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EXPLAINED: How Britons can live and work in Spain after Brexit

It’s become considerably harder for UK nationals wanting to move to Spain to do so now that they need a work permit, but it’s not impossible.

EXPLAINED: How Britons can live and work in Spain after Brexit
Will UK nationals be able to land English teaching jobs in Spain easily? Short answer: Not anymore. Photo: AFP

Since Brexit came into force on January 1 2021, UK nationals no longer have the automatic right to get a job in Spain or anywhere else in the EU. 

They technically don’t have the right to apply for a job or a work visa from Spain either, having to carry out the application from the UK or wherever they are through the Spanish consulate, just as it is for other non-EU nationals.

So what are the options for Britons of working age who want to live and work in Spain and who can’t afford other schemes such as Spain’s non-lucrative visa or the so-called golden visa?

The two main choices are a work permit as an employee and a work permit as a self-employed worker, both of which have their challenges as non-EU citizens.

Work permit as an employee (por cuenta ajena)

In order to be considered for a job as a non-EU national, in the majority of cases the position must be on Spain’s shortage occupation list.

The latest 12-page list published by Spanish employment agency SEPE is downloadable here, but overall the type of positions advertised are 95 percent in the maritime and shipping industry (from naval mechanics to ferry staff, chefs and waiters), as well as sports coaches.

In all fairness, it’s a pretty limited and disheartening list for the majority of British professionals interested in a move to Spain, but it is usually updated every quarter so there could be new positions opening. 

You also have to consider that your employer will have to declare that there was no suitable Spanish or EU candidate available to fill the position. The fact that it’s listed as an ocupación de dificil cobertura (skills shortage) is likely to play in your favour as that gives Spain’s employment ministry no choice but to accept non-EU nationals as candidates.

It is technically possible to apply for a work permit for a job that isn’t on SEPE’s list, but your prospective employer will have to vouch for you further still and really convince Spanish civil servants that there weren’t any local candidates available.

If you have found a job offer that you’re suitable for, you must start your application from the Spanish consulate in the UK or the country in which you live, that’s if there is of course interest on the part of your prospective employer as they have to sponsor you and start the application procedure themselves at their regional department of Labour and Immigration.

So even if you had scouted for work while ‘on holiday’ in Spain and managed to agree to a deal with your future boss, you wouldn’t be able to do any of the paperwork from Spain.

Bear in mind that your proficiency in Spanish may also be a key factor in landing the position and that your profession and qualifications (especially regulated ones like doctors, architects, lawyers) may need to be recognised first as a result of Brexit.

The standard employee’s work permit in Spain lasts one year and can be easily renewed if your work conditions haven’t changed.

What about English teaching after Brexit?

There has been no mention yet by the Spanish government as to whether it will fast-track work permits for British English teachers wanting to come to Spain.

Teaching English is a job that many anglophones in Spain take up as native teachers are very much sought after and the pay isn’t too bad either.

Whereas Britons previously didn’t often need an English teaching qualification to land a job and could simply shop around at language schools and academies in person, this will no longer be as straightforward.

Not impossible however, as the thousands of Americans, Australians, Canadians and other English-speakers who come to Spain to teach each year can vouch for.

The most common work permit used by non-EU English speakers who have completed a TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) is in fact the student visa, which allows them to study at a recognised institution while teaching English on the side.

There is also the “Auxiliares de Conversación” Programme which is run by the Spanish government and sees people from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia recruited to be English language assistants in Spanish schools. Could the UK be joining this list soon?

There are other schemes available to non-EU English teachers so the best place to start is with the language schools and organisations themselves: send out some emails and find out what choices are available to you personally.

Work permit for self-employed people (por cuenta propia)

For UK citizens looking to move to Spain and set up their own business or register as self-employed workers (autónomos), the process is again more complicated after Brexit.

You will have to demonstrate that you have the right qualifications to fulfil said position and prove that you will have sufficient earnings in Spain.

All this will have to feature in a comprehensive business plan which you’ll have to present, covering everything from a marketing plan, the readiness of financing and payments and other information about your operations. Overall, you’ll have to demonstrate that your business will be successful within three years.

If you thought that was tricky, wait for it. You’ll have to send this business plan to one of these five Spanish institutions for their approval:

Unión de Profesionales y Trabajadores Autónomos –  UPTA

Confederación Intersectorial de Autónomos del Estado Español – CIAE

Organización Profesionales autónomos – OPA

Unión de Asociaciones de trabajadores Autónomos y emprendedores-  UATAE

Federación Nacional de Trabajadores Autónomos – ATA

They will review it and send a viability certification if they agree the business will be successful. 

If they approve the business plan, you’ll have to send this together with all the other paperwork to Spain’s Ministry of Labour and Immigration. The permit is also valid for a year but after five you’ll be eligible to a long-term five year work permit.

Again, it could be that you need to have your qualifications verified by the Spanish Ministry of Education if you work in a regulated field, a painstaking process which currently takes two years on average.

 Conclusion

The days of easy work in Spain for UK nationals wanting to move after Brexit are over, we’re afraid. 

It may be that English teaching is still the easiest option for landing a job in Spain post-Brexit, but this will hardly be any consolation for those with careers in other fields.

Spain, with its notoriously high unemployment rate, has a slight protectionist attitude towards its work market, wanting to offer the few jobs that are on offer to its local population or at least EU candidates. This can also be seen in how long they take to process the recognition of qualifications of non-EU nationals, at least four times longer than in Germany or Ireland.

Even if they didn’t have this approach, the country always scores high for quality of life on expat surveys, but not so for career prospects.

READ MORE: The downsides of moving to Spain for work

Sadly, it may be that for many young Britons wanting to live and work in Spain from 2021 onwards, the only way to get their foot in the door is with a very specialised and highly skilled career to offer.

It can still be done, but it will take much longer (maybe even years) for many Brits to find work in Spain if they weren’t here before Brexit.

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BREXIT

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?

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