Career opportunities are growing in areas such as finance and consulting, but there is high unemployment among young people.
This article was last updated before the Covid-19 pandemic and the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020. It therefore does not reflect the restrictions to travel and changes to guidance brought about by the pandemic or the UK leaving the European Union. If you'd like to find out more, the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK includes information specific to every country.
Spain is one of the most popular destinations for UK graduates seeking to start work abroad, along with France and the US. It has much more to offer than sun, sand and sangria, though the prospect of a good quality of life is likely to be part of the attraction, especially as it comes at a lower cost than in many northern European countries.
Spain is a member of the European Union (EU), so citizens of other EU countries are entitled to live and work there without a visa or work permit, though they are subject to registration requirements after three months.
The job market
The Spanish economy was in recession from 2008 to 2013 but has since recovered, and career opportunities are growing in areas such as finance and consulting. However, unemployment levels in Spain are among the highest in Europe, particularly among young people, so there is plenty of competition for vacancies. A good grasp of Spanish will make a significant difference to your chances of employment.
Where can you work?
Major industries include:
- banking and finance
- construction and infrastructure
- energy, including solar energy
- manufacturing, especially pharmaceutical and chemical, and automobiles
Many multinational companies have offices in Spain. The following businesses have their headquarters there:
- Banco Santander (banking and finance)
- BBVA – Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (banking and finance)
- CaixaBank (banking)
- Ferrovial (construction and infrastructure)
- Telefónica (telecommunications)
- Gas Natural Fenosa (gas)
- Iberdrola (electricity)
- Inditex (clothes/shoes retailer)
- Mapfre (insurance)
- Repsol YPF (oil and gas)
Skills in demand: there are opportunities for graduates in a broad range of areas, including accounting and finance, consulting, IT, construction, medicine, agribusiness and renewable energy, web and multimedia development and e-commerce, and mechanical engineering. UK graduates may also find work in tourism and teaching, including TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language).
The official national language of Spain is Spanish, also referred to as Castilian, which is the first language of more than 72% of the population. Some other languages have official regional status, including Catalan, which is spoken in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands; the Basque language, also known as Euskara, which is spoken in the Basque country; Galician, spoken in Galicia; and Valencian, spoken in Valencia.
Pay careful attention to the wording of job adverts, as they may state which language you need to use to apply. Job options are likely to be limited if you do not speak Spanish, although you may be able to pick up work in the tourism industry or teaching English, and multinational companies may offer graduate roles where speaking Spanish is not a requirement. It might also be possible to find work within the ex-pat community.
If you want to learn Spanish, you could explore the courses offered by the Instituto Cervantes, an international organisation that promotes the Spanish language and is headquartered in Spain, with offices in London, Manchester and Leeds.
If you are looking for work in an area where one of the official regional languages is spoken, you are likely to find that speaking the local language will improve your chances.
Are UK qualifications recognised in Spain?
Spain is involved in the Bologna Process and is part of the European Higher Education Area, so there is a mechanism in place to recognise UK degrees. You can find out more about this from the website of ERIC-NARIC.
Teaching English as a foreign language in Spain
Having a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) qualification will increase your chances of finding work in this area. However, you can apply to teach English in Spain through the British Council Spanish language assistant programme without a TEFL qualification. You can also obtain placements in Spanish schools through CAPS, which recruits English-speaking conversation assistants and offers a range of programmes and opportunities, some of which are open to applicants who do not have a formal TEFL qualification.
What's it like working in Spain?
Business structures tend to be hierarchical and a relatively high proportion of new contracts are temporary, so make sure you check the details of any job offer carefully and are clear about your entitlements.
Working hours: the average working week is just over 40 hours per week. Some companies may have long lunch breaks, between 2 pm and 4 pm to 5 pm, and an 8 pm finish. Multinationals are more likely to have a standard hour-long lunchbreak.
Holidays: annual leave entitlement is one month per year for a full-time worker (30 days, including weekends; in terms of working days, this is equivalent to 21 or 22 days.) There are also 14 paid public holidays.
Income tax: if you have been living in Spain for more than six months (183 days), you will be classed as a Spanish resident and need to file a Spanish tax return and pay tax accordingly. Different tax rates apply in different regions and you will also need to pay the Spanish social security tax. Tax rates are progressive, which means higher earners pay a higher tax rate, and range from 19% to 45%. Different tax arrangements apply for non-residents. If you intend to work in Spain you should register with the national tax office, the Agencia Tributaria, on arrival.
You should check with HM Revenue and Customs to make sure you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Where to find jobs
You can look for jobs in Spain using the TARGETjobs jobs abroad search page.
EURES, the European Job Mobility Portal, lists jobs in Spain and other EU member countries that are open to applicants from across the EU.
The public state employment service, SEPE (Servicio Público de Empleo Estatal) (in Spanish), lists vacancies and has links to employment services in different regions of Spain. You could also try Sistema Nacional de Empleo (in Spanish), which lists local employment offices and job listings.
You might find work through a recruitment agency, particularly if you are looking for temporary work. The professional association for recruitment agencies in Spain is Asempleo (in Spanish).
Competition for graduate jobs in Spain is fierce because of high levels of youth unemployment. Networking and speculative applications will increase your chances of finding work, especially with small to medium-sized employers.
Newspapers with vacancies
You could try the following newspapers (all in Spanish):
CV, application and interview tips
CVs and covering letters should be in Spanish, unless the job does not require Spanish language skills or you have specifically been told that you can apply in English.
As in the UK, your CV (‘el curriculum') should not exceed two sides of A4 and should be concise. You can make use of bullet points to convey information succinctly. You might be best off using a traditional chronological structure, with sections covering areas such as personal details, education, work experience, skills (you could include separate sections for language and IT skills) and other interests. It is standard practice to include a scanned, professional-looking photograph in the top right-hand corner, and you are not expected to include details of referees unless the employer has asked for them.
Your covering letter ('carta de presentacion') should be brief and to the point, and should mention the job you're applying for, explain why you are applying and make a case for why you would succeed in the role.
Interviews are generally relatively formal. As in the UK, you should research the company in advance and think of examples you could discuss that show you have the skills required to do the job.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Erasmus+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for 2014 to 2020, covers student exchange, work experience and volunteering opportunities and enables both undergraduate and postgraduate students to study abroad for 3 to 12 months. Young people from EU countries have full access to the programme and some other countries have partnership arrangements that open up limited aspects of the programme to their citizens. The UK government agreed to continue funding Erasmus for at least the 2019 to 2020 academic year, but check regularly for updates on the Erasmus+ website.
IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) offers science and engineering students placements in Spain and a number of other countries. Placements typically last for six to twelve weeks in the summer months.
AIESEC, which is supported by the United Nations, is an international programme that offers volunteering and internship opportunities to young people in many countries around the world, including Spain.
The European Voluntary Service (EVS) offers volunteering opportunities in Spain ranging in length from 2 weeks to 12 months.
Do you need a visa to work in Spain?
Citizens from countries in the EU and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are entitled to live and work in Spain without a visa or work permit. However, if you are planning to stay for more than three months, you need to register in person at the local Oficina de Extranjeros (Office for Foreign Nationals) or a designated police station. When you register you will be issued with a residence certificate, which is the size of a credit card and states your name, address, nationality and NIE number (número de identificación extranjero, or foreign national identification number). You can find out more about this process from the advice on residency in Spain on GOV.UK.
If you are not an EU national, you can find out about visa and work permit requirements from the Spanish Embassy in the country where you are currently a resident. The website of the Spanish Embassy in London includes some useful information about entry and visa requirements for visitors from around the globe.
Living in Spain
Generally speaking, the cost of living in Spain is lower than in the UK, and tends to be lower than in northern European countries such as France and Germany.
Healthcare: if you are a UK resident and are going to pay a short visit to Spain, make sure you have a UK European Health Insurance card (EHIC) before you go. This will give you access to medically necessary, state-provided healthcare while you are in Spain, but should not be seen as an alternative to travel insurance.
If you work in Spain and make national insurance contributions you can access state-run healthcare. You can find out more about this from the local social security office (this website is in Spanish).
If you are not covered for state-run healthcare, you can access it by paying a monthly fee for the public health insurance scheme run by Spanish regional health authorities. You can find out more about this from the advice on healthcare in Spain from GOV.UK.
Laws and customs to be aware of: Spanish law is tolerant and progressive on issues relating to sexual orientation and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2005. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Spanish constitution.
Possession of even a small quantity of drugs can lead to being arrested. Some local councils may issue on-the-spot fines to anyone caught drinking in the street, and in some parts of Spain there are legal restrictions on wearing swimwear away from the seafront.You must provide photographic ID (such as your passport) if asked to do so by a police officer.
Major religions: The majority of the population is Catholic. Other religions practised in Spain include Islam, Judaism, Protestantism and Hinduism.