Living & Working in Spain

What languages do they speak in Spain?

Spanish is the official language of Spain, however, there are a number of other languages and dialects spoken in the various regions. In the northeast region of Catalonia, home to Barcelona, Aranese and Catalan are spoken. Other languages across the country include Basque, Valencian, and Galician.

In busy, touristic areas some English may be spoken, however, this is not guaranteed. Anyone who wishes to relocate to Spain should learn Spanish in order to communicate.

What are the legal requirements of moving to Spain?

Americans can stay in Spain for up to three months as a tourist, without a visa. Non-EU citizens cannot be employed in Spain without a work visa, however. See below for further information on Spanish working visas.

How long do you have to live in Spain before becoming a resident?

Spanish law says that anyone who has lived in Spain for more than three months (90 days) must apply for permanent residency if they plan to live in the country for more than 183 days in a year.

To apply for residency, expats must make an appointment with the Oficina de Extranjeros (foreign office) in their local police station. You will need to fill out an application and provide various paperwork as evidence of your residency. This may include proof of income in some regions.

How do I open a bank account in Spain?

Different banks are likely to require different paperwork in order to open an account with them. In general, however, non-residents can open a bank account in Spain by taking their valid passport, their tax ID number from their home country, and proof of address such as a utility bill.

Residents will also be asked to provide their Spanish NIE number (Numero de Identificacion de Exranjero). When applying for a bank account in Spain, it’s advisable to speak with the bank to find out exactly what paperwork and evidence you will need to do so first.

Does Spain provide healthcare?

Those living and working in Spain are likely to be eligible for free public health care because they make regular social security contributions. While the public healthcare available is Spain is extensive and of a high standard, some people opt to take out private medical insurance too. This can cost between €50 and €200 per month depending on the type of cover.

How do you buy property in Spain?

Buying a property in Spain is a popular feature on many a bucket list. If you do decide to buy a place of your own, it’s highly recommended that you seek assistance from an independent lawyer to help you every step of the way.

After you have found a property, you will need to pay a reservation deposit to freeze the price and take the property off the market. This will last for 30 days. Within ten days of signing the reservation agreement, the sale contract will be signed by both buyer and seller. It’s during these ten days that your lawyer will perform all necessary checks on the house.

Upon signing the sale contract it becomes binding, and a 10-20% deposit on the property will be due. If the buyer pulls out of the deal after this, they will lose their deposit. If the seller pulls out after this, they must pay double the amount of the deposit paid, by way of compensation. To formally complete the deal, the deeds must be signed before a Public Notary.

Can I drive in Spain with a US license?

A US license is not sufficient should you wish to drive in Spain, as all non-Spanish drivers are required to hold an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), even for short rental car journeys. These are inexpensive and can be arranged in your home country.

Your IDP will be valid in Spain for 12 months, after which time you will need to obtain a Spanish driver’s license. There is no reciprocal license agreement between Spain and the US, which means you will need to take a Spanish driving test.

How much does it cost to live in Spain?

Another big attraction of living in Spain is its relatively low living costs. Rent/mortgage payments, bills, and general living costs amount to an average of €900 ($990) per person per month. This will differ depending on the location in which you live.

Looking at averages across the country, an inexpensive meal out is around €10, a loaf of bread is €1, and a bottle of wine is €5.

The most expensive cities in which to live are Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid, and among the cheapest are Alicante, Malaga, and Seville.

How expensive is education?

Tuition fees in Spain are set by the Spanish government and are some of the lowest in Europe. At a public university, fees for a Bachelor’s degree are averagely between €650 and €1,300 per year. At a private university, the same degree will cost between €5,500 and €18,000 per year.

Working in Spain

What are the usual working hours in Spain?

Most employees work a 40 hour week in Spain, from 9am until 1.30pm, and then 5pm until 8pm. Long breaks over the lunch period, siestas, are still common, however, less so in built-up cities.

How much annual leave are you entitled to?

Those working in Spain are entitled to 30 days of annual leave every year. At least two weeks of this must be taken in one consecutive period. Employees must take their leave as it accrues throughout the year.

What benefits are you entitled to?

Employees in Spain make social security contributions which makes them eligible for various benefits. This includes access to Spain’s public healthcare, sick pay, maternity and paternity benefits, child allowance and a pension.

What taxes are there?

There are 17 regions within Spain that each have their own governing bodies. This means tax liabilities and rates differ across the country. In addition to taxes, employees must also make social security contributions.

Spanish residents must pay income tax on their worldwide income, whereas non-residents need only pay income tax on Spanish-sourced income.

Do I need a visa to work in Spain?

Yes, any non-residents who wish to work in Spain must first obtain a visa. There are four types of work visas, depending on the type of work you intend to do. These are; Long-term Work Visas, Seasonal Work Visas, Au Pair Visas, and an EU Blue Card. These can most often be obtained by visiting a Spanish Embassy or consulate in your home country. Applications can take up to eight months, so it’s important to plan ahead.

How should I conduct myself in a business meeting?

In general, business meetings in Spain are less formal than those in many other countries. They are designed as an aid for communication and to deliver instructions, rather than to discuss and agree on certain matters. As such, you can expect plenty of friendly and personal conversation.

Meetings can get loud and heated, and it is not considered rude to interrupt or speak over people. Participants may need to shout to be heard, and are able to speak freely and even shout out others. Having said this, it’s important never to insult someone’s personal honour.

Because of their informality, business meetings in Spain can be time-consuming, and frequently run over their initial time slot. In Spanish business in general, considerable emphasis is placed on hierarchy. Therefore, you should avoid seeking advice or an answer from those in a higher position than your immediate superior.

The Do’s


  • Talk about your personal life
    Most Spanish people value trust and openness and seek to form a personal relationship with someone before a business one. Because of this, you should speak freely about your personal life, i.e. your background, family, plans, etc. You should also show consideration of your counterpart by asking about their family and other aspects of their personal life, however, take your cue from them.
  • Shake hands and introduce yourself
    Upon arrival at another office, you should present your business card to the receptionist or those arranging the meeting. Ideally, your card should be printed in Spanish and English, and it should be presented with the Spanish side facing the recipient. When meeting new people in business, shake hands and maintain eye contact while doing so. Do not use a person’s first name unless invited to do so.
  • Pay attention to dress code
    In business, your appearance will have a considerable impact on your impression. Make sure you go to work and to meetings well-groomed and smartly dressed. It’s important to find the right balance between style and professionalism.

The Don’ts


  • Speak above your station
    In Spanish business, there is a clear hierarchical structure. Many organisations are family-owned, and respect must be shown to all of those above your level. Those in a junior position are unlikely to mix with those in senior ones, especially at meetings, and are expected to obey instructions given to them by managers. If you have a problem at work in Spain, speak to your immediate superior rather than anyone above them.
  • Attempt to start negotiations before developing a personal relationship
    Spanish businessmen and women value a personal relationship, and will likely seek this before they enter into negotiations of any sort. Feelings play an important role in Spanish business, so it’s important to focus on the personal. The start of business meetings will ordinarily comprise of informal conversation and catching up, to help solidify a personal relationship.
  • Expect punctuality
    With a relaxed business culture comes a relaxed outlook on timings. It’s normal for meetings and engagements to start later than expected in Spain, so you can expect to wait between 15 and 30 minutes. You should always aim to be on time, however.

Considering Business Expansion into Spain?

IRIS FMP are international payroll and HR experts. We know how to help you achieve compliance with all local employment law in Spain. See our guide to HR and payroll in Spain.