Unless you’re fortunate enough to move to Barcelona with a large wad of cash in your pocket, are sent here by your company or have up your sleeve a surefire way to make your fortune here, one of the first things you’ll have to do (either once here or once you’ve decided to make the move) is look for a job. The employment market in Barcelona is not an easy one for various reasons, and at the moment, there is growing unemployment, thanks to the global downturn, which is affecting Spain more than many other European countries, adding to the difficulties for finding work here.
Bearing this in mind, there are some key pointers to consider about working here (in no particular order of importance):
Salaries are often lower here than in other Western European countries. While once this was not a huge issue because the costs of living were also relatively low, in recent years, salaries have tended to stagnate while housing, food, utilities and other essentials have increased in price significantly. If you arrive without a job sorted out, you will want to make sure you have a good pool of capital behind to pay for day-to-day expenses you while you’re looking for work. And you should probably avoid renting out an expensive flat before you know how much your monthly income will be – in a place where mileuristas (people who earn around €1,000 gross month) are as typical as flat rentals costing €800 upwards, you will need to budget carefully.
English is a global language and many employers are looking for workers with a good level in it. However, unless you teach English (see below), you are very unlikely to find a job that doesn’t also require Castilian and/or Catalan. Being a native English speaker is a great asset, but it’s not enough on its own to guarantee work. So before you come, or as soon as you can once here, sign up for language classes. It probably doesn’t matter which one you choose to learn first (although it’s probably best to avoid trying to learn Castilian and Catalan at the same time) - most people would argue that Castilian will be more useful if you are not planning on staying in Barcelona forever and travel to other Spanish-speaking countries is a likelihood. If you are planning to stay for the medium to long term, however, it is certainly worth getting a grounding in Catalan and this effort will be much appreciated by local people. However, for working purposes, you are likely to be asked to prove what official level you have in the language – jobs are often advertised as requiring Català ‘B’ or ‘C’, which you get by passing an exam set by the Generalitat.
3. TEACHING ENGLISH
Teaching English is the traditional stalwart of native speakers working in Barcelona and there are lots of potential paying students here (English is viewed as an important asset, but many people leave school with a relatively low level of it; in addition, after-school classes are popular with many parents both as a way to keep their children busy while they are still at work and to improve their chances of work later on). However, there are a lot of teachers here (both those qualified, eg. with TEFL or DELTA, and those who are employed simply because of their native-speaker status), which means that it is hard to find a well-paid teaching job. Many schools know that there is a steady stream of teachers willing to work for low wages, while those giving private classes have a tendency to offer their services at increasingly lower rates, as a way to find and keep students. Better-paid positions will be found at the more prestigious schools such as ESADE, but if you don’t have any or much experience or qualifications, you’ll find it difficult to get work in such places. International schools (where children are taught using the curriculum and language of another country, eg the American School, Kensington, the German School, etc) have more conventional teaching roles for native speakers, but again, you are likely to need a strong background in the field.
For some reason, the Spanish authorities have never been particularly interested in promoting opportunities for the self-employed (being an autónomo or autónoma). The paperwork involved with it can be quite overwhelming and you need to pay €220 a month towards social security regardless of what you earn. This amount alone can make it impossible for many people who would like to go freelance to do so. If, however, you already have a successful enterprise and are confident that you can invoice enough to cover this amount, plus your other expenses, it’s an avenue worth exploring. Places you can find help with this include: Barcelona Activa, the Barcelona Cambra de Comerç and the British Chamber of Commerce in Barcelona (see related content for details).
5. STARTING A BUSINESS
Similarly, Spanish bureaucracy can put off many from starting a business. There are a lot of different steps involved, and there is no real equivalent to the ‘off the shelf’ companies you can buy for a nominal amount in the UK. Click here to read more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Barcelona.
6. LEGAL REQUIREMENTS—IDENTITY NUMBER AND SOCIAL SECURITY
To be able to work here, you will need a Número de Identidad de Extranjeros (NIE) and a social security number (seguridad social). The ease with which you can get these will depend on your nationality. If you’re a citizen of the EU, you can get your NIE in one morning (although it will almost certainly include some queuing, so take a good book or be prepared to chat to others in the queue). See the Ministry of the Interior link for details of where and when to go, and what you need to take with you.
The social security number is obtained by going to your local office of the Seguridad Social (www.seg-social.es); you need to submit form TA.1, which is downloadable from the Seguridad Social website, where you can also find a list of all the offices in Barcelona.
Working papers for non-EU citizens are much harder to come by. If you can find a company to sponsor you, that’s the easiest way to get them, but even that can take several goes and there’s not a guarantee that, in the end, you’ll be successful.
So where to start looking for work? It’s a truism here that it’s not what you know but who. You will definitely find it much easier to get a job if you have good contacts in the sector you’re interested in working in. However, if you don’t yet know anyone here or have already explored those avenues without any luck, there are different places to look.
Newspapers: La Vanguardia – on Sunday, it has a well-respected employment section; www.lavanguardia.es
Local authorities: Oficina de Treball (in Catalan) / Oficina de Empleo (in Castilian) – www.gencat.cat
8. PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
If you have a professional qualification to practice as a lawyer, doctor, accountant or similar, you will have to have your qualifications accepted by the local governing body for your profession, as well as any specialist controlling organisations (eg. for a doctor who specialises in a particular area of medicine).
Qualifications from EU countries no longer have to be legalised here, although you may be asked to have your certificate legally translated (this means that as well as translated into Castilian or Catalan, it needs to be stamped by an officially-recognised traductor jurídico). However, academic qualifications from elsewhere do need to be legalised to be officially recognised (convalidación y homologación). For this, you need to go to the local office of the Ministerio de Educación, information here.
Once you get a job, you should be offered a contract. This will either be temporary (definido) or permanent (indefinido), and may well include a probationary period, during which the company can legally lay you off without paying you compensation. However, if you are made redundant once this period has ended, you have the right to an indemnización, which may be as much as 45 days of salary per year worked. If you are made redundant, try to avoid signing any paperwork that you don’t totally understand because you may find later that you’ve signed away your right to the appropriate compensation (although this can be difficult because the company may put pressure on you to sign a ‘resignation’ letter).
10. UNDER-THE-TABLE PAYMENTS
Finally, don’t be surprised if you are paid for some jobs (for instance, bar and restaurant work, English teaching and one-off/temporary casual positions) under the table or ‘in black’ (en negro). This has long been a very typical (if officially illegal) feature of the Spanish labour market particularly for those cases where the employee doesn’t have the necessary working papers. It grew up as a way to avoid taxes and the paperwork involved with offering somebody a contract. In recent years, especially after the introduction of the euro, and with the authorities cracking down on the practice, many companies have tried to move away from paying in black, but it does still happen.