Work Permits for Spain

In order to live and work in Spain, expats must obtain a residence and work permit, notoriously elusive pieces of paperwork picture of passportthat require any number of documents, depending on your purpose in the country. The two permits are tied together in Spain.

Only European Union (EU) nationals do need special authorisation or a work permit to live and be employed in Spain, though, it is advised that these individuals register as residents in Spain.

Non-EU nationals, on the other hand, will have a long and tedious process to look forward to, and in most cases, it’s necessary to have a contract of employment before you can apply for a work permit; a legality which can result in a Catch-22 situation, as many employers won’t offer you a job without a work permit, but it’s necessary to have a job contract to apply for a work permit.  

Types of work permits for Spain

There are two types of work permits in Spain, Cuenta Ajena and Cuenta Propia.

Cuenta Ajena is the permit given to those who have a specific contract from a specific company; Cuenta Propia is for those who are self-employed, also known as autonomo, and who would like more freedom to move within different companies and positions within the working world.

It is generally easier to obtain a Cuenta Ajena permit, thus it is often recommended that expats first secure this type of permit, and then apply for Cuenta Propia after the fact.

That being said, many potential expat positions – specifically careers in the education and language sectors – will require that you have a Cuenta Propia permit.

In addition to the list of documents required for both permits, Cuenta Propia certification requires that you first register with Hacienda (the Spanish IRS) and "Seguridad Social” (Spanish Social Security).

Work permits for non-EU nationals in Spain

For non-EU nationals, starting the work permit application process largely falls on the shoulders of the employer; though, the work residence visa you’ll need to obtain to enter Spain and collect your work permit is for your own responsibility.

For the most part, it is not possible to apply for a work permit from within Spain, though, there are a few loopholes for those who have been living illegally in the country for an extended time.

► 1. Secure a job

Whether you’re lucky enough to have secured a job from abroad, or whether you’ve journeyed to Spain, found a job and returned to your home country while the application processes, to obtain most forms of work permit you’ll need an employment contract. The only exception is the Cuenta Propia.

Once you’ve secured a job and negotiated you contract, your employer will request certain documents from you (medical certificate and certificate of criminal record), and will submit a work permit application to the Ministry of Labour in Spain on your behalf.

► 2. Apply for Work Residence Visa

Once the work permit is approved by Ministry of Labour in Spain, your employer will send you the “Notification of Approval”. This must be stamped by the Ministry of Labour.

Next, you’ll need to collect and submit all necessary documents required to apply for a Work Residency Visa to Spain at the Spanish consulate or embassy in your area. Keep in mind that many of these documents may need to be translated into Spanish and certified. Furthermore, you only have one month to apply for this visa after your work permit has been officially approved; thus, it’s best to begin gathering the required documents well beforehand.

Document required to apply for work residence visa
  • Visa application form (2 x photocopies + original)
  • 3 x recent passport-size photographs (with white background).
  • 1 x photocopy of your passport (with a validity of at least 1 year).
  • Application of residence and work permit (Solicitud de permiso de residencia y permiso de trabajo y residencia) stamped by the Ministry of Labor (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales) in Spain and one photocopy. This application has to be requested at the Ministry of Labor by your employer.
  • Notification of work and residence permit approval (COMMUNICACION DE CONCESION DE AUTORIZACION DE TRABAJO Y RESIDENCIA) stamped by the Ministry of Labor (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales) in Spain and one photocopy. This document cannot be older than 30 days.
  • Health certificate (and 1 x photocopy) - letter typed on doctor’s stationery verifying that you has been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005. This letter must be signed by a medical doctor. (And certified translation into Spanish).
  • Police Criminal Record clearance must be verified by fingerprints ((3 photocopies and certified translation into Spanish for all documents). It cannot be older than 3 months from the application date.
  • Fee – varies depending on the currency of your country (payment must be made in cash)

► 3. Depart for Spain

If the Work Residence visa is granted, you will have one month to retrieve it after the official date of approval and notification. You must then make arrangements to enter Spain within the timeline designated by the visa. Usually expats are granted a three month window.

► 4. Apply for a Residence Permit

Once you’ve entered Spain with your Residence Work Visa you can pick up your work and residence permit card, a simple bureaucratic process that merely requires you to submit the application form and your passport. This card must be applied for within 30 days of entry at either the Foreign Nationals Office or at the Police Headquarters. 

Non-work Residence Permit

Those moving to Spain as a dependent or non-worker need only apply for a residence permit, and not a work and residence permit. This permit is largely linked to the validity of the work permit obtained by a partner.

Residence permits can be applied for at local police stations or at the Foreigner’s Office (oficina de extranjeros) within Spain or at Spanish consulates outside of Spain. The time period required for completion can be anywhere from days to weeks to months depending on the locale – smaller towns normally take longer.

Furthermore, for those expats fond of loopholes, it is possible to eventually obtain a residence permit in Spain simply by proving you've lived there the last three years. You can do this by registering at the local town hall and receiving your Empadronamiento, and then by showing your passport after the time period has passed. Sometimes the Spanish government even grants residency based on sporadic regularisation processes.

Our Spain Expert

HelenaGonzalez's picture
Founded in 2001, iAbogado is a leading provider of legal information and services for English-speaking individuals and...

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