Expat Essentials

Relocating to Spain while commuting to the UK for work offers expats real options


A friend of mine once said to me “you’re a long time dead.” In other words, have as few regrets as possible; be happy, and grasp each opportunity as it arises. It’s advice that I’ve often looked back on whenever I’ve had a life-changing decision to make. Relocating to Spain was one such decision, and I did not want to look back 10 years from now and think, “What if … ?”

For many people, relocating to Spain is a distant dream, and often circumstances can get in the way of that dream. However, a growing number spurred on by the rapidly approaching Brexit deadline are looking to turn their dream into reality sooner rather than later.

Many will arrive in Spain with pensions at the ready; some will be in the fortunate position of being able to work remotely or indeed they may already have a job lined up. Others will arrive with plans to set up a business or will come looking for work.

For this post, we’re going to look at an option you might not have considered.

Work in Spain? Better speak Spanish

This series looks at how people have had to adapt in order to makes ends meet here in Spain. I met Carol whilst working back in the United Kingdom. She’d lived in the south of Spain for more than 10 years and, like many expats living in a predominantly expat area, she struggled to learn Spanish beyond the basics.

Over the years, she’d had various low-paying part-time jobs working predominantly in local bars that catered to the expat community and some online work, whilst at the same time drawing on her savings to supplement
her lifestyle in Spain.

Source: Numbeo.com

Recent comparisons suggest that the overall cost of living in Spain is nearly 20-percent cheaper than in the United Kingdom, with rents being a huge 35-percent cheaper. The difference is even more pronounced if you compare cities. For example, in Manchester where I lived, rents are on average a massive 71-percent higher than in Granada.

We’ve all encountered people like Carol who have lived happily doing exactly this, only to then realise that long term it’s not necessarily sustainable. So, what is the solution?

Unemployment in Spain

Bearing in mind that, prior to COVID-19, unemployment was running at 14.41 percent (a figure likely to be surpassed in the coming months as the effects of the lockdown takes a stranglehold on the Spanish economy) trying to find work in Spain can be a thankless task and doubly so if your grasp of Spanish is tenuous at best.

It might seem blindingly obvious, but the best tip for any expat looking for work in Spain is learn Spanish. You’d be surprised how many people don’t bother, but it will open up so many more opportunities.

Obviously, circumstances differ from person to person; what is a good solution for one isn’t always going to work for another. With this in mind, a friend of Carol’s put her in touch with an employment agency, suggesting she might like to at least consider working as a live-in care provider, or carer, in the UK.

Carol did more than consider it – she applied and, following a telephone interview, found herself on a training course here in Spain. Within a few weeks, she was back in the UK working.

Not for everyone … but right for her

I asked her how this new working arrangement fitted in with her lifestyle in Spain:

It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. You are effectively commuting to the UK. However, the job certainly makes a difference to someone else’s life, which is quite satisfying from a personal point of view. And crucially, it has given me the freedom whereby I could pick and chose when I work. Normally, I’ll work three weeks, then have a six-to-eight-week break.

Carol didn’t have any experience to start with other than looking after her elderly grandmother, but that was 30 years ago. However, the only prerequisite apart from being of good character and being physically fit is fluency in English. The five-day residential training course she attended was 50-50 British and non-British nationals, so it’s open to everyone.

The training covered a host of different subjects including first aid, medicine administration, how to handle equipment, what to expect and how to treat the people with whom you’ll be living.

“On a lighter note, I remember being asked what I would do if an 89-year-old client wanted to complete a parachute jump for her next birthday?” Carol said.

The answer – which may surprise some, yet perfectly sums up the job – is that it’s their choice. You are there only to help when needed, not to make decisions for them, though thankfully you are not expected to jump with them.

What was it like the first time back in the UK working? “The first time is a little daunting, but it’s certainly not a question of, ‘this is where you are going, like it or lump it.’ I received a few resumes of clients, and I got to choose who I wanted to be placed with.

“There was absolutely no pressure to accept any of them.”

The job itself varies from client to client. The lady Carol looks after now on a regular basis (she has a team of four regular carers working on a rotating basis) is 96 years old, physically fit for her age, sharp as a razor and likes to be independent. So, really it’s just being there for her and helping out as much or as little as she needs.

“I’ll wake up at 8 a.m., have a (tea), then eventually prepare breakfast for her about 10, wash the pots, make the bed and then a little lunch,” she said. “Most days from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (some days 6) she’ll have a break. When she returns, she makes dinner (or tea), then they sit and watch TV and have a chat before she generally goes to bed around 10:30 p.m.

“Being honest, one of the most difficult aspects of the job for me is the downtime – there is lots of it so I’ll read, knit, and during my breaks (up to 4 hours a day) I’ll have a walk, weather permitting,” Carol said.

Pay depends on the client and their needs, and it’s usually between 600 euros and 1,000 euros per week. All carers have food provided by way of a weekly allowance, and all UK expenses are paid as are many meals out with the client (the client pays). Live-in carers are in many respects different, because their clients are often private individuals wealthy enough to pay more than 1,100 pounds per week, and there is a shortage of carers – of that there is little doubt.

“As I’ve said, it’s not for everyone,” Carol said. However, it’s enjoyable: three weeks away followed by six or eight weeks in the sun is a perfect compromise – for me anyway – and certainly I’d recommend anyone in a similar position as me to consider it.”

Carol has worked as a carer for three years, although she was recently furloughed under the UK retention scheme, receiving 80 percent of her income (based on a six-month average). She returned to the UK in July.

For anyone seeking more information, please refer to conmigo.co.uk or, for job opportunities in general (including remote positions), indeed.es and glassdoor.com.

About the author:

Irina Greensitt is from the far eastern town of Khabarovsk in Russia, but had previously lived in the United Kingdom for seven years before moving to Spain in 2014 with her husband and two young children.

Irina now runs an internet business and lists walking, travel and sailing (passing her skippers exam in 2016) amongst her hobbies. If you are in Granada and need direction, feel free to drop her a line. See her Facebook consulting page here.

See all of Irina’s posts here.

See more from Dispatches’ Spain archive here.

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