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Salaries in Spain

Posted on 26 July 2014 by American expat!

Salaries in Spain and How People Live on Them

I’ve talked about this topic before more or less in my Cost of Living in Barcelona post, but in this post I’ve interviewed another American expat for a little different perspective (though it turns out it is not so different than mine).

My interviewee makes about 2K a month by teaching private English lessons. That’s a decent wage here. She works about 20-25 hours a week, not including travel and prep time. She will work out of people’s homes or set up meetings in cafes.

I started the interview by bringing up a well known fact: Many people in Spain and in Barcelona live on 1000 -1500 Euros a month salaries (salaries are monthly here and they receive 14 of them – a double payment in August and in December). My interviewee took it from there:

“Yep, 14 thousand bucks a year people are living on. Can you live comfortably at 1100 or 1200 Euros a month? Yes…comfortably means you are going to share a flat, eat moderately–Euro style, not American style–meaning eat at home most days, or else go for cheap tapas places, and you’re going to know all the places that are 5 euros and under, and you’ll still have a nice social life.”

I asked about what kinds of activities one would be able to do, and what would need to be to scaled back.

“If you make 1200 a month, you’ll still do stuff, but again, you’ll eat moderately, not American style, because its more expensive here and the portions are smaller. You’ll take your lunch or go home to eat lunch or even dinner. You’ll buy food a the grocery store and prepare it at home. When shopping, it’s different and can be cheaper because things are not pre made for you already like in the US. So you don’t pay for all this packaging and pre-chopped or separated stuff. You buy mostly fresh, and it’s all local so it’s quite cheap.”

For your leisure time…You’ll have some cheap drinks before you go to the club…then you just do some budgeting to take some travel or other leisure time. You could say that it’s the equivalent to the US standard of a University student standard of living. But that’s how Europeans live-they live in smaller spaces, they are on top of each other, and it’s OK. Europeans live smaller in every way, but their social lives are much richer for it, because you just walk out into the street and pay to be entertained: Picnics with friends, free concerts, free movies, neighborhood celebrations and events, free everything. There are a tons of free city sponsored events, especially in summer, and Europeans take advantage of it.”

“In terms of space…everything is like 50 percent smaller, or even more. No one has dryers…So, because of this, you can live a comfortable Euro style life and on 1200 a month you’re basically fine. And if you are making 1500 or 1600, you are golden.”

My next question was one that I imagine my readers would ask: What about if you don’t want a “University student lifestyle” and want your own space?

“If you want your own space, you better have a decent job, like in technology or a US company that has an office here (HP is a big one in Barcelona) because rent will be like 700 to 800 Euro or more for a one or two bedroom space. And then you still have to pay electric and gas–if you even have gas [Note: many places don’t]. And you’ll need money down. One month’s commission to the agency, because you will use an agency, and then two months rent deposit. You’ll need a NIE to get your own place most likely. An agency wants to see your income, they need to secure as much money down as possible. As a language teacher, not unless you work for an academy that is giving you a long term contract with a salary, you won’t find an agency that will give you your own place. And then you are going to end up renting a room.”

So what’s the cheapest room a person can find? And would you want to live there?

I’ve seen some rooms that go for as little as 300–that can’t be good place though. That’s an interior room with no window, and it will be a closet. And you’ll be sharing a bathroom with 4 other people. And everything else. But a place in the center, or a desirable part of town [near the Parc Ciutadella, Gracia, Eixample Izquierda], or with your own bathroom and/or balcony or terrace…You’ll  pay 400-500 on average. Depending on how nice the place is and if it has natural light, a lift, has been renovated, is big, is full of other people, it can go up or down from there.

I hope this interview has shed some light on what you can expect to find in Barcelona and the other big cities in Spain. Rent takes up a big portion of people’s salaries, which is why you will find 35 year old’s still living with their parents. Of course, outside the city, property values and thus rents are much lower, with a few exceptions.  But then…you are outside of the city.


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Expat Interview: Lisette on Teaching English

Posted on 03 July 2014 by American expat!

This is the first in a series of interviews with fellow American expats, where I ask them the questions that my readers ask me.

In this interview, I talk with Lisette about teaching English as a non-EU resident. I hope ya’ll find it helpful and informative.

How difficult is it to find a company that will hire a foreigner to teach English?

“I’ve never gone to an academia [language school] for work, but this year I will and it is not difficult. It isn’t difficult if you know how to write your CV and if you are presentable – like if they meet you they like what they see. Some places will give you a test, like answer how you would teach XYZ, where you describe how you would teach a certain topic. You can’t fake teaching it because they’ll know.

Some places will just hire you because they are only going to pay you 9 or 10 bucks an hour. But you can find work in an academy, but it’s important to look at the beginning of September, end of August, also the beginning of summer.”

Do you need a NIE?

“It depends on the academy; if they are willing to work with you then it’s no problem if you don’t. You just tell them up front. You say: ‘I don’t have a NIE, I don’t have the papers to work, will that be a problem?’ and then they either say yes or no. I’d say there is a 50-50 chance either way. Some good schools need official paperwork, and then there are others where maybe the pay isn’t great but it isn’t so bad that you would turn them down if they offered you a job, then there are others that are far outside of town, that you’ll have to travel to that will be willing to work with you because, hey, they need teachers out there.

And there are some that are looking for British teachers over American teachers. I’d say that is the biggest competition you will find, is the British teachers. They are looking for them because obviously they have the paperwork, but they also have European English and accent they are looking for. In my experience I’ve never had a problem with documentation for work. I think if they really like you they tend to bend some rules, though they are getting stricter this year I’ve heard. They’ll pay you less without papers however, some schools will use that as leverage to pay you less. The average for an academy is like 15 an hour.”

You’ve gone and set up your own particulares [private lessons] What do you charge for those?

“I charge 25, and won’t take less. There are some younger students that I might take 20 for, because they are just children so really I’m getting paid to play with them. And even some of those repeat customers I’ll go down to 178 an hour because I see them so much. But with my professional students and test prep students I charge 20-25.”

Where are you finding your clients? and But I haven’t had one hit from Donprofesor, at least I don’t think so. Both are free sites though.”

Are you getting students from referrals?

“I get referrals all the time and I get repeat students all the time. They might disappear for a year but then come to me first when they want lessons.”

How important is your CV when looking for a contracting company or an academy? What information do you need to include on it?

“You know, I have no idea! I make up my resume like I would in the US, I put my full name and address, I don’t put my age even though it is expected here. I don’t put anything like my marital status and NIE like others do. I don’t put any of those things even though later they might ask me. Photos are important though, they will ask for one if you don’t include one. There was one time when I didn’t include a picture and they asked for it even though they had already met me. ‘By the way can you add your photo?’ Later on they told me ‘You have such a pretty face you should always include your picture!’ ][laughs]

So in short, I don’t follow the rules, I don’t include everything that might be expected, but I always put my picture. My advice would be to make your picture look as good as possible, photoshop it, I would! [laughs] My photo is professional, but I’ve also used a non-professional photo, just my face and no more, as opposed to my professional photo where I am wearing a jacket and you can see more of me. And when I interview I will wear a jacket, no cleavage, and so on. I don’t ever have a problem, though I could see where there might be a huge hindrance, like if you show up and then you are competing with all these people who present better than you do. You need any edge you can get.”

Thanks Lisette!

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Coworking in Spain

Posted on 08 September 2013 by American expat!

If you find yourself in Europe, working independently in whatever profession and thus working from a “home office”, you might find yourself in the same position as me: Easily distracted in your “home office” constantly taking a quick break to do laundry, play with the cat, clean the windows, take out the recycling, run to the store, take a quick bike ride…anything and everything that your brain can throw at you to keep you from the task at hand, that of making money.

Or, you just might find yourself working and awful lot, leaving the house only when your refrigerator has nothing but some old garlic cloves and condiments in it, which makes for a lonely existence after a few months.

There is a fabulous solution to the above problems, one that has a benefit that far outweighs its cost. I am talking about cowork spaces: those desks or shared offices you rent on a weekly, monthly, sometimes even daily basis. They’ve been a big hit in the US for a while, especially for tech workers, and are gaining momentum quickly all over Europe.  I should say more momentum, as there are over 100 in Barcelona alone – and this is not a big city geographically by any stretch. And coworking spaces here tend to have a theme: web workers, designers, digital nomads, creative arts, writers, and even what you might call crafters – jewelry and clothing makers and those who create real things that not viewed on a screen and are not printed out.

I rent a permanent desk for 150 Euros a month. And while working from home would save me the equivalent of 200 dollars a month, my productivity levels cover that cost in less than a week. So if you ask me if it is worth it, I will fall over myself telling you just how worth it it is.  And not only for the productivity, but for the interaction with others that it gives you. My cowork space has a WhatsApp group that chats and send photos to everyone. And we have a monthly dinner together. We also have plans to have each coworker that wants to participate give a presentation about what it is they do. These will be scheduled the first Thursday of the month, and each person gets 15 mins. It’s like free business advertising and networking.

Other cowork spaces around town range from right around what I pay–though there are places for less–up to 400 euros a month for amazing shared spaces with terraces in the posh part of town (I am in an industrial area – in fact my office is the six floor of a converted warehouse). Nearly all the cowork spaces have meeting rooms, some type of kitchen, and lounge area. Many of them have monthly or even weekly events. Some, like mine, allow 24/7 access by means of keys and alarm codes, while others have specific hours. (I happen to be typing this in my cowork space at 7:45 on a Sunday evening-or afternoon, as it would be considered here in Spain).

Because the ROI for me is so high – that is, that the space pays for itself in just a week because I am more focused, complete projects sooner, and thus bill for them, sooner–an indulgence presents itself on those days when I don’t want to make the effort to go to the office. Instead, I stay home and work. If you have ever worked in a corporate office, you will recall those days when you would give anything to just not have to go into the office. When I am too lazy to take the 15 minute bike ride, I live out the fantasy that I am just saying screw you to “the man” and refusing to go to the office. Such a treat.

The options are endless here-basically anything you can think up. ie. 2 days a week, 8 days a month, sharing with a friend, reduced rates for an entire small company, you can arrange as most owners are very willing to accomodate you to bring you in. To get an idea of what is out there, if you are in Spain a great site to check is: Comunidad Coworking. For the rest of Europe and the World (Spain included), check out and 

It’s a concept that works for travel too. If you can work anywhere, why not take advantage of it? I am planning on taking an extended to the Canary Islands soon and staying/working at The Surf Office. (Just click the link, trust me.) And I will write about it when I do.

PS: Just read an article about coworking and its reported that Barcelona is on the verge of becoming the city with the highest Coworking space density in the world!


My coworking space during a bank holiday.

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The average work day in Spain

Posted on 03 February 2013 by American expat!

The average work day in Spain is negotiating its way between tradition–when no air conditioning existed, the country was poor, and business was 99% local–and the present day, which sees multinational corporations making Spain their home and the technology industry pulling the old corporate culture into the global economy. This means people work long hours, but it doesn’t resemble any North American “arrive early, skip lunch, stay late” kind of definition of working long hours.

Let me explain.

A typical working day starts later her, as people get out of bed late. I am aware that there are cafes that are open by 7 am, maybe earlier, though I’ve never been out at that hour to witness this, because of where Spain sits on the edge of a timezone, at 7am the sun is barely up.

Most people head off to the office around 9:30 or 10:00, which means they are dressed and making their way there by foot, bicycle, scooter, metro, train or less often, by car. This typically includes a stop on the way for a short coffee, maybe even with some brandy in it if the night was particularly rough. Then it’s time for some real productivity, before a breakfast break around 11. If the job is a blue collar job, and thus begins a bit earlier, the employee will stop at 10:oo or so for their breakfast, which may or may not include a beer…because its helpful to be relaxed while working with tools and heavy machinery.

Lunchtime is siesta time

14:00 (2pm) is siesta time. In the cities, this means lunch, because a journey home for a real siesta would take far too long. But it is still called siesta and it lasts anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours. Most workers head off to a restaurant with coworkers or friends for a big meal, as lunch in any local restaurant is a three course affair, (sometimes four) called a menu del dia, and includes beer or wine and a coffee at the end of the three courses. So naturally you’d need at least a couple of hours to be served and then ingest all those courses.

8pm is still considered “afternoon”

After lunch it is back to the office to work straight through (although supplemented by several smoke and coffee breaks) until between six and eight, when they call it quits. Although it is not unusual to see offices with people still in them at 9pm. This naturally pushes dinner to much later than what we in the US might be used to, thus, extending the length of the day. In fact, up until about 9pm is considered “afternoon”.

Life happens after work

Most office workers hurry home after work to have an actual siesta before they run, hit the gym, bike or rollerskate along the ramblas – open spaces usually between main streets running both directions in the centers of town, with trees, benches, bike paths and lots of space. Or folks will exercise and then take a siesta and get ready for their evening, which is more often than not spent with other people – in bars, cafes, for a paseo through town, maybe dinner, sometimes out until very late (3:00 or 4:00am), but just out – to meet with friends and be with others. Then it’s finally to bed whatever time they collapse into it (though it is most certainly well after midnight). Then they do it all over again the next day. The norm seems to be to catch up on sleep by snoozing most of every Sunday, waking only to have a big meal with the extended family.

Summer Hours in Spain

In August, if a business does not actually close for the entire month, then they at least go on “summer hours”. This, and the closing of business, is to deal with the heat. August heat can become unbearable in the cities, and while offices have air conditioning now, this is a left over relic from earlier days when it did not exist – or the company just couldn’t afford it. Work during summer hours begins earlier, loosely around 8:00 am  and ends at 15:00 (3pm). The rest of the long afternoon is spent at the beach, park, or going to and from said relaxing places where a siesta is almost certainly involved.

It is usually one of the biggest adjustments when spending any amount of time in Spain, and it can take years to acclimate to the drawn out working hours and long nights. But one thing is certain if you want to adjust into the Spanish timetable – you must master the siesta.

siesta at work

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How not to budget your move to Spain

Posted on 15 November 2012 by American expat!

Whether you are in Spain for a finite amount of time and are interested in making a permanent move, have made the actual move and are living here, or have no plans to either stay or leave but week after week find you are still here (as was the case with me four years ago), whatever your circumstances that find you enjoying a simplified life here in Spain for a long period of time, you will likely find yourself collecting a simplified salary. The majority of Americans I know here are either freelancing remotely with US companies and work is intermittent, work for Spanish companies , or are otherwise engaged in hourly type work that only pays you for the hours logged (English teachers, for example).

Arrive without a Plan. What you do not want to do is come here without a plan for how you are going to support yourself–unless of course you have money to burn and don’t care. I wasted exorbitant amounts of money over the course of three and a half years paying for things I did not need to pay for, which I’ll cover below.

Rent your house for less than the mortgage. The biggest money suck I set up for myself was renting my house in California out–still full of all my belongings and with the bills in my name–for $1000 less each month than the mortgage for nearly two years until I figured out I wasn’t going to move back anytime soon, and that $1000 a month to store all my junk was a bit high. I finally sold the house and moved all my stuff into storage, which lowered my storage costs by $850 dollars a month–more if you count property tax. A year later, I moved it into my mother’s garage, but paid about 1K to transport it all 400 miles away. (I am not sure what I will be doing with this giant collection of belongings I do not use, I thought I’d buy a condo in San Diego to vacation rental out, but HOA fees are so ridiculous I can’t bring myself to purchase anything.)

Pay to keep your US phone contract. The next huge money pit was paying to keep my US phone number. This required that I pay a contract plus add on services for sending and receiving text messages. Never mind that I only sent or received around one or two a week, and received a call less than once a week on average. I still paid around 60 bucks a month just to keep the contract so I could keep the same phone number. My reasoning was that I used the phone a ton when I was in the US (true), I needed to have a US number for work (true), it had been my number for nearly ten years and all my friends knew they could get hold of me with it (true) and finally, I didn’t see another option. Unfortunately  when I FINALLY went to a pay-per-use card, I found out too late that it doesn’t work overseas, even though the sales person assured me that it would…though I did find a solution to that –which I will write about in a future post.

Don’t register your vehicles as non-operational.  I never registered my vehicles in the US as non-operative. I just didn’t think about it because I sometimes used my van and a couple of motorcycles when I went to visit, which was totally unnecessary. When I finally went to sell my van to my father –thank god he wanted it, who else would buy a tan soccer mom van with only two front seats and a gutted interior to fit motorcycles into the back–I had to pay over 400 dollars in back registration fees.

I fell into some of these because I never really planned on moving here permanently. But here I am, four years later, and I find myself more and more comfortable with my simple life here in Spain. So gradually I have eliminated all of my monetary obligations in the US that cost me more than they bring me.

But then again, it’s just money – it comes and goes. And if you want to make a more here and you feel like money is what is holding you back, you might want to examine that belief more closely and see if it is just an excuse because you are afraid to make the leap.  Life is short my friends, take a risk. Even if it means losing some dough. In the end, your experiences and adventures are far more valuable and memorable than a few thousand dollars.

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