Working in Spain

Finding work as an expat in Spain may require a magnifying glass and a barrel of patience, and those already working in Spain would do well to hold onto their jobs. The unemployment rate (25 percent in 2012), the highest in 15 years, is also the highest in the European Union (EU), and in Spain, jobs are sparse and competition for even the most menial positions can be heated.

The national government has even created financial incentives to encourage jobless foreigners already in the country to return to their homeland.

Furthermore, due to the world recession, Spain’s economy is currently heavily in debt, and the president has even announced measures (2010) that cut civil sector wages and freeze civil sector pensions to encourage economic recovery.
finding a job in Spain
Not to mention, the country’s strict policies protecting workers rights means that many stay in their positions long-term and turnover rates remain low – creating a limited amount of openings.

As an expat, this can certainly work to your advantage once you secure viable employment. Severance pay is extremely high and can run up to six weeks for every year worked. Not to mention, if dismissed from a position you still have 20 days to file for conciliation and recover your job. To be entitled to Spanish rights as an expat you do need to sign a contract for a duration of more than six months.

Non-EU citizens need a work permit to be legally employed in Spain, but EU citizens and EEA citizens do not need a work permit to be employed in Spain.

Finding a job in Spain

Those lucky enough to secure employment prior to arrival will thankfully avoid the crunch of the job hunt, but the many who arrive in the country with little more than “a glass half full” of optimism will quickly discover that finding work can be more difficult than ever anticipated.

If you have a clear command of the Spanish language, your job prospect horizon will broaden tremendously, and if you happen to know German you’ll find that there are also more opportunities to be filled – especially with real estate agencies, travel companies and tour operators.

Otherwise, those with only the English language behind them should strongly consider taking a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, or something similar, in order to take advantage of the demand for teaching positions in both private enterprise and language schools.

The recent recession has also affected the jobs generated by and for the English speaking community of retirees who’ve set up camp on Spain’s eastern and southern seaboard. Even restaurant, bar and other positions in this informal seasonal sector are less plentiful than ever before.

Overall though, the tourism and construction sectors are Spain’s most important industries and are the best areas to look for employment.

Additionally, the country has also historically attracted a large interest from entrepreneurs looking to set up their own business. Though, if you do plan to migrate to Spain to do so, it is advised to hire a local gestor to help you negotiate the sticky web of bureaucracy spun from all of Spain’s rules and regulations.

Qualifications obtained in Europe and the UK are widely recognised. Salaries are generally less than in the UK and northern Europe, but the standard of living is higher and the cost of living lower.

Furthermore, typical Spanish working hours include a two-hour break for lunch in the afternoon.

Being self-employed in Spain

Given the poor state of the economy, a lack of planning or a reluctance to accept the lower wages typical of the Spanish workplace, many expats have had to turn to self-employment to work in Spain - many finding success in the IT sector or in the improvements/repair sector.  
The actual process of working as a self-employed person (known as an autonomo) is quite straightforward, but you will need an asesor, a financial consultant of sort, to set you up and to handle your IVA (the Spanish equivalent of Value Added Tax - VAT) and income tax returns. Anyone from another EU country can come to Spain and start work without any special requirements, but this is not the case for non-EU nationals, who will need to obtain a Cuenta Propia permit to legally do this kind of work. 
Additionally, being self-employed legally requires contributions to the health and pension system, the cost of which increases as you get older. There is no sliding scale of contributions whereby you pay more as you earn more. For example, if you are only earning 200€ a month, you still have to make your payment of maybe 300€; this is obviously quite a barrier if you are aiming to set yourself up in business and do not have much money behind you.
Earnings tend to be lower in Spain than in the UK, and 300€ a month in required contributions from the get-go is costly. You will also need to take into account that your asesor will charge you for your three monthly IVA returns and a yearly tax return. Thus, expats planning on raking in the cash as a self-employed worker should think twice; it is going to cost you in excess of 4000€ a year just to operate legally.
Until recently there was no entitlement to unemployment benefits if you had been working as an autonomo. That has now changed, and you can choose to increase your monthly contribution payments to provide for unemployment and sickness benefits; estimate the increase to be about 25€ per month.  

Exploiting the self-employed system

In some cases people will register as an autonomo to get access to the cheap public healthcare system. These people do not have a contract of employment, a requirement of the Spanish public system if you want coverage for you and your family, and they also don’t want to pay the very expensive private health insurance premiums to get coverage for themselves and their family. 
Though this may seem an easy loophole to exploit, it’s not. People who register as self-employed, but never actually do any work, and never file their three monthly tax and IVA returns are soon investigated. The authorities will want to know how you are living if you are not showing any earnings.
The black economy is rife in Spain, and they assume that you are working for cash if you are not issuing invoices. You can easily find yourself fined, and if you ignore communications, in the most serious of circumstances there may be an embargo placed on your house.

Being self-employed illegally in Spain

As there are a number of prohibitive costs attached to being self-employed in Spain, people often choose to do work for others without formally registering as self-employed. This is a common occurrence within both the local and expat population. 
Expats who choose this path should realise that if you are not working on a formal autonomo basis, you will not be able to issue invoices, and any work you do will be technically illegal. 
You will, therefore, not be able to work for companies who prefer legal routes. Thus, it is unlikely that you will find continuous employment, and it is pretty certain that you will find yourself only doing jobs for private individuals, as a registered company will not take the risk of paying you cash only.

Our Spain Expert

Gordon Hayes's picture
London, the United Kingdom
I moved to Spain with my wife, Chris, in June 2003 to the Costa Blanca, but we now live in Almeria. I have worked since I...
Gordon Hayes

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