Spain is a beautiful country, with an incredible history, fantastic food and wonderful people. It is a great place to go on holiday, but you shouldn’t plan to move there without being aware of the limitless amount of frustration that lies before you.
The bureaucracy in Spain is second to none. It’s truly amazing how much time and effort needs to go into achieving quite simple tasks, and how many of these little tasks need to be done to be able to live and work in Spain legally. I decided to get a work and holiday visa, and when investigating the process I found an infogram that explained which countries had reciprocal agreements and whether they were truly equal. I was surprised to see that although Spain and New Zealand had an agreement, it was more difficult for Kiwis to work in Spain than vice versa.
It was true that there was a lot of paperwork to do before I left home, and I thought that was the extent of the discrepancy. I was wrong. The Kiwi system is quite streamlined because of the number of countries that are part of the programme, and because of its popularity. As I discovered when I arrived in Spain, citizens from only two countries (New Zealand and Canada) can apply for the Work and Holiday visa, and the quota is never filled — which means the local bureaucrats in the small city where I was living had never heard of it.
Even this is understandable, because little-known systems are always going to be a bit difficult. But that doesn’t explain why it’s so hard to get a bank account, or why Craig couldn’t register as a resident despite having a UK passport — that’s a pretty common task.
In the true spirit of bureaucracy, everything takes a long time to process — at least on the official side of things. Once you’ve handed in your documents, you should expect to wait a month for anything at all to happen. However, if YOU have to do something, it’s always URGENT. Very urgent. At work one day, the secretary interrupted my class to tell me that I had to get a Social Security number immediately. That afternoon it was sadly impossible since the office is closed after lunch, but the next day would be okay — I had to work the next day, but it was imperative that I find time to walk halfway across town to get a number I would have got automatically within a week or so.
Similarly, I’d done everything I’d thought necessary to get a bank account, and had had the account for about two months when I received a call from the director of the branch, saying that they needed to see my residency card immediately or they would cancel my account. The fact that I was still waiting for my card to be processed wasn’t an excuse. Nor was the fact that I was on holiday 600km away. They put my account on hold and wouldn’t reopen it until they’d seen the real card. Luckily I’d withdrawn most of the money in the account and I got my residency card within a week. Of course I had to wait another week or so for them to unblock my account.
The joy of bureaucracy continued when I later found out that they’d cancelled my visa debit card, and that I had to jump through hoops to get a new one. I did, and then noticed that they’d charged me for it, despite telling me that it was free. And the only way to get a refund was to cancel the card I’d worked so hard to get.
The unemployment rate in Spain is 25%, and over half of all young people don’t have a job. This means if you’re looking for an entry-level job, you’re really unlikely to find one. And if you do find work, the pay is spectacularly low — in A Coruna I earned one-quarter per hour of what I did in Australia.
If you can work online, great — but make sure you find accommodation with internet, because it’s expensive to set up a connection for yourself. Plus you need to have a local bank account and identification number — which takes us back to point number one: bureaucracy.
Spain is one of my favourite countries, and all in all the relaxed lifestyle makes all the effort worthwhile. But I certainly would have thought twice if I’d known just how much work it was going to be to live here.