If you want a job teaching English in Spain, it's best to just go and look for work when you arrive. I did this when I began teaching, and the situation is the same today. Just go and look for jobs on the spot. Madrid and Barcelona are the best places for finding work, although there is some work all over Spain. Bilbao and some of the surrounding areas also have quite a few schools.
I arrived in Madrid in the middle of January, which is not the best time to arrive. September is a much better time to go to look for work. I called over 80 language schools, and was offered a part time job in a good school, and a full time job in a badly run school. After six months I started working full time in the better of the two schools. So it's better to arrive at the beginning of the academic year - if you can
A knowledge of the language helps a lot. It's a good idea to learn some Spanish before you arrive, if you can. This will help you get used to life in the country, and it will help you organize private students.
Most contracts for teaching English in Spain run from September/October to May/June. Some work is available in July, but not enough for all teachers. Many teachers teach on summer courses in the UK during the summer. There is almost no work during August and early September.
A degree and a TEFL certificate are required. However, not any type of TEFL certificate will do. You will need a CELTA or a Trinity CertTESOL. For the first time teacher it will be very difficult finding work without one of these qualifications. A few very experienced teachers find work with other types of qualifications, but they usually end up working at the bottom end of the market.
Experience is usually desired, but if you have a CELTA, it's not necessary. Most schools ask their teachers to teach around 25 hours a week. Class preparation will be on top of this. Split shifts are common. Schools want to give classes when the students want them. This could be 8-9am, 12-3pm, and again from around 5pm-9.30pm.
As I mentioned above, it's best to look for work on the spot. Some jobs are advertised online, but most jobs are not advertised, as so many teachers apply directly to the schools.
Jobs are advertised all year, but by far the most jobs teaching English in Spain become available in September, especially towards the end of the month when directors of studies know how many students are enrolled.
When you arrive - or just before - send your CV and a cover letter - to as many schools as you can in the city of your choice. After you arrive follow-up with telephone calls and visits to the schools that interest you most. You can find lists of schools in the online yellow pages - paginas amarrilas. It's all in Spanish, but with a dictionary, if necessary, quite easy to understand.
A tram in Barcelona
If you are considering taking a TEFL certificate course (read that as CELTA), you could take one in Madrid or Barcelona during the summer. This would give you the opportunity to get to know the local situation, and to make contacts in the city.
The salaries are quite low, with the poor economy and so many people who are happy to be teaching English in Spain just for the experience. However, you can earn enough to live on, and perhaps save a little, if you live simply. While the cost of living is not low - it's not as high as northern Europe or Italy
Teaching English in Madrid and Barcelona pays more than teaching in the south. After these two cities, the Basque Country seems to be the place where more esl jobs are available. Salaries for teaching English in Spain range from €800-€1,600. The lower end of this scale should be avoided if possible, as it will be hard to live on that amount of money. The average range is around €1,100-€1,300 a month.
It's possible to arrange private students. School charge around €30-€35 an hour and pay teachers around €12-€18 an hour. So it should be possible to charge around a little less than the schools. Of course, building up a network of private students takes time. Being good at your job and speaking some Spanish are also necessary to make money this way. If you are business minded the next step might be freelance teaching...
If you plan to be teaching English in Spain for a few years, are business minded, and speak Spanish, then freelance teaching may be for you. You will need to register as self-employed. A gestoria can help you with the bureaucratic details, although you can do it yourself. Remember that if you decide to become a freelance teacher - autonomo - then you will have to pay social security for yourself (currently around €250 a month) whether you are working or not.
Freelance teaching is not a stable job - clients will cancel, often at short notice. However, it will give you more freedom in some ways. You should be able to earn double the salary of most people teaching English in Spain. If you are good - more than that. The summer months are likely to be quiet, as for all teachers.
I answer a reader's question about teaching freelance in Spain here.
This has become more difficult over the years. It is illegal to hire someone without a work permit in Spain. Work permits are easy for EU nationals, but are very difficult for non-EU citizens to obtain. In the past many Americans worked illegally, then border hopped every 3 months. With the Schengen Treaty this has changed. There is now a 90 day in (the Schengen Zone) and 90 days out (of the Schengen Zone). The zone covers most of Western Europe.
It is possible that you may be able to convince a language school owner to sponsor you for a visa, but there are a lot of British and Irish teachers, who are available without the hassle of applying for visas. To get a visa, the school has to prove that you can do a job that no EU citizen can.
There are a few other ways of approaching this. You could enroll for full-time study at a university, and then you would be allowed to legally work part-time. Another option is if you have state recognized teaching certification, you can apply to teach in an international school, where they teach a variety of subjects.
Another option in this part of the world, and a slightly easier for non-EU citizens is teaching English in Portugal