What’s it like to set up a bed and breakfast in Spain?

As contract jobs are few and far between in Spain (especially if you don't speak the language well), many new foreign residents come with the idea of setting up their own businesses, such as a B&B. But just how easy is it to successfully run a bed and breakfast in Spain?

bed and breakfast in Spain
Ian Rutter has set up his own B&B near Granada.

With an unemployment rate of 15.26 percent, according to the latest government figures, Spain has some of the highest numbers of unemployed people in Europe. As a result, the only option for many foreigners who want to live here is to open their own business.

Buying your own house and turning it into a B&B is an obvious choice for many as you don’t have to speak fluent Spanish, you’re not relying on the local job market and you’re not trying to set up a big company, so it’s relatively manageable. 

The Local Spain spoke to Briton Ian Rutter who, along with his husband Andrew, set up Casa Higueras Bed & Breakfast near Granada, about what their experience has been like. 

When did you set up your B&B business and how easy was it to do so?

“We renovated the house over the course of a year, from 2018 to 2019 and we were due to officially open Casa Higueras as a bed & breakfast on April 1st 2020. As you can imagine, the lockdown in Spain on March 14th put a stop to that and we faced a period of time with an empty house and no prospect of guests. At that stage, we had no idea how long the lockdown would last and when we would actually be able to open for visitors.

However, we had already set up another business before this – Granada Concierge and managed to get in a year of running creative courses in 2019 before the pandemic hit us. The idea for Granada Concierge came as soon as we arrived in our village, Moclín. I had run creative courses before, many years ago, and when we were shown around the village, we identified several beautiful buildings that were crying out for use as venues for creativity.

We registered as autónomos (self-employed) here, and it was actually very easy to set up subsidiary businesses once we had done that. We have a gestor so we just ask him to register our latest venture with the Hacienda, and then file our accounts every quarter.”

READ ALSO: Self-employed in Spain: What you should know about being ‘autónomo’

Casa Higueras B&BCasa Higueras B&B. Photo: Sam Milling

Was it always your dream to set up a B&B in Spain or did you just decide to do it once you arrived? 

“No. Our initial plan was simply to come and live here for a year. We rented a house in the Lecrín Valley, south of Granada, and we rented out our house in London. We were fortunate that we could afford to have a year of adventure, learn the language and explore Andalusia. However, we knew almost as soon as we arrived here in October 2016 that we would not be going back to the UK. It was then that we realised that we’d have to earn a living if we wanted to stay.

My husband Andrew and I have portfolio careers anyway, so set up as employed in Spain when we decided to stay. Andrew designs children’s books and works for UK and US publishers, and I am a radio presenter and voiceover artist and have a steady flow of voiceover projects to keep me busy. We found that Spain presented us with many more opportunities than we ever expected. My first voiceover project here came through an e-learning company in Madrid, providing voiceover for a large United Nations training programme.”

Who are your main customers?

“We originally thought our main market would be the UK, but the pandemic rather changed the emphasis. The UK government’s messages were so confusing that many UK travellers just gave up any thought of travel abroad.

As a result, we promoted our businesses in the US and mainland Europe and we managed to get a good percentage of guests from Spain too. It was interesting that many of our Spanish customers wanted self-catering accommodation so that they could get together with their families, but we still got a steady flow of visitor traffic.”

What are the positives of owning and setting up your own B&B in Spain? 

We love the flexibility and the freedom of our working life here in Spain. One of the main reasons for moving here was so that we could concentrate on doing things we love, as opposed to sitting in a ghastly office and then commuting for hours. We work as and when we please. We don’t have to have wall-to-wall bed & breakfast bookings, and we only run four or five weeks of creative courses each year. Our driving force is our love of the village in which we live, and the stunning landscapes that surround us. We want to share this, and giving something back to the village is integral to everything we do here.

We love having guests, and we offer dinners on request which has reignited our love of cooking. We’ve been able to create something that feels very special to us and we hope that this filters down to our guests.

The fees payable by autónomos are often considered to be onerous, but when I analyse what we pay, and the healthcare that we receive by paying social security, and the pension benefits later in life, then we consider it to be a good investment.

On top of that, we have a beautiful home, great weather, a place where our friends and family can come and spend quality time with us and we have wonderful friends and neighbours in the village, all of whom have become extended family.”

Casa Higueras B&BB&B owner Ian Rutter likes to prepare meals for his guests. Photo: Sam Milling

What are the cons of setting up your own B&B in Spain? 

“There are very, very few cons. Due to the cost of living here, it is easier to be entrepreneurial and give business ventures a go. If they don’t work, try something else. We would never have been able to afford to do half of the things we have done here if we were still in the UK. I get lots of voiceover work here because I am a native English speaker. In the UK, the competition for voiceover artists is huge, and most large organisations want celebrity and recognisable voices.

Of course, we have had challenges over the past 19 months, along with many other people, but we are immensely grateful that we live here and have never had any regrets.

The biggest con that comes to mind is the cleaning! No matter how many sets of bed linen you have, or whether or not you can afford help, cleaning between guests is never a huge amount of fun. Doing it when the thermometer tips 40°C  in the summer, you know that the installation of a swimming pool cannot come soon enough.”

What type of work do you think you would be doing in Spain if you didn’t have your own business? 

It’s difficult to say as we arrived with work in our respective fields. I did a TEFL course before we came out here and I spent the best part of a year teaching in an academy in Granada, but that was always only intended to be a gap-filler.

READ ALSO – Not just English teaching: The jobs you can do in Spain without speaking Spanish

Do you have any more tips, pieces of advice for anyone in Spain that wants to set up their own B&B too? 

  • “Use your experience. I had experience in travel and used to run my own businesses in the UK. I also produced and presented two different radio programmes in the UK, and continued when we arrived in Spain. Andrew has over 17 years of experience as a book designer, so we do have extensive knowledge of the fields in which we work.
  • Ensure that all your paperwork is correct and up to date. I hated doing tax returns in the UK, and I now find it a lot less stressful sending all our figures to the gestor each quarter. During the pandemic, we were sending accounts across every month and it is much more manageable.
  • Do what you enjoy. There is little point in being in such a gorgeous place unless you are enjoying it. Running a B&B is hard work, but it is a fabulous feeling to know that guests appreciate what you do and the accommodation you provide.
  • Learn Spanish. I know that everyone would say this but it is true, particularly if you live in rural Spain. We are not fluent, but we did go to school for eight weeks when we first arrived and have continued with lessons ever since. Having the ability to chat to locals opens up many more opportunities and the opportunities are out there.”

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‘Lactancia’: How to get extended parental leave in Spain

Many mothers and fathers in Spain are unaware that they can apply for a "permiso de lactancia", or an extended parental leave for breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Here's who is eligible and how to apply.

'Lactancia': How to get extended parental leave in Spain

Spain became a world leader when it comes to equal parental leave between both parents in 2021, with a law increasing paternity leave to 16 weeks – the same amount as previously only reserved for new mothers.

But new parents in Spain have other rights in the period following the birth of a child that many people are unaware of. These include the right to a reduced working day and extended leave for breastfeeding and bottle-feeding.

Read also: How to apply for parental leave in Spain

Known as permiso de lactancia or cuidado del hijo lactante, this allows new parents to take one hour off each day to feed their newborn child. This extra time can be taken during the child’s first nine months, and can be doubled or tripled in the case of a multiple birth.

Although in principle this nursing leave is for taking some time off work during the day to feed your child, it can also be used in different ways:

  1. Taking an hour break during your working day, or two half hours, to feed your baby. In other words, you are allowed to take breaks from work during the day after you go back to work following your parental leave.
  2. Reducing your working day by half an hour. If you want to get to work a bit later in the morning or leave a bit earlier, you can reduce your working day by half an hour. In this case, the time you take off for feeding is not one hour, but only half an hour.
  3. Accumulated nursing leave. Instead of taking one hour off from work every day, you can also accumulate the hours in order to take entire days off for feeding. This option is not available to all workers, it will have to be approved by the Convenio Colectivo or negotiated with your employer.

How many hours or days can I take off to feed my baby?

This depends on whether you want to extend it into an hour every day, or whether you are accumulating the hours into days. You can take 1 hour (or two half hours) for every working day until your child is nine months old. For example, if you go back to work after 4 months, you can take an hour off a day for the remaining five months. One hour per 22 working days a month would be a total of 110 hours in five months, which would be around 14 days.

Is this only for breastfeeding mothers?

No. Both parents are elegible for permiso de lactancia in the case that they are employed by a company. This extra time can’t be claimed on Social Security or if you are receiving unemployment benefits. Freelancers or autónomos are also not elegible. This extra leave is also non-transferible: only one parent can take it and can’t pass it on to the other half way through.

Who pays for this nursing leave?

The cost of permiso de lactancia falls on the employer, not the Spanish social security system. The employee will earn their usual salary during this extra leave.

Can your company refuse to grant nursing leave?

No. Your company is obliged to grant nursing leave, since it’s a basic worker’s right. The employer is also not allowed to reduce it, or make the employee use it in a specific way.

How do I apply for it?

To get nursing leave you need to write a letter to your employer with at least 15 days notice. You should state the start and end date of your nursing leave, and specify if you are opting for a reduced working day or lactancia acumulada (accumulating hours into full days off).