Understanding The Legalities Of Working In Spain As An Ex-Pat

Living and working in Spain has long been a dream for many, particularly for residents from the UK. And it’s easy to see why. Spain offers a great climate, a high standard of living, and a diverse job market. Ex-pats often head to Spain looking for a better work-life balance.

But since Brexit, when the UK left the EU, the legalities surrounding working in Spain as a third-party national have made this much more difficult. It isn’t as easy to work freely in the country, and it is important to understand the necessary permits, work visas, and compliance with Spanish labour laws in order to enter the Spanish workforce legally.

Your ability to work in Spain will depend on your chosen career paths. Skilled professionals, entrepreneurs, and students or graduates can all enter Spain using different types of work visas. Here’s everything you need to know about the legalities of working in Spain legally:

What Requirements Do I Have To Meet To Work In Spain?

It’s hard to state exactly what requirements you will need to meet to work in Spain, as applications are looked at on a case-by-case basis and individual circumstances are taken into account. But some general requirements you will need to meet to work in Spain include:

  • A Confirmed Job Offer. In most cases, you can’t apply for a Spanish work permit or visa until you have a confirmed job offer from a Spanish company or employer. The job offer that you are given should comply with Spanish labour laws and meet the requirements set by the Spanish authorities.
  • A Valid Work Visa. Once you have secured a job offer, you can then apply for a Spanish work permit, but you can’t work in Spain until this is in place. There are many different types of work visas, and the right one for you will be determined by your nationality, the type of work you have been offered, and how long you intend to work in Spain.
  • Health Insurance Coverage. You can’t work in Spain without securing mandatory health insurance coverage. You may be able to secure this through the public health insurance system, or you may need to pay for private health insurance before you arrive in Spain.
  • Paying Tax. If you are living and working in Spain, you will have to pay taxes in Spain. It’s important to understand your tax obligations and to register as a tax resident of Spain. You are considered a tax resident of Spain if you spend more than 183 days in a calendar year in the country. You will need to secure a tax identification number (NIF) and fill an annual tax return.  Consulting with a tax advisor or professional can help ensure compliance with Spanish tax laws and optimise your tax situation while working in Spain.

The Different Between EU/EEA And Non-EU Citizens

The rules for living and working in Spain will depend on whether or not you are an EU citizen. If you are an EU citizen then working in Spain will be much more straightforward than if you are a third-country national.

If you are a non-EU citizen then you will need to obtain a work permit, which is also known as a ‘residence and work authorisation’. You can get this from the Spanish consulate or Embassy in their home country. Securing this work permit is tied to your job offer from a Spanish employer, and this can be more complicated than you might think as, in order for the job offer to be valid, the employer must demonstrate that there are no qualified EU or Spanish candidates available for the position.

If you are an EU citizen then securing a job in Spain is much easier as you have the right to work in Spain without a job permit. You will simply need to register with the tax and employment authorities in the country within 3 months of starting your job role. You will also need to secure a  Foreigner Identification Number (NIE) from the Oficina de Extranjería or the National Police.

What Type of Visa or Permit Will I Need To Work in Spain?

The type of visa or permit you will need to work in Spain will depend on the job role you are hoping to accept, your nationality, how long you plan to stay in Spain, and many other factors. Some of the most common visas and permits for working in Spain include:

  • Work Permit. As mentioned above, regular work permits are given to non-EU citizens who have been offered a job by a Spanish company, but they are notoriously hard to secure. Employers must demonstrate that there is no Spanish or EU citizen able to perform the role, which can be a hard hill to climb, and applicants cannot be living in Spain when they start the application. As a result, it is important to note that the regular work permit route is known for its complexity and limited opportunities. Whilst it is possible to secure a work permit, and this is the most direct way to gain access to work in Spain, very few of these are issued each year.
  • Self-employed permit: The self-employed work permit allows you to start your own business or work as a freelancer. This type of work permit is known as "autónomo" in Spanish. These permits are easier to secure, provided you have a comprehensive business plan for a business that will create jobs and develop the Spanish economy. Just like the work permit, you can’t already be living in Spain when you complete your application to secure this permit type.
  • Entrepreneur visa: If you want to establish an innovative and ground-breaking business in Spain then you may wish to consider applying for an entrepreneur via. While only a limited number of projects are accepted under this visa category, it is a good choice if you have a business idea that you think is strong, particularly if it has a technological component. To increase your chances of obtaining the entrepreneur visa, it is crucial to develop a meticulous and well-structured business plan. Assessing your business plan will be the primary step in determining whether your application will be successful. This will require extensive research and we recommend you seek professional guidance when making your application.
  • Family Member Visa: If you have a family member who is Spanish or lives in Spain and is a resident of another EU country then this is a great route to access residence in Spain. The family member of a EU-citizen visa typically applies to non-EU citizens who marry EU-citizens, and enables you to work in the country as part of the visa terms.
  • Digital Nomad Visa. As the number of people traveling the world and working remotely is on the rise, Spain have jumped on this band wagon to offer a digital nomad visa. Approved by the Spanish Parliament in 2022, this visa offers residency rights and tax benefits to non-EU freelancers and remote workers. This is a relatively easy visa to secure, giving you the opportunity to live and work in Spain for up to 5 years provided that you can work remotely and 80% of your income is generated outside of Spain. The visa allows for free movement within the EU and offers a lower non-resident income tax rate.
  • Student Visas: Finally, international students living in Spain are usually able to work in Spain as part of their student visa application.  For student visas issued after August 16, 2022, students can work part-time for up to 30 hours per week. These work hours must be part-time and should not interfere with their class schedules or academic commitments. The key is to see work as something that can help fund your studies and social activities, but it should never been seen as more important than your studying in Spain.

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