Securing a Visa to Live and Work in Spain as an American

In 2019, over 3 million American tourists chose to visit Spain, and it is unsurprising that many of these US Nationals fell in love with the country. Spain is a beautiful country that offers a laid-back lifestyle and an excellent work-life balance that can be incredibly appealing. But how easy is it to move to Spain as an American?

What work permit options are available to you, and how long will the process take? Here’s everything you need to know:

A Difficult Process

As the United States is not part of the EU, US nationals will have the same difficulties as other non-EU nationals (including Britons) when it comes to living and working in Spain. Non-EU nationals don’t have the right to live or to work in Spain automatically. If you do decide to apply for a Spanish working visa, you cannot do this from inside Spain: you will have to complete the process through the Spanish consulate within the United States.

The main options available to you are either to find an employer who is prepared to hire you and sponsor your work permit, or to secure work as a self-employed worker, and organise your own entry into the country. There are pros and cons of each approach:

Securing a Work permit as an Employee (por cuenta ajena)

It doesn’t matter how talented or qualified you are, if you wish to secure a job in Spain as a non-EU national then (as a general rule) the job you apply for must be on the Spanish occupation shortage list. Whilst this document is updated regularly and currently runs to 12 pages, it is a disheartening read for most professionals, with around 95% of the positions in the Maritime and Shipping industry right now. The list is updated every quarter, however, so it is checking back regularly to see if a suitable position is added.

Even if you do find a suitable role in this list, the employer will have to complete paperwork declaring that there was no suitable EU candidate available for the position. This is easier when the role is listed as an ocupación de dificil cobertura (skills shortage) as it means non-EU candidates are already viewed more favourably. If you find an employer willing to hire you for a job that isn’t on the SEPE list then the paper work and hoops they will have to jump through are bigger still: they will have to convince Spanish civil servants there were no local candidates available, and given the huge amount of unemployment in Spain right now, this is a very tricky position to justify.

The application to work in Spain must be sponsored by your future employer (you cannot apply speculatively) and you must start the application via the Spanish consulate in your home country. None of the paperwork can be completed in Spain, even if you are currently visiting the country for a vacation. You’re more likely to find that your application is viewed favourably if you have a high level of Spanish proficiency, and if you do secure a work permit, this will have to be reviewed on an annual basis.

Could I Teach English in Spain?

Teaching English is a popular option for Americans wishing to work in Spain, with native English speakers highly sought after in these positions. Whilst it sounds surprising, the most common work permit issued to non-EU English speakers with TEFL qualifications is the student visa. This allows those Americans to study at a recognised institution in Spain and teach English to secure some income on the side.

If you don’t have any interest in studying in Spain then you could also look to the  “Auxiliares de Conversación” programme which is a scheme run by the Spanish government.  This programme recruits  people from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to work as English language assistants in Spanish schools. You could also try approaching language schools in the region you would like to relocate to directly. Send out emails to find out if they’re hiring and what options are available to you.

Securing a Work permit for Self-Employed People (por cuenta propia)

If you don’t have the sponsorship of an employee, or have already established a business of your own, then you could move to Spain and set up your own business, registering as a self-employed worker (autónomos). However, this process is a complicated one: perhaps more complicated than securing a work permit as an employee. You will be required to submit a comprehensive business plan to the Spanish government via five different institutions:

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

Your plan should feature a full list of your qualifications, future earnings projections, a full marketing plan, details of any financing you already have in place, and any contracts of commissions secured from Spanish companies. You will have to demonstrate that, within three years, your business will be a success. In order to be successful, each of the five institutions listed above will have to approve your business and issue a viability certificate before your application can be approved.

Once your business plan is approved, then you have to send this, alongside all your other completed paperwork, to the Spanish Ministry of Labour and Immigration. They will issue you with a permit which is valid for a year but after five you’ll be eligible to a long-term five-year work permit.

This is not an easy process, so you are advised to hire a Spanish immigration or international labour lawyer with experience of helping US citizens secure the self-employment visa. They will help you to navigate the minefield of Spanish bureaucracy, and increase the likelihood that your application could be improved.

Spain has so much to offer to the foreigners that choose to call the country home, but securing work in Spain can be very difficult. When looking for work in Spain it’s important to focus on the high quality of life than the country can offer you, rather than on the hoops you’ll have to jump through to get there.

Are you thinking of moving to Spain? Always dreamt of working in Spain and living in the sun at the same time? Then why not get in touch with our locally based property experts, who have years of experience in helping house hunters just like you to find the property of their dreams.



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