Bilbao, the heart of the Basque Country in Spain, is a thriving city that offers an amalgamation of old-world charm and modern business opportunities. Far from the tourist-clogged streets of Barcelona or Madrid, Bilbao is one of the best places for expats in the world right now and an understated gem that offers a unique combination of work and play for expats.
This guide aims to give you an insider’s look at what it’s like to build your expat career in Bilbao.
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Music and Dance
Bilbao is a treasure trove of traditional Basque music and dance. Instruments like the ‘txistu’ and ‘trikitixa’ (Basque accordion) often accompany local dances. Popular Basque dances like the ‘Aurresku’ or ‘Jota’ are performed during festivals, and it’s not uncommon to see spontaneous performances in the town squares.
Bilbao offers more than just football; it’s home to traditional Basque sports like “pelota vasca,” a type of court ball game that is almost like a fusion of squash and handball. Championships are serious business and an excellent place to connect with locals and understand the region’s unique athletic culture.
The Day of Saint Thomas and Aste Nagusia (The Great Week) are two must-experience holidays. The former is a winter festival marked by a large fair, while the latter is a nine-day festival in August featuring live music, fireworks, and traditional games. Both events provide a rich tapestry of Basque culture and an opportunity to connect with locals on a deeper level.
“Pintxos” are the Basque answer to tapas and are deeply embedded in the region’s social fabric. Bars and cafes display a mouth-watering assortment of these bite-sized dishes, from seafood to cured meats. It’s an unspoken ritual to hop from bar to bar, trying different pintxos, often accompanied by a ‘txakoli,’ a slightly sparkling white wine typical of the Basque region.
Seafood and Meats
Bilbao’s proximity to the sea means a lavish offering of seafood like hake, anchovies, and cod. ‘Marmitako’ is a popular tuna pot stew you must try. Meanwhile, cured meats like ‘chorizo’ and ‘jamon’ are staples. For meat lovers, the Basque Country offers some of the best ‘chuleta,’ or T-bone steaks.
Local Wines and Beverages
Apart from ‘txakoli,’ the region is also known for its cider houses, called ‘sagardotegis.’ These are often rustic settings where locals and visitors can enjoy freshly produced cider alongside hearty meals, providing another setting for socializing and networking.
Art and Architecture
The Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum isn’t just a museum; it’s an architectural marvel and symbol of Bilbao’s renaissance. Designed by the famed architect Frank Gehry, the museum’s undulating forms and shimmering tiles make it look like a living organism. The museum is also a hub for modern and contemporary art, hosting some of the world’s most compelling exhibitions.
Classical and Historical Buildings
While the Guggenheim represents Bilbao’s modern side, historical architecture like the Cathedral of Santiago provides a glimpse into the city’s rich past. This 14th-century Gothic cathedral is a landmark that stands in the Old Town, offering a contrast to the city’s modern edifices.
Bilbao has also embraced urban art, with murals and sculptures peppering its streets. The street art scene provides another layer to the city’s rich cultural tapestry and offers a contemporary counterpoint to its classical architecture.
Bilbao is a major economic and industrial hub, home to many international companies in sectors like shipping, engineering, banking, and technology. The city offers a favorable business climate and a strategic location, making it an ideal base for expats looking to make their mark.
Quality of Life
Bilbao has something for everyone. From its world-renowned Guggenheim Museum to its charming Old Town, the city offers an excellent quality of life. You can enjoy the beaches in the summer and the nearby mountains all year round.
With an international airport and excellent public transport, Bilbao is well-connected, making it easy to travel within Spain and Europe.
Spanish: The Common Tongue
While Spanish is the primary language spoken in Bilbao, it’s not the only one. Knowing Spanish will make your life significantly easier, from finding a job to interacting with locals.
Basque: A Unique Heritage
The Basque language, Euskara, is another commonly spoken language in Bilbao. It’s an ancient language that predates the Romance languages, and it’s very different from Spanish. While not mandatory, learning a few basic phrases can endear you to the locals and might give you a unique edge in some business settings.
The people of Bilbao are known for their strong sense of community and pride in their Basque heritage. They are generally warm, friendly, and approachable, albeit slightly more reserved than residents of southern Spain.
In business settings, people in Bilbao tend to be formal and conservative, especially in initial meetings. It’s important to build personal relationships, as trust is a significant factor in Basque business culture.
Expat Culture in Bilbao
Bilbao may not be as internationally known as Madrid or Barcelona, but it has a thriving expat community. There are various groups, both online and offline, where you can meet other expats. Events, from casual meetups to more formal networking opportunities, happen frequently.
Networking and Socializing
Being part of the expat community also offers opportunities for professional networking. Many find that their career opportunities broaden significantly through connections made at expat events or through online communities focused on life in Bilbao or Spain.
Spain offers excellent healthcare services, and Bilbao is no exception. Expats can register for public healthcare services, though many also opt for private healthcare coverage for quicker services.
For expats with families, Bilbao offers various educational options, including international schools that teach in English. This can ease the transition for children and provide them with a globally recognized education.
Bilbao is a safe city with low crime rates compared to other European cities. However, like any other city, it’s essential to be cautious and aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded or less familiar areas.
Salaries and Career Progression for Expats in Bilbao
Understanding the salary structure in Bilbao is essential when you’re building your expat career. This knowledge allows you to make strategic choices—from the sectors or roles you target to how you negotiate your employment contract.
Salaries in High-demand Sectors
For expats in industries like technology, shipping, and engineering, Bilbao can offer compelling financial incentives. These sectors are often more willing to negotiate attractive compensation packages to attract international talent. Knowing this can give you a head start in selecting career paths that not only align with your skills but also are financially rewarding.
Career Progression and Salary Growth
Being an expat with specialized skills or international experience can make you a valuable asset to employers in Bilbao. As you integrate into the local business culture and expand your professional network, there may be opportunities for career progression and corresponding salary growth. Keep this long-term potential in mind as you build your career here.
Leveraging Your Expat Status
As an expat, you bring a unique global perspective that can be advantageous in diverse work settings. This can sometimes be leveraged into higher starting salaries or quicker promotions, particularly in companies or industries that value international experience.
Cost of Living vs. Earning Potential
While Bilbao may offer attractive salaries, bear in mind that the cost of living is higher compared to other Spanish cities. As you consider job offers and career paths, calculate whether your expected salary will support the lifestyle you desire in Bilbao.
Understanding the salary dynamics in Bilbao can be an integral part of your career-building strategy, helping you make informed decisions that propel you toward your professional goals in this vibrant Basque city.
Steps to Build Your Expat Career in Bilbao
Research and Networking
- Online Groups: Join expat forums and LinkedIn groups focused on Bilbao or Spain to get insights into the job market.
- Local Networking: Attend local business events, trade shows, and chamber of commerce meetings.
- Local Job Boards: Websites like InfoJobs and Indeed.es have extensive listings for Bilbao.
- Company Websites: Companies headquartered in Bilbao often post job openings on their own websites.
Navigating the legal landscape can often be one of the most challenging aspects of relocating to a new country. However, understanding the necessary legal formalities upfront can save you time, money, and stress down the line. Here are some key legal formalities to consider:
Work Permit for Expats in Bilbao
For EU Citizens:
If you are a citizen of the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland, you are generally allowed to live and work in Spain without a work permit. However, you may still need to register with the local authorities within three months of your arrival and obtain a certificate of residence.
For Non-EU Citizens:
If you are not from an EU/EEA country or Switzerland, securing a work permit is a necessary step to legally work in Bilbao. The process usually involves applying for a job first and then having your employer initiate the work permit application. The documentation required often includes your employment contract, proof of qualifications, and a clean criminal record from both your home country and Spain for the past five years. Work permits are usually tied to the specific job and employer who applied for it on your behalf.
Tax Identification Number (NIE)
Whether you are an EU citizen or not, one of the first things you’ll need to do upon planning to work in Spain is to apply for a NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero), which translates to Foreigner Identification Number. This is an identification number used in all public forms and is essential for any economic transaction that involves you, such as opening a bank account or setting up utilities, apart from formalizing your employment.
How to Apply:
You can apply for a NIE at the local police station that has a foreigner’s department (Oficina de Extranjeros). Alternatively, you can apply at a nearby Spanish consulate before you move to Bilbao. The necessary documents generally include:
- Your passport and copies
- Two recent passport-size photographs
- Proof of address in Bilbao
- Proof of employment or a job offer
The processing time can vary and may take from one week to a few months, so it’s advisable to apply well in advance of your intended move date.
By understanding and complying with these legal requirements, you’ll be well-prepared for a smooth transition into your new life in Bilbao.
- Language: Knowing some level of Spanish is crucial. Many businesses also value Basque language skills.
- Business Etiquette: Spaniards value relationships; invest time in getting to know your colleagues and business partners.
Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them
- Language Barrier: Consider taking Spanish courses or hiring a tutor.
- Cultural Differences: Understanding the local customs and etiquette is crucial. Read up, observe, and when in doubt, ask.
Certainly! Here’s an expanded “Final Thoughts” section that delves deeper into why Bilbao is a compelling choice for expats looking to build their careers:
Final Thoughts on Bilbao for Expats
A City of Opportunities
Bilbao isn’t just another destination—it’s a city brimming with possibilities. Whether you’re at the beginning of your professional journey or have years of experience under your belt, Bilbao’s diverse economic landscape offers ample opportunities for career advancement. From thriving sectors like technology and engineering to a burgeoning startup culture, the city allows you to explore various avenues for professional growth.
Culture and Lifestyle
Beyond its economic allure, Bilbao is a place where work-life balance is not just a concept but a lifestyle. The city’s rich culture, art scene, and culinary offerings provide an enriching backdrop against which to grow both professionally and personally. The friendly locals, strong sense of community, and a tapestry of Basque traditions mean you’re not just moving to a new city but becoming part of a vibrant culture.
Networking and Community
In Bilbao, networking isn’t restricted to boardrooms or business lunches. Thanks to the city’s active expat community, you can forge meaningful connections in casual social settings, from pintxos bars to local festivals. These relationships often translate into professional opportunities, making the social aspect of life in Bilbao an integral part of your career development.
Bilbao’s strategic location, with excellent connectivity to other European cities, means you’re never too far from your next business meeting or weekend getaway. The city serves as an ideal base for those looking to expand their professional network beyond Spain, offering the best of both worlds—a dynamic local economy and easy access to international markets.
The Bilbao Package
Combining a robust job market with a high quality of life, Bilbao presents a compelling package for any expat. The city’s work culture appreciates a balanced lifestyle, and you’ll find that your career goals don’t have to come at the expense of personal enrichment or well-being.
Take the Plunge
So, as you weigh your options for a career move abroad, consider Bilbao as more than just an option; see it as the opportunity it truly is. Pack your bags, prepare your resumé, and get ready for an incredible chapter of your life in Bilbao, Spain. You’ll find that the city offers far more than a new workplace—it offers a new way of life.