I probably get more enquiries about working in Spain than any other subject and the honest truth is it is NOT easy to get work in Spain. It is even more difficult to get well-paid work unless you speak fluent Spanish and have an excellent group of local contacts. I am constantly amazed at the number of people who expect to breeze into a well-paid job with a package similar to those offered in the UK or Northern Europe. It just does NOT happen. Firstly, Spanish salaries are lower than almost anywhere in Northern or Western Europe and most job offers are now on a fixed-term contract basis. Indeed in the Valencian Community in 2004 less than 10% of all contracts offered were of an indefinite basis. However, the biggest challenge is the language issue. Spanish companies will rarely employ foreign nationals unless you have key skills AND fluent Spanish. Unemployment is amongst the highest in the EU and with a highly educated labour force especially among the younger generation, you must offer a potential employer something very special to be considered ahead of a local candidate. Even lowly-paid cleaning and care work is usually offered to the thousands of South Americans, North Africans and Eastern Europeans who are happy to work for wages that many Europeans would turn up their noses at. Yes, working in Spain needs FLEXIBILITY and ADAPTABILITY.

So, for most people the options are very limited. There is casual and badly paid bar work and many expats work at some stage with/for estate agents selling houses to the next wave of would-be expats. Even that is usually self-employed with often no financial or other guarantees and sometimes you would even have to supply your own car. To find work you must forget most of the norms from your home country. Here most work is found word of mouth. If you are looking for work, introduce yourself to anybody and everybody. Tell them that you are a time-served builder with 25 years’ experience and you should soon see work coming in. What is less in demand is office clerks or dental receptionists. For that type of work you WILL need fluent Spanish. Nothing less will do. Imagine it the other way round. Would a dentist in Derby ever employe a Spaniard who, however good she was, could not speak English? I think not and the same is true here.

So with these few exceptions, the vast majority of expats who do work over here are self-employed. They either work as an agent for an established company or set up their own small or not so small business. Many people who had previously always “clocked on” now discover the highs and lows of self-employment. I declare my preference here and state that in all my working life I have only ever been employed for a few months. In my worst nightmares, I could think of nothing more depressing than being forced to work FOR somebody. Yet, for many the thought of being self-employed is equally terrifying. So, for some who do decide to take the self-employment route it is a last resort but for others it is the fulfillment of a life’s dream. What is evident is that for most people it can be the ONLY option.

Many people have dreamt of owning a bar looking out over the Med. Having done that I can assure you that unless you are prepared to commit yourself to a 24 hour per day/ 7 day per week schedule, forget it. I have seen more people lose more money running bars than anybody would believe. In almost all expat areas there are far too many bars and far too few customers. Sure, a few people do “make it” and to those I take my hat off. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of bars change hands with tedious regularity and many thousands of people have their dreams and bank balances destroyed. Running a bar in Spain is HARD WORK with LONG HOURS and small margins. I wish you well but knowing what I have learnt over many years I can only suggest that you save your money and sanity and consider other alternatives.

So, what else can you do? The simple answer is – anything. Look around you and consider what services are missing. The newer the expat area, the less developed the infrastructure is and the more likely it is that you can make your mark but even in more mature areas there is still great demand for honest, reliable electricians, plumbers, builders, joiners, tillers, plasterers etc. Equally, if you have experience in installing satellite TV, alarms or grilles you can carve out a niche. But there are a million and one opportunities for those who think outside the circle – teachers could give extra English lessons to expat children, you could give swimming lessons or teach a hobby (yoga to computers, sewing to chess). You might NOT be well paid by the hour BUT you will have had no capital investment, it is easy to stop if it does not work out and you will be doing something you love – you cannot put a price on that! Perhaps you have the money to set up a shop, English (etc) supermarket, computer shop or even your own estate agency. More ambitious people and those with specialist knowledge could set up a local newspaper or magazine. Others I know have set up car/bike hire companies and a few very bold people have set up kindergartens and even schools. Obviously the last few require more money but all are, in my humble opinion, safer options than running a bar. My suggestion is always that you aim at the expat market. Unless you speak fluent Spanish trying to market specialist equipment to the Spanish is fraught with difficulties.

Yes, there is work in Spain…..IF you have a flexible approach and do not think that the world owes you a living! Sorry to be blunt but that’s the way it is here. One friend and respected businessman has a solution for those who are prepared to work hard for themselves. Hot Costa

Finally, there are any number of options to work as agents for Spanish or international companies marketing any number of products. Thousands of people every year arm themselves with a filofax and a mobile phone and call themselves estate agents. Some even go one stage further and take an office or launch a web site. Some will get a lucky break and sell a few properties whilst others will find the whole experience of fighting against professional companies for the potential buyers a very distressing experience. Nevertheless it is a viable option with low start-up costs. Equally many grille, TV and air-conditioning suppliers will happily pay a commission for all referrals

Many ex-pats are involved in some type of franchising or MLM business. This can work very well indeed. Generally there is a proven business model, often there is a minimal or zero start up cost and always there is the plus that most people who you would approach have far more time to meet with you and your business (large or small) can be run in a very sociable environment. Some of the types of businesses that are always looking for agents, reps etc are telephone, alarm and health product companies. I am myself involved with an online company and am always looking for new partners anywhere in the world. For example with my company the total investment is only about 200 euros and for that you get your own web site and the opportunity to market the services of a world leader. There are no guarantees of success as in anything of a self-employed nature BUT the investment is massively smaller than owning a bar and you can work from home just the hours you choose. For many years I have also owned an online travel company and again I would welcome partners anywhere in the world. What is interesting for many is that they can even start their business in their home country whilst they are still planning their new life in Spain. They simply transfer their activities to Spain when they do eventually move. Others have moved here with the full intention of developing their Herbalife, Amway or similar business and all seem to be happy with their decision.

Whatever route you choose I wish you every success. It is never easy to start a new business in a new country, especially if you are not bi-lingual, but the rewards both in terms of lifestyle and independence can be exceptionally rewarding. Please feel free to email shall@thisispain.info with any comments or enquiries.

PS. If you want to read about the experiences of more than 20 people who have set up their own businesses in Spain, please visit www.tibacb.com
The hotel and catering industry

Strength in Numbers – an interview with José Antonio Chazarra

Part of the This Is Spain Network. Operated by Costa Insider SL.