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  • 26 May 2021
  • 11 min read

How To Live & Work In Spain As A UK Nurse

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    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
    • Laura Bosworth
    • Aubrey Hollebon
  • 3
  • 22351
"It is the simple things and the beauty of the outdoors and the Spanish culture that fulfil us most." - Katy Pitt-Allen, Adult Nurse

Katy explains her move to Spain and finding work as a nurse. There have been challenges, especially in terms of her nursing career. But she wouldn’t change the life they’ve made for their young family.

Topics Covered In This Article

Why I Moved To Spain

Before You Start Planning Your Move Abroad

Finding My First Nursing Job In Spain

The Impact Of Covid 19 & Brexit On Emigrating

I Took Working For The NHS For Granted

You Will Be Self Employed

Qualifications And Requirements

Nursing Pay In Spain And The Cost Of Moving

Other Considerations

Despite The Challenges We Love It

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Why I Moved To Spain

I qualified as an Adult Nurse in December 2012 and embarked on a busy and fulfilling career as an Adult Nurse.

Whilst I loved the ups and downs, the 50 hour weeks, the camaraderie, and the intensity of nursing, I knew that once I had children that the shine would wear off and I would want my career to be more flexible.

In the summer of 2017, I gave birth to our first child.

It was with the birth of our son that we finalised our plans to move to Spain, tentatively going for the duration of my maternity leave with a view to staying longer.

We packed our car with everything we could and drove the long journey from South West England to Spain's Mediterranean coast.

We put everything else in storage and shipped it over once we were settled.

Fast forward four years and we now have two children, a lovely house in the countryside, and fulfilling jobs.

It sounds idyllic and it is, but it has not been without obstacles.

There are and have been many hurdles and challenges and each one has required all of my resilience and problem-solving skills that I thought I had left at the door of my busy gynaecological ward in central Bristol.

This is my experience.

Before You Start Planning Your Move Abroad

We moved to Spain with a naive idea of what it would involve.

There are some parts that have proved easier than we originally thought, and others that have proved much harder.

We have left behind close friends and family and were prepared for that to be the catalyst that eventually pulled us back to British soil.

The reality is, people come and visit so regularly that you don't have time to miss anyone.

We have a small guest apartment and on a normal, non-pandemic year, it is always booked up with friends from far and wide: aunties, cousins, and the occasional visit from a 95-year-old grandparent.

The quality of time spent with friends and family here far outweighs the snatched 30-minute coffees in a shopping center.

However, this past year, during the Coronavirus pandemic has been exceptionally tough and we have missed funerals, birthdays, and births.

The frequent travel bans have made us feel as though we live a million miles away and it has been hard to accept at points that this is the decision we made.

To decide whether you are able to make the move and emigrate, it is important to decide whether you are able to live in a little bubble with just your immediate family.

Do you rely on frequent contact and visits from friends and family? Or would you like the independence of a small family adventure?

The reality is, at least for the first six months, and in instances like global pandemics, your world consists of the people you left the UK with.

We have wonderful friends and colleagues but that has taken a lot of time and energy to form as life out here can be transient.

There are many people from all walks of life that crave the dream life in Spain, but sadly, for a lot of people, it is not sustainable.

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Finding My First Nursing Job In Spain

When we decided to move, the idea of not working as hard and fast as I once had appealed to me greatly. I was burnt out and tired.

But once I had rested I found myself itching to get back to nursing.

I started to explore options and what was available as I continued to work bank shifts monthly back in the UK.

The reality is nursing is very different in Spain.

Aside from visas and paperwork, to work in the hospitals you will need a fluent level of Spanish and the comparative pay is significantly lower than in the UK.

The private healthcare sector is where most (if not all) ex-pat nurses find themselves and this is the wild west of medicine, mostly unregulated and difficult to navigate.

For me, channeling a new career path in this terrain has been the hardest part of emigrating and I was most definitely not prepared for it.

The Impact Of Covid 19 & Brexit On Emigrating

My husband and I moved to Spain in October 2017, when we were still part of the EU and Covid wasn't even a thing.

We hired a lawyer who helped us navigate the Spanish system and applied for our residency. It was relatively easy.

Post Brexit you are allowed to remain in Spain for 90 days without residency.

Residency can only be applied for by proving that you won't be a financial burden to the state.

This entails proving that you have enough money in your bank account to provide for your family.

The amount varies and depends on a set of variables unbeknownst to most laypersons but is usually around £2000 - £3000 per person per month.

Once you have been awarded residency you are then able to apply for your qualification to be recognised by the Spanish Colegio de Enfermeras (the equivalent of the NMC).

Currently, as of May 2021, the Spanish government is still not allowing non-residents or people without family residing in Spain to enter.

Therefore any potential move to Spain is virtually impossible until borders open up again.

Despite Brexit and Covid complicating an already complicated process, the channels to obtain residency and work in Spain are being established as time goes on.

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I Took Working For The NHS For Granted

On reflection, I took working for the NHS, (and the ease of applying for a job that is accredited, well paid, regulated, regular, and with tax and pension deducted), for granted.

Knowing that everyone you work with has received the same standard of nurse training as you have and knowing that there is a protocol for everything is far more reassuring than you might imagine.

These are the things that sometimes irritated me on a busy ward in the NHS - sometimes feeling like you cannot move for red tape. It is now, here, that I long for that red tape!

You may wish for a protocol to keep your patients safe but to also ensure you are safe and confident in the treatment you are delivering.

Professionally I have found this the biggest challenge, and I have had to dig deep and question myself and my practice a lot.

I pride myself on delivering excellent care but I didn't realise how much I measured myself by protocols by a set of predetermined standards.

You Will Be Self Employed

If you are going to work in the private sector in Spain, most people are self-employed.

You pay a set amount every month to the social security office.

This is an increasing amount and is not dependent on what you earn.

You are responsible for your own tax affairs.

As a nurse, this was completely foreign territory to me, I had no idea how to be self-employed.

I pride myself on being pragmatic, and never has this been a more needed skill in order to create a fulfilling nursing career in Spain.

Qualifications And Requirements

The qualifications here are similar and all nurses attend a three to a four-year degree program at university. However, there are not varying levels of nursing.

Spain doesn’t recognise nurse specialisms or practitioner roles.

Although this may seem challenging at first it has been the one area that has made my career choices easier than they would be in the UK.

If you have experience, skills, and training in an area and feel confident to provide a service, as long as your insurance covers it and it is not prohibited for any other reason, you are able to work within a nursing field of practice.

This is daunting but also quite exciting as you are able to work more autonomously than you would in the UK.

Once you are a member of the Colegio de Enfermeras, you are able to study courses at your local university, this can be done online or in-person and the prices are far cheaper than you would pay in the UK.

Nursing Pay In Spain And The Cost Of Moving

The private sector pay scale for nurses varies, you can be paid as little as €10 per hour but I would say that €12 -15 per hour is average. (Compare against the NHS pay scales here.)

However, the hours may be infrequent and you have to consider the monthly costs of being self-employed.

Most ex-pat nurses have two to three methods of income to ensure that they can make enough.

The cost of living in Spain varies greatly from Madrid to Andalucia and everywhere else in between.

We chose to move to a beautiful town called Xabia on the Mediterranean coast; it is what the ex-pat dream is made of. Turquoise waters, award-winning beaches, and the quality of life surpass any dreams we had when we moved, but this comes at a price.

The cost of living in Xabia and its surrounding areas is considerably higher than in most places in Spain.

House prices are high and food shopping is expensive in comparison to the UK.

The costs of moving vary greatly.

For house rental here you have to pay a security deposit and one to two months rent upfront, the rent can also increase in the summer season.

There is also the upfront cost of any paperwork that needs completing.

Other Considerations

Second income

We are very lucky that my husband's job is remote. Without his consistent income our move to Spain would have been impossible.

If you are considering a move to Spain to work as a nurse then it is important that you have another source of income as it can take a while to find your feet.

Language barrier

Learning the language is a must, but don't underestimate how hard this is, especially when you are trying to build a career and raise a family!

It is something that we thought we would have mastered by now but there’s still a lot to learn.

Despite The Challenges We Love It

Despite the challenges that we have encountered and the hurdles we continue to jump, our move to Spain has been one of success.

I am currently sitting at the kitchen table with the windows wide open listening to the birds chirping.

We will collect our son from a local Spanish school and head to the beach to enjoy the beautiful weather that will be with us until January.

I have a wonderful job as an oncology nurse for a local charity and am just about to embark on a new adventure.

Our life here in Spain is rewarding and enjoyable.

It is the simple things and the beauty of the outdoors and the Spanish culture that fulfil us most, especially when we get to spend so much time together as a family.

But the move in terms of my nursing career has been hard, and one that should not be taken lightly.

However, I would not change it for the world.

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About the author

I'm a registered nurse specializing in gynaecology and oncology. I have a passion for women's health and health equality. In 2015, I was awarded the Ebola Medal for Service in West Africa in recognition of my work in Sierra Leone during the 2014 Ebola Epidemic. I currently live in Spain where I continues to practice.

    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
    • Laura Bosworth
    • Aubrey Hollebon
  • 3
  • 22351

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    • Sophie Davies 9 months ago
      Sophie Davies
    • Sophie Davies
      9 months ago

      Hi there Katy, Thanks so much for all of this information. It's really useful! How difficult was it making the ... read more

    • janosine nagy andrea 2 years ago
      janosine nagy andrea
    • janosine nagy andrea
      2 years ago

      Hi Katy, I’m an Advanced Nurse Practitioner and I want to move back to Spain if I have chance to ... read more

    • Laura Cecconi 2 years ago
      Laura Cecconi
    • Laura Cecconi
      2 years ago

      Hi Katy, how long did it take for the government to recognise your nursing degree so to officially start working ... read more

      • Hi Laura, So sorry for such a delayed response. It took approximately 6 moths for my qualifactions to be recognised, however this may be different post brexit. I would advise to always look for jobs... read more

        Hi Laura, So sorry for such a delayed response. It took approximately 6 moths for my qualifactions to be recognised, however this may be different post brexit. I would advise to always look for jobs - start as soon as possible. Thanks for your interest!
        read less

        Replied by: Katy Pitt Allen