Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Living on an auxiliar's 1,000 monthly stipend

In the auxiliares de conversación program in Madrid, language assistants receive 1,000 euros a month during the nine-month contract (700/month in other regions of Spain).  Is this enough to live on?  Certainly!  I'm going to break it down in just a bit, but first I'd like to touch on a few other financial topics:

School loans

I had just graduated from college before working as an auxiliar de conversación, so I had loans to pay -- and I made monthly loan payments throughout the entire year in Madrid.  If this is your case, I highly recommend paying on your loans while you're in Spain.  To date (one year since finishing my job as an auxiliar), I've already paid back three of my four loans, and this would not have been possible had I deferred them, accruing interest the whole time (scary thought!).

Transfering money to a U.S. account

I could only pay my loans from a U.S. bank account, but in Spain I was getting paid directly to my Spanish bank account.  To not completely drain my U.S. checking account, I would transfer money to my U.S. account using paypal.  I hooked up my BBVA (Spanish bank) account to a new paypal account and I already had a U.S. paypal account connected to my U.S. checking account.  So every now and then I would make personal transfers from my Spanish paypal to my U.S. paypal.  I found that sending 150 euros at a time was the cheapest (1,50 fee).  This is what worked best for my situation.  Most of my money was being spent in Spain, so since I was only sending smaller amounts no more than once a month, this was easy to do.  I didn't have to mess with any wire fees, or worse -- Spanish banks!


Just because the question always seems to come up, a brief note about taxes. The 1,000 or 700/month stipend is considered a grant/scholarship by Spain's Ministry of Education, so it's not taxable in Spain (since it's not considered income). I thought this meant it also wasn't considered income in the USA (and read that several places back when I was an auxiliar), so I didn't list it when I did my U.S. taxes. However, according to this thorough "How to Do Your Taxes as a Language Assistant in Spain," you should list it as some type of income on your state and federal taxes. I'm so obviously not a tax expert, but check out that resource linked to above... and then you'll probably want to get advice from an actual tax expert.

Additional income

I also taught private English lessons every week to supplement my income.  (Want to teach private English classes?  Use this resource to find students!)  You're only (supposed to be) working 16 hours a week as an auxiliar, so there is definitely time to teach some evening or weekend private classes.  I taught four classes a week, three at 16/hr, and one at 15/hr, so I made 63 additional euros a week, around 252/month if no classes were cancelled.

Monthly Budget

Alright, let's break it down.  The italicized items varied each month.

Total monthly income: 1,252 euros
  (1,000 auxiliares + 252 private classes)

Monthly expenses:
Rent: 240
Utilities: 15
Abono (metro/bus pass): 30,50
Loans: 250
Cell phone: 5 - 10
Tournaments/travel: 100 - 200
Groceries: 120
Drinks/Eating out: 75?

Total Expenses: 835,50 - 945,50 euros
Unspent: 306,50 - 416,50 euros


This is a rough estimate -- my tournament costs varied greatly depending on location, mode of transportation, and the tournament fee.  Some months I had more than one tournament, some months none.  I don't have a good idea how much I spent each month eating out or going out for drinks.  Again, I tend to spend less than my peers, but I would still go out with my friends for cañas and tapas.

Many people will notice that my rent was considerably low compared to what most auxiliares will pay (nearly double my rent cost).  If I taught all of my private classes each month, I could pay my rent with just that income, leaving me with a full 1,000 euros after rent.  I lived with two others in an apartment five minutes from one of my schools.  My roommates (a young married couple) didn't want to make any money by renting the third room; they simply wanted to cover 1/3 of their monthly rent.  I chose not to live in the center of Madrid (I lived in Artilleros), and to not look at an apartment unless it was in my price range back when I was apartment hunting.

During 2009-10 when I lived in Madrid, I paid 320/month (internet and utilities included) for an apartment in Salamanca.  Again, I only had two other roommates -- it was a great find.  If you're frugal like me, know it can be done!  Just don't settle during your apartment search, because you'll be paying that rent every month -- it adds up quickly.

I didn't have a smart phone when living in Spain, rather, I had a tarjeta pre-paid "plan". This meant I simply added money to my account whenever it was low, and paid by the minute  and per text. I didn't make phone calls or send texts very often, so my monthly cost was low. If I were to live in Spain again, I would bring a smart phone and get a plan with internet. My friend's internet phone plan in Spain cost 8 euros a month -- data plans are much cheaper than in the states!

From July '12 through September '12 I was supporting myself in Madrid with no income (June is the final month of the auxiliares contract).  Those summer months included a two-week trip to Germany and a two-week trip to France for me.  When I returned to the states at the end of September, I still had over 1,000 euros in my BBVA account.


Are you paying your student loans while working as an auxiliar de conversación?  How does your monthly budget in Spain compare to mine?


  1. Hi Rebe, thanks for this helpful information. My daughter is projecting her budget as an auxiliar for 2014, and your post is exactly the kind of detail we are discussing.

    And a question: the young woman talking to Don Q in your photo looks remarkably like Lauren H from Seattle. If so, we have an acquaintance in common.

    Thanks again!

    1. You're welcome - glad it was helpful! Best of luck to your daughter, that's really exciting.

      And that young lady in the photo is me!

  2. Hi! I was a language and culture assistant last year and am finally trying to file my taxes late now that I'm home. Just curious, where did you get the information about taxes from? Does the program send any kind of 1099 or W2 or anything to the US IRS? Unfortunately I don't think it can be considered a grant here because we're not enrolled in an accredited university so I'm really confused about what to do about this!

  3. Hi there!
    The auxiliares stipend is considered a grant and not income in Spain, which is why it's not taxed there (this info is presented in all of the official North American Language and Culture Assistant documents on the ministry's website.) The program doesn't send any document like that to the US IRS.

    I'm going to update the info on my post, though, because according to this site, which has done a lot of research on the topic, it looks like you should still list it as income on your U.S. taxes!

  4. Hi Rebe,
    I will be going to Madrid this October to work as an auxlliar de conversación and I must say that your blog has given me very useful information about living in Madrid. Thank you so much for coming up with this very informative blog.
    With regard to the monthly rent, I saw in your blog entry that it only cost you 240 euros a month. May I know how many are you in the flat? And could you also suggest where to find flats with reasonable rate for auxlliar de conversación like me? I hope that you will continue to write more entries here in your blog. This is very helpful.

    Thanks a lot,


    1. Hi Erick! Thanks, I'm glad this is helpful. There were three of us in that apartment: myself and a married couple from Venezuela. It was in Moratalaz, east of the center.

      Here's a post I wrote with all of the information you're looking for: how to find an apartment in Madrid, what to ask, how I found apartments for so cheap, etc. Take a look and let me know if you have any further questions. ¡Buena suerte!

    2. Hi Rebe,

      Thank you so much for your swift reply to my inquiry. By the way, I am from the Philippines and I really appreciate you for coming up with this blog as it helps other auxiliaries who will be going to Madrid to ease their worries on what to do when they are already there.

      OK, I will read your post on how to find apartments in Madrid.
      Again, thanks a lot. You have been very helpful and I will definitely be sharing your blog to other auxiliaries who have made it to the list this year.

      Best regards from Manila, Philippines,


    3. You're very welcome! I hope you enjoy Madrid as much as I do!

  5. Hi Rebe, I am considering applying for the program next year and stumbled upon this blog and it has been very helpful! I was wondering if you would recommend this program for people who don't speak any Spanish before going and if I have a chance at getting accepted if I don't have any experience teaching children? I'm a bit worried about finding housing and and opening up a bank account since I don't know any Spanish haha, also are you still available by email? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi there! If I'm remembering correctly, I'm pretty sure previous teaching experience is not a requirement—so definitely apply! That'll at least give you a chance at being accepted! If you're already thinking about applying for next year, there's more than enough time to get a nice Spanish base before you arrive (which your future self will be so thankful for!) I can provide more language-learning tips via email (it's in the Contact tab), and I've written several articles with tips at http://www.fluentu.com/spanish/blog/ (plus there are tons of other Spain-based writers who have written really helpful articles there as well—I can give you specific names/articles via email).

      Housing and bank accounts are so far down the line, don't even think about it yet! Start with your Spanish learning now, a little each day, and when next year's application period opens, make sure to get yours in as soon as possible. ¡Buena suerte!

  6. Hi, thanks for your insights! I'm currently working on applying for the program (should open in a few days) and will work on getting my TEFL certification over the next semester while I finish school! I'm thinking about referencing Madrid on the application, sounds like you had a great experience with it! You posted some good sites to help with apartment hunting, and I had a quick question about that. You mentioned you lived in dorms for two weeks while apartment hunting. Was that for study abroad or was that during the Auxiliary program? If it wasn't for the Auxiliary program, what are some other ways that you suggest finding housing, without being in the city to find some cheaper options? I would assume I'd like to find a place to live before traveling over.

    And this is definitely down the road, but if I were to apply to a second year, what would I do with a visa in the months between the end date and the next start date for schools? The visa information is slightly confusing, but as far as I know, my visa would end when the school year ends. If so, what do you do about not having a visa/having to reapply for a visa in between that time?

    Sorry for all the questions! Thanks for all the information you've already given.

    1. Hi there! The 2-week dorm stay was the year I came over through a study abroad program. When I apartment hunted the second year, I stayed with a friend while I was looking—but I'd recommend booking a hostel for your arrival to give you some time to apartment hunt. I highly recommend finding an apartment once you're in the city—so you can go visit in person, ask questions, turn on faucet handles, meet potential roommates, etc.

      If you do the program and want to renew, they'll provide visa information at that time. This may not be correct, but I remember fellow auxiliares flying home over the summer to re-apply for a second year-long visa. Don't worry about the second year now, though ;) Best of luck with your application! You can always email if you have more questions—I'm happy to help answer. ¡Buena suerte!