely don’t have anything against the government’s North American Language and Culture Assistants program — I applied to it, after all. You just have to think about each option and pick the one that’s best for you. As of now, CIEE is a good fit for me. (Check back with me in a few months to see how I’m doing. I might regret saying this. Who knows.)

Pros to Teaching with CIEE


This is the bookshelf of my dreams. Source.

1. Confession: Spain helped, but I’m still a big fan of organization.
I’m the one who brings the maps, prints out copies of our flight itineraries, and maps out the trek from the Munich U-Bahn to our hotel. I overthink everything. I hang the clothes in my closet according to their colors. I made three copies of each of my visa documents and took all of them to the consulate. In separate folders.

Hey, at least I can admit I have a problem.

I came into this knowing that the Spanish government doesn’t make organization its biggest priority. Just glancing at the NALCAP application is enough to see that (I’m looking at you, Profex). I applied to both programs, and CIEE accepted me within a week. I knew I might not hear back from NALCAP until late spring (I didn’t end up hearing from them until the end of May). So I chose to pay the program fee and go with CIEE.

2. I like money.
I have this completely unfounded hope that the CIEE Teach in Spain support system might be the remedy against that pesky not-getting-paid trend I’ve heard about from former auxiliares. I was placed in Madrid, and I’ve heard the situation is better there, but at the very least I’ll have someone who will try to help if I don’t get paid. (One of the girls I studied abroad with was a Murcia auxiliar last year, and it took them three months to pay her. Yikes.)

3. Accountability and communication.
I’ve only been a CIEE auxiliar for a few months now, but so far I’ve been impressed with their high level of accountability and communication. They provided us with line-by-line instructions on how to fill out each section of our visa applications, and even overnighted one of my official employment letters to me when I realized I didn’t have it. (I discovered this on a Thursday. My visa appointment was on a Monday. Panic ensued.)

4. Added support and safety.
I might lose serious adventurer cred by saying this, but I like having backup. CIEE’s not responsible for keeping track of me at all times or holding my hand while I find an apartment, but I know I can rely them on if I have issues or questions. I have a high level of Spanish proficiency and I’m confident I could have made the government auxiliares program work, but it’s nice to know I have resources. Maybe it’s just the planner in me.

Cons to Teaching with CIEE

Help Me, I'm Poor
1. I like money.
The biggest con to CIEE’s programs is the cost. Each program is different, and the ones with more services (like immersion classes or homestays) are more expensive than my program, the bare-bones Basics. NALCAP doesn’t have any start-up costs, other than your travel costs and temporary housing once you arrive. As long as you get paid on time, that is.

2. Limited placement options.
If you want to live in País Vasco or Las Islas Baleares, CIEE isn’t for you. (Someone in the regular auxiliares program actually got placed in the Baleares and I have major celos about it.) CIEE can only place students in Andalucía or Madrid, so your options are more limited. Madrid was my first choice, so CIEE worked well for me.

Which program did you choose? What are the pros/cons to your decision? If you went with CIEE, are you happy with your decision?


15 thoughts on “Choosing an Auxiliares de Conversación Program

  1. I definitely considered CIEE for a brief stint because I had a high inscrita number! I also applied for BEDA, and that became my number 1 choice. However the money part rolled in, I didn’t have extra cash to shell out to these programs upfront. Then I thought of my comfort level of handling dirty work on my own, being able to speak spanish, and my experience in Spain. Ultimately I went for the gov’t program! I’m in Madrid, too :0] Which school are you at?

    • I actually ended up being placed in Madrid (my first choice) through the government program, so I must have had a low inscrita number. But they didn’t tell me until late May, and by that time I’d already committed to CIEE and knew my school’s name.

      I feel you. I’m really comfortable with my level of Spanish, too, although I hate disorganization in any language haha. Honestly, a big part of choosing CIEE was being able to have a concrete life plan so early on. I think I would have gone crazy if I’d had to wait until late May just to find out whether the government program had accepted me! It’s definitely more expensive, though, especially since I just graduated college.

      Ah, really? Congrats! I’m at CEIP Ciudad de Roma in barrio Retiro. How about you?

  2. I was with CIEE last year, and this year I applied through the Ministerio and BEDA, although I eventually turned down my positions.

    Having experienced both, I don’t really think CIEE helped me that much. The application process was a bit easier, and I found out earlier where I was going to be placed, but I still had to do all the visa/oficina de extranjeros dirty work myself. One positive was meeting some friends in the Spanish Immersion program that I still keep in touch with.

    In having applied for all of these programs, I am just not sure if the cost is worth it, honestly. I feel like I probably could have managed on my own.

    That being said, last year was one of the best years of my life. I really did enjoy every minute, and I am thankful for the experience!

    • I’m starting to think you’re right! There’s nothing I can do to change it, at this point, although I was really happy to learn my placement so early. (I’m a huge planner, if I didn’t make that clear yet jaja. It’s both my strength and my downfall.) They also set me up with my TEFL course, which was helpful, but I’m not looking forward to doing the NIE, etc. on my own.

      One thing I am happy about is having a smaller network of CIEE auxiliares to get to know. The NALCAP program is so huge…I think it will be easier to get to know people at orientation since there are less of us.

  3. How do you like the CIEE program? For next year, I applied through the government program, but am debating on whether or not to send in an application through CIEE.

    • Hi! It’s funny you ask…I was JUST thinking about how I need to amend this article. I do not recommend applying through CIEE for multiple reasons. I’ve learned the error of my ways.

      While I was really happy to find out my placement earlier than I did through the Ministry, that is the only positive thing I feel I’ve gotten out of this program. CIEE might be helpful for people who have never been to Spain before, but if you have and/or feel comfortable with a slightly lower level of organization, I’d say just stick to the Ministry program.

      First off, our insurance under CIEE is terrible. We were told we have complete coverage, etc. etc., but what they failed to make clear is that if you have primary insurance back home, any medical care we receive must be paid for UP-FRONT. We will supposedly get reimbursed later, but I don’t think anyone has seen their reimbursements yet.

      This bothers me for multiple reasons: We paid a hefty program fee and still, somehow, have to pay up-front for our medical care. This makes absolutely no sense to me, and besides none of us really has the money to do that without dipping into savings. In addition, the Ministry-provided insurance is great. My friend got her wisdom teeth removed, and it was all completely covered by CIGNA. I feel like we had the wool pulled over our eyes on this one, and it’s left me both frustrated with CIEE AND afraid to get sick.

      (The only positive is that our CIEE insurance is also travel insurance, so we’re covered for flight cancellations, rebooking, and myriad other travel-related costs.)

      Second, if you want to renew, CIEE claims you either have to (pay a fee to) renew through CIEE to guarantee your placement in your first-year school. If you don’t do that, you have to renew through the Ministry as a first-year without any of the preference renewals usually receive.

      However, I’m not sure how true this one is. At our second-semester Ministry orientation, the woman said CIEE renewals should just renew normally because it was a “tontería” that we had to pay CIEE. I haven’t heard from anyone whether that worked yet, but I kind of imagine it will.

      In short, I’d recommend sticking with the Ministry program unless you have a really high inscrita or if you’re really eager to hear your placement. I’m disappointed with them because I had such a good CIEE study abroad experience, but they have some things to sort out with their Teach Abroad program.

      Sorry for the novel! Feel free to email me if you have any more doubts or questions! Hope everything’s going well. 🙂

      • Thank you for all the information Olivia! I think I’ll stick with the Ministry. I had inscrita number 13, so I wasn’t worried about that. I just wanted to see how you liked it, and if you thought it was worth it. A $50 application fee and all the concerns you just shared isn’t worth an earlier placement to me. Thanks!

            • Thanks for validating my laziness about changing the post. 🙂 I might copy/paste my comment into the post because I do want people to know about it. Just without doing all the work.

              I actually made decision to reply for renewal last night. (Don’t tell my family! They miss me haha.) I don’t think I’ll go through with it because working in a school isn’t mi vocación, the Spanish would say, but I love living in Madrid. It’s a conundrum.

            • That’s great about the renewal! I won’t tell your family though, unless they’re reading my comments. Haha. That is quite the conundrum, but things have a way of working out! Keep me updated on what you decide 🙂

  4. I am currently trying to decide whether or not to go through CIEE or the government. As you said in your original post, I too need organization and without it feel very stressed. I think CIEE would be more of a comfort for me throughout the entire process ( they even mention on their website help with deferring school loans?) even though they charge a hefty fee. I read your comments and see that you are now recommending going straight through the government… I am really not sure what to do!

    • Hi Rachel,

      I always meant to update this post! Yes, like I’ve said in the comments, I don’t recommend CIEE unless you’ve never lived/studied abroad. I don’t know anything about the loan deferral, unfortunately, but I’d call and ask them before you sign up for anything.

      I love organization but honestly CIEE didn’t really provide much of anything. My biggest frustration with them is the insurance issue. The insurance they provide for you in Spain is ONLY secondary insurance if you have a primary provider back home. That means that you have to pay for any doctor’s bills in Spain out-of-pocket and wait to be reimbursed, which other CIEE teachers said took months. (My government program friend had Cigna/the gov. insurance, however, and got her wisdom teeth out in Spain and it was completely free.)

      I just didn’t feel the information they provided was helpful enough to balance the insurance issues and the program fees. You can definitely do it yourself! (Although I will also add that I have a high level of Spanish and I studied abroad in Spain before. Both of those things helped a lot!)

      I would only consider CIEE if it’s your first time abroad and you need help with Spanish. 🙂 That said, I still know plenty of people who fit that description and have gone through the government process by themselves. You just need to do your research and you’ll be fine!

      In the end, it’s up to you. I really don’t think CIEE is worth it. My sister is considering the program for next year, and I’ve already recommended that she go straight through the government.

      I hope that helps, and good luck with your decision! Let me know if you have any other questions.

    • Hey Kelley! I’m so sorry I’m just getting to this now. Did you make your decision? I personally can’t speak to the BEDA experience since I didn’t work through them, but my main complaint about CIEE was the value for the money. If I could do it again, I would just apply straight through the government’s Language & Culture Assistants Program.

      You’re still a regular government Language & Culture Assistant through CIEE — they just act as “middle men” and provide some extra services for fees. I didn’t think their services were worth it at all, so I wouldn’t recommend applying to them. Good luck, though!

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