Working in Spain – an expat’s job guide (of sorts)
Thinking about working in Spain?
A lot of people write me asking for advice about moving to Spain and starting a new life.
Most of them want to work.
So can you expect to find work as a foreigner in Spain?
You certainly can, but it might not be as easy as you’re hoping.
First things first: you’ll probably need a visa. Salaries aren’t up to US or northern European standards. And the work culture is a bit different.
If you can handle that, then sure: working in Spain can be fun. Depending, of course, on what you’re doing.
Here’s the first question I get asked all the time…
Can I work in Spain without a visa?
Long story short: maybe.
I wouldn’t recommend it, but a lot of people do – or at least did, back when I was in the game.
Not having a work permit is quite limiting: if you’re an English-speaking expat without a visa you’ll probably be stuck working in an Irish bar or teaching English somewhere.
In any case, it’s a much better idea to get a visa before coming.
These days, a lot of younger people come with the Auxiliares de Conversación program, which makes you legal to work as a teacher’s assistant in schools. You can check out Sam and Veren’s blog Alternative Travelers for some more info about that.
(I came to Spain back in 2004, before the auxiliares program even existed, so I’m no expert.)
After your Auxiliar visa runs out, though, if you want to change over to a regular work visa, prepare yourself for some serious fun with bureaucracy.
Types of Spanish work visas
If you’re looking for some other type of work or residence visa to apply for, there are a few:
- You can go “no lucrativo” if you’ve got a lot of money in the bank (or some large source of passive income). However, you can’t work for a Spanish company on a “no-lucrativo”. This visa is residence only, and a lot of people who have one do remote work for companies in other countries.
- You can get an entrepreneur visa if you’re planning on starting a business and (potentially) employing some Spanish people. I don’t know a lot of people who have actually gotten this one – I think it’s pretty hard.
- You can try to get a company to sponsor you for the visa before you come – I think this works better if you’re “highly qualified” and doing some job that not many Spanish people are qualified to do. My girlfriend Morena came in this way, as a PhD student. And if you’ve got a job with a big company that has an office in Spain, they can probably send you this way.
- Finally, you can come to Spain without the visa, hang out for a few years, and then apply for “arraigo social”. Prove you’ve been here for 3 years, and that you’ve got a job offer, and you’re in. (Technically, that’s what I did… but it’s not something I’d recommend to anyone else.)
You should probably consult a lawyer about all of those options – I’m not qualified to answer legal questions.
However, if you want to start somewhere, there are plenty of people asking for advice about Spanish visas on the various expat groups on Facebook.
I wouldn’t really base my big life choices on something I heard on Facebook, but if that’s what you wanna do, go for it.
Also, I should say something else…
About the option of having a company sponsor you: I’m not sure how often that works out in practice. Huge multinationals definitely do it with their employees all the time. But if you’re trying to get Bob’s Language Academy in Málaga to sponsor you, it might be tough going. The visa process can take a long time, and Bob probably needs a teacher now.
In any case, good luck, and please do leave me a comment about what’s worked for you.
Here’s another big question…
Do I need to speak Spanish to work in Spain?
I highly recommend that you learn Spanish if you’re serious about living in Spain.
You can do it before you arrive, or you can do it here…
Just do it!
(Just so happens I’ve got a place where you can take Spanish classes in Madrid, if you want.)
But having said that, it’s definitely possible to find some jobs without a great level of Spanish.
Barcelona has a lot of international startups where English plus some other language is more than enough. Apparently, there’s demand for people who speak German, Dutch, Italian, French and more… plus English.
And in Madrid, while it might be harder, you can also find jobs whether or not you speak Spanish. If you’re on the coast or the islands, where there are huge English- or German-speaking populations, I’m sure you can make it work.
The thing is, they might not be great jobs, or the type of job you’re looking for.
But we’ve all met some long-term expat (or whatever the word is) who’s been here for 20 years and never bothered to learn Spanish.
Pro tip: don’t be that person. Nobody likes that person.
Moving on, here’s another thing you should take into account before deciding to pick up and move to Spain…
How to find a job in Spain
Here’s the big thing about finding a job in Spain: people are used to doing things the old way.
That means they probably won’t hire you (at least in a Spanish company) without an in-person interview. Maybe you can do the preliminary interviews on Skype or over the phone, but at some point, they’re gonna want to see your smiling visage.
All that can make it difficult to find a job with a company in Spain while staying home – although you can try.
You can also poke around on Linkedin, or check out some relevant expat groups on Facebook (just search for them – every big city has one).
Also, as I mentioned before, you’ll probably need some level of Spanish. It can vary depending on the city – Barcelona has a lot of startups where Spanish is optional – but generally, in the rest of Spain, you’ll need to know some of the lingo if you’re going to work.
And I guess I should mention that unemployment in Spain is higher than in a lot of other countries. At the time of this writing (early 2019) the official unemployment rate is around 13% – compare that to the 4% in the US and the UK for some context.
On the other hand, as far as historical averages go, 13% isn’t all that bad: back in 2012 and 2013, the worst years of the Great Recession, it was hovering just above 26%.
How society managed not to collapse is beyond me. I suspect it was two things: the support people get from their families, and the huge underground economy.
Spain’s work culture might not be what you’re used to
Morena tells me that at her office, one of her coworkers has given up.
He wants to be fired, so he can get his severance package and spend a while on unemployment.
But that’s the key word: fired.
He can’t just quit. He’d lose his juicy 6.000€ in severance money, as well as whatever unemployment benefits he’s entitled to.
So he went to HR to ask to be fired.
No way, José!
(The guy’s name isn’t really José. It’s a figure of speech.)
So now, frustrated with his job and HR’s refusal to sign the papers, he’s sitting at his desk, barely working, watching YouTube videos and otherwise just wasting company time.
It occurs to me that there might be millions of people in Spain doing the same thing right now… working the bare minimum, and hoping to get canned and walk away with a few Gs.
In fact, back when I worked at the cheapest language school in Madrid, we had several people who were doing exactly that.
They’d roll in late, or drunk, or both. Take way more sick days than anyone could possibly need. Doze off in the middle of classes, while their students were doing grammar exercises. All in hopes of being fired and walking off with a big fat severance check.
Some of them had been doing this long enough that in the meantime they’d been promoted to head of department. They were incompetent AF…
But after 20 years, the owners just couldn’t afford to fire them.
If every Spanish company has a few workers doing the same – and they might – I suspect it’s bad for national productivity as a whole.
But hey: that’s what European-style labor laws get you.
Anyway, that’s just one thing that comes to mind when I think “Spanish work culture”. The other big one is the customer service.
And then there are the horror stories my friends tell, of bosses who’re still using 19th-century management techniques that basically amount to “I’m the boss, so just shut up and do what I say.”
To be fair, I’m sure it’s not all bad – maybe I just don’t know too many people who are ecstatic about their jobs.
Is working in Spain a good idea?
I haven’t mentioned the salaries you earn from working in Spain much, because it varies.
In any case, they’re probably lower than what you’re used to if you’re coming from the US, the UK, or something similar.
If you have a lot of student loans back home, it can be tough to pay them off while simultaneously renting a flat (or room) and feeding yourself in Madrid or Barcelona.
And if you live in a smaller city, the salary will probably be even lower.
On the other hand, if you can keep your expenses under control, life in basically any Spanish city is pretty great. You’ll be eating good food, enjoying beautiful weather, and paying very little to drink some of the world’s best wine.
(I’m secretly convinced that people earning 80,000€ a year in London or New York would envy the life you can have in Spain for 20,000€ or less – if only they knew.)
If your dream is to leave it all behind to come and work in Spain, go for it! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
It just might be pretty different than what you’re used to back home.
For some of us, of course, that’s a great thing.
P.S. I’ve got a lot more about working in Spain, living in Spain, dating in Spain and other very relevant topics, right here on the blog. Check out, for example: cost of living in Madrid, pros and cons of Barcelona, or my opinion about dating a foreigner.
P.P.P.S. A bit more about work culture in Spain: I recently read an article that claims that Spain loses 6% of its GDP due to “absenteeism” – people just not showing up to work. That’s a big number… on the other hand, from what I’ve been able to find, Spain is better than most countries in Europe where absenteeism is concerned. So… whatever.