The labour market in Spain

working in spain
Updated 2021-08-13 13:22

Unemployment in Spain remains high in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. The crisis hit the country's labour market hard, and halfway through 2021, the unemployment rate was 15.6%. The only country with a higher rate of unemployment was Greece. While the situation is challenging, job opportunities are to be found in many quarters as the country embarks on its recovery.

Coronavirus highlighted the weaknesses of the Spanish labour market, such as the high percentage of temporary positions and the prevalence of precarious employment. According to research by (BBVA Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria) the impact may be permanent. 

Covid impact on the labour market

Spain's labour market was one of the worst-hit by COVID-19 worldwide. The pandemic brought the post-2008 economic crisis growth and jobs recovery to a grinding halt. Non-essential hospitality, retail and leisure businesses closed down at different stages during the state of alarm and industries such as air travel temporarily shut down. The closures had knock-on effects on the supply chains of these sectors, which further added to the number of jobless persons in the country.

In March 2021, Spain recorded over four million people unemployed for the first time since 2016. In addition to the high number of unemployed people, 1.5 million self-employed workers ceased operations and around 3.5 million employees were placed on the country's Temporary Redundancy Plan (ERTE) at the height of the pandemic. This furlough scheme was launched in 2020 to offset the economic effects of the pandemic. The scheme is credited with saving many businesses from going under and keeping the unemployment figure lower than it might otherwise have been. By the middle of 2021, 600,000 workers were still on the job retention programme.

Rebuilding the labour market is one of the Spanish government's top priorities. Help is coming in the form of €140 billion in EU coronavirus recovery funds. The money will be delivered over six years and will be used to boost the economy and revive the small business sector. According to, small businesses are the most common type of enterprise in Spain, with approximately 1.9 million companies employing no people and 907,000 entities employing two to three staff members.

Job opportunities

Despite the unemployment figures, opportunities abound in IT and new technologies, tourism, translation, teaching and marketing. If you're applying for a position in a big city such as Madrid or Barcelona, your application could be one of several hundred. The competition can be fierce, especially nowadays as more people are looking for employment. There are approximately seven million job seekers, including those out of work and looking for jobs and people seeking a job while still employed.

As an expat seeking employment in Spain, solid professional qualifications, a good track record and excellent language skills will stand you in good stead. If you speak several languages and are an English, French or German native, you will always be in an excellent position to gain employment. However, it may not be the profession you trained for, and the salary could be lower than your expectations.

Fluency in Spanish is often an essential prerequisite to finding a job in Spain, except in some large international companies or start-ups where Spanish is not the working language. Unskilled, seasonal or agriculture jobs do not require Spanish fluency.


If you have any professional qualifications in your native country, check whether they are recognised in Spain.

UK citizens and Brexit

While the United Kingdom was a member of the EU, UK nationals could work in Spain visa-free. Following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union, UK citizens no longer have an automatic right to live and work in the country.

One of the most significant change areas in a post-Brexit world covers British citizens working in Spain. They must hold a valid Spanish work visa to gain employment, which has to be obtained before arriving in Spain from a national embassy or consulate.

However, securing employment may be challenging. Prospective employers who want to employ you must demonstrate that the role could not be filled by a Spanish or EU citizen. To increase your chances of finding work, check Spain's shortage occupation list, a regularly updated register of professionals in short supply in the country.

Note that these rules do not apply to UK citizens who were legal residents before 2021 and remain legal residents.

Good to know:

You may have to adapt to the labour market. Many foreigners start with underpaid jobs, internships or call centre positions and then move on to better job opportunities. Sadly, it's not unusual for well-trained professionals to start internship positions, even in their thirties, to get their foot into the labour market.

Opportunities in different regions of Spain

Most of the best-paid opportunities are to be found in the big cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Consequently, these modern metropolises attract large numbers of foreigners.

Coastal regions such as Alicante, Almeria and Malaga have lots of seasonal jobs in bars, restaurants and hotels. Large numbers of local and international students apply for these positions. Although the tourism sector suffered throughout 2020, a slow recovery is on the way thanks to the success of international vaccination programmes and the resumption of flights.

Non-EU citizens and seasonal work

Seasonal work is a good way to experience another country to see whether you would like to live there long-term at some time in the future.

To carry out seasonal work in Spain, you will need the following:

  • A work and residence permit
  • A work and residence visa

Before you apply for your work and residence visa, your employer has to obtain a work permit from the Provincial Aliens Affairs Office or an official department of labour office in the autonomous community where you'll be working.

Once the work permit has been authorised, you must apply for your work permit and residence visa at the Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.

In addition to the work permit and residence visa, other criteria will have to be followed:

  • The employer must provide accommodation in conditions of adequate dignity and hygiene
  • Your travel costs are covered
  • You undertake to return to your country of origin when the contract is finished

Labour conditions in Spain

The pandemic caused the largest year-on-year drop in the average salary in Spain for at least 50 years. According to human resources group Adecco, the current average salary for Spanish workers as of halfway through 2021 is 1,641 euros per month.

Since 2017 the average salary had been steadily increasing, but this came to an end with coronavirus. Currently, the highest monthly salary can be found in the Community of Madrid (1,964 euros per month), followed by the Basque Country (1,954 euros per month) and Navarra (1,837 euros per month).

The typical working day can start between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. and conclude around 8:00 p.m. This includes a lunch and siesta break of around three hours. However, note that not every company observes the siesta, especially international firms.

The minimum working conditions in Spain are:

Salary - includes all amounts of compensation received for services rendered, including money and in kind (which cannot be more than 30% of the total amount received by an employee).

Working hours - a maximum of 40 hours calculated as an average over a year. Local agreements may mean there is an irregular distribution of hours during the year. Overtime is voluntary and, by law, cannot exceed 80 hours per year.

Health and safety - employers have to take all necessary steps to ensure the workplace is safe and does not create risks to the health and safety of employees. If that's not possible, they must make sure the risks are minimised.

Holidays and annual leave - employees are entitled to around 22 days of paid vacation per year in addition to public holidays.

Maternity and partner leave - maternity leave lasts 16 weeks, while partner leave (used to be called paternity leave) lasts for 12 weeks.

Other benefits include sickness and disability leave and time off because of the death, accident or serious illness, hospitalisation or surgical operation without hospitalisation, of a second-degree relative.

Employee perks

When it comes to employing top talent, companies in Spain offer a range of attractive perks and benefits such as health insurance, life insurance and pension schemes. In recent years employers have broadened their offerings to help employees maintain a good work/life balance. This is also to encourage company loyalty especially amongst younger workers that want to be more mobile and flexible than older employees.

For example:

  • Tax savings benefits such as public transport tickets, professional training/courses and stock options
  • Discounts for gym memberships, restaurant meals and shopping
  • Health and wellness programmes including yoga classes, healthy eating habits, improving heart health and reducing stress
  • Work/life balance initiatives such as flexible schedules, extra maternity and partner leave on top of the legal requirements and additional paid time off for family reasons

Other perks can include car leases, company mobile phones and professional development such as language courses and new technology training.


Some companies try to reduce their salary bill by hiring lots of interns. It is not uncommon to see more interns than full-time employees in some companies. If you're of intern age this can be a good way to start your career and make contacts.

Good to know:

Indefinite contracts (contrato indefinido) are less common these days. Companies tend to avoid them because they are more costly. Consider yourself lucky if you manage to get one! These are permanent contracts with no fixed end-by date. Other features of this type of work contract are:

  • Severance pay for improper dismissal is a maximum of 45 days salary for every year worked, up to a maximum of 42 months equivalent salary
  • There are no Social Security subsidies or other financial incentives
  • The contract may be drawn up verbally or in writing for full-time or part-time employment

The future of Spain's labour market

In 2021, the Spanish government unveiled what many call the most ambitious modernisation plan in recent Spanish history. Spain 2050 is a 675-page document that aims to help turn the country into a leading competitive economy by reforming national policy areas such as taxes, the environment, health, pensions and employment. Among the objectives for the labour market are:

  • To go from today's 62% employment rate to 80% within three decades
  • To reduce the unemployment rate to 7%
  • To cut today's youth unemployment rate from 40% to 14%
  • To raise the employment rate of women, young people and people over 55 years of age
  • To put an end to the gender pay gap - going from the current 14% to 10% in 2030, to 5% in 2040 and 0% in 2050
  • To encourage legal immigration

The planned increase in employment rates will take place in stages. For example, the employment rate will increase from the current 57% to 65% in 2030, 75% in 2040 and 82% in 2050. Meanwhile, the youth unemployment rate would drop from the current 40% to 30% in 2030, then 21% and 14% in the following decades. Also, the employment rate of those aged 55 to 64 years would progress from the current 51% to 68%.

The document also proposes changes to the hours worked per person to be more in line with the levels of the leading European economies. The suggestion is to go from the current 37.7 hours worked per week to 37 hours by 2030, 36 by 2040 and 35 hours by 2050.

Challenges and opportunities

The current labour market conditions as the country releases itself from the pandemic's clutches may make your job search more challenging. However, while circumstances are harsh, there is a lot of positivity around, and new opportunities are opening up all the time. Spain is eager to bounce back and, with its Span 2050 document, has a blueprint for moving forward.

Useful links:

Ministry of Labor

Oficina empleo - National Agency for Employment

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