Hamilton Bone on working in Spain: Overcoming the bureaucratic odds

Smiling man standing in sunshine

Hamilton Bone arrived in Spain in 2010 as an auxiliar de conversación. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get the cuenta propia, Hamilton entered into a pareja de hecho with his German girlfriend. He’s now an estate agent, living in sunny Málaga. We asked him a few questions about visas, working in Spain and his experience overall!

Name: Hamilton Bone

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Current city: Málaga

Working in Spain since: 2010

Current residency type: PDH

Living in Spain

working in Spain

What brought you to Spain? How long did you initially plan to stay; and did your plans change since then?

I originally came to Spain as an Auxiliar de conversación after graduating from Colorado State. I thought “Well I’ll give this a shot for a year, and just see how it goes!” I kept renewing the program, ran out of time, and…. kind of fell in love with Spain.

Was Spain what you expected? Did you have any doubts before arriving?

The Spain back then was very different than what people know in 2019. I had honestly no idea what I was getting myself into – I thought that Spain was just guapas, tapas, and toros.

It was a major culture shock when I arrived in Bilbao in the Basque Country. While America’s states and provinces are quite similar, Spain is much more diverse. Each community has its own style of doing things.

But it was just as slow as I expected, and the bureaucracy was awful. I made the mistake of trying to paddle upstream rather than just going with the flow. It’s hard when you’re raised with an American mentality.  

How does Spain compare to your home country? Do you prefer living here? Why?

Spain is so different from my home country and it took a lot of time for me to realize that there is a reason they’re some of the happiest people in the world. In America, everything is so black and white, and we are always stressed and on the go.

Sometimes you have to stop and smell the oranges – so to speak. I wake up everyday realizing just how lucky I am to be here. In America, I didn’t fit in so well, and feel I belong more here among Europeans. But en serio this is my adopted country and I feel about 75% European/Spanish and 25% American. It’s hard sometimes to talk to people when I go back to the States because there’s a lot of things that people just talk about on the surface.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects about living abroad in Spain – personally, professionally and culturally speaking?

The most challenging part was getting used to the way the Spanish do things and realizing not everything is best in the USA. Personally and professionally, the Spanish are used to doing things their own way. Here in Andalucía, I sometimes feel it’s more important to look like you know what you’re doing rather than actually doing it.

Also, everyone always has to have their say. I’m a real estate agent and during a meeting last week we made a general statement, encouraging the agents to be more productive. One guy took it personally, and it went on and on.

Culturally speaking sometimes it’s tough. Even just walking through the streets – the Spanish haven’t got a personal space bubble and prefer to stroll without a care in the world. For all my complaints, I wouldn’t change a thing though and love them dearly.

Working in Spain

working in Spain

Are you currently working in Spain? How did you find your current job?

At the minute, I’m a real estate agent with Keller Williams, Málaga. Although I come from a real estate family, I didn’t think about getting into it until after a few months of job hunting here.

What career advice would you have for other foreigners thinking about working in Spain? Is it easy or difficult to find opportunities in your sector?

Be prepared to not find a job! I live in Spain’s poorest region where there’s a high level of unemployment. I am autónomo, which scares a lot of people because after two years you have to pay €365 every month. Just to be a freelancer.

Most of the people here who have jobs are mileuristas, meaning they make €1,000 net monthly. Take out €300-350 for rent, etc. and there isn’t much left. With just €600-700 for food, drinks, gym, or other similar expenses, it becomes really hard to save.

In the past, I looked down on the Spanish who lived with their moms until they were 30. But it makes a whole lot more sense now. I spent three or four months on LinkedIn before I thought I’ve got to do something radically different. There wasn’t much on there that applied to anything I could do. Unless you’re in a big city, you’re kind of limited. Also, don’t expect to get a job if you don’t speak Spanish – unless you’re in a heavy expat area.

There are tons of unemployed Spanish, and a lot of them want to be funcionarios (government employees) because they are very secure jobs. My mom actually mentioned something about real estate and I thought “why not,” and here I am some months later!

As a foreigner, the important thing is to think about what you can do that’s not already being done. In my case, I’m providing a much-needed service as a good agent. Here in Spain, the sector is quite unregulated, which means it’s a lot like the Wild West. The number of dodgy things that I’ve seen makes it amazing anyone owns a house at all.

Spanish immigration processes

working in Spain

What kind of visa or permit did you initially come to Spain with? What was the process for obtaining it and how long did it take?

I originally came over on a student visa with the auxiliares de conversaciones program. It took some 3-4 months after applying to get it all done. If I had followed the exact list they provided (my own silliness), I’m sure I would have been working in Spain much sooner.

Have you gone through the process of changing your residency type? What options did you consider and what process did you finally choose? What was the process and how long did it take?

Yes, actually I did. I was on a student visa for some years before applying for the cuenta propia (freelance visa) twice, with two separate business plans. I was denied the first time because they needed more documents. My lawyer here in Málaga didn’t turn in the appeal within the allocated 10 business days – so that went out the window. I didn’t find out till some months later, after an appointment with the head of the immigration department.

The second time I used a much more highly recommended lawyer who was in Madrid (you CAN use a lawyer from a different city). I was denied on grounds that I’d been out of the country for seven or eight days more than I should have in the last three years. My brother died the Christmas before and obviously I spent a good month and a half there. Heartbroken again.

The third time I had my German girlfriend do pareja de hecho, which was the most streamlined of everything, and it’s how I finally got my residency. She freaked out the whole time, making a big deal of it unnecessarily. However, now she doesn’t remember that part of it…

Based on what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently in terms of your immigration process? What advice to you have for others?

I would have been more on top of things and thought more ahead. I would have saved documents in the correct places, and, more importantly, have read older posts in the SpainGuru group. That group is a treasure chest of knowledge and free information. Don’t be that person that apologizes for not using the search box and making a small effort. The returns on a small esfuerzo are worth every second of it – not to mention we want to help.

The future

working in Spain

How much longer do you see yourself in Spain? What are your goals for working here in Spain and your goals on a personal level?

That’s a great question! I think [going back] would be very difficult and a massive culture shock. I’ve spent basically my whole adult life out of America where I’ve grown so much and gotten out of my comfort one, and it’s shaped who I am now. I love who I am now, and it’s thanks to being here in Spain.

Have you ever considered going back to your home country/or to another country? Why or why not?

My mother is all by herself back in America, and it breaks my heart every day that I’m here having a great time and she’s there. So, it’s never easy. This is one of those times where there is no right decision. I feel selfish but I do want to make it here to show her how far I’ve come.

Any tips for those still deciding whether to stay long term to live in Spain?

That it’s OK to go through the process now, and decide later if you want to go back to your home country or continue working in Spain. Learn the language, it’s OK to be a guiri – just don’t be a bad one.

Finally, and most importantly, let the Spanish be Spanish. My biggest fallo was not being able to embrace them for who they are and all their quirks. You’ll see things that you won’t agree with, and that will stress you out, but you’ve just got to go with it and smile.

Thinking of working in Spain full time? Check out our residency options to see what path you can take.

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