Is working in Spain living the dream?

Sunrise in Spain

When you first decide to emigrate most people are driven by the images of days by the pool, nights on the beach and a relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle. But in reality, most people, once they have emigrated, still have to work. So how does the nine to five in Spain compare?

Dreaming of Travelling  pool
Living the dream…

Nine To Five

Well for a start, Spain (specifically the south) is not a nine to five kinda country. The closest you will get is in multinational corporations or head offices where you can expect to start at around 10 and finish at 18.30.

Most supermarkets are not 24/7 and have opening times from 10 and close around 9, but these hours can be extended slightly over summer.

The hospitality sector is where the long unsociable shifts can hit you. If you start working in a restaurant or a bar, you can expect to be working 12 hour days 6 days a week over the summer period and find yourself without work when winter comes.

As for most other jobs; offices, banks, local shops, etc; you will have to get accustomed to the ‘split shift’ lifestyle which works around the Spanish siesta. Normally at 2, these businesses will close and this is your time to enjoy the sun, relax, grab some lunch and then head back to work around 5, finishing later about 8.

So, in reality, you will find that to enjoy the Spanish lifestyle, you will need to embrace the differences and forget about your old routines. Getting up later means you can enjoy longer evenings and later nights. That siesta time is yours… so take it! Bring a towel, suncream, and a good book to work in the morning and head straight to the beach at 2 and grab those rays; it is, after all, one of the reasons why you moved here.


The holiday system can take some getting used to, especially when it comes to bank holidays. For a start, these are split into three categories: National, Regional, and Local.

National Holidays are the same across Spain and are dates like Christmas and Easter. Regional Holidays are decided by the Comunidad you live in, for me it is Valencia, and the Valencian council decides the dates for the entire region, but they may be totally different to the next city along. And finally your Local Holidays; the local council will throw in a couple of days, these are normally Saint days or historical dates important to your town, and these will most certainly differ from place to place.

And unlike in England where we neatly move any bank holiday to the closest Monday, Spain do no such thing. If a holiday falls on a Thursday, then you will not work on the Thursday, and if it falls on a Saturday then you do not get a day in lieu – it’s tough luck.

The differences from town to town has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, in Alicante, we celebrate Santa Faz which is the 2nd May, however, Elche, which is 20 minutes away, does not. Which means if I live in Alicante but I work in Elche, I will have not have the day off to celebrate. But on the other hand, you can get some cheap breaks away because you have a holiday when other regions are still working.

Moving onto personal holidays, and this can be even more of a mess, but I will give you a brief overview:

Tourist Related Work nearly all tourist related roles such as bar work, waiting tables, hotel staff, etc; are based on short term contracts and are paid hourly, which realistically means you can work as many hours as you want from May to September and then you will find it difficult to find hours. So you are encouraged to wait until ‘off-season’ to relax.

Schools if you work in a school or you have children it’s important to note that school holidays are very different. The year begins around the second week of September and the first break is Christmas for around 10 days. The next term finishes in Easter and school closes for around 10 days. And then the heat comes… and normally during the second week of June schools close for summer. I think that with the extra holidays in England in May, February, and October it probably all evens out to the same but it makes the terms seem like sentences here and the summer never-ending.

Everywhere else (generally) then we have everything else which ranges from office work, banks, government workers and all in-between. This works similar to England, your holidays are yours and take them when you want, with one big exception…

August. As a tourist, you won’t have needed to nip into the bank to transfer money, or maybe get some paperwork from the council, you wouldn’t have thought about fixing a car or if you have a problem with your water bill. And if any of those things happen to you during August, good luck because most of those places will be closed. Not that it will say so anywhere. In fact, if you check Google, or look at the opening hours on the door it will clearly tell you that they are open… whilst the doors are firmly locked.

So how does it compare?

Well, the first thing you have to accept is it’s different. The second thing I always tell people goes back to lifestyle. I moved to Spain because, whilst I had a 9-5 job in England with bank holidays and annual leave to take when I wanted, I was unhappy and I wanted something different.

Now I work more hours, I have longer days, I have less holidays and I can’t take annual leave when I want… but my lifestyle is so different.

When I finish work at 2, I don’t go home and count down the hours until I am back at work. I meet all my friends, who are also on siesta, and we eat tapas, have a caƱa, head to the pool, lie on the beach, swim in the sea and enjoy the afternoon sun. And when I get home at 20.30 I don’t put my PJs on and turn on Netflix. Instead, I go shopping, I cook, I listen to music, I go to Spanish class, I go to a bar, I run with my dog and I collapse (still without Netflix) around midnight because I don’t need to wake up until 9.

And when summer comes I don’t need to spend a grand on a beach holiday – I am already here, which means I can use my time off to explore new cities, different landscapes and enjoy new experiences.

So if you are thinking of moving to Spain for an easier life, trust me it is not easier. But if you are moving for a change, a new experience, to enjoy that social, outdoor, summer living – it could be just the thing you are looking for.

Dreaming of Travelling - Lifestyle
It’s a lifestyle change, not just a destination.

2 thoughts on “Is working in Spain living the dream?

Leave a Reply to Ellen Hawley Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: