This, friends, is the million dollar question! LMDES hears this question often, and many times it's proceeded by: I can't move abroad, if I can't legally work. We understand the need for income stability, and personal growth so we'd like to breakdown the question with more detail. Below, you'll find a few questions and statements, read them closely, and you'll be on your way to the answer! Although this piece has been researched thoroughly, it's time-sensitive, as the laws in Spain change quite often. We encourage you to research and ask questions. Also, if you know something that we don't, which believe me is entirely possible, share it below in the comments section!
Do you have a European passport?
Then yes, you are legally able to live and work in Spain and are entitled to use of the public health care system. All you need to apply for is a N.I.E. which is a free, and easy step that simply gives you an identification number.
UPDATE: as of July 2018 the NIE is no longer free.
Do you have dual citizenship, one of which is European?
Yes, it's the same deal as above; however, when entering Spain and handling any legal matters, use the European passport instead of the other one.
I'm American but my parents / grandparents are European. Can I apply for a European passport and then work in Spain?
I've met several people who have obtained legal work rights this way. An Argentine who was granted Italian citizenship, an Australian English citizenship, a Jamaican British citizenship, an American Polish citizenship, and another American Irish or British citizenship. Each country has its own hoops to leap through in order to fulfill these requirements and they're very different. They more often than not, require birth certificates, death certificates, translations, etc. It's a long, expensive and exhausting process. It's possible, but, if it's September, and your goal is to live in Spain by Christmas, you will most definitely need more time. Read one success story here from Dan Catalan of the Expatriate Adventures.
I'm a citizen of Andorra, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Equatorial Guinea, or (any) Latin American country. Am I eligible?
Yes... but only after two years of living in Spain. After two years, you're eligible to apply for Spanish nationality which would then guarantee your right to live and work in Spain. (Source) Apparently, there's also talks of granting nationality to those individuals who can prove that their Jewish ancestors were of Spanish decent! (Source)
I'm American, do I need a visa to come to Spain?
There is an agreement between the United States and Spain. As American citizens you're able to enter the country and stay for up to 90 days without a visa. This, however, does not grant you the right to work, own property, or start a business. You can travel, eat, party, take a few photos, then head home.
Can Americans get work visas in Spain?
Absolutely; however, they can only be obtained from the Consulate in your home state / city. You cannot come to Spain for 90 days, and on day 91 "apply" for a work visa. It doesn't work like that. You need a job offer from a Spanish company, or a company based in Spain with a contract, medical certificate, valid passport, criminal background check, proof of income, etc. Then, the Consulate will either approve or deny the application. This process can take up to a year in total between finding the job, securing the offer, translations and acquiring the documents. Plan ahead!
Then why are there so many English teachers in Spain? Isn't teaching a job?
Yes, it is in fact a job; but, the way these laws are set up... If you've been hired through the Auxiliares de Conversación program, or BEDA, or UCETAM or CIEE or Meddeas it's technically a stipend, not a salary. Excluding Beda, you don't even pay taxes on your salary, and many programs require that you also study at the same time just to make sure you're complying with the whole Student Visa thing.
But, I heard you can work an extra 20 hours even on a student visa as a non-EU national!
Again, very possible, and I've heard success stories but there's still the catch that it has to be in the same field (teaching) and you need your employer to offer you a part-time contract and vouch for you (read: pay your social security). You can't say, work as an English teacher then work an extra 20 hours as an architect. You can apply, but unfortunately, there's no guarantee you will be approved, and it can take up to three months to process.
How do I make money then?
Many people work under the table by giving private lessons. Most academies do not want to hire someone without legal working rights because if caught, the fines are up to 30,000 euros.
I've lived in Spain for 3 years, can I modify my student visa for a work visa?
Yes, you can! You may be eligible for arraigo social por cuenta ajena or cuenta propia. Here's a great article on this very subject from Spain Guru. They'll break down exactly what you need!
Can I just become a freelancer if I live in Spain?
You can apply for an entrepreneurship visa before moving to Spain. Or, if you have: a bank account, a NIE and a social security number, you can apply to be a freelancer! It's very straight-forward, and Spotahome spells it out nicely here.
My boyfriend / girlfriend is Spanish / European. Can I work then?
If you're not ready to put a ring on it, and you've been living together for at least 1 year (at least in Madrid. Requirements vary by region) then you can apply for Pareja de Hecho which is a civil union. You'll need to be of age, prove that you're both single, living together, and have a valid passport and/ or NIE. This will make you eligible to apply for the "family member of the EU" residency card. You can live and work in Spain for 5 years! Yay! It is not valid in other EU countries, as each place has its own rules regarding civil unions. Boo! For that, you'll need a ring! (Source)
My husband / wife is Spanish. Can I live and work in Spain?
After one year of marriage (and I'm assuming living in Spain) you're eligible to apply! Although it's not guaranteed, it's almost always approved. Family, is family! (Source). If you live in another country, and your Spanish husband or wife lives in Spain and works for one year, you can apply for a visa that will "reunite" the family. Then you can also live and work legally!
* There are also exceptions for people who earn more than 500k a year, refugees, people who choose to retire in Spain, buy property over a certain amount, have children here, etc. Find what works best for your situation, as this is just the tip of the iceberg!
There's hope! There are options, but the best piece of advice I can give you is plan ahead. Things move much slower in Spain, and when dealing with international laws and regulations. My advice is to follow the rules because the last thing you want is to get deported and banned for a few years, or even fined! Research, ask questions, and keep your head up, friends!
Information accurate at the time of publication, please consult sources for updates.
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Danni, Community + Content Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful husband. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.