So, you’ve heard about the awesome government program that lets you live in Spain for a year while teaching English (or rather, assisting teaching English), and now you want to apply? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. This guide-slash-timeline has everything you need to know about how to apply to the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program (NALCAP), aka the Auxiliares de Conversación program.
When applying for my first Spanish visa (I’ve applied for quite a few now!), I realized a lot of the guides out there were outdated*. So, I put together this insanely detailed application guide in timeline format. I update this post every time I go through the visa application process again or when I learn something has changed from others. The Aulixiares de Conversacion application and visa processes are a lot of work, but they are doable as long as you keep organized.
*The application requirements for my consulate of SF seem to have changed slightly in 2022, without much information on the consulate website about those changes. It may be the same with other consulates, too. So I recommend joining the unofficial Facebook group for this program and finding the visa application thread for your specific consulate to get realtime updates from your fellow applicants!
Related reading: 9 Things Nobody Tells You Before Being an Auxiliar de Conversación
FREE AUXILIARES DE CONVERSACIÓN APPLICATION & VISA TIMELINE CHECKLIST
So I’ve also created a printable, one-page checklist/timeline summary of this article in case you do decide to apply to the program. It’s a conveniently one-sided, one-paged print out.
If you still have questions at the end of reading this guide, drop a comment at the end. I respond.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s answer some basic questions about teaching English in Spain. (If you want to skip ahead to the actual application timeline portion of this post, click here.)
What is the Auxiliares de Conversación Program?
The Auxiliares de Conversación extranjeros en España program is also called the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program. It allows American and Canadian native English speakers (and Canadian native French speakers) to live in Spain as teaching assistants in elementary and secondary schools throughout the country. Assistants receive a monthly stipend of €700 – 1000 per month and work 12 – 16 hours per week from October – May or June.
What are the Requirements for the Auxiliares de Conversación Program?
In order to teach English in Spain through this program, you must:
- Hold a U.S. or Canadian passport
- Have a BA, BS, or Associate degree (or be enrolled as a junior or a senior in a BA or BS program, or be a community college student in their last semester)
- Have a native-like level of English (or French if Canadian)
- Be 18 – 60 years old
- Speak a basic level of Spanish (I don’t think anyone checks this)
- Be in good physical and mental health
- Have a clean background check
If you meet all these requirements and apply correctly, you are pretty much a shoe-in.
How to Teach English in Spain as an Auxiliar de Conversación?
The short answer is: apply for the program, get accepted to the program, apply for the visa, get the visa, and fly to Spain. The long answer?
You can apply to teach English in Spain directly through the government (Ministry of Education) program for free or through a third party for a fee of €1000+. So, why would anyone apply through a third party?
- A lot of the third parties accept applications much after the ministry application has closed. So they will be your only option (besides waiting a whole year) if you learn about the program too late.
- Many third parties also guarantee your placement within a particular region (more on selecting regions later).
- And lastly, these third parties assist you with the program application, visa application, and settling-in-Spain process, whereas the ministry does not assist you at all. From what I hear, this assistance is very minimal. Plus, the ministry application resources and instructions seem a lot better these days compared to what they used to be.
I actually first applied and was accepted through a third party (called ConversaSpain) because I learned of the program too late. I didn’t end up entering the program that year, due to no visa appointments available at my consulate. But feel free to comment your questions on the third party application process, and I’ll try to answer best I can!
The general consensus, however, is to apply directly through the ministry if you can.
What Documents You Need for the Government Program Application
The documentation and steps to apply get updated from time to time. So your best bet is to review the official website for the English Language and Culture Assistants Program much in advance.
But here are the main items you will need to collect in advance for the application:
- A copy of the ID page of your passport (the page with your picture)
- A copy of a passport-like photo of you
- A copy of your official college diploma (or transcript if not yet graduated)
- A statement of purpose explaining why you want to do the program
- A letter of recommendation from a professor or employer
What Documents You Need for the Spanish Visa Application
After being accepted into the program, you will need to get a long-term Spanish student visa. Yes, you are on a student visa, not a working visa, through this program.
The visa process varies slightly between consulates. So find out where your own regional consulate is located, and read through its Spanish student visa application process. Americans can find their regional consulate here.
But here are the common items you will need to collect in advance for the application:
- A background check (more on what kind later on)
- A medical check from a doctor (some consulates only accept from an MD, not a DO)
- Two recent passport photos
- A valid passport and a copy of it
- Another valid form of ID (like a drivers license) and a copy of it
- Your Carta de Nombramiento (more on what this is later on)
- A print out of your potential flight itinerary
- A completed visa application and a copy of it
- A money order (no checks) in the amount of the $160 visa fee
- A self-addressed, prepaid USPS envelope (only if your consulate allows mailed visa returns)
PHEW! THAT WAS ALREADY A LOT, & WE’RE NOT EVEN AT THE TIMELINE YET.
So, with that being said, let’s finally get to the timeline and guide for the Auxiliares de Conversación application and visa process.
Auxiliares de Conversación Application Timeline
The Auxiliares de Conversación application opens in late January and closes in early to mid April. But you want to start thinking about your application way before that if you want the best chance at getting your region, city, and grade level of choice. Remember, assignments are given out (loosely) first come first serve.
Again, here is the link to the official program website. Click it. Read through it. Bookmark it.
Around November, make sure you have a passport valid until three months after the end of the program with enough empty pages in it. The application requires your passport number, and this cannot be changed once you create your Profex account. So even if you have a valid passport already, make sure you won’t be getting a new passport between when you open the Profex account and when you depart for Spain. (If you do, you just have to email the program and let them know your new number.)
Consider that the visa itself takes up an entire passport page, plus that you’ll be getting one stamp into Spain and another out of Spain after the program ends. Also consider how many times you might leave the Schengen area on weekend travels to places like Morocco, Turkey, or the UK. This will be four stamps on your passport each time, so make sure you have enough pages in your passport for all of this.
Getting a new passport can take a couple of months, so knock this out early!
You will also want to make sure you have your college diploma ready. If not, request a copy from your university ahead of time. If you have not yet graduated, you can use your transcripts, so have these ready instead.
Lastly, start thinking about what kind of background check you will need for your application. This is dependent on whether you have lived in another country in the past five years, multiple states in the past five years, and what your regional consulate requires.
- If you have lived in another country during the past five years, start looking up the process for that country’s background check. It might be a short process or a long one, but it’s better to know now. You will want to make sure to have it apostillized and back to you by early summer. This resource written for UK citizens might be a good place to start.
- If your consulate requires it, you will also need an apostillized FBI background check. Even if your consulate doesn’t require it, you might want to do this option if you have lived in more than one state during the past five years. The FBI background check itself can take as little as a couple hours to receive. But getting the federal apostille can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months. This is the official FBI page explaining the process and giving the current time estimate.
- If your consulate accepts it, you can get an apostillized state background check from each state you have lived in the past five years. This used to be the most common background check for applicants to get, but recently, consulates have started requiring an FBI background check even though their websites state that they accept state background checks. So if you go this route, I’d suggest you get the OK in writing from your consulate.
The following timeline is assuming a normal processing time of a few weeks for state and for federal apostilles. But I want to reiterate again that you must check what is required for your own consulate, check apostille processing times, and calculate when you need to start the foreign and/or FBI background check in order to get them back apostilled by early summer.
The Auxiliares de Conversación application requires a letter of recommendation from a professor or your employer. So around early to mid December, decide whom you would like to ask for the letter, and reach out to them.
You want to give the person enough time since the holidays are coming up and you will need the letter right after New Years’. There are very specific instructions for the letter, so ask to receive the letter back a few days before the application opens. This way, you have time to review it and ask the person to redo anything if necessary.
When filling out the application, you will give preference to three regions in Spain, to whether you want a rural or urban location, and what age level you would like to teach. Each region is placed into a group (A, B, or C), and you can only choose one region from each group. All the most popular regions are in one group, all the least popular regions are in another group. This prevents people from simply selecting the top three most desirable regions.
Regions in Spain for Auxiliares de Conversación
|Group A||Group B||Group C|
Ceuta y Melilla
Castilla y León
By late December, start looking up information on each region in Spain and deciding your top region for each group. I used this as a rough guide on each region. Also decide what age group you prefer at this time.
Even though the program application (in a system called Profex) is not open until later in the month, create your Profex account (using your passport number) by early January. Familiarize yourself with the Profex application steps, and fill out all portions of the Profex application that you are allowed to. This way, you require as little time as necessary on the day the application actually opens and can increase your chance of a low inscrita number (more on why that number matters later on).
This is how to create the Profex account:
This is how to complete the Profex application:
Also in early January, follow up on your letter of recommendation if you have not received it back already. Do not wait until the day before you need it back.
Lastly, set an alarm on your cell phone for the date and time the application opens. Make sure you convert Spanish time to your own time zone.
Mid January to Early February
On the day the application opens (usually a day in mid to late January at midnight Spanish time), submit your application ASAP!
Have the official application instructions and Google Translate open and ready to go, and be careful not to make mistakes. You definitely do not need to be the first application in, so don’t rush so much that you make mistakes. Be aware that the site does crash, sometimes for hours, because multiple hundreds of applicants are all trying to get in at the same time.
After successfully submitting the application, you will get an Inscription Solicitud email. This has your inscrita number, which you can think of as your place in line. The lower your number, the better your chances of getting your requested placement region, all else equal. Supposedly.
My first year using Profex, I submitted easily in 9 minutes with an inscrita of 166. My second year, I submitted after a nightmarish 2.5 hours of site problems with an inscrita of 729. So you never know how it will go!
Depending on how busy your doctor’s office is, set a doctor’s appointment in advance for mid June. You will need a certificate of good health from your doctor, dated 90 days or less before your eventual visa appointment. That visa appointment will likely be in late July, August, or early September (unless you are delayed in your arrival to Spain).
Mid to Late February
(Or 2.5 Weeks after Your Application Date)
Around now you might receive a Solicitud Admitida email. This means that your application has been submitted. To quote the email directly, “this does not mean that you have been awarded a place, but that you meet the requirements to participate in the program.”
If you do not receive this email at this time, don’t freak out. Inscrita number has nothing to do with the order they send these out.
(Or 2 Months Later)
Around now, you’ll want to start checking your email every day or every other day so you don’t miss your regional placement email. You need to accept your regional placement within three business days or you will lose your place (yes, quite the quick turnaround!). So definitely do not miss this email!
(Or Around 2 Weeks Later)
Assuming you have a low Inscrita number, you might finally receive the much-anticipated Adjudicación de Plaza (regional placement) email in late April. Yippee! Keep in mind that this is just your placement region. You will not yet know exactly what city or town within that region you will be assigned to, nor what school grade level.
The majority of applicants do not receive this email at this time, so do not worry if you do not have it yet. There are literally thousands of applications that the Ministry has to manually get through, and they are still changing some applicants’ statuses to Admitida at this time. In fact, several people even get the regional placement email as late as July and August, so just keep faithfully checking your email.
Whenever you do get this email, you must respond in Profex within no more than three business days. Otherwise, your position in the program is automatically forfeited. After accepting your placement in Profex, you should receive an Aceptación de Plaza email as confirmation on the same day (within minutes, actually). It confirms they have received your acceptance. Woohoo!
Psst! If at any point after accepting your placement, you decide to withdraw from the program, make sure to email email@example.com in order to formally withdraw. Otherwise, it will slightly delay your process of moving from Inscrita to Admitida if you decide to reapply next year. (I speak from experience, remember!)
Late April – Early June
Now that you are officially accepted in the program, I would secure a visa appointment*** at your local consulate, if you can. You know already that your first day at school is October 1. But you will want to arrive a minimum of one or two weeks ahead of that day in order to settle into an apartment, test out public transport to your school, and do other administrative things. As long as you get your visa in time to do so, you can honestly arrive in Spain as early as you want. You will just be on a tourist visa until the date your student visa begins. Keep in mind that your health insurance coverage in Spain will only start from September 1.
One you decide what day you ideally want to depart for Spain, then set a visa appointment for five to six weeks before that date. Check to see how long your consulate’s visa process is, and then add a week or two for good measure. This will probably end up being a date in early August or perhaps late July.
After making the appointment, then set a reminder on your phone for a week before it. This way, you can cancel the appointment in case you still do not have your Carta de Nombramiento (I’ll get to what this is in a bit!) by then and avoid being penalized by the consulate for canceling too close to the date.
***Some consulates allow you to apply via mail, so this entire step may not apply to those of you using those consulates!
(Or 1 Week After You Accept Your Regional Placement)
You might get an update email around this time letting you know that cartas will be coming out soon. Even if you do not get this email, you will want to start checking your email every few days around now for your carta.
Around mid June (or earlier depending on current apostille processing times), request your background check. This needs to be dated 90 days or less before your visa appointment for most consulates. Some consulates have started accepting that the be dated five months or less, due to lengthening apostille processing times. If your consulate accepts that the background check be dated five months of less, I recommend starting this step in early May or even April.
How to Request an Apostilled State Background Check
The process is probably slightly different for each state, but probably slightly similar as well. So I’m sharing the timeline and process for my home state of California:
- Step 1: Download and fill out the background check request form.
- Step 2: Go in person and get a live fingerprint scan from a qualifying place. I did it at UPS. The scan cost me $25 and the background check cost me $32, so I paid $57 at the UPS office.
- Step 3: Seven full days (five business days) later, I received my background check results from the California DOJ. These results look like a computer generated report and are NOT what you need for the visa.
- Step 4: Once I got the results in the mail from the California DOJ, I then had to email the California DOJ Authorizations and Certifications Section – Visa and Immigration Unit in order to get a certified letter version of my background check.
- Step 5: Six full days (four business days) later, I received the certified letter background check from the California DOJ. This is a signed letter with an embedded seal, and THIS is what you need for the visa.
- Step 6: Follow the apostille request steps from the California Secretary of State (SOS).
- Step 7: Mail the certified letter background check to the California Secretary of State, along with the cover letter, self-addressed return envelope, and $20* payment. I received mine back in the mail ten full days (six business days**) after it arrived at the SOS. I paid around $10 for UPS mail one way with tracking. Alternatively, apply in person for same-day processing.
*Confirm the updated fee yourself before writing your check, as costs do change. I am only listing prices here to give a ballpark idea of your total visa application costs.
**Mail-in processing times fluctuate. As I type this edit, they are currently around one month from arrival at the California SOS. You can check processing the times here.
How to Request an Apostilled FBI Background Check
These are the steps to request the FBI background check with electronic fingerprints and the federal apostille without using a third party at all. If you do the FBI background check through a third party, it seems you might have more options for where to get the electronic fingerprints taken, but that the prints might not be received instantaneously by the FBI.
- Step 1: Go to the official FBI website explaining requesting an FBI background check (also called an Identity History Summary or a Rap Sheet). Scroll to the online request section and click the link to complete the Applicant Information Form.
- Step 2: Check your email, where you will have received an email from the FBI with a link to your request and a PIN number. Don’t lose this email. Following the link and using the PIN, fill out the background check request form and pay the $18 fee online. You can check the box to receive the results via mail if you want them mailed to you in addition to the PDF results you will already receive via email link.
- Step 3: Check your email again, where you will have received confirmation of your order, your order number, and a link to find your nearest live fingerprint scan location. This email will also have a link to pre-register with the third party taking your prints (probably USPS), which is necessary to do before getting your prints taken.
- Step 4: Go in person and get a live fingerprint scan from a qualifying USPS location. The scan cost me $50. The FBI email said to print my order and take it with me, but all USPS needed was for me to write my order number and name down on a piece of paper. Immediately after successfully submitting your fingerprints, you should receive an email from the FBI that your fingerprints have been received.
- Step 5: About one hour later, I received an email that my FBI background check results were ready. After receiving this email, use the same link and PIN from before to log into your request and download the PDF of your FBI background check. The date on this will be the date your fingerprints were taken, not the day you paid the fee online.
- Step 6: Print out all pages of the PDF version of your FBI background check. This is just as official as the results you will receive by mail in a couple days.
- Step 7: Go to the federal Office of Authentications website and follow the instructions to request the apostille for the background check you just printed out. You will need to fill out and print this form (make sure to put “Spain” for “Country” in Section 4 of the form). You can actually do this step before getting your fingerprints taken, so that everything is ready to get mailed out ASAP after you get the FBI background check PDF results.
- Step 8: Mail your print out of the FBI background check to the federal Secretary of State (the mailing address is on the same site with the instructions), along with the apostille request form and $20* payment. I received mine back in the mail eight full weeks (thirty-five business days**) after it arrived at the SOS PO box. I paid around $20 for UPS mail both ways with tracking.
*Confirm the updated fee yourself before writing your check, as costs do change. I am only listing prices here to give a ballpark idea of your total visa application costs.
**Mail-in processing times fluctuate. Six months before I sent mine in, the wait time was two to three weeks from arrival at the SOS PO box. Just a month before I sent mine in, the wait time was six to eight weeks. When I sent mine in, it was ten to eleven, but ended up taking eight weeks. So remember to keep an eye on processing times on the site and to start this process based on current processing times plus whether your consulate requires the document be no older than 90 days or 5 months.
(Or 3 Weeks After Receiving Your “Cartas Are Coming” Email)
Around one month after accepting your regional placement, you might receive an email that your AuxMadrid portal is ready. (AuxMadrid is used for the Madrid regional placements. I assume there is a similar portal for the other regions, but I do not know for sure.) Once inside the online portal, you will need to click two checkboxes within ten days of receiving the email in order to receive your carta.
This is also a good time to start reaching out to sworn Spanish translators if your consulate requires translations of foreign documents (i.e. the background check and the apostille). This way, you can get the translations done right after receiving your documents that need translating.
Email a few sworn translators from the official list (this is the list for 2023). Ask them to provide a quote for your order, the typical turn-around times for their services, and what payment methods they accept. Keep in mind whether your consulate requires physical original translations or also accepts electronic ones (most seem to accept print outs of electronic ones). This is the email of the translator I used for my electronic ones. She was professional and had competitive prices compared to others I reached out to.
(Or a Couple Days After Clicking the Two Checkboxes in AuxMadrid)
A few days to a few (or more) weeks after clicking those two checkboxes in the AuxMadrid portal, a green button appears towards the bottom of the portal. You get no email about this, so simply check the portal daily after having clicked those two checkboxes. The green button leads you to an attachment PDF of… drumroll please… your Carta de Nombramiento!
This is when you finally know exactly what school in what city or town you have been placed. It is also when you learn what grade level you will be working with. Make sure to save this PDF to your files, in case you for some reason can’t get to it in AuxMadrid later (it happens sometimes).
Around now, you should have received your background check back with the Apostille of The Hague Convention in the mail from the Secretary of State. The Apostille will be stapled on top of the background check. DO NOT REMOVE THE STAPLE. This makes the Apostille invalidated, and you will have to start (and pay for) the process all over again. After receiving this, reach back out to the sworn translator you selected earlier and have them translate it.
Now that you have this, you have almost everything you need to to be ready for your visa application appointment! All that’s left is to get passport photos taken somewhere and to fill out the visa application form for your consulate.
Once you have these two things, collect all your documents together, and make at least two copies of everything. The consulate will keep a lot of the originals, may or may not keep one copy of everything, and you will also need your own copies of some things for once in Spain.
Late July or August
Around August, you will have your visa appointment. Each consulate’s process is different, but most require you to arrive in person for the appointment. Some also require you to return in person to pick up your visa, which really sucks for those who are not within driving distance from their assigned consulate.
(If you ever feel frustrated at this, just remember the applicants in Hawaii and Alaska who have to fly all the way to San Francisco! Twice! They have it a lot worse than the majority of us applying.)
You will also leave your passport at the consulate from the appointment date (or from the date you mail it in, if your consulate allows mail-in applications) until you get the visa back, so keep in mind that you will not be doing international traveling for some weeks.
While you are waiting for your visa, get an idea for where you want to live once you arrive in Spain. Research different neighborhoods online. Check out apartment listings on Idealista to get an idea of what you can expect for your budget. Use Google maps to plan your route to school each day from different potential neighborhoods.
Late August or September
By now, hopefully you have your visa back. Woohooooooo! You are officially going to Spain as an English language assistant! Book that flight, and make it official.
Also around early September, reach out to your school’s contact person. This is included on the Carta de Nombramiento. Introduce yourself, and let them know you have your visa (or that you are awaiting it) and that you look forward to meeting them in October. The school year actually starts in September, even though you don’t start until October. If you email them before this time, they might not respond until closer to the school year. They also might not reply at all, so do not worry if your email goes unanswered. It’s pretty normal!
Lastly, you will want to collect the paperwork you need for once you arrive in Spain. Based on my experience, you absolutely need your Carta de Nombramiento for getting your residency card, and you also need your background check for your school.
Don’t Forget to Download the Checklist
Phew, that was a lot! It is so much to keep track of, so don’t forget to download the checklist-timeline I made for the entire Auxiliares de Conversación application and visa application processes.
Some things to keep in mind while you use the timeline/checklist is that it is simply an ideal timeline. The application is open from January to April for a reason. Even if you apply much later than the first day it opens, you will be placed. And you still might even get your top choice!
Similarly, hundreds of English language assistants arrive to Spain later than the October 1 start date every year. So even if your visa process is not smooth, you will be OK.
My timeline is only a suggested one to help you get the best chance of your ideal placement (and also keep you organized!) while you work through the Auxiliares de Conversación application and visa application processes.
Any Auxiliares de Conversación Application Process Questions?
So! Are you pumped to become an English language assistant in Spain?!
Let me know any questions you still have about the Auxiliares de Conversación application or applying for the Spanish visa. I will answer them to the best of my ability in the comments section below.