Moving to Spain to work? Find out if you need a visa or permit, and the procedures for applying for your Spanish work permit.
Some nationalities require a visa to legally live and work in Spain. There are several types of Spanish work permits, as well as some exemptions. These depend on many factors, including your home country, residence status, and employment situation.
Fortunately, this guide outlines what you need to arrange in order to work in Spain, whether it’s for yourself or an employer. It includes sections on:
- Working in Spain
- Who needs a work visa in Spain?
- Types of work visas in Spain
- Work visas in Spain for students
- Work visas in Spain for family members
- Appeals and complaints about work visas in Spain
- Useful resources
Balcells Group provides legal advice to individuals, companies, investors, immigration agencies and other intermediary agents. They have over 40 years of professional experience, and have built their firm based on the integration of several generations of lawyers that offer a balanced vision based on experience and modernity.
Working in Spain
Spain has much to offer people who want to live and work in the country long-term. The nation scores high marks among OECD countries for work-life balance. Not only that, but it boasts year-round sunshine, excellent culture, and a vibrant food scene, making it highly appealing to expats from around the world. In fact, around 5.5 million residents were born in another country, with 45% coming from South and Central America, 30% from other EU countries, and 25% from the rest of the world. This includes retirees, students, professionals, families, and more.
The average household income in Spain is €24,147 a year, which is less than the OECD average of €33,811. Despite this, Spain continues to attract expat workers. This is partly because the cost of living is cheaper than in other countries. For instance, living in Madrid is cheaper than, say, London or Berlin.
Furthermore, employees in Spain are protected by some of Europe’s strongest labor laws. As of September 2021, the minimum salary for a full-time job in Spain is €1,125 per month; payable in 14 installments of €965 to allow for bonus salaries in July and December.
A large percentage (63%) of Spain’s foreign-born population was also employed in 2019. This is a higher percentage than Greece (53%) and France (58.9%), but lower than the Netherlands (66.6%) and Germany (70.8%). Meanwhile, the largest number of foreign nationals in Spain hail from Morocco, followed by Romania, the United Kingdom, and Colombia.
Who needs a work visa in Spain?
If you want to live and work in Spain, there are two main branches of authorities that you will be dealing with: the immigration authority under the Ministerio de Inclusión, Seguridad Social y Migraciones (Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security, and Migration), and the labor and employment authorities under the Ministerio de Trabajo y Economía Social (Ministry of Labor and Social Economy).
Fortunately for EU, EEA, or Swiss citizens, moving to Spain is simple, and they can live, work, and study in the country without restriction. However, most non-EU/EEA citizens, also called third-country nationals, need a work permit and must secure an employment contract before they can apply for one. UK citizens who wish to come to Spain to live and work post-Brexit will also need a residence and work visa.
If you need advice on what type of visa you need, it’s a good idea to get professional legal help. Firms such as Balcells Group offer tailored assistance to internationals.
Work permit exemptions
Some people don’t need to obtain a work permit to work in Spain, however, they may still need a visa to enter the country. These include university professors, technicians, and scientists. Others who benefit from this exemption include those moving to Spain to develop scientific or cultural programs, foreign journalists, artists coming for specific performances, clergy, and trade union officials. If you are joining a family member who has a Spanish work permit, you may not need a visa.
Rules for volunteers
If you are a citizen of a country with short-term, visa-free, entry to Spain, you can enter the country to do volunteer work without a permit. However, you must respect the limits of the visa-free entry agreements that Spain has with your country; for example, 90 days for US citizens.
When you arrive in Spain, to stay long term, you must apply for a residents permit (Tarjeta de Residencia – TIE) and a Foreigner’s Identity Number (Número de Identificación de Extranjero – NIE) through the local Foreigner’s Office (Oficina de Extranjeros) or police within 30 days.
You will need the NIE for all your finance and administrative procedures in Spain; this includes opening a bank account, receiving your salary, registering for social security, paying taxes, buying property, and applying for a Spanish driver’s license.
Keep in mind that everyone working in Spain, whether they are a paid employee or self-employed, must register with the General Social Security Fund (Dirección General de la Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social – TGSS). If you are an employee, then your employer will do this for you, but if you are self-employed, it is your responsibility.
Types of work visas in Spain
If you want to live and work in Spain as a non-EU/EEA citizen, you will need a residence and work permit (visado de trabajo y residencia).
There are various types of work permits for different types of jobs and lengths of employment. Some of the most common types of visas that allow you to live and work in Spain are:
- Work employment visas – includes permits for highly-qualified professionals and seasonal workers
- Self-employed work visa – this allows you to live and work in Spain for a period of one year
When applying, you must pay the established fee (generally €60 to €80) for long-term visas. This will not be refunded if your application is denied.
Work visas for employed persons
Before you can get a work employment visa (por cuenta ajena), you must first have a job offer. Your employer must then request a work permit for you to legally work in Spain. Permits are available for specific sectors, so it is usually possible to change jobs as long as it is in the same field.
The Spanish government typically grants work visas when the government has identified the job as a shortage occupation or if there were no other suitable candidates from the EU. In that case, the candidate is generally a highly qualified professional (website in Spanish).
Importantly, you cannot apply for a work visa while you are in Spain. This is because the immigration authorities consider any application submitted in Spain to be illegal and will reject the application. As such, when applying for a work permit in Spain, be sure to apply from a consulate or embassy in your country.
How to apply
Your employer should submit an application for a work permit to the provincial office of the Ministry of Labor (Delegación Provincial del Ministerio de Trabajo e Inmigración) on your behalf.
While this is being processed, the Spanish government will send you a copy of the application with the stamp from the office that is responsible for your permit and your file number. You can then send this to the Spanish embassy as part of your visa application. The embassy will then inform the regional labor office that it has your application and the labor office will process your application.
Length of validity
It can take up to eight months to process a work permit application. Once the labor office approves the work permit, the embassy will issue your work and residence visa. A work permit is valid for one year and is renewable, as long as you fulfill the conditions. After five years, you can apply for permanent residence in Spain.
Work visas for seasonal workers
If you are a non-EU citizen wishing to carry out seasonal work in Spain, you will need to obtain the following:
- a work and residence permit
- a work and residence visa
The visa application process is nearly the same as if you were applying for long-term employment. However, there are a few additional requirements:
- Your employer must provide accommodation in “conditions of adequate dignity and hygiene”
- Your employer must pay your travel costs
- You must agree to return to your country of origin when the contract is finished
How to apply
Before you apply for your work and residence visa, your employer must obtain a work permit from the Provincial Aliens Affairs Office, or from any official department of labor in the different Autonomous Communities.
Once the work permit has been authorized, the residence permit is granted together with the work permit by the Provincial Aliens Affairs Office. Once the work permit has been authorized, you must apply for a work and residence visa at the Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence which will allow you to enter Spain to work.
Length of validity
Permits are valid for a maximum of nine months per calendar year and will be of the same duration as the work contract. Shorter contracts and permits can be extended, but only up to a maximum of nine months in total.
The EU Blue Card
The EU Blue Card is a residence permit for highly qualified people. It allows EU countries to recruit and employ skilled third-country nationals. Spain issued 39 EU Blue Cards in 2019, which is significantly less than Germany, Poland, and France which issued 28,858, 2,104, and 2,036, respectively. That said, the fee for this visa is €418, which is higher than many other EU countries.
You can apply for an EU Blue Card if you have a higher education qualification that took at least three years to complete (and allows you to work at a high level in a professional capacity) or you have a minimum of five years of professional experience at the same level.
You also need a work contract or a legally binding job offer. The job must have a salary of at least 1.5 times (or 1.2 times for jobs that are in particular demand) the average wage in Spain. The current minimum annual salary for an EU Blue Card applicant in Spain is €33,908.
How to apply
The employer will submit the application on your behalf; along with documentation about the job, evidence that no EU citizen could fill the position, and information about your qualifications, passport/ID, and health insurance in Spain.
Once the Spanish authorities approve your EU Blue Card, you must apply for a visa at the Spanish embassy in your home country. You will need your passport, medical certificate, no criminal record certificate, and a copy of the job contract. Once you receive the visa, you have three months to enter Spain.
Length of validity
The Blue Card is valid for a year and is renewable for as long as you still meet the conditions. Once you have an EU Blue Card, you can travel to other EU states for up to three months, within a six-month period. After 18 months, you can move to another EU state, however, you must apply for an EU Card there.
If you have held a Blue Card, issued by another EU member state, for 18 months, you have the right to move to Spain and apply for a Spanish EU Blue Card. You or your employer can apply either before you arrive in Spain or within a month of entering the country.
Self-employed work visa
If the idea of being your own boss in Spain sounds appealing, then you might want to consider becoming self-employed, or what the Spanish refer to as an autónomo. However, it is important to understand that the process you will need to follow largely depends on your country of origin.
Citizens of EU and EFTA member states, for instance, can enter Spain and work freely, without the need for a work permit. They can then register themselves as being self-employed upon entering the country; as long as they are of legal age (18 in Spain) or emancipated (in the case of a minor).
Non-EU/EFTA citizens, however, will first need to apply for a visa to enter Spain, then a residence permit to stay in the country long-term, and finally, a self-employed work permit that allows them to work as a freelancer.
To apply for a self-employed work visa in Spain, you must:
- Not be a citizen of the European Union (EU)
- Be older than 18 years of age
- Not be in Spain with irregular immigration status
- Have no criminal record, with a certificate from the countries you have lived in the past five years
- Have the appropriate professional qualifications or sufficient experience required for the business activity you want to conduct
- Show evidence of having sufficient financial resources to conduct your business
How to apply
You can obtain this type of work visa by applying for it or by modifying an existing visa. You can read more about this in our guide to becoming an autónomo in Spain. The fees for this visa are US$515 for US citizens, US$1,043 for Canadians, and US$318 for other nationalities. Irish, British, and Australian nationals should check their country’s agreements with Spain.
Length of validity
A self-employment work permit allows non-EU/EEA citizens to live and work in Spain for one year. After this, they can renew the visa for two years, and then repeat this until they reach the five-year mark.
Work visas in Spain for students
If you have a student residence card, you can work up to 20 hours a week while you are studying in Spain. However, your employer must arrange a work permit on your behalf.
If your study program lasts between three and six months, you may be required to obtain a student visa. If it is stamped ‘180 days total studies’, then you won’t be able to get a residence card (TIE) that allows you to work in Spain.
Working holiday visa
Spain has working holiday visa agreements with the following countries:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
If you are a citizen of one of these countries and are 30 years old or younger, you are eligable to apply for this visa.
To participate in the program you must meet the following criteria:
- Hold a valid passport for a period longer than that of your proposed stay in Spain
- Be aged 18 to 30 on the date the application is made; Canadians are permitted up to age 35
- Have sufficient funds for personal support during your stay in Spain
- Pay the visa application fee
- Hold a return ticket or sufficient funds to purchase it
- Have completed at least two years of higher education
- Have a functional level of Spanish
- Meet the health requirements, with the medical insurance policy needed before entering Spain
- Meet the character requirements (equivalent to the ‘certificado de antecedentes penales’ in Spain)
- Have no dependents accompanying you
- Have not previously taken part in the Working Holiday Program in Spain
How to apply
You will need to apply for a Spanish working holiday visa from a Spanish embassy or consulate in your home country. It is important to be aware that the processing times can vary depending on where you are and your nationality, therefore, it’s best to contact the authority to find out. They will be able to advice you on the best time to apply. The fee for this visa is €60.
Length of validity
The working holiday visa allows you to live in Spain for a maximum of one year. During this time, you can only work for the same employer for a maximum of three months. Importantly, the visa cannot be extended or renewed, and you can only participate in this program once. You can, however, visit other EU countries within the year.
Work visas for au pairs in Spain
In the past, many au pairs worked on a student visa, however, nowadays, the Student Visa Program in Spain requires you to be a full-time student. Furthermore, if you are a student and want a work permit, the job has to be compatible with your studies and your working hours are limited.
Because Spain doesn’t have an official au pair visa program, non-EU, EEA, or Swiss citizens have limited options when it comes to living and working in Spain as an au pair.
Fortunately, though, Spain has signed the European Agreement on Au Pair Placement, which means that citizens of almost all countries in the world can travel to Spain to work as an au pair. That said, they must comply with the entry regulations which vary depending on their country of origin.
If you are from a country with 90-day visa-free travel to Spain, on the other hand, you can simply use your passport to visit a host family in the country for this duration.
To work as an au pair in Spain, you must:
- Be between 17 and 30 years old
- Have an au pair agreement between you and the host family setting out details of the work and salary
- Have proof that you can support yourself and have medical coverage
How to apply
You will need to contact the local Spanish embassy or consulate’s office to see if your host family can sponsor you for a dependent residence permit during your stay in Spain. If the Spanish authorities issue you a residence visa, you may travel to Spain where you will then have to apply for a permit to work as an au pair.
Length of validity
The year-long permit can be renewed for one additional year if your conditions are approved by the Spanish authorities.
Work visas in Spain for family members
Family members can join non-EU relatives who have been living in Spain for one year, and hold a residence permit for a further year, by applying for a family reunification visa. Once approved, family members can work in the country without needing a work permit.
If you are not an EU national, but your relative in Spain is an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen, then you can come to Spain without needing to wait for a year. You can also work without a permit.
Family members of those who hold an EU Blue Card can apply for a temporary residence permit without needing to wait for a year, as long as they meet the conditions for reunification. They can also work without a work permit.
Appeals and complaints about work visas in Spain
If your application for a work visa is rejected, you can appeal the government’s decision. You can complete the application form at the agency or the Spanish Embassy in your country. This will allow you to explain why you disagree with the decision.
Once the Embassy examines the appeal, the visa application will be granted or rejected again. If you don’t receive a written reply within one month from the date of your appeal, you should consider the decision as final. However, you can file another appeal, but it has to be submitted to the tribunals in Spain, and you will need a lawyer.
There are several online Spanish visa tracking systems that allow you to monitor the progress of your visa application, as follows:
- Spanish Immigration Portal – provides information about various long-term visa options for Spain
- European Commission – includes facts and information about the Blue Card in countries throughout Europe