Life in Spain and the United States is quite different. If you’re looking to teach English abroad in Spain, you might be wondering what cultural differences you might encounter. At RVF International we help hundreds of people achieve their dreams of teaching English abroad. Keep reading to learn more about the cultural differences between Spain and the United States you might encounter!

Culture can be defined as “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time”[1]. Spain and the United States are located on two different continents with historical differences that have shaped their cultures. First of all, the United States is 19 times bigger than Spain, with a population 6 times greater than Spain. This means that there are also a lot of different cultures within the United States, just like within Spain. Here, we are going to generalize the cultures and talk about the major differences you will experience. The best part about moving to a new country, is to immerse yourself in the culture!

Since you are looking to teach abroad in Spain, you are probably interested in differences in the working cultures. In Spain we often say that we “work to live, and not live to work”. This saying might describe the biggest cultural difference between the two countries. When meeting a new person in the United States, the first thing you might ask is “and what do you do for work?”. Your professional life defines your personality in many ways. In Spain, work is also important to enjoy a good life. However, it’s life outside of work that is important and prioritized. The coffee culture in the two countries paints a good picture. In the United States you have drive-through coffee shops everywhere, and you typically drink coffee on the way to work while driving. In Spain, colleagues will take a coffee break at a café and maybe sit down for an hour to talk. On the downside, things move pretty slowly when it comes to bureaucracy in Spain, as efficiency might not be the main priority.

Another big difference is meal and resting times. Meals are generally enjoyed much later in Spain. Breakfast is more or less the same time. The Spanish breakfast is typically something sweet, like toast with jam and coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. Breakfast is also often eaten at local cafés, and a full breakfast will usually cost around 3 euros. You wouldn’t even get a coffee for that price in the U.S.! In Spain, many businesses have “siesta” in the middle of the workday, where workers will typically go home to eat lunch around 3 PM. Lunch is actually more like a dinner, and is the biggest meal of the day. Dinner is eaten very late, usually between 9 and 10 PM. Between lunch and dinner you will have a “merienda”, which is a snack between the meals. Eating dinner at restaurants is also very affordable. At typical Spanish restaurant they will serve a “menu del día” (menu of the day) for around 10 euros. That’s more or less 10 dollars for an starter, main course and dessert! And yes, it typically also comes with a glass of local wine. Can you believe it? Spanish food is also some of the best in the world, and there are many dishes you must try. And tipping culture is very different. In the U.S. you are expected to tip your server, and this is not as common in Spain. You might also notice that the service you receive is not as attentive, be prepared to ask for your server’s attention anytime you need something.

Public transportation is very common in Spain. You really don’t need a driver’s license to live well in Spain. The public transportation system connects the small towns with the cities, and within cities the best form of transportation is always public. It’s also very affordable, young people and students pay a reduced rate. In Madrid, young people pay 20 euros a month to travel without limits! Why would you drive? As an English teacher living in Spain, you will probably get to work by bus, metro or train. You might find some cultural differences while you are riding the bus as well. It’s common for people to stare, and it might be uncomfortable at first. Instead of avoiding eye contact, Spaniards might stare right into your eyes without being uncomfortable. And personal space is also limited. Spanish people are often touchy and will stand close to you when you talk. When greeting others, people give one kiss on each cheek (even with strangers). In the U.S., the norm is to shake hands, especially in professional settings. This also illustrates that Spanish people show more affection, even to strangers.

The cultures of Spain and the Unites States have many major differences, both in terms of professional and work-life. Moving to a new country can be a big challenge, and there are a lot of things to consider. To make the transition easier, RVF International has created a program that helps you step by step. This includes setting you up with a school placement in Spain, helping you with the visa process, to find housing and much more! We also host lots of webinars to help your transition, where we discuss cultural differences and what you can expect when moving to Spain to teach English. In addition, you will have someone to reach out to whenever you need support. And the best part, you do not need to have a teaching degree nor teaching experience to meet the requirements. Are you interested in applying to our program, or just get more information? Set up a free meeting with our Teach Abroad Program Specialist, Petter, and your dream of experiencing living in Spanish culture might come true!