Thursday, 27 November 2014

Expat issues: How to look for a job in Spain

There are generally two reasons why people move to Spain: work or love. Work is a fairly straightforward one: you got offered a tempting transfer or a great new opportunity abroad. The 'love' category is a bit more complicated: you could be in love with someone who lives in Spain, a partner who's found a new professional opportunity there, or even the country itself. But whatever your situation, if you're planning a move to Spain and don't yet have a job set up, read on. Please bear in mind that as I'm English, this post is written with EU citizens in mind, but may still be helpful to those from outside Europe.

If only it was that easy. From

1) Decide what you're willing to do

If you want to pursue your current career in Spain, it's worth getting your Spanish up to scratch before you move. While there are plenty of international companies in Madrid and Barcelona who may claim that their working language is English, it'll really help your cause if you can communicate with colleagues easily in castellano. A rough guide for a minimum level to work (reasonably) comfortably in another language is B2 level. If you can get this certified, so much the better: it shows a willingness to learn and that you're taking your move seriously. You can take the official Spanish exams, the Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera, at Instituto Cervantes centres around the world. The exams cover all four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) and are offered at all CEFR levels, although A2, B2 and C2 are the most common. It's worth looking into a specific preparation course to increase your chances of passing, or you can find mock exams here if you'd rather go it alone.

Unless you've avoided all contact with the news over the past few years, you'll know that Spain's in a rather unhealthy financial situation and unemployment is high, so it's important to be realistic when job hunting, and to know that you may not be able to find exactly the same type of position as you had back home, or at the same level. The Local's list of top jobs for expats in Spain suggests that the industries with the most demand are customer services, digital marketing, engineering, IT, finance and English teaching.

If you just want to find a job quickly and relatively easily and aren't too concerned about what you do, play to your strength as a native English speaker and become an English teacher. I'm not suggesting that teaching is an easy option or a career you can coast in, but for many expats (especially those with minimal Spanish) it's a realistic way of earning a living. You need to get yourself some training and a qualification: the CELTA is the gold standard of the TEFL world, and is highly regarded by all teaching centres. It's more expensive than many TEFL courses, sure – but it's the only one that's certified by Cambridge University. Anyone can offer a TEFL course: after all, the acronym just means teaching English as a foreign language. While standards obviously vary, some courses are definitely not worth the money in terms of the preparation they give you. And when you're standing up in front of an expectant classroom, you'll want to be prepared. The Trinity TEFL certificate is certified by Trinity College London and is also well regarded. It includes a section focusing on young learners, so if you want to teach kids this course is worth considering. As to whether to take your TEFL course before you move or whether to do it on arrival, there are pros and cons. In England the courses are cheaper due to a government limit on the price for short courses, but if you do your course locally you get to meet fellow expats (I'm still friends with several people from my course) and there's a chance you'll find work through the language school where you study.

And if you fancy yourself as an entrepreneur? Be prepared for an uphill struggle. Setting up your own business or going freelance is by no means impossible, but Spain doesn't make it easy. There is plenty of bureaucracy involved, and to work freelance you'll have to pay monthly autónomo fees (in addition to tax). If you're thinking about starting a business, take a look at Lauren of Madrid Food Tour's experience. I'll be looking more at being autónomo in a future posts.

Well, it's one option. From

2) Prepare your CV & Linkedin profile

Once you've identified the area you're going to aim for, get yourself good CVs in both English and Spanish. If your Spanish is shaky, it's worth getting a translator to help you. CVs in Spain are short: ideally just one page, and never more than two. Nobody needs to know that you once had a summer job at the supermarket: keep it relevant and highlight all your skills and experience that relate to the field you're aiming at. Spanish CVs also typically include a photo, and you should include your passport number or NIE. Age is a valid selection criteria in Spain (yes, you can advertise for a certain age of employee), so you can also provide this on your CV (or else you may be asked at interview).

Recruitment in Spain is increasingly done through Linkedin, especially for international companies. Create yourself a profile either in English or a bilingual one: the type of employers who hire through Linkedin are probably more concerned with checking your English than your Spanish, but make sure to showcase your language skills in the relevant section, and don't forget to include that DELE qualification if you've got it. Even if you're camera-shy, it's worth including a photo: profiles with photos get a lot more views than those without (and a lot of connection requests from Indian men, in my case). Make sure the photo is work-appropriate: don't use a photo of yourself on a night out, it just doesn't give the right impression.

It may also be worth creating a profile on Infojobs, one of Spain's main job ad sites. Create this profile in Spanish if possible.

As you're preparing to start your search, you also need to prepare yourself practically by getting a NIE and a social security number, as both are needed to work legally in Spain.


3) Know where to look

If you've decided to look for teaching work, a simple Google search for English teaching jobs in your town or city is likely to throw up plenty of adverts. Key times to look for work are September/October (the start of the school year) and January. You can also take a look at, ESL Base and Dave's ESL Café.  If you're in a smaller town, search for academias (private language schools). In big cities, a lot of TEFL work available involves giving in-company classes, which means a great variety of lessons, meeting people from many different industries and teaching in different environments – but it can also mean a lot of commuting. Jobs in academias can be harder to find in the big cities, but just stick at it if you know that's what you want to do. Another option is to look into one of the many language assistant (auxiliar) programmes available, such as the British Council Language Assistant scheme. This is commonly done by year abroad students (like me, back in the day), but many graduates also sign up due to the decent rate of pay per hour and the low number of hours per week (just 12). Many teachers also supplement their income with private classes: advertise in your neighbourhood or on It goes without saying that you should exercise caution when taking on private classes.

If you're looking for a job in other industries, make Linkedin your starting point. Other websites worth checking out are, Monster, Infoempleo and Indeed. Because of the current high unemployment rate, jobs on these sites receive huge numbers of applications, so it's worth taking your skills to a recruitment agency that specializes in international professionals, such as Talent Search People, Michael Page, Approach People and Recruit Spain. You can find more recruitment agencies here. It's worth giving agencies a call and asking if you can meet one of their representatives: they're much more likely to put you forward for roles if they have met you in person and understand your aspirations.

As an expat, your international outlook is one of your USPs. So search where global businesses advertise: in addition to Linkedin, they often advertise through El País, both the print version and the website, and some companies even advertise through UK media such as Guardian Jobs. It can also be worth looking at expat websites such as Angloinfo and Expatica for more ideas and to make connections. Networking events are worth considering too: try those hosted by Internations and browse on Meetup for groups linked to your area of interest. Meetup also features a number of groups aimed at entrepreneurs if you're looking for inspiration.

These ideas are just a starting point for those looking for a job in Spain. The process can be long, so stay patient and use every opportunity to hone your skills. And never underestimate the power of what your mama gave you: native English.

Any more job search tips? If you work in Spain, how did you find your job?

Other posts in the Expat issues series:


  1. I think us expats with an English mother tongue are extremely lucky, as language teaching is always an option. I think it is important for people thinking on moving over to Spain to bear in mind that they are not likely to get rich quick! There are many options to take on work experience, but there are clauses that allow employers to 'contract' workers for 2 years in such conditions, often on very low wage.
    Spain doesn't make it easy for freelancers either that is for sure. Doy fe!

    1. Completely agree. It means that if qualified, we can find work wherever we want around the world.
      Very true - salaries are often lower and hours longer than in the UK.
      I hope conditions for freelancers/entrepreneurs start to improve!

  2. Thanks for the tip! Living and working in Spain is a dream for me. I'm always looking for a realistic way to make it happen. I think I'm moving in that direction. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Marie! It seems to be a dream for lots of people so thought it would be helpful to share what I've learned through living here. Good luck!


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