Category Archives: Work in Spain

Living in Spain vs. the US: 12 years later, do I see myself moving back?

If I had a nickel (or euro) for every time I’ve been asked this question I could buy myself quite a few cases of my beloved pumpkin-flavored beer (worth an image. See below).

Screenshot 2018-10-22 at 11.52.02

The short answer is no, at least not in the short-term.

Here are my thoughts on four topics that make an impact in this decision: commercial culture (aka shopping), weather, salary/working conditions, being a parent.

Do I miss the US? (that’s another question I get a lot). Of course. I miss my family first and foremost, friends, the ease of communicating in my native language, my hometown of Boston (not during the winter), some specific food items (lobsters are not the same over here), etc. So of course there are a lot of things that I miss about living in the United States of America. Typically when I’m back in the US for a trip I come back to Spain with my suitcase filled with the result of serious shopping expeditions.

The commercial culture is something I miss – there’s so much variety and just so much to choose from. And generally at lower prices than here in Spain. Having said that though, sometimes I wonder how much is too much.

The last time I was in the supermarket in the US I found it a bit overwhelming just looking at the endless lineup of salad dressing options. And don’t get me wrong, I love going to the malls. In fact during my last trip to the US last week I dragged my mom to the mall on the way home from the airport. However, I think that would get a bit old after some time. The US is a huge mall culture. Spain has started copying this over the years, but it hasn’t reached the same intensity yet (surely the weather helps).

Speaking of weather… this is always one of my main points. I love Boston, but I “strongly dislike” the Northeastern climate. I have some nice memories of being little and making snow angels in the snow with my big, puffy snowsuit on. But I also have many memories later on of being so cold that my fingers turned white and lost all sensation. I was back in the US for 9 days last week (between Boston and New York), and I would venture to guess that I saw the sun for about 10-15% of that time. Here in Madrid I really am used to having the sun shine every day, and even on cloudy or rainy days (that are few and far between) there’s always some point when the sun jumps out to say “hola”. It definitely puts me in a better mood to have this climate and be able to do things outside, which I love.

From a work perspective I have some mixed feelings: during probably the first half of my time in Spain I often complained that I would earn a much higher salary in the US. Even after completing my MBA at IESE Business School and earning significantly more than pre-MBA days, I’m still sure that I would make double or more back in the US. But…at what cost? I’ve done a lot of weighing of pros and cons thinking about this topic, and my conclusion has been that I prefer Spain, at least for now. One reason is the vacation time. At my current job I have the whole month of August off plus two weeks at Christmas, plus Easter week off, plus a number of other national and local holidays. In the US maybe I’d have three weeks, but never taken at the same time. I can’t see that working to visit family. My plan this year is to be in Boston with the kids for the whole month of August.

Speaking of the kids… since becoming a mother of two young children, I’ve thought a lot about the differences between bringing up children in the US vs. Spain. I’ve had both of my kids while living in Spain, so, to be honest, I can’t fully compare the experience. What I can share, however, is what I’ve seen raising my kids so far here in Madrid vs. what I remember when I was younger or hear from friends back home. I’m planning to write another post about this, but just a tidbit to highlight: we live in an apartment-complex with its own park, common play areas, pool, etc. where the kids can be out playing easily until 8 or 9pm+ (in summer). And it never really gets so cold that you can’t go outside. That for me, is a huge point in favor of being here (at least vs. the east coast of the US as a comparison). TBC…

Screenshot 2018-10-22 at 11.55.56

This isn’t the park at our house, but it’s an example of one closeby that we frequent. Notice the sun…

To summarize, for now I couldn’t really imagine myself back in the US, but we’ll see what happens in the future. Right now my children are both still below five years old, but I would love them to have the experience of studying in the US when they’re older (assuming they get a massive college scholarship). For now I’ll stick with the sun and take it day by day.


The job hunt is over! How I found a new job in Madrid and why it’s time to to cut back on coffee.

Wait a minute…cut back on the coffee? Shouldn’t I be needing more coffee now that I’m back to the full-time grind?

If there are two important things I’ve learned about the job hunting process here in Spain it’s that (1) you better be prepared to drink a lot of coffee. And (2) you better have a LOT of patience. It’s all about networking and “meeting up for a coffee” to talk to all of the people you know (or contacts of people you know) who can maybe point you in the right direction or give you some advice. But don’t expect things to happen overnight or in a couple months (unless you happen to be lucky or have a really specialized job). If you’re trying to switch sectors and functions like me it can definitely be done and you can get the job you want, but…  Muchaaaa paciencia as we say here…

Networking. During one of my first sessions at the Outplacement company paid for by my ex-company to help those that had been let go with the mass layoffs I remember some talk about the importance of building your network of contacts and the importance of using and maintaining that network. “Blah” I thought! Why can’t I just look for a job posted online, apply, and that’s all there is to it? Wouldn’t this work in the US? Wrong. You’re not in Kansas anymore. 

Back to what I said before – it’s all about networking here in Spain. We were told in these sessions that 80% of jobs here in Spain are found through contacts. That means only 20% are found through other means like online job searches, for example. I remember thinking this seemed crazy when they first told us this fact and drew an iceberg image on the board. “Blah!” I said again. Well, guess what? 10 months later when I had two job offers on my plate, both of them were found through contacts and networking. It can be a daunting and sometimes painful process, but if you want to find a job you have to work on your networking and getting in touch with all your contacts – friends, past colleagues, school colleagues, etc. And make sure you showcase your USP – like being a native English speaker in my case.

I could go on, but if you’re really interested I’d rather chat personally. What I am curious about though is whether the job hunt at this stage of the game is similar in the US or in other markets to what I’ve experienced here. At this point after living here for almost 10 years my Spanishized world and POV is the only reality I know…

Insider Report: Working in Spain (not as an English teacher)

If I had more time I could probably write a book about the peculiarities of working here in Spain and the differences versus the US. However, to avoid boredom, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet and just share some interesting thoughts.

Why do I think my insight might be interesting and different to other expat blogs? Well, to start, I’ve never had the typical “American in Spain English teacher” job. I tried giving some classes at one point when I was studying here and learned that I definitely lack patience for that profession. Also, I’ve worked in a variety of types of companies over here in Madrid: small Spanish consulting firm, non-profit educational organization, multinational American company. What do all of these have in common? At the end of the day, regardless of the international nature/origen of the business, if the company’s here in Spain, it is way more Spanish than anything else.

Let me just preface the following list of Working in Spain commentaries by saying that the degree to which this happens definitely depends on the company. Rather than specifically saying which company it happened at I’ll just leave it general (if you want more dirt you can contact me separately :)) Also, don’t take this all as criticism! A number of these points have positive aspects, in my opinion, compared to working in the US (see #1,2, 9, 10). Everything is a balance…

1. Lunch is not to be eaten at one’s desk or skipped and should be a full hour (at least). Back in the US I could probably count on my fingers the amount of times I went out for lunch with coworkers. Instead it was normal to go to the gym or just eat at your desk. In Spain, it’s definitely weird to eat at your desk, and if you skip lunch, there’s no correlation with leaving earlier. In other words, go out for lunch, take a break, and socialize (see #3).

2. A coffee break is essential, at least a few times a day. Taking a coffee break, whether it’s in the company kitchen or in a bar outside is key to getting up to speed with any news in the company or gossip. It’s also a good way to take a break from your work (kind of like if you’re a smoker…). And coffee is definitely not just for the morning here. An after-lunch coffee is right behind the morning dosage.

3. Getting along with people and going out for “cañas” after work is important. Social relationships are definitely more important in the Spanish workplace than in the US. You might be a great worker and deliver results but if you don’t get along well with your coworkers and the sales force forget about any sort of upward move. Also, when there’s a company dinner, coworker farewell party or christmas dinner, expect the festivities to easily last until 5 or 6 in the morning (for those who can last that long).

4. Complaining all the time is generally accepted and part of employee bonding, but it’s not that often that those complaints will actually be turned into constructive criticism and shared with management. The longer you’re here, the more you’ll find yourself complaining during your morning or lunch coffee break or during your lunch out of the office…

5. Political correctness does not exist. If something happens that you would consider sexual harassment back in the US, you have to think about it two or three times over here in Spain. Without getting into more detail let’s just say that male to female comments that would totally not be accepted in the straight-edge US are more often than not just normal comments over here. Now, I have to admit that sometimes it can be a bit over the top in the US where a male coworker can’t even compliment a female coworker on a nice outfit, for example, but having to listen to male coworkers’ comments about other females can be uncomfortable, at least for an American.

6. Yelling in meetings is not only common, it’s sometimes encouraged. Take it from someone who got told by her boss in an evaluation that if someone yells at her in a meeting that she should yell back. Really? How to Succeed in Business Rule #1: Yelling doesn’t get you anywhere or make you any more professional.

7. Expect meetings to start late, not end on time, and involve a number of confusing circular discussions without really getting anywhere or making any decisions. Also, don’t always expect the meeting organizer to be on time either.

8. Work doesn’t start at 8 or 9am (and sometimes not even at 9:30) and it definitely doesn’t end at 5. Does the song “Working 9 to 5. What a way to make a living…” ring a bell? Well, that’s one of those songs that’s definitely not known here. Unfortunately, in many companies it’s frowned upon if someone leaves at their official time and can be commented on by other coworkers. However, no one is watching to see who comes in early in the morning and commenting on that.

9. Vacation is for taking time off. I’ve heard a lot of cases in the US where people just don’t use their vacation days. Given that there are usually so few days back home, I can’t really understand this. In Spain, people generally have almost a month off a year in vacation. It’s quite common to take 2-3 weeks at a time during the summer. In my nine years working in Spain I’ve never known of someone to not use their vacation days, a slight postponement due to work perhaps, but never to not use them at all.

10. Fridays afternoons are like a “get out of jail for free” card. In all three companies where I’ve worked Friday afternoons around 2:30/3pm is when the weekend starts. A lot of Spanish people have lunch with their families after work these days or just relax, but in general it’s not the same intense work day as the rest of the week.  

Again, the three companies I’ve worked at have all been very different experiences with the most recent job definitely being more demanding than the first two. However, to one degree or another, they all share some Spanish similarities.

Unemployment office Spain

The surprisingly painless unemployment experience

Signing up for unemployment that is.

The actual experience of being unemployed will discussed at some point in a later post “post-facto”. For now, what I can share is my experience of adding to the 24% national unemployment rate.* Now you may be thinking, “Great. A foreigner adding to the already blown-out-of-proportion percentage”. However, I have to say that no one has complained that I’ve been paying about a third of my salary to the government since 2006… I guess I’m seeing a little ROI now.

As an American living here legally in Spain and after having gone through all of the bureaucratic red tape involved in various government processes, I was expecting the worst. I guess I should have remembered that signing up for unemployment, “paro” as it’s called here, isn’t a foreigner-only process. Let’s just say that If I had known it were this easy to sign up I would have thought about it a long time ago! (emphasis “thought about”)

Unemployment office Spain

There are a few steps that have to happen before you are officially on “paro”:

1. You have to get laid off. Now, maybe this is something you’re expecting or hoping for or a complete surprise. In my case, with global restructuring and centralization, let’s just say drastic country workforce reduction (aka an “ERE” as they call it here) wasn’t exactly a surprise. But don’t do something crazy to get fired; you have to be laid off in a good way, not as a disgruntled employee gone mad throwing patas de jamón (aka ham lags) around the office.

2. You have to have been working legally and paying social security for at least 12 months. If you’ve been working legally you’ve probably sadly noticed how far away your “salario bruto” is from the net amount you take home every month.

3. You need to get an “unemployment card”. In order to get this you have to go to one of the Employment offices and sign up. It’s really pretty easy. No appointment needed. You just have to bring your NIE, social security info, proof of any studies (although they didn’t even want to see my diplomas when I went, as much as I was waiting to show them), and that’s about it. More info here:

4. You need to make an appointment to officially sign up. You’re allowed 15 days (not including Sundays and holidays) from the day when you started being on unemployment to sign up. What I didn’t realize is that you can sign up for an appointment online whenever. I waited until after getting the unemployment card (DARDE) and was given a date right on the limit to missing my first payment. Sign up here:

5. Sign up. On the actual appointment day you’ll need to go with all your official paperwork from your company (or they may have already sent it electronically) and your “libro de familia” (if you have children), as well as your NIE, etc.

Overall, the entire experience was pretty smooth and painless. And thank goodness for Google to figure out how to go about everything (forget about asking HR). I have to say I was impressed as well with the channel-transition. When I signed up for an appointment online I received an online confirmation and a number. Then, when I went to the employment office on the day of my appointment, I was happy to see that there was an electronic board flashing numbers, and the one they had given me for that time was just about to be called. Even the woman handling my case was quite pleasant. Once again I seemed to have brought with me more information than was actually needed.

About a week later I received a letter in the mail confirming my paro for a year and a half. (Note: I think the longest you can receive paro for is up to 2 years (!) depending on how long you’ve been working. Back to the 24% unemployment rate…)

Hey, if being laid off was rough, at least they make signing up for unemployment pretty easy! Now if only the job hunt process would go this smoothly…

*Note: I’ve never been on unemployment in the US, so I can’t compare the experience there. If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment below.

How to get a job in Spain

If I knew the answer to this question I wouldn’t be sitting writing this blog…

However, I can share my experience managing to get sponsored for working papers and getting a full-time job in Madrid nine years ago. (Note: the Spanish labor market back in 2006 was definitely a bit different than the current situation with unemployment rates at 8.5% and 24.1% respectively. Getting sponsored to legally work here if you don’t already have EU work permission is very difficult nowadays as companies have to first post the job and then prove that there is no one native in the country that can fill the role. Of course there are ways around this and companies – and people – find loopholes all the time, but it’s not easy.)

Determination, persistence, and patience. These words are key to describe how I managed to find a company that was interested in hiring me and finalize the nine-month process (yes, one could have had a child during that time) to legally work here in Spain. I started investigating when I was still living in the US and thinking about the possibility of moving over here. This was before the days of mass LinkedIn. My advice is to reach out to anyone you might know who could have information or a connection over here. Or just be creative; for me, this meant looking on MySpace for Americans in Madrid who could maybe give me some helpful tips and through a professional organization that I had joined while at my last company. Through this organization I found a company based in Madrid that specialized in user experience consulting, the field that I had worked in for 4 years in Boston. I reached out directly to the CEO and was lucky in that he responded and agreed to meet up with me during an upcoming vacation trip to Madrid. That was my first contact, a quick meeting for him to get to know me and for to explain my future plans. Once I finally did move to Madrid I got in touch again and eventually started working there as an intern until the whole working papers process got underway.

Easier said than done… I think I definitely had a bit of luck in that the company in Madrid happened to be looking for a native english speaker and was in the process of expanding its business. As this was such a specialized role, it just happened to fit perfectly. Before this all worked out, however, I really had no idea if I would be able to work here and tried out a number of different types of work, hence the determination and patience:

Teaching English. This definitely was not the route for me. I think some people just have a natural teaching tendency with patience and a listening ear. I, on the other hand, find it very difficult to hold back a chuckle when I hear a word that is grossly mispronounced (of course the same could be said for my spanish accent, but at least I’m being honest).

– GMAT professor. As it turns out, Kaplan was willing to take me on as a GMAT professor without legal working papers (not sure how that works…). However, as it also turned out, after having suffered and taken the GMAT back in Boston less than a year earlier, I wasn’t loving the idea of reliving all the tricky questions.

International Study Assistant at the Fulbright Commission (internship). Of the three options, this one was by far the best. Interestingly, I found this opportunity through a connection on MySpace who, to this day, I have still not met in person but would like to thank her for sending this my way. The best thing about this job was that it gave me a sense of purpose and daily commitment to start off my time here, as well as a small stipend. And by small, I mean very small. All of a sudden I went from earning a decent American salary to earning 500€/month… This job also was humbling as part of my responsibilities were to answer the phone and field incoming questions. As my level of Spanish left much to be desired at that stage of the game, let’s just say that there were a number of unintentional hang-ups.

In any case, this job served as a great way to start my time over here and as an intro into the Spanish working world (or so I thought, although I would later come to find out that having long coffee and breakfast breaks and strict schedules was not a universal theme in the Spanish working world).

My advice to start out looking for a job in Spain:

1. Do your homework and investigate any possible leads before making the move. Of course the easiest option would be to have a foreign company from your country send you over here, but that’s not an easy option.

2. Be persistent and be prepared for letdowns. I remember knocking on the door of various companies whose work was related to my past work in the US and actually having a few interviews. Unfortunately, as soon as it became clear that I didn’t have working papers and that my Spanish was quite below par, nothing came to be. But without a lot of rejection and humility most things won’t happen.

3. Try out different options. You never know what might work or what contacts you might make.

4. Give yourself a clear timeframe. My plan was to give myself 6 months-1 year max to see if I could find a professional job that was interesting and that made sense for me to stay over here for my CV. If not, it was back to Boston. Of course I had no idea that there would be no end to the timeframe nine years later and counting…

Check out this link for some useful info:

Good luck!

Getting fingerprinted in Spain

When getting fingerprinted is a pleasant experience (Policía Científica Madrid)

Most likely when you think of getting your fingerprints taken, you think of being in trouble. (and if you’re an American reading this, jail probably comes to mind). Having lived here in Spain for almost nine years now I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been fingerprinted (and all for legal reasons!). Strangely enough it seems totally normal to me now. fingerprints Not every experience has been what I would call “pleasant” (I’ll refer to this in another blog about getting my NIE, foreign national ID card). However, during one of my many paperwork processes (if I remember correctly this one could be related to getting married here – see other blog), I had to get “special fingerprints” to send to the FBI for an official background check. What do I mean by “special fingerprints”? Well, this involves going to a special scientific unit of the national police and getting all ten fingers printed on a special fingerprint card that has to be previously picked up at the US Embassy (no cost, nor appointment needed. You just have to go to the US Embassy on Calle Serrano). Note: The first time I went to the Policía Científica for the fingerprinting I didn’t realize that I needed to have the official form from the embassy and that a copy of the form printed out on my computer wouldn’t work – IMPORTANT! That was about an hour of a half wasted to figure that out and run back and forth. Once you have the official form you have to go to the main headquarters (Comisaría General) for the police in Calle Julián González Segador (Metro: Pinar del Rey). Once there and after checking in at the main desk, they’ll escort you (literally with a police escort so you don’t get lost) to the Policía Científica Building ( Both times I’ve had to do this (the first time wasn’t valid since the US changed their rules with the length of document validity…) I’ve been treated extremely kindly and even had a few jokes with the police. Once inside the police complex, people were quite friendly. Inside the Policía Científica building the two people who took my fingerprints were very friendly, and I was even able to chit chat a bit with them (I love to talk, but usually with formal settings don’t feel like it’s encouraged). With one of the woman officers we were even chatting about my new son and how she was going to be an aunt soon. I got fingerprinted and headed on my way in a great mood. No lines, snarls or nerves, overall a great police fingerprinting customer experience 🙂