Why more people than ever in Spain are overqualified for their jobs 

Spain has beaten its record of workers with higher education qualifications - 9 million - a bittersweet milestone which highlights the degree of overqualification in a work market that’s dominated by low-paying service-based jobs. 

spain overqualification jobs
Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

It’s a well known fact that Spain isn’t the destination of choice for most foreigners who want to further their careers.

For tens of thousands of Spaniards every year, it’s also the country they have to leave if they want to move up the career ladder or get their foot in the door.

Seventy-six percent of Spain’s work market is made up of service-based jobs mainly in tourism, hospitality and sales, all of which are professions that do not necessarily require a university qualification.

But 9.08 million of the 19.7 million people who currently work in Spain have a higher education qualification, the latest figures published in Spain’s Working Population Survey (EPA) in July report, reflecting how around 46 percent of Spain’s workforce is forced to accept a job that’s not in their field and probably not meeting their salary expectations.

Spain is one of the countries in the EU with most university graduates but it’s on top of the leaderboard when it comes to wasted talent. 

According to Eurostat data from January 2021, 37 percent of Spain’s workforce is overqualified, 17 percent more than the EU average. 

Since 2011, it’s had the highest overqualification rates among workers in the bloc, which highlights how Spain’s economy has long been focused on tourism and services, with no clear change in sight. And the figures suggest the balance has been worsening over the last decade. 

Foreigners in Spain are among those who end up in a job they’re overqualified for most often. 

Among EU migrants in Spain, around half of those working are overqualified, but when it comes to non-EU workers the trend is even more pronounced: two in every three are doing jobs they haven’t studied and trained for. 

Eurostat data showing overqualification rates in the EU across the EU for Spanish nationals, EU citizens and non-EU citizens.


One of the problems behind this alarming situation for third country nationals is the two-year wait for qualifications to be recognised by Spain’s Ministry of Education, essential in particular for people in regulated professions such as medicine, nursing, dentistry, law and more. 

Tens of thousands of workers who could offer their expert skills to Spain, in particular health workers during this ongoing pandemic, are being held back by painstaking and outdated bureaucratic practices that force them to choose any job just to make ends meet. 

Having a qualification means less than ever in Spain, but the latest data by EPA reflects how the country has 500,000 more workers with higher qualifications than in 2020.

For foreigners in Spain faced with these dire work prospects, it’s often a case of weighing up the pros of a country with a high quality of life and accepting the cons of a limited job market, setting up their own businesses or having their main source of income abroad. 


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How much does it really cost to live in Barcelona?

Barcelona is one of the most popular cities for foreigners to move to in Spain, but it's also among the most expensive. Long-time Barcelona resident Esme Fox explains exactly how much you'll need to live in the Catalan capital.

How much does it really cost to live in Barcelona?

Barcelona is made up of 10 different districts and each one of these has its own neighbourhoods, or barris as they’re called in Catalan.

Depending on which district or even which neighbourhood you live in, your cost of living will be very different in everything from rent to a simple cup of coffee.

Generally, the most expensive neighbourhoods are located in the centre and northwest of the city and some of the cheapest can be found in the outer-lying areas or to the east of the centre.

But wherever you live in the city it’s worth keeping in mind that the cost of living in Barcelona has risen by 31 percent in the last five years and rising rental prices are mostly to blame.

According to the annual report by the Metropolitan Area of ​​Barcelona (AMB), the minimum wage needed to be able to live comfortably in Barcelona is €1,435 gross per month.

But of course, it will depend on your living circumstances. According to the report, if you’re living on your own you will need around €1,553 per month, if you’re a single parent you will need €2,220 per month. A couple without children will each need to earn a minimum of €1,054.80 and a couple with two children needs two salaries of €1,547 each.

Map showing the ten districts that make up Barcelona.


Rent is your biggest expense in Barcelona and unfortunately, rental prices have been spiralling recently due to inflation, the return of tourism after Covid lockdowns and the ever-growing popularity of the city.

Cost of living website Numbeo states that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre is €1,031 and a one-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre is €795.

Those looking for somewhere slightly larger to rent will be forking out €1,672 for a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre and €1,299 for a three-bedroom apartment outside the centre.

If you’re prepared to rent a room in a shared apartment with others, this will cut your rental costs considerably. Apartment sharing website Badi states that the average price for a room in a shared apartment in Barcelona costs an average of €500.  

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona


With inflation, the cost of groceries has soared in Barcelona in the past few months. Prices will depend on where you shop. Generally, chain supermarkets such as Mercadona are the cheapest, while larger supermarkets where you can also find important products such as Carrefour and El Corte Inglés are more expensive.

According to Expatistan, the average price for a litre of milk costs €0.93, 12 eggs cost €2.92 and 500g of cheese costs €5.76.

In terms and fruit and vegetables, Numbeo states that the average cost of1kg of tomatoes is €2.16, 1kg of apples costs €1.96 and 1kg of potatoes costs €1.33. While the same website gives the average price for chicken fillets as €7.09 and a bag of rice as €1.26. 

Eating out

Barcelonians love to eat out whether that’s going for tapas with friends, trying out a new international restaurant or going for brunch on a Sunday. It’s an important part of socialising in the Catalan capital, so you’ll want to budget to eat out a least a few times per month. 

Expatistan gives the price of dinner for two in a normal restaurant at €35, while Numbeo states that a combo meal at a chain or fast food place will set you back around €9.

A menú del día (menu of the day) costs an average of €17 in the centre or an expensive area of the city, while you can pay as little as €11 for 3 courses in the cheaper neighbourhoods.

Going out for a coffee will set you back around €2.08. Remember that it’s always cheaper to ask for a café con leche rather than a cappuccino. 

READ ALSO – Moving to Barcelona: A guide to the best neighbourhoods to live in

Going out, leisure and entertainment

Barcelona has a great entertainment scene, whether you want to listen to live music in small bar, go clubbing until the early hours of the morning, go on a date to the cinema or spend the night at the theatre.

A cinema ticket costs an average of €9, while you’ll pay €42.74 for a monthly gym membership in the city. 

A normal-sized glass of draught or bottled beer at a bar will be around €3 and a cocktail will be around €8-12.


Public transport in Barcelona is good and affordable. Metros, buses, trams and trains (Rodalies and FGC) all run throughout the city. A 10-journey ticket which can be used on all modes of transport for one zone currently costs €7.65 with the government’s 30 percent reduction, but is normally €11.35.

If you commute, you can get a monthly unlimited journey ticket for one zone called the T-Usual which normally costs €40, but currently is only €20 with government aid.

READ ALSO: The downsides of Barcelona you should be aware of before moving