How to Get a Work Visa for Spain and Why it’s so Difficult for non-EU Citizens

Here at the virtual offices of COMO Consulting we’ve received hundreds of emails and blog comments from readers who are ready to join the Spanish workforce. They want to know how to work legally in Spain and what a company must do in order to hire a non-EU citizen.

While we say óle to you and your ganas de trabajar, it’s going to take a lot more than lucky underwear and a winning smile to get your foot in the puerta. But if you have the patience of a saint and a hefty photocopy budget, it just might be possible.

Read on to find out why exactly it is that Americans – or any non-European for that matter – cannot easily get a Spanish work permit.

Who is eligible for a Spanish work permit?
Count your blessings if you are an EU passport holder! Thanks to agreements signed in 1994, the European Economic Area (EEA) was created to promote the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market. With a current total of 31 countries (make that 30 if and when Brexit happens) any citizen of an EEA member state can easily relocate to Spain, register with the foreigner’s office and get to work.

For the rest of us, known as extracomunitarios or non-EU or EEA citizens, things are a lot more complicated, and employers know it. That’s why most job postings outright restrict applicants to candidates who already have permission to work in Spain.

Our Tip: Don’t forget that there are other ways to work legally in Spain, such as through pareja de hecho or marriage, by modifying a student or non-lucrative visa, or by being a highly skilled worker.

But let’s say you have found a company that wants to employ you…

What exactly would a Spanish company have to do to hire me legally?
One of the easiest ways to get a work permit for Spain is if the job you are being hired to do is de díficil cobertura, or difficult to cover. This is determined by a list the government compiles every four months for each province in Spain. The first list for 2017 was recently released and includes such fascinating positions as professional athletes, merchant ship captains and fishermen! If you’re interested or want to buff up your seafaring vocabulary, you can check out the the list here.

Non-EU citizens applying for these jobs are quickly granted work permission, but realistically, no one reading this article has high seas experience or is the next Rafa Nadal, so…

COMO Consulting’s How to get a Spanish Work Visa Guide:

Step One: Publicize the Job Offer
Before any non-EU citizen can be granted permission to work in Spain, the job offer in question must first be registered with the Servicio Público de Empleo. The Public Employment Office, which also handles Spain’s unemployed, will publicize the offer for two weeks and check their database to see if any unemployed persons in the province meet the job description as well as take information from interested applicants.

At the end of the fortnight, a list of candidates will be sent to the company for consideration or, if no candidates could be found, a certificado de insuficiencia de demandantes will be issued. In order for the company to proceed with hiring an extracomunitario they must first get the certificate from the Employment office proving they were not supplied a single qualified applicant for the job. However, if a company is sent even one candidate, they will not be granted the necessary certificate to continue with the process.

And remember, it’s not just those registered for unemployment who can apply for a job in the bolsa: so long as the job is open, it’s open to anyone!

Our tip: if a company is interested in you, encourage them to tailor the job description to match your qualifications and previous work experience. It’s a lot more difficult to find an English teacher from North America with an undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism and a master’s in TEFL who has been living and working in Spain for the last ten years than to simply offer a teaching job to a native English speaker.

Step Two: Request Work Permission with Extranjería
Congratulations, you’re the only person for the job! But, now comes the tricky part, because this step of the application, just like the first, is carried out by the business that wants to hire you.  Sorpresa, the company wishing to employ you must apply for your work permission on your behalf at the corresponding regional Extranjería office while you wait in your home country for an answer.

Let’s make sure you got that right. Once the company has the insuficiencia de demandantes certificate showing there were no available applicants for the position, the boss or legal representative of the company must go to Extranjería personally to turn in documentation in order to initiate your application for work permission. And, when they do so, you the applicant cannot be in Spain, you must be in your home country!

A resolution from Extranjería regarding initial work permits can take up to three months or more.

Step Three: Apply for your Visa
Once word comes down from on high that you’ve been granted work permission, officially called the Comunicación de Concesión de Autorización de Trabajo y Residencia you have one month to apply for a visa at your corresponding Spanish consulate in your home country. Don’t forget your bill of clean health and proof you’re not a criminal plus the 60€ fee. Check your local consulate’s specifics for more information.

A resolution for your visa will take about a month, from which point you have three months to get to Spain and get to work!

Step Four: Move to Spain
Once in Spain you have three months to dar de alta, or register with social security under the company that worked so very hard to hire you. Once you’re sorted with social security you have an additional month in which to apply for your TIE card. Ask your company if they have a gestoría that can help you with these issues so that you can concentrate on starting off your new gig on the right foot.

Step Five: Celebrate!


The Takeaway
Is it possible to get permission to work in Spain? Absolutely! But take into consideration the necessary paperwork and time it will take to hire you as a non-EU citizen.

  • 1 month for the certificate from the Employment Office
  • 3 months to be granted work permission from Extranjería
  • 2 months to process the visa at your local Consulate

You’re already looking at six months from start to finish, and that’s the best-case scenario! If you’re at all familiar with Spanish bureaCRAZY then you’ll know that official wait times are more of a guideline than a trustworthy timetable. The simple truth is that most companies simply aren’t willing to put the time, effort and money into such a lengthy procedure.


Don’t Give Up
If you think you’ve found a company that would be willing to wait for you or if you’re curious about other workarounds to legally work in Spain, shoot us an email or share your story in the comments below.

Author: Como Consulting Spain

Cat and Hayley are relocation specialists who can help you move to, live in and work in Spain. We'd love to hear from you!

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  1. Hey guys, great article with a concise explanation of a complicated process. How does this process change if you’re currently working in Spain as an auxiliar? Thanks.

    Post a Reply
    • If you’ve been an auxiliar / student the process is exactly the same. However, if you have been a student for three consecutive years in Spain you can apply for a modification from student to work permit and the steps as outlined above do not apply.

      Post a Reply
      • Am I reading this correctly? After only 3 years as an auxiliar through the Ministerio de Educacion, you are eligible to apply for a modified Spanish work permit? I thought that for auxiliares de conversacion, the time period was much longer.

        Post a Reply
        • After three continuous years on a student estancia you can modify your residency permit for the right to work in Spain if you have a full-time job contract and provide the additional necessary documentation.

          Post a Reply
          • After the three years and you have a work permit, is this only good for the initial company you are working for or are you then eligible to apply to apply to other jobs in the future since you have the right to work in Spain? Thanks!

          • Hi Carol,
            We don’t quite understand your question – could you clarify?

          • In the post above, you wrote, After three continuous years on a student estancia you can modify your residency permit for the right to work in Spain if you have a full-time job contract and provide the additional necessary documentation. My question is let’s say you want to switch full-time jobs for any given reason, is this possible if you have the right to work in Spain? Basically, can you switch jobs, careers, etc. like you can if you were a citizen or the work permit is only for that first initial company? Thanks for your time.

          • Hi Carol,
            Of course! You’ll need that full time job offer to get your initial work permit approved, but once you are approved to work in Spain you can change employers without issue! Just keep in mind that you will need to work a minimum of 6 months out of 12 in order to be elegible to renew your work permit after the first year.

  2. Great article!Sums it all up.Could you do a writeup for those who want to change from student to work visas!

    Post a Reply
  3. No surprise in any of the details. I’ve been researching how to get into Spain legally for over 30 years! Not one of the “exceptions” applied to me and I never did get in. It’s been my dream my entire working life. Current stats: Female, 62, single, three prior TEFL gigs in Japan, career as editor, Spanish language quite good, have been traveling to Spain intermittently since 1972 (last time 2002). I know a student visa requires a lot of money, especially for three years. And even if it were possible to study there again, I’m not sure the Spanish govt. would be willing to turn a student visa into a work visa for someone in their 60s. And, at this point I doubt I’ll be marrying or cohabiting anytime soon.

    Post a Reply
  4. iWork for a large ,,US corporation that allows me to work from home on my computer , ,so basically I can work from anywhere providing I have good internet access, how would a non EU citizen go about moving to Spain and working with an already existing job telecommuting ?

    Post a Reply
  5. Dear Como experts

    My question is related to establish a company in Spain. As a non-Eu citizen, if I establish a company and obtain a work visa with my company in Spain.

    May I make agreements with other EU countries and work for them on site like other EU passport holders. For example in Germany or my working visa will be limited to Spain.


    Post a Reply
    • Hi Alex,
      Getting permission to open and operate your own business in Spain is a totally different ball game. You wouldn’t hire yourself, but you would present paperwork related as an entrepreneur who has a business plan, the appropriate qualifications to run said business, the means to open the business, etc. It’s a whole different set of requirements and an entirely different procedure and visa.

      Post a Reply
      • I understood that it is different but what if I accomplished it. May I work for another country as a freelancer in EU? It is my question.


        Post a Reply
        • Alex,
          You can certainly bill anyone from the EU or around the world but you would have residency and permission to work only in Spain and would have to pay taxes in Spain.

          Post a Reply
  6. Great article!! Very informative!
    Does anyone know if this follows the same lines for a Professional Fashion Model and/or Professional Actor?
    Thank you!!

    Post a Reply
  7. Great Article!
    I am a non-european citizen. I was working in an automotive company in tarragona for 1 year as an Intern/Master thesis student. I have completed my masters from Netherlands. Now, the same company has applied for my work permit as they would like to hire me as a full-time employee.

    I was wondering how difficult is to get such permit? and how long is it going to take?

    Thank you very much in advance.

    Post a Reply
  8. Ouff this is such a good article but really gave me a reality check! Have been interviewed by big companies in Madrid after studying my Master in IE. Now that I’m reading this I feel like my chances are slimmer and slimmer. Was the list of Difficult Occupations only created in 2017?

    Post a Reply
  9. Hi guys, great article and I feel so related since I had a one-year internship experience in Madrid last year. Now working as an IT Business Analyst in financial services in my hometown, Bangkok, Thailand and I’ve been trying to find a job in Madrid for almost a year and still it seems impossible that most of the companies didn’t even bother to look at your application if you’re not an EU citizen.
    Even big companies (like fon, Accenture, indra, etc.) that I had been interviewed by said that they don’t have policies to sponsor the work permit.
    But what about being a highly skilled worker as you mentioned? Would it be easier in my case?

    Post a Reply
  10. Hi there. Small question. How much does it cost a company to hire a foreigner? In terms of paperwork up until the resolution…

    Post a Reply
    • That depends entirely on the company, the salary of the worker, whether or not they have to hire a lawyer to help with the paperwork, etc. The fees involved for a company to simply apply for a work permit are about 200€.

      Post a Reply


  1. Part 1: Applying for permanent residency in Spain | Kate's Travel Tips - […] company requests a work visa on your behalf—while you wait at home in the U.S. for six or more…

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