How I Work in Spain as a Non-EU National

A normal work day in Spain includes long coffee breaks. Danika Wilkinson

Written by  July 10, 2015

From the practical to the peculiar, Danika answers the questions she’s most often asked about working legally in Europe.

The European Union is like the cool kids’ club that none of us on the outside are invited into. Its millions of members are born with an automatic free pass to live and work wherever they’d like across the continent, for as long as they like, while us lowly non-national outcasts are limited to 90 days in the Schengen zone.

Many have tried—and ultimately given up—when faced with the arduous and uncertain visa process. But, somehow I’ve managed to slip in. I've convinced enough bureaucrats to tick the right boxes and am now working full-time in Spain.

How did I do it?

Three magic words: pareja de hecho. It roughly translates to "de facto couple," a civil arrangement for both hetero and same-sex couples, with most of the same rights as a marriage without the actual wedding.

Yep—the only avenue leading straight to Spanish living was to get really serious with my boyfriend.

Haven’t quite found you Latin lover yet? Don’t despair; the local government in the southern region of Andalusia, where I live, allows anyone who is registered as living together to complete the process. If you’ve got a really good roomie who’s willing to go through a tedious six-month process of photocopies and notary signatures, you might just have your golden ticket to the Euro club.

How’s the pay?

Full disclaimer: I’m from Australia, the country with the highest set minimum wage in the world—and therefore pretty incomparable. My monthly income, while considered well above average in Spain, is pocket change in my home country.

That said, however, the cost of living divide is immense. I live in an inner city one-bedroom flat, minutes from work, and spend about a quarter of my salary on rent. In an equivalent flat in Sydney, for example, with parking, air conditioning, and all the same bells and whistles I enjoy here, I’d be forking out up to AUD$500—a week.

The median Australian wage of AUD$76,000 per year sure seems like a lot, but if you were to save 30 per cent of that a year, it would still take you eight years to be able to put a deposit on a house in Sydney.

Here, I pay rent, eat out every weekend, buy (too many) clothes, and still have enough to put away for travel and the like. It’s a standard of living I’d be stretched to find anywhere else in the world.

Do you have to be fluent in another language?

While I’m fluent just purely by immersion, in my line of work Spanish proficiency is not a prerequisite. My office is English-speaking—we work directly with other English speakers worldwide—another in a growing trend of Internet-based business who can operate from just about anywhere in the world.

Being an English speaker, in fact, is just about the greatest drawcard. While many local candidates can offer up a certificate that says they’ve passed some particular level of language training, a native speaker will beat them out every time (sorry ‘bout that).

What are the most common jobs for English speakers?

It goes without saying that the number one job is teaching. The demand for native speakers is so high, in fact, that several academies are willing to pay non-EU nationals under the table.

If you want an above board, properly contracted job, however, you’ll have to come with the right qualifications. These days, candidates who hold the Cambridge CELTA English teaching certificate will usually get sponsored for a work permit, no matter where they’re from.

Beyond that, the other major jobs are in tourism and translation, or (like me) in marketing and communications.

But. . .why?

This is by far the most common question I’m asked, yet the easiest to respond to. In the English-speaking world, everyone is always talking about achieving the perfect work/life balance. Spain has already it nailed down. I start work at 11am, have 24 work days off a year, plus another three weeks to account for all the local fairs and festivals.

The Spanish work to live—not live to work—which means lunch break beers in a orange tree-lined plaza with colleagues, an absurd amount of long weekends spent in little white towns dotting the city’s periphery, and summer schedules that accommodate for the longer sunlit hours.

Sure, it’s a huge bureaucratic hurdle to get here (likewise in any other EU nation) but with enough perseverance (almost a year later and my trips to the foreign office aren’t nearly done) it’s definitely possible.

While working in Europe could mean a cut to your usual paycheque, living over here is an investment in life well spent.

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Danika Wilkinson

Danika Wilkinson is a 20-something Australian journalist by trade, but traveller by nature. She currently lives in Seville, southern Spain, where (between tapas, siestas and sangria) she works in marketing and social media.

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