Jill Arcaro Gordon
You can study and work in Madrid! “Sunny Spain”…things were never brighter. Fabulous food and wines… soccer…flamenco, passion… no friendlier people, generosity…time-honored traditions. A country where pleasures can be as profound as the works of Cervantes or as simple and sweet as a cup of coffee.
Spain has an awesome amount to offer foreigners, whether students, travelers or residents. Fairy tale scenery… history… culture… romantic castles… all white hilltop villages… snowy mountains… dreamy islands, and a staggeringly beautiful coastline. Stunning art and architecture… The nightlife is unique and alive - it sucks you in at midnight and spits you back out again in the early morning hours.
Madrid and Barcelona are the most popular destination. Let’s face it though, even when you live in a city, you still have to work (at least most of us do,) or study. You have to eat and do laundry. Whether you yearn for normality or romance, living and working in Spain are not incompatible and they are entirely possible. I guarantee that Spanish living will wedge under your skin and drive home the fact that this is a totally unique country, and that you are lucky to be here.
Life in Spain is high pace and intoxicating, but like an elegant woman, she can be a little resistant and it is hard to get to know her better; it helps to have some friends in common. Never underestimate the value of having the “right” friends in Spain because rule number one is: more than how hard you work, or your personal merit, what will help you succeed here most is who you know. This is one of the reasons Spaniards value the family and friendship so highly. They call having the right connections to be “enchufado”, or plugged in.
From suffering a housing crisis Spain has now entered the era of surplus in shared apartments. So the foremost challenge you will encounter upon arrival will no longer be where to live. However, if you are single and young don´t expect to be able to sign a lease for your own apartment. This is nearly out of the question because landlords want long-term leases and lots of guarantees. There is also a generalized hesitance on the part of landlords to rent to anyone who looks like they might deteriorate the rental. Your options for finding a place to live within a budget range of around 390 € a month are:
To find accommodation look in the online classified Idealista or Vibbo (Spanish only). Also, you can comb the bulletin boards in the universities, bookstores, posts in the student areas, like Moncloa in Madrid. You should also ask everyone that you meet and use the social media.
We do not recommend going to an agency where you have to pay up front and have no guarantee that they will find you anything.
This said, try to come with your lodging initially sorted out. If this is harder during the school year so plan on spending any where from 1 to 2 weeks looking for accommodation and living in a hostel - in spite of all this good advise!
Do you work or study? This is the question of prime importance after you have a place to hang your hat (unless you are independently wealthy). If the answer is work, or both, there are two things not to forget about the Spanish labor market:
The irony is that there are as many foreigners here working as there are. If you have a good level of Spanish and clear professional goals you can try doing an internship in a Spanish company as a first step.
There are many cultural factors about professional life in Spain which you will have to learn such as the level of on-the-job formality, the work ethic, the job market, who the leaders in your field are, etc.
BEST Programs has an Visa Internship Program which will provide you with student visa documentation up to 10 months which should give you enough time to feel out the situation and actually allows you to earn something. For more information see here.
Even if you decide to come for the 3 month permitted by your passport as an intern in a Spanish company you will be legal, under an agreement for educational programs signed between the organizers and your host company. The internship programs are often a main source for personnel selection. The most popular fields for internships are: finance, marketing, publicity, humanitarian organizations, health professions, law, journalism, graphic design, information technology and teaching. Here is all the information on these programs.
Going the internship route will also allow you to practice your interviewing skills. Spaniards tend to have high interpersonal qualities so if you are a good communicator and motivated don’t hide it. This quality will help attract perspective employers. Tips: if you are spoken to in Spanish, reply in Spanish. If you are spoken to in English, reply in English. Always dress well. If you are invited to a training session, a meeting, etc. do not decline. Whether male or female, stand when you greet someone. Always say hello and good-bye to everyone. Ask the right questions. Focus your conversation on what you have to offer the company. Do not exaggerate your attributes or your experience but express your interest in doing and seeing it all within the company.
For those with an entrepreneurial spirit freelancing is also an alternative. This can be done legally by signing up as an “autonomous worker” and paying your social security monthly. One of the great advantages of the Spanish social system is included in this option: full medical insurance. From this point on you will be the one in charge of getting the word out about the service(s) you provide. This can be done with ads, business cards, brochures, word of mouth and Internet marketing. The tried and true technique consists of writing an overview of the service(s) which you are offering and then, contacting the target companies or clients by email and then phone. If you have a Facebook page or a web page, all the better. Try to get a personal appointment and follow that up with a thank you note. By freelancing you can take advantage of Spanish firms’ tendency to outsource. Popular sectors for freelancers are: journalism, translation and interpretation, music, art, information technology, import/export and teaching.
If your Spanish skills are weak or non-existent you can look into teaching English for a school, academy, camp or privately. Part-time tutoring can be easily found in classified ads and through the grape vine. These classes can be combined to give you a flexible schedule for traveling, studying or other endeavors. You can have a lot of fun and meet a variety of different Spanish families, business people, children, students, etc. You will be out and about and see many different areas of the city where real Spaniards live and that are outside the tourist and student zones. Try to piggy back your classes in the same areas to save on travel time.
When you go to an interview with a school or camp keep your eyes open for organizations that are run by professionals. Do your employers know English? Do they provide you with materials? Professional support? Orientation? What is the maximum number of students per group? The effervescent season for job hunting is September-October but January-February and May-June are good too. At these times there are many classes you can pick up from the preceding trimesters teachers who are leaving. You might be asked by your new employer to commit to a certain length of time, for example till the end of the school year. Try to be responsible with your decision because students, especially children, bond with their teachers. Through teaching you can leave a wonderful memory, even life-long, if you are able to finish up on good standing. So in spite of an acute case of wanderlust or Madrid nightlife burnout try to uphold your initial commitment. It’s not just your reputation which is at stake but that of the trail of other teachers who will follow you.
© BEST Programs, 2013 (2nd edition, 2016)
Jill Arcaro is a journalist and founder of BEST Programs which has have been lessening the initial shock of living, studying and working in Spain since 1990. Her main interests are non-academically focused education along with culture and well-being. As an American living abroad she knows what it is to live a life true to yourself and not what others necessarily expect of you. You can have a “homebase” situation right when you arrive in your destination country, and do it economically through BEST’s programs. Whatever you would like to do in Spain, Russia, Belgium, Thailand, Cuba, Italy, Colombia or the USA, whether it be interning, working, studying or simply living, BEST can help you or knows who can. Jill is currently in South-East Asia working on a program to enhance the physical and emotional lives of hill tribes, orphans, disabled and elderly people.