How can I move to Spain for a couple of years?
January 21, 2008 8:17 PM   Subscribe

I think I want to move to Spain for a couple of years to experience life in another country. But, as a US citizen, I don't know how I would go about supporting myself over there. Can I get a job there? Should I become a student?

I traveled in Spain for 10 days at the end of last year, which was a great experience. (in no small part thanks to your advice! really, it was so helpful.) For years, I have thought about moving abroad, and now thanks to my trip, I really think I would enjoy myself in Spain, so I'm anxious to find out if it really will be possible and, if so, make a plan. (I'm not getting any younger!)

But, I'm afraid that it will be hard to find a way to support myself there, because 1) I'm a US citizen, so I will need a visa, 2) I'm not fluent in Spanish, though I do speak it and I would embrace the challenge. (And, I have already read this post.) Do you think it will be possible for me to be able to move to Spain and to live and work legally, and on a wage that is comfortable? (Not extravagant by any means. Just enough to live in a safe area, buy food, and enjoy the culture.)

I know it usually helps to have some more details about my situation, so here are what I think are the most important factors:

I don't think I am talented/experienced enough in a specialized area for a Spanish company to want to take on the cost of sponsoring me, especially given my need to improve my Spanish. (Why would they hire me when they could hire someone from the EU?) I'm only a few years out of college and have am experienced in administration for startups - maintaining and improving office facilities and services, hiring, and a little financial work too.

But, I have had the luck of having some extremely talented individuals as mentors, and I have been told through years of peer reviews at work that I have become a very valuable employee and team member. (Intelligent, thoughtful, curious, a hard worker and a fast learner...) I'm not trying to toot my own horn, here; what I mean to explain is that I have gained a lot of work and life experience and I have been very valued by my employers and coworkers, so I know that I would be an asset to whoever would hire me and I don't think they'd regret it. I just don't know how to convince them of that. :)

I am trying to get into some graphic design/desktop publishing work, though I'm still building my portfolio and am not yet confident in my skills. (though, I'm getting there :) It'd be great to combine my career ambitions with my personal growth goals by working in design while living in Spain, but I just don't know whether it is reasonable to expect someone to hire me, since I still have so much to learn. I am definitely open to going to school in Spain to get some good teaching and experience in design. This might also make it easier to get a visa. But it does make me worry a little about the money. (How would I afford school AND living moderately? would I be able to work?)

Mainly, I'm looking for a way to have an amazing, life changing experience while I am still young and single so that I can really come into my own and, whenever I am finally given the opportunity to settle down, I will feel ready to do it. I don't want to look back on my life and wish I done something more with my time.

If any of you have ever accomplished something like what I am trying to do, or just have some advice or experience to relate, I'd really appreciate it! Thank you, as always, for your insights and support.
posted by inatizzy to Travel & Transportation around Spain (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This book might be worth a look.
posted by nitsuj at 8:21 PM on January 21, 2008

The problem isn't usually convincing someone to hire you. The problem is that the company will probably have to prove that you have some demonstrable skill that they aren't able to source any other way within the local population. I had this problem in 2000 in the UK, and even though my company liked me and wanted to keep me long-term, the government just wasn't going to relent. I also needed to have two years of post-grad experience to even QUALIFY for a long-term visa. (I got a last minute reprieve when the Home Secretary loosened the visa restrictions about two weeks before mine expired.)

Is your heart really set on Spain? You sound young, so you're probably eligible for Bunac. (That's how I ended up in the UK.) They don't do Spain, but at least it might get you to Europe...
posted by web-goddess at 8:32 PM on January 21, 2008

why dont you set up a company here in the US ? and do you work remotely from their in spain? i have a friend who lives in portugal but does most of his work for a company atlanta... traveling there a couple times a year. go stateless!
posted by specialk420 at 8:59 PM on January 21, 2008

I'm not sure if you'd be interested, but I lived in France for awhile on an au pair visa... it's a crappy salary, but it will allow you to legally live and work there for a while, and do your own stuff on the side (typically, au pairs works less than 20 hours/week).
posted by logic vs love at 9:29 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's a bit obvious and it's hardly everyone's cup of tea, but there is a ton of work for private English teachers pretty much everywhere in Spain. Here's a site with a list of language schools in Madrid, and I'm pretty sure you can find another hundred or so easily with a bit of googling.

OK, so it may not be your idea of a dream job, but it should pay the bills while you work on your Spanish. You should be able to do it part-time, too, so that should leave you some time to work on your portfolio or get additional training - then you can start looking for a design company that will hire you.

Best of luck, in any case. I'm sure you'll have a blast!
posted by doctorpiorno at 10:36 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do have some thoughts for you to consider, based on my own recent longer-term experience in Spain.

First of all, ten days does not equal two years (or however you're planning to define your stay). I know you liked Spain a great deal, it's a great place to be as a tourist, everything went wonderfully on your limited Spanish and all the Spaniards were charming (or, you had some great learning experiences and some people were snotty--either way, that's not the point). It's sometimes called the honeymoon period.

For long-term study abroad assignments, that period is fairly common and can be detrimental to the stay once the student comes out of it. I loved Spain, absolutely loved it, was wonderfully excited about the shopping and the people and the travel and everything about it--for a few months. As time went on, I truly began to miss certain customs and traditions of the United States, wanted to speak my 'own' language (and I speak Spanish all the time in the US), etc.

So, if you have not lived abroad before, my point here is that you might want to look into a shorter term stay before you launch off and go to a lot of work for a country you might leave fairly shortly into your planned stay. My advice would be to set everything aside for six to eight months, and go abroad either as a volunteer or a student or whatever will get you there. Then, based on that experience, decide if you want to live in Spain for the long term (again, depending on your definition).

Visas to Spain can be fairly difficult to obtain (sometimes). And expensive (relatively). And intrusive (requiring a great deal of personal information). Once again, I would suggest first trying for a student/volunteer visa and then taking that experience and evaluating whether or not you want to proceed to the work visa.

I've worked in Spain...sort of. It was an internship at a multi-national, US based corporation, which is something for you to think about. The work culture is very (VERY!) different, and the language barrier can be acute (especially in the office because until the past couple of decades, Spain did not have a high percentage of English speakers and those non-speakers are your bosses). I'd say volunteer, or prepare to take an internship and really flex those immersion skills.

This has turned into an epic post, but I did want to pose these questions/give some advice for you to think about (if you have more, email's in the profile). I don't want to be Debbie Downer, either, but I do want to suggest that no matter how wonderful the idea is, there are some definite things to think about yet.
posted by librarylis at 11:08 PM on January 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

web-goddess: The problem is that the company will probably have to prove that you have some demonstrable skill that they aren't able to source any other way within the local population.

The way I got around this (in Austria) was to load up the resume my employer provided to the visa-granting government agency with minute details about my past experience. The idea here is that you may not have any single skill that is unique, but you may be able to put together a combination of skills which will be difficult to find. Details could include software packages (with version numbers), for instance.

specialk420: why dont you set up a company here in the US ?

Conversely, see if any of your previous employers or contacts would be willing to help you out here. The first year I was in Austria, my father's company billed my Austrian "employer" monthly and paid my salary in the US. Which also goes back to the first point - during that first year, I became an expert in an in-house software package developed by my Austrian "employer". This gave me a skill which only 2 or 3 other people in Austria had.

doctorpiorno: work for private English teachers

If you're good at meeting people and selling your skills, this can be an excellent way to pay the bills while getting on your feet. You won't be legal, but it may give you enough time to work out something more permanent. Also, consider checking with Irish pubs or working in the tourist industry, somehow. You'll probably find a reasonable number of people who are willing to pay you under the table in the entertainment or tourist industry.

Good luck, and feel free to MeMail me if you'd like any other advice. I came to Europe on vacation in 2000 and planned, like you, to find a job and stick around for a year or so, just to experience life from a different perspective, learn a new language, experience a new culture. In the meantime, I've gotten the equivalent of a green card (which means I can stay as long as I want and work for any company as if I were an EU citizen), and I don't know when or if I'll move back to the States.
posted by syzygy at 3:08 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I went through the process of getting a visa to Spain a few years back. It was a long, involved bureaucratic process. If you don't speak spanish well or don't have a spanish friend to help you out then it may be almost impossible. The requirements are very difficult; lots of money in the bank account to prove that you can support yourself financially, health insurance, clean police record, a residential address in Spain, and then standing in line for many hours at various police stations in Spain to get all the correct documents once you are approved by the embassy.

While you could go on a standard tourist visa and overstay your welcome, I probably wouldn't recommend that. You could get an instant boot out of the country if caught which might cost you several thousand bucks.

Once over there you probably won't be getting a legitimate job but there are plenty of blackmarket opportunities for work as an english tutor/teacher. Try to make some spanish friends before you go over there. The internet works good for those purposes. Many job opportunities in Spain are based on who you know and word of mouth. Many jobs are not even advertised.
posted by JJ86 at 6:10 AM on January 22, 2008

Just to qualify syzygy's comment above: if you land a job at a language school in Spain (as opposed to offering private lessons on your own), there's no reason why you shouldn't be eligible for a work visa. It's precisely the sort of skill set that cannot be covered by most native Spaniards, for obvious reasons.

That said, it is perfectly possible that some schools do not want to bother with sponsoring a visa application and will prefer to pay you under the table. I would advise staying clear of those and looking for a more reliable employer if you can - they do exist, although dodgy business practices like these are regrettably widespread in Spain. Not as much as they used to be, though.

And as JJ86 pointed out, expect a work visa application to be a nightmare and take a ridiculous amount of time. That said, it's the same everywhere I've been - it's just something you have to learn to live with as part of the expat lifestyle. Try to get to the police station early, before the queue gets too massive, and bring a book.

Best of luck!
posted by doctorpiorno at 1:28 AM on January 23, 2008

doctorpiorno, I wasn't talking about a work visa application which would probably be much more involved. I was simply applying for a permiso de residencia which didn't allow me to work. It is required for anyone staying longer than 90 days and who is not working. There are 6 types of visas you can get for Spain; transit, travel, diplomatic, residence, work & residence, and education.
posted by JJ86 at 8:32 AM on January 23, 2008

Response by poster: Hi everyone - it's been a couple of months since I posted this but I meant to write back and say "thank you" for the tips. Your advice has given me some good insights into what I can expect. I don't feel quite as lost and blind as I did before! I am working on figuring it out now, and I am focusing on school as my way to get there, instead of a job. I need to improve my art and design skills, anyway, and it'd be great if I could combine these two goals.

thank you thank you thank you! Wish me luck.
posted by inatizzy at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2008

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