Archive | Work

Salaries in Spain and the standard of living

Posted on 09 October 2012 by American expat!

Note: This was originally the last part of the post: Working in Spain but has been expanded and thus warranted (in my opinion) its own, albeit short-ish, post.

You know that moving here requires a change in your cultural expectations, some of which you will be prepared for and some of which will leave you shaking your head in disbelief and muttering to yourself “how can people live like this?” (Cases in point: The infuriating bureaucracy, the acceptable levels of inefficiency of most blue collar workers, and my personal pet peeve, Spanish TV).

One that you had better not let catch you off guard is the average salary for a white collar, knowledge worker position. Salaries for these types of skilled jobs are much lower in Spain than in the US and Northern European countries. This did not use to be a big issue here, as the costs of living were also relatively low. However, since joining the EU salaries in Spain have stagnated while housing, food, utilities and just about everything else have increased in price significantly.

How much lower I hear you ask? I am just going to tell it to you straight: Be prepared to take a 30-70 percent pay cut from your US salary. My last US salary was $75,000 a year plus benefits, 401K, three weeks vacation, etc. My last salary in Spain was EU27,000 (which converted to between $32,000 and $39,000 over the course of the year I worked there), and was considered a good salary–OK, I did get about 8 weeks of paid vacation and 5 hour workdays through the month of August, (but I also paid about 21% into the social security/public healthcare system–which I did not and do not use personally). But seriously – 32K??? That is a big step down my friends.

Now, this might seem like an immediate deal killer when deciding to live here, but what you won’t realize until you get here is that life is much simpler.  It took me a while to figure this out, but now when I visit my friends (who are essentially living exactly as I was before I moved here), the conspicuous consumption of the most inane shit is SO obvious to me, whereas while living there it was an invisible norm. For example, a friend of mine makes $115,000 a year. She is single, has no children, has paid off her student loans, and rents a two bedroom condo in downtown San Diego. The last time I visited her, she made a comment about needing to make more money, to which I responded “but what exactly are you spending 115k a year on now?” Mind you, she has no hobbies, and yet her answer was not shocking: Two gym memberships (one near her work and one near home). Manicures and pedicures every two weeks. Haircut and color every month. Car payment. About $100 on drinks and taxis home every week. A house cleaner every two weeks. Eating out 3x a week. Cable and Tivo. Multiple magazine subscriptions. Lunch in the office cafeteria every day. Fancy coffee 2x a day. New shoes or item of clothing at least once a week.

All of this is pretty standard for the average single, childless California resident. I had most of this and more, because I had a yard and pets and hobbies and sports and everything needed taking care of and maintenance. And yet none of it was essential, although it certainly feels like it is when you live there.

But I don’t have any of those things now, and I find myself going out at night far more frequently than when I am in California, getting outside for a few hours or more every single day, spending far more time with friends, going to the beach more often, participating in more activities and sports, exploring more cultural sights, museums and exhibitions, relaxing a lot more–and not even feeling guilty about it–just being more social in general, because that is what you do here, that is how the cities and neighborhoods are arranged.

I cannot seem to replicate this whenever I am in the US just visiting. It is too spread out, people and things are more isolated from each other, even down to how people work- in the US was have cubicles and walls and offices.  Here, you sit next to your coworkers at a long table, or facing each other at a desk. You can always see other faces around you.

And this is about as best as I can define it now. I miss the great US salaries. But giving them up, (temporarily, I hope) has shown me a way of life that, if not everyone’s cup of tea, at least has made this expat a lot happier.


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Working in Spain

Posted on 05 April 2012 by American expat!

 Working in Spain as an American citizen is harder than you think

On the other hand, it’s also easier than you think.

What do I mean by that? First, if you plan on coming here and finding a company that will sponsor you with a work visa, you can forget it. Unless you are already working for a company in the US that has an office in Spain, you won’t get a work visa. Even if such an unlikely thing were to happen, you would have to return to the US and wait 8 months to one year to process said visa, since they must be issued in the country of the citizen and not in the country offering the job. The reason why you won’t get a work visa is that there are plenty of native English speakers with the same skills you have who are EU citizens and can legally work in Spain already – the British.

On the other hand, if you are planning to teach English, there are a mountain of jobs waiting for you. Based on what I hear from others, many language schools are happy to pay you under the table. If you are uncomfortable with that sort of arrangement, you can always go freelance and give private or group lessons on your own. This such a common practice because so many people here do not speak English and the globalization of business is making it an extremely desirable skill. So most teachers will take on private students of their own at one time or another, whether the teacher has a NIE (equivalent to a SSN) or not- Though you really do want to get yourself a NIE, because you need it for nearly everything.

Another option that will allow you to work is through a student visa. You can work legally on a student visa for 20 hours.  If you are planning to learn Spanish anyway, this will be your best bet.  There are no fewer than 20 Spanish language schools of varying in prices with a variety of classes, schedules and course lengths (note: you generally get what you pay for with Spanish language schools) and all of them will help you get a student visa.

Note that you have to apply for the visa  at the closest Spanish embassy to you while you are in the US after you have paid the school and have the paperwork. Plan at least four months and many trips to the Spanish embassy to receive it.  Once you get to Spain you’ll want to talk to a employment lawyer to see exactly which steps you need to take for authorization to work on a student visa. But don’t worry, there are plenty and they aren’t too expensive.

Also note that there is no way to expedite anything in Spain. (See my many posts regarding work and work ethics here, and do not miss this youtube short about a freelancer doing battle with the system!).

You can always come here on tourist visa –which is for three months and you automatically have one if you have a US passport–to check things out while you figure out what to do. I’m not advocating overstaying your visa, but I will say that I know more than one American that has lived here without any sort of residency for over five years and only leaves the country maybe once a year.

Once you have figured out your strategy, there are plenty of places to look for jobs.

  • As a rule, always check, kind of the local version of Craiglist, first. You will use this site to look for everything from jobs, to apartments, to vehicles to – well just about anything. There is an English version and you can search for any term in the job listing category you want.
  • Check out the job page for this site.
  • Look at the job listings under the Barcelona Professionals Group on LinkedIn (you have to join first, both LinkedIn and the BCN Professionals Group to see the job listings).

Otherwise, get to know people and meet their friends and colleges. You will find that others will be happy to introduce you to others and most socializing takes place in public rather than in private homes, so before you know it, you will have a circle of like minded people to network with.


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I’m like that foreign exchange student you made fun of

Posted on 17 February 2012 by American expat!


Remember that kid in high school? The one whose English you laughed at, not to mention the way she dressed and wore her hair? Maybe you said a few words to her in the lunch room or if her locker was located next to yours, but you usually didn’t bother chatting with her too long because she had trouble understanding you and, let’s face it, you had nothing in common. Now take that same situation and make her a couple decades older, add  couple of degrees and 5 additional countries to her list of places once called home and make the setting not school but work, and you have me. Well, first subtract all of her charm, and then you have me.

I write intensely in English all day and then must communicate and listen in Spanish. Sometimes people speak about what is going on to me and other journalists in languages I don’t understand and sometimes they speak Spanish, but sometimes I am not listening during those Spanish language moments. But if I am, I still have difficulty understanding (*sometimes. Let’s stick with the theme).

This becomes especially troublesome when unspoken rules regarding the particular content I am working on are present. I inevitably discover many of said unspoken rules by making mistakes. In fact, it is the only way I discover many of the rules, secret or not. This method of “training” is fairly standard here in Spain. And while the new kid on the block is floundering through said training, the cool kids are sitting back and rolling their eyes as mistakes pour in.

I am not suffering the cruel tricks that you all played on the exchange student, like helping her out with responses to teacher’s requests with phrases such as “why don’t YOU sit down, woman?”  In fact, the people I work with are nice as well as talented and capable. But  European corporate culture generally has remained old school in that there are no processes defined for how work gets done. Some have emerged organically, but nothing is documented and therefore nothing exists to pass on to any newcomers. Meaning: There is nothing to base any training on, no way to share knowledge or lessons learned nor anything to base required skills and abilities on for a job that opens up. Those jobs are largely defined around the person that previously held the job. Which means when that person goes, so does special job knowledge.

Of course, there are old school water cooler conversations for knowlege sharing that happen…but because of the subtelties of language that I am incapable of picking up on and producing, I don’t attempt to initiate casual conversations about work, that in itself is too much work. And since I’m the weird language exchange kid, I am not included anyway.

I realize this is kind of a big bitch-fest, but in a roundabout way it is also praise for the US corporate model. Not something you would generally consider when you think of the word ‘homesick’, but for me it ranks big. Like the exchange kid, my best friends, confidants and family are in my country of origen. If I have a bad day or feel lonely, I don’t have a community at work to fall back on, at least not yet anyway. (As it happens, I am feeling particularly lonely after a fantastic time with my best friends in the US.  To top it off, one of my only two good friends here is leaving in July.)

So I don’t know what the exchange student did when she felt isolated. Probably nothing. Just waited to go home. Or maybe she called her mom. Me, I am just going to keep at it, there isn’t much I can do about the corporate culture and I don’t care if they think I am a crazy American. I am unmotivated to improve my Spanish because I am too tired, I am working hard. We will see this year if the trade off is worth it. If not, this exchange kid might just be heading back to her friends and family in her country of origin. (!!)

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Spanish red tape

Posted on 12 February 2012 by American expat!

One of the most frustrating things about living here are the hurdles (aka red tape) the Spanish bureaucracy forces you to jump through.

Spain is world famous for this, and if you have been reading this blog, you will have a taste of what I am talking about.

I ran across a video last year the perfectly sums up the attitude and behavior of the government workers who you will come face to face with. Rather than detail how they seem to take it upon themselves, for whatever reason, to make it as difficult as possible for you to get what you need as far as visas, identity cards, changing your status–all of which always need to be done before you will be allowed to do something else–here is a fantastic video that portrays someone who knows what they are up against coming face to face with a government worker!



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Summer in the city

Posted on 29 August 2011 by American expat!


August in Barcelona feels like it’s three months long

Muggy, still days with the sun burning into the evening hours, until it finally relents and turns into the most gorgeous evening light you have ever seen. A glimmering soft pink that is a photographers dream, hanging in the air for far longer than should possible, making you check your watch over and over to see if time has actually slowed.

Laundry takes ages to dry in the humidity, unless you are lucky enough to live high enough that your clothes hanging off your balcony get a few hours of direct sunlight. Each day is much like the next, hot and as slow as the street cleaners shuffling off to a bit of shade for a siesta. I work in the mornings, then later take dips in the buoyant Mediterranean, too salty to hold in your mouth but far more easy to float on than the Pacific Ocean, to periodically cool off while slowly broiling on the beach. Or I find some shade in the park and swat at the bugs while I read. It’s far too hot to bike ride, other than to get somewhere to cool off, until the sun is close to setting, which seemingly takes hours for it to do.

I feel like the fact that I even go to work makes me strange. My friends have weeks and weeks of time off. Half the businesses are closed for nearly the whole month, and shorter work hours are in place for those businesses that remain open, if it wasn’t for the hoards of tourists week to week, the city would feel empty.  This is when all the Spaniards leave the city and go spend the month at their small cabins on the Costa Brava and the expats residents, like me, go home for a  visit.  Which is what I want to do, should be doing – but work prevents me from taking enough time off to make the expensive and extremely long flight worthwhile.

Closed for August

So this summer I walked through the streets, studying the “closed for August” signs and wondering where these people might spend each August, and where I might spend mine next year.


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