• Work and Residency Permits in Spain: The Administrative Labyrinth

    Internships in Spain: residency permits

    You can live and work in Spain!
    See here our Internship in Spain program!
    Live the experience!

    by Jill Arcaro

    Spain is the most visited country in Europe for long-term tourism, alluring millions each year. A frequently posed question from the participants in our Spanish internship placement program is about the possibility of obtaining legal working papers in Spain via an internship.

    Residency Permits

    Residency Permits

    Our short and concise answer is that an internship program is strictly educational in nature, but we are proud that 10% of our applicants receive a formal request from their company to work after interning.

    Foreigners in Spain who are not members of the European Union must apply for both  Work and  Residency permits. This is a complicated process; they are covered by quotas and governed by restrictive regulations regarding employing foreigners. If you don’t mind entwining yourself in red tape, here are the most important factors to consider and a few alternatives to the administrative labyrinth.

    Your Competition in the Job Market

    Before defining your employment goal you first need to consider what you are up against. The Spanish economy has had a relatively high unemployment rate for years but it depends on the industry and the population - whether you are talking about youths or other segments of the populace. There is little mobility in the Spanish job market, and currently the word sluggish is a rather optimistic term to apply to the Spanish job market. In any industry you will find quite a few people competing for the same job. The laws of supply and demand dominate and this is a buyers’ market where you are selling. Many Spanish young people wait years to find work and many have left Spain to work, study or live abroad because of lack of opportunities. In fact there has been an immigrant exodus (emigration) going on which is not being mentioned much in the press but is, by some accounts, already numbering around 1.5 million emigrants that have gone back to their home countries due to lack of work.

    It is common here for people, once they find something secure, to entrench themselves in the job for their entire working lives. Lay-offs and industry conversions become personal and media tragedies. Labour laws are penalizing and restrictive for the employer which encourages outsourcing instead of hiring out-right. For foreigners used to a dynamic work culture, the process can be frustrating and difficult, which is a reflection of the general socio-economic reality.

    Internship in Spain: Business

    Internship in Spain: Business

    Basically, the rule is that if a Spaniard cannot do it (i.e. teach English like a native) then a foreigner has a chance to be hired. Work in hospitality or education (particularly teaching English as a foreign language and other bi-lingual positions), are the easiest sectors. Spain welcomes 50 million tourists a year and the tourist sector accounts for 15% of employment among the working population. Within these sectors there is a wide span of fields so your goals would not have to be teaching English for example, but could be marketing, or human resources within the sector of foreign language education. Other sectors are very difficult. At the time of originally writing this blog in 2013 it has been revised and republished every year and in the last year BEST Programs had had job offers for its internship program participants in four marketing positions, two NGOs, two I.T. posts and one interior decorator and 5 graphic designers, which is like icing on the cake for us given that we are not an employment agency.

    10% of our applicants receive a formal request from their company
    to work after interning.

    Many people are hired through connections making the system hermetic for outsiders with no friends or family. There has never been a country where the saying, “It is not how much you know, but who you know,” could be truer. Most favours have to do with the expediting of applications or documentation, introductions or finding out who, exactly, is the person responsible for the task you are seeking. Here it sometimes seems that people will not even take your calls unless you are announced as a friend of a friend, or similar, first.

    EU citizens are not required to have work permits in order to hold a job in Spain. This means that besides the Spaniards your competitors are the many English speaking Europeans. Both the government and the companies prefer any of them over you; the regulations and bureaucracy are not in your favour.

    Administration News and History

    Foreigners from non-European countries who have residency permits in Spain amounted to 2,110,183 people on June 30 this year, the lowest figure since 2006 when the non-European foreigner population exceeded for the first time two million people. European Union foreigners now total 2.8 million people and are 57.23% of the total foreigners in Spain

    In general the number of applications for a work permits and residence visas is at its lowest since 2006. There are currently more EU foreigners than non-EU.

    Hospitality and Hotel Management

    Hospitality and Hotel Management

    Spanish authorities processing these applications are busy but not overloaded as was formerly the case. In 2013 the description was Kafkaesque: "Picture piles and piles of yellowing files stacked up in dusty hallways of government offices. The procedure is long and complicated, necessitating a decision by many different authorities. In the past when the situation got out-of-hand, the Spanish government took the determination to announce a general amnesty for its many illegal immigrants who were totally disenfranchised by the system. The last one was in 2003. This meant that by registering with the relevant authorities, formerly illegal immigrants were able to legitimize their presence in Spain. Consequently, the whole Spanish system became even more overloaded than before the pardon, and processing times increased significantly."

    Residency Permits

    In general a system of online appointments has been enacted but the waiting times for appointments to present documentation can still be months. Once you have been accepted you will be given a receipt to use as identification, but you cannot travel outside of Spain with it.

    The treatment you get from Spanish civil servants is not standardized and the regulations can change suddenly. You might run into anything from incredibly efficient, fast and helpful office workers to uncooperative and frustratingly slow bureaucrats. The civil servants schedule is 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, but sometimes the hours in which they are open to the public are reduced so that they will have time to process the paperwork too for example at the BRIGADA PROVINCIAL DE EXTRANJERÍA Y DOCUMENTACIÓN, Avda. de los poblados, s/n – Madrid the schedule is from 9 am until 1 pm Monday through Friday.   Although there is no break for lunch there is often a mid-morning lull (around 11 a.m.) when the employees go to have coffee. During this time the lines build up and you have to wait longer. I know you are asking yourself why they cannot take turns to guarantee that attention to the public is maintained. I have been asking myself the same question for years. The concepts of customer service and quality control do not exist much, so you may find that the main telephone number is very difficult to reach or even obtain. This has improved since new pay numbers with a 902 prefix have been provided for information but in general they are under-staffed and poorly organized.  They will probably not speak English either.   I have more than once phoned the numbers and been left on hold after listening to a message (or an ad) while paying like a long-distance call.

    Our advice is to arm yourself with patience, and make an appointment. By all means do not forget to bring reading material (newspaper, book, reader). By the way, never be rude to civil servants because your file could very easily get “lost” and they have the authority to deny your application.

    Work Permits

    In order to hire a non-EU citizen and obtain a work permit, a company must demonstrate that he or she has a certain set of skills necessary for the position and they do not have EU candidates. It is not impossible to satisfy these conditions, but there may be some reticence about having their company history (labour, tax and administrative) scrutinized. Others are simply not willing to make the effort as they are typically not short of candidates.

    Internship in Madrid: professional experience

    Internship in Madrid: professional experience

    In any case, the type of permit required depends on the type of activity that you plan on undertaking; either freelance or hired employee. The school or academy that has done this before should have an idea how to go about it even though the regulations change now and then. All non-EU nationals need both a work and a residency permit, which can be applied for at the same time. I, personally worked for four years in a bilingual school that had a lawyer to do it for them, but this was before the enactment of the rule requiring that the employer go for a personal interview with the authorities.

    Sudden changes in the law and procedures do appear but there are up to thirteen different documents requested from the employer including their income tax return, proof they are up to date on their social security payments, their value-added tax returns, etc.

    Firstly, a document called “Autorización para Trabajar” (Work authorization) must be obtained for the employee by the employer or owner of the company, in person. Many directors are too busy or cannot make the effort. They need to set up an appointment by calling a national 902 number and go for the interview themselves. The location of the meeting changes, and lawyers or trustees are not permitted. The potential employee must have either a residency permit to be in Spain (to stay longer than three months) or must be outside the country. This system doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that it is very hard to get a job if you are not in Spain, but the theory is that if you have already broken the law once (by staying illegally in the country), then you don’t deserve a work permit. They will ask for copies of your passport so if they see an entrance stamp without an exit stamp and no visa – voila - the authorization is automatically denied.

    Secondly, they will also have to prove that no one from the unemployment bureau is qualified to fill the post. To do this the job must be posted for two weeks and the employer must interview any potential candidates that are sent to them by the bureau.

    Many people get denied because of mistakes in simple details in the job offer letter of intent or contract. The most important things to make sure when this form is filled out are:

    • The offer must be for a full-time job (not part-time).
    • The offer must specify that you are the only one or the best one for the job and why (you might be required to prove this). This point leaves room for creative stretching of the rules since they do not check up once working to see if you are really doing what you claimed. If you have any rare skills, it is something to think about.
    • The offer should be for a one-year contract. No other time period is allowed. There is a section which allows the company to protect themselves to put you on a three-month trial period.

    When your Work Authorization is approved, you have one month to ask for a visa at the Spanish Consulate or Embassy in your country. This also must be done by you in person. If it is granted you can pick it up in the following two months and travel to Spain where you can hand in the papers and request your Work and Residency Permits.

    Understandably, you had better be a good deal for the company for them to even consider going through the above rigmarole. If they have to choose between two different candidates with similar characteristics at the same wage rate, you can count yourself out. For this reason it is a good idea to have money saved up to supplement your starter income and pay for the journeys back and forth. You should count on putting up with the market situation as it stands, which means having to work through the process in the same way as anyone else.

    Contradiction of the System

    The law says that the potential employee must not be in Spain when the Work and Residency Permit is solicited. Likewise, many candidates for financial reasons and security’s sake would prefer to obtain a firm job offer before making the decision to come. However, in my experience obtaining a job offer before coming is very difficult. It is very improbable that you will succeed because most businesses will not hire without a personal interview.  BEST´s internship candidates sometimes carry out Skype interviews and the "come to do an internship first method" is a reasonable option to get your foot in the door of a company in Spain.  Human resource people know that resumes do not accurately reflect the humanistic qualities or creativity necessary for success on the job and one cannot ever really tell how someone is going to react to a foreign environment until you put them to the test. I have seen people with high qualifications fail miserably and others that were either very young or inexperienced rise way above the call of duty. Some big schools or academies that want to hire teachers legally will do so for specially qualified applicants with certifications and degrees specific to the type of student they cater to (i.e. Celta, TESOL).

    Internship in Spain: primary teacher

    Internship in Spain: primary teacher

    All in all, if you want a relatively short term commitment (even six months to a year), and have little or no experience or certification, your chances are almost nil for obtaining work with a work permit. Count on needing at least a working knowledge of Spanish and relatively long-term availability (at minimum one year) or your employment possibilities will probably be confined to doing an internship or under-the-table work. A good alternative is to ask for a student visa which legally gives you the right to work up to 20 hours a week, though most people are not aware of that.

    However, if you are bound and determined to try, I suggest coming as a tourist, settling in, looking for work and trying to find a business that will support all the paperwork for you. When you have to go home to the Spanish Consulate or Embassy as part of the process I would like to make clear that there is no guarantee that even with a proper job offer from a Spanish firm that the Consulate will approve your request.

    Furthermore, many immigrants decide to try first for the regular Residency Permits, and only later ask for the Work Permit. Unless you have close relatives that are EU-nationals there are basically two options.  Another catch, is that the documentation will be denied if you cannot show a housing contract first and this small detail, never really mentioned has set many people back for months.  The subject of obtained accommodation with a contract, I will leave for another article.  The first option is to ask for the residency visa in your home country proving that you have sufficient economic means to maintain yourself. This is a possibility if someone, i.e. your parents, is willing to vouch for you economically until you get things sorted out.  The second option is to qualify for a Residency Permit for the simple reason of having lived continuously during at least three years in Spain. Called "Permiso de Residencia por Arraigo", the catch is - you need to have a job offer - even though this Permit will not give you the right to work!

    Getting Hired

    If you come over first to make contacts with companies and interview, especially in teaching, you will notice a lot of hedging. They will not want to hire you until the last minute, because they frequently do not know exactly what work they will have. This is because they either do not know what clients they will have or they cannot foresee how far they will progress on their present project in order to plan ahead. The concept of time planning in Spain is totally different from what you are probably used to - people do not usually do it very much. Spaniards are artists at improvisation which sometimes results in strokes of genius and other times in shoddy work. The trick is, they dangle carrots long enough to keep you interested just in case they need you or just in case they find someone they think is better. Candidates will do the same thing with them, weighing their options and postponing their decision until they have all the data. They will have been cancelled upon at the last minute by others like you and they will not want to extend themselves to you only to lose it all when you decide to work for the firm across the street that offers a Euro more per hour.

    All North Americans have 90 days as tourists with no visa requirement. This works for the short term, leaving for a brief trip every 90 days. I know one woman who did this for five years even after marrying a Spaniard, not bothering to do the paperwork. Recently an intern program participant who had exited the country and returned three times in one year was scolded by the customs official at the airport but I have never heard of a case of a North American either being turned back, held up by the Spanish authorities or even fined. Working under the table for cash sometimes results in what one person called “getting away with legally hiring you illegally”. This is very common module in which you are sent out on an assignment to a business or a private home - to teach. Anyway, you are paid in cash, kept off the records and out of the actual office - in essence, you don’t exist. Also know that because learning English is in such demand, the authorities are worried about illegal immigration mostly from the North African area and turn a blind eye on the “stretching of the rules.”

    © BEST Programs, 2013, 5th edition 2018

    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.


    Disclaimer: This information about work an residency permits is offered by BEST Programs on a purely informative basis from the most recent sources we have been able to find and personal experience in an effort to answer the frequent questions we receive on this subject. In no way should it be taken as legal advice or as a substitute for first hand information from the competent authorities.

    Useful phone numbers:

    • 010 – Información Ayuntamiento de Madrid
    • 012 – Información Comunidad de Madrid
    Internships in Spain: residency permits

    You can live and work in Spain!
    See here our Internship in Spain program!
    Live the experience!


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