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EXPLAINED: The visas Americans need to live and work in Spain 

A move to Spain is a dream for many US nationals who have fallen in love with the country, but what are the work permit options available to Americans who need a job in order to be allowed to live here?

EXPLAINED: The visas Americans need to live and work in Spain 
Around 9,400 Americans live in Barcelona. Photo: Jeff Chabot/Pixabay

Let’s cut straight to the chase – it can be a challenge for Americans, as well as other non-EU nationals, to get a work visa in Spain. But it’s far from impossible.

US nationals don’t have the automatic right to get a job in Spain or anywhere else in the EU because of their status as third-country nationals within Europe’s single market.

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 US or wherever they are through the Spanish consulate, just as it is for other non-EU nationals.

So what are the options for Americans 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 American 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.

Photo: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

If you have found a job offer that you’re suitable for, you must start your application from the Spanish consulate in the US 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.

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

If you work for a company in the US that has a branch or branches in Spain, it’s worth enquiring with your HR department about how other employees have previously been transferred to the Spain office. 

You would have to convince your employer that the relocation to Spain is worth it for them in the business sense, if you want them to sponsor you of course. 

What about English teaching and au pair work for Americans in 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.

It’s one of the best options for Americans to live and work in Spain, as thousands of US nationals, Australians, Canadians and other English-speakers from non-EU countries 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.

Photo: BORIS HORVAT / AFP

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. 

READ ALSO: Where do all the Americans live in Spain?

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.

In terms of au pair work in Spain for Americans, there is a specific one-year visa they can apply for at the Spanish embassy or their closest consulate in the US. Applicants must be aged 17 to 30, have an au pair agreement with a Spanish host family stating salary and conditions as well as proof of sufficient finances and private health cover.

There are also Spanish work visa options for seasonal workers, although these usually come with lacklustre conditions and low pay. 

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

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

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.

Being able to show any contracts or commissions from Spanish companies or the required licences or registrations depending on your industry may help with the process.

If you thought that was tricky, wait for it. You’ll have to send this business plan to five separate 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

Photo: TGG23/Pixabay

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.

This all sounds pretty challenging, but this is one of those times where it’s definitely worth enlisting the help of a Spanish immigration or international labour lawyer with experience helping US citizens with this self-employment visa. 

They will know how to navigate the complicated Spanish bureaucracy and give you a true picture of what immigration and labour authorities are expecting from your application. 

Bureaucracy is one of the main pitfalls of life in Spain for foreigners and it’s often best to accept that paying someone who understands ‘the system’ will save you time, plenty of headaches and possibly even money in the long run. 

 

Conclusion

It’s fair to say that moving to Spain from the United States is usually a lifestyle choice more than a career move. 

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.

READ MORE:

Salaries are also generally lower than those in the United States. However, the allure of Spain’s culture, people, food, history, public healthcare and plenty more may matter more to you than money. 

The country always scores high for quality of life on expat surveys, but not so for career prospects.

It may be that English teaching is still the easiest option for landing a job in Spain for Americans, but US citizens in other work fields shouldn’t be put off by the paperwork and seek professional help if they truly want to live and work in Spain.

READ MORE: 

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MOVING TO SPAIN

‘Frustrating, but don’t give up’: Your advice for Brits to moving to Spain post Brexit

How easy is it to move to Spain from the UK given that freedom of movement ended with Brexit? Several Britons who have made the move tell The Local about the problems that emerge as well as the time and costs involved.

'Frustrating, but don't give up': Your advice for Brits to moving to Spain post Brexit

According to the results of a survey we posted on our website, by far the most popular way for Brits to move to Spain, post-Brexit was via the Non-Lucrative Visa or NLV.

Several respondents said they applied for NLV, which is a one-year visa (that can be renewed), which allows non-EU citizens to live in Spain by demonstrating that they have sufficient financial means for themselves and, if applicable, their families.

Crucially, however, you are not allowed to work while on this visa and have to prove that your income comes from passive sources such as renting out a property back in your home country. 

The NLV is also one of the most expensive ways to move to Spain. In 2023, you must show that you have savings of at least €2,400 per month, and more for extra family members without being allowed to earn anything here. 

Wendy Hendry who moved to the Alicante province from Scotland said that the process of applying took around four to five months, while Terry Mulchinock said it took him a total of six months. Howard Evans who moved to the Valencia area on the other hand, was incredibly lucky when it took him just one week to apply because it was during the height of the pandemic in February 2021. 

READ ALSO: How long does it take to get a non-lucrative visa for Spain?

There was, however, a split between those who applied for the NLV themselves and those who used a lawyer to help them with their application. 

Shirley Johnson who moved to Galicia from Lancashire said: “I made the application myself (many people use lawyers and it costs thousands of pounds). There is guidance from forums and also from the Spanish Embassy in Manchester. I was not rejected”. 

While Hendry agreed that you “should try and apply yourself because companies who offer these services will try and rip you off”. 

On the other side, both Mulchinock and Evans disagreed and said that you should use the services of a lawyer to help you with your application instead. 

Mulchinock said: “We employed a lawyer who was very competent, copied our paperwork, bank statements, got police checks, medical forms … nothing difficult”. 

Evans agreed that the whole process was quite straight forward and he was pleasantly surprised because of his “excellent solicitor”. 

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

Readers who applied for the NLV said they spent anywhere from €2,000 to around €3,500 on the application, including all the lawyers’ fees and paperwork, while those who paid the higher amount also included the cost of the private health care needed for the application. 

“With a year’s private health care for two people all in was nearly £7000,” explained Mulchinock. Evens paid a little less, but without health insurance, “approximately €3000 paid to Spanish solicitor,” he said. 

Family connections

But, although the the NLV was the most popular way, it wasn’t the only way that Brits have managed to move to Spain post-Brexit.

Some respondents said they applied for visas to live in Spain due to family connections, either through the family reunification visa or by getting a residence card by being a family member of an EU citizen. 

The family reunification visa allows non-EU nationals to bring family members to live with them in Spain, provided that they have already been legally resident in Spain for at least one year, while the residence card is for family members of EU citizens such as spouses, partners, dependent children, and dependent parents. 

READ ALSO – Q&A: Can EU nationals bring non-EU family members over to Spain?

Half of these people said that their applications were relatively straightforward and easy, while half said it was a lot more difficult than expected. 

Lili, who moved to the Valencia area from Malta, said they when she tried to apply for a residence card for her British husband, she found it very challenging. 

“I’m dual citizen, EU/British, so for me it was easy. My husband is British and whilst technically we should have no issues with his residency, we repeatedly faced situations where I have no problem (as an EU citizen) and he’s treated worse and we have to jump through hoops to fight for his rights,” she said. 

“The experience was maddening. We spoke to a few lawyers and each one was telling us something different about the paperwork we had to submit, different from what’s listed on the Spanish government website even. I think there is a lot of confusion since they think of him as a non-EU citizen not a husband of an EU citizen. Eventually, I submitted the documents myself and we’re still waiting for a decision,” Lili added. 

On the other hand, Josh Goodwin who applied for the family reunification visa and moved to Mallorca from Leeds, said he was “pleasantly surprised” and that although the paperwork was “tricky”, using a good lawyer helped.

Working visas 

Several other readers found other ways to legally move to Spain since Brexit had come into force. Some respondents said they applied for visas for highly skilled workers through their companies, but that these were mostly for temporary periods lasting around six months. 

Even though the companies mainly organised and paid for these types of visas, the applicants said they were very expensive and it was very difficult having to have all their certificates and documents apostilled and translated, the legal fees and the visa charges. 

One reader who preferred not to be named said: “Don’t expect anything to happen quickly or electronically – everything seems to need a visit in person… It was just so much easier pre-Brexit”. 

The final number of readers who answered our survey were in the process of trying to apply for various types of visas in the hope that one of them would be successful. 

Vanessa Campbell from Surrey who is trying to move to Jávea to look after her sick mother said that her residency application was rejected as she couldn’t prove she had enough savings, so she is trying the family reunification route instead.

She said the process “is far more complicated than I had thought. Be prepared to be frustrated but don’t give up hope”. She added that there had been no compassion from the authorities because of her difficult situation.

Overall, most of the people who answered our survey had found the process of moving to Spain post-Brexit very challenging and a lot more difficult than they had originally expected. 

Tips

The majority of respondents agreed that using a lawyer definitely helped and urged others to find a good one and do the same.

“Do your research and definitely use a lawyer,” one reader said, while another echoed these sentiments. “Use a reputable solicitor and follow their advice,” they advised. A third simply said: “Get a lawyer to do it, if you can’t afford a lawyer stay at home”. 

Those who did the applications themselves encouraged others to do as much research as they could. “Research, use forums for help, and keep the faith!” one said. 

Others simply thought the process was too difficult and urged Britons to fight back against the situation if they want to be able to move to other EU countries.

“Put pressure on the British government to join Single Market in a similar way to Switzerland or Norway, with freedom of movement, otherwise, you should have A LOT of patience, time and money,” they added. 

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