Work in Spain: An Easy Guide to Relocating

Madrid, Spain Shutterstock


When you picture Spain, your first thoughts may be of idyllic island getaways, lazy afternoon siestas and enticing seafood paellas. But there’s more to the country than just sun, sea and sangria; the warmer climes and appealing way of life are also attracting expats looking to work abroad.

The timing couldn’t be better now, either, with the country rapidly recovering from a devastating recession. Indeed, a recent study by Thomson Reuters shows that Spain’s GDP is finally set to return to its pre-2008 levels after a grim few years. With business starting to thrive again, those equipped with the right professional skills and experience could just find themselves in luck.

So, if you think a life in the sun, combining work and play, sounds good, then read on: this is what you need to know…



General Info

During the last 10 years, net migration rates in Spain have been high, with around 10% of the population estimated to be foreign nationals in 2016. Around 300,000 of these are UK nationals, with the highest concentration of migrants coming from Romania and nearby Morocco.


Despite the economy experiencing an upturn, the unemployment rate in Spain is still very high; within the EU, only Greece is worse. On a more positive note, the rate has been dropping continually since April 2013 (when it was a record high 26%) – it now stands at 17% overall.

Youth unemployment is a slightly different story, with a staggering 38% of young people without a job. This figure is the sixth highest in the world, although, again, it is heading downwards from a record high of 56% during the peak of the recession. Either way, you should bear in mind that, as a result, competition for jobs is fierce.

Biggest Sectors

The creation of jobs over the last few years has been focused in several sectors, including but not limited to:

  • Marketing
  • Imports and exports
  • Translation
  • IT and technology

However, as mentioned, competition for jobs is extremely high; even in these growing sectors, it’s not unusual for job vacancies to receive 300-500 applications.

Additionally, there are significant shortages in the healthcare sector – especially geriatric nurses and care workers. As is the case everywhere, there is also an increasing demand for software developers, mathematical modellers and digital professionals.

Salary Information

As a result of Spain’s economic issues, average salaries – especially for young people – are relatively low. In 2015, the national average salary was around €23,100 (£20,460), but this figure is distorted by the data for workers aged 40 and over; for those aged under 30, the average salary is just €13,650 (£12,100).

Pay packets tend to be higher in the capital Madrid – possibly due to its position as the country’s banking and finance hub – and you may have more luck if you can find a position there.

Cost of Living

Spain is a large country with a diverse range of cultures, climates and micro-economies, but on the whole, wages are matched by the cost of living. In Madrid, an average-sized rental apartment costs around €580-€870 (£514-£770) per month, although property prices tend to rise significantly in the desirable coastal regions; a decent-sized studio apartment in Barcelona, for example, will set you back anywhere between €700-€1,000 (£620-£885) per month.

In terms of getting to and from work, public transport is cheap; both the national bus and rail networks offer good-value, reliable services.

Working Conditions

Like most of Western Europe, the average working week in Spain is around 40 hours. The only real difference lies in the later starts and finishes, with most workers arriving at around 9-10am and leaving the office at 8pm; this is more a general reflection of the Mediterranean lifestyle, where people tend to socialise later on in the evening – it’s not uncommon to see diners sitting down to eat at 10pm, for example.

Wedged in the middle of these working days, many companies also operate longer lunch policies, with two or even three-hour lunch breaks the norm in many Spanish businesses. In larger multinationals, this probably won’t be the case, though, and working hours will be more in line with the UK and the US.



Finding a Job

Given the aforementioned competition, it’s likely that, as a foreigner, the success of your job search will depend heavily on your ability to speak Spanish – at least in most industries and certainly where Spanish-owned companies are concerned. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take a course before you start applying for vacancies.

Fortunately, the application process is similar to the UK and the US, with positions advertised online. A well-written CV and cover letter usually preclude the interview and/or assessment process. That said, speculative applications can often yield positive results and it’s important to try and network as much as possible. If you work for a multinational company that has offices in Spain, it might be possible to relocate via a secondment or internal vacancy; depending on the industry, language may not even be an issue.

Rather than competing against Spanish graduates, you might have more luck in sectors that are deemed by the government to contain career shortages. Currently, these include:

  • Teaching (including higher education and languages)
  • Mechanical, industrial and production engineering
  • Business IT
  • Commercial relations
  • Medicine
  • Web and multimedia development
  • Real estate

Finally, your chances of employment can vary widely depending on your geographical location. You are far more likely to find a job in the larger cities, such as Madrid or Barcelona, or in the coastal regions that contain higher numbers of English-speaking expats.

If you’re struggling with Spanish, it’s still possible to find work in the country. You can take on seasonal work in the tourism industry during the summer, for example, and then attempt to find a more permanent role, or you can teach, either through the English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) programme or in an English-speaking school. CIEE, Go Overseas and Tes are all useful resources in this regard.


Visas and Work Permits

Currently, EU and EEA citizens (with the exception of Croatia) do not require a permit or visa to live and work in Spain. For UK citizens, this is, of course, subject to change in the near future, but until a formal decision is reached, the process will continue to remain the same.

For the large majority of non-EU and EEA citizens, it is necessary to obtain a work permit once you have found a job; your employer will do this by requesting authorisation from the government. Technically, work permits are only issued if the company can prove there are no other suitable candidates from Spain or the EU (or if the job is on the official shortages list), although this is subjective. Once this has been authorised, you can apply for a visa.

Work permits are valid for one year and are renewable as long as the conditions of the permit are met; after five years you can apply for a long-term residency visa.



Although Spain has undoubtedly faced – and continues to face – some tough economic challenges, it still remains a highly desirable place to move to. And with an amiable lifestyle, a relaxed culture and some of the most beautiful weather on the continent, it’s easy to see why. As Spain’s recovery continues, opportunities will increase with it – now could be the best time to make the most of what this fascinating and historic country has to offer.

Do you, or have you, worked in Spain? Do you have any additional advice to offer? Let us know in the comments below!

Does Spain not quite take your fancy? Check out our other working abroad guides for Germany, the United States and as far as China!


Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by on 17 January 2018.