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To live and work in Spain, expats must obtain a residence and work permit – notoriously elusive paperwork that requires several documents, depending on an individual’s purpose in the country. Thankfully, residence and work permits in Spain are linked in the country's immigration system.
European Union nationals do not require work or residence permits to live and work in Spain, although anyone who wishes to stay more than three months must register as a resident.
Non-EU nationals, including Brits, on the other hand, face a complicated process as in most cases it is necessary to have a contract of employment before applying for a work permit.
Work permits for Spain
There are two types of work permits in Spain, the Cuenta Ajena and the Cuenta Propia. The Cuenta Propia is valid for one year and is then renewable for another two years. The Cuenta Ajena is also valid for a year and is infinitely renewable, after five years, its holders can apply for a permanent residency.
The Cuenta Ajena is given to those who have a specific contract with a specific company. The Cuenta Propia, also known as an autónomo, is for those who are self-employed and would like more freedom to move between different companies and positions within the working world.
It is generally easier to obtain a Cuenta Ajena, and it is often recommended that expats first secure this type of permit and apply for a Cuenta Propia after the fact.
That said, many positions that are popular with expatriates, specifically careers in the education and language sectors, will require that the person has a Cuenta Propia permit.
In addition to the list of documents required for both permits, Cuenta Propia certification requires that the applicant first register with the Haçienda (Spanish revenue service) and Seguridad Social (Spanish social security).
Work and residence 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. The work residence visa that will be needed to enter Spain and the collection of the work permit is, however, usually the applicant’s own responsibility.
There are several steps non-EU expats will have to follow in order to legally live and work in Spain. UK nationals, since Brexit, are included in these requirements.
Securing a job
Whether someone is lucky enough to have secured a job from abroad or got an offer while travelling in Spain and flew back home to apply for a permit, expats will need an employment contract to obtain the required application forms for a work permit. The only exception is the Cuenta Propia.
Once a job has been secured and a contract has been negotiated, the employer will request certain documents from the prospective employee and will submit a work-permit application to the Spanish Ministry of Labour (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales) on their behalf.
Applying for work and residence visa
After the work permit is approved by the Ministry of Labour, the employer will send the expat a notification of approval, which should have an official stamp.
Next, the applicant needs to collect and submit all the documents required to apply for a work and residence visa at their closest Spanish embassy.
Expats should keep in mind that many of these documents will need to be translated into Spanish and certified. An applicant only has one month to apply for the visa after their permit has been officially approved. It's therefore best to begin gathering the necessary documents well in advance.
Departing for Spain
If the work and residence visa is granted, the applicant will have one month to retrieve it after the official date of approval and notification. They must then make arrangements to enter Spain within the timeline designated by the visa. Expats are usually granted a three-month entry window.
Applying for a work and residence permit
Once an expat has entered Spain with their visa, they can pick up their work and residence permit card, a simple bureaucratic process that merely requires an application form and the applicant’s passport. The NIE card must be applied for within 30 days of entry at either the Foreign Nationals Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) or at a police headquarters.
Non-working residence permits for Spain
Those moving to Spain as a dependant or non-worker only need to 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 the applicant’s working partner.
Residence permits can be applied for at local police stations or a Foreigner’s Office within Spain, or at a Spanish consulate outside the country. The time period required for completion can be anywhere from days to months depending on the locale – smaller towns often take longer.
*Visa and work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
►For more on town hall registration see Getting an Empadronamiento in Spain.
►For more on entering the country, see Visas for Spain.
►Working in Spain provides insight into the work environment and economy.
"When I moved to Spain I got a job with a fixed contract in a Spanish company. After contributing to the Social Security system, and being from a European country, getting a residence permit was practically automatic. Things have changed a lot since then.
"I've done all my legal, residential and financial admin myself over the years. I find that it is important to actually understand the intricacies of the process. I like to know what I am signing and what implications it may have.
"In Spain, the most important document to obtain at the beginning of your time here is called the Padron. It's a register to show that you live in a specific municipality. This document then allows you to request further documents and permits."
Read more about the expat life of Molly, a British expat who's lived in Spain since 1998, in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in Spain?
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